American Sociological Association

Racial Differences in Depression Trajectories among Older Women: Socioeconomic, Family, and Health Influences

Despite recent increases in life course research on mental illness, important questions remain about the social patterning of, and explanations for, depression trajectories among women in later life. The authors investigate competing theoretical frameworks for the age patterning of depressive symptoms and the physical health, socioeconomic, and family mechanisms differentiating black and white women. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women, the authors use linear mixed (growth curve) models to estimate trajectories of distress for women aged 52 to 81 years (N = 3,182). The results demonstrate that: (1) there are persistently higher levels of depressive symptoms among black women relative to white women throughout later life; (2) physical health and socioeconomic status account for much of the racial gap in depressive symptoms; and (3) marital status moderates race differences in distress. The findings highlight the importance of physical health, family, and socioeconomic status in racial disparities in mental health.


Naomi J. Spence, Daniel E. Adkins, Matthew E. Dupre