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Stress trajectories, health behaviors, and the mental health of black and white young adults


  • Boardman, Jason D.
  • Alexander, Kari B.


This paper uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine the mental health of non-Hispanic black and white young adults in the US. We use latent growth curve modeling to characterize the typical stress trajectories experienced by black and white young adults spanning the bulk of their lives. We identify the following four stress trajectories: 1) relatively stress free; 2) stress peak at age 15 and a subsequent decline; 3) stress peak at age 17 and a subsequent decline; and 4) a moderately high chronic stress. Results indicate that black adolescents have significantly higher risk of being in all three of the stressful classes compared to white adolescents. Stress exposure is strongly associated with depression and the race differences in stress profiles account for a modest amount of the observed race differences in mental health. We do not observe any race differences in behavioral responses to stressors; black youth are no more likely than white youth to engage in poor health behaviors (e.g., smoking, drinking, or obesity) in response to stress. We provide tentative support for the notion that poor health behaviors partially reduce the association between stress and depression for blacks but not whites. These findings contribute to unresolved issues regarding mental and physical health disparities among blacks and whites.

Suggested Citation

  • Boardman, Jason D. & Alexander, Kari B., 2011. "Stress trajectories, health behaviors, and the mental health of black and white young adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(10), pages 1659-1666, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:72:y:2011:i:10:p:1659-1666

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:aph:ajpbhl:1994:84:12:1913-1917_9 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2004.047225_7 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2008.143446_0 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Schulz, A. & Israel, B. & Williams, D. & Parker, E. & Becker, A. & James, S., 2000. "Social inequalities, stressors and self reported health status among African American and white women in the Detroit metropolitan area," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 51(11), pages 1639-1653, December.
    5. Boardman, Jason D., 2004. "Health pessimism among black and white adults: the role of interpersonal and institutional maltreatment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(12), pages 2523-2533, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Reid, Allecia E. & Rosenthal, Lisa & Earnshaw, Valerie A. & Lewis, Tené T. & Lewis, Jessica B. & Stasko, Emily C. & Tobin, Jonathan N. & Ickovics, Jeannette R., 2016. "Discrimination and excessive weight gain during pregnancy among Black and Latina young women," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 134-141.
    2. Keshia Reid & Miles Taylor, 2015. "Stress and Maternal Postpartum Depression: The Importance of Stress Type and Timing," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 34(6), pages 851-875, December.


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