Neighborhood Effects on Mental Health

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Principal Investigator: Carol Aneshensel

Previous research reveals links between early and mild cognitive deficits and more severe cognitive impairment later in life, which often leads to substantial disability and costly institutional care, making it important to identify factors that may prevent these deficits. This study examined how neighborhood context is associated with cognitive functioning in late middle age, when cognitive deficits may first emerge. Survey data from the Health and Retirement Study (N = 4,525), a nationally representative sample of the U.S. adult population born between 1931 and 1941 (age 55-65), were linked with Census data for urban areas. Hierarchical linear regression was used to model the contextual effects of neighborhood characteristics over and above compositional/selection effects. Neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage has an especially large negative association with cognitive functioning among persons who are themselves poor, an instance of compound disadvantage. For persons of low socioeconomic status, living in more advantaged neighborhoods is associated with relatively high cognitive functioning; however, affluent residents of these neighborhoods do not appear to derive a similar benefit.