Feeling anxious about money? You’re not alone. A new survey shows most Americans are at least somewhat stressed out by financial concerns. Moreover, low-income households are increasingly more stressed about money than those with higher-incomes, creating a “stress gap” between rich and poor.
The survey, conducted by American Psychological Association in August 2014, found a whopping 72% of Americans said they felt stressed out about money at some time during the past month, including 22% who said they experienced “extreme stress” during the previous 30 days (rating their stress as an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale). A large majority of respondents—64%—also said money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress in their lives, with young adults and Gen Xers reporting financial stress in even larger numbers.
That sounds pretty bad, and (spoiler!) it is. But the APA’s 2015 Stress in America report shows Americans are actually less worried about money than we’ve been at any time since 2007, when the survey began. Back then, 74% of Americans said money concerns caused them stress; that number peaked at 76% in 2010 before dropping 12 points over the next four years.
But just because our collective stress about money is decreasing doesn’t mean it isn’t causing problems. Almost 1 in 5 said they had either considered skipping or skipped going to the doctor for needed care due to financial concerns, and the APA says the average reported stress level—4.9 out of 10—is still higher than the 3.7 the group believes is healthy.
Diminishing overall stress also appears to have exposed a gap between richer and poorer Americans. In 2007, low-income households (those making less than $50,000 a year) and high-income households both reported the same levels of stress—6.2 out of 10. But in 2014, low-income households reported higher levels of stress (5.2) than wealthier ones (4.7).
For the APA, the results reinforce what they already knew: Stress is a major problem for the American people. Worse, high stress appears to have become the new normal. “Despite good news that overall stress levels are down, it appears the idea of living with stress higher than what we believe to be healthy and dealing with it in ineffective ways continues to be embedded in our culture,” said APA CEO Norman B. Anderson. He warns that all Americans, particularly those in groups most affected by stress, “need to address this issue sooner or later in order to better their health and well-being.”