Gender Differences in Anxiety Trajectories from Middle to Late Adolescence


Although developmental trajectories of anxiety symptomatology have begun to be explored, most research has focused on total anxiety symptom scores during childhood and early adolescence, using racially/ethnically homogenous samples. Understanding the heterogeneous courses of anxiety disorder symptoms during middle to late adolescence has the potential to clarify developmental risk models of anxiety and to inform prevention programs. Therefore, this study specifically examined gender differences in developmental trajectories of anxiety disorder symptoms (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder) from middle to late adolescence in a diverse community sample (N = 1000; 57 % female; 65 % White), assessed annually over 2 years. Latent growth curve modeling revealed that girls exhibited a slight linear decrease in generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder symptoms, whereas boys exhibited a stable course. These models suggested that one trajectory was appropriate for panic disorder symptoms in both girls and boys. Growth mixture models indicated the presence of four latent generalized anxiety disorder symptom trajectory classes: low increasing, moderate decreasing slightly, high decreasing, and very high decreasing rapidly. Growth mixture models also suggested the presence of five latent social anxiety disorder symptom trajectory classes: a low stable trajectory class and four classes that were qualitatively similar to the latent generalized anxiety disorder trajectories. For both generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder symptoms, girls were significantly more likely than boys to be in trajectory classes characterized by moderate or high initial symptoms that subsequently decreased over time. These findings provide novel information regarding the developmental course of anxiety disorder symptoms in adolescents.

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This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant K01-AA015059 (PI: Ohannessian). We would like to thank all of the adolescents who participated in this study. We also would like to acknowledge the Adolescent Adjustment Project staff, especially Kaitlin Flannery, Sarosh Khan, Jessica Schulz, Laura Finan, Kelly Cheeseman, Lisa Fong, Alyson Cavanaugh, Sara Bergamo, Ashley Malooly, and Ashley Ings, for their unmatched dedication to the implementation and conduct of this study. We are grateful to the schools and students who participated in the study.


This study was supported by NIH grant number K01-AA015059 awarded to Christine McCauley Ohannessian.

Author Contributions

CO conceived the study, designed the study, and took the lead in drafting the manuscript; SM performed statistical analysis, drafted portions of the manuscript, and participated in the interpretation of data; AV performed statistical analysis and participated in the interpretation of data and drafting the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christine McCauley Ohannessian.

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(1) Statement of human rights: The study was approved by the appropriate institutional and/or national research ethics committee and has been conducted in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. (2) Statement on the welfare of animals: This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Ohannessian, C.M., Milan, S. & Vannucci, A. Gender Differences in Anxiety Trajectories from Middle to Late Adolescence. J Youth Adolescence 46, 826–839 (2017).

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  • anxiety
  • adolescence
  • development
  • gender differences
  • trajectories