The Role of Perceived Discrimination during Childhood and Adolescence in Understanding Racial and Socioeconomic Influences on Depression in Young Adulthood

An investigation into factors related to disparities of depression in young adults has found that higher parental education — which has a protective effect for white youth — can also increase the risk of depression for black youth. The MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) study published online in the Journal of Pediatrics also found that, among high-socioeconomic-status black youth, greater perceptions of being discriminated against cancelled out the protective effects of parental education.

The investigators examined data from the Princeton School District study, a nine-year study led by Goodman, which enrolled a biracial group of 5th to 12th graders from a Midwestern suburban school system in the 2001-2002 school year. The current study analyzed information from 545 participants who were followed into young adulthood, when they were from 21 to 25 years old, and were surveyed about both perceived lifetime ethnic discrimination and recent depressive symptoms using well validated measures of both.

Among the 296 participants who identified themselves as non-Hispanic white, perceptions of lifetime discrimination steadily decreased as levels of parental education increased. But among the 249 participants identifying themselves as non-Hispanic black — who reported more lifetime discrimination overall — the relationship between education and discrimination was more complex. While black participants whose parents had a high school education or less experienced more discrimination than those from families in which a parent had some college or vocational training, those whose parents had advanced or professional degrees reported the greatest perceived discrimination of all — almost twice as high as white young adults from similarly educated families and 1.2 times higher than black participants whose parents had a high school education or less.

“Among all participants, whether black or white, we found that, the more discrimination young adults reported feeling, the more likely they were to report symptoms of depression,” says study lead author Erika Cheng, PhD, MPA, MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Research and Policy. “Taken together, our findings suggests that high socioeconomic status black young adults — who typically might not be thought of as being at increased risk for discrimination and depression — are actually at risk for both.”

Population of focus: 5th to 12th graders from a Midwestern suburban school system

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Date: 2014

Journal: Journal of Pediatrics