Middle-aged men are facing more stress compared to those a few decades ago, even before the coronavirus started spreading across the globe. According to a study led by a team of researchers from Penn State, there is a slight increase in daily stress for everyone compared to the 1990s. However, when researchers looked at samples of men between the ages of 45 and 64, there was a sharp increase in daily stress.
“On average, people reported about two percent more stressors in the 2010s compared to people in the past,” said David M. Almeida, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State. “That’s around an additional week of stress a year. But what surprised us is that people at mid-life reported a lot more stressors, about 19 percent more stress in 2010 than in 1990. And that translates to 64 more days of stress a year.”
The Changing Health of Adults
The findings are part of a larger project aiming to discover whether the health of middle-aged adults has been changing over time.
“Certainly, when you talk to people, they seem to think that daily life is more hectic and less certain these days,” Almeida said. “And so, we wanted to actually collect that data and run the analyses to test some of those ideas.”
The study used data collected from 1,499 participants in 1995 and 782 different people in 2012. All participants were interviewed daily for eight consecutive days and asked about their stressful experiences throughout the previous 24 hours. This included work stress, family stress, or feeling overwhelmed. They were also asked how severe their stress was and whether those stressors were likely to impact other areas of their lives.
“We were able to estimate not only how frequently people experienced stress, but also what those stressors mean to them,” Almeida said. “For example, did this stress affect their finances or their plans for the future. And by having these two cohorts of people, we were able to compare daily stress processes in 1990 with daily stress processes in 2010.”
The study was able to conclude that participants had significantly less daily stress and lower well-being in the 2010s compared to the 1990s. Participants also reported a 27 percent increase in the belief that stress would affect their finances and a 17 percent increase in the belief that stress would affect their future plans.
“We thought that with the economic uncertainty, life might be more stressful for younger adults,” Almeida said. “But we didn’t see that. We saw more stress for people at mid-life. And maybe that’s because they have children who are facing an uncertain job market while also responsible for their own parents. So, it’s this generational squeeze that’s making stress more prevalent for people at mid-life.”
So, if life feels more stressful now than it did a few decades ago, you are not alone. While many people believe a stereotype about a midlife crisis due to a fear of death and getting older, Almeida suspects the study findings suggest midlife distress may be due to different reasons. The responsibility of taking care of children, parents, and employees at work can come with more daily stress and that could be what is happening more so now than in the past.