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The relationship between parental depressive symptoms and offspring psychopathology: evidence from a children-of-twins study and an adoption study

  • T. A. McAdams (a1), F. V. Rijsdijk (a1), J. M. Neiderhiser (a2), J. Narusyte (a3), D. S. Shaw (a4), M. N. Natsuaki (a5), E. L. Spotts (a6), J. M. Ganiban (a7), David Reiss (a8), L. D. Leve (a9), P. Lichtenstein (a10) and T. C. Eley (a1)...



Parental depressive symptoms are associated with emotional and behavioural problems in offspring. However, genetically informative studies are needed to distinguish potential causal effects from genetic confounds, and longitudinal studies are required to distinguish parent-to-child effects from child-to-parent effects.


We conducted cross-sectional analyses on a sample of Swedish twins and their adolescent offspring (n = 876 twin families), and longitudinal analyses on a US sample of children adopted at birth, their adoptive parents, and their birth mothers (n = 361 adoptive families). Depressive symptoms were measured in parents, and externalizing and internalizing problems measured in offspring. Structural equation models were fitted to the data.


Results of model fitting suggest that associations between parental depressive symptoms and offspring internalizing and externalizing problems remain after accounting for genes shared between parent and child. Genetic transmission was not evident in the twin study but was evident in the adoption study. In the longitudinal adoption study child-to-parent effects were evident.


We interpret the results as demonstrating that associations between parental depressive symptoms and offspring emotional and behavioural problems are not solely attributable to shared genes, and that bidirectional effects may be present in intergenerational associations.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: Dr T. A. McAdams, King's College London, London, UK. (Email:


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