Women’s greater late-life depression: Traumatic experiences or GxE?

TitleWomen’s greater late-life depression: Traumatic experiences or GxE?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsDas, A
JournalAdvances in Life Course Research
ISSN Number1040-2608
Keywordsdepression, gender, Older Adults, polygenic risk, Trauma

Objectives This study examined the role of traumatic life experiences, and their interaction with genetic risk, in explaining gender differences in late life depression. Methods Data were from the 2008-through-2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, nationally representative of U.S. adults over age 50. Analysis was restricted to white participants. Newly available polygenic risk scores indexed genetic propensity for depression. Linear growth models examined gender effects on depression, as well as their mediation by environmental and genetic risk. Results Across-person results suggested greater depression among older white women than men. No disparities were found in within-person change. Women also did not have more traumatic life experiences. Nor did the few factors they reported more than men influence depression, or mediate the gender difference in this outcome. The sole exception was childhood parental physical abuse. This early experience mediated about a quarter of the gender disparity—but only at mean or high genetic vulnerability. In contrast, adulthood traumas common among women interacted negatively with polygenic risk—such that they mediated the gender effect only at low levels of the latter. Discussion Traumatic life experiences and their genetic interactions appear to have minimal utility in explaining women’s greater depression—at least among white older adults. Careful work is needed on the extent to which these factors underlie other social disparities in mental health.

Citation KeyDAS2020100341