Sex-related differences in frequency and perception of stressful life events during adolescence

Abstract

Aim

Stressful life events and individual stress experience are important risk factors for the development of physical and mental disorders. One of the modulating factors determining interindividual differences in stress experience is the person’s gender. In the current study, we investigated sex-related differences in the frequency and perception of stressful life events during adolescence, a period characterized by particularly high stress levels.

Subject and methods

We examined 1,657 14-year-old adolescents who were recruited as part of the IMAGEN study, a European multicenter research project on mental well-being of young people. For the detection of stressful life events, we used the Life Events Questionnaire, a highly valid instrument for testing common stressful events during adolescence.

Results

Although boys and girls did not differ significantly regarding the total amount of stressful life events, girls reported more stressful events in the familial and body-related areas, whereas boys experienced more conflicts with superiors and independence-marking events. As regards valence, girls reported greater psychological distress compared to boys; however, in all significant results, the effect sizes were only small to moderate.

Conclusion

While previous research highlighted severe stressors in adult samples, we investigated for the first time adolescents with a broader scope of stressful events. The observed differences in the stress experience may contribute to explain the sex-dependent variations in the incidence of stress-related disorders.

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Acknowledgements

This work received support from the following sources: the European Union-funded FP6 Integrated Project IMAGEN (Reinforcement-related behaviour in normal brain function and psychopathology) (LSHM-CT- 2007–037286), the FP7 projects IMAGEMEND (602450; IMAging GEnetics for MENtal Disorders) and MATRICS (603016), the Innovative Medicine Initiative Project EU-AIMS (115300–2), a Medical Research Council Programme Grant “Developmental pathways into adolescent substance abuse” (93558), the Swedish funding agency FORMAS, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust (Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF grants 01GS08152; 01EV0711; eMED SysAlc01ZX1311A; Forschungsnetz AERIAL), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG grants SM 80/7-1, SM 80/7-2, SFB 940/1), the National Institutes of Health, U.S.A. (Axon, Testosterone and Mental Health during Adolescence; RO1 MH085772-01A1).

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Correspondence to Bianca Raffaelli.

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Raffaelli, B., Strache, N., Parchetka, C. et al. Sex-related differences in frequency and perception of stressful life events during adolescence. J Public Health 24, 365–374 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-016-0731-x

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Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Sex differences
  • Stress experience
  • Stressful life events