Gender and Age Differences in the Concerns of Adolescents in Northern Ireland

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INTRODUCTION

This study sought to determine the relationship of gender and age to adolescents' self-reported worries. A previous, exploratory, small-scale survey of adolescent concerns in Northern Ireland indicated that there were significant differences in the frequency with which males and females of differing ages reported worrying about personal and social concerns (Gallagher et al., 1992). The present research, which employed a modified version of the survey instrument developed by Millar et al. (1993), sought to confirm these findings with a much larger sample of adolescents from a wider age range.

The importance of gathering information from adolescents themselves, specifically with regard to their concerns and worries, has long been acknowledged. However, as Porteous (1979) has stated, "much of our knowledge of the problems which adolescents experience is derived at second-hand, or based on selective clinical populations" (p. 307). Professionals involved in providing interventions at either the individual or group level are increasingly aware of the prerequisite need for an understanding of the adolescent viewpoint. Further, due to rapid social, political, and economic changes in recent years, the importance of ongoing and periodic appraisals of adolescents' perceptions has been emphasized (Coleman, 1993).

Gender

Given the changing perceptions and roles of males and females, it might be expected that their concerns would mirror such changes. In general, when given the opportunity to express their concerns, female adolescents have tended to indicate both higher frequencies and a greater degree of worry, as compared with their male counterparts (Porteous, 1985; Balding, 1992; Gallagher et al., 1992). Nicholson and Antill (1981) have pointed out that there are at least two interpretations of this finding. First, it may be that young males and females have similar worries, but males do not disclose their worries to the same extent as do females. Alternatively, it may be that females actually do experience more overall anxiety during the adolescent years.

There are additional significant patterns related to the nature of the worries reported by each gender. British and Irish adolescent females have reported more concern, as compared with males, about employment and personal and emotional issues, while there was the opposite trend with regard to authority, self-image, and behavioral problems (Porteous, 1979, 1985). Simon and Ward (1982) found that girls reported more worry about family, social, school, and imagination categories, but boys tended to score higher on the categories of bodily harm, personal adequacy, and schoolwork. Findings of interviews have indicated that such worries as exam failure, childbirth, unhappy marriage, and AIDS were mentioned significantly more frequently by girls than by boys (Gillies, 1989). In Northern Ireland, worries about schoolwork, examinations, and securing employment were reported significantly more frequently by adolescent females than by males (Gallagher et al., 1992).

Findings from other cultures also suggest patterns of gender-related concerns. For example, German females, as compared with males, have reported more worry regarding body image but less worry about opposite-sex relationships (Seiffge-Krenke & Shulman, 1993). In a cross-cultural study investigating adolescent concerns in seventeen nations, Gibson et al. (1991) found that males reported school problems more frequently, and family and interpersonal problems less frequently, than did females.

Age

In comparison with gender, fewer studies have examined the relationship between age and the worries and concerns of adolescents. Nevertheless, a number of studies have included age as an independent variable or as a covariate (Ford, 1982; Gillies, 1989; Papini et al., 1990; Gallagher et al., 1992). Others have simply documented differences across age groups (Balding, 1992). …