The high price of debt: household financial debt and its impact on mental and physical health

Soc Sci Med. 2013 Aug:91:94-100. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.05.009. Epub 2013 May 16.


Household financial debt in America has risen dramatically in recent years. While there is evidence that debt is associated with adverse psychological health, its relationship with other health outcomes is relatively unknown. We investigate the associations of multiple indices of financial debt with psychological and general health outcomes among 8400 young adult respondents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Our findings show that reporting high financial debt relative to available assets is associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health, and higher diastolic blood pressure. These associations remain significant when controlling for prior socioeconomic status, psychological and physical health, and other demographic factors. The results suggest that debt is an important socioeconomic determinant of health that should be explored further in social epidemiology research.

Keywords: Financial debt; Social determinants of health; Socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Financial Management*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult