Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 89–99 | Cite as

Depressive Symptoms, Stress, and Support: Gendered Trajectories From Adolescence to Young Adulthood

  • Sarah O. MeadowsEmail author
  • J. Scott Brown
  • Glen H. ElderJr.

Stressful transitions in adolescence increase depressive symptoms, especially among girls. However, little is known about this risk as adolescents mature into young adulthood, especially about how parental support affects depression trajectories during this period. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this analysis investigates the role of gender in structuring the associations among stressful life events, parental support, and depression. Females reported more depressive symptoms at the outset of the study, a rank order that persisted along declining depression trajectories into young adulthood. In addition, stress accounts for the decline in trajectories for females but not males. Support from both parents has a salubrious effect on mental health, regardless of gender, but this effect dissipates as adolescents age into adulthood.


gender stress social support parents adolescents 



This research uses contractual data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 ( This research has been supported by National Institute on Aging training grant no. T32 Ag00155 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We are grateful for helpful comments on earlier drafts provided by the CPC Life Course Working Group.


  1. Ainsworth, M. S. (1989). Attachment beyond infancy. Am. Psychol. 44: 709–716.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aneshensel, C. S., Rutter, M., and Lachenbruch, P. A. (1991). Social structure, stress, and mental health: competing conceptual and analytical models. Am. Sociol. Rev. 56: 166–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aseltine, R. H., Jr. (1996). Pathways linking parental divorce with adult depression. J. Health Soc. Behav. 37: 133–148.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Avison, W. R., and McAlpine, D. D. (1992). Gender differences in symptoms of depression among adolescents. J. Health Soc. Behav. 33: 77–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baron, B., and Campbell, T. L. (1993). Gender differences in the expression of depressive symptoms in middle adolescence: An extension of earlier findings. Adolescence 28: 903–911.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bender, D., and Losel, F. (1997). Protective and risk effects of peer relations and social support on antisocial behavior in adolescents from multi-problem milieus. J. Adolesc. 20: 661–678.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  8. Buist, K. L., Deković, M., Meeus, W., and van Aken, M. A. G. (2001). Developmental patterns in adolescent attachment to mother, father and sibling. J. Youth Adolesc. 31: 167–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cobb, S. (1976). Social support as a moderator of life stress. Psychosom. Med. 88: 300–314.Google Scholar
  10. Colarossi, L. G. (2001). Adolescent gender differences in social support: Structure, function, and provider type. Soc. Work Res. 25: 233–241.Google Scholar
  11. Colarossi, L. G., and Eccles, J. S. (2003). Differential effects of support providers on adolescents’ mental health. Soc. Work Res. 27: 19–30.Google Scholar
  12. Conger, R. D., Lorenz, F. O., Elder, G. H., Jr., Simons, R. L., and Ge, X. (1993). Husband and wife differences in response to undesirable life events. J. Health Soc. Behav. 34: 71–88.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cornwell, B. (2003). The dynamic properties of social support: Decay, growth, and staticity, and their effects on adolescent depression. Soc. Forces 81: 953–978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cyranowski, J. M., Frank, E., Young, E., and Shear, M. K. (2000). Adolescent onset and the gender difference in lifetime rates of major depression. Arch. Gen Psychiatry 57: 21–27.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davis, A. A. (2002). Younger and older African American adolescent mothers’ relationships with their mothers and female peers. J. Adolesc. Res. 17: 491–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Elder, G. H., Jr. (1998). The life course and human development. In Lerner, R. M. (Ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology: Vol. 1. Theoretical Models of Human Development. Wiley, New York, pp. 939–991.Google Scholar
  17. Elder, G. H., Jr., Johnson, M. K., and Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In Mortimer, J. T. and Shanahan, M. J. (Eds.), Handbook of the Life Course. Kluwer, New York, pp. 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis. Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  19. Formoso, D., Gonzales, N. A., and Aiken, L. S. (2000). Family conflict and children's internalizing and externalizing behavior: Protective factors. Am. J. Community Psychol. 29: 175–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Freeman, H., and Brown, B. B. (2001). Primary attachment to parents and peers during adolescence: Differences by attachment style. J. Youth Adolesc. 30: 653–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Furman, W., and Buhrmester, D. (1992). Age and sex differences in perceptions of networks of personal relationships. Child Dev. 63: 103–115.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ge, X., Conger, R. D., and Elder, G. H., Jr. (2001). Pubertal transition, stressful life events, and the emergence of gender differences in adolescent depressive symptoms. Dev. Psychol. 37: 404–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ge, X., Lorenz, F. O., Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., Jr., and Simons, R. L. (1994). Trajectories of stressful life events and depressive symptoms during adolescence. Dev. Psychol. 30: 467–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gore, S., Aseltine, R., Jr., and Colton, M. E. (1993). Gender, social-relational involvement, and depression. J. Res. Adolesc. 3: 101–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Graber, J. A., and Brooks-Gunn, J. (1996). Transitions and turning points: Navigating the passage from childhood through adolescence. Dev. Psychol. 32: 768–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hankin, B. L., and Abramson, L. Y. (2001). Development of gender differences in depression: An elaborated cognitive vulnerability-transactional stress theory. Psychol. Bull. 127: 773–796.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Helsen, M., Volleberght, W., and Meeus, W. (2000). Social support from parents and friends and emotional problems in adolescence. J. Youth Adolesc. 29: 3319–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hill, J. P., and Lynch, M. E. (1983). The intensification of gender-related role expectations during early adolescence. In Brooks-Gunn, J. and Peterson, A. C. (Eds.), Girls at Puberty: Biological and Psychological Perspectives. Plenum, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Jacobson, D. E. (1986). Types and timing of social support. J. Health Soc. Behav. 27: 250–264.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Joyner, K., and Udry, J. R. (2000). You don't bring me anything but down: Adolescent romance and depression. J. Health Soc. Behav. 41: 369–391.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kessler, R. C., and McLeod, J. D. (1984). Sex differences in vulnerability to undesirable life events. Am. Sociol. Rev. 49: 620–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Laible, D. J. Carlo, G., and Raffaelli, M. (2000). The differential relations of parent and peer attachment to adolescent adjustment. J. Youth Adolesc. 29: 45–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Liem, R., and Liam, J. H. (1981). Relations among social class, life events, and mental illness: A comment on findings and methods. In Dohrenwend, B. S. and Dohrenwend, B. P. (Eds.), Stressful Life Events and Their Contexts. Prodist, New York, pp. 234–256.Google Scholar
  34. Marcotte, D., Alain, M., and Gosselin, M. (1999). Gender differences in adolescent depression: Gender-typed characteristics or problem-solving skills deficits? Sex Roles 41: 31–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McLeod, J. D., and Kessler, R. C. (1990). Socioeconomic status differences in vulnerability to undesirable life events. J. Health Soc. Behav. 31: 162–72.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mirowsky, J., and Ross, C. E. (1995). Sex differences in distress: Real or artifact? Am. Sociol. Rev. 60: 449–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Patterson, J. E., Field, J., and Pryor, J. (1994). Adolescents’ perceptions of their attachment relationships with their mothers, fathers, and friends. J. Youth Adolesc. 23: 579–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pearlin, L. (1985). Social structure and processes of social support. In Cohen, S. and Syme, S. L. (Eds.), Social Support and Health. Academic Press, Orlando, pp. 45–60.Google Scholar
  39. Pearlin, L., and Schooler, S. (1978). The structure of coping. J. Health Soc. Behav. 19: 2–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Radloff, L. S. (1991). The use of the center for epidemiologic studies depression scale in adolescents and young adults. J. Youth Adolesc. 20: 149–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Appl. Psychol. Meas. 1: 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rieker, P. P., and Bird, C. E. (2000). Sociological explanations of gender differences in mental health and physical health. In Bird, C. E., Conrad, P., and Fremont, A. M. (Eds.), The Handbook of Medical Sociology, 5th edn. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp. 98–113.Google Scholar
  43. Simmons, R. G., Burgeson, R., Carlton-Ford, S., and Blyth, D. A. (1987). The impact of cumulative change in early adolescence. Child Dev. 58: 1220–1234.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent–adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. J. Res. Adolesc. 11: 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Steinhuasen, H. C., and Metzke, C. W. (2000). Adolescent self-rated depressive symptoms in a Swiss epidemiological study. J. Youth Adolesc. 29: 427–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Swearingen, E. M., and Cohen, L. H. (1985). Measurement of adolescents’ life events: The Junior High Life Experiences Survey. Am. J. Community Psychol. 13: 69–85.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thoits, P. A. (1987). Gender and marital status differences in control and distress: Common stress versus unique stress explanations. J. Health Soc. Behav. 28: 7–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tomori, M., Zalar, B., and Plesnicar, B. K. (2000). Gender differences in psychological risk factors among Slovenian adolescents. Adolescence 35: 431–443.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Turner, R. J., and Lloyd, D. A. (1995). Lifetime traumas and mental health: The significance of cumulative adversity. J. Health Soc. Behav. 36: 360–376.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Turner, R. J., and Lloyd, D. A. (1999). The stress process and the social distribution of depression. J. Health Soc. Behav. 40: 374–404.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Turner, R. J., Wheaton, B., and Lloyd, D. A. (1995). The epidemiology of social stress. Am. Sociol. Rev. 60: 104–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Videon, T. M. (2002). The effects of parent-adolescent relationships and parental separation on adolescent well-being. J. Marriage Fam. 64: 489–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wade, T. J., Cairney, J., and Pevalin, D. J. (2002). Emergence of gender differences in depression during adolescence: National panel results from three countries. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 42: 190–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wheaton, B. (1990). Life transitions, role histories, and mental health. Am. Sociol. Rev. 55: 209–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wichstrøm, L. (1999). The emergence of gender difference in depressed mood during adolescence: The role of intensified gender socialization. Dev. Psychol. 35: 232–245.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilkinson, R. B. (2004). The role of parental and peer attachment in the psychological health and self-esteem of adolescents. J. Youth Adolesc. 33: 479–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Yarcheski, A., and Mahon, N. E. (1999). The moderator-mediator role of social support in adolescents. West. J. Nurs. Res. 21: 685–698.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah O. Meadows
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Scott Brown
    • 2
  • Glen H. ElderJr.
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Office of Population ResearchPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Gerontology, Scripps Gerontology CenterMiami UniversityOxfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations