Disparities in Psychological Distress Across Education and Sex: A Longitudinal Analysis of Their Persistence Within A Cohort Over 19 Years

Purpose Disparities in psychological distress across socioeconomic status and sex persist throughout adulthood as cohorts age. In this study, we investigate the extent to which this persistence represents either (i) a single set of individuals who at the start of adulthood show distress that is chronic and long lasting or (ii) different sets of individuals that have a staggered onset of short-term distress throughout adulthood. Methods We use path analysis on data from the National Child Development Study, a longitudinal cohort study that assessed psychological distress at ages 23, 33, and 42 years. Results About 80% of distress disparities at age 42 result from chronic distress that was present in a single set of individuals at least 19 years earlier at the beginning of adulthood. Conclusions These results support a targeted approach to the reduction of distress disparities that focuses on young adults with high levels of distress and seeks to improve their long-term mental health.