Older Sexual Partners and Teens’ Mental Health

Ann Meier, University of Minnesota
Gina A. Erickson, University of Minnesota
Heather McLaughlin, University of Minnesota

Using two waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this paper investigates the influence of having an older sexual partner on subsequent mental health among girls. We describe and test status asymmetry and social age theories to explain this association. Our preliminary findings indicate that having sex with an older partner is associated with decreases in self-esteem and increases in depression. Higher levels of relationship conflict in age disparate partnerships account for a small portion of the association between having an older partner and increased depression. If age is tied to status as suggested by past research on adolescence (Brown 1999), then our findings suggest that the age-related status asymmetry between age disparate partners may help to explain negative associations between having an older partner and mental health.

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Presented in Session 163: Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health