Original Paper

Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 48, Issue 11, pp 1829-1839

First online:

Parents’ education and the risk of major depression in early adulthood

  • Alison L. ParkAffiliated withInstitut national de santé publique du Québec
  • , Rebecca FuhrerAffiliated withDepartment of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University
  • , Amélie Quesnel-ValléeAffiliated withDepartment of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill UniversityDepartment of Sociology, McGill University Email author 

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Early-life low socioeconomic position (SEP) increases the risk of adult major depression; however, associations vary according to the measure of SEP and adults’ life stage. Although maternal education often predicts offspring health better than other SEP indicators, including paternal education, it is unclear how maternal and paternal education differentially influence early-adult depression, and how early-life and adult risk factors may mediate the association.


Longitudinal data come from the Canadian National Population Health Survey from 1994/1995 to 2006/2007, restricted to a sample (N = 1,267) that was aged 12–24 years in 1994/1995. Past-year major depressive episode (MDE) was assessed in 2004/2005 and 2006/2007 using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview Short Form for Major Depression. Logistic regression models were used to estimate odds ratios (OR) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI) for the association between both maternal and paternal education and MDE, adjusting for respondent’s demographics, early-life adversities, adult SEP, psychosocial factors, and physical health.


Offsprings of mothers with less than secondary school education had higher odds of MDE (adjusted OR 2.04, 95 % CI 1.25–3.32) relative to those whose mothers had more education. Paternal education was not associated with MDE. Although adult income, student status, psychosocial stress, and several early-life adversities remained associated with MDE in the fully adjusted model, the estimate for maternal education was not reduced.


Maternal education was associated with MDE in early adulthood, independent of paternal education and other early-life and early-adult risk factors.


Major depression Life course Socioeconomic factors Adults Longitudinal studies