J Epidemiol Community Health 57:501-505 doi:10.1136/jech.57.7.501
  • Research report

Education and income: which is more important for mental health?

  1. R Araya1,
  2. G Lewis1,
  3. G Rojas2,
  4. R Fritsch2
  1. 1University of Bristol, Division of Psychiatry, Bristol, UK
  2. 2Clinica Psiquiatrica, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr R Araya, Division of Psychiatry, University of Bristol, Cotham House, Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6JL, UK; 
  • Accepted 5 November 2002


Study objective: To assess which indicators of socioeconomic status are associated with an increased prevalence of common mental disorders.

Design: Cross sectional household survey.

Setting: Santiago, Chile.

Participants: Random sample of adults aged 16–65 residing in private households.

Main results: Less education (odds ratio 2.44, 95% confidence intervals 1.50 to 3.97), a recent income decrease (odds ratio 2.14, 1.70 to 2.70), and poor housing (odds ratio 1.53, 1.05 to 2.23), were the only socioeconomic status variables that remained significantly associated with an increased prevalence of common mental disorders after adjustments. The prevalence of common mental disorders was also higher among people with manual unskilled occupations, overcrowded housing, and lower per capita income but these associations disappeared after adjustment for other explanatory and confounding variables.

Conclusions: There is a strong, inverse, and independent association between education and common mental disorders. However, income was not associated with the prevalence of common mental disorders, after adjusting for other socioeconomic variables. Similar results have been found in other Latin American studies but British studies tend to find the opposite, that income but not education is associated with common mental disorders. Understanding the impact of socioeconomic factors on mental health requires research in poor as well as rich countries.


  • Funding: This study was funded by the European Community (EC).

  • Conflicts of interest: none.

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