Pain is notoriously hard to measure—no one can possibly know what it’s really like except for the person experiencing it. But a new large study published in the Journal of Pain at least gives us a better picture of who in the United States is experiencing it.
Researchers from Washington State University analyzed data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. Nearly 90,000 people participated in the survey, and of those, almost 7,000 completed a supplement on quality of life and disability, in which (among other things) they reported how frequently they felt pain in the past three months. The researchers classified pain as “persistent” if respondents said they experienced it “most days” or “every day.”
How Often Americans Feel Pain
Chart: The Atlantic, Data: Washington State University
Altogether, about 19 percent of U.S. adults reported experiencing persistent pain in 2010, but the numbers vary widely depending on demographics. Women were slightly more likely than men to have persistent pain, and white people are more likely than Latinos and African Americans. Intuitively, older people reported more pain than younger people. The age group with the highest percentage of persistent pain (about 30 percent) was adults aged 60 to 69, though people aged 70 to 79 and 80 to 89 were also up there, at 28 and 29 percent, respectively. About 8 percent of the 18 to 29 demographic experienced persistent pain.