BACKGROUND: The prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) is higher in those with low levels of educational attainment, the unemployed and those with low social status. However the extent to which these factors cause MDD is unclear. Most of the available data comes from studies in developed countries, and these findings may not extrapolate to developing countries. Examining the relationship between MDD and socio economic status in China is likely to add to the debate because of the radical economic and social changes occurring in China over the last 30 years. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We report results from 3,639 Chinese women with recurrent MDD and 3,800 controls. Highly significant odds ratios (ORs) were observed between MDD and full time employment (OR = 0.36, 95% CI = 0.25-0.46, logP = 78), social status (OR = 0.83, 95% CI = 0.77-0.87, logP = 13.3) and education attainment (OR = 0.90, 95% CI = 0.86-0.90, logP = 6.8). We found a monotonic relationship between increasing age and increasing levels of educational attainment. Those with only primary school education have significantly more episodes of MDD (mean 6.5, P-value = 0.009) and have a clinically more severe disorder, while those with higher educational attainment are likely to manifest more comorbid anxiety disorders. CONCLUSIONS: In China lower socioeconomic position is associated with increased rates of MDD, as it is elsewhere in the world. Significantly more episodes of MDD occur among those with lower educational attainment (rather than longer episodes of disease), consistent with the hypothesis that the lower socioeconomic position increases the likelihood of developing MDD. The phenomenology of MDD varies according to the degree of educational attainment: higher educational attainment not only appears to protect against MDD but alters its presentation, to a more anxious phenotype.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Anxiety Disorders, Asian Continental Ancestry Group, Chi-Square Distribution, China, Depressive Disorder, Major, Educational Status, Employment, Female, Humans, Logistic Models, Middle Aged, Occupations, Odds Ratio, Recurrence, Social Class