Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Dating and Adolescents' Psychological Well-being

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Monica Longmore


Many studies have found that girls’ depressive symptoms increase during the adolescent period. Recently Joyner and Udry (2000) have focused on the dating arena as one source of depressive symptoms. They found that both girls and boys, who initiated dating between the one-year time interval, reported an increase in depressive symptoms; however, girls reported higher depressive symptom scores than did boys. What has not been examined is why dating is depressing when it is a normative activity for adolescents. Similarly, it is likely that the dating arena would also influence adolescents’ self-esteem, and there is a lack of research examining this relationship as well. In this dissertation, I examine the effect of dating on girls’ and boys’ self-reports of depressive symptoms and self-esteem. I focus on 3 key research issues. First, I replicate prior work and show whether being in a relationship is related to (a) higher depressive symptoms and (b) the gender gap in depressive symptoms. Do these effects also hold true for self-esteem, and does wanting to be in a relationship play into this equation? Second, do relationships with parents and peers influence the effect of dating on depressive symptoms and self-esteem? Third, among those in romantic relationships, do teens in less rewarding relationships suffer greater depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem, and does this differ by gender? I use cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS) in order to answer these questions. The results show that entering into a romantic relationship between the time of the first and second interviews (one year apart) is related to higher depressive symptoms especially for younger girls. Also, having romantic relationships at both time points is related to higher self-esteem for boys. Finally, I assess how and why relationship rewards and costs influence both depressive symptoms and self-esteem for boys and girls.