Depressive Symptom Patterns Differ by Gender in Children

Researchers found data that showed maternal depression when children were aged between 4 and 6 years consistently predicted increasing depression symptoms for boys and girls alike.

From childhood through adolescence, patterns of depressive symptoms vary between genders, according to results published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The results indicated that female children are more likely than males to experience increasing depressive symptoms.

The researchers performed multigroup growth mixture modeling of children from the Longitudinal Study of Australia Children (n=4983). Participants had depressive symptoms assessed at 6 time points over a period of 10 years. Assessments began at year 4 and were made every 2 years after that by means of the parent report version of the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire. The researchers also assessed predictors of class membership.

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Using the results, the researchers noted 4 trajectories: low-stable (75%), decreasing (11%), increasing (9%), and high and rising (6%). Those in the low-stable group remained stable over time, while those in the decreasing category had high symptom scores at ages 4 and 5 that decreased by ages 6 and 7. In the increasing category, participants had symptoms scores that were initially low but rose significantly by age 13 or 14. Those in the high and rising trajectory began with low symptom scores. These scores rose above clinical levels by age 6 or 7 but then dropped again at age 14 or 15.

Compared with boys, girls were more likely to be in the increasing depressive symptom trajectory between the ages of 4 and 14 years (odds ratio [OR], 0.55; 95% CI, 0.45 to 0.67; P <.001).

The results indicated that reactive temperament and maternal depression when children were 4 and 6 years of age consistently predicted increasing and high depressive symptom trajectories among both boys and girls.

For boys, a reactive temperament increased the likelihood of belonging to the increasing trajectory compared with a low and stable one (OR, 1.76: P =.012). Additionally, maternal depression and reactive temperament when the child was age 6 predicted a high and rising trajectory in boys (OR, 1.84; P =.005 and OR, 1.51; P =.054, respectively).

For girls, maternal depression when the child was age 4 increased the likelihood of having an increasing trajectory (OR, 2.01; P =.001), while having a persistent temperament they had an increased likelihood of belonging to a low and stable trajectory compared with an increasing trajectory (OR, 1.64; P =.004).

The study included several limitations. In particular, the researchers did not use diagnostic indicators of depressive disorder.

“Further development and evaluation of preventative interventions that target children in early childhood exposed to maternal depression and children with temperamental difficulties would appear to be indicated,” the researchers wrote.


Lewis AJ, Sae-Koew JH, Toumbourou JW, Rowland B. Gender differences in trajectories of depressive symptoms across childhood and adolescence: a multi-group growth mixture model. J Affect Disord. 2020;260:463-472.