Juvenile Delinquency and Adolescent Depression: Gendered Responses to Gendered Stresses

Stacy De Coster, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

This paper unites arguments from Agnew's strain theory with arguments from the sociology of mental health to explore the role of gender in the stress process. The main argument is that the stress process is gendered in the following ways: (1) females and males are exposed to different types of stresses; (2) females and males are vulnerable/reactive to different types of stresses; and (3) females and males respond to stress in different ways. Specifically, I propose that females are more exposed and/or vulnerable than males to interpersonal stresses, or stresses that involve another person (e.g., arguments with friends or parents); whereas, males are more exposed and/or vulnerable than females to intrapersonal stresses, or stresses that hold meaning with regard to personal competence (e.g., failing an exam). In addition, females are more likely than males to respond to stress with depression, and males are more likely to respond with delinquency. I test arguments about the relative importance of differential exposure versus diffrential vulnerability to various types of stresses for understanding the gender gaps in delinquency and depression using the National Youth Survey, OLS regression, Chow-tests, and Kessler's methods for decomposing differences in exposure and vulnerability to stress. The results demonstrate that female vulnerability to interpersonal stresses is important for undetrstanding the gender gap in depression. However, greater exposure to intrapersonal stresses among males proves to be important for understanding the gender gap in delinquency.

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Updated 05/20/2006