Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Childhood cognitive function and later-life economic activity: Linking the Scottish Mental Survey 1947 to administrative data.

Project Number:



Professor Chris Dibben (University of Edinburgh)
Professor Ian Deary (University of Edinburgh)
Matthew Iveson (University of Edinburgh)

Start Date:

30th November 2016



As the population ages, and as individuals are expected to work and function for longer, it is increasingly important to understand what contributes to health and wellbeing in later life. The rate of long-term unemployment is higher in older adults than younger adults, and older adults exhibit particular problems finding a job after unemployment (Heidcamp et al., 2010; Rix, 2011). Unemployment in older age may be detrimental to wellbeing but may also help protect individuals from the damaging effects of risky or demanding occupations; likewise, subsequent reemployment may promote wellbeing or exacerbate cognitive and physical decline. Previous work has shown that unemployment in mid-life can be predicted by current levels of cognitive ability (e.g., Clark et al., 2001; Vinokur & Schul, 2002) and by current socioeconomic status (e.g., Bartley & Owen, 1996; Schuring et al., 2013). However, in such studies unemployment status and individual factors are temporally confounded, making the direction of causation difficult to determine. Some success has been observed using early-life circumstances as pre-morbid predictors of the risk of unemployment, particularly childhood socioeconomic status (e.g., Anyadike-Danes & McVicar, 2005) and childhood cognitive ability (e.g., Fergusson et al., 2005). It is unclear, however, the degree to which these early-life factors represent independent contributions to unemployment risk (Richards & Sacker, 2003). Furthermore, the majority of previous work has focused on predicting unemployment risk in mid-life. Very little work has been done to investigate the contribution of early-life factors to unemployment risk in the latter-part of the working life, in which unemployment rates are particularly high (Heidcamp et al., 2010; Rix, 2011).


This study will investigate the link between early-life factors (cognitive ability and socioeconomic status) and the risk of unemployment in later-life (aged 55+). Such lifecourse analyses will be conducted using the members of the SLS whom also took part in the Scottish Mental Survey 1947 – a nation-wide test of cognitive ability administered at age 11 years-old. The risk of unemployment will also be investigated in terms of the type of occupation or industry in order to account for the variation in physical demands between occupations and the historic reduction of industrial employment occurring in the 20th century. Understanding the importance of early-life factors in economic activity around retirement age may aid interventions designed to promote productivity and wellbeing in older-age, and may help to ensure that older adults participate in occupations appropriate to their cognitive and physical health.



Anyadike-Danes, M., & McVicar, D. (2005). You’ll never walk alone: Childhood influences and male career path clusters. Labour Economics, 12, 511-530.
Bartley, M., & Owen, C. (1996). Relation between socioeconomic status, employment, and health during economic change. British Medical Journal, 313(7055), 445-449.
Clark, A.E., Georgellis, Y., & Sanfey, P. (2001). Scarring: The psychological impact of past unemployment. Economica, 68, 221-241.
Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, L.J., & Ridder, E.M. (2005). Show me the child at seven II: Childhood intelligence and later outcomes in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(8), 850-858.
Heidcamp, M., Corre, N., & Van Horn, C.E. (2010). The “new unemployables”: Older job seekers struggle to find work during the great recession (Issue Brief No. 25). Chestnut Hill, MA: The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.
Richards, M., & Sacker, A. (2003). Lifetime antecedents of cognitive reserve. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 25(5), 614-624.
Rix, S.E. (2011). The employment situation, May 2011: Average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers continues to rise. AARP Public Policy Institute.
Schuring, M., Robroek, S.J.W., Otten, F.W.J., Arts, C.H., & Burdorf, A. (2013). The effect of ill health and socioeconomic status on labor force exit and re-employment: A prospective study with ten years follow-up in the Netherlands. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 39(2), 134-143.
Vinokur, A.D., & Schul, Y. (2002). The web of coping resources and pathways to reemployment following a job loss. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7(1), 68-83.

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