This study aimed to investigate associations between financial strain and emotional well-being, health, and physiological responses to acute mental stress.
Participants were 542 healthy men and women aged 53 to 76 years from the Whitehall II study divided into those who reported no (n = 316), some (n = 135), or moderate/severe (n = 91) financial strain. Emotional well-being and self-reported health were assessed at baseline and 3 years later. Laboratory mental stress testing involved assessment of blood pressure (BP), heart rate, and lipid reactivity and recovery, and plasma interleukin 6 responses to challenging behavioral tasks. Analyses adjusted for objective financial status, age, sex, socioeconomic status (SES), and marital status.
Financial strain was positively associated with more depressive symptoms; lower positive affect; greater loneliness; lower optimism, self-esteem, and sense of control; and poorer self-reported physical health, mental health, and sleep (all, p < .001). Longitudinally, financial strain predicted poorer outcomes 3 years later, but associations were attenuated after baseline levels were taken into account. Financial strain was associated with reduced systolic and diastolic BP reactivity to acute stress (mean systolic BP increase = 32.34 [15.2], 28.95 [13.1], and 27.26 [15.2] mm Hg in the none, some, and moderate/severe financial strain groups), but not with heart rate, interleukin 6, or lipid responses.
Financial strain was correlated with a range of emotional and health-related outcomes independently of objective financial status. The diminished BP reactions to acute mental stress suggest that financial strain may contribute to dynamic chronic allostatic load.