Gender Differences in the Relationship of Puberty
with Adolescents’ Depressive Symptoms:
Do Body Perceptions Matter?
Anastasia S. Vogt Yuan
Published online: 1 May 2007
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract This study explored how pubertal status is related
to depressive symptoms among adolescent boys and girls
and whether body perceptions explained this relationship.
This study is based on a national random US sample of
adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of
Adolescent Health (9,011 girls and 8,781 boys). Results
showed that boys and girls responded differently to puberty.
During the transition to puberty boys had higher depressive
symptoms than post-pubertal boys, due to perceptions that
they were not as physically large and developed as their
peers. Pre-pubertal and post-pubertal boys did not signifi-
cantly differ on depressive symptoms. Post-pubertal girls
had higher depressive symptoms than pre-pubertal girls,
due to perceptions that they were overweight and more
physically developed than their peers.
Adolescence is a time of rapid physical, social, and
emotional change, which includes gender differences in
psychological well-being that develop during this life stage.
During early and middle childhood, girls and boys have
similar levels of psychosocial adjustment, and some studies
even indicate that girls have better adjustment than boys do
at this age (Angold et al. 1998; Petersen et al. 1991;
Wichstrom 1999). However, in late childhood and early
adolescence, gender differences in psychosocial adjustment
change significantly, so that, by late adolescence, girls have
much higher depressive symptoms than boys (Angold et al.
1998; Petersen et al. 1991; Wichstrom 1999). A possible
reason for this increase in depressive symptoms for girls
could be a different relationship between pubertal status and
psychosocial adjustment for girls and boys.
Studies indicate that pubertal status is related to the
psychosocial adjustment of adolescents (Angold et al. 1998;
Benjet and Hernandez-Guzman 2001; Compian et al.
2004; Ge et al. 2001a, b; Wichstrom 1999). However,
these relationships vary by gender, such that puberty
generally decreases girls’ psychosocial adjustment, whereas
it improves boys’ psychosocial adjustment. There are two
possible explanations for this relationship. First, these
results could be due to biological changes that accompany
puberty, including changes in hormones or the size and
shape of the body. Alternatively, these influences could be
due to the psychosocial impact on how adolescents perceive
themselves and their bodies. The current study was
designed to explore gender differences in the relationship
between pubertal status and adolescents’ depressive symp-
toms and whether body mass index (i.e., a measure of
objective physical bodily changes) or body perceptions can
explain this relationship.
Gender, Puberty, and Psychosocial Adjustment
For girls, puberty is generally associated with poorer
psychosocial adjustment (Angold et al. 1998; Benjet and
Hernandez-Guzman 2001; Wichstrom 1999), although
some studies have not shown this relationship (Brooks-
Gunn and Warren 1989; Richards and Larson 1993;
Rierdan and Koff 1980). Post-pubertal boys often have
better psychosocial adjustment than pre-pubertal boys
(Angold et al. 1998; Benjet and Hernandez-Guzman 2001;
Sex Roles (2007) 57:69–80
A. S. Vogt Yuan (*)
Department of Sociology,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
560 McBryde Hall (0137),
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0137, USA