Who's Stressed? Distributions of Psychological Stress in the United States in Probability Samples from 1983, 2006, and 2009


  • The eNation surveys and the preparation of this paper were supported by Johnson and Johnson (J & J) Consumer & Personal Products Worldwide, A Division of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. Data were collected by the Harris Poll and by eNation. J & J played no role in structuring the paper; in collection, management, or interpretation of the data; or in preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript. The authors consult for J & J Consumer Companies, Inc., on issues of stress measurement. The studies reported here do not use or address any J & J product. The authors are indebted to Joel Greenhouse for statistical consulting; Ellen Conser for her comments on an earlier draft and assistance in preparing the manuscript; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health; and members of the Pittsburgh Mind–Body Center (HL65111; HL65112) for their intellectual support.

Sheldon Cohen, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail: scohen@cmu.edu


Psychological stress was assessed in 3 national surveys administered in 1983, 2006, and 2009. In all 3 surveys, stress was higher among women than men; and increased with decreasing age, education, and income. Unemployed persons reported high levels of stress, while the retired reported low levels. All associations were independent of one another and of race/ethnicity. Although minorities generally reported more stress than Whites, these differences lost significance when adjusted for the other demographics. Stress increased little in response to the 2008–2009 economic downturn, except among middle-aged, college-educated White men with full-time employment. These data suggest greater stress-related health risks among women, younger adults, those of lower socioeconomic status, and men potentially subject to substantial losses of income and wealth.