Relation of Female Gender and Low Socioeconomic Status to Internalizing Symptoms among Adolescents

A Case of Double Jeopardy?

Internalizing symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, can be exacerbated during adolescence. Gender and socioeconomic status (SES) are factors that influence the experience of internalizing symptoms. The interaction of gender and SES has been posited to be a double jeopardy for individuals who are female and of lower SES.

The present study investigated the individual and combined impact of gender and SES on mental health for adolescents. Baseline data was collected from a racially and ethnically diverse sample of 640 15-year-old youth with follow-up data gathered two years later from 455 adolescents. The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) yielded the data for the study.

Key Findings:

  • In all models, even where demographic and psychosocial factors were controlled, female youth reported more internalizing symptoms than did their male counterparts.
  • There was no main effect for lower SES, as measured by caretaker education and household income, on reports of internalizing symptoms at baseline or follow-up.
  • The double jeopardy hypothesis was not borne out in the data although female adolescents from families with the lowest incomes were more likely to report higher levels of internalizing symptoms at follow-up assessment than were males in this income group.

Developing appropriate and effective intervention and prevention efforts for youth experiencing internalizing symptoms will involve exploring how gender and SES exert an influence on the life trajectory of contemporary youth.