Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 7, pp 1512–1526 | Cite as

Conceptions of Adolescence: Implications for Differences in Engagement in School Over Early Adolescence in the United States and China

  • Yang Qu
  • Eva M. Pomerantz
  • Meifang Wang
  • Cecilia Cheung
  • Andrei Cimpian
Empirical Research


American youth are more prone to storm and stress during adolescence than are Chinese youth (e.g., American youth’s engagement in school declines more). However, it is unclear why. This research examined differences in conceptions of adolescence in the United States and China. Using both open- and closed-ended measures, youth (N = 397; 50 % female; mean age = 13.19 years) reported on their views of teens. American (vs. Chinese) youth were more likely to see adolescence as a time of decreased family responsibility along with increased individuation from parents, school disengagement, and peer orientation. Conceptions of adolescence as a time of dampened family responsibility and heightened school disengagement contributed to American (vs. Chinese) youth being less engaged in school over the seventh and eighth grades. The findings suggest that culture shapes ideas about adolescence, which contribute to differences in American and Chinese youth’s engagement in school over this phase.


Academics Adolescence China School engagement Motivation 



This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS 1023170. We appreciate the constructive comments on an earlier version of this article provided by members of the Center for Parent–Child Studies at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Author Contributions

YQ was involved in developing the hypothesis motivating the reported research. He also took a major role in designing the measures, collecting the data in the United States and China, and conducting the data analyses. He drafted the manuscript as well. EP was also involved in hypothesis development, measure design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. MW was responsible for data collection in China. CC was involved in designing the broader study and collecting data in the United States. AC was involved in hypothesis and measure development in regards to the conceptions of adolescence. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

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

Informed Consent

Informed assent was obtained from all individual youth in the study; informed consent was provided by their mothers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yang Qu
    • 1
  • Eva M. Pomerantz
    • 1
  • Meifang Wang
    • 2
  • Cecilia Cheung
    • 3
  • Andrei Cimpian
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Shandong Normal UniversityJinanChina
  3. 3.University of California at RiversideRiversideUSA

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