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19-07-2019 | Empirical Research | Uitgave 11/2019

Journal of Youth and Adolescence 11/2019

Secular Trends in Adolescent Depressive Symptoms: Growing Disparities between Advantaged and Disadvantaged Schools

Journal of Youth and Adolescence > Uitgave 11/2019
Rebekah Levine Coley, Michael O’Brien, Bryn Spielvogel
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Growing economic inequality across the family and school contexts that adolescents inhabit may have significant consequences for their psychological well-being. Yet little research has assessed the mental health repercussions of economic inequities or whether such repercussions have shifted with rising inequality. This study assessed annual Monitoring the Future surveys with 8th (n = 124,468; age 13; 59 percent White, 41 percent students of color), 10th (n = 164,916; age 15; 65 percent white, 35 percent students of color), and 12th (n = 60,664; age 17; 66 percent white, 34 percent students of color) grade students from 1989–2017. Analyses tracked secular trends in adolescent depressive symptoms and assessed whether family and school socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in depressive symptoms have shifted over time. Depressive symptoms showed significant elevations in 2014–2017 among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders over 2010–2013 levels. Pervasive small SES gaps were found in adolescent depressive symptoms, with youth from lower SES families and lower SES schools reporting higher depressive symptoms than their more advantaged peers across all grades. Family SES gaps remained stable over recent decades, whereas school SES gaps rose significantly in recent years across all grades and genders, suggesting that the recent rise in depressive symptoms is driven by adolescents in low SES schools. The results suggest that repercussions of growing economic inequality may extend to psychological outcomes, and identify the need for greater preventive and intervention services targeting adolescent mental health.

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