Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Public Health


Although research investigating ethnic differences in mental health has increased in recent years, we know relatively little about how mental health trajectories vary across ethnic groups. Do these differences occur at certain ages, but not others? We investigate variations in trajectories of depressive symptoms, and examine the extent to which disadvantages in family background, high school experiences, and adult characteristics explain these differences. Employing random-coefficient modeling using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we find that blacks and Hispanics experience higher symptom levels in early adulthood in comparison to whites, but equivalent levels by middle-age. Ethnic differences remained in early adulthood after including all covariates, but were eliminated by middle-age for Hispanics after controlling for demographics only and for blacks after accounting for the age-varying relationship between income and depressive symptoms. These results highlight the importance of integrating a life-course perspective when investigating ethnic variations in mental health.


Walsemann, K. M., Gee, G. C., & Geronimus, A. T. (2009). Ethnic differences in trajectories of depressive symptoms: Disadvantage in family background, high school experiences, and adult characteristics. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(1), 82-98.

DOI: 10.1177/002214650905000106

© Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2009, SAGE Publications

This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed article that has been accepted for publication in Journal of Health and Social Behavior but has not been copyedited. The publisher-authenticated version is available at:

Included in

Public Health Commons