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Parental separation and depressive symptoms in late adolescence and early adulthood : The moderating role of parents' socioeconomic resources

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Title: Parental separation and depressive symptoms in late adolescence and early adulthood : The moderating role of parents' socioeconomic resources
Author(s): Nordberg, Juhana
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master's Programme in Social Research
Specialisation: Demography
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2019
Divorces have been relatively common in Finland since the 1980s. In 2005–2016 the crude divorce rate varied between 2.4 and 2.6 per 1000 whereas in Europe the rate was on average 1.8–2.1 during the same years. Due to the high divorce rates, it is important to study the consequences of parental separation on child psychological well-being. Most studies from recent decades have found significant but usually modest associations between parental separation and child behavioral and emotional problems, malaise, anxiety and forms of depression. Also some evidence for causal links between parental separation and child’s mental health has been found, but the effects are likely to vary a lot. Firstly, due to selection effect, the poorer mental health outcomes among children from separated families are also affected by other family circumstances than the separation. Secondly, based on the so-called compensation theory, recent research has discussed the potential compensating role of parents’ socioeconomic resources. However, only a limited amount of register-based studies have investigated how the impacts of parental separation for child mental health vary by parents’ socioeconomic resources. This Master’s thesis studies the association between parental separation and depressive symptoms, measured by antidepressant use, in adolescence and young adulthood. It also provides an extensive analysis of how families are selected into separation by early family circumstances, and how strongly these circumstances contribute to the risk of depressive symptoms. Finally, the study examines whether the parental education, an indicator of social and economic resources, modifies the association between parental separation and depressive symptoms. The study uses register-linked panel data that is based on a 20 % random sample of Finnish households with at least one child aged 0–14 at the end of 2000. The final study population included birth cohorts 1990–97 (N=70,478) that were followed for antidepressant use between ages 15–21 in years 2005–2012. The data comprises information on social, demographic and economic characteristics of the families together with data on psychotropic drug purchases among both parents and offspring. The associations between parental separation and antidepressant use were analyzed with Cox regression model. In line with most of the previous research, parental separation was moderately associated with depressive symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood. In the unadjusted model children with an experience of parental separation had 1.6 times (HR) higher risk of antidepressant use at age of 15–21. Considering selection, the fully adjusted model showed a significant association, almost as strong as the unadjusted model (HR 1.45). For the risk of antidepressant use, the early family circumstances were on average less favorable in the families that separated. However, the family socioeconomic circumstances, previous psychotropic drug use, parental age and marital status and child’s sex explained a minor part of the increased risk of antidepressant use among children from separated families. In the moderation analysis, the association between parental separation and child depression was moderately stronger in families where parents had completed only basic education. The result is in line with the compensation theory, but cannot be generalized to a larger population, because the differences between educational groups in the main association were not statistically significant. The study suggests that the increased risk for depressive symptoms after parental separation is partly caused by the measured and unmeasured selection. The increased risk is also likely to be partly caused by the parental separation itself. In the study population the parental separation appears to have been less detrimental to children whose separating parents have more socioeconomic resources that compensate and obviate the negative consequences for child mental health.
Keyword(s): parental separation parental divorce union dissolution effects of parental separation child mental health depression adolescent depressive symptoms antidepressant use selection effect parental education parental socioeconomic resources socioeconomic position longitudinal register data avioero avoero masennus masennusoire masennuslääke nuoruus varhaisaikuisuus

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