Open Access Research article

To what extent does IQ 'explain' socio-economic variations in function?

Hans Bosma1*, Martin PJ van Boxtel2, Gertrudis IJM Kempen3, Jacques ThM van Eijk1 and Jelle Jolles2

Author Affiliations

1 Maastricht University, Social Medicine, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands

2 Maastricht University, Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands

3 Maastricht University, School for Public Health and Primary Care, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:179  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-179

Published: 25 July 2007



The aims of this study were to examine the extent to which higher intellectual abilities protect higher socio-economic groups from functional decline and to examine whether the contribution of intellectual abilities is independent of childhood deprivation and low birth weight and other socio-economic and developmental factors in early life.


The Maastricht Aging Study (MAAS) is a prospective cohort study based upon participants in a registration network of general practices in The Netherlands. Information was available on 1211 men and women, 24 – 81 years old, who were without cognitive impairment at baseline (1993 – 1995), who ever had a paid job, and who participated in the six-year follow-up. Main outcomes were longitudinal decline in important components of quality of life and successful aging, i.e., self-reported physical, affective, and cognitive functioning.


Persons with a low occupational level at baseline showed more functional decline than persons with a high occupational level. Socio-economic and developmental factors from early life hardly contributed to the adult socio-economic differences in functional decline. Intellectual abilities, however, took into account more than one third of the association between adult socio-economic status and functional decline. The contribution of the intellectual abilities was independent of the early life factors.


Rather than developmental and socio-economic characteristics of early life, the findings substantiate the importance of intellectual abilities for functional decline and their contribution – as potential, but neglected confounders – to socio-economic differences in functioning, successful aging, and quality of life. The higher intellectual abilities in the higher socio-economic status groups may also underlie the higher prevalences of mastery, self-efficacy and efficient coping styles in these groups.