Gendered powerlessness in at-risk adolescent and young women: an empirical model

AIDS Care. 2020 Oct;32(10):1333-1342. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2020.1724252. Epub 2020 Feb 2.


In the United States, youth aged 13-24 comprised approximately 21% of new HIV infections in 2017; 13% of these infections occurred among women, the majority of whom (86%) acquired HIV through heterosexual contact (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019a. HIV and youth. Retrieved from, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019b. HIV among women. Retrieved from We fit and validated a developmentally appropriate empirical model of Connell's Theory of Gender and Power (Connell, R. W. 1987. Gender and power: Society, the person and sexual politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, Connell, R. W. 2013. Gender and power: Society, the person and sexual politics. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons) in a sample of young women and assessed whether gendered powerlessness reflected a multidimensional higher-order latent factor, as the theory implies. Anonymous computer-assisted interviews were administered to at-risk, sexually active young women (N = 1,101). Factor analyses and structural equation modeling were used to determine the dimensionality of gendered powerlessness. Associations with condom use were examined to validate the model. We fit a three-component model of gendered powerlessness, but not a higher-order latent factor. We observed that high scores on two dimensions of gendered powerlessness - cathexis and sexual division of power - were associated with lower likelihood of condom use. Our three-component model helps elucidate the role that components of gendered powerlessness play in young women's health behaviors and underscores the need for measures tailored to young women at high risk of contracting HIV.

Keywords: Adolescent and young women; Connell’s theory of gender and power; condom use; gendered power imbalance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Condoms
  • Female
  • HIV Infections*
  • Humans
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Young Adult