Could older mothers be causing depression?

According to there are currently 350 million people worldwide who suffer from depression. Along with these statistics, it has been shown that women are more likely to become diagnosed with depression than men. Actually, in recent studies there have been links to depression in the daughters, not sons, of women who had them over the age of 30. What evidence has been linked to make this claim? Furthermore, does this claim apply to all daughters whose mothers had them at the ages of 30 and above?

Jessica Tearne is a doctoral student at the University of Western Australia and also the lead author in this study. The “…study suggests that older maternal age is associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress in young adult females.” This study is also published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Data was collected from 1989 – 1991 of pregnant women recruited into the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. They provided psychological and demographic information which made for a wide range of women in the study. After the women gave birth, their daughters were psychologically assessed for the next 23 years. The assessments were preformed at different ages over time; this produces credibility in the study because with assessments during various ages there is more data to consider or pull from.

The study used 1,200 of the offspring at age 20. The researchers looked at their, “… self-reported levels of various symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress…” This study was observational since no experiments were actually conducted. Observational studies are generally less expensive than experiments. After the various symptoms were reported, they were then compared with the ages of the mother and father at the time they were born. The finding was that, “Daughters whose mothers were age 30 – 34 when they gave birth reported significantly higher levels of stress and those whose mothers were over age 35 at the time of birth had significantly higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety compared with daughters whose mothers were under the age of 30.” This study is interesting because the cause of depression in general is really unclear and can be caused by many factors, and the correlation of this study is unclear as well; remember, correlation does not equal causation!

Since this study has not concluded a direct correlation for the findings, they have made some possible explanations for the data. Tearne says, “One hypothesis is difficulties may occur in the mother – daughter relationship because of a large age difference between the two.” She states that the age gap may cause “…tensions in the relationship, leading to stress, worry and sadness in the child, particularly during the transition to young adulthood.” This conclusion seems like a stretch and does not offer much scientific data whereas it does offer some psychological findings. The second hypothesis Tearne offers is that since women who were older when giving birth will be older as the child grows up, the health problems experienced while aging may cause stress in the children. Other studies have suggested that daughters rather than sons are more likely to be affected by their mother’s health. This supports the aim at daughters instead of sons.

The conclusion of the study takes into consideration that the daughters were not clinically diagnosed, they just were studied based off of the symptoms reported. Since the symptoms were just reported there could be errors or misdiagnoses which makes the study less credible. The study does not present a direct correlation to depression, anxiety, and stress in daughter whose mothers gave birth at the age 30 -35, but the statistical findings are consistent with that hypothesis. Yes, the offspring of older mothers could be at risk for those symptoms, but it is not definite that they will have a “…diagnosable mental disorder.” I think that this study was actually a very interesting topic seeing as depression is so prevalent in the world today. Although I believe that this study had some limitations such as maybe some 3rd variables that could cause the daughters to be depressed, and no clear conclusion, I think that this study would be great for further observation. While researching the facts about the study, the important lesson we learned in class that correlation does NOT equal causation was extremely important to remember.

1 thought on “Could older mothers be causing depression?

  1. Courtney Michelle Walker

    This blog is very very interesting to me because my mom had me at age 34 and everyone suffers from depressive symptoms at some point in their life, like me. There are many other causes of depression that can factor into this study so it is hard to conclude that the mothers cause it. On the other hand, I found a study that says that fathers cause a daughters depression. The women in college who were surveyed and had a bad relationship with their dad had a lower than normal cortisol level. The daughters were all very sensitive and over react when presented with stress. This is super interesting to me because I am not close with my father and I am a very sensitive person. This makes me wonder if my dad and I’s relationship is the cause of my stress. Here’s an article on the importance of the father-daughter relationship.

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