Academic journal article Fathering

Paternal Depressive Symptoms and Adolescent Functioning: The Moderating Effect of Gender and Father Hostility

Academic journal article Fathering

Paternal Depressive Symptoms and Adolescent Functioning: The Moderating Effect of Gender and Father Hostility

Article excerpt

This study examined the longitudinal relationship between paternal depressive symptoms, paternal hostility, and adolescent functioning in a community sample of 451 families. Paternal depressive symptoms were a strong predictor of adolescent outcome, even after controlling for family demographic variables, maternal depressive symptoms, and previous adolescent symptoms. Adolescent gender and perception of paternal hostility moderated this association such that females reporting high paternal hostility were particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of paternal depressive symptoms. Maternal and paternal depressive symptoms had an additive, rather than interactive, effect on adolescent functioning. These results contribute to our knowledge of the interpersonal processes by which depression runs in families and highlight the importance of including fathers in developmental research on adolescent internalizing problems.

Keywords: fathers, adolescent adjustment, depressive symptoms, gender, paternal hostility


A considerable amount of research has documented the adverse effects of parental depression (for review, see Goodman & Gotlib, 2002) and critical family interactions (e.g., Sheeber, Hops, & Davis, 2001) on the social and psychological development of adolescents. These literatures have been limited by several factors. First, fathers have been dramatically underrepresented in developmental research (for review, see Phares, 1992). Second, most studies of paternal depression and offspring development have failed to control for the effects of maternal depression (see Kane & Garber, 2004). Third, little is known about gender differences in adolescent vulnerability to depressive family environments (Hammen, 1991). Finally, research on intergenerational psychopathology has predominately used clinical samples and cross-sectional design. Controlling for maternal depressive symptoms and previous adolescent symptoms, the present study used longitudinal data from a large community sample to examine adolescent gender and perceptions of father hostility as moderators of the association between paternal and adolescent functioning.

Adolescent Depression

Depression is a prevalent and serious problem during adolescence. By age nineteen, 35% of adolescent females and 19% of adolescent males will experience at least one episode of clinical depression (Lewinsohn, Rohde, & Seeley, 1998), which has been associated with serious risks including substance abuse, suicide, and impaired academic achievement (Field, Diego, & Sanders, 2001). Despite these risks and the fact that the onset of adult depression often occurs in adolescence (Rao, Hammen, & Daley, 1999), data on the psychosocial characteristics of depression during the teenage years are limited (see Essau & Petermann, 1999). For example, the majority of research on adolescent depression has relied on clinical samples which are not representative of the general population of adolescents (Costello, 1993). Although diagnostic criteria and categorical approaches can be informative about depression, power to detect effects may be compromised with dichotomous data. Research has typically supported continuous approaches, indicating that there is no clear, discrete cut-off point separating seriously depressed individuals from those experiencing subclinical depression with fewer than the required levels of symptoms for a clinical diagnosis (see Hankin, 2006). A substantial proportion of adolescents experience subdiagnostic depressive symptoms, which have a high recurrence rate and have been linked to a wide range of psychopathology including major depression, anxiety disorders, substance use, and suicidal behavior (Fergusson, Horwood, Ridder, & Beautrais, 2005; Lewinsohn, Solomon, Seeley, & Zeiss, 2000).

The epidemiology of adolescent depression has consistently demonstrated that adolescent girls experience significantly more depression than boys in both severity and frequency (Hankin, Mermelstein, & Roesch, 2007); this gender difference persists across the lifespan (Eaton et al. …

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