Under the Hood

Study Finds Decrease In Income Also Reduces Brain Performance Of Workers

People who had a cut in their income may also experience a decrease in their brain performance. This could lead to problems with decision making and even poorer brain health. 

A new study, published in the journal Neurology, shows that a 25 percent decrease or more in annual income could make changes in the brain of young adults until they reach the middle age. The findings come from the analysis of data from 3,287 people in the U.S. 

The study followed the participants for more than 30 years, including the recession in the late 2000s, when many people experienced financial instability. All participants started the study at ages between 23 and 35 years. 

Researchers also asked each participant to report their annual pre-tax household income every three to five years during the study. The data allowed the team to monitor income drops and the percentage of change in income between 1990 and 2010.

After gathering information on income, the researchers then provided participants with thinking and memory tests that focused on their thinking skills. Results showed that the people who experienced two or more income drops found it difficult to solve tasks compared to those with no income drops. 

"Income volatility is at a record level since the early 1980s and there is growing evidence that it may have pervasive effects on health," Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, study senior author and assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, said in a statement. “Our results provide evidence that higher income volatility during peak earning years are associated with worse brain aging in middle age."

The researchers also took into account other factors that may affect the participants’ thinking skills, including education level, physical activity, smoking and high blood pressure. The negative effects of income drops remained. 

Brain scans with MRI also showed that the people who experienced a decrease in their annual income had smaller total brain volume and reduced connectivity in the brain. The changes occured within 20 years. 

The researchers said lower income potentially led to changes in thinking skills and brain health since affected people had lower access to healthcare or unhealthy behaviors, like smoking and drinking. The team aims to see another study to understand how social and financial factors affect brain aging.

Brain Scan A picture of a human brain taken by a positron emission tomography scanner, also called PET scan, is seen on a screen on January 9, 2019, at the Regional and University Hospital Center of Brest, western France. Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images