Gender is Key: Girls’ and Boys’ Cortisol Differs as a Factor of Socioeconomic Status and Social Experiences During Early Adolescence

Abstract

The risks associated with negative peer relationships and low socioeconomic status (SES), and how they impact diurnal cortisol and the cortisol response to negative experiences, have never been studied together in early adolescents; this study aims to fill this gap in the literature. Saliva was collected from 95 early adolescents (Mage = 10.80, SD = 0.72) and daily diaries were completed 30 min after awakening, beginning of school, 15 min after first recess, 15 min after lunch, and at the end of the school day across four consecutive days. Hierarchical Linear Modelling was used to estimate the within- and between-person variances of diurnal cortisol and the cortisol response to stress in the context of SES and peer experiences. Cortisol secretion differed by gender and was predicted by SES and social status within the peer group. Low-SES early adolescents had higher morning cortisol. Girls who were from higher SES families had the steepest diurnal cortisol slope. Non-accepted early adolescents had low cortisol in response to both positive and negative social experiences. The findings from this study clarify the impact of both SES and peer relations on early adolescent psychophysiological development.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the participants, teachers, principals, and parents and all those who helped with the data collection.

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Both authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were conducted by W.B., data analysis was performed by L.W. and W.B., drafts of the paper were written by L.W. Both authors read and approved the final paper.

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This research was supported by grants to the authors from The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Fonds de recherche du Québec: Société et culture.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This paper data will not be deposited in a data bank. However, those who are interested in obtaining access to the data are welcome to write W.B. at: William.bukowski@concordia.ca

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Correspondence to William M. Bukowski.

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Protocols for this study were approved by the Concordia University Research Ethics Unit. The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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The study was discussed with the principal and school board, who then consented for the study to take place in their school. Parents of all participants in the study provided informed consent for their children to participate. All participants in the study provided personal assent to participate.

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Wright, L., Bukowski, W.M. Gender is Key: Girls’ and Boys’ Cortisol Differs as a Factor of Socioeconomic Status and Social Experiences During Early Adolescence. J Youth Adolescence (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-020-01382-z

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Keywords

  • Cortisol
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Acceptance
  • Rejection
  • Peer relationships