Sex Roles

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Does Gender Nonconforming Behavior in Early Childhood Predict Adolescents’ Depressive Symptoms?

  • David S. BennettEmail author
  • Eileen Borczon
  • Michael Lewis
Original Article


Gender nonconforming behavior (GNB) is a risk factor for poorer psychological adjustment, but little is known about whether preschool-age children displaying GNB are at risk for depressive symptoms during adolescence. We examined maternal report of GNB at age 4–5 years-old as a predictor of adolescents’ depressive symptoms at age 16–17 years-old in a longitudinal study of U.S. children from a predominantly low SES (61% received Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and African American (90%) sample. Youth with GNB in early childhood (n = 10) reported more depressive symptoms during adolescence than did their peers without GNB (n = 115), and this relationship remained after controlling for covariates (environmental risk, prenatal exposure, and neonatal medical problems). Our findings suggest that early GNB may be a risk factor for the development of depressive symptoms in adolescence. Further research is needed to replicate the current findings with a larger sample and to identify the underlying mechanisms by which GNB may increase risk for depressive symptoms. If replicated, the findings further highlight the need for both professionals and parents to become aware of the potential challenges that children with GNB face and to become knowledgeable about ways to facilitate healthy adjustment among gender nonconforming youth.


Sex roles Depression Adolescent psychopathology Longitudinal studies 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Jennifer Birnkrant with preliminary data analyses and Patrick Oczkos with the literature review. The present study was supported by Grant DA07109 to Michael Lewis, David S. Bennett, & Dennis P. Carmody from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


The current study was funded in part by the United States’ National Institutes of Drug Abuse.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors do not have any conflict of interest in relation to this funding.

Ethical Approval and Informed Consent

In addition, as stated in the manuscript, the study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of Drexel University and Rutgers University, and informed consent was obtained from participants’ mothers while assent was obtained from the adolescents.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, GLAD ProgramDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolNew BrunswickUSA

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