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Brain Sci. 2018 Sep 30;8(10). pii: E182. doi: 10.3390/brainsci8100182.

Educational Attainment Better Protects African American Women than African American Men Against Depressive Symptoms and Psychological Distress.

Assari S1,2,3,4.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture, and Health (CRECH), School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.



Recent research has shown smaller health effects of socioeconomic status (SES) indicators such as education attainment for African Americans as compared to whites. However, less is known about diminished returns based on gender within African Americans.


To test whether among African American men are at a relative disadvantage compared to women in terms of having improved mental health as a result of their education attainment. This study thus explored gender differences in the association between education attainment and mental health, using a representative sample of American adults.


The National Survey of American Life (NSAL; 2003) recruited 3570 African American adults (2299 females and 1271 males). The dependent variables were depressive symptoms and psychological distress. The independent variable was education attainment. Race was the focal moderator. Age, employment status, and marital status were covariates. Linear regressions were used for data analysis.


In the pooled sample that included both male and female African American adults, high education attainment was associated with lower depressive symptoms and psychological distress, net of covariates. Significant interactions were found between gender and education attainment with effects on depressive symptoms and psychological distress, suggesting stronger protective effects of high education attainment against depressive symptoms and psychological distress for female as compared to male African Americans.


A smaller gain in mental health with respect to educational attainment for male African American males as compared to African American females is in line with studies showing high risk of depression in African American men of high-socioeconomic status. High-SES African American men need screening for depression and psychological distress.


African Americans; depression; distress; racism; socioeconomic status (SES)

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