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Background We examined associations between family status (living with a spouse or partner and number of children) and lifetime depression.
Methods We used data from the UK Biobank, a large prospective study of middle-aged and older adults. Lifetime depression was assessed as part of a follow-up mental health questionnaire. Logistic regression was used to estimate associations between family status and depression. We included extensive adjustment for social, demographic and other potential confounders, including depression polygenic risk scores.
Results 52,078 participants (mean age = 63.6, SD = 7.6; 52% female) were included in our analyses. Living with a spouse or partner was associated with substantially lower odds of lifetime depression (OR = 0.67, 95% CI 0.62-0.74). Compared to individuals without children, we found higher odds of lifetime depression for parents of one child (OR = 1.17, 95% CI 1.07-1.27) and parents of three (OR = 1.11, 95% CI 1.03-1.20) or four or more children (OR = 1.27, 95% CI 1.14-1.42). Amongst those not cohabiting, having any number of children was associated with higher odds of lifetime depression. Our results were consistent across age groups, the sexes, neighbourhood deprivation and genetic risk for depression. Exploratory Mendelian randomisation analyses suggested a causal effect of number of children on lifetime depression.
Limitations Our data did not allow distinguishing between non-marital and marital cohabitation. Results may not generalise to all ages or populations.
Conclusions Living with a spouse or partner was strongly associated with reduced odds of depression. Having one or three or more children was associated with increased odds of depression, especially in individuals not living with a spouse or partner.