Disentangling the Stress Process: Race/Ethnic Differences in the Exposure and Appraisal of Chronic Stressors Among Older Adults

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Brown, Lauren L., Uchechi A. Mitchell, and Jennifer Ailshire. Forthcoming. "Disentangling the Stress Process: Race/Ethnic Differences in the Exposure and Appraisal of Chronic Stressors Among Older Adults." The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.


Exposure to stressors is differentially distributed by race/ethnicity with minority groups reporting a higher stress burden than their white counterparts. However, to really understand the extent to which some groups bear a disproportionate stress burden, we need to consider race/ethnic differences in stress appraisal, specifically how upsetting stressors may be, in addition to stress exposure. We examine racial/ethnic differences in both the number of reported chronic stressors across five domains (health, financial, residential, relationship, and caregiving) and their appraised stressfulness among a diverse sample of older adults.


Data come from 6,567 adults ages 52+ from the 2006 Health and Retirement Study.


Results show older blacks, U.S. and foreign-born Hispanics report more chronic stress exposure than whites and are two to three times as likely to experience financial strain and housing-related stress. Socioeconomic factors fully explain the Hispanic-white difference in stress exposure, but black-white differences remain. Despite experiencing a greater number of stressors, blacks and U.S.-born Hispanics are less likely to be upset by exposure to stressors than whites. U.S.-born Hispanics are less upset by relationship-based stressors specifically, while blacks are less upset across all stress domains in fully-adjusted models. Foreign-born Hispanics are only less upset by caregiving strain.


The distinction between exposure and appraisal-based measures of stress may shed light on important pathways that differentially contribute to race/ethnic physical and mental health disparities.


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