Low Socioeconomic Status and Mental Disorders: A Longitudinal Study of Selection and Causation During Young Adulthood

Miech, Richard Allen, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, Bradley E. Wright, and Phil A. Silva
Working paper no. 1998-05


Over the past half century two competing hypotheses in sociological inquiry have provided interpretations of the well-documented association between low socioeconomic status and mental disorders. The selection hypothesis asserts that mental disorders impair status attainment, whereas the causation hypothesis states that conditions of life associated with low socioeconomic status markedly increase the risk of mental disorders. Using data from the longitudinal Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (n=1037), we examine selection and causation processes during the transition to young adulthood by investigating the mutual influence of mental disorders and educational attainment, a core element of socioeconomic status. The Dunedin Study follows a cohort from birth to age 21, and includes psychiatric diagnoses for study members at ages 15 and 21 using DSM criteria. We focus on the four disorders of anxiety, depression, anti-social disorder, and attention deficit disorder and find a unique relationship with socioeconomic status for each one. These findings highlight the need for (a) greater consideration of antisocial disorders in the status attainment process and (b) more theoretical development in the sociology of mental disorders to account for disorder-specific relations with socioeconomic status.no.