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Brain Sci. 2018 Oct 29;8(11). pii: E193. doi: 10.3390/brainsci8110193.

Parental Educational Attainment and Mental Well-Being of College Students; Diminished Returns of Blacks.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2700, USA.
Center for Research on Ethnicity, Culture and Health, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2700, USA.



According to the Minorities' Diminished Returns (MDR) theory, the health returns of socioeconomic status (SES) are systemically smaller for Blacks compared to Whites. Less is known, however, about trans-generational aspects of such diminished gains. For example, the differential impact of parental educational attainment on differences in mental well-being between White versus Black college students remains unknown.


With a national scope, this study explored racial differences in the effect of parental educational attainment on the mental well-being of college students in the United States.


The Healthy Mind Study (HMS), 2016⁻2017, is a national telephone survey that included 41,898 college students. The sample was composed of Whites (n = 38,544; 92.0%) and Blacks (n = 3354; 8.0%). The independent variable was highest parental educational attainment. The dependent variable was mental well-being (mentally healthy days in the past month) which was measured using a single item. Age and gender were covariates. Race was the moderator. Logistic regression was used for data analysis.


In the pooled sample, high parental educational attainment was associated with better mental wellbeing, independent of race, age, and gender. Race, however, showed a significant interaction with parental educational attainment on students' mental wellbeing, indicating a smaller effect of parent education on the mental wellbeing of Black compared to White college students.


The returns of parental educational attainment in terms of mental well-being is smaller for Black college students compared to their White counterparts. To minimize the diminished returns of parental education in Black families, policies should go beyond equalizing SES and reduce the structural barriers that are common in the lives of Black families. Policies should also aim to reduce extra costs of upward social mobility, prevent discrimination, and enhance the quality of education for Blacks. As the mechanisms that are involved in MDR are multi-level, multi-level solutions are needed to minimize the racial gaps in gaining mental health benefits from higher socioeconomic levels.


African Americans; Blacks; education; ethnicity; racial and ethnic groups; socioeconomic status

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