Early-Life Urban Living and Depression in Late-Adulthood

Daniel Howdon¹ (with Jochen Mierau², Samuel Liew³)

1 University of Leeds

2 University of Groningen

3 Unaffiliated


Urbanicity has been established as a risk factor for depression at various life-course stages. Little, however, is known about the impact of childhood urbanicity on depression in late-adulthood. We aim to study the association of childhood urbanicity with depressive symptoms in late adulthood among a representative sample of the 50+ population in 13 European countries.
We use 20,733 respondents from the Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. Childhood urbanicity is determined using self-reports of the respondents' circumstances at age 10, late-adulthood depression is assessed using the EURO-D depression scale. We condition on circumstances early in life as well as later in life; most importantly late-adulthood urbanicity. We estimate the associations using linear regression models and limited dependent variable models.
A pooled regression of both men and women suggests childhood urbanicity is associated in a non-monotonically with depression in late adulthood. The association is robust to the inclusion of a host of household characteristics associated with childhood urbanicity, and is independent of contemporaneous urbanicity and contemporaneous income. When broken down by gender, we find no significant association for men but a significant association for women.
Our analysis reveals a relationship between childhood urbanicity and depression in late-adulthood. The evidence presented on the nature of this relationship is not straightforward but broadly suggestive of a link between greater urbanicity and higher levels of depressive symptoms. The life-long nature of this association may potentially inform policy agendas aimed at improving urban & suburban living conditions.