Parenthood and Parents' Cognitive Health in the United States

Fri, April 23, 2021 1:30 PM at Zoom

MSU Sociology PhD candidate Yan Zhang will defend her dissertation "Parenthood and Parents' Cognitive Health in the United States."

Yan Zhang

The linkage between parenthood and cognitive health has not been explored in-depth in the United States. This dissertation contributes to the broad literature on parenthood and parental well-being by examining how parental status, parent-child relationship quality, and history of fertility influence parents’ cognitive functioning. I use three empirical studies based on national representative, longitudinal datasets to address these questions. I find that, first, being childless or having only stepchildren is a potential risk factor for cognitive impairment while having more adult children, especially one or more adult daughters, is a possible protective factor for parents’ cognitive health. Second, greater contact frequency with children and relationship support from children are associated with higher initial cognitive functioning, but relationship strain with children is associated with lower initial cognitive functioning for older parents. Last, there is a U-shaped relationship between a parent’s age at first birth and the risk of cognitive impairment. High parity increases older mothers’ risk of cognitive impairment, but not older fathers. My dissertation can speak to medical practitioners, social workers, and policymakers so that they could make more effective interventions to promote older adults’ cognitive well-being as well as successful aging.

Committee members:

Dr. Hui Liu (Chair)

Dr. Zhenmei Zhang

Dr. Ning Hsieh

Dr. William Chopik (Psychology Department)