Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

Study: Depressed Teens Earn 20% Less Later in Life

As uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, much about our professional lives is often set when we're children or teens, well before we ever set foot in the work place. Our educations. Our parents' wealth. These things are strong predictors of where we'll end up down the line, regardless of our natural smarts or ambition. 

Another item that may belong on the list: mental health. A reminder of that comes today courtesy of a new working paper by Jason Fletcher of the Yale School of Public Health, which reaches the remarkable conclusion that adults who suffer from adolescent depression ultimately make about 20 percent less money than their peers and are somewhat less likely to be employed. 

This is not the first paper to conclude that those who suffer from depression tend to earn lower incomes. But Fletcher's paper attempts to improve upon earlier research by using detailed data from a 13-year longitudinal study, which started tracking a group of students in grades seven through twelve from across the United States in 1994. By looking at his subjects over time and incorporating information about their school environments, physical health, drug use, home lives, and other factors that could impact their early career success, he tries to isolate the impact of youth depression more precisely than in previous efforts. 

Teenage depression reduced labor force attachment by five percentage points overall, though it tended to have the biggest impact on employment among women. It influenced earnings more strongly among men. Controlling for educational attainment reduced the impact on income from 20 percent to 16 percent, while taking into account whether a subject was still suffering from depression later in life reduced it to 12 percent -- both steep drops nonetheless. 

Despite the many factors it controls for, the paper cautions that it's still premature to draw a causal link between depression and wages. But it argues that its "results are suggestive that the links between adolescent depression and labor market outcomes are quite robust and important in magnitude, suggesting that there may be substantial labor market returns to further investments in treatment and opportunities during adolescence."

In other words: our mental health may impact our financial health for years on end. One more reason for parents to watch their kids -- especially their feelings. 

Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Business

Just In