A new report from the American Psychological Association finds that money remains the biggest stressor in Americans' lives, despite an ostensibly healing economy. The study also reports that people with children, young adults and those living in low-income households are more prone to stress overall.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) by Harris Poll in August 2014 and included 3,068 adult participants.
"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, says of the findings.
According to the survey results, 72% of participants reported stressing over money at some point during the past month, while 22% said they had experienced "extreme stress" over the past month due to money worries.
Money was found to be "a somewhat or very significant source of stress" for 64% of Americans, overall, but especially for the following subgroups:
- Parents (77% felt stressed about money)
- "Gen Xers," or 36-49-year-olds (76%)
- "Millennials," or 18-35-year-olds (75%).
The results also suggest that a gap in stress levels is emerging between lower-income and higher-income households.
In a previous study, conducted in 2007, there was reportedly no difference in average stress levels between lower-income (those who earn less than $50,000 a year) participants and higher-income participants. In 2007, both of these groups reported an average stress level of 6.2 on a 10-point scale.
However, the new survey found that lower-income households reported an overall stress level of 5.2 out of 10, while higher-income households rated 4.7 on the 10-point scale.
Worryingly, the APA report also suggests that some Americans are putting their health care needs on hold because of financial concerns. Nearly 1 in 5 of those surveyed said that they either skipped or considered skipping going to the doctor when they needed health care as a result of money worries.
Money was also found to be a disrupting influence on relationships, with about a third of respondents revealing that money is a major source of conflict with their partners.
Stress levels are 'trending downward'However, on average, stress levels in the US are "trending downward," the report says. In 2007, the average reported stress level was 6.2 out of 10, while the average reported stress level in the new study was 4.9.
Despite this, the APA remind that these averages are still in excess of what experts consider to be healthy - a rating of 3.7 on the 10-point scale is regarded as being the threshold for an unhealthy level of stress.
While most respondents said they have someone - such as family and friends - who they can turn to for support in a time of stress, 22% said they are not doing enough to manage their stress. And 43% of those who said they had no emotional support also said that their overall stress increased in the past year, compared with 26% of people who said they had emotional support.
"This year's survey continues to reinforce the idea that we are living with a level of stress that we consider too high," Anderson says. He adds:
"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."