Religion/Spirituality and Gender-Differentiated Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms Age 13-34

J Relig Health. 2020 Aug;59(4):2064-2081. doi: 10.1007/s10943-019-00958-9.


Studies examining religion/spirituality (R/S) and depressive symptoms report divergent findings, often depending on the types of variables considered. This study assessed whether subjective and experiential R/S variables were associated with increased depressive symptom burden from adolescence to young adulthood. Variations by gender were also assessed. Using group-based trajectory modeling with a cohort-sequential design, four distinct symptom trajectories were identified for women and five for men. 27.4% of women and 10.2% of men were classified on peak trajectory groups. Religious attendance was protective for men and women. Prayer was protective for women but linked to risk for men. Born-again and life-changing spiritual experiences, along with belief in supernatural leading and angelic protection, were broadly associated with increased classification on elevated symptom trajectories. In one exception, belief in supernatural leading was associated among some men with decreased risk of depressive symptoms during adolescence. Researchers must take a variety of R/S variables into account when assessing depressive symptoms, not simply religious attendance, prayer frequency, or affiliation as is commonly practiced. Religion and spirituality are multidimensional and in some cases may operate differently for men than women vis-à-vis mental well-being.

Keywords: Adolescence; Depressive symptoms; Emerging adulthood; Group-based modeling; Life course; Religion; Spirituality.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depression* / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Religion
  • Sex Factors
  • Spirituality*
  • Young Adult