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The connection between academic achievement and depression among adolescent girls and boys

Dissertation
Author: Alison Noel Callicoatte
Abstract:
This dissertation applies the life course framework to understanding gender differences in the connection between academic performance and mental health. The premise for this study is based on the paradox that girls perform better in school but get less of a boost to their sense of well being from their achievement relative to boys. The life course perspective focuses both on how different pathways, such as academics and mental health, intertwine and the need to study important transitions, such as the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. This research addresses this transition by considering the consequences of the gender paradox on college enrollment and persistence. The quantitative analyses utilize Waves I, II, and III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Results indicate that academic performance and depression were positively correlated for girls and negatively correlated for boys. Adolescent gender differences in depression are driven by the high achieving segment of the student population because girls tend to get less of a mental health boost from earning good grades across the board. This is especially pronounced in high school. The end result is a slight chipping away at the well-documented advantages girls have in postsecondary education.

TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES............................................................................................................x LIST OF FIGURES........................................................................................................xi CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION.......................................................................................1 CHAPTER 2: BACKGROUND AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK...............................6 Focusing on Adolescents...............................................................................................6 Education, Self-Control, and Mental Health................................................................15 Education, Mental Health, and the Transition to Young Adulthood...........................23 Overview of Hypotheses..............................................................................................26 CHAPTER 3: METHODS..............................................................................................28 Data and Sample..........................................................................................................28 Missing Data................................................................................................................38 Analysis Plan...............................................................................................................39 Approaches to Modeling..............................................................................................44 CHAPTER 4: INITIAL PICTURE OF THE DATA..........................................................49 Descriptive Statistics....................................................................................................49 Exploratory Analyses...................................................................................................51 CHAPTER 5: TESTS OF AIM 1....................................................................................61 Aim 1.1: Academic Achievement and Depression......................................................62 Aim 1.2: Academic Achievement and Delinquency....................................................64 Aim 1.3: Developmental Trends..................................................................................66 CHAPTER 6: TESTS OF AIM 2 AND AIM 3.................................................................71 Aim 2: Information Processing....................................................................................71 Aim 3: Academic Achievement, Depression, and College Enrollment.......................73

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CHAPTER 7: DISCUSSION...........................................................................................80 Academic Performance and Adolescent Mental Health..............................................81 Mechanisms Explaining the Gender Differences in the Association Between Academic Performance and Depression.............................................................83 Academic Achievement, Depression, and College Enrollment and Persistence.........83 Implications for Policy.................................................................................................84 Limitations...................................................................................................................86 REFERENCES...............................................................................................................90 VITA ..........................................................................................................................104

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LIST OF TABLES Table 3.1. Selected Characteristics for Each Stage of the Sample Selection Process................................................................................................................31 Table 3.2. Descriptive Statistics for Study Variables..................................................34 Table 4.1. Correlations between Mental Health Measures and High School Measures of Academic Performance..................................................................58 Table 4.2. Correlations between Mental Health Measures and Control Measure...............................................................................................................59 Table 4.3. Correlations between Mental health Measures and Attribution Measure...............................................................................................................59 Table 5.1. Variance Components for Depression........................................................61 Table 5.2. Variance Components for Delinquency......................................................62 Table 5.3. Unstandardized Coefficients from the Regression of Wave II Depression and Delinquency on Wave I Variables of Interest...........................63 Table 5.4. Unstandardized Coefficients from the Regression of Wave II Depression on Wave I Variables of Interest.......................................................67 Table 6.1. Odds Ratio Estimates from the Logistic Regression of Wave III Four-Year College Enrollment/Persistence on Wave I Variables of Interest................................................................................................................72 Table 6.2. Odds Ratio Estimates from the Logistic Regression of Wave III Four-Year College Enrollment/Persistence on Wave I Variables of Interest................................................................................................................79

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LIST OF FIGURES Figure 2.1. Mediator Model........................................................................................21 Figure 2.2. Spurious Pathway Model..........................................................................22 Figure 4.1. Average Wave I and Wave II Depression by Gender..............................52 Figure 4.2. Average Wave I and Wave II Delinquency by Gender............................53 Figure 4.3. Average Wave I GPA by Gender.............................................................54 Figure 4.4. Gender Distribution across GPA/Depression Categories.........................56 Figure 5.1. Predicted Depression Score Calculated using Interactions Among GPA, Grade Level, and Gender..........................................................................68 Figure 5.2. Predicted Depression Score Calculated using Interactions Among GPA, School Level, and Gender.........................................................................70 Figure 6.1 Predicted Probabilities from Logistic Regression of Wave III Four-Year College Enrollment/Persistence Controlling for Depression for Girls.....................................................................................................................76 Figure 6.2 Predicted Probabilities from Logistic Regression of Wave III Four-Year College Enrollment/Persistence, by GPA/Depression Category, by Gender for Middle School Students...............................................................80 Figure 6.3 Predicted Probabilities from Logistic Regression of Wave III Four-Year College Enrollment/Persistence, by GPA/Depression Category, by Gender for High School Students…………………………………………………………80

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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION The study of gender differences in adolescence is rich with paradox. For example, the early onset of puberty has negative social and academic consequences for girls, including body image disturbances, lower academic success, and conduct problems in schools. Boys, however, experience this transition much less negatively and maybe even positively (Caspi et al.1995). Another example concerns the tendency for girls to earn higher grades, higher class ranks, and more school honors than boys. The extensive empirical evidence on the positive association between educational success and mental health would thus suggest that girls should also report higher levels of mental health. Yet, in reality, girls report lower levels of mental health than boys. This dissertation explores this gender paradox concerning the association between academic achievement and mental health by bridging two important literatures on adolescence – research on education and research on mental health – using a life course framework (Elder 1998). The life course perspective argues that different trajectories of development intersect across different contexts, be they proximate contexts defined by institutions and organizations (e.g., schools) or the more distal contexts defined by social structures and stratification systems (e.g., gender). This perspective is sensitive to the longitudinal nature and interwoven trajectories of human development across important transitions and contexts that result in variations across adult positions (Sampson and Laub 1992). As such, it is appropriate for studying gender differences in the connection between education and mental health. Applied to this particular study, the life course framework suggests

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that the education/mental health gender paradox exists because two key developmental trajectories of the early life course, academic achievement and socio- emotional functioning, vary across an important cultural and demographic context of American society: gender. This dissertation explores this possibility by pursuing three general aims. The first aim of this dissertation is to determine if the education/mental health gender paradox does actually exist and, if so, under what conditions. Evidence suggests that the associations between psychological well-being and certain aspects of educational functioning, such as school attachment, are weaker among girls (Johnson, Crosnoe, and Thaden 2006). The purpose of this aim is to verify if a similar pattern extends to mental health and graded achievement and then to identify the critical periods of schooling and domains of mental health in which it is most pronounced. For example, an association between academic performance and mental health may be stronger for girls in earlier grades prior to the intensification of other social pressures after the onset of puberty. Additionally, the paradox may only appear to exist because of how mental health is conceptualized and operationalized in past research. Ample evidence suggests, for example, that using an internalized measure of mental health primarily taps female experiences while an externalized measure taps male experiences (Aneshensel, Rutter, and Lachenbruch 1991). Therefore, conceptualizing mental health as an internalized phenomenon would necessarily slant the evidence base towards finding more effects among girls. Consequently, I will examine gender differences in the associations of academic achievement with depression and delinquency across various grade levels of secondary school.

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Here, I should note that this dissertation is working on the assumption that academic performance affects well-being. This argument is based on the vast literature on the association between educational attainment and mental health among adults. Because the measures for academic performance and well-being were recorded at the same time, however, adjudicating casual ordering is beyond the scope of this study. As a result, what I am really studying is the coupling of academic achievement and mental health patterns in the same person and in the same groups of people (defined by gender). The second aim of this dissertation is to identify a mechanism for this education/mental health gender paradox; specifically, to determine whether different patterns of information processing explain why girls get less of a boost from doing well in school than boys. One approach, attribution theory, posits that the association between education and mental health depends on an individual’s attribution orientation. This research indicates that girls do better in school but benefit less from this success because they attribute their success to forces outside of themselves, reflecting a self-blaming orientation. Boys tend to suffer less (in psychological terms at least) from lower performance due to a self-defending orientation. An alternative approach, control theory, suggests that the association between education and mental health will not vary by gender but may be explained by an individual’s level of self- perceived control over her/his circumstances. This dissertation attempts to adjudicate between these two information processing mechanisms. The third aim of this dissertation is to look at the long-term consequences of this education/mental health gender paradox; specifically, to explore its link to an

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important young adulthood transition: post-secondary education. Currently, girls have higher rates of college matriculation and graduation than boys (Buchmann and DiPrete 2006). Yet, given what is already known about their depression, an important question to ask is: could girls be enrolling and persisting in college at even higher rates were it not for their higher levels of depression? In other words, I will examine the extent to which gender differences in the association between academic achievement and mental health problems reduces some of girls' academic performance advantages in college enrollment and graduation. The data used to test these aims is the public-use version of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Add Health is an ongoing study of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents in grades 7-12 during the 1994-95 school year. Multi-level modeling strategies are used to test each aim. In pursuing these aims, this dissertation makes a valuable contribution to research on adolescence, mental health, and education on several fronts. Conceptually, it links two related areas of inquiry through a life course perspective and investigates the consequences of adolescent trajectories for young adult life outcomes. Methodologically, the study connects life course theory with a data source that combines school information and mental health information. From an applied standpoint, a more nuanced understanding of how girls and boys may experience academic achievement differently provides a richer context for decision making and adoption of intervention strategies or programs that have direct consequences for schools and students. Together, these features allow for a theoretically grounded

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investigation of how education may differentially impact the mental health of girls and boys during a critical developmental stage.

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CHAPTER 2: BACKGROUND AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK The education and mental health literatures link more positive educational experiences to better mental health (Kessler 1982; Mirowsky and Ross 2003; Ross and Van Willigen 1997; Ross and Wu 1995). Specifically, studies document an inverse association between markers of educational progress and depression, with depression overrepresented among adults with less education (Adler et al. 1994; Dohrenwend et al. 1992; Miech and Shanahan 2000). This research is typically based on a human capital perspective viewing education as an investment that builds an individual’s knowledge and skills and, in the process, results in more productivity (Becker 1964; Schultz 1961). This traditional economic perspective can be expanded to acknowledge that education affects more than productivity and status attainment. Education provides individuals with skills and abilities that ultimately affect well- being (Mirowsky and Ross 2003; Reynolds and Ross 1998). Reynolds and Ross (1998: 225) argue that “If the reason to study jobs and income is that they affect subjective quality of life…it is useful to study subjective quality of life directly.” Focusing on Adolescents Connecting the education and mental health literatures in sociology and other literatures can also illuminate the gender-specific experiences of adolescents. School is an important institutional and social context for adolescents (Goodman et al. 2003; Harris, Duncan, and Boisjoly 2002) in which gender differences in the association between academic achievement and mental health are likely to emerge. Given the connection between educational attainment and mental health, any demonstrated

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differences in academic achievement—a primary building block of educational attainment—imply corresponding differences in mental health during adolescence. Minimal research has been conducted in the specific area focusing on the link between academic performance and health-related, especially mental health-related, issues in adolescence. Studies that do focus on this specific link find that the association between academic performance and health-related behaviors is context- specific but also that higher academic performance can be a protective factor for health (Crosnoe 2002; Crosnoe and Muller 2004). Other studies using nationally representative data on American youth have reported that poor mental health is associated with lower academic achievement (Needham, Crosnoe, and Muller 2004). Smaller-scale studies have replicated this association between poor mental health and lower academic achievement (Field, Diego and Sanders 2001; Wolfe 1985). Yet, more needs to be known, and, indeed, adolescent researchers have argued for more study of how academic performance and mental health are connected (Furstenberg 2000). The current education literature clearly documents that girls outperform boys academically, in contrast to the highly publicized report by the American Association of University Women (1992) that reported that schools shortchange girls. Among other things, this report concluded that girls receive significantly less attention from classroom teachers than do boys; girls have fewer interactions with teachers than boys; teaching methods that foster competition are still standard and benefit boys; and girls who are highly competent in math and science are much less likely to pursue scientific or technological careers than are their male classmates. The report cited the

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lack of teacher support for girls pursuing careers in these fields as one possible explanation for this gap. Numerous follow-up studies, however, document that girls hold a significant advantage on most educational outcomes (Bleuer and Walz 2002). In fact, a broad base of research indicates that girls now outperform boys in terms of grades, class rank, and honors received (Kleinfeld 1998). Riordan (1998), for example, studied the gender gap in academic achievement using data from the National Longitudinal Study (NLS), the High School and Beyond Study (HS&B), and the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS). He found that, as a whole, boys are not doing well in school. This research shows that boys are more likely to be identified for learning disability services, less likely to stay in school, and less likely to attend and graduate from college. More recent studies confirm girls’ increasing advantage over boys in terms of educational attainment. In 1960, men earned 65% of all Bachelors degrees. By 1982, Bachelor’s degrees were evenly distributed between men and women. By 2004, women earned 58% of Bachelor's degrees (Buchmann and DiPrete 2006). Researchers partly attribute this reversal to the fact that the rate of return for higher education during this time period has risen faster for women compared to men (DiPrete and Buchmann 2006). The picture presented by this research challenges commonly held ideas of schools “cheating” girls. This research could indicate that the educational system advantages girls (Sommers 2000). At a minimum, it suggests girls do well in spite of policies or procedures that advantage boys.

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Another conclusion could be drawn from this research. Specifically, if academic achievement and mental health tend to be inversely associated with each other, boys, rather than girls, should report poorer mental health outcomes based on the association. Yet, empirical evidence on gender differences in mental health points to something else entirely (Rosenfield 2000). Research examining gender differences in mental health indicates that women experience higher rates of depression compared to men (Turner and Turner 1999) and that these gender differences emerge in early adolescence (Barrett and White 2002; Nolen-Hoeksema 2001; Rosenfield, Vertefuille, and Mcalpine 2000; Sorenson, Rutter, and Aneshensel 1991; Turner and Lloyd 1995; Waller et al. 2006). The simplest explanation for this paradox is that the connection between academic achievement and mental health differs by gender in adolescence, with girls getting less of a mental health boost from academic success than boys. In other words, boys do not do as well but get more from what they do, so that they experience better mental health. Testing this explanation is the first objective of this dissertation and should be of interest to policy makers as well as practitioners looking for interventions to improve mental health and academic performance. Efforts to improve youth’s self-esteem through academic support would benefit from understanding the process of how boys and girls experience academic achievement differently. Several explanations for how and why boys and girls might experience academic achievement (or failure) in different ways are plausible. A developmental argument is one example. Research has documented that the period of early

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adolescence is marked by rapid biological, cognitive, and social-emotional changes (Furstenberg 2000; Roeser, Eccles, and Sameroff 2000). Girls often experience the transition to early adolescence more negatively than boys, with ample evidence demonstrating that self-esteem and body image decline while depressive symptoms increase for girls during this developmental period (Brooks et al. 2002; Petersen and Crockett 1989; Simmons et al. 1987). Ge and colleagues (2001) found similar results using the Add Health data set. This study found that early pubertal growth was associated with decreased self-esteem and increased depression for girls because of increased weight gain. For boys, early maturation was advantageous because it added height and muscle, attributes valued among peers. A variety of studies offer possible explanations related to developmental issues that could account for the decline in girls’ sense of well-being compared to boys during this stage of the life course. As already noted, girls experience puberty earlier and more negatively than boys (Davila et al. 2004; Eccles 1999; Ge et al. 2001), and the onset of puberty for girls is often accompanied by negative social and academic consequences (Caspi et al. 1995; Cavanagh, Riegle-Crumb, and Crosnoe 2007; Eccles 1999). Late-maturing girls show the highest academic achievement (Dubas, Graber, and Petersen 1991), while earlier pubertal development is associated with increased delinquency for girls (Haynie 2003), which is an academic risk factor. Peers and social status also gain importance during this development period as children seek independence from their parents. Avenues for attaining social status change during this period and are increasingly differentiated by gender. Boys seek status through academic achievement and athletics whereas girls turn to achieving

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status through relationships with peers (Beckar and Luthar 2007; Cyranowski et al. 2000). These relationships are defined by more arbitrary norms and values than the avenues boys choose for status attainment and result in less focus on academics and more self-doubt for girls (Eder 1985 and Kuperminc et al. 1997; Giordano 2003). Other developmental factors are relevant to the mental health gender gap in adolescence. Chodorow (1978) posits that establishing a separate identity is one of the primary psychological goals in adolescence and that achieving individuation and autonomy involves different processes for boys and girls that often intensify gender identities. Gender identity formation, while beginning very early, continues during the period of adolescence and reaches a maximum in later high school years (Horwitz and White 1987). This process of individuation includes renegotiating parent-child boundaries (Crosnoe 2000; McNeely, Nonnemaker, and Blum 2002) in ways that penalize girls and reward boys through gender intensification. For example, seeking independence is viewed as developmentally appropriate for boys but may be viewed as rebellious for girls (Barrett and White 2002). Gender intensification also parallels physical changes that occur during this time that cause girls and boys, as well as their parents, to begin viewing themselves more as women and men and responding with more gender stereotyped expectations (Brown and Gilligan 1992). Studies consistently find that girls experience this transitional period differently and more negatively than boys and that these differences appear to have long-term consequences (Leadbeter et al. 1995). Understanding the gender paradox in education and mental health requires consideration of the timing and intersection of other developmental trajectories, defined by age and pubertal status. Part of the first

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aim of this dissertation, therefore, is to determine whether gender differences in the consequences of academic achievement for mental health vary according to developmental markers. Another possibility is that this gender paradox does not exist but is instead an artifact of how mental health measures are conceptualized and operationalized. For example, the bulk of the literature on education and mental health has focused on internalized measures of mental health, such as depression, rather than externalized measures, such as anger. This emphasis could be misleading because of evidence organized by the functional equivalent hypothesis contending that men and women have different styles of expressing distress. Studies indicate that female styles involve the internalization of distress and that male styles involve acting out behaviors (Dohrenwend and Dohrenwend 1976; Miller and Eisenberg 1988; Rosenfield 1999a; Rosenfield, Lennon, and White 2005). Measuring mental health through internalized psychological distress symptoms ignores the possibility that males and females demonstrate psychological distress in different ways (Aneshensel, Rutter, and Lachenbruch 1991). Umberson and colleagues (2002: 190) suggest that using typical measures of mental health (i.e., depression) underestimates “psychological upset in social groups that are likely to express upset in ways other than depressive symptom(s)”. Numerous researchers argue that other more externalized behaviors, such as aggression, anger, or violence may also be an expression of psychological distress (Schieman 2000; Umberson et al. 2002). Additionally, these gender differences in the expression of distress emerge and continue through adolescence. Internalizing problems increase in adolescent girls

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at rates that exceed those for boys, and boys exceed girls in rates of externalizing problems throughout adolescence (Angold and Costello 1995; Avison and McAlpine 1992; Rosenfield et al. 2000; Zahn-Waxler, 1993). Applying this assertion to the topic of this dissertation suggests that academically low achieving boys might also display psychological distress at similar levels as academically low achieving girls if gender specific measures of mental health are used. Alternatively, girls may derive greater benefit than boys from academic achievement when the outcome is delinquency rather than depression or some other expression of distress seen as more typically female. A subsidiary objective of the first aim of this dissertation, therefore, examines whether gender differences between academic achievement and one marker of mental health, depression, extend to an externalized marker of mental health. To accomplish this objective, delinquency is used as the externalized measure of psychological stress. Delinquency was chosen because it is considered an antisocial behavior that demonstrates destructiveness to others or a clearly externalized expression of distress. While other behaviors, such as alcohol abuse, are also considered externalizing, delinquency includes self-destructive elements that these others do not. Thus, a more antisocial behavior more closely reflects the opposing side of internalized expressions of distress, such as depression (Rosenfield, Lennon, and White 2005). Delinquency was also chosen as an externalized marker of mental health distress because of structuralist research that contends that males are shaped by norms that reinforce violence as a problem solving option (Heimer 1997) and that this socialization begins

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at birth. Parents engage in rougher play with sons and discuss emotions more with daughters (Maccoby 1998). Same-sex friendships and groups which emerge early, reinforce behaviors. Within these groups, boys learn to be more physical and aggressive. Girls learn to be more cooperative and communicative (Maccoby 1998; Thorne and Luria 1986). According to structuralist theory, these processes socialize children into gender-appropriate responses. Because delinquency more clearly indicated destructiveness to others and research finds that boys are socialized to respond aggressively, delinquency is an appropriate measure of externalized responses to distress (Umberson, Williams, and Anderson 2002). Several major reviews explore evidence of the association between academic performance and delinquency (Gottfredson 1981; Hawkins and Lishner 1987; Katsiyannis et al. 2008; Maguin and Loeber 1996; Silberberg and Silberberg 1971; Sprout 2004; Zamora 2005). Findings indicate that the two are inversely associated with each other during adolescence. Low academic performance is associated with the prevalence and onset of delinquent behavior, and higher academic performance predicts desistance from engaging in such behavior (Zamora 2005). Because an exclusive focus on either internalizing or externalizing outcomes may be misleading (Gundy 2002), this dissertation tests two outcomes, depression and delinquency, to capture the gendered dimensions of mental health. Practical implications follow from the aims investigated here. First, findings supporting the basic hypothesis could add to a growing body of research documenting that girls and boys experience school differently, and such a conclusion has consequences for policy and programmatic strategies. Better understanding the nature

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of the association between academic achievement and mental health will provide professionals working in schools with more information to inform programming choices. For example, gender separation in coursework, such as all-girl mathematics and science courses, currently has support. For boys, one program aimed at reducing aggressive behavior may promote punitive action while another might recommend strategies promoting mediation. Education, Self-Control, and Mental Health If girls benefit less in terms of mental health from their academic success than boys, then more attention needs to be focused on why this gender paradox occurs. Social psychology offers two plausible explanations: control theory and attribution theory. The second aim of this dissertation is to determine whether different patterns of information processing explain why girls get less of a boost in well-being from doing well academically than boys. Control theory suggests that persons with an internal locus of control (cognitive orientation) believe their actions can affect outcomes. This psychological attribute is called learned effectiveness, which is a conditioned response. Alternatively, persons with an external locus of control believe that outcomes are beyond their control, which is called learned helplessness. Studies applying control theory to education assert that a greater sense of learned effectiveness is associated with higher academic achievement. By associating failure with lack of effort rather than ability, students try harder on subsequent tasks and succeed (for a review see, Bandura 1986; Burhans and Dweck 1995; Schunk and Cox 1986). In the context of education, learned effectiveness reflects habits of mind, such as critical thinking and

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problem solving strategies that lead to improved performance (Mirowsky and Ross 2003). Research has not shown definitive gender differences in control orientation (Ziegert et al. 2001), but early work in this area found that girls were more prone to learned helplessness than boys (Dweck et al. 1980). Research also shows that girls rely more on external evaluations to assess self-worth (Becker and Luthar 2007; Buunk and Mussweiler 2001; Giordano 2003; Jones 2001). Other studies demonstrated that gender differences may exist at different achievement levels so that high achieving girls are more prone to learned helplessness than high achieving boys (Dweck 1986). Considering control theory in the context of adult mental health, a large body of research has documented the connection between depression and learned helplessness, with depression decreasing as learned effectiveness increases. Learned effectiveness insulates people from depression because they believe that their actions matter and that they can resolve or redirect negative or unhealthy situations. Learned effectiveness promotes active problem solving in which individuals reflect on problems, try to create solutions, and try to choose different paths in the future (Ross and Mirowsky 1989). Some of the positive association between learned effectiveness and mental health is explained by better employment opportunities (Ross and Wu 1995) and higher levels of social support (Ross and VanWilligen 1997). No gender differences in perceived control have been found in recent adult samples, possibly due to women’s decreased economic dependency as a function of their increased participation in the paid labor force.

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A large body of research also has reported associations between personal control and delinquency (see Gottfredson and Hirshci 1990; Umberson et al. 2002). In this context, control is defined as self-control or an ability to defer gratification and to empathize (Nakhaie, Silverman, and LaGrange 2000). Generally, this view of personal control is consistent with an active problem solving view of personal control in which individuals approach life analytically rather than reacting to life events based on impulse. Mirowsky and Ross (2003) have argued that learned effectiveness leads to self-regulation, implying that higher levels of learned effectiveness may be associated with lower levels of delinquent behavior. Additionally, research in this area consistently reports gender differences in the association between personal control and externalized behaviors, with boys consistently demonstrating less personal control than girls (LaGrange and Silverman 1999). Reasons for this lower personal control among boys include their propensity for risk-taking, less adult supervision, less cautiousness, less developed verbal skills, and greater impulsivity (Nakhaie, Silverman, and LaGrange 2000; Wilson and Hernstein 1985). Integrating the literature on control theory and education with the literature on control theory and mental health suggests that individuals exhibiting higher levels of learned effectiveness should also exhibit better academic performance and higher levels of positive mental health than individuals with lower levels of learned effectiveness. Consequently, this dissertation explores the role learned effectiveness plays in the association between academic achievement and mental health and whether this role differs by gender.

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An alternative paradigm, attribution theory, proposes that personal control is unstable and outcome-dependant (Vispoel and Austin 1995). Self-defending people take credit for success and blame others for failure; whereas, persons taking credit for negative outcomes only display self-blaming patterns (Mirowsky and Ross 1990). Internal attribution for failure and external attribution for success are associated with low self-concept and are characterized as pessimistic (negative) styles of attribution. The reverse is characterized as optimistic (positive) style attribution and is associated with improved self-concept (Peterson and Barrett 1987). Research applying attribution theory to education posits that pessimistic or negative style attribution is associated with problematic school outcomes in adolescence, including academic failure and discipline problems (Tony 2003). Additionally, students with optimistic attribution patterns typically earn higher grades and perform better on standardized tests (Haynes et al. 2006; Ruthig et al. 2004). Research in this area also indicates that gender differences exist in attributional styles (Foschi 1996; Pomerantz, Saxon, and Kenney 2001). While girls do better in school, they may get less of a psychological boost from this success (Steele 1997). For example, Correll (2001) found that in school girls attribute their academic success to forces outside of themselves (such as “luck” or “it was an easy test”) and blame themselves for failures, whereas boys tend to attribute academic success to effort or skill and their academic failure to luck or outside forces. Research applying attribution theory to mental health indicates that mental health is associated with attribution of negative outcomes to forces beyond an individual’s control and attribution of positive outcomes to individual effort,

Full document contains 116 pages
Abstract: This dissertation applies the life course framework to understanding gender differences in the connection between academic performance and mental health. The premise for this study is based on the paradox that girls perform better in school but get less of a boost to their sense of well being from their achievement relative to boys. The life course perspective focuses both on how different pathways, such as academics and mental health, intertwine and the need to study important transitions, such as the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. This research addresses this transition by considering the consequences of the gender paradox on college enrollment and persistence. The quantitative analyses utilize Waves I, II, and III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Results indicate that academic performance and depression were positively correlated for girls and negatively correlated for boys. Adolescent gender differences in depression are driven by the high achieving segment of the student population because girls tend to get less of a mental health boost from earning good grades across the board. This is especially pronounced in high school. The end result is a slight chipping away at the well-documented advantages girls have in postsecondary education.