Money stress weighs on Americans’ health

While aspects of the U.S. economy have improved, money continues to be a top cause of stress for Americans, according to APA’s Stress in America: Paying with Our Health survey released on Feb. 4.

According to this year’s survey results, parents, younger generations and those who live in households with below median income report higher levels of stress than Americans overall, especially when it comes to stress about money.

“Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007,” says APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD. “Furthermore, this year’s survey shows that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on Americans’ health and well-being.”

Common stressors

The survey, which was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of APA among 3,068 adults in August 2014, found that 72 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time during the past month. Twenty-two percent said that they experienced extreme stress about money during the past month (an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress”).

For the majority of Americans (64 percent), money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress, but especially for parents of children below the age of 18 and younger adults (77 percent of parents, 75 percent of Millennials, ages 18 to 35, and 76 percent of Gen Xers, ages 36 to 49).

A gap also appears to be emerging in stress levels between people whose household income is below the median income ($50,000) and those whose income is above it — mirroring the growing wealth gap nationwide. In 2007, there was no difference in reported average stress levels between those whose household income was above or below $50,000, with both groups reporting the same average levels of stress (6.2 on a 10-point scale). By 2014, a clear gap had emerged with those living in the lower-income group reporting higher overall stress levels than those living in the higher-income group (5.2 vs. 4.7 on the 10-point scale).

Top 4 sources of stress

Stress about money and finances appears to have a significant impact on many Americans’ lives. Some are putting their health-care needs on hold because of financial concerns. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say that they have either considered skipping (9 percent) or skipped (12 percent) going to a doctor when they needed health care because of financial concerns. Stress about money also affects relationships: Almost a third of adults with partners (31 percent) report that money is a major source of conflict in their relationships.

The report did, however, uncover some good news about stress management: Americans who say they have someone they can ask for emotional support, such as family and friends, report lower stress levels and better related outcomes than those without emotional support. Unfortunately, some Americans say that they do not have anyone to rely on for emotional support. According to the survey, 43 percent of those who say they have no emotional support report that their overall stress has increased in the past year, compared with 26 percent of those who say they have emotional support.

On average, Americans’ stress levels are trending downward: The average reported stress level is 4.9 on a 10-point scale, down from 6.2 in 2007. Regardless of lower stress levels, it appears that Americans are living with stress levels higher than what we believe to be healthy — 3.7 on a 10-point scale — and some (22 percent) say they are not doing enough to manage their stress.

The Importance of emotional support

“The survey reveals the good news that collectively, Americans have seen a lessening of stress in recent years,” says Linda C. Gallo, PhD, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and one of the team of psychologists who worked on the report. “Yet stress levels remain high, money is a very frequent source of stress and unhealthy coping strategies are common.”

Also troubling, says Gallo, are the disparities in stress exposure: women, parents, younger people and those living in lower income households all report higher levels of stress than others.

“We know that emotional support is an important resource that helps people manage stress and protects against health problems,” she says. “Yet 1 in 5 Americans report having no one to rely on, and some of the same groups who report high stress levels also report less social support.” Given the impact stress has on health, prevention and intervention strategies should be promoted to help Americans cope more effectively with stress, she adds.

APA’s annual Stress in America survey is a component of APA’s Mind/Body Health Campaign. The survey has provided insight into leading sources of stress among Americans since 2007, looking at the causes of stress and how stress impacts lives, health, relationships, families and work.

Each year, the Stress in America report is reported widely in the media, educating consumers about the connection between prolonged stress and health and the role of psychologists in helping people manage their stress and live well. This year, the report was covered by media outlets including USA Today, Huffington Post, NBC, CNN Money, CNBC, Bloomberg Businessweek and CBS This Morning. On Feb. 12, APA’s Anderson participated in 15 radio interviews about the survey, reaching an estimated audience of more than six million listeners.

Sophie Bethune is director of public relations and special projects for APA’s Practice Directorate.

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