Gender Differences in Psychological Well-Being of Mexican Early Adolescents

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ABSTRACT

This study examined gender differences in the effects of menarche in females and voice change in males, specifically with regard to depression, self-esteem, body image, and externalizing problems (i.e., behavioral disturbances). In addition, possible modifying variables (relationship with parents, social-emotional adjustment, level of parental education, and menstrual attitudes) were assessed. Participants were 1,102 Mexican youths aged 9 to 14. Analyses indicated that there were no gender differences among prepubertal youths in depression, body image, or self-esteem, but prepubertal males had more externalizing problems than did premenarcheal females. Females increased in depression, externalizing problems, and negative body image postmenarche, while males showed no change in depression, a trend toward fewer externalizing problems, and felt better about their bodies following voice change. Relationship with parents, social-emotional adjustment, parental education, and menstrual attitudes did not modify the r elation between menarche and body image or depression. Based on these findings, suggestions for designing interventions aimed at early adolescent females are presented.

Early adolescence is a time of rapid physical changes and new social demands, which in turn have an impact on psychological development. It is also during this transitional period that gender differences in depression, self-esteem, and body image begin to emerge. Despite findings indicating either no gender difference or a slight propensity for greater depression in prepubescent males than females, from middle adolescence through adulthood, depression becomes more frequent in females (Katragadda & Tidwell, 1998; Petersen, Sarigiani, & Kennedy, 1991). Numerous cross-cultural studies have reported that there is a substantial gender difference in adult depression, with an average female-to-male ratio of two to one (McGrath, Keita, Strickland, & Russo, 1990). In early adolescence females also begin to feel less satisfied with themselves and their bodies. For example, Tobin-Richards, Boxer, and Petersen (1983) found that body image became increasingly more negative with pubertal maturation for females and more po sitive for males. Similarly, Mexican females reported greater self-esteem than did males in third through fifth grades, and then in sixth grade the self-esteem of females plummeted below that of males, who simultaneously had a surge in self-esteem (Verduzco Alvarez-Icaza, Lara-Cantu, Lancelotta, & Rubio, 1989). Other researchers have found all three--depression, body image, and self-esteem--to be worse in early adolescent females than males (Keel, Fulkerson, & Leon, 1997).

Studies investigating precursors of eating disorders during the transition from childhood to adolescence have pointed to an interaction of gender, depression, self-esteem, and body image. For example, among Chinese adolescents, females were found to have more negative body image as compared to males, but they did not differ in terms of self-esteem (Davis & Katzman, 1997). The relationship between body satisfaction and depression was significant for females only. Veron-Guidry, Williamson, and Netemeyer (1997) identified depression and low self-esteem, among other variables, as risk factors for eating disorders in prepubertal females. Kostanski and Gullone (1998) indicated that dissatisfaction with body image in early adolescence was related to gender, self-esteem, and depression.

What might account for the adverse consequences of physical changes occurring during puberty? In particular, what role does pubertal maturation play in undermining the emotional well-being of females? There are several possible explanations. For example, females may face greater challenges during puberty than do males. Females reach puberty, on average, two years prior to males (Tanner, 1955), when they may be emotionally and cognitively less prepared to handle such changes, and when they face the simultaneous transition to middle school. …