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Lifebrain Monthly E-newsletter, September 2017

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Women have healthier brains in gender equal countries

In countries that promote women's equality and participation in society, women have a better chance of keeping their brains healthy in later life, according to a new research from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, a partner organisation in the Lifebrain project.
Source: Colourbox
We found that gender equality is a central reason why women retain good brain function after they have passed 50 years” says Vegard Skirbekk, researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and professor at Columbia University, USA.

Together with two other researchers, Skirbekk investigated the possible reasons why women in Northern Europe performed better on cognitive tests after the age of 50 than women elsewhere in the world. Their findings are published Psychological Science.

The researchers studied the results from comparable cognitive tests of over 200,000 people aged 50 to 93 years in 27 countries.

They focused on the causal link between cultural inequalities in gender roles between societies and women's relative cognitive functions.

“Cognitive function can be trained throughout life. In a gender equal country, women will have access to education and participation in the workplace. The consequences of lack of education and unemployment are serious in a life-long perspective” says Skirbekk. 

Surprisingly Clear Connection

In the analyses, Skirbekk and his colleagues show the relation between scores in a memory test and the participants' answer to the question: “Should men have more right to work than women when there are few jobs?” The answer should reveal the respondents' attitude to gender roles and gender equality.

“We found a surprisingly clear connection between the level of gender equality in the countries and scores in this test” says Skirbekk (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The relation between scores in a memory test and the respondents' attitude to gender roles and gender equality. Source: Psychological Science July 2017: As You Sow, So Shall You Reap: Gender-Role Attitudes and Late-Life Cognition

Reap What You Sow

Skirbekk points out that men in gender equal countries are also good at maintaining good cognitive functions in later life.

"However, the differences between women in gender equal countries and women in countries with traditional gender roles are greater than the differences between men in these countries" says Skirbekk.

In some countries, especially in the Northern European countries that participated in the study, the women scored higher than men in the test did. Swedish women scored the highest. In other countries, men scored the highest. The lowest scores for women were in Ghana.
The researchers also found that in countries with a predominantly Protestant religion, women had higher scores than the women in non-Protestant countries.


Source of the newsletter

The newsletter article has been edited by Tove Beate Martinsen Kolset, Senior Communication Officer at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, also Communication Advisor at Lifebrain.
The referred article:
Bonsang E, Skirbekk V, Staudinger UM; As You Sow, So Shall You Reap: Gender-Role Attitudes and Late-Life Cognition. Psychological Science 2017:



Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition at the University of Oslo
Kristine B. Walhovd project coordinator
Barbara B. Friedman administrative coordinator
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This project has received funding from the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 732592.
Copyright © 2017 Lifebrain Horizon2020 project, All rights reserved.

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