Stress and Health

Major Findings and Policy Implications

A male patient gets a stress test.

Interventions that target stress reduction, particularly among disadvantaged groups, must focus on structural inequalities and resources that lessen the effects of stress.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale to measure the impact of major life events. For instance, they rated the death of a spouse as causing the most drastic adjustment in an individual’s daily life. In the scale, spousal death carried 100 life change units on a scale of 0 to 100. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale led to hundreds of sociological studies of how stress affects physical and mental health.

Research subsequent to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale found that more negative events during a given period of time increased the likelihood that an individual would suffer an injury, illness, disability or death. Researchers, however, also found that psychological and social factors were acting as a buffer, lessening the effects of stress.

In this article, the author details sociological work that: 1) investigated various types of stressors; 2) described the distributions of stressors across sociodemographic groups; and 3) examined associations between stressful experiences and health differences by gender, age, race-ethnicity, marital status and socioeconomic status.

Key Findings:

  • In the general population exposure to stress is unequally distributed, contributing to disparities in physical and psychological well-being.
  • Discrimination stress damages the physical and mental health of minorities.
  • Stress in one area of life has a ripple effect, creating stress in other areas throughout life. Stress can pass from parents to children.

This article from a Journal of Health and Social Behavior supplement presents five key findings in sociological stress research. The author emphasizes the cumulative effects of stress; stress has a more severe effect on disadvantaged groups.