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Open Access Research article

Can negative life events and coping style help explain socioeconomic differences in perceived stress among adolescents? A cross-sectional study based on the West Jutland cohort study

David J Glasscock1*, Johan H Andersen1, Merete Labriola12, Kurt Rasmussen1 and Claus D Hansen3

Author Affiliations

1 Danish Ramazzini Centre, Department of Occupational Medicine, Regional Hospital Herning, Herning, Denmark

2 Department of Clinical Social Medicine, Public Health and Quality Management, Central Denmark Region and Section of Clinical Social Medicine & Rehabilitation, School of Public Health, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark

3 Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:532  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-532

Published: 2 June 2013

Abstract

Background

Previous research suggests that perceived stress in adolescence is socially patterned, but that this relationship may depend on the measure of socioeconomic status (SES) used. This study examines if social gradients in perceived stress, negative life events, and coping exist amongst Danish adolescents, and, if life events and coping strategies can partly account for an association between SES and perceived stress. These relationships are studied separately for two different measures of SES.

Methods

Questionnaire data were collected from 3054 14–15 year old youths (83% response rate) during baseline measurement in the West Jutland birth cohort study. Parents were identified via the Central Office of Civil Registration in which the respondents are linked to their parents or guardians via their CPR-number, a personal identification number given to everyone in Denmark. The study employs data from two independent sources, adolescent self-report data (stress, life events and coping) and national registers (parental educational level, household income and confounder variables). Ordinary Least Squares regression estimated the effects of parental SES, negative life events and coping on perceived stress. Analyses were stratified by gender.

Results

Girls reported more perceived stress than boys. SES accounted for a small but significant amount of the variance in perceived stress. Lower parental education and lower household income were associated with higher stress levels irrespective of gender, but the social gradient was strongest amongst girls when parents’ education was used to measure SES, and strongest for boys when income was used. Life events and coping were also found to be associated with SES and both mediated part of the SES-perceived stress relationship. In general, the social gradient in perceived stress was accounted for by the study variables to a higher degree among girls than among boys.

Conclusions

Lower parental education and household income are associated with higher levels of perceived stress amongst Danish adolescents. Furthermore, both life events and coping appear to mediate this relation. Gender differences in the ways SES and stress are related may exist.

Keywords:
Social gradient; Perceived stress; Life events; Coping; Adolescence