Volume 51, Issue 10 p. 1150-1159

The effects of maternal postnatal depression and child sex on academic performance at age 16 years: a developmental approach

Lynne Murray

Lynne Murray

University of Reading, UK

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Adriane Arteche

Adriane Arteche

University of Reading, UK

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Pasco Fearon

Pasco Fearon

University of Reading, UK

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Sarah Halligan

Sarah Halligan

University of Reading, UK

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Tim Croudace

Tim Croudace

University of Cambridge, UK

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Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper

University of Reading, UK

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First published: 14 September 2010
Citations: 139

Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Abstract

Background: Postnatal depression (PND) is associated with poor cognitive functioning in infancy and the early school years; long-term effects on academic outcome are not known.

Method: Children of postnatally depressed (N = 50) and non-depressed mothers (N = 39), studied from infancy, were followed up at 16 years. We examined the effects on General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam performance of maternal depression (postnatal and subsequent) and IQ, child sex and earlier cognitive development, and mother–child interactions, using structural equation modelling (SEM).

Results: Boys, but not girls, of PND mothers had poorer GCSE results than control children. This was principally accounted for by effects on early child cognitive functioning, which showed strong continuity from infancy. PND had continuing negative effects on maternal interactions through childhood, and these also contributed to poorer GCSE performance. Neither chronic, nor recent, exposure to maternal depression had significant effects.

Conclusions: The adverse effects of PND on male infants’ cognitive functioning may persist through development. Continuing difficulties in mother–child interactions are also important, suggesting that both early intervention and continuing monitoring of mothers with PND may be warranted.