A Multilevel Analysis of Gender Differences in Psychological Distress Over Time

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Abstract

Females have higher rates of depression than males, a disparity that emerges in adolescence and persists into adulthood. This study uses hierarchical linear modeling to assess the effects of school context on gender differences in depressive symptoms among adolescents based on two waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N=9,709 teens, 127 schools). Analysis indicates significant school-level variation in both overall symptom levels and the average gender gap in depression net of prior symptoms and individual-level covariates. Aggregate levels of depressive symptomatology were positively associated with contextual-level socioeconomic status (SES) disadvantage. A cross-level contingency emerged for the relationship between gender and depressive symptoms with school SES and aggregate perceived community safety such that the gender “gap” was most apparent in contexts characterized by low SES disadvantage and high levels of perceived safety. These results highlight the importance of context to understanding the development of mental health disparities.

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