Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis




Fayeza Ahmed

Committee Members

Alice Bruce, Kelsi Hobbs, Jordan LaBouff, Michael Robbins

Graduation Year


Publication Date

Fall 12-2022


Higher socioeconomic status (SES), as indicated by income, educational attainment, and/or occupational class, has been consistently related to higher late-life cognition; however, why and how these variables are related remain unclear. As low-SES individuals experience more stressful life events and perceive these events to be more stressful than their higher-SES counterparts, patterns of stress exposures and reactivity may in part explain this gradient. Thus, the goal of this study was to characterize the relationship between educational attainment and global cognition in a sample of older adults and determine whether social stress - a composite of family stress, spouse/partner stress, and perceived discrimination - mediates this association. Sex differences in these relationships were also evaluated. Data from 1173 respondents in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study were analyzed via bivariate correlation, independent samples t-test, and simple mediation analyses. Independent of age, race, chronic conditions, and depressed affect, higher education was found to predict higher scores on the MIDUS Brief Test of Adult Cognition (BTACT); the strength of this relationship did not differ significantly by sex. While male and female respondents reported similar levels of overall social stress, female respondents reported greater family and spouse/partner stress. Surprisingly, no evidence for a mediating effect of social stress was found. A discussion of theoretical and methodological explanations of this null finding, as well as future directions, is provided.