Skip to main content Accessibility help

Neighborhood deprivation and depression in adult twins: genetics and gene×environment interaction

  • E. Strachan (a1), G. Duncan (a2), E. Horn (a3) and E. Turkheimer (a3)



Depression is a significant problem and it is vital to understand its underlying causes and related policy implications. Neighborhood characteristics are implicated in depression but the nature of this association is unclear. Unobserved or unmeasured factors may confound the relationship. This study addresses confounding in a twin study investigating neighborhood-level effects on depression controlling for genetics, common environment, and gene×environment (G × E) interactions.


Data on neighborhood deprivation and depression were gathered from 3155 monozygotic twin pairs and 1275 dizygotic pairs (65.7% female) between 2006 and 2013. The variance for both depression and neighborhood deprivation was decomposed into three components: additive genetic variance (A); shared environmental variance (C); and non-shared environmental variance (E). Depression was then regressed on neighborhood deprivation to test the direct association and whether that association was confounded. We also tested for a G × E interaction in which the heritability of depression was modified by the level of neighborhood deprivation.


Depression and neighborhood deprivation showed evidence of significant A (21.8% and 15.9%, respectively) and C (13.9% and 32.7%, respectively) variance. Depression increased with increasing neighborhood deprivation across all twins (p = 0.009), but this regression was not significant after controlling for A and C variance common to both phenotypes (p = 0.615). The G × E model showed genetic influences on depression increasing with increasing neighborhood deprivation (p < 0.001).


Neighborhood deprivation is an important contributor to depression via increasing the genetic risk. Modifiable pathways that link neighborhoods to depression have been proposed and should serve as targets for intervention and research.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: E. Strachan, PhD, University of Washington School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. (Email:


Hide All
Afari, N, Noonan, C, Goldberg, J, Edwards, K, Gadepalli, K, Osterman, B, Evanoff, C, Buchwald, D (2006). University of Washington Twin Registry: construction and characteristics of a community-based twin registry. Twin Research and Human Genetics 9, 10231029.
Aneshensel, CS, Sucoff, CA (1996). The neighborhood context of adolescent mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 37, 293310.
Aneshensel, CS, Wight, RG, Miller-Martinez, D, Botticello, AL, Karlamangla, AS, Seeman, TE (2007). Urban neighborhoods and depressive symptoms among older adults. Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 62, S52S59.
Attar, BK, Guerra, NG, Tolan, PH (1994). Neighborhood disadvantage, stressful life events and adjustments in urban elementary-school children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology 23, 391400.
Beard, JR, Cerdá, M, Blaney, S, Ahern, J, Vlahov, D, Galea, S (2009). Neighborhood characteristics and change in depressive symptoms among older residents of New York City. American Journal of Public Health 99.
Belden Russonello & Stewart LLC (2011). The 2011 Community Preference Survey: What Americans are Looking for when Deciding where to Live. Washington, DC.
Blair, A, Ross, NA, Gariepy, G, Schmitz, N (2014). How do neighborhoods affect depression outcomes? A realist review and a call for the examination of causal pathways. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 49, 873887.
Bocquier, A, Cortaredona, S, Verdoux, H, Sciortino, V, Nauleau, S, Verger, P (2013). Social inequalities in new antidepressant treatment: a study at the individual and neighborhood levels. Annals of Epidemiology 23, 99105.
Chase-Lansdale, PL, Gordon, RA (1996). Economic hardship and the development of five-and six-year-olds: neighborhood and regional perspectives. Child Development 67, 33383367.
Chisholm, D, Sanderson, K, Ayuso-Mateos, JL, Saxena, S (2004). Reducing the global burden of depression: population-level analysis of intervention cost-effectiveness in 14 world regions. British Journal of Psychiatry 184, 393403.
Duncan, GE, Dansie, EJ, Strachan, E, Munsell, M, Huang, R, Vernez Moudon, A, Goldberg, J, Buchwald, D (2012). Genetic and environmental influences on residential location in the US. Health & Place 18, 515519.
Duncan, GE, Mills, B, Strachan, E, Hurvitz, P, Huang, R, Moudon, AV, Turkheimer, E (2014). Stepping towards causation in studies of neighborhood and environmental effects: how twin research can overcome problems of selection and reverse causation. Health Place 27C, 106111.
Eaves, LJ, Verhulst, B (2014). Problems and pit-falls in testing for G x E and epistasis in candidate gene studies of human behavior. Behavior Genetics 44, 578590.
Edwards, B, Bromfield, LM (2009). Neighborhood influences on young children's conduct problems and pro-social behavior: evidence from an Australian national sample. Children and Youth Services Review 31, 317324.
Eisen, S, Neuman, R, Goldberg, J, Rice, J, True, W (1989). Determining zygosity in the Vietnam Era Twin Registry: an approach using questionnaires. Clinical Genetics 35, 423432.
Everson-Rose, SA, Skarupski, KA, Barnes, LL, Beck, T, Evans, DA, Mendes de Leon, CF (2011). Neighborhood socioeconomic conditions are associated with psychosocial functioning in older black and white adults. Health & Place 17, 793800.
Galea, S, Ahern, J, Nandi, A, Tracy, M, Beard, J, Vlahov, D (2007). Urban neighborhood poverty and the incidence of depression in a population-based cohort study. Annals of Epidemiology 17, 171179.
Henderson, C, Roux, AVD, Jacobs, DR, Kiefe, CI, West, D, Williams, DR (2005). Neighbourhood characteristics, individual level socioeconomic factors, and depressive symptoms in young adults: the CARDIA study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59, 322328.
Johnson, W (2007). Genetic and environmental influences on behavior: capturing all the interplay. Psychological Review 114, 423440.
Joseph, J (2002). Twin studies in psychiatry and psychology: science or pseudoscience? Psychiatric Quarterly 73, 7182.
Kind, AJ, Jencks, S, Brock, J, Yu, M, Bartels, C, Ehlenbach, W, Greenberg, C, Smith, M (2014). Neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and 30-day rehospitalization: a retrospective cohort study. Annals of Internal Medicine 161, 765–74.
Kendler, KS, Neale, MC, Kessler, RC, Heath, AC, Eaves, LJ (1994). Parental treatment and the equal environment assumption in twin studies of psychiatric illness. Psychologocal Medicine 24, 579590.
Kessler, RC, Berglund, P, Demler, O, Jin, R, Koretz, D, Merikangas, KR, Rush, J, Walters, EE, Wang, PS (2003). The epidemiology of major depressive disorder: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Journal of the American Medical Association 289, 30953105.
Kroenke, K, Spitzer, RL, Williams, JB (2003). The patient health questionnaire-2: validity of a two-item depression screener. Medical Care 41, 12841292.
Kroenke, K, Spitzer, RL, Williams, W (2001). The PHQ-9: validity of a brief depression severity measure. Journal of General Internal Medicine 16, 606616.
Kubzansky, LD, Subramanian, S, Kawachi, I, Fay, ME, Soobader, M-J, Berkman, LF (2005). Neighborhood contextual influences on depressive symptoms in the elderly. American Journal of Epidemiology 162, 253260.
Mair, C, Diez Roux, AV, Shen, M, Shea, S, Seeman, TE, Echeverria, S, O'Meara, ES (2009). Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of neighborhood cohesion and stressors with depressive symptoms in the multiethnic study of atherosclerosis. Annals of Epidemiology 19, 4957.
Mair, C, Roux, AV, Galea, S (2008). Are neighbourhood characteristics associated with depressive symptoms? A review of evidence. British Medical Journal 62, 940946.
Matheson, FI, Moineddin, R, Dunn, JR, Creatore, MI, Gozdyra, P, Glazier, RH (2006). Urban neighborhoods, chronic stress, gender and depression. Social Science & Medicine 63, 26042616.
Mitchell, KS, Mazzeo, SE, Bulik, CM, Aggen, SH, Kendler, KS, Neale, MC (2007). An investigation of a measure of twins’ equal environments. Twin Research and Human Genetics 10, 840847.
Molenaar, D, Dolan, CV (2014). Testing systematic genotype by environment interactions using item level data. Behavior Genetics 44, 212231.
Murata, C, Kondo, K, Hirai, H, Ichida, Y, Ojima, T (2008). Association between depression and socio-economic status among community-dwelling elderly in Japan: the Aichi Gerontological Evaluation Study (AGES). Health & Place 14, 406414.
Muthén, LK, Muthén, BO (1998–2012). Mplus User's Guide, 7th edn. Muthén & Muthén: Los Angeles.
Muthén, LK, Muthén, BO (2014). Mplus Version 7.3. Muthén & Muthén: Los Angeles.
Neale, MC, Maes, HH (2004). Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families. Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Ostir, GV, Eschbach, K, Markides, KS & Goodwin, JS (2003). Neighbourhood composition and depressive symptoms among older Mexican Americans. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 57, 987992.
Puentes, R (2015). Why infrastructure matters: rotten roads, bum economy. In: Metropolitan infrastructure initiative. Washington Examiner (
Purcell, S (2002). Variance components models for gene-environment interaction in twin analysis. Twin Research 5, 554571.
Richardson, R, Westley, T, Gariépy, G, Austin, N, Nandi, A (2015). Neighborhood socioeconomic conditions and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 50, 116.
Robert, SA (1999). Socioeconomic position and health: the independent contribution of community socioeconomic context. Annual Review of Sociology 896, 489516.
Ross, CE (2000). Neighborhood disadvantage and adult depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51, 177187.
Sariaslan, A, Larsson, H, D'Onofrio, B, Langstrom, N, Fazel, S, Lichtenstein, P (2015). Does population density and neighborhood deprivation predict schizophrenia? A nationwide Swedish family-based study of 2.4 million individuals. Schizophrenia Bulletin 41, 494502.
Schwabe, I, van den Berg, SM (2014). Assessing genotype by environment interaction in case of heterogeneous measurement error. Behavior Genetics 44, 394406.
Silver, E, Mulvey, EP, Swanson, JW (2002). Neighborhood structural characteristics and mental disorder: faris and Dunham revisited. Social Science & Medicine 55, 14571470.
Singh, GK (2003). Area deprivation and widening inequalities in US Mortality, 1969–1998. American Journal of Public Health 93, 11371143.
Skapinakis, P, Lewis, G, Araya, R, Jones, K, Williams, G (2005). Mental health inequalities in Wales, UK: multi-level investigation of the effect of area deprivation. British Journal of Psychiatry 186, 417422.
Spitz, E, Moutier, R, Reed, T, Busnel, MC, Marchaland, C, Roubertoux, PL, Carlier, M (1996). Comparative diagnoses of twin zygosity by SSLP variant analysis, questionnaire, and dermatoglyphic analysis. Behavioral Genetics 26, 5563.
State of Washington (2013). Median Household Income Estimates by County: 1989 to 2013 and Projection for 2014. State of Washington Office of Financial Management: Olympia, WA.
Strachan, E, Hunt, C, Afari, N, Duncan, G, Noonan, C, Schur, E, Watson, N, Goldberg, J, Buchwald, D (2013). The University of Washington Twin Registry: poised for the next generation of twin research. Twin Research and Human Genetics 16, 455462.
Torgersen, S (1979). The determination of twin zygosity by means of a mailed questionnaire. Acta Geneticae Medicae et Gemellologiae 28, 225236.
Turkheimer, E, Harden, KP (2014). Behavior genetic research methods. In Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality Psychology (ed. Reis, H. T. and Judd, C. M.), pp. 159187. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.
van der Sluis, S, Posthuma, D, Dolan, CV (2012). A note on false positives and power in G x E modelling of twin data. Behavior Genetics 42, 170186.
Van Hulle, CA, Rathouz, PJ (2015). Operating characteristics of statistical methods for detecting gene-by-measured-environment interaction in the presence of gene-environment correlation under violations of distributional assumptions. Twin Research and Human Genetics 18, 1927.
Wainwright, NW, Surtees, PG (2004). Area and individual circumstances and mood disorder prevalence. The British Journal of Psychiatry 185, 227232.
Ware, EB, Smith, JA, Mukherjee, B, Lee, S, Kardia, SLR, Diez-Roux, AVD (2015). Applying novel methods for assessing individual- and neighborhood-level social and psychosocial environment interactions with genetic factors in the prediction of depressive symptoms in the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Behavior Genetics 46, 8999.
Watson, NF, Harden, KP, Buchwald, D, Vitiello, MV, Pack, AI, Strachan, E, Goldberg, J (2014). Sleep duration and depressive symptoms: a gene-environment interaction. Sleep 37, 351358.
Watson, NF, Horn, E, Duncan, GE, Buchwald, D, Vitiello, MV, Turkheimer, E (2016). Sleep duration and area-level deprivation in twins. Sleep 39, 6777.
Weich, S, Twigg, L, Lewis, G, Jones, K (2005). Geographical variation in rates of common mental disorders in Britain: prospective cohort study. British Journal of Psychiatry 187, 2934.
Wight, RG, Ko, MJ, Aneshensel, CS (2011). Urban neighborhoods and depressive symptoms in late middle age. Research on Aging 33, 2850.
Xue, Y, Leventhal, T, Brooks-Gunn, J, Earls, FJ (2005). Neighborhood residence and mental health problems of 5- to 11-year-olds. Archives of General Psychiatry 62, 554.
Yen, IH, Kaplan, GA (1999). Poverty area residence and changes in depression and perceived health status: evidence from the Alameda County Study. International Journal of Epidemiology 28, 9094.


Neighborhood deprivation and depression in adult twins: genetics and gene×environment interaction

  • E. Strachan (a1), G. Duncan (a2), E. Horn (a3) and E. Turkheimer (a3)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed