Middle-aged people are suffering almost 20 per cent more stress than they were two decades ago, researchers have discovered.
The root of the problem lies in the ‘generational squeeze’ of having dependent parents on one side and grown-up children struggling to start a career on the other.
This adds up to the equivalent of an extra eleven weeks of anxiety a year, when compared to what their mums and dads went through in the 1990s.
Furthermore, this pressure does not even include the stress-inducing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been sweeping the globe.
Middle-aged people are suffering almost 20 per cent more stress than they were two decades ago, researchers have discovered (stock image)
‘We thought with the economic uncertainty, life might be more stressful for younger adults,’ said paper author and psychologist David Almeida of Penn State University.
‘But we didn’t see that. We saw more stress for people at mid-life.’
‘Maybe that’s because they have children who are facing an uncertain job market while they are also responsible for their own parents.’
‘So it’s this generational squeeze that’s making stress more prevalent for people at mid-life.’
The team’s analysis showed that study participants reported significantly more daily stress and lower well-being in the 2010s compared to the 1990s.
Furthermore, they reported a 27 and 17 per cent increase, respectively, in the belief that their stress would affect their finances and future plans.
Professor Almeida and his team found that daily stress levels had risen slightly across all age groups when comparing the 1990s with the last decade.
However, when they analysed participants between 45 and 64 years old in particular, they instead found a sharp increase.
‘On average, people reported about two per cent more stressors in the 2010s compared to people in the past. That’s around an additional week of stress a year,’ said Prof Almeida.
‘But what really surprised us is that people at mid-life reported a lot more stressors — about 19 per cent more stress in 2010 than in 1990. ‘
‘That translates to 64 more days of stress a year,’ he added.
The researchers said that there used to be a stereotype about people experiencing a mid-life crisis because of a fear of death and getting older — however, the team’s findings suggest such might be rooted in different causes.
Professor Almeida and his team found that daily stress levels had risen slightly across all age groups when comparing the 1990s with the last decade. However, when they analysed participants between 45 and 64 years old in particular, they instead found a sharp increase
‘It may have to do with people at mid-life being responsible for a lot of people,’ explained Professor Almeida.
‘They’re responsible for their children, oftentimes they’re responsible for their parents, and they may also be responsible for employees at work.’
‘And with that responsibility comes more daily stress, and maybe that’s happening more so now than in the past.’
Additionally, the added stress could partially be due to life ‘speeding up’ due to technological advances.
This could be particularly true during stressful times like the coronavirus outbreak, when tuning out the news can seem impossible.
‘With people always on their smartphones, they have access to constant news and information that could be overwhelming,’ added Professor Almeida.
‘It may have to do with people at mid-life being responsible for a lot of people,’ explained Professor Almeida. ‘They’re responsible for their children, oftentimes they’re responsible for their parents, and they may also be responsible for employees at work’
Too much stress can weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, anxiety and even heart disease. It has also been linked to dementia.
Professor Almeida said that the findings were part of a larger project aiming to discover whether health during the middle of Americans’ lives has been changing over time.
‘Certainly, when you talk to people, they seem to think daily life is more hectic and less certain these days,’ he said.
‘And so we wanted to actually collect that data and run the analyses to test some of those ideas.’
The results were based on surveys of two different sets of 1,499 and 782 adults, carried out in 1995 and 2012, respectively.
Professor Almeida said that the goal was to study people who were the same age at the time the data was collected, but born in different decades.
During each daily interview, over eight days, participants were asked about their stressful experiences throughout the previous 24 hours.
This included arguments with family or friends, for example, or feeling overwhelmed at home or work.
The volunteers were also questioned about the severity of the experiences and if such was 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,’ said Prof Almeida.
‘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 full findings of the study were published in the journal American Psychologist.