Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 43, Issue 9, pp 1563–1575 | Cite as

Linking Community, Parenting, and Depressive Symptom Trajectories: Testing Resilience Models of Adolescent Agency Based on Race/Ethnicity and Gender

  • Amanda L. Williams
  • Michael J. Merten
Empirical Research


Family stress models illustrate how communities affect youth outcomes through effects on parents and studies consistently show the enduring effects of early community context. The present study takes a different approach identifying human agency during adolescence as a potentially significant promotive factor mediating the relationship between community, parenting, and mental health. While agency is an important part of resilience, its longitudinal effects are unknown, particularly based on gender and race/ethnicity. The purpose of this research was to model the long-term effects of community structural adversity and social resources as predictors of adolescent depressive symptom trajectories via indirect effects of parental happiness, parent–child relationships, and human agency. Latent growth analyses were conducted with 1,796 participants (53 % female; 56 % White) across four waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health spanning adolescence (Wave 1) through adulthood (Wave 4). The results identified agency as an important promotive factor during adolescence with long-term mental health benefits, but only for White and male participants. For these individuals, community social resources and the quality of the parent–child relationship were related to higher levels of agency and more positive mental health trajectories. Although community social resources similarly benefitted parenting and agency among females and non-White participants, there were no significant links between agency and depressive symptoms for these youth. The results suggest that agency remains an important, but poorly understood concept and additional work is necessary to continue unpacking its meaning for diverse groups of youth.


Adolescence Agency Depressive symptoms Community Resilience 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Authors’ contributions

AW conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, measurement construction, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; MM participated in the design and interpretation of the data, and helped draft the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Child and Family StudiesUniversity of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family ScienceOklahoma State UniversityTulsaUSA

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