Online Program

Changes in Literacy Skills among Chinese Older Adults

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 8:50 a.m. - 9:10 a.m.

Qiong Wu, Peking University, Beijing, China
Background: Several studies have pointed out literacy skills to be a powerful proxy for cognitive reserve, but research is scarce on how literacy skills change over time among the aging population, in contrast to abundant evidence on memory function and reasoning skills. The current study aims to describe changes in literacy skills over a four-year span among Chinese adults aged 45 and above, and examine the effects of individual and neighborhood level characteristics on such changes. Method: Data were from the nationally representative China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) in 2010 and 2014. Literacy skills were measured using a word list test, where respondents were asked to pronounce each Chinese character. A total of 34 Chinese characters were listed in increasing order of difficulties, and the test would proceed till the end of the list unless the respondents mispronounced three items consecutively. Eight equivalent lists were available. Respondents would receive a different list when they were tested again four years later to minimize practice effect. Inverse probability weights (IPW) were computed by estimating the probability of respondents remaining in the 2014 survey based on a set of covariates. Analyses were adjusted with IPW to correct for attrition bias. Results: In 2010, respondents aged 45+ on average recognized 12.89 Chinese characters out of the 34-item list, and in 2014, the average dropped to 11.81. At the individual level, those who were not married and had lower income showed lower literacy skills overall, but not faster decline. Males were performing better than females overall, but they deteriorated faster over time. Those with lower education exhibited lower literacy levels and deteriorated faster. At the neighborhood level, those living in neighborhoods with elderly service center or physical exercise facilities declined at a slower rate. Conclusion: There was a clear pattern of deterioration in literacy skills among Chinese population aged 45+ over a four-year span. Those with low education were doubly disadvantaged in both showing a low average level AND faster decline over time. Access to elderly service centers and physical exercise facilities appears to slow down the rate of such deterioration.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the pattern of changes in literacy skills over time among Chinese older adults; Analyze the effects of individual and neighborhood level characteristics on changes in literacy skills over time

Keyword(s): Literacy, Aging

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an assistant research professor at Peking University in China, and cognitive aging is among my research areas and I have published related papers in peer-reviewed journals based on secondary data analysis. Before my current position, I was a research associate at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, working extensively with large scale survey data.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.