Income inequality within urban settings and depressive symptoms among adolescents

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Abstract

Background

Although recent evidence has shown that area-level income inequality is related to increased risk for depression among adults, few studies have tested this association among adolescents.

Methods

We analysed the cross-sectional data from a sample of 1878 adolescents living in 38 neighbourhoods participating in the 2008 Boston Youth Survey. Using multilevel linear regression modelling, we: (1) estimated the association between neighbourhood income inequality and depressive symptoms, (2) tested for cross-level interactions between sex and neighbourhood income inequality and (3) examined neighbourhood social cohesion as a mediator of the relationship between income inequality and depressive symptoms.

Results

The association between neighbourhood income inequality and depressive symptoms varied significantly by sex, with girls in higher income inequality neighbourhood reporting higher depressive symptom scores, but not boys. Among girls, a unit increase in Gini Z-score was associated with more depressive symptoms (β=0.38, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.47, p=0.01) adjusting for nativity, neighbourhood income, social cohesion, crime and social disorder. There was no evidence that the association between income inequality and depressive symptoms was due to neighbourhood-level differences in social cohesion.

Conclusions

The distribution of incomes within an urban area adversely affects adolescent girls' mental health; future work is needed to understand why, as well as to examine in greater depth the potential consequences of inequality for males, which may have been difficult to detect here.

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