Depression, parenthood, and age at first birth

Soc Sci Med. 2002 Apr;54(8):1281-98. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(01)00096-x.


This study tests the hypothesis that the correlation between current depression and parenthood depends on the age at first birth for adults. An early first birth suggests a poor start in life. It may reflect a disordered transition from adolescence into adulthood and may itself disrupt that transition, with life long consequences that influence emotional well-being. To test the hypothesis we analyze data from a 1995 survey of 2592 US adults 18 through 95. Among the parents we find a generally negative association between age at first birth and recent feelings and signs of depression, adjusting for age, sex, minority status, and education of the respondent's parents. Respondents who had a first birth before age 23 report more feelings and signs of depression than do nonparents; those who had a first birth after age 23 report fewer than do nonparents. The association between depression and age at first birth is monotonic for males but parabolic for females. The age at first birth associated with the lowest predicted depression for females is around 30. Regression analyses indicate that several correlates account for the apparent psychological benefits of delaying first birth: later first marriages, higher educational attainment, lower risk of having had a prolonged period needing a job but not being able to find one, lower risk of having had periods lacking the money for household necessities, and better current physical health. For women, health consequences limit the emotional benefits of prolonged delay of the first birth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Educational Status
  • Employment
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Maternal Age*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Parents / education
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Paternal Age*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / psychology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • United States / epidemiology