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A Life-Course Perspective on Gender Differences in Cognitive Functioning in India

Velamuri, Malathi and Onur, Ilke (2014): A Life-Course Perspective on Gender Differences in Cognitive Functioning in India.

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We examine gender differences in four measures of cognitive function among older individuals in India, using the 2010 pilot wave of the Longitudinal Aging Study of India (LASI) survey. We use a life-course approach and estimate the impact of circumstances in childhood, choices in adulthood and current circumstances on current cognitive functioning. Our objective is to understand the correlates of cognitive functioning in later-life more generally, and of female disadvantage in particular. We observe a female disadvantage across all cognitive measures in the raw data. Our estimates indicate that educational attainment and employment status history can account for the entire female disadvantage in verbal skills, but a sizable and significant gap remains in the other cognitive measures even after controlling for these variables. Notably, our estimates indicate that circumstances in childhood have an impact on later-life cognition. A decomposition analysis reveals that the predicted cognition gap is driven by differences in characteristics between men and women, as well as the asymmetric returns to these characteristics. We conclude that policies aimed at correcting the gender imbalance in educational outcomes may not be sufficient to close the gender gaps in cognition. In turn, this has serious implications for a rapidly aging society like India.

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