"Our research indicates that a mother's lack of high school education has a robust impact on her child's risk of major depressive episode in early adulthood," said Amelie Quesnel-Vallee, senior author of the study.
Indeed, the increased risk of depression among children of mothers with less than a high school education could not be attributed to parental history of depression, early life adversity or the children's own education and income in early adulthood.
This study is the first in Canada to distinguish the impact of mother's and father's education on depression in early adulthood. The study employed a sample of 1,267 participants from Statistics Canada's National Population Health Survey. The respondents were first interviewed in 1994, when they were between 12 and 24 years old, and living with their parents. They were then followed for 12 years, and their risk of major depressive episode was assessed when they were between 22 and 36 years old.
Interestingly, the father's level of education had no impact.
"This, along with the fact that the effect of mother's education was not explained by the children's own education or income, suggests that mothers' parenting skills may be at play here," according to Quesnel-Vallee.
"Education gives people practical skills, such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as an increased sense of mastery" says Alison Park, a researcher at the Institut National de Sante Publique du Quebec who worked on this research in the course of her Master's degree under Quesnel-Vallee's supervision.
"A better-educated mother might be more confident in coping with difficulties arising from child-rearing. This increased confidence and feeling of self-mastery might serve as a model for her children," she added.
The McGill study has been published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.