Girls' Versus Boys' Susceptibility to Depression
Why should adolescent girls be more susceptible to depression? It is possible that sex differences in circulating hormones directly contribute. But most developmentalists argue that sex differences in social experience are likely to play a large role in the mix of causes. Remember that both boys and girls are more subject to depressive moods in adolescence than in the preadolescent period and that each gender experiences increased stress of various kinds. But on the whole, it may be that girls face more challenges to their self-esteem and more problems in living in early adolescence than boys do (Petersen, Sarigiani, & Kennedy, 1991). That is, girls must deal with more stressors simultaneously. In comparison to their male counterparts, females report experiencing more stressors from early adolescence onward (Compas, Howell, Phares, Williams, & Giunta, 1989; Wichstrom, 1999). Here are a few:
- By age 11 children are aware that the female gender role is less valued than the male role. They believe that there are greater restrictions on behavior for females and that there is gender-based discrimination (Intons-Peterson, 1988). As they integrate these beliefs into their self-concept, girls may begin to feel less worthwhile than boys, or at least less appreciated. Many studies have found a decline in self-esteem in girls after age 9, whereas boys’ self-esteem tends to stabilize (Ruble & Martin, 1998).
- Although both boys and girls are concerned about body image (their concept of, and attitude toward, their physical appearance), girls also worry more than boys about appearance and weight after puberty (e.g., Barker & Galambos, 2003; Jones, 2004; Smolak, Levine, & Thompson, 2001).
- Girls more often have lower expectations of success than boys (Ruble, Gruelich, Pomerantz, & Gochberg, 1993).
- Girls may be more stressed by the burgeoning of their sexuality and their sexual desirability. The traditional double standard, by which female sexual behavior is judged more harshly than male sexual behavior, has clearly diminished over the last half century, as the rates and acceptability of premarital sex have increased among teens of both sexes (Astin, Korn, Sax, & Mahoney, 1994). Yet, American college students still consider girls who have multiple sexual partners to be more immoral than boys who do(Crawford, 2003; Robinson, Ziss, Ganza, Katz, & Robinson, 1991), and among adolescents who have intercourse, girls are more likely to judge themselves to be bad or unlovable than boys are to judge themselves negatively (Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Galen, 1999). Thus, even though girls’ acceptance of and experience with sexuality is increasing rapidly, they are still more subject to ambiguous messages about the acceptability of sex and seem to be more uncertain about what is appropriate for them in a world of shifting values. In addition, the physical and social consequences of sexual activity are greater for girls: They are still the ones who get pregnant.
- After puberty, girls and boys start interacting more in mixed-sex groups and in heterosexual dyads. In these contexts, the differences in their discourse styles may create more stress for girls. Girls acquire a more cooperative discourse style and boys a more domineering style during childhood. One result is that when adolescent girls socialize with boys, they are less likely to influence the outcome of a discussion (see Maccoby, 1990). Also, in heterosexual pairs boys do not offer as much support to their partners as girls do (Leaper, 1994b). As a consequence, these relationships may be less affirming and satisfying for girls than for boys (e.g., Pipher, 1994).
- Because puberty comes earlier for girls, they are more likely than boys to simultaneously face both the changes of puberty and the difficult transition to secondary school (i.e., junior high or middle school; Petersen, Kennedy, & Sullivan, 1991).
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