Depression in mothers living in extreme poverty may be associated with low cortisol levels in their children, as reported in the Spring 2008 Development and Psychopathology.
Investigators studied 639 children ages 2.5 to 6 living in an area of Mexico in which the median per capita income is $730 a year (the national figure is approximately $10,000 a year). More than 60% of the children's mothers met clinical criteria for depression risk.
Higher maternal scores on the depression screening tool were linked to their children's lower overall cortisol levels. The baseline values for salivary cortisol in the children averaged 2.78 nanomoles per liter, which is roughly two to 2.5 times lower than that of a typical middle class child in the United States.
In addition, maternal depression symptoms were more greatly associated with low cortisol levels in girls than in boys.