Income inequalities, social support and depressive symptoms among older adults in Europe: a multilevel cross-sectional study

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This study analysed the association between income inequality and depression from a multilevel perspective among older adults in Europe, including an examination of the role of social support. The data came from Eurostat’s European Health Interview Survey (EHIS). Selected participants were aged 65 years or above (n=68,417) and located in 24 European countries. The outcome variable (depression) was measured using the eight-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8). The resulting dataset included individual-level (level-1) and aggregate-level (level 2) exposure variables. Level-1 included income quintiles and social support as exposure variables and sex, age, living alone, limitation in activities of daily living and general activity limitation as control variables. Level 2 included the Gini coefcient, healthcare expenditure and dependency ratio. A multilevel linear regression analysis was performed with maximum likelihood (ML) estimation. All the income quintiles from 1 to 4 showed higher average scores for depression than quintile 5 (the highest). Higher social support scores were associated with lower scores for depression. An interaction was found between income quintile and social support, with higher levels of social support associated with lower scores for depression in quintiles 1 and 2. Higher Gini coefcient scores were associated with higher scores for depression. A signifcative random slope for social support was also found, meaning that the relationship between social support and depression difered across countries. No signifcant interaction was found between the Gini coefcient and social support. The study fndings suggest that more unequal societies provide a less favourable context for the mental health of older adults. There are also signifcant country-dependent diferences in terms of the relationship between support and mental health among older adults..
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