Cumulative Environmental Risk and Youth Maladjustment: The Role of Youth Attributes


  • This research is based on data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Add Health), a project designed by J. Richard Udry (principal investigator) and Peter Bearman, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2425 (e-mail:

concerning this article should be addressed to Jean M. Gerard, School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43402. Electronic mail may be sent to


Using data from 5,070 youth ages 11 to 18 years old who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, concurrent and longitudinal associations among cumulative risk, protective factors, and youth maladjustment were examined. Cumulative risk was associated with concurrent conduct problems and depressed mood. For conduct problems, a compensatory effect was found for scholastic achievement and problem-solving ability. For depressed mood, a compensatory effect was found for scholastic achievement. A protective-reactive effect of self-esteem was found for both forms of maladjustment. Youth gender, grade, and ethnicity moderated these associations. Cumulative risk predicted change over time in depressed mood. Scholastic achievement and self-esteem compensated for this risk. Findings indicate that youth attributes offer limited protection when adolescents experience risk factors across life domains.