Volume 31 - Article 4 | Pages 105–118

A cross-country comparison of math achievement at teen age and cognitive performance 40 years later

By Vegard Skirbekk, Valeria Bordone, Daniela Weber

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Date received:07 Nov 2013
Date published:04 Jul 2014
Word count:2496
Keywords:cognitive aging, cross-national comparison, Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE)


Background: Maintaining cognitive functioning through mid- to late-life is relevant for the individual and societal aim of active ageing. Evidence shows considerable stability in individual-level rank-ordering of cognitive functioning, but little attention has been given to cohort performance over the life cycle and macro-level factors that could affect it.

Objective: The main goal of this paper is to address cross-national variation in mental performance from younger to older ages.

Methods: Using a quasi-longitudinal approach, we compare the relative country ranking in standardised mathematical test scores at teen age in 1964 from the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS) and cognitive test performance at mid-life in 2004, based on the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) for the cohort born between 1949 and 1952.

Results: Our results show that those countries which had the highest scores in math tests taken by 13 years old grade level students are not the same countries that, 40 years later, have the top performing scores in cognitive tests among mid-age adults.

Conclusions: This article highlights the importance of considering country-level influences on cognitive change over the life cycle, in addition to individual characteristics, and provides some descriptive findings that could be incorporated with further research on the link between specific contextual factors and cognitive functioning.

Author's Affiliation

Vegard Skirbekk - Columbia University, United States of America [Email]
Valeria Bordone - Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany [Email]
Daniela Weber - International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria [Email]

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