Depression and African Americans in the First Decade of Midlife: The Consequences of Social Roles and Gender

C. André Christie-Mizell, Ryan D. Talbert, Ashleigh R. Hope, Cleothia G. Frazier, Brittany N. Hearne

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14 Scopus citations


Objective: This study examined gender differences in how three social roles – marriage, parenthood, and employment – impact depressive symptoms and clinically significant depression for African Americans in the first decade of midlife, from 40 to 50 years old. Specifically, we sought to understand the associations between roles configurations (e.g., married parent versus employed only) and depressed mood as well as diagnosable depression. Method: The data for this study were extracted from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort (NLSY79). Constituting a representative sample of non-institutionalized Americans, NLSY respondents were interviewed each year from 1979 to 1994 and biennially thereafter. Our study included 2372 African Americans. We used ordinary least squares regression to estimate depressive symptoms and logistic regression to model the probability of clinically significant depression. Results: African American men who were married/cohabiting only, employed only, or married/cohabiting, employed parents experienced lower levels of depressed mood, compared to African American women. Holding none of the roles under consideration in this study resulted in higher levels of depressive symptoms for African American women than for African American men. For diagnosable depression, the role combinations of married/cohabiting, employed and married/cohabiting, employed parent resulted in a lower probability of depression for African American men, compared to their female counterparts. Regardless of gender, role configurations that included employment produced the lowest levels of depressive symptoms and the lowest likelihood of clinically significant depression. Conclusions: Overall, the pattern of findings showed that role configurations are important in shaping mental health for both African American men and women. Multiple role combinations that included employment make individuals less vulnerable to depressive symptoms and clinically significant depression. Having no roles (e.g., unmarried, unemployed, non-parent) was more problematic for the well-being of African American women compared to African American men, but not as detrimental to African American mental health as prior studies focused on other racial and ethnic groups have suggested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-295
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the National Medical Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine

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