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Although gender differences in rates of internalizing disorders, particularly depression, are well documented, the causes of these differences are not well understood. One influential hypothesis [Cutler & Nolen-Hoeksema, Sex Roles (1991), 24, 425–438] proposes that higher rates of depression in females compared to males may be partially attributable to gender differences in the effects of childhood sexual abuse. The present study has evaluated this possibility by reviewing evidence for gender moderating the effects of childhood victimization on psychiatric outcomes.
Literature search using PsycINFO and Medline, applying the following inclusion criteria: publication from 1996 to 2006, community-based sampling, adequate male-to-female sample ratio, use of clearly defined psychiatric outcomes, and a statistical test of gender differences in the effects of childhood victimization on psychiatric outcomes.
Thirty studies met inclusion criteria. Overall, the results were mixed. Nearly half of all studies find no gender differences. In studies that do observe gender differences, victimization tends to be associated with higher psychiatric risk in females in studies with adult samples, whereas in samples of youth, victimization tends to be associated with higher psychiatric risk in males. With respect to outcome, when gender differences were observed, outcomes were distributed across both internalizing and externalizing categories for both genders.
The gender differences in prevalence rates of internalizing disorders, such as depression, do not appear to be attributable to differential effects of childhood victimization.
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