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



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.

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We are thankful for data provided by Statistics Canada [National Population Health Survey Household Component, cycle 7 (2006–2007), Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2008] and data access through the Québec Inter-University Centre for Social Statistics, Statistics Canada Research Data Centre, McGill University. Amelie Quesnel-Vallée is supported by a Fonds de recherche en santé du Québec Health and Society Research Scholar Junior 2 Award. Rebecca Fuhrer holds the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Canada Research Chair in Psychosocial Epidemiology. This work was supported by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (operating grant MOP 77800 to AQV) and the Quebec Inter-University Centre for Centre for Social Statistics Matching Grants Program to ALP.

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All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to Amélie Quesnel-Vallée.



See Table 3.

Table 3 Adjusted odds ratios (95 % confidence intervals) for association between parents’ education and major depressive episode in the sub-sample with complete data on parents’ diagnosis of depression (adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, own previous depression, and parents’ depression) (N = 1,005)

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Park, A.L., Fuhrer, R. & Quesnel-Vallée, A. Parents’ education and the risk of major depression in early adulthood. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 48, 1829–1839 (2013).

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  • Major depression
  • Life course
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Adults
  • Longitudinal studies