Women at higher risk of inflation-related stress

Rising inflation is causing significant stress in the US population, particularly among women and socioeconomically vulnerable people, a new study indicates.

An examination of US Census Bureau survey data found that after adjusting for socioeconomic status (SES), the risk of inflation stress was 28 percent higher among women than among men. However, it is unclear to what extent inflation-related stress has contributed to disparities in health outcomes.

\”Inflation stress is not tolerated in the same way within the population,\” said lead author Cary Wu, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at York University in Toronto, Canada. Medscape Medical News. “My research shows that women are more likely than men to find inflation stressful. This may stem from gender roles leading to their greater exposure to price changes. Racial minorities who often occupy a lower SES also show greater likelihood of finding inflation stressful.”

The study was published May 15 in JAMA network open.

SES and stress

For their study, the researchers analyzed data from the US Census Bureau\’s Household Pulse Survey, a probability-based online survey that measures the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging issues on American households. The researchers looked at data collected from September 2022 to February 2023. The survey included the question, \”How stressful was the price increase for you over the past 2 months?\” The researchers also looked at sociodemographic variables, such as gender, race and ethnicity, age, marital status, education and household income.

Among 369,328 respondents, 5.1% were Asian, 11.2% were Black, 17.3% were Hispanic, and 62.1% were White. Women made up 51.3% of the group, about a third (31.8%) had a college degree or higher education, and the median age of respondents was 49. Among the 93.2% of respondents who reported that prices have increased in the last 2 months, 47.3% indicated that this was very stressful, 28.2% described it as moderately stressful, 18, 9% found it a little stressful and 5.6% did not find it stressful.

A baseline model including gender, race, marital status, age, region, and survey week indicated that women had significantly higher inflation-related stress than men (odds ratio [OR], 1.30). Black and Hispanic respondents reported higher inflation stress than white respondents (OR, 1.25 and 1.65, respectively). In contrast, Asian respondents reported lower inflation stress than white respondents (OR, 0.86).

Compared with married respondents, those who were widowed, divorced, or separated experienced higher inflationary stress (OR, 1.54; OR, 1.57 and 1.99, respectively). Inflation stress was higher among respondents aged 31 to 40 years (OR, 1.11) than among those older or younger.

In a second model, the researchers added educational attainment and household income as indicators of SES. \”Comparing the changes in the effects of demographic variables between the two models provides a general idea of ​​how socioeconomic inequalities in education and household income may or may not explain demographic disparities in inflation stress,\” they explain.

Subsequent analysis showed that higher education, such as having a college degree, and income levels of $200,000 or higher were associated with lower inflation stress (OR, 0.41 and 0.14, respectively). The inclusion of SES indicators had little influence on the gender result, but it did change the race results: Black respondents\’ inflationary stress was no longer significantly different from that of white respondents, and Asian respondents showed slightly more inflationary stress high (OR, 1.07).

\”SES also appeared to explain a significant share of the differences in inflation stress across marital status,\” the researchers note. The higher inflationary stress among respondents aged 31 to 40 became more pronounced after adjusting for SES differences (OR, 1.30).

\”In an era of high inflation, there is an urgent need for policy research and development to safeguard public health and prevent health inequalities from worsening,\” the authors write.

Especially for high-risk groups, \”physicians can play a crucial role in helping patients avoid the health impacts of inflation stress,\” Wu said. \”By addressing mental health issues, promoting healthy lifestyle choices, providing support for managing chronic conditions, and offering educational resources, clinicians can support their patients in coping with the challenges associated with inflationary stress and promote overall well-being.\” .

Study of health disparities

Commenting on the findings for Medscape, WanChin Kuo, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Nursing, said, \”The authors used an innovative approach and a nationally representative dataset to examine racial differences and ethnicities in Americans\’ subjective perceptions of current high rates of inflation. They identified strong gender differences and a gradient of increasing inflation-related stress as income and education ranges decreased. They also found that adjusting income and of education redistributes inflation-related stress among ethnic groups. The importance of the topic, the quantification of inflation-related stress, and its links to health care inequalities are worth discussing.\” Kuo did not participate in the study.

He noted, however, that when looking at inflation-related stress, \”one should look at financial stress and the financial situation in context.\” In a recent study, Kuo distinguished between financial stress \”as a subjective feeling of insufficient financial resources\” and as \”assessed by objective measures other than income, such as possessions, housing, mortgage, employment or food stamps.\” The current study, however, quantified inflation-related stress “using a single question without the important context related to financial stress. Therefore, their results may be confounded by personal values ​​or beliefs, living standards, financial situation and living environments\”.

Kuo stressed that \”while the authors sought to link their findings to explaining health disparities, it is important to recognize that health outcomes, health behaviors, or health-related quality of life were not objectively or subjectively assessed.\” in the current study remains unanswered in terms of the extent to which inflation-related stress affects health outcomes in socioeconomic, racial and ethnic minorities.\”

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded the study. Wu and Kuo did not disclose any relevant financial relationships.

JAMA network open. Published May 15, 2023. Full text

Kate Johnson is a Montreal-based freelance medical journalist who has written on all areas of medicine for more than 30 years.

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