Project Talent Aging Study | Project Talent

Social and economic adversity can increase the risk for poor health outcomes such as heart disease and diabetes. But other experiences, like our education, can help protect against that risk. Students are more likely to attend college and get higher-paying jobs if they receive a high quality education compared with students who receive a low quality education. This, in turn, allows students with high quality education to live in good neighborhoods and get health care to help them monitor and manage their health.

The Project Talent Aging Study was a national survey of 22,500 Project Talent participants. We conducted the survey in 2018, when participants were in their early 70s. The goal of this survey was to learn about participants’ experiences, activities, abilities, and quality of life. The key question we wanted to answer was, “How does school quality protect against social and economic adversity?” The study was designed to help us understand how school quality and the amount of education we have affects our careers, social mobility, economic stability, and later-life health outcomes.

Our Survey

We contacted over 17,000 Project Talent participants to ask them to take part in a survey. The survey included questions about participants’ families, education, careers, places lived, activities, health, and life satisfaction. Nearly 6,500 participants responded to the survey.

We then invited those who responded to take part in a cognitive test and a second survey. The cognitive test measured participants’ memory and attention. The second survey included questions about participants’ relationships with family members and friends, childhood experiences, changes in daily life, diet, sleep quality, mental and emotional health, experiences with discrimination, smoking history, and alcohol use. Over 2,400 participants took part in the cognitive test, and over 2,000 participants completed the second survey.  

Key Findings

There are many ways to think about school quality. One way is to look at how many teachers have graduate training. Participants who attended high schools with fewer than 15 teachers with graduate training had worse scores on language ability and memory compared with participants who attended high schools with 24 or more teachers with graduate training. 

In addition, participants who attended schools where teachers’ salaries were, on average, less than $3,000 performed worse on language tasks compared with participants who attended schools where teachers’ salaries were, on average, $4,000 or more. As well, participants with more years of education had better memory and attention in later life, regardless of their early life social and economic status.

Future considerations include looking at other aspects of school quality, such as class size and the availability of college-prep classes, which may influence cognitive health in later life. Also, effects may vary based on race and ethnicity.

Image of Kelly Peters
Principal Psychometrician