Who's the Most Stressed?

From age to sex, marital status, weight, career choice, city of residence, and even hair color, Anneli Rufus on 15 stats that indicate who among us has the highest stress levels.

11.15.10 10:36 PM ET

1. Detroit’s residents are more than twice as stressed as residents of Memphis and Miami, and 10 times as stressed as residents of San Francisco, Nashville, and Buffalo.

Detroit is America’s most stressed-out city and Salt Lake City is America’s mellowest, according to a study that calculated the unemployment rate, income, ozone level, crime rate, amount of sunshine, house prices, and average commute time in 50 metropolises. “People are fleeing Detroit. There’s been so much economic destruction there,” says Frederic Luskin, author of Stress Free for Good, who warns that these rankings might be questionable because in some areas, “people won’t admit to being stressed. It’s not part of their culture.” and Business Journals report, 2010 Streess Rankings for Metro Areas 

2. Firefighters are more than five times as stressed as librarians, janitors, and piano tuners.

To determine the most and least stressful jobs, researchers crunched numbers pertaining to workplace hazards, machines and tools used, number and severity of quotas and deadlines, and relative degrees of precision, speed, stamina, confinement, competitiveness, visibility, heavy lifting, and risk of death. Firefighting ranked most stressful, followed closely by corporate executive, taxi driver, and surgeon. The least stressful line of work? Musical-instrument repair.’s 2010 Jobs Rated Report

3. Women are 8 percent more stressed than men.

According to the American Psychological Association, 28 percent of women and 20 percent of men say they suffer “a great deal of stress,” with 11 percent more women than men reporting stress-induced headaches and stress-induced stomach upsets. Forty-four percent of women and 15 percent of men reported “having felt as though they could cry” in the past month. “Keep in mind that this is self-reported stress,” notes Jay Winner, author of Take the Stress Out of Your Life. “More women admit to suffering from a great deal of stress... Men could think of themselves as weak by admitting to be suffering from stress. Additionally, women, especially working mothers, do tend to take on multiple stressful roles.”

Norman B. Anderson et al. (2010): American Psychological Association, Stress in America Findings

4. Gen-Xers are the most stressed-out generation, with 56 percent feeling frequently irritable or angry and 46 percent suffering stress-induced headaches.

Only 30 percent of people over 65, 47 percent of Boomers, and 43 percent of Millennials frequently feel irritable or angry; 22 percent of over-65s, 35 percent of boomers, and 36 percent of millennials get stress headaches. More than those in other age groups, Gen-Xers respond to stress with unhealthy behaviors such as lying awake at night (49 percent), overeating or eating unhealthy food (48 percent), and drinking alcohol (23 percent). “The most interesting thing about these statistics is that all of the age groups have a high percentage of stressed people,” Winner observes. “If people don’t learn effective ways of dealing with stress, their health may suffer...Excessive stress has been associated with a variety of serious ills, including heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease.”

Norman B. Anderson et al. (2010): American Psychological Association, Stress in America Findings

5. Married women are 11 percent more stressed-out than single women.

According to the study that yielded this stat, 33 percent of married women reported high stress levels, compared to 22 percent of single women. Forty-eight percent of married women suffered stress-induced headaches, compared to 33 percent of single women. It’s the kid factor and the husband factor, Luskin says: “A lot of married women are stressed because they have to nurture their partners emotionally and they’re not getting the same thing in return. Those husbands aren’t pulling their weight.”

Norman B. Anderson et al. (2010): American Psychological Association, Stress in America Findings

6. Redheads are more than twice as stressed-out as other people—at least when it comes to dental appointments.

That’s because natural redheads have lower pain thresholds. According to the scientists whose work produced this finding, “People with naturally red hair are resistant to subcutaneous local anesthetics,” and thus experience extreme dentist-induced anxiety. Redheads are twice as likely to avoid going to dentists as are people with dark hair, the researchers write.

Binkley, Catherine et al. (2009): Genetic variations associated with red hair color and fear of dental pain, anxiety regarding dental care and avoidance of dental care. Journal of the American Dental Association, 140 (7), 896-905.

7. Overweight children are more than twice as stressed-out as children of average weight.

According to the American Psychological Association, 31 percent of overweight children “worry a great deal,” compared to 14 percent of normal-weight kids, and overweight children are three times more likely to “worry about the way they look” than normal-weight kids. The APA also found that obese adults are 17 percent more likely than average-weight adults to feel angry or irritable frequently. Heavy people “tend to not be well-treated by their peers,” Luskin says. “They tend to have lower self-esteem and not to feel as good physically. When you’re carrying around lard, it’s not easy to run and jump. Some of their stress comes from physical pain.”

Norman B. Anderson et al. (2010): American Psychological Association, Stress in America Findings

8. More than half of women who have had abortions meet the DSM-IV criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The women examined in the study that yielded this finding had abortions on average 15 years before being interviewed. Fifty-two and a half percent of those whose abortions occurred during the first trimester of pregnancy met the PTSD criteria, as did 67.4 percent of those whose abortions occurred during the second or third trimesters. According to the study’s authors, women in the latter group “experience elevated risk for certain forms of unwelcome re-experience of the abortion procedure,” such as “intrusive memories, whether in the form of flashbacks or disturbing dreams.”

Priscilla Coleman et al. (2010): Late-term elective abortion and susceptibility to post-traumatic stress symptoms. Journal of Pregnancy, Article ID 130519 

9. Those who have been jobless for more than six months are 15 percent more stressed-out than those who have been jobless for less than a month.

The longer you’re out of work, the higher your stress. Fifty-five percent of those who have been unemployed for more than six months report significant stress, compared to 46 percent of those who have been unemployed for one to six months and 40 percent of those who have been unemployed for less than a month. Don’t let it undermine you, Winner warns. “Keep things in perspective... If you count up your blessings, you have more than you think. Reframing is important. Instead of thinking yourself as a failure, try to learn from unsuccessful job interviews.”

The 2010 Gallup-Healthwys Well-Being Index

10. Babies who travel in forward-facing strollers are twice as stressed as babies who travel in strollers facing toward those pushing them.

Soothed by the sight of the people pushing them, babies in backward-facing strollers are twice as likely to fall asleep during their journeys as babies in forward-facing strollers—a possible indicator of reduced stress levels, according to the author of the study that yielded this finding. The likelihood is further increased by the fact that babies in backward-facing buggies have lower heart rates than those in forward-facing buggies, and are nearly 10 times more likely to laugh during their journeys. These findings “should at this stage be regarded as provisional,” the study’s author warns, but “research repeatedly shows that infants’ development is best nurtured when their parents are emotionally and cognitively available to them... Buggies that face away from parents do not promote such conditions.”

M. Suzanne Zeedyk (2008): What’s life in a baby buggy like? The impact of buggy orientation on parent-infant interaction and infant stress. Research study conducted at the University of Dundee in collaboration with the National Literacy Trust.

11. Business leaders in China are the world’s most stressed, with 84 percent reporting increased stress levels over the previous year.

The second-most-stressed business leaders are in Taiwan (82 percent), followed by those in India (79 percent) and Russia (76 percent). According to the Harris Interactive study that yielded these results, Swedish business leaders are at the other end of the spectrum, ranking as the world’s most carefree.

Grant Thornton International Business Report, conducted by Harris Interactive and Experian Business Strategies Limited, 2007 

12. Kentucky residents are more than twice as stressed as Nebraskans.

More than 14 percent of Kentuckians report “frequent mental distress” (FMD), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as experiencing at least two weeks of emotional discomfort in any given month. Three days of mental distress is considered average. FMD is lowest in the upper Midwest, averaging out at less than six days. Both the East and West average out at about 10.

David Moriarty et al. (2009): Geographic Patterns of Frequent Mental Distress. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36 (6), 497-505 

13. When anticipating the winter holiday season, Hispanics are America’s most stressed demographic, with 39 percent reporting high stress, compared to 29 percent of Caucasians.

Native Americans are the second-most stressed-out group at 37 percent. Finances are the most commonly reported source of holiday stress, followed by memories of dead loved ones: 50 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of African Americans are tormented by such memories, compared to 34 percent of Caucasians. College grads feel less holiday stress in general than other groups, at 24 percent. Hispanics’ holiday stress might reflect “levels of poverty or a sense of being displaced and feeling lonely,” Luskin suggests.

Mental Health America Survey: Top Holiday Stressors: Who’s Most Stressed? 

14. Life in Las Vegas is 25 times more stressful than life in Schenectady, New York.

Several competing studies rank cities by stress levels, but no two are alike. According to one study based on U.S. Census and CDC data pertaining to divorce and suicide rates, crime, alcohol consumption, employment, and weather, Schenectady is America’s mellowest city. Las Vegas is only the fourth-most stressful, topped by New Orleans, Miami, and the nation’s No. 1 tension town: Tacoma, Washington.

Sperling’s Best Places: America’s Most (and Least) Stressful Cities 

15. The children of deployed members of the U.S. military are 18 percent more stressed-out than children in the general population.

The rates are highest in older children and those whose deployed parents are their fathers, according to a study whose lead author is a decorated commander in the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps. The study tracked the records of nearly 650,000 children aged 3 through 8 in military families during 2006 and 2007.

Gregory Gorman et al. (2010): Wartime military deployment and increased pediatric mental and behavioral health complaints. Pediatrics, DOI: 10, 1542/peds.2009-2856 

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and the Nautilus Award-winning Stuck: Why We Don't (or Won't) Move On, and the coauthor of still more, including Weird Europe and The Scavengers' Manifesto. In 2006, she won a Society of Professional Journalists award for criticism.