Status variations in stress exposure: Implications for the interpretation of research on race, socioeconomic status, and gender

Department of Sociology, Center for Demography and Population Health, Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.72). 01/2004; 44(4):488-505. DOI: 10.2307/1519795
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Life events checklists have been the predominant method for estimating variations in stress exposure. It is unknown, however, whether such inventories are equally meaningful for estimating differences in exposure between men and women, African Americans and whites, and those in lower and higher socioeconomic categories. In this paper, we employ a wider range of measures of stress--recent life events, chronic stressors, lifetime major events, and discrimination stress--to examine the extent to which these dimensions collectively yield conclusions about status variations in stress exposure that are similar to or different from estimates based only on a life events checklist. Our analyses of data collected from 899 young men and women of African American and non-Hispanic white ancestry suggest that status differences in exposure to stress vary considerably by the measure of stress that is employed. Although women are more exposed to recent life events than men, males report more major events and discrimination stress than females. Our results also reveal that life event measures tend to substantially under-estimate differences between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites in exposure to stress. A similar pattern also holds for socioeconomic status. When stress is more comprehensively estimated, level of exposure profoundly affects ethnic differences in depressive symptomatology, accounting for almost half of the difference by socioeconomic status but contributing little to the explanation of the gender difference in distress. The implications of these findings for the debate over the relative mental health significance of exposure and vulnerability to stress are discussed.

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