The Generational Stress Gap Is Real


New research finds young people are more anxious than their elders -- but they're even less well-equipped to handle the pressure.

The Doctor Will See You Now
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Every generation has its own set of stressors. According to a report by the American Psychological Association, the Millennial generation (those born between about 1980 and 1994) has more stressors than generations before, but at the same time, they are also less able to cope with them effectively.

Adults of any age were twice as likely to report that their stress levels were escalating, versus decreasing, over the past year. Baby Boomers were slightly more likely to report that their stress levels had decreased over this time, but “Matures” (people of the next generation up) were the least stressed of any of the generations.

The biggest sources of stress for Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers were money, work, and the cost of housing.

When it comes to the stress differential – that is, how stressed one reports being vs. how much stress they think is normal or healthy – Millennials and Generation Xers had the largest gap. Millennials’ stress differential was actually higher last year than it has been over the last five. They don't believe they should feel as stressed as they do.

The Stress in America report, something the APA has been putting out since 2007, is a nationwide survey designed to look at stress and its impact. The biggest sources of stress for Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers were money, work, and the cost of housing. Not surprisingly, the degree to which people were stressed about any of these issues decreased across the generations (that is, with age).

Oddly, Millennials are less likely to be stressed by the economy, but they are more stressed by the cost of housing than other generations. They are also more likely to say that relationship problems were sources of stress than were other generations. Not surprisingly, the Matures were more stressed about health concerns than others before them.

Unfortunately for the younger generations who may need it the most, stress management seems to improve with age. For example, older generations were more willing to compromise than younger generations were, and they were much more likely to express their feelings in their relationships, as opposed to keeping them bottled up, than the Millennials or Generation Xers. Millennials were more likely to do yoga or meditate in response to stress than the older generations, but they and Generation Xers were more likely to play video games or get online when they were stressed. The two younger generations were also more likely to smoke and drink alcohol in response to stress, although Generation Xers engaged in both considerably more than the Millennials.

Stress can take its toll, and the young generations are feeling it: They are more likely to feel anxious or nervous, experience anger, and have reduced sex drive as a result of their stress levels. Everyone in the study said they could do better when it comes to managing stress, since most realize how important it is, but they said they found themselves having trouble putting stress management into action. For your own sake – and for your kids, who will be the next generation – make time to manage your stress. It really is one of the healthiest things you can do.

The study was part of the Stress in America report by the American Psychological Association.

This article originally appeared on, an Atlantic partner site.

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Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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