Age, period and cohort effects on the risk of major depression: results from five United States communities

Priya J. Wickramaratne, Myrna M. Weissman, Philip J. Leaf, Theodore R. Holford

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122 Scopus citations


Rates of major depression are presented from the recently completed Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) Study based on probability samples of over 18,000 adults, 18 years of age and older, living in five U.S. communities. These rates were analyzed to describe simultaneously the changes affecting successive birth cohorts and the changes associated with the period in which the onset of the disorder occurred, using age-period-cohort (APC) models. The non-identifiability problem inherent in all APC models was resolved by assuming that the linear period effect and linear cohort effect were non-negative. This assumption is consistent with our a priori substantive knowledge of the disease. Under this assumption, as the linear period effect varies from its minimum to its maximum values, a family of curves representing the possible effects of a factor was generated for each of the time factors-age, period and cohort. The results of the analysis showed a sharp increase in rates of major depression among both men and women in the birth cohort born during the years 1935-1945. The rates among females, however, seemed to have stabilized in the generations born since 1945, while the rates in males continued to rise sharply among the cohorts born in the following decade, after which, in 1955, they also levelled off. In contrast, the rates associated with period of onset of major depression continued to increase between the years 1960-1980 among both men and women of all ages studied. These findings are considered in light of the persistent concentration of depression in women and in biologically related members of families of affected individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-343
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes


  • Cohort analysis
  • Major depression
  • Survival analysis
  • Time trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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