Social Indicators Research

, Volume 121, Issue 2, pp 437–454 | Cite as

Time Period and Birth Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013

  • Jean M. TwengeEmail author


Across four surveys (N = 6.9 million), Americans reported substantially higher levels of depressive symptoms, particularly somatic symptoms, in the 2000s–2010s compared to the 1980s–1990s. High school students in the 2010s (vs. the 1980s) reported more somatic symptoms (e.g., trouble sleeping, thinking, and remembering; shortness of breath) and were twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental issues. College students in recent years (vs. the 1980s) were more likely to report feeling overwhelmed and to believe they were below average in mental and physical health, but were less likely to say they felt depressed. Total Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scores were higher among adults in 2000 (vs. 1988), especially somatic symptoms. Teens displayed less suicidal ideation in 2011 versus 1991 and were slightly less likely to commit suicide. Thus, more subtle symptoms of depression became more prevalent even as some overt indicators of depression became less prevalent.


Depressive symptoms Depression Somatic symptoms Generational differences Birth cohort Cultural change 


  1. Achenbach, T. M., Dumenci, L., & Rescorla, L. A. (2003). Are American children’s problems still getting worse? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress in America: Missing the health care connection.
  3. Baumeister, H., & Harter, M. (2007). Prevalence of mental disorders based on general population surveys. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 42, 537–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bengtson, V. L., Biblarz, T. J., & Roberts, R. E. L. (2002). How families still matter: A longitudinal study of youth in two generations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brault, M.-C., Meuleman, B., & Bracke, P. (2012). Depressive symptoms in the Belgian population: Disentangling age and cohort effects. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47, 903–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Collishaw, S., Maughan, B., Natarajan, L., & Pickles, A. (2009). Trends in adolescent emotional problems in England: A comparison of two national cohorts twenty years apart. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 885–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Compton, W. M., Conway, K. P., Stinson, F. S., & Grant, B. F. (2006). Changes in the prevalence of major depression and comorbid substance use disorders in the United States between 1991–1992 and 2001–2002. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 2141–2147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Costello, J., Erkanli, A., & Angold, A. (2006). Is there an epidemic of child or adolescent depression? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 1263–1271.Google Scholar
  9. DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., Campbell, W. K., & Twenge, J. M. (2011). Tuning in to psychological change: Linguistic markers of psychological traits and emotions over time in popular U.S. song lyrics. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 5, 200–207.Google Scholar
  10. Eckersley, R., & Dear, K. (2002). Cultural correlates of youth suicide. Social Science and Medicine, 55, 1891–1904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gatz, M., & Hurwicz, M.-L. (1990). Are old people more depressed? Cross-sectional data on Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale factors. Psychology and Aging, 5, 284–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Goldney, R. D., Eckert, K. A., Hawthorne, G., & Taylor, A. W. (2010). Changes in the prevalence of major depression in an Australian community sample between 1998 and 2008. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 901–910.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goodwin, R. D. (2003). The prevalence of panic attacks in the United States: 1980 to 1995. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 56, 914–916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hawton, K., Cornabella, C. C., Haw, C., & Saunders, K. (2013). Risk factors for suicide in individuals with depression: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 147, 17–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Herbst, C. M. (2011). ‘Paradoxical’ decline? Another look at the relative reduction in female happiness. Journal of Economic Psychology, 32, 773–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hidaka, B. H. (2012). Depression as a disease of modernity: Explanations for increasing prevalence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140, 205–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hung, C.-I., Liu, C.-Y., Wang, S.-J., & Juang, Y–. Y. (2010). Somatic symptoms: An important index in predicting the outcome of depression at six-month and two-year follow-up points among outpatients with major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 125, 134–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johnston, L. D., Bachman, J. G., O’Malley, P. M., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the future: A continuing study of American youth (12th-grade survey), 1976–2010; (8th- and 10th-grade survey), 1991–2010 [Computer files and codebook]. ICPSR25382-v2. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.Google Scholar
  19. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1996). Further examining the American dream: Differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 280–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klerman, G. L., & Weissman, M. M. (1989). Increasing rates of depression. Journal of the American Medical Association, 261, 2229–2235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lester, D. (2013). Hopelessness in undergraduate students around the world: A review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 150, 1204–1208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Fischer, S. A. (1993). Age-cohort changes in lifetime occurrence of depression and other mental disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 110–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lindfors, P., Solantaus, T., & Rimpela, A. (2012). Fears for the future among Finnish adolescents in 1983–2007: From global concerns to ill health and loneliness. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 991–999.Google Scholar
  24. Lopresti, A. L., Hood, S. D., & Drummond, P. D. (2013). A review of lifestyle factors that contribute to important pathways associated with major depression: Diet, sleep, and exercise. Journal of Affective Disorders, 148, 12–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mackenzie, C. S., Erickson, J., Deane, F., & Wright, M. (2014). Changes in attitudes toward seeking mental health services: A 40-year cross-temporal meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 99–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2010). Cultures and selves: A cycle of mutual constitution. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 420–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mathers, C. D., & Loncar, D. (2006). Projections of global mortality and burden of disease from 2002 to 2030. PLoS Medicine, 3, 2011–2030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Myers, D. G. (2000). The American paradox: Spiritual hunger in an age of plenty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Newsom, C. R., Archer, R. P., Trumbetta, S., & Gottesman, I. I. (2003). Changes in adolescent response patterns on the MMPI/MMPI-A across four decades. Journal of Personality Assessment, 81, 74–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Patten, S. B. (2003). Recall bias and major depression lifetime prevalence. Social Psychiatry and Epidemiology, 38, 290–296.Google Scholar
  31. Pratt, L. A., Brody, D. J., & Gu, Q. (2011). Antidepressant use in persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2005–2008. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief 76.Google Scholar
  32. Pryor, J. H., Hurtado, S., Saenz, V. B., Santos, J. L., & Korn, W. S. (2007). The American freshman: Forty-year trends, 1966–2006. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute.Google Scholar
  33. Reynolds, J., Stewart, M., MacDonald, R., & Sischo, L. (2006). Have adolescents become too ambitious? High school seniors’ educational and occupational plans, 1976 to 2000. Social Problems, 53, 186–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Robins, L. N., Helzer, J. E., Weissman, M. M., Orvaschel, H., Gruenbreg, E., Burke, J. D., et al. (1984). Lifetime prevalence of specific psychiatric disorders in three sites. Archives of General Psychiatry, 41, 949–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Roest, A. M., Thombs, B. D., Grace, S. L., Stewart, D. E., Abbey, S. E., & de Jonge, P. (2011). Somatic/affective symptoms, but not cognitive/affective symptoms, of depression after acute cardiac syndrome are associated with 12-month all-cause mortality. Journal of Affective Disorders, 131, 158–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schaie, K. W. (1965). A general model for the study of developmental problems. Psychological Bulletin, 64, 92–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Seligman, M. E. P. (1988a). Boomer blues. Psychology Today, 22, 50–53.Google Scholar
  38. Seligman, M. E. P. (1988b). Why is there so much depression today? The waxing of the individual and the waning of the commons. In. R. E. Ingram (Ed.), Contemporary psychological approaches to depression (pp. 1–9). New York, NY: Plenum.Google Scholar
  39. Shafer, A. B. (2006). Meta-analysis of the factor structures of four depression questionnaires: Beck, CES-D, Hamilton, and Zung. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62, 123–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Swindle, R., Heller, K., Pescosolido, B., & Kikuzawa, S. (2000). Responses to nervous breakdowns in America over a 40-year period. American Psychologist, 55, 740–749.Google Scholar
  41. Twenge, J. M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 1007–1021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled–and more miserable than ever before. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  43. Twenge, J. M., & Foster, J. D. (2010). Birth cohort increases in narcissistic personality traits among American college students, 1982–2009. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 99–106.Google Scholar
  44. Twenge, J. M., & Im, C. (2007). Changes in the need for social approval, 1958–2001. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 171–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Twenge, J. M., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2002). Age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, and birth cohort differences on the Children’s Depression Inventory: A meta-analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 578–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2012). Generational increases in agentic self-evaluations among American college students, 1966–2009. Self and Identity, 11, 409–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Twenge, J. M., Gentile, B., DeWall, C. N., Ma, D. S., Lacefield, K., & Schurtz, D. R. (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 145–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. U.S. Census. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  49. Wickramaratne, P. J., Weissman, M. M., Leaf, P. J., & Holford, T. R. (1989). Age, period, and cohort effects on the risk of major depression: Results from five United States communities. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 42, 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

Personalised recommendations