Disentangling the effects of intergenerational transmission of depression from adolescence to adulthood: the protective role of self-esteem


This study aimed to disentangle time-stable and time-varying effects of maternal and paternal depression on trajectories of adolescent depression from ages 13 to 23 and examined whether self-esteem moderates the examined associations. Sex differences in the direct effects of parental depression and its interacted effects with self-esteem were further explored. Data were collected from a sample of 2502 adolescents and their parents participating in a panel study spanning from the year 2000 to 2009 in northern Taiwan. Multilevel modeling was conducted to disentangle the time-stable and time-varying effects of parental depression on adolescent depression. The moderating role of self-esteem and the potential sex differences in the transmission process were tested by adding two- and three-way interactions among parental depression, self-esteem, and sex of adolescents in the models. As predicted, significant time-stable intergenerational transmission of depression was found, indicating that adolescents of parents with higher levels of depression were at increased risks for depression. Self-esteem was further found to buffer the negative effects of maternal depression on development of depression in offspring. No sex-specific intergenerational transmission of depression was observed. In sum, both maternal and paternal depression contributed to elevated levels of adolescent depression. The effects of maternal depression, however, may not be uniform, but depend on levels of self-esteem. Intervention and prevention strategies that enhance self-esteem may help participants withstand the negative effects of maternal depression.

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Data analyzed in this study were collected by the research project “Taiwan Youth Project” sponsored by the Academia Sinica (AS-93-TP-C01). This research project was carried out by the Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, and directed by Dr. Chin-Chun Yi. The Center for Survey Research of Academia Sinica is responsible for the data distribution. The authors appreciate the assistance in providing data by the institutes and individuals aforementioned. The views expressed herein are the authors’ own.


This work was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology under Grant MOST 107-2410-H-002-084-MY2. The funding source had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation of data, writing of the articles, or the decision to submit the articles for publication.

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Correspondence to Ling-Yin Chang.

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Chang, L., Fu, M. Disentangling the effects of intergenerational transmission of depression from adolescence to adulthood: the protective role of self-esteem. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 29, 679–689 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-019-01390-w

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  • Intergenerational transmission
  • Depression
  • Self-esteem
  • Adolescence