Title

The stress process and the growth trajectories of depressive symptoms: Is there a racial difference?

Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Janet M. Wilmoth

Keywords

Racial disparities, Depression, Depressive symptoms, CES-D, Stress, Aging

Subject Categories

Sociology

Abstract

Using the first three waves of Americans' Changing Lives (ACL) data, I examined (1) if there are racial differences in the interrelationships between key life stressors, psychosocial coping resources, and depressive symptoms measured by an 11-item CES-D index; (2) whether the racial gap in depressive symptoms scores is caused by different levels of exposure to life stressors, or different responsiveness to such stress; and (3) if there is a curvilinear relationship between aging and depression from a dynamic perspective, and whether financial strain and health conditions contribute to the different CES-D scores at the baseline as well as the growth trajectories of depressive symptoms, controlling for sex, marital status, SES, mastery, and self-esteem.

Results indicate that blacks and whites exhibit more similarities than divergences in the patterns of relationships among the key components of the stress process. Their CES-D scores are similarly predicted by their financial status and health conditions. Psychosocial coping resources have a direct impact on CES-D, as well as interrelationships among themselves, especially for whites. Life events do not exert a direct influence on CES-D for either blacks or whites.

Another key finding of this research is that differential exposure, rather than differential vulnerability to various life stressors contribute to higher levels of depressive symptoms among blacks.

The longitudinal study shows that the curvilinear relationship between aging and depression exists for both whites and blacks, but the calculation of optimal psychological well-being (early 60s) varies from earlier stress studies (mid 40s). Person-level covariates such as financial strain and health concerns affect the initial status of depressive symptoms but do not seem to exert a significant influence on CESD growth trajectories.

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