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J Adolesc Health. 2007 Feb;40(2):127-34.

Socioeconomic differences in adolescent stress: the role of psychological resources.

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  • 1Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.



To investigate whether psychological resources influenced the association between parent education (PE), a marker of socioeconomic status (SES), and perceived stress.


Cross-sectional analyses were conducted in a sample of 1167 non-Hispanic black and white junior and senior high school students from a Midwestern public school district in 2002-2003. Hierarchical multivariable regression analyses examined relationships between PE (high school graduate or less = E1, > high school, < college = E2, college graduate = E3, and professional degree = E4), and psychological resources (optimism and coping style) on teens' perceived stress. Greater optimism and adaptive coping were hypothesized to influence (i.e., mediate or moderate) the relationship between higher PE and lower stress.


Relative to adolescents from families with a professionally educated parent, adolescents with lower parent education had higher perceived stress (E3 beta = 1.70, p < .01, E2 beta = 1.94, p < .01, E1 beta = 3.19, p < .0001). Both psychological resources were associated with stress: higher optimism (beta = -.58, p < .0001) and engagement coping (beta = -.19, p < .0001) were associated with less stress and higher disengagement coping was associated with more stress (beta = .09, p < .01). Adding optimism to the regression model attenuated the effect of SES by nearly 30%, suggesting that optimism partially mediates the inverse SES-stress relationship. Mediation was confirmed using a Sobel test (p < .01).


Adolescents from families with lower parent education are less optimistic than teens from more educated families. This pessimism may be a mechanism through which lower SES increases stress in adolescence.

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