Gender, Personality, and Cognitive Resilience Against Early-Life Disadvantage

Joseph L. Saenz, Sadaf Arefi Milani, Silvia Mejía-Arango

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Early-life disadvantage (ELD) relates to lower late-life cognition. However, personality factors, including having an internal locus of control (LOC) or a conscientious personality, relate to resilience and effective stress coping. We explore whether personality factors convey resilience against the negative effects of ELD on cognition, by gender, in Mexico. Methods: Using the 2015 Mexican Health and Aging Study, we estimated expected cognition using multiple ELD markers to identify a subsample in the lowest quartile of expected cognition given ELD (n = 2,086). In this subsample, we estimated cross-sectional associations between personality and having above-median observed cognitive ability (n = 522) using logistic regression. Results: Among those in the lowest quartile of expected cognition, a more internal LOC (β = 0.32 [men] and β = 0.44 [women]) and conscientious personality (β = 0.39 [men] and β = 0.17 [women]) were significantly associated with having above-median cognitive ability in models adjusted for demographic confounders. Larger benefits of conscientiousness were observed for men than women. Associations between personality and having above-median cognitive ability remained statistically significant after further adjustment for health, stress, and cognitive stimulation variables, regardless of gender. Discussion: Personality factors may convey resilience among individuals who experienced ELD, potentially breaking the link between ELD and worse late-life cognition. Structural factors and gender roles may affect how much women benefit from personality factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)913-924
Number of pages12
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2023


  • Aging
  • Cognitive resilience
  • Early life
  • Education
  • Life course

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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