Background Intelligence at a single time-point has been linked to health outcomes. An individual's IQ increases with longer schooling, but the validity of such increase is unclear. In this study, we assess the hypothesis that individual change in the performance on IQ tests between ages 10 and 20 years is associated with mortality later in life.
Methods The analyses are based on a cohort of Swedish boys born in 1928 (n = 610) for whom social background data were collected in 1937, IQ tests were carried out in 1938 and 1948 and own education and mortality were recorded up to 2006. Structural equation models were used to estimate the extent to which two latent intelligence scores, at ages 10 and 20 years, manifested by results on the IQ tests, are related to paternal and own education, and how all these variables are linked to all-cause mortality.
Results Intelligence at the age of 20 years was associated with lower mortality in adulthood, after controlling for intelligence at the age of 10 years. The increases in intelligence partly mediated the link between longer schooling and lower mortality. Social background differences in adult intelligence (and consequently in mortality) were partly explained by the tendency for sons of more educated fathers to receive longer schooling, even when initial intelligence levels had been accounted for.
Conclusions The results are consistent with a causal link from change in intelligence to mortality, and further, that schooling-induced changes in IQ scores are true and bring about lasting changes in intelligence. In addition, if both these interpretations are correct, social differences in access to longer schooling have consequences for social differences in both adult intelligence and adult health.