Girls, gender roles and cigarettes: An intersectional analysis of psycho-social influences on the relationship between depressive symptoms and smoking among early adolescents Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
Despite the well-publicized health and economic costs of tobacco use, cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. For most, cigarette use is already a well-established habit by adulthood, with smoking initiation most frequently occurring in the 6th-7th grade. To deter youth from smoking cigarettes and from transitioning from experimentation to daily smoking requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to understanding the various personal, demographic, and social/environmental factors that put adolescents at risk, and at times even motivate youth, to smoke cigarettes. Review of the depressive symptoms-smoking relationship among adolescents suggests that girls and boys often have differing motives for smoking, many of which are connected to depression or have particularly strong implications for those with depressive symptoms. Gender differences in norms for the expression of depressive symptoms may explain why girls with depressive symptoms use smoking as a coping mechanism in disproportionately high rates compared to their male peers. To better understand how depressive symptoms and smoking are related among teenage girls, integrating role constraint and future orientation research with the gender role attitudes literature suggests that it may be the interaction between beliefs in traditional gender roles and depressive symptoms that relates to or predicts smoking among adolescent girls. Gender role attitudes may have different meanings for Black and White women, complicating the depressive symptoms-smoking relationship even further. In the current study I analyzed the most recent four years of data from a subset of 8th and 10th grade Monitoring the Future survey participants to test the following hypotheses: 1) Gender modifies the depressive symptoms-smoking relationship, such that being female (rather than male) predicts a stronger positive association between depressive symptoms and smoking, 2) Among girls, gender role attitudes modify the depressive symptoms-smoking relationship, such that endorsing more traditional (rather than more egalitarian) gender roles predicts a stronger positive association between depressive symptoms and smoking, and 3) Among girls with traditional gender role attitudes, race/ethnicity modifies the depressive symptoms-smoking relationship, such that being White (rather than Black) predicts a stronger positive association between depressive symptoms and smoking. Responses to questions on cigarette smoking, depressive symptoms, gender role attitudes, socio-demographics, and correlates of smoking (e.g., sensation-seeking, deviant behavior) were analyzed for N = 23,776 participants. Results of logistic and multiple regression analyses revealed partial support for Hypothesis 1 (depressive symptoms and gender interacted to predict ever smoking) and Hypothesis 2 (depressive symptoms and gender role traditionalism interacted to predict past 30 day smoking frequency among girls), but no support for Hypothesis 3. I explore potential explanations for the various findings and how they converge or diverge with the research literature, several study limitations, theoretical and applied implications of the current study, and directions for future research.