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Higher Educated Less Depressed as They Age

  [ 49 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
www.ProHealth.com • August 8, 2000


Individuals with fewer years of education, who tend to have fewer financial and social resources to cope with stress, are known to be more vulnerable to depression. However, few studies have examined whether this vulnerability remains static over a lifetime.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Pennsylvania State University examined the possibility that less educated individuals might become less vulnerable to depression as they aged, by developing immunity to stress through repeated exposure to it, for example.

However, when they analyzed survey data from nearly 2,000 adults aged 18-90, study co-authors Richard Allen Miech and Michael J. Shanahan found instead that as less educated adults aged, they were increasingly more likely to be depressed than adults with more education -- mostly because adults with lower education had more health problems.

"Much of the reason that individuals with higher education are more successful in postponing increases in depression is attributable to their relatively better physical health," said Miech.

"To the extent that physical health problems foster depression, they may widen the depression gap with advancing age," he added. The study results appear in the June 2000 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The researchers also looked at the survey participants' widowed status, employment status, stress coping resources, and income. While these factors were all related to both education and depression, they did not account for the increasing association between education and depression with advancing age.

Higher education did not make survey respondents immune to depression as they aged. Depression levels rose after middle adulthood for all respondents, but more education appeared to help respondents delay its onset. Respondents with 16 years of education were on average able to delay depression for ten years longer than respondents with 10 years of education, for example.

The depression gap between more- and less-educated older individuals probably originates early in life, stemming from factors including occupational conditions, exercise and diet habits, and health care access, according to the researchers.

"The results of this study indicate that greater attention to life-course specific stressors and processes -- particularly those that operate in early adulthood and have long-term consequences -- will lead to a fuller understanding of both social conditions and their lasting impact on health outcomes," said Miech.



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