Nav: Home

Global study of urban poor links childhood adversity to adolescent violence and depression

May 22, 2019

Tracing violence in young men to boyhood trauma buttresses conclusion of second, related global analysis of gender equality: that achieving equality requires focusing on boys and girls

Analysis by 22 experts finds boys and girls have an equal role to play in achieving SDG5 and interventions should start much younger as "gender straightjackets" locked by age 15

Washington, DC (May 20, 2019)--In poor urban areas around the world, exposure to adverse events as children--including physical and emotional neglect, violence, and sexual abuse--is strongly associated with both adolescent depression and violence perpetrated by young people, with the data suggesting that boys are suffering even more than girls, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"This is the first global study to investigate how a cluster of traumatic childhood experiences known as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, work together to cause specific health issues in early adolescence with terrible, life-long consequences," said Dr. Robert Blum, lead researcher for the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) that is based in multiple countries across five continents. "And while we found young girls often suffer significantly, contrary to common belief, boys reported even greater exposure to violence and neglect, which makes them more likely to be violent in return."

The study catalogued the ACEs suffered by 1,284 adolescents aged 10 to 14 in 14 "low-income urban settings" around the world. It found remarkably common experiences with trauma--and very similar impacts--regardless of where the children lived, which included Vietnam, China, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Kenya, UK and the United States. The report is the first to include an assessment of how adversity impacts young children in multiple low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of the 1.8 billion 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide live--about a quarter of the global population.

Overall, the study found that 46% of young adolescents reported experiencing violence, 38% suffered emotional neglect and 29% experienced physical neglect. But boys stood out in several categories. They were more likely to report physical neglect, sexual abuse and violence victimization. Also, for both boys and girls, the more adversity they experienced, the more likely they were to engage in violent behaviors, such as bullying, threatening or hitting someone. But the effect of the adversity was more pronounced for boys than girls, with boys 11 times more likely to be engaged in violence, and girls four times more likely to be violent.

Also, the study found that, in general, the cumulative effect of their traumas tended to produce higher levels of depressive symptoms among girls than boys, while boys tended to show more external aggression than girls.

Study Supports New Assessment from Global Coalition of Adolescent Health Experts

The study is part of the Global Early Adolescent Study, a major collaboration of the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to understand more about the development of gender stereotypes in early adolescence and their impact on adolescent health around the world. And it buttresses a key conclusion from a major new report to be released next week at Women Deliver in Vancouver based on a global coalition of adolescent health experts: that the world will never achieve gender equality "by focusing on girls and women alone and excluding boys and men."

That report, from the Bellagio Working Group on Gender Equality, reflects the assessment of 22 experts from 15 countries. Their analysis, Achieving Gender Equality by 2030: Putting Adolescents at the Center, finds that boys have as equal a part to play as girls in achieving the fifth of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG5), which seeks to "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls" by 2030. The report notes that the current indicators for SDG5 ignore boys and men. But it warns that "we cannot achieve a gender equitable world by ignoring half of its occupants."

In a commentary summarizing the Bellagio report for the Journal of Adolescent Health, working group members from the United States, Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia and Great Britain point to the growing amount of data that refute a "prevailing myth that girls alone are disadvantaged by gender norms." They note that evidence from the GEAS work shows that in the many settings around the world, "boys experience as much disadvantage as girls" and are "more likely to smoke, drink and suffer both unintentional and intentional injury and death in the second decade of life than their female counterparts."

They conclude that the key to achieving gender equality by 2030 involves addressing conditions and stereotypes that are harmful to both girls and boys--and to intervene much earlier, in early adolescence, at least by age 10, rather than at age 15 which is now the norm. Early adolescence is critical, the Bellagio group asserts, because "gender norms, attitudes and beliefs appear to solidify by age 15 or 16."

Their report calls a broader set of indicators for tracking progress on achieving SDG 5 that would include:
  • Tracking the percentage of both boys and girls who at the community level feel that they can ask for help when needed since there appears to be a strong relationship between voice and empowerment

  • Tracking the percentage of boys and girls who feel safe in their neighborhood, as safety and security is a critical factor in the healthy development of both boys and girls; for example, the new study on adverse childhood experiences found a third of children reported a persistent fear of physical harm
Gender Equality Critical to Economic Growth in Africa, South Asia

The Bellagio Working Group also finds gender equality is a critical component of efforts in the developing world to achieve what economists call a "demographic dividend." It refers to harnessing the vigor of a surging youth population to generate a period of sustained economic growth. A demographic dividend was a major factor behind in the rise of the economic "tigers" of East Asia and even in Ireland's economic boom of the 1990s.

There is now hope for something similar to propel the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, home to the fastest growing--and youngest--population in the world. Youth populations also are ascendant in South Asia and across much of the Middle East.

The Bellagio Working Group concludes that if these regions want to experience a demographic dividend, they need to "address gender inequalities and rigid gender expectations that limit the future of many of the world's young people."

"We must actively engage girls and boys at the onset of adolescence to increase total social inclusion and produce generational change," the report states.
Global Early Adolescent Study

Over the past six years, an international consortium of 15 countries has been working on the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS). The GEAS aims to understand how gender norms are formed in early adolescence and how they predispose young people to subsequent sexual and other health risks.

As children move into early adolescence and start to develop into young men and women, they also start to take up social roles that are linked to masculinity and femininity. The roles they take on have huge implications for their own health and well-being and that of people around them. Hence, this is a critically important period to study.

The GEAS has generated valuable information from 15 countries around the world, and developed a tool kit to assess gender norms in early adolescents.

The GEAS is led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in conjunction with WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research/Human Reproduction Programme.

For interviews or more information, please contact:

Katy Lenard at; +1 301-280-5719

Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy at; +254 727 305 525


Related Violence Articles:

As farming developed, so did cooperation -- and violence
The growth of agriculture led to unprecedented cooperation in human societies, a team of researchers, has found, but it also led to a spike in violence, an insight that offers lessons for the present.
The front line of environmental violence
Environmental defenders on the front line of natural resource conflict are being killed at an alarming rate, according to a University of Queensland study.
What can trigger violence in postcolonial Africa?
Why do civil wars and coups d'état occur more frequently in some sub-Saharan African countries than others.
Another victim of violence: Trust in those who mean no harm
Exposure to violence does not change the ability to learn who is likely to do harm, but it does damage the ability to place trust in 'good people,' psychologists at Yale and University of Oxford report April 26 in the journal Nature Communications
Victims of gun violence tell their stories: Everyday violence, 'feelings of hopelessness'
Invited to share their personal stories, victims of urban gun violence describe living with violence as a 'common everyday experience' and feeling abandoned by police and other societal institutions, reports a study in the November/December Journal of Trauma Nursing, official publication of the Society of Trauma Nurses.
Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.
Teen dating violence is down, but boys still report more violence than girls
When it comes to teen dating violence, boys are more likely to report being the victim of violence -- being hit, slapped, or pushed--than girls.
Preventing murder by addressing domestic violence
Victims of domestic violence are at a high risk to be murdered -- or a victim of attempted murder -- according to a Cuyahoga County task force of criminal-justice professionals, victim advocates and researchers working to prevent domestic violence and homicides.
'Love displaces violence'
Art historian Eva-Bettina Krems on persistent motifs of peace in art from antiquity to the present day -- dove, rainbow or victory of love: artists draw on recurring motifs.
Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the University at Albany has found.
More Violence News and Violence Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at