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Earning Persistently Low Wages Linked With Faster Memory Decline In Old Age

New research has found a link between low wages during peak earning years and dementia in later life.

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Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 3 2022, 17:21 UTC
Fast food, home health care, and other low-wage workers rally to advocate for a $15 minimum wage… back in 2014. Image Credit: Marie Kanger Born/Shutterstock.com
Fast food, home health care, and other low-wage workers rally to advocate for a $15 minimum wage… back in 2014. Image Credit: Marie Kanger Born/Shutterstock.com

Economic disparities are associated with many different health outcomes such as depressive symptoms, hypertension, and obesity. A new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that the effects of earning sustained low wages is also associated with a more rapid memory decline later in life

The team looked at 2,879 individuals born between 1936 and 1941. They compared their wages between 1992 and 2004 and divided them into three categories: never earned low wages, intermittently earned low wages, or persistently earned low wages. A low wage was defined as lower than two-thirds of the federal median wage for that specific year. 

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The team then looked at participants' memory decline over the next 12 years, from 2004 to 2016. They found that workers who always earned low wages experience a faster memory decline in old age. On average, it was one extra year of decline over a 10-year period.  

“Our research provides new evidence that sustained exposure to low wages during peak earning years is associated with accelerated memory decline later in life,” first author Dr Katrina Kezios, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said in a statement. “This association was observed in our primary sample as well as in a validation cohort.”

In the US, the federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009. The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation and many employers have been accused of wage theft, keeping workers' wages low despite high profits by the companies. Increased efforts to create unions and strikes across the world are a consequence of salaries not keeping up with the cost of products and services.

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“Increasing the federal minimum wage, for example to $15 per hour, remains a gridlock issue in Congress, “said Kezios.

“Our findings suggest that social policies that enhance the financial well-being of low-wage workers may be especially beneficial for cognitive health,” added senior author Dr Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School and the Columbia Butler Aging Center. 

“Future work should rigorously examine the number of dementia cases and excess years of cognitive aging that could be prevented under different hypothetical scenarios that would increase the minimum hourly wage.”

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The findings were presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® Promoting Diverse Perspectives: Addressing Health Disparities Related to Alzheimer’s and All Dementias this week.


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