Racial and Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Trajectories: A Longitudinal Analysis Exploring the Contributions of Early Life, School, and Adult Characteristics

Katrina M. Walsemann, University of South Carolina
Gilbert C Gee, University of Michigan
Arline Geronimus, University of Michigan

Although research investigating ethnic differences in mental health has increased in recent years, we know relatively little about how mental health trajectories vary across ethnic groups. Do these differences occur at certain developmental stages, but not others? We investigate ethnic variations in trajectories of depressive symptoms, and examine the extent to which disadvantage in childhood, schooling, and adulthood explain these differences. Employing random-coefficient modeling using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we find that blacks and Hispanics experience higher symptom levels in early adulthood in comparison to whites, but equivalent levels by middle-age. Ethnic differences remained in early adulthood after including all covariates, but were eliminated by middle-age for Hispanics after controlling for demographics only and for blacks after accounting for the age-varying relationship between income and depressive symptoms. These results highlight the importance of integrating a life-course perspective when investigating ethnic variations in mental health.

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Presented in Session 117: Health over the Life Course and across Generations