Stress Patterns In Adolescence Differ Between Boys And Girls

May 21, 1999

Girls and boys experience distinctly different patterns of stress during adolescence that may leave girls more vulnerable to depression, according to research reported in the current issue of Child Development.

While adolescent girls and boys experience similar levels of stress, adolescent girls are more likely to experience stress in their relations with parents and friends, whereas adolescent boys' stress is more likely to emerge from trouble in school or other factors outside their relationships with others.

"Because adolescent girls may be more invested than boys in their relationships as a source of emotional support and, perhaps, personal identity, interpersonal stress may be more salient and may act as a stronger threat to their well-being," says Karen D. Rudolph, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois, Champaign.

Rudolph and Constance Hammen, P.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles studied 88 teenage boys and girls, average age 13, who received treatment at a mental health clinic. The teens and their parents provided details about specific events in the teens' lives that had been troubling, such as an argument with parents, a school failure, or a move to a new home. The teens also completed standard questionnaires probing their symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Girls and boys experienced about the same levels of stress, which tended to increase with age. Adolescent girls experienced higher levels of stress related to their relationships with their parents, friends, or teachers than did boys. Adolescent boys, in contrast, experienced more stress from events outside their relationships with others, such as school performance or a move to another home.

Overall, symptoms of depression were more consistently associated with stress levels in girls than in boys. Depression was also more common among adolescents who experienced high levels of conflict with others, Rudolph and Hammen discovered.

Girls may be particularly prone to depression during adolescence, Rudolph and Hammen say. They "may experience higher levels of the types of stress associated with depression and [they] may be more reactive to these types of stress than boys."
Child Development is the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Research in Child Development. For information about the journal, please contact Jonathan J. Aiken, 734-998-7310.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

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