Contextual amplification or attenuation of the impact of pubertal timing on Mexican-origin boys' mental health symptoms

Rebecca White, Julianna Deardorff, Yu Liu, Nancy Gonzales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Purpose To examine the role of neighborhood contextual variation in the putative association between pubertal timing and internalizing and externalizing symptoms among Mexican-origin boys. Methods In a sample of seventh-grade Mexican-origin boys (N = 353; x̄age=12.8years) we assessed a range of secondary sexual characteristics, internalizing, and externalizing symptoms. Reports on all secondary sexual characteristics were collapsed and age-standardized to represent total pubertal timing. We also distinguished between the timing of physical changes driven by adrenal versus gonadal maturation. Boys' residential addresses were geocoded and American Community Survey data were used to describe neighborhoods along two dimensions: ethnic concentration and socioeconomic disadvantage. Three years later (in 10th grade) we re-assessed internalizing and externalizing symptoms. We examined the moderating influence of neighborhood ethnic concentration and neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage on the prospective associations between puberty timing (total, gonadal, adrenal) and internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Results Earlier total pubertal timing predicted increases in externalizing symptoms, but only when Mexican-origin boys lived in neighborhoods low on ethnic concentration. Total timing results for externalizing symptoms were replicated for adrenal timing. Furthermore, early adrenal timing predicted increases in internalizing symptoms, but again, only when boys lived in neighborhoods low on ethnic concentration. No effects were observed for gonadal timing specifically. Conclusions Early pubertal timing, especially advanced physical changes initiated and regulated by adrenal maturation, have important implications for Mexican-origin boys' internalizing and externalizing symptoms, but these implications depend on neighborhood characteristics. Ethnically concentrated neighborhoods are protective for early-maturing Mexican-origin boys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)692-698
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Effect modifiers
  • Mexican Americans
  • Neighborhood
  • Puberty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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