01/03/2024

The high cost of — everything: Rising inflation rates are raising anxieties among some groups of Americans far more than others, according to a new study.

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Women, middle-aged adults, and people with lower education or lower wages feel much more stressed about higher prices, as do people who were previously married but are now widowed, divorced or separated, according to the results published Monday on JAMA Network Open.

“In general, it is vulnerable populations who are most exposed to price changes,” said lead researcher Cary Wu, an assistant professor of sociology at York University in Toronto.

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For the study, Wu and his colleagues analyzed data from nearly 370,000 Americans who took part in the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Survey data revealed:

  • Women were 30% more likely to be distressed by inflation than men.
  • Widowed or divorced people were about 50 percent more likely to be stressed than married couples, and separated couples were twice as likely.
  • People with college degrees were 40% less likely to feel the hit of inflation than those with a high school diploma, while those with college degrees were 50% less likely.

As to be expected, household income also played a crucial role in feeling the inflationary stress.

About 66 percent of people earning less than $25,000 felt stressed by high inflation, compared with 17 percent of those earning more than $200,000, according to the findings.

“For people who are on lower incomes, those small increases in this cost of daily necessities are just very impactful and stressful, because every single week or month they’re on a budget for food and rent,” Wu said. .

But age also played a significant role. People in their 30s and 50s were about 30% more likely to be distressed by inflation than others.

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Wu thinks that people in this age group might be stressed because they have to worry not only about themselves but also about their families.

“When people have kids, when they have a big family to take care of with high inflation, it’s more stressful,” she said.

A person’s race also plays a role, but it depends on their family’s socioeconomic status, the researchers found.

Hispanics were 26 percent more likely to be stressed than whites on inflation, but inflation did not significantly affect black Americans’ stress levels after accounting for their socioeconomic status, they found. showed the results.

These results are in line with national surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the experts said.

“This study tells us that Americans who earn less are more concerned about price increases, which makes a lot of sense,” said Dr. Rebecca Brendel, president of the American Psychiatric Association. “It also tells us that Americans who have gone through recent changes are also more stressed about inflation, which we might predict. For example, those who went through a divorce or separated or are widowed reported more stress.”

The recent pandemic and ongoing state of crisis in the United States could also play a role in this stress, Brendel noted.

A recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found that 70% were concerned about the safety of themselves and their families, 68% were afraid of identity theft, and 66% were concerned about their health.

“In the survey, paying bills came in only fourth place,” noted Brendel, with 65 percent expressing that anxiety. “It’s still quite high, but it shows that Americans have a lot of stress in general and we have a lot of work to do to collectively focus on our health and well-being.”

And even recent reports of easing inflation are unlikely to make the stress about high prices fade away, said Vaile Wright, senior director for healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association.

“Although the good news may provide some relief, I think what many people are seeing in their daily lives is still high food prices, still high gas costs, high consumer costs,” Wright said. “I think until people really feel the difference in their wallets, some of those stress levels are going to stay pretty high.”

Wu agreed.

“I think the impact will be lasting because people perceive inflation in terms of their everyday experience,” Wu said. “Food, restaurants and rent, when they go up, will never go down. Inflation in terms of statistics will go down, but food prices and rent probably won’t go down.”

Meanwhile, people will have to deal with their stress, and the first step is acknowledging that you’re feeling it, Brendel said.

“If we have trouble sleeping or find ourselves apprehensive about making a purchase or find ourselves constantly checking our bank accounts, these are indications that perhaps we should take concrete steps to overcome financial worries,” Brendel said.

People should start with self-care — basic things like physical activity, social interactions, good sleep and a healthy diet, Wright said.

“You can’t really identify how to fix the problem unless you’re in an emotionally stable place, so that’s always the first place to start,” Wright said. “And then once you have that baseline, you can focus on what things are in your control.”

Wu expects inflation-related stress for some will only ease with a better job or an increase in their salary, to match the higher prices they are experiencing.

Until they get more money coming in, people should consider steps to put themselves on a better financial footing, Brendel and Wright said.

“Can you carpool to save some money on gas? Can you get a roommate? Can you make different choices at the grocery store?” Wright said. “Just finding small things to change can help reduce some of the stress. It’s that degree of uncertainty and lack of control that really drives our stress levels.”

Similarly, a household budget could help a person deal with inflation stress, Brendel said.

“Even if things seem more expensive at the grocery store or the gas pump, really looking at how much money I have, how much I make each week and how much I spend, could be reassuring.” Brendel said.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more on stress management.

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