Age and Gender as Determinants of Stress Exposure, Generation, and Reactions in Youngsters: A Transactional Perspective



The present study used a contextual and transactional approach to examine age and gender differences in the experience and consequences of life stress in clinic-referred preadolescents and adolescents. Eighty-eight youngsters and their parents completed the Child Episodic Life Stress Interview, a detailed semistructured interview assessing the occurrence of stressful events in multiple life domains. Interviews were coded using a contextual threat rating method to determine event stressfulness and dependence. Youngsters also completed the Children's Depression Inventory and the Revised Child Manifest Anxiety Scale to assess self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. Consistent with predictions, age- and gender-related patterns of life stress varied across the type and context of stressors. Most notably, adolescent girls experienced the highest levels of interpersonal stress, especially stress and conflict that they generated within parent-child and peer relationships. Preadolescent girls experienced the highest levels of independent stress and conflict in the family context. Adolescent boys experienced the highest levels of noninterpersonal stress associated with self-generated events. Girls demonstrated particular vulnerability to depressive responses to dependent stress. The results build on and extend previous theory and research on age and gender differences in close relationships and stress, and illustrate the value of more refined conceptual models and more sophisticated methodologies in child life stress research.