Breaking the Chain: How Grandparents Moderate the Transmission of Maternal Depression to Their Grandchildren


*Merril Silverstein is Professor of Gerontology and Sociology at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, 3715 McClintock Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089 (

Sarah Ruiz is a doctoral student in the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, 3715 McClintock Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089 (


Abstract: Drawing on family systems theory, this study examined whether social cohesion with grandparents moderated the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptoms from mothers to their adolescent and young adult children. We analyzed data from 2,280 grandchildren and their mothers who participated in two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households. Results revealed that grandchildren who were least integrated with their grandparents resembled their mothers in the severity of depressive symptoms. Grandchildren who were more integrated with their grandparents bore no such resemblance. We conclude that grandparents are consequential family actors who, by conditioning parent-child dynamics, influence the long-term emotional well-being of their grandchildren. Results are discussed in terms of intergenerational interdependence and the untapped resource that older adults represent.