Mental health disparities across education and sex: a prospective analysis examining how they persist over the life course

OBJECTIVES: Higher levels of psychopathology among people with lower socioeconomic status and among women persist as cohorts age. In this analysis, we examine whether the persistence of these disparities as a cohort ages results from (a) a single set of people within a disadvantaged group who have chronic psychopathology or (b) continually changing sets of people within a disadvantaged group who have psychopathology of short duration. METHODS: Data for this analysis come from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study, which includes two psychological assessments (depressive syndrome and psychological distress) in a population sample of adults in Baltimore, Maryland, collected 13 years apart. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Results indicate that the persistence of disparities across education resulted primarily from one single set of respondents with chronic psychopathology over the 13 years of the survey, while the persistence of disparities across sex involved new sets of women as the cohort aged. We discuss implications of these results for theory and policy.