The Tale is in the Tail: The Role of Highly Depressed Peers in Adolescent Depression


Lee, Dohoon & Lee, Byungkyu (2018). The Tale is in the Tail: The Role of Highly Depressed Peers in Adolescent Depression.


The prevalence and social consequences of adolescent depression have drawn much attention to the role of peer influence among social scientists, and prior research suggests that its impact arises through social contagion and disintegration processes. Despite its contributions, however, existing research has limited our understanding of peer effects on adolescent mental health as it focuses mainly on the central tendency of peer depression. In this paper, we propose a novel framework for examining peer influence on adolescent depressive symptoms. We (1) investigate which segments of the distribution of peer depressive symptoms drive the impact of peer depression; (2) assess the multiplicity of interpersonal contexts for adolescents by considering the role of parental and school attachments; and 3) provide a causal estimate of peer effects through a quasi-experimental design that captures grade-to-grade variations in peer depression within schools. Using the Add Health data, we find asymmetric effects of peer depression in that greater exposure to highly depressed peers significantly increases adolescents' depressive symptoms, whereas exposure to mildly or non-depressed peers has little impact. In addition, positive parental and school attachments play a buffering role in the effect of peer depression. Our extensive sensitivity checks indicate that the results are robust to selection bias. These findings highlight the ways in which the structure of peer environment generates health inequalities in adolescence. We discuss the implications of this study for research and policy on peer influence and adolescent wellbeing.

Reference Type

Conference paper

Book Title

Sunbelt Conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis


Lee, Dohoon
Lee, Byungkyu

Year Published


City of Publication

Utrecht, Netherlands

Reference ID