While aspects of the U.S. economy have improved, money continues to be a top cause of stress for Americans, according to a new survey released by the American Psychological Association (APA). Stress in America™: Paying With Our Health, finds that parents, younger generations and those living in lower-income households report higher levels of stress than Americans overall -- especially when it comes to stress about money.
A significant impact
“Regardless of the economic climate, money and finances have remained the top stressor since our survey began in 2007. Furthermore, this year’s survey shows that stress related to financial issues could have a significant impact on Americans’ health and well-being,” APA CEO and Executive Vice President Norman B. Anderson, PhD, said.
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 and younger adults (77 percent of parents, 75 percent of millennials [18 to 35 years old] and 76 percent of Gen Xers [36 to 49 years old]).
The wealth gap
A gap also appears to be emerging in stress levels between people living in lower-income (making less than $50,000 per year) and higher-income households that mirrors the growing wealth gap nationwide. In 2007, there was no difference in reported average stress levels between those who earned more and those who earned less than $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 lower-income households reporting higher overall stress levels than those living in higher-income households (5.2 vs. 4.7 on the 10-point scale).
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 the doctor when they needed health care because of financial concerns. Stress about money also impacts relationships: Almost a third of adults with partners (31 percent) report that money is a major source of conflict in their relationship.
Emotional support is important
The report also uncovered 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.
The trend is headed...
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.
“This year’s survey continues to reinforce the idea that we are living with a level of stress that we consider too high,” Anderson said. “Despite the good news that overall stress levels are down, it appears that the idea of living with stress higher than what we believe to be healthy and dealing with it in ineffective ways continues to be embedded in our culture. All Americans, and particularly those groups that are most affected by stress — which include women, younger adults and those with lower incomes — need to address this issue sooner than later in order to better their health and well-being.”
To read the full Stress in America report or download graphics, visit the webpage.