Do childhood externalizing disorders predict adult depression? A meta-analysis

Annemarie K. Loth, Deborah A.G. Drabick, Ellen Leibenluft, Leslie A. Hulvershorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations


Childhood externalizing disorders have been linked to adult affective disorders, although some studies fail to substantiate this finding. Multiple longitudinal cohort studies identifying childhood psychopathology and their association with adult psychiatric illness have been published. To examine the association between childhood externalizing symptoms or disorders and the development of adult depression across cohorts, a meta-analysis was performed. Potential studies were identified using a PubMed search through November 2013. All published, prospective, longitudinal, community-sampled cohort studies of children ( 13 years) with externalizing symptoms or disorders (aggression, conduct problems, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder), reassessed in adulthood (18 years) for depressive disorders (major depressive disorder, depressive disorder NOS, or dysthymic disorder) were included. A random effects model was used to summarize the pooled effect sizes. Ancillary analyses considered covariates that could account for variance among studies. Ten studies representing eight cohorts of children initially assessed at age 13 or younger (N∈=∈17,712) were included in the meta-analysis. Childhood externalizing behavior was associated with adult depressive disorders (OR∈=∈1.52, 95 % confidence interval∈=∈1.27-1.80, p∈;lt0.0001). Utilizing Orwin's Fail-safe N approach, 263 studies with a mean odds ratio of 1.0 would have to be added to the analysis before the cumulative effect would become trivial. Externalizing psychopathology in childhood is associated with the development of unipolar depressive disorders in adulthood. ;copy; 2014 Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1103-1113
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Childhood predictors
  • Conduct
  • Depression
  • Externalizing disorders
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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