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Socio-economic resources and adult mental health in Canada: controlling for time-invariant confounders and investigating causal directionality

A Correction to this article was published on 07 July 2021

This article has been updated



The aim of this study was to investigate whether family income and education have a causal effect on psychological distress among Canadian adults.


We executed fixed-effects regression analyses using data from the Longitudinal and International Study of Adults (LISA). We investigated whether changes in family income and education from wave 2 (2014) to wave 3 (2016) corresponded with changes in psychological distress during this same time period. We also investigated whether changes in these socio-economic resources from wave 1 (2012) to wave 2 (2014) corresponded with lagged changes in psychological distress from wave 2 (2014) to wave 3 (2016). These models controlled for all time-invariant confounders with time-invariant effects, as well as the time-varying factors age, marital status, household size, and employment status.


Obtaining a postsecondary degree corresponded with lagged decreases in psychological distress among women ages 18 to 32 (b = −1.97; 95% CI = −3.53, −0.42) and men over the age of 32 (b = −1.86; 95% CI = −3.57, −0.15). The effect of postsecondary education was stronger when considering adults who stayed married throughout the three waves (b = −2.29; 95% CI = −4.37, −0.21).


Completing postsecondary education may have a lagged causal effect on psychological distress, and the life course timing for when postsecondary completion reduces distress is different for women and men.



L’objectif de cette étude était de déterminer si le revenu familial et le niveau de scolarité ont un effet causal sur la détresse psychologique chez les adultes canadiens.


Nous avons exécuté des analyses de régression à effets fixes en utilisant les données de l’Étude longitudinale et internationale des adultes (ELIA). Nous cherchions à savoir si les changements dans le revenu familial et le niveau de scolarité de la deuxième vague (2014) à la troisième vague (2016) correspondaient à des changements dans la détresse psychologique au cours de cette même période. Nous cherchions également à savoir si les changements dans ces ressources socio-économiques de la première vague (2012) à la deuxième vague (2014) correspondaient à un futur changement de la détresse psychologique de la deuxième vague (2014) à la troisième vague (2016). Ces modèles contrôlaient tous les facteurs de confusion invariant dans le temps, ainsi que quelques facteurs variant dans le temps (l’âge, l’état matrimonial, la taille du ménage et la situation d’emploi).


L’obtention d’un diplôme d’études postsecondaires correspondait à des diminutions futures de la détresse psychologique chez les femmes de 18 à 32 ans (b = −1,97; IC à 95% = −3,53, −0,42) et les hommes de plus de 32 ans (b = −1,86; IC à 95% = −3,57, −0,15). L’effet des études postsecondaires était plus grand chez les adultes qui sont restés mariés pendant les trois vagues (b = −2,29; IC à 95% = −4,37, − 0,21).


L’accomplissement des études postsecondaires peut avoir un effet causal sur la détresse psychologique. On note aussi que la période de vie pendant laquelle cette réduction est observée est différente pour les hommes et les femmes.

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Availability of data and materials

Data cannot be shared publicly because of Statistics Canada’s confidentiality policies when using survey data linked to Canada Revenue Agency income data. Data are available from the Research Data Centres in 32 universities across Canada for researchers who meet the criteria for access to confidential data ( The analyses for this study were conducted in the Research Data Centre at UBC-Vancouver.

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Change history

  • 19 June 2021

    This article was updated to correct an entry in Table 1: minus sign inserted to read “-0.42” in the “Postsecondary degree” line of the “Lagged (2012–2014)” section.

  • 07 July 2021

    A Correction to this paper has been published:


  1. The T1 Family File contains income data for Census families. A Census family is comprised of a married couple with or without children of either or both spouses, a common-law couple with or without children of either or both partners, a lone parent living with at least one child, or a person living alone. Economic families and households can contain more than one Census family.


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This research was supported by an Insight Grant awarded to GV (grant number 435-2019-0003) and a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship awarded to AVY (grant number 767-2019-2938) by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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AVY and GV: conceptualization, methodology, formal analysis, data curation. AVY: writing of original draft; funding acquisition. GV: review and editing; funding acquisition.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adam Vanzella-Yang.

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Ethics approval

The study was approved by the Behavioural Research Board at the University of British Columbia (H18-02461). Clearance to access the raw data was granted by Statistics Canada.

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Not applicable.

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The authors declare no competing interests.


The funders had no role in the design of the study, in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data, and in the writing of the manuscript.

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Vanzella-Yang, A., Veenstra, G. Socio-economic resources and adult mental health in Canada: controlling for time-invariant confounders and investigating causal directionality. Can J Public Health 112, 1042–1049 (2021).

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  • Family income
  • Education
  • Kessler scale of psychological distress
  • Mental health
  • Fixed effects


  • Revenu familial
  • éducation
  • Échelle de Kessler de la détresse psychologique
  • santé mentale
  • effets fixes