Gender Differences in Cognition among Older Adults in China

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Xiaoyan Lei ; Yuqing Hu ; James P. Smith ; Yahao Zhao (2011)

In this paper, the authors model gender differences in cognitive ability in China using a new sample of middle-aged and older Chinese respondents. Modeled after the American Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), the CHARLS Pilot survey respondents are 45 years and older in two quite distinct provinces—Zhejiang a high growth industrialized province on the East Coast, and Gansu, a largely agricultural and poor Province in the West. Their measures of cognition in CHARLS relies on two measures that proxy for different dimensions of adult cognition—episodic memory and intact mental status. They relate both these childhood health measures to adult health and SES outcomes during the adult years. They find large cognitive differences to the detriment of women that were mitigated by large gender differences in education among these generations of Chinese people. These gender differences in cognition are especially concentrated within poorer communities in China with gender difference being more sensitive to community level attributes than to family level attributes, with economic resources. In traditional poor Chinese communities, there are strong economic incentives to favor boys at the expense of girls not only in their education outcomes, but in their nutrition and eventually their adult height. These gender cognitive differences have been steadily decreasing across birth cohorts as the economy of China grew rapidly. Among younger cohorts of young adults in China, there is no longer any gender disparity in cognitive ability.
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