Evidence on the Long Shadow of Poor Mental Health Across Three Generations

33 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2011

See all articles by David W. Johnston

David W. Johnston

Monash University

Stefanie Schurer

Victoria University of Wellington - School of Economics and Finance

Michael A. Shields

University of Melbourne - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Abstract

Individuals suffering from mental health problems are often severely limited in their social and economic functioning. Mental health problems can develop early in life, are frequently chronic in nature, and have an established hereditary component. The extent to which mental illness runs in families could therefore help explain the widely discussed intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic disadvantage. Using data from three generations contained in the 1970 British Cohort Study, we estimate the intergenerational correlation of mental health between mothers, their children, and their grandchildren. We find that the intergenerational correlation in mental health is about 0.2, and that the probability of feeling depressed is 63 percent higher for children whose mothers reported the same symptom 20 years earlier. Moreover, grandmother and grandchild mental health are strongly correlated, but this relationship appears to work fully through the mental health of the parent. Using grandmother mental health as an instrument for maternal mental health in a model of grandchild mental health confirms the strong intergenerational correlation. We also find that maternal and own mental health are strong predictors of adulthood socioeconomic outcomes. Even after controlling for parental socioeconomic status, own educational attainment, and own mental health (captured in childhood and adulthood), our results suggest that a one standard deviation reduction in maternal mental health reduces household income for their adult offspring by around 2 percent.

Keywords: intergenerational transmission, mobility, mental health, economic outcomes

JEL Classification: I12, I14, J62

Suggested Citation

Johnston, David W. and Schurer, Stefanie and Shields, Michael A., Evidence on the Long Shadow of Poor Mental Health Across Three Generations. IZA Discussion Paper No. 6014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1944717

Stefanie Schurer

Victoria University of Wellington - School of Economics and Finance ( email )

P.O. Box 600
Wellington 6001
New Zealand
+64-4-4636708 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/sef/staff/stefanie-schurer.aspx

Michael A. Shields

University of Melbourne - Department of Economics ( email )

Victoria 3010, 3010
Australia
+61 3 8344 4656 (Phone)
+61 3 8344 6899 (Fax)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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