Stress and Generations

Americans of all ages* experience stress and its physical consequences. However, there are marked differences between the generations in terms of how stressed people say they are, as well as the causes, symptoms and methods for managing that stress. Those over the age of 65 report the lowest stress levels and are most likely to say they are managing that stress well, while Gen Xers are most likely to report physical symptoms of stress and are more likely to say they rely on unhealthy behaviors to manage their stress.

One thing all of the generations have in common?  Financial concerns. Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers are more likely to cite money as a significant source of stress than other sources of stress, and for Matures the most commonly cited stressor is the economy.

Stress Across the Ages

  • Matures report an average stress level of 4.4 on a 10-point scale, much lower than the nationally reported average of 5.4, but they feel that a healthy level of stress would be 3.4. Gen Xers report an average stress level of 5.8 but feel that a healthy level of stress would be a 3.8. 

  • The economy is the most commonly reported significant source of stress for Matures (69 percent of Matures). However, Matures are significantly more likely than the general population to say that their stress has decreased over the past five years (46 percent vs. 25 percent of the general population). 

  • Matures are more likely to say they are doing enough to manage their stress (70 percent), compared to Millennials (50 percent), Gen Xers (52 percent) and Boomers (53 percent). 

  • While Gen Xers still report the highest average levels of stress of any generation, trends indicate that they believe they have gotten better at managing their stress — 52 percent of Gen Xers reported that they are doing enough to manage their stress in 2010 compared with 48 percent in 2009 and 45 percent in 2008. During this same time period, trends also show that Gen Xers reported stress levels are on the decline, falling from an average stress level of 6.5 on a 10-point scale in 2008 to a 5.8 in 2010. 

  • In almost all areas, Gen Xers are more likely to report experiencing the following stress-related physical and emotional symptoms over the past month: 

More than half (56 percent) of Gen Xers said that they were irritable or angry as a result of stress compared with 30 percent of Matures, 47 percent of Boomers and 43 percent of Millennials.

• Nearly half (47 percent) of Gen Xers said that they experienced fatigue as a result of stress compared with 34 percent of Matures, 44 percent of Boomers and 37 percent of Millennials.

• Nearly half (46 percent) of Gen Xers said that they had headaches as a result of stress compared with 22 percent of Matures, 35 percent of Boomers and 36 percent of Millennials.

• Millennials were most likely to report a change in appetite as a result of stress (27 percent compared with 7 percent of Matures, 21 percent of Boomers, and 22 percent of Gen Xers).

What’s Causing Stress?

While money is the most commonly cited cause of stress for all generations, it should come as no surprise that people at each stage of life have differing financial and job-related concerns.

  • Millennials (85 percent), Gen Xers (75 percent) and Boomers (76 percent) are more likely than Matures (62 percent) to cite money and job stability as significant causes of stress.

  • Gen Xers (59 percent) and Boomers (53 percent) are more likely than Matures (39 percent) to cite housing costs as a source of stress.

  • Millennials are increasingly reporting work-related factors as sources of stress. Three-quarters of Millennials cited work as a source of stress in 2010 (compared with 71 percent in 2009 and 66 percent in 2008), and more than half said that job stability was a source of stress this year (58 percent in 2010 and 48 percent in 2009).

  • Matures are far more likely than any other group to cite health problems affecting their families as a major source of stress (59 percent compared with 50 percent of Boomers, 39 percent of Gen Xers, and 44 percent of Millennials).

How the Generations Deal with Stress

Gen Xers are most likely to report unhealthy behaviors — such as lying awake at night (49 percent), overeating/eating unhealthy food (48 percent) or skipping a meal (44 percent) — because of their stress. In addition, younger generations as a whole report unhealthy behaviors to manage stress more often than their older counterparts. Millennials (20 percent) and Gen Xers (23 percent) are significantly more likely than Matures (8 percent) and Boomers (13 percent) to say they drink alcohol to manage stress, and Gen Xers (31 percent) and Millennials (30 percent) are also more likely to report that they eat to manage stress than Matures (18 percent) and Boomers (23 percent).

Regardless of age, Americans rate the importance of every aspect of well-being considerably higher than their ability to succeed in these areas. Getting enough sleep, while important to all generations, is an area in which adults report the biggest gaps between the value they place on this behavior and their ability to be successful, but the gap is most dramatic for Gen Xers: six in 10 (61 percent) report that getting enough sleep is extremely/very important, but less than one in five (18 percent) report they are doing a very good/excellent job at getting enough sleep. In general, Matures tend to cite the importance of some key healthy behaviors more often than adults in the younger generations. For example, more Matures (74 percent) say that eating healthy is extremely/very important (compared to 53 percent of Millennials, 50 percent of Gen Xers and 59 percent of Boomers) and Matures (66 percent) are also more likely to say that being physically fit or active is extremely/very important than Gen Xers (50 percent) and Boomers (50 percent).

*The four generations are defined as the following: Millennials (19 – 31 year-olds), Gen X (32 – 45 year-olds), Boomers (46 – 64 year-olds) and Matures (65 years and older). This section of the report primarily focuses on Millennials (2007 n=294; 2008 n=406; 2009 n=504; 2010 n=268), Gen Xers (2007 n=426; 2008 n=478; 2009 n=369; 2010 n=293), Boomers (2007 n=743; 2008 n=651; 2009 n=464; 2010 n=396) and Matures (2007 n=385; 2008 n=256; 2009 n=231; 2010 n=177) within the general population (2007 n=1,848; 2008 n=1,791; 2009 n=1,568; 2010 n=1,134).