Skip to main content

Explaining the longitudinal association between puberty and depression: Sex differences in the mediating effects of peer stress

  • Colleen S. Conley (a1), Karen D. Rudolph (a2) and Fred B. Bryant (a1)

This research investigated whether exposure to peer stress serves as one pathway through which pubertal development contributes to depression over time, differentially for girls and boys. Youth (N = 149; 9.6–14.8 years) and their caregivers provided information at two waves, 1 year apart, on puberty (Wave 1), peer stress (occurring between Waves 1 and 2), and depression (Waves 1 and 2). Structural equation modeling analyses examined sex differences in the extent to which peer stress mediated the impact of pubertal status and timing on subsequent depression (i.e., tests of moderated mediation). Significant sex-moderated mediation was found for both pubertal status and timing. As indicated by moderate effect proportions, in girls, heightened peer stress partially mediated the longitudinal association between (a) more advanced pubertal status and depression; and (b) linear, but not curvilinear, pubertal timing (i.e., earlier maturation) and depression. This research contributes to our growing understanding of the interplay among physical, psychological, and social processes involved in the sex difference in adolescent depression.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Colleen S. Conley, Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, 6525 North Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60626; E-mail:
Hide All
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: Author.
Angold, A., Costello, E. J., Erkanli, A., & Worthman, C. M. (1999). Pubertal changes in hormone levels and depression in girls. Psychological Medicine, 29, 10431053.
Angold, A., Costello, E. J., & Worthman, C. M. (1998). Puberty and depression: The roles of age, pubertal status and pubertal timing. Psychological Medicine, 28, 5161.
Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator–mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 11731182.
Benjet, C., & Hernández-Guzmán, L. (2002). A short-term longitudinal study of pubertal change, gender, and psychological well-being of Mexican early adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31, 429442.
Bollen, K. A. (1989). Structural equations with latent variables. New York: Wiley.
Brooks-Gunn, J., & Warren, M. P. (1988). The psychological significance of secondary sexual characteristics in nine- to eleven-year-old girls. Child Development, 59, 10611069.
Brooks-Gunn, J., & Warren, M. P. (1989). Biological and social contributions to negative affect in young adolescent girls. Child Development, 60, 4055.
Brooks-Gunn, J., Warren, M. P., Rosso, J., & Gargiulo, J. (1987). Validity of self-report measures of girls' pubertal status. Child Development, 58, 829841.
Brooks-Gunn, J., Warren, M. P., Samelson, M., & Fox, R. (1986). Physical similarity of and disclosure of menarcheal status to friends: Effects of grade and pubertal status. Journal of Early Adolescence, 6, 314.
Brown, T. A., & Barlow, D. H. (2005). Dimensional versus categorical classification of mental disorders in the fifth edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders and beyond: Comment on the special section. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 551556.
Carter, R., Jaccard, J., Silverman, W. K., & Pina, A. A. (2009). Pubertal timing and its link to behavioral and emotional problems among “at-risk” African American adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescence, 32, 467481.
Cavanagh, S. E. (2004). The sexual debut of girls in early adolescence: The intersection of race, pubertal timing, and friendship group characteristics. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14, 285312.
Cicchetti, D., & Rogosch, F. A. (2002). A developmental psychopathology perspective on adolescence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 620.
Cicchetti, D., Rogosch, F. A., & Toth, S. L. (1994). A developmental psychopathology perspective on depression in children and adolescents. In Reynolds, W. M. & Johnston, H. F. (Eds.), Handbook of depression in children and adolescents (pp. 123141). New York: Plenum Press.
Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. L. (1994). The development of depression in children and adolescents. American Psychologist, 53, 221241.
Cohen, J., & Cohen, P. (1975). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Compas, B. E. (1987). Stress and life events during childhood and adolescence. Clinical Psychology Review, 7, 275302.
Compian, L. J., Gowen, L. K., & Hayward, C. (2009). The interactive effects of puberty and peer victimization on weight concerns and depression symptoms among early adolescent girls. Journal of Early Adolescence, 29, 357375.
Conley, C. S., & Rudolph, K. D. (2009). The emerging sex difference in adolescent depression: Interacting contributions of puberty and peer stress. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 593620.
Costello, E. J., Mustillo, S., Erkanli, A., Keeler, G., & Angold, A. (2003). Prevalence and development of psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60, 837844.
Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. T. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth. Psychological Review, 108, 593623.
Cross, S. E., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self-construals and gender. Psychological Bulletin, 122, 537.
Cyranowski, J. M., Frank, E., Young, E., & Shear, M. K. (2000). Adolescent onset of the gender difference in lifetime rates of major depression: A theoretical model. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 2127.
Davila, J., Hammen, C., Burge, D., Paley, B., & Daley, S. E. (1995). Poor interpersonal problem solving as a mechanism of stress generation in depression among adolescent women. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 104, 592600.
DeRose, L. M., Wright, A. J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2006). Does puberty account for the gender differential in depression? In Keyes, C. L. M. & Goodman, S. H. (Eds.), Women and depression: A handbook for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences (pp. 89128). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dorn, L. D., Susman, E. J., Nottelmann, E. D., Inoff-Germain, G., & Chrousos, G. P. (1990). Perceptions of puberty: Adolescent, parent, and health care personnel. Developmental Psychology, 26, 322329.
Dorn, L. D., Susman, E. J., & Ponirakis, A. (2003). Pubertal timing and adolescent adjustment and behavior: Conclusions vary by rater. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 157167.
Dubas, J. S., Graber, J. A., & Petersen, A. C. (1991). A longitudinal investigation of adolescents' changing perceptions of pubertal timing. Developmental Psychology, 27, 580586.
Felson, R. B., & Haynie, D. L. (2002). Pubertal development, social factors, and delinquency among adolescent boys. Criminology, 40, 967988.
Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L., Ridder, E. M., & Beautrais, A. L. (2005). Subthreshold depression in adolescence and mental health outcomes in adulthood. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 6672.
Ge, X., Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (2001). Pubertal transition, stressful life events, and the emergence of gender differences in adolescent depressive symptoms. Developmental Psychology, 37, 404417.
Ge, X., Elder, G. H., Regnerus, M., & Cox, C. (2001). Pubertal transitions, perception of being overweight, and adolescents' psychological maladjustment: Gender and ethnic differences. Social Psychology Quarterly, 64, 363375.
Ge, X., Kim, I. J., Brody, G. H., Conger, R. D., Simons, R. L., Gibbons, F. X., et al. (2003). It's about timing and change: Pubertal transition effects on symptoms of major depression among African American youths. Developmental Psychology, 39, 430439.
Ge, X., Lorenz, F. O., Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., & Simons, R. L. (1994). Trajectories of stressful life events and depressive symptoms during adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 30, 467483.
Graber, J. A. (2003). Puberty in context. In Hayward, C. (Ed.), Gender differences at puberty (pp. 307325). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Graber, J. A., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Archibald, A. B. (2005). Links between girls' puberty and externalizing and internalizing behaviors: Moving from demonstrating effects to identifying pathways. In Stoff, D. M. & Susman, E. J. (Eds.), Developmental psychobiology of aggression (pp. 87113). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Graber, J. A., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Warren, M. P. (2006). Pubertal effects on adjustment in girls: Moving from demonstrating effects to identifying pathways. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 413423.
Hammen, C., Shih, J., Altman, T., & Brennan, P. A. (2003). Interpersonal impairment and the prediction of depressive symptoms in adolescent children of depressed and nondepressed mothers. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 571577.
Hammen, C., Shih, J. H., & Brennan, P. A. (2004). Intergenerational transmission of depression: Test of an interpersonal stress model in a community sample. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72, 511522.
Hankin, B. L., & Abramson, L. Y. (1999). Development of gender differences in depression: Description and possible explanation. Annals of Medicine, 31, 372379.
Hankin, B. L., Fraley, R. C., Lahey, B. B., & Waldman, I. D. (2005). Is depression best viewed as a continuum or discrete category? A taxometric analysis of childhood and adolescent depression in a population-based sample. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 96110.
Hankin, B. L., Mermelstein, R., & Roesch, L. (2007). Sex differences in adolescent depression: Stress exposure and reactivity models in interpersonal and achievement contextual domains. Child Development, 78, 279295.
Haynie, D. L. (2003). Contexts of risk? Explaining the link between girls' pubertal development and their delinquency involvement. Social Forces, 82, 355397.
Haynie, D. L., & Piquero, A. R. (2006). Pubertal development and physical victimization in adolescence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 43, 335.
Hayward, C. (2003). Methodological concerns in puberty-related research. In Hayward, C. (Ed.), Gender differences at puberty (pp. 114). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hayward, C., Gotlib, I. J., Schraedley, P. K., & Litt, I. F. (1999). Ethnic differences in the association between pubertal status and symptoms of depression in adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 25, 143149.
Hayward, C., & Sanborn, K. (2002). Puberty and the emergence of gender differences in psychopathology. Journal of Adolescent Health, 30, 4958.
Hilt, L. M., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2009). The emergence of gender differences in depression in adolescence. In Hilt, L. M. & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (Eds.), Handbook of depression in adolescents (pp. 111135). New York: Taylor & Francis.
Huddleston, J., & Ge, X. (2003). Boys at puberty: Psychosocial implications. In Hayward, C. (Ed.), Gender differences at puberty (pp. 113134). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hyde, J. S., Mezulis, A. H., & Abramson, L. Y. (2008). The ABCs of depression: Integrating affective, biological, and cognitive models to explain the emergence of the gender difference in depression. Psychological Review, 115, 291313.
Jöreskog, K. G., & Sörbom, D. (1996). LISREL 8′s user's guide reference. Lincolnwood, IL: Scientific Software International.
Kaltiala-Heino, R., Kosunen, E., & Rimpela, M. (2003). Pubertal timing, sexual behaviour and self-reported depression in middle adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 26, 531545.
Klein, D. N., Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Olino, T. M. (2005). Psychopathology in the adolescent and young adult offspring of a community sample of mothers and fathers with major depression. Psychological Medicine, 35, 353365.
Klein, D. N., Ouimette, P. C., Kelly, H. S., Ferro, T., & Riso, L. P. (1994). Test–retest reliability of team consensus best-estimate diagnoses of Axis I and II disorders in a family study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 151, 10431047.
Kovacs, M. (1992). The Children's Depression Inventory manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.
La Greca, A. M., & Lopez, N. (1998). Social anxiety among adolescents: Linkages with peer relations and friendships. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26, 8394.
Leadbeater, B. J., Blatt, S. J., & Quinlan, D. M. (1995). Gender-linked vulnerabilities to depressive symptoms, stress, and problem behaviors in adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 5, 129.
Lerner, R. M. (1985). Adolescent maturational changes and psychosocial development: A dynamic interactional perspective. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 14, 355372.
Lerner, R. M. (1987). A life-span perspective for early adolescence. In Lerner, R. M. & Foch, T. T. (Eds.), Biological–psychosocial interactions in early adolescence (pp. 934). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Lindberg, S. M., Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2007). Gender, pubertal development, and peer sexual harassment predict objectified body consciousness in early adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17, 723742.
MacKinnon, D. P., Lockwood, C. M., Hoffman, J. M., West, S. G., & Sheets, V. (2002). A comparison of methods to test mediation and other intervening variable effects. Psychological Methods, 7, 83104.
Magnusson, D. (1988). Individual development from an interactional perspective: A longitudinal study. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Michael, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2003). When coming of age means coming undone: Links between puberty and psychosocial adjustment among European American and African American girls. In Hayward, C. (Ed.), Gender differences at puberty (pp. 277303). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Morris, N. M., & Udry, J. R. (1980). Validation of a self-administered instrument to assess stage of adolescent development. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 9, 271280.
Natsuaki, M. N., Biehl, M. C., & Ge, X. (2009). Trajectories of depressed mood from early adolescence to young adulthood: The effects of pubertal timing and adolescent dating. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 19, 4774.
Natsuaki, M. N., Klimes-Dougan, B., Ge, X., Shirtcliff, E. A., Hastings, P. D., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2009). Early pubertal maturation and internalizing problems in adolescence: Sex differences in the role of cortisol reactivity to interpersonal stress. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 38, 513524.
Negriff, S., Fung, M. T., & Trickett, P. K. (2008). Self-rated pubertal development, depressive symptoms and delinquency: Measurement issues and moderation by gender and maltreatment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 736746.
Oldenburg, C. M., & Kerns, K. A. (1997). Associations between peer relationships and depressive symptoms: Testing moderator effects of gender and age. Journal of Early Adolescence, 17, 319337.
Orvaschel, H. (1995). Schedule of affective disorders and schizophrenia for school-age children: Epidemiologic version 5. Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Nova Southeastern University.
Patton, G. C., Olsson, C., Bond, L., Toumbourou, J. W., Carlin, J. B., Hemphill, S. A., et al. (2008). Predicting female depression across puberty: A two-nation longitudinal study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 14241432.
Petersen, A. C. (1983). Menarche: Meaning of measures and measuring meaning. In Golub, S. (Ed.), Menarche: The transition from girl to woman (pp. 6376). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Petersen, A. C., & Crockett, L. (1985). Pubertal timing and grade effects on adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 14, 191206.
Petersen, A. C., Crockett, L., Richards, M., & Boxer, A. (1988). A self-report measure of pubertal status: Reliability, validity, and initial norms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 17, 117133.
Ruble, D. N., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1982). The experience of menarche. Child Development, 53, 15571566.
Rudolph, K. D. (2002). Gender differences in emotional responses to interpersonal stress during adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 30, 313.
Rudolph, K. D. (2009). Exploring depressive personality traits in youth: Origins, correlates, and developmental consequences. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 11551180.
Rudolph, K. D., Caldwell, M. S., & Conley, C. S. (2005). Need for approval and children's well-being. Child Development, 76, 309323.
Rudolph, K. D., & Conley, C. S. (2005). The socioemotional costs and benefits of social-evaluative concerns: Do girls care too much? Journal of Personality, 73, 115137.
Rudolph, K. D., & Flynn, M. (2007). Childhood adversity and youth depression: Influence of gender and pubertal status. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 497521.
Rudolph, K. D., Flynn, M., Abaied, J. L., Groot, A., & Thompson, R. (2009). Why is past depression the best predictor of future depression? Stress generation as a mechanism of depression continuity in girls. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 38, 473485.
Rudolph, K. D., & Hammen, C. (1999). Age and gender determinants of stress exposure, generation, and reactions in youngsters: A transactional perspective. Child Development, 70, 660677.
Rudolph, K. D., Hammen, C., Burge, D., Lindberg, N., Herzberg, D., & Daley, S. (2000). Toward an interpersonal life-stress model of depression: The developmental context of stress generation. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 215234.
Rudolph, K. D., & Troop-Gordon, W. (2010). Personal-accentuation and contextual-amplification models of pubertal timing: Predicting youth depression. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 433451.
Sameroff, A. J. (1987). The social context of development. In Eisenberg, N. (Ed.), Contemporary topics in developmental psychology (pp. 273291). New York: Wiley.
Scarr, S., & McCartney, K. (1983). How people make their own environments: A theory of genotype → environment effects. Child Development, 54, 424435.
Schlossberger, N. M., Turner, R. A., & Irwin, C. E. (1992). Validity of self-report of pubertal maturation in early adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 13, 109113.
Schraedley, P. K., Gotlib, I. H., & Hayward, C. (1999). Gender differences in correlates of depressive symptoms in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 25, 98108.
Shih, J. H., Eberhart, N. K., Hammen, C. L., & Brennan, P. A. (2006). Differential exposure and reactivity to interpersonal stress predict sex differences in adolescent depression. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35, 103115.
Shirtcliff, E. A., Dahl, R. A., & Pollak, S. D. (2009). Pubertal development: Correspondence between hormonal and physical development. Child Development, 8, 327337.
Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and nonexperimental studies: New procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7, 422445.
Simmons, R. G., Blyth, D. A., & McKinney, K. L. (1983). The social and psychological effects of puberty on white females. In Brooks-Gunn, J. & Petersen, A. C. (Eds.), Girls at puberty: Biological and psychosocial perspectives (pp. 229272). New York: Plenum Press.
Smith, A. E., & Powers, S. I. (2009). Off-time pubertal timing predicts physiological reactivity to postpuberty interpersonal stress. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 19, 441458.
Sobel, M. E. (1982). Asymptotic confidence intervals for indirect effects in structural equation models. In Leinhardt, S. (Ed.), Sociological methodology (pp. 290313). San Francisco, CA: Jossey–Bass.
Sobel, M. E. (1986). Some new results on indirect effects and their standard errors in covariance structure models. In Tuma, N. (Ed.), Sociological methodology (pp. 159186). San Francisco, CA: Jossey–Bass.
Sontag, L. M., Graber, J. A., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Warren, M. P. (2008). Coping with social stress: Implications for psychopathology in young adolescent girls. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 11591174.
Sroufe, L. A., & Rutter, M. (1984). The domain of developmental psychopathology. Child Development, 55, 1729.
Steinberg, L. (1987). Impact of puberty on family relations: Effects of pubertal status and pubertal timing. Developmental Psychology, 23, 451460.
Steinberg, L. (1995). Commentary: On developmental pathways and social contexts in adolescence. In Crockett, L. J. & Crouter, A. C. (Eds.), Pathways through adolescence: Individual development in relation to social contexts (pp. 245253). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Susman, E. J., Dorn, L. D., & Chrousos, G. P. (1991). Negative affect and hormone levels in young adolescents: Concurrent and predictive perspectives. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20, 167190.
Susman, E. J., & Rogol, A. (2004). Puberty and psychological development. In Lerner, R. M. & Steinberg, L. (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (2nd ed., pp. 1544). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Taga, K. A., Markey, C. N., & Friedman, H. S. (2006). A longitudinal investigation of associations between boys' pubertal timing and adult behavioral health and well-being. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 401411.
Tanner, J. M. (1969). Growth and endocrinology in the adolescent. In Gardner, L. I. (Ed.), Endocrine and genetic diseases of childhood (pp. 1960). Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.
Tobin-Richards, M. H., Boxer, A. M., & Petersen, A. C. (1983). The psychological significance of pubertal change: Sex differences in perceptions of self during early adolescence. In Brooks-Gunn, J. & Petersen, A. C. (Eds.), Girls at puberty: Biological and psychosocial perspectives (pp. 127154). New York: Plenum Press.
Weichold, K., Silbereisen, R. K., & Schmitt-Rodermund, E. (2003). Short-term and long-term consequences of early versus late physical maturation in adolescents. In Hayward, C. (Ed.), Gender differences at puberty (pp. 241276). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wichstrom, L. (1999). The emergence of gender difference in depressed mood during adolescence: The role of intensified gender socialization. Developmental Psychology, 35, 232245.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 13
Total number of PDF views: 149 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 478 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th July 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.