At what costs? Student loan debt, debt stress, and racially/ethnically diverse college students' perceived health

Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol. 2018 Oct;24(4):459-469. doi: 10.1037/cdp0000207. Epub 2018 Jun 28.


Objectives: There has been little research on the direct and indirect connections between student loan debt and health. The present study tested a transactional stress model (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984a) of student loan debt in which the appraisal of debt as stressful was proposed to mediate the associations between student loan debt amount and perceived health (i.e., self-rated general health, depressive symptomatology).

Method: The present study draws on a racially/ethnically diverse college student sample (N = 1,412) from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshman (NLSF). Structural equation modeling (SEM) with robust maximum likelihood (MLR) estimation was used to test the fit of the transactional stress model and compare it with an alternative model (that is, Schachter and Singer's (1962) two factor). Multigroup analyses were conducted to test racial/ethnic differences.

Results: SEM results indicated good fit of the transactional stress model and suggested its superiority to the alternative two-factor model. Multigroup SEM analyses revealed racial/ethnic differences. Whereas for Black/African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and White Americans, appraisal of debt as stressful was linked to poorer general health and more depressive symptomatology, these associations were nonsignificant for Asian Americans. Tests of indirect effects indicated that the mediating role of debt stress was most consistently significant for Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans compared with Asian and, to a lesser extent, White Americans.

Conclusions: Results affirm the potential health impact of both student loan debt amount and the subjective appraisal of stress associated with student loan debt as significant stressors. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Financing, Personal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Training Support / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult