The Intersection of School Racial/Ethnic Composition and Student Race/Ethnicity on Adolescent Depressive and Somatic Symptoms

Katrina M. Walsemann, University of South Carolina
Bethany A. Bell, University of South Carolina
Debeshi Maitra, University of South Carolina

Our study investigates how school segregation, as measured by school-level racial/ethnic composition, influences depressive and somatic symptoms among a representative sample of U.S. adolescents, and whether the association differs by race/ethnicity. We analyzed data from Wave I of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, resulting in a sample size of 18,419 students attending 132 junior and senior high schools in 1994/5. In our multilevel analyses we found that black students experienced more depressive symptoms and greater log-odds of high somatic symptoms as the percentage of white students at their school increased. These results were no longer significant, however, after we controlled for students’ perceptions of discrimination and attachment to their school. Our findings suggest that attending predominately-minority schools may buffer black students from discrimination and increase their attachment to their school, which in turn may reduce their risk of experiencing depressive and somatic symptoms.

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Presented in Session 19: Social Inequality and Health Outcomes