Quality of Life Research

, Volume 22, Issue 7, pp 1589-1602

First online:

Intergenerational educational mobility on general mental health and depressive symptoms in young women

  • Leigh ToothAffiliated withSchool of Population Health, Mayne Medical School, The University of Queensland Email author 
  • , Gita MishraAffiliated withSchool of Population Health, Mayne Medical School, The University of Queensland

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To investigate how intergenerational educational mobility between women and their parents influences mental health/depressive symptoms in women.


We studied 5,619 women aged 31–36 years in 2009 from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. The short-form-36 Mental Component Summary Scores [MCS] measured mental health and the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale [CES-D] measured depressive symptoms. Multiple regression analyses, with adjustment for confounders, were used.


Greater downward mobility from mothers (mother high to self low) [MCS regression estimate [β] −3.35; 95 % confidence interval [CI] −5.6,−1.1; CES-D β 1.94; 95 % CI, 0.7,3.2], and greater (father high to self low MCS β,-2.53; 95 % CI −4.8,−0.3] and moderate (father high to self intermediate MCS β −1.71; 95 % CI −3.3,−0.1] downward mobility from fathers were associated with poorer mental health in women. Another strongly consistent influence on poor mental health was answering ‘don’t know/not applicable’ about parental education [mother–self MCS β −1.34; 95 % CI, −2.3,−0.4; mother–self CES-D β 0.52; 95 % CI 0.01,1.0; father–self MCS β −1.19; 95 % CI −2.1,−0.3].


There are subtle differences for same and opposite-sex parent–daughter relationships on the impact of downwards intergenerational educational mobility on mental health in young women. These results suggest the effect of own educational attainment on mental health depends on the degree of disparity between self and parent. Future studies should consider ‘don’t know’ as a separate category rather than treating it as a ‘missing’ response.


Depressive disorder Educational status Intergenerational relations Mental health Socioeconomic factors Women