Is Cognition a Fundamental Cause of Health Disparities? A Cohort Analysis of Smoking Initiation and Cessation

Pamela Herd, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Cognitive epidemiologists argue that IQ, rather than education, is a fundamental cause of health disparities. To test this claim, we utilize the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to examine smoking behaviors in a cohort that came of age during the period between 1950 and 1960, when the medical evidence, which received significant media attention, demonstrated the link between smoking and cancer. Smoking is an excellent test because of its high impact on mortality, the lack of evidence on the predictive value of IQ, and because individual behaviors are a central mechanism through which cognition is expected to affect health. Preliminary analyses demonstrate that those with higher Iqs were more likely to have started smoking than those with lower Iqs, despite the evidence regarding the ill effects of smoking, while educational performance/attainment are strongly and negatively associated with starting smoking. Educational attainment/performance also drives the likelihood of quitting smoking by later life.

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Presented in Session 110: Social Disparities in Health