Understanding the Sex Difference in Vulnerability to Adolescent Depression: An Examination of Child and Parent Characteristics

This study examined sex differences in risk factors associated with adolescent depression in a large sample of boys and girls. Moderation and mediation explanatory models of the sex difference in likelihood of depression were examined. Findings indicate that the factors associated with depression in adolescent boys and girls are quite similar. All of the variables considered were associated with depression, but sex did not moderate the impact of vulnerability factors on likelihood of depression diagnosis. However, negative self-perceptions in the domains of achievement, global self-worth, and physical appearance partially mediated the relationship between sex and depression. Further, girls had higher levels of positive self-perceptions in interpersonal domains that acted as suppressors and reduced the likelihood of depression in girls. These findings suggest that girls’ higher incidence of depression is due in part to their higher levels of negative self-perceptions, whereas positive interpersonal factors serve to protect them from depressive episodes.

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Fig. 1.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Analyses were conducted to address whether psychosocial variables predict episodic (e.g., major and minor depression) and chronic mood disorders (e.g., dysthymia) differently. Separate sets of logistic regressions were conducted with subclinical and clinical MDE as the dependent variable and with subclinical and clinical dysthymia as the dependent variable. Examination of the odds ratios for psychosocial predictors indicated findings in the same direction for both dependent variables and for both moderation and mediation analyses, with one exception. We found a significant Gender × Mother–Child relationship interaction in predicting episodic mood diagnoses but not chronic mood diagnoses. Having a positive mother–child relationship predicted significantly lower likelihood of depression for boys compared to girls, whereas likelihood of episodic depression was similar for boys and girls when a more stressful mother–child relationship was indicated. However, other than this one exception, the results derived from these two sets of depression variables were highly similar. As such, MDE and dysthymia diagnoses were combined in the dependent variable used in the paper.

  2. 2.

    Due to potential low power for the detection of moderation effects, separate logistic regressions were conducted for boys and girls (Aquinis, Boik, & Pierce, 2001; McClelland & Judd, 1993). Overall, the pattern of findings for boys closely mirrors that of girls, supporting our null findings for moderation effects.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This research was supported by NIMH R01MH-5223901 to C. Hammen and P. Brennan and a National Research Service Award postdoctoral fellowship (NIMH Grant 5-T32-MH14584) to J. Shih. We are grateful to the project staff in Brisbane, Robyne Le Brocque and interviewers Cherie Dalton, Barbara Mann, Eileen Tone, Sandra Fergusson, Lisa Manning, and Molly Robbins, and to Professor Jake Najman, William Bor, M.D., Michael O’Callaghan, M.D., Gail Williams, Ph.D., and Margaret Andersen of the University of Queensland.

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Correspondence to Nicole K. Eberhart.

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Eberhart, N.K., Shih, J.H., Hammen, C.L. et al. Understanding the Sex Difference in Vulnerability to Adolescent Depression: An Examination of Child and Parent Characteristics. J Abnorm Child Psychol 34, 493 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-006-9020-4

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KEY WORDS:

  • adolescence
  • depression
  • sex differences
  • vulnerability factors
  • protective factors