Dr. Amélie Quesnel-Vallée, McGill University – Depression and Education Level

Jul 13, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Amélie Quesnel-Vallée of McGill University reveals the multigenerational advantages of a college degree.

Amélie Quesnel-Vallée is an associate professor at McGill University where she has a joint appointment in the Departments of Sociology and Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health. Her research examines how social policies influence the development of social inequalities in health. Her work has been featured in a number of peer-reviewed journals and she holds a Ph.D. from Duke University.

About Dr. Quesnel-Vallée

Dr. Amélie Quesnel-Vallée – Depression and Education Level

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. “A chip off the old block”. “Like father, like son”.  Before we even knew of genes, these expressions already conveyed the commonsense observation that who our parents are shapes who we are. This is why physicians and insurers alike use your family history of diseases, like stroke and diabetes, to assess your own risk of these diseases.

In the research I conducted with Miles Taylor, we look at the processes that link parents' social status to symptoms of depression seen in their adult children. And what our research shows is that this is not just a biological process, but also a social one. We used data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. This survey has been following a group of American youth who were then 14 to 21 years old., They are now well into their fifties. So these are wonderful data for studying how people's lives unfold.

Our results show that, the greater the parents’ education, the fewer the symptoms of depression in their adult children. And this is true even if there is a family history of depression. So how can this be explained? Much is explained by the adult children’s own education and income. We use  something called a pathway model to show that parents who are more educated also tend to have more educated children. And in turn, these more educated children go on to get better paying jobs. And this is what shields them from stress and from depressive symptoms. This means that the solution to adult symptoms of depression may not just lie on the prescription pads in doctors’ offices, but may in fact begin in the classroom.