So Much for the Notion of Stress as a Status Symbol

In the world as depicted by commercials, stress is largely an upscale affliction. We see harried business travelers coping with flight delays, well-dressed women juggling careers and kids, consumers dazed by the overabundance of choices open to them. In the real world, says a new Harris Poll, stress is much more likely to strike those at the lower end of the socioeconomic hierarchy. What’s striking is that the problems disproportionately besetting poorer people range well beyond money woes. It’s no surprise that people making $15,000 or under are more likely than those making $75,000-plus to worry about having “money for emergencies” (69 percent versus 32 percent). But when people were asked if they’ve been lonely in the past month, there was an even greater imbalance between the lower- and upper-income respondents (39 percent versus 9 percent). Notwithstanding the pop-culture image of the frazzled executive, 58 percent of lower-income respondents said they have trouble relaxing, versus 35 percent of the upper-income cohort. Reflecting the clamorous realities of downscale life, the survey found the lower-income group more apt to be affected by “frequent or excessive noise” than the wealthier group (35 percent versus 15 percent). In part because young adults tend to have lower incomes than their elders, the survey also found 18-24-year-olds more stressed than those 65 and over. For instance, 50 percent of the young cohort said they have trouble relaxing, versus 25 percent of the elderly group. Despite the stock image of the lonely old widow, 18-24s were almost as likely as 65-plusers to have felt lonely in the past month (20 percent versus 23 percent). In the most counterintuitive finding, stress due to “concerns about health in general” was a shade more common among the young folks than the old (46 percent versus 45 percent). Clarissa Leahy/Tony Stone