Date of Award
Program or Major
Doctor of Philosophy
Karen Van Gundy
It is a common cultural belief that women employ emotion and passive focused coping methods more frequently than men. Likewise, most empirical evidence supports the idea that women are more likely to cope by modifying their emotional responses to stress, whereas males most often use and are more proficient with the problem solving approach (Billings and Moos 1984; Endler and Parker 1990; Milkie and Thoits 1993; Pearlin and Schooler 1978; Stone and Neale 1984). Despite considerable theoretical and empirical attention to these issues, there are still several gaps that remain in our understanding of the ways in which gender and coping interact, and, the implications of these processes. It is often suggested, for instance, that emotion-focused coping is maladaptive. The common assumption in nearly all of the coping literature is that emotion-focused coping is inferior to approach/problem oriented strategies, though there is little definitive evidence to confirm this speculation.
Drawing from social psychological theories of stress and strain, I sought to build on earlier approaches to gender and coping by applying the stress process model to both mental health and criminological outcomes. Based on a representative sample of 1,803 young adults in Miami-Dade County, Florida, I examined the extent to which there were gender differences in coping styles: problem focused, emotion focused, and avoidance focused (Endler and Parker 1990). In addition, I examined the extent to which potential gender differences in coping styles could be explained by gender differences in chronic strain. I also examined the extent to which gender differences in depression and crime could be explained by gender differences in coping, net of chronic strain. Finally, I examined whether the effects of the different coping styles on outcomes of depression and crime were different for young women and men.
Overall, the results of this dissertation suggested somewhat complex relationships among gender, coping, chronic strain, and stress outcomes in young adulthood. In general, some of my findings reaffirm what previous researchers have found, and some, contradict prior research. Overall, the young women in this sample were more inclined towards internalizing disorders, such as depression, while the men had higher levels of criminal behavior. With adjustment for socioeconomic status, there were no gender differences in the use of problem focused coping, which suggests that structural forces play an enormous role in the choice of coping strategies. Female respondents were much more likely to employ emotion-oriented strategies than the male respondents, but it appears that this is not fundamentally harmful for females as prior work has suggested. That is, the effects of using emotion focused coping strategies, such as the expression of feelings, increased depression for men, but not for women. Conversely, avoidance focused coping, a coping style that females used more frequently, increased predicted levels of depression and crime for both women and men. Similar to problem focused coping, socioeconomic status and exposure to chronic strain mediated some of the relationship between gender and avoidant focused coping such that women with the lowest resources and highest exposure to chronic strain were more likely to cope by avoidance. Nevertheless, women were still more likely to cope by avoidance than the men were, which suggests that socialization factors might have an influence on coping styles.
Howerton, Amanda, "Gender differences in coping: Implications for depression and crime" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations. 267.