The relation between low socioeconomic status (SES) and depression has been well documented in adult populations. A number of studies suggest that family SES may be associated with depression among children and adolescents as well, although the evidence is mixed. We assessed the relation between family income and depressive symptoms among 457 children aged 11-13 years and examined pathways that may explain this relation. In-person interviews of children and their caregivers were conducted, including assessment of family income and administration of the Computer-based Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (C-DISC). Family income was significantly associated with depressive symptoms, with children in the lowest income group (<$35,000) reporting a mean of 8.12 symptoms compared to 6.27 symptoms in the middle income group ($35,000-$74,999) and 5.13 symptoms in the highest income group (> or = $75,000; p<0.001). Controlling for the number of stressful life events experienced in the past 6 months attenuated the effect of low family income on depressive symptoms by 28%. Indicators of the family environment explained 45% and neighborhood median household income and aggravated assault rate explained 12% of the relation. The family environment, including parental divorce or separation and perceived parental support, appears to explain most of the relation between low family income and childhood depressive symptoms. Further exploration of the pathways between family SES and depression may suggest potential interventions to reduce the occurrence and persistence of depressive symptoms in children.