The impact of economic inequalities on self-esteem and depression. A longitudinal study from Denmark

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Background: During the last five years, negative consequences of austerity politics (e.g. its impact on soft outcomes such as self-esteem and mental health) have been dismissed as being irrelevant as arguments against ‘necessary’ social reforms and cut backs in many European countries including Denmark. But how important are economic factors, e.g. childhood experiences of parental unemployment, poverty and difficulties participating in leisure time activities as antecedents for self-esteem and depression?
Methods: Information from a birth cohort study of all adolescents born in 1989 (n=3,058) living in Ringkøbing County, Denmark in 2004 was collected across three questionnaire rounds (age 15, 18 and 21) containing questions about self-esteem (Rosenberg scale), symptoms of depression and many other , health, peer relations, school etc. Information on social background of the participants (e.g. personal income, parental income and education etc.) was derived from a national register and linked to the data. Random and fixed effects regression was used to estimate the impact of economic deprivation on self-esteem and depression.
Results: In general, self-esteem increases across the three questionnaire rounds, i.e. as the adolescents grow from age 15 to 21. There are, however, marked differences in the growth rate across adolescents with different levels of parental income: adolescents from the richest tertile grow 1.14 points on the scale whereas adolescents from the poorest tertile grow 0.88 points. Experiences of being unable to afford participating in leisure time activities that cost money or going on trips lowered self-esteem by 0.4. Finally, the fixed effects regression shows big differences in self-esteem comparing adolescents with different levels of personal income: being in the highest quartile increases self-esteem by 1.75 (95% CI: 1.22-2.28) compared to those in the lowest quartile. Similar results were found for symptoms of depression as outcome.
Conclusion: Self-esteem and symptoms of depression among adolescents are affected by experiences of economic hardship. This is important to keep in mind when discussing the consequences of social reforms and austerity politics across many European countries.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Journal of Public Health
Publication date2014
EditionSupplement 2
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventEuropean Public Health Conference - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Nov 201422 Nov 2014
Conference number: 7


ConferenceEuropean Public Health Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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