Exposure to socioeconomic adversity in early life and risk of depression at 18 years

the mediating role of locus of control

Iryna Culpin*, Lexine Stapinski, Ömür Budanur Miles, Ricardo Araya, Carol Joinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)


Background Previous studies have linked exposure to early socioeconomic adversity to depression, but the mechanisms of this association are not well understood. Locus of control (LoC), an individual's control-related beliefs, has been implicated as a possible mechanism, however, longitudinal evidence to support this is lacking. Methods The study sample comprised 8803 participants from a UK cohort, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Indicators of early socioeconomic adversity were collected from the antenatal period to 5 years and modelled as a latent factor. Depression was assessed using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R) at 18 years. LoC was assessed with the Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External (CNSIE) scale at 16 years. Results Using structural equation modelling, we found that 34% of the total estimated association between early socioeconomic adversity and depression at 18 years was explained by external LoC at 16 years. There was weak evidence of a direct pathway from early socioeconomic adversity to depression after accounting for the indirect effect via external locus of control. Socioeconomic adversity was associated with more external LoC, which, in turn, was associated with depression. Limitations Attrition may have led to an underestimation of the direct and indirect effect sizes in the complete case analysis. Conclusions Results suggest that external LoC in adolescence is one of the factors mediating the link between early adversity and depression at 18 years. Cognitive interventions that seek to modify maladaptive control beliefs in adolescence may be effective in reducing risk of depression following early life adversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-278
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)
  • Depression
  • Early childhood
  • Locus of control
  • Socioeconomic adversity

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