How Your Socioeconomic Status Can Cause Stress

Difficult co-workers can create significant job stress.
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Who would you expect to experience more stress: the high-powered executive or the worker of lower socioeconomic status? Many people would expect those who hold higher-powered jobs to experience more stress to go with those jobs, but according to research, it's those in lower socioeconomic levels who experience greater levels of stress and more stress-related health problems as well.

Research on Socioeconomic Status and Stress

Consider the following research:

  • According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, women of lower socioeconomic status (lower income and education levels) and African American women reported higher allostatic load, which is how the effects of chronic stress accumulate and impact your body in a negative way.
  • Job stress has been correlated with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that have been linked to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Research has found that those in higher-level jobs experience metabolic syndrome to a lesser degree.

Factors Behind Lower Socioeconomic Status and Higher Stress

People of lower socioeconomic status may experience greater levels of stress and poorer health outcomes for several reasons, including:

  • Higher-paying jobs bring greater personal control. It's not always the case, but more often it's the higher-level workers who have more personal choices in their lifestyles and more resources at their disposal, leading to lower levels of stress.
  • Those in higher socioeconomic levels tend to make healthier choices. Those of lower socioeconomic status often deal with stress by smoking. They're also more likely to skip breakfast and have a less diverse social network. These factors are all correlated with poorer health outcomes.
  • Higher socioeconomic status brings greater resources for health. Those with lower levels of socioeconomic status tend to have poorer health outcomes because they're less able to take care of their health and even afford health care, among other things. This contributes to greater levels of stress.
  • Lower socioeconomic status children may get less training in stress management. It has been found that some children from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds get less training in critical thinking and in anticipating crises. This is significant because stress can be managed in large part by anticipating stressful events and making plans to reduce their stressful impact. Making healthier choices and planning ahead are behaviors that can be taught, but they may not be taught as much in every family.

How to Decrease Your Stress

While some things can't be changed, people of all socioeconomic levels can decrease their lifestyle stress and improve their health by doing the following:

  • Stop stress before it becomes severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers suggestions, such as eating well, maintaining social support, and exercising, that can help you control the excess stress in your lifestyle and adopt healthier coping behaviors.
  • Give up unhealthy coping behaviors. If you're smoking, drinking excessively, overeating, or coping with stress in other unhealthy ways, it's important to stop. These habits can all increase your overall stress level and take a toll on your health at the same time.
  • Learn and practice healthy coping habits. Other healthier habits can relieve stress and improve your health, too. Learn more about exercise, meditation, and healthier stress relievers.
8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pampel FC, Krueger PM, Denney JT. Socioeconomic Disparities in Health BehaviorsAnnu Rev Sociol. 2010;36:349-370. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102529

  2. Upchurch DM, Stein J, Greendale GA, et al. A Longitudinal Investigation of Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Psychosocial Mediators of Allostatic Load in Midlife Women: Findings From the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation. Psychosom Med. 2015;77(4):402-412. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000175

  3. Garbarino S, Magnavita N. Work Stress and Metabolic Syndrome in Police Officers. A Prospective StudyPLoS One. 2015;10(12):e0144318. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144318

  4. Kim JY, Kim SH, Cho YJ. Socioeconomic Status in Association with Metabolic Syndrome and Coronary Heart Disease RiskKorean J Fam Med. 2013;34(2):131-138. doi:10.4082/kjfm.2013.34.2.131

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette Smoking and Tobacco Use Among People of Low Socioeconomic Status.

  6. Braveman PA, Cubbin C, Egerter S, Williams DR, Pamuk E. Socioeconomic Disparities in Health in the United States: What the Patterns Tell UsAm J Public Health. 2010;100 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S186-S196. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.166082

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coping With Stress.

  8. Rodriquez EJ, Gregorich SE, Livaudais-Toman J, Pérez-Stable EJ. Coping With Chronic Stress by Unhealthy Behaviors: A Re-Evaluation Among Older Adults by Race/Ethnicity. J Aging Health. 2017;29(5):805-825. doi:10.1177/0898264316645548

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.