The emergence of sex differences in PTSD symptoms across development: Evidence from the ALSPAC cohort

Katharina Haag, Abigail Fraser, Rachel Hiller, Soraya Seedat, Annie Zimmerman, Sarah Halligan

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Cross-sectional evidence suggests females in late adolescence exhibit higher rates of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) than males and younger age groups. However, longitudinal evidence is limited, and underlying factors are not well understood. We investigated the emergence of sex differences in PTSS from childhood to adolescence in a large, longitudinal UK cohort, and tested whether these could be explained by overlap between PTSS and depressive symptoms, or onset of puberty.

Trauma exposure and PTSS were assessed at ages 8, 10, 13 (parent-report) and 15 (self-report) years in a sub-sample of 9966 children and adolescents from the ALSPAC cohort-study. Analyses of PTSS focused on those who reported potential trauma-exposure at each time-point (ranged from n = 654 at 15 years to n = 1231 at 10 years). Age at peak-height velocity (APHV) was used as an indicator of pubertal timing.

There was no evidence of sex differences in PTSS at ages 8 and 10, but females were more likely to show PTSS at ages 13 (OR 1.54, p = 0.002) and 15 (OR 2.04, p = .001), even once symptoms related to depression were excluded. We found little evidence that the emergence of sex differences was related to pubertal timing (as indexed by APHV).

Results indicate that females show higher levels of PTSS in adolescence but not during childhood. The emergence of this sex difference does not seem to be explained by overlap with depressive symptoms, while the influence of pubertal status requires further investigation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1755-1760
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number10
Early online date14 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2020


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