Academic marginalization in high school as a predictor of depressive symptoms in midlife
Although research has consistently shown that higher levels of educational attainment are associated with better mental health at midlife, we know little about specific aspects of education from adolescence and the transition to adulthood that help to produce educational mental health disparities. This study examines the extent to which academic marginalization in high school, as defined by non-academic math course-taking, lowered educational expectations, and repeated course failures, are related to depressive symptoms in midlife. Using data from the 2014 follow-up survey of the High School and Beyond study, I find that high school students who took a non-academic math curriculum had significantly greater depressive symptoms at midlife, net of selection factors and subsequent degree attainment. Furthermore, failing three or more courses in high school or lowering expectations for high school graduation were also independently associated with depressive symptoms at mid-life, although the models suggest that the effect of course failures work through the subsequent likelihood of completing high school. These results highlight the importance of developing a more nuanced understanding of the association between education and mental health, and demonstrate that academic outcomes as early as in adolescence have implications for levels of depressive symptoms much later in the life course.