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Stress, life events, and socioeconomic disparities in health: results from the Americans' changing lives study

Publication Abstract

Lantz, Paula M., James S. House, R.P. Mero, and David R. Williams. 2005. "Stress, life events, and socioeconomic disparities in health: results from the Americans' changing lives study." Journal of Health & Social Behavior, 46(3): 274-288.

It has been hypothesized that exposure to stress and negative life events is related to poor health outcomes, and that differential exposure to stress plays a role in socioeconomic disparities in health. Data from three waves of the Americans' Changing Lives study (n = 3,617) were analyzed to investigate prospectively the relationship among socioeconomic indicators, five measures of stress/negative life events, and the health outcomes of mortality, functional limitations, and self-rated health. The results revealed that (1) life events and other types of stressors are clearly related to socioeconomic position; (2) a count of negative lifetime events was positively associated with mortality; (3) a higher score on a financial stress scale was predictive of severe/moderate functional limitations and fair/poor self-rated health at wave 3; and (4) a higher score on a parental stress scale was predictive of fair/poor self-rated health at wave 3. The negative effects of low income on functional limitations attenuated to insignificance when waves 1 and 2 stress/life event measures were controlled for, but other socioeconomic disparities in health change remained sizable and significant when adjusted for exposure to stressors. The results support the hypothesis that differential exposure to stress and negative life events is one of many ways in which socioeconomic inequalities in health are produced in society.

Country of focus: United States.

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