Chapter 18: Digital inequalities and adolescent mental health: the role of socioeconomic background, gender, and national context
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This chapters addresses digital inequalities in young people’s daily lives and well-being. The chapter examines how adolescents’ digital engagement differs across family socioeconomic status (SES) and gender, and how it relates to their mental health outcomes. Analyses use longitudinal data from the Growing Up in Ireland study from age 9 to 18, combined with cross-national data from the Health Behaviour in School-Aged survey on adolescents aged 11-15 across 35 industrialised countries. Longitudinal analyses reveal that low-SES adolescents and girls experience higher mental health problems as they increase their time using digital devices, compared to high-SES adolescents and boys. Cross-national analyses indicate that, while boys spend more time in digital activities, girls are at higher risks of experiencing mental health problems from engaging with digital activities. However, the magnitude of these gendered patterns differs markedly across national contexts. Cross-country comparisons on SES yield mixed results: in some countries low-SES adolescents are mentally more harmed by their digital engagement (i.e., Switzerland, Austria, Norway), but in other countries high-SES adolescents are those at higher mental health risks from using digital devices (i.e., Portugal, Czech Republic, Bulgaria). The chapter findings are discussed within the existing literature on digital inequalities and young people’s well-being.

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