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Stress:  Summary and Data Highlights

Stress is higher for adults who were born outside the U.S.A. or whose first language isn’t English.

People experience stress in response to challenges in everyday life. Sometimes stress can help us get things done. But long-term stress can increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and other problems by turning on biological stress responses too often and for too long. Excessive stress in childhood can affect brain development and lead to risky behaviors and health problems in adulthood.

Stress was measured by asking King County adults 4 questions about how often they had experienced selected symptoms of stress in the past 30 days.  Answers to these questions were combined to create a perceived stress scale with a possible score between 4 (low) and 20 (high). In 2011, King County adults had an average stress score of 8.6. Small differences on this scale are often statistically significant.


  • Adults born in the United States reported less stress than those who were foreign-born.
  • Adults whose first language was English reported less stress than those whose first language was not English.
  • Whites had lower stress scores than people of color.
  • Adults with household income of $65,000 or more reported less stress than those with incomes below $65,000. Stress scores gradually decreased as income went up.
  • College graduates had lower stress scores than adults with only some college education, but had a similar stress score as adults with a high school education or less.
  • Adults who were unemployed or unable to work experienced more stress than those who were employed or out of the labor force (students, homemakers, or retired).

Age and Health

  • Stress levels were highest for young adults and declined as age increased – a finding consistent with studies of overall life satisfaction.
  • Adults 65 and older reported less stress than all other age groups.
  • Adults in poor or fair health reported higher stress than did those in excellent, very good, or good health.

Relationships, Children, and Military Service

  • Adults in a couple relationship reported less stress than those without a partner.
  • Having children in the household did not affect adult stress levels.
  • Military service was not related to reported stress.

Place matters

Residents of East Region reported less stress than those in other regions and in King County overall. 

"Being a single mom, it just stacked up all of these things, and you just have to prioritize. Like, which is more important? But they’re all important. Everything is important! You know, having a job to be able to provide…. I have to find child care in order to go back to work, and I have to have a job in order to go find a house. And so, it’s like if I don’t do all of those things, and it’s just like stressful circle. I’m trying the hardest I can and it’s still not good enough."
Single mom without a car, living in Seattle emergency shelter after losing her job due to cutbacks in the construction industry.