American Sociological Association

Where Does Debt Fit in the Stress Process Model?

This paper contrasts two money-related stressors—debt and economic hardship—and clarifies where debt fits into the stress process model. Debt may be a direct or indirect stressor, as something mediated by psychosocial resources, and may be a potential buffer, interacting with economic hardship. The analyses use data from a two-wave panel study of 1,463 adults. One way debt is distinct from economic hardship is that debt is more common among economically advantaged groups. Further, though debt and economic hardship are both associated with negative mental health, the influence of hardship is partly mediated by mastery. This is not true of debt. Finally, debt does not buffer the negative effects of economic hardship, nor does its influence vary by income. We conclude debt is best conceptualized as an unmediated stressor and not as a coping resource. Future research should determine whether different types of debt have distinct mental health consequences.


Drentea, P., Reynolds, J. R.





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