Socioeconomic Status and Depression over the Life Course

Numerous studies document lower levels of depression among adults with higher education, but little is known about the way in which the association varies over the life course. Do depression levels diverge or converge across educational strata with age? This study investigates how the association between education and depression changes with age and tests the extent to which these changes are accounted for by physical health problems, widowed status, employment status, coping resources, household income, and financial strain. Data for this investigation come from the Work, Family, and Well-Being Study, 1990, a nationally representative sample of 2,031 adults aged 18 to 90 interviewed by telephone. Findings indicate that the association between depression and education strengthens with increasing age. Physical health problems among adults with lower education account for most of the diverging gap in depression. These results show that an integration of insights from the stress paradigm and the life course perspective can lead to a fuller understanding of socioeconomic inequality and its influence on psychological functioning.