Maternal psychological distress: adult sons' and daughters' mental health and educational attainment

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2003 Sep;42(9):1108-15. doi: 10.1097/01.CHI.0000070261.24125.F8.


Background: Offspring of depressed women have high rates of depressive symptoms and other psychopathology. The authors examined the relationship of mothers' symptoms of depression and anxiety reported during their offspring's childhood and adolescence on depressive disorder and educational achievement of their adult children.

Method: The data come from a longitudinal cohort study of first graders from Woodlawn, a neighborhood in Chicago, followed from age 6 to 32 years (N = 879). Adult children's depression and educational attainment are regressed on earlier self-reports of mothers' psychological distress. Using multiple logistic regression, the authors controlled for the relationships of poverty, mothers' education, mobility, family structure, mothers' illness, and children's first grade classroom behavior and psychological symptoms.

Results: Daughters of mothers with persistent maternal psychological distress had two and a half times the risk of lifetime depressive disorder, but no increased risk of high school dropout. For sons, mothers' psychological distress was not related to depression but was related to poorer educational attainment.

Conclusions: Mothers' depressed feelings during the childrearing years relate to their children's depression and educational attainment as measured in adulthood. The patterns differ for sons and daughters.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Student Dropouts