Mom’s education predicts adult kids’ depression

MCGILL (CAN) — Children of women who didn’t finish high school are twice as likely to experience a major episode of depression in early adulthood as children of mothers who graduated.

“Our research indicates that a mother’s lack of high school education has a robust impact on her child’s risk of major depressive episode in early adulthood,” says senior author Amélie Quesnel-Vallée of McGill University.

The increased risk of depression among children of mothers with less than a high school education could not be attributed to parental history of depression, early life adversity, or the children’s own education and income in early adulthood.


Published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the study is the first in Canada to distinguish the impact of a mother’s and father’s education on depression in early adulthood.

Researchers used a sample of 1,267 participants from Statistics Canada’s National Population Health Survey. Respondents were first interviewed in 1994, when they were between 12 and 24 years old, and living with their parents. They were then followed for 12 years, and their risk of major depressive episode was assessed when they were between 22 and 36 years old.

“Depression in early adulthood strikes at a critical time,” says Quesnel-Vallée. “An individual may be pursuing studies or apprenticeships, or starting a career or a family.  A disruption caused by depression can potentially derail these events and have lifelong consequences.”

Interestingly, the father’s level of education has no impact.

“This, along with the fact that the effect of mother’s education was not explained by the children’s own education or income, suggests that mothers’ parenting skills may be at play here,” she says.

“Education gives people practical skills, such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as an increased sense of mastery” says Alison Park, a researcher at the Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec who worked on the research for her master’s degree.

“A better-educated mother might be more confident in coping with difficulties arising from child-rearing.  This increased confidence and feeling of self-mastery might serve as a model for her children.”

The research is supported by a Fonds de recherche en santé du Québec Research Scholar Award, the Canadian Institute for Health Research, and the Quebec Inter-University Centre for Centre for Social Statistics Matching Grants Program.

Source: McGill University