Maternal depressive symptoms and young people's higher education participation and choice of university: Evidence from a longitudinal cohort study

Sally Bowman, Tim Morris, Matt Dickson, Frances Rice, Laura D Howe, Amanda M M Hughes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Participation in higher education has significant and long-lasting consequences for people's socioeconomic trajectories. Maternal depression is linked to poorer educational achievement for children in school, but its impact on university attendance is unclear.

In an English longitudinal cohort study (N = 8952), we explore whether young people whose mothers experienced elevated depressive symptoms are less likely to attend university, and the role of potential mediators in the young person: educational achievement in school, depressive symptoms, and locus of control. We also examine whether maternal depressive symptoms influence young people's choice of university, and non-attendees' reasons for not participating in higher education.

Young people whose mothers experienced more recurrent depressive symptoms were less likely to attend university (OR = 0.88, CI = 0.82,0.94, p < 0.001) per occasion of elevated maternal depressive symptoms) after adjusting for confounders. Mediation analysis indicated this was largely explained by educational achievement in school (e.g., 82.7 % mediated by age 16 achievement) and locus of control at 16. There was mixed evidence for an impact on choice of university. For participants who did not study at university, maternal depressive symptoms were linked to stating as a reason having had other priorities to do with family or children (OR: 1.17, CI = 1.02,1.35).

Lack of data on the other parent's depression, loss to follow-up, possibly selective non-response.

Young people whose mothers experience elevated depressive symptoms on multiple occasions are less likely to participate in higher education; educational achievement in secondary school, but not the young people's own depressive symptoms, substantially mediated the effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-346
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date16 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Health Foundation as part of a project entitled “Social and economic consequences of health: Causal inference methods and longitudinal, intergenerational data”, which is part of the Health Foundation 's Social and Economic Value of Health program (grant ID: 807293 ). The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the United Kingdom. AH is supported by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) New Investigator Grant ( ES/X000486/1 ), the University of Bristol and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit ( MC_UU_00011/1 ). TTM is funded by the ESRC ( ES/W013142/1 ). FR is at The Wolfson Centre for Young People's Mental Health, established with support from the Wolfson Foundation . The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant ref.: 217065/Z/19/Z ) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. A comprehensive list of grants funding is available on the ALSPAC website ( ); collection of data on higher participation was specifically funded by the Wellcome Trust and MRC (grant reference: 102215/2/13/2 ). This publication is the work of the authors, who will serve as guarantors for the contents of this paper. The funders had no role in study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of data, the writing of the report, or the decision to submit the article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023


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