Depression in Later Life: The Role of Adult Children's College Education for Older Parents' Mental Health in the United States

Jenjira J. Yahirun, Connor M. Sheehan, Krysia N. Mossakowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Objectives: Research on the socioeconomic gradient in mental health links disadvantaged family background with subsequent symptoms of depression, demonstrating the "downstream" effect of parental resources on children's mental health. This study takes a different approach by evaluating the "upstream" influence of adult children's educational attainment on parents' depressive symptoms. Methods: Using longitudinal data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (N = 106,517 person-years), we examine whether children's college attainment influences their parents' mental health in later life and whether this association increases with parental age. We also assess whether the link between children's college completion and parents' depression differs by parents' own education. Results: Parents with children who completed college have significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than parents without college-educated children, although the gap between parents narrows with age. In addition, at baseline, parents with less than a high school education were more positively affected by their children's college completion than parents who themselves had a college education, a finding which lends support to theories of resource substitution. Discussion: Offspring education is an overlooked resource that can contribute to mental health disparities among older adults in a country with unequal access to college educations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-402
Number of pages14
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 14 2020


  • Depression
  • Intergenerational relations
  • Life course analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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