Traditional Masculinity During the Middle School Transition: Associations with Depressive Symptoms and Academic Engagement

Abstract

Culturally prescribed social scripts for traditional masculinity that emphasize social dominance are frequently linked to diminished well-being for men across a variety of psychological domains. However, few studies have examined the role of traditional masculinity scripts in the lives of early adolescent boys and girls, despite their relevance during this period and their potential developmental implications. To address this need, we examined the development of early adolescents’ conformity to traditional masculinity across the middle school transition, as well as its links with depressive symptoms and academic engagement. Using a diverse sample of 280 adolescents (M age = 11.13, SD = 0.51; 54.3 % Female; 44 % Latina/o) assessed at the beginning (fall 2014) and end (spring 2015) of their first year of middle school, we found an increase in conformity to traditional masculinity scripts among boys, but not among girls. For boys and girls alike, conformity to traditional masculinity predicted greater depressive symptoms and decreased academic engagement. Depressive symptoms also mediated the association between traditional masculinity and academic engagement for boys and girls. This study is among the first to study conformity to traditional masculinity from a developmental lens. The findings suggest that traditional masculinity scripts are relevant for early adolescents (particularly boys) transitioning to middle school. However, for both boys and girls, conformity to these scripts can compromise psychological and academic well-being.

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Acknowledgments

This research supported by the T. Denny Sanford Foundation and the Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Author Contributions

AR conceived of the study, performed the statistical analyses and interpretation of the data, and led the writing of the manuscript. DD contributed to the conceptualization and writing of the study. CM assisted in the conceptualization of the study and interpretation of findings, and reviewed drafts. DD and CM oversaw implementation and administration of the larger study from which the data are drawn. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Adam A. Rogers.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The study used passive consent, meaning that consent is assumed if parents did not specifically opt their child out of the study. Information packets were sent to parents two weeks prior to data collection to allow parents sufficient time to either consent or opt their child out of the current investigation. Written assents were collected from students who received parental consent. The study was approved by the Arizona State University Institutional Review Board and by the school district.

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Rogers, A.A., DeLay, D. & Martin, C.L. Traditional Masculinity During the Middle School Transition: Associations with Depressive Symptoms and Academic Engagement. J Youth Adolescence 46, 709–724 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0545-8

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Keywords

  • Gender roles
  • Masculinity
  • Mental health
  • School engagement
  • Adolescence