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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Socioeconomic resources and adult mental health in Canada Vanzella Yang, Adam Philip


Associations between socioeconomic factors and mental health have been widely documented. However, more research is needed to determine which socioeconomic resources matter, when they matter, and why they matter for mental health. In this dissertation, I use data from the Longitudinal and International Study of Adults, collected by Statistics Canada and linked to tax records from the Canada Revenue Agency, to investigate how the educational credentials and family incomes of survey respondents and their parents shape psychological distress in adulthood. In the first empirical chapter, using binary logistic regression and the Karlson-Holm-Breen decomposition technique, I find that the education and family incomes of survey respondents are joint and independent predictors of psychological distress. Subsequent analyses using fixed effects regression provide evidence that the association between education and psychological distress is causal in nature. In the second empirical chapter, I use negative binomial regression to find little to no evidence that intergenerational social reproduction impacts adult psychological distress, despite the presence of strong associations between parental and personal socioeconomic resources. In the third empirical chapter, I investigate whether socioeconomic resources in adulthood matter more for the mental health of people who experienced early life disadvantage (theory of resource substitution) or early life privilege (theory of resource multiplication). I find no evidence in support of either theory. In the fourth empirical chapter, I revisit Sorokin’s proposition that social mobility is detrimental to mental health. Using diagonal reference models, I find that downward educational mobility corresponds to greater levels of psychological distress, though the effects are weak and are observed only among men. Overall, the findings from these chapters indicate that temporally proximal rather than distal socioeconomic resources are most impactful for levels of distress of Canadian adults. Intergenerational social reproduction and social mobility do not appear to have a strong impact on distress, and parental resources do not appear to condition the effect of personal resources on distress. These findings suggest that socioeconomic inequalities in psychological distress are not as deeply rooted as they might be and can potentially be mitigated within a relatively short time frame with adequate policies and interventions.

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