Examining the association between family status and depression in the UK Biobank

J Affect Disord. 2021 Jan 15:279:585-598. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.10.017. Epub 2020 Oct 10.


Background: We examined associations between family status (living with a spouse or partner and number of children) and lifetime depression.

Methods: We used data from the UK Biobank, a large prospective study of middle-aged and older adults. Lifetime depression was assessed as part of a follow-up mental health questionnaire. Logistic regression was used to estimate associations between family status and depression. We included extensive adjustment for social, demographic and other potential confounders, including depression polygenic risk scores.

Results: 52,078 participants (mean age = 63.6, SD = 7.6; 52% female) were included in our analyses. Living with a spouse or partner was associated with substantially lower odds of lifetime depression (OR = 0.67, 95% CI 0.62-0.74). Compared to individuals without children, we found higher odds of lifetime depression for parents of one child (OR = 1.17, 95% CI 1.07-1.27) and parents of three (OR = 1.11, 95% CI 1.03-1.20) or four or more children (OR = 1.27, 95% CI 1.14-1.42). Amongst those not cohabiting, having any number of children was associated with higher odds of lifetime depression. Our results were consistent across age groups, the sexes, neighbourhood deprivation and genetic risk for depression. Exploratory Mendelian randomisation analyses suggested a causal effect of number of children on lifetime depression.

Limitations: Our data did not allow distinguishing between non-marital and marital cohabitation. Results may not generalise to all ages or populations.

Conclusions: Living with a spouse or partner was strongly associated with reduced odds of depression. Having one or three or more children was associated with increased odds of depression, especially in individuals not living with a spouse or partner.

Keywords: Children; Cohabitation; Depression; Family status; Marital status; UK Biobank.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biological Specimen Banks*
  • Child
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Depression* / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology