Theoretical and empirical evidence suggests the existence of a general perceived stress factor overarching different life domains. The present study investigated the general perceived stress relative to domain-specific perceived stress as predictors of 26 diverse health outcomes, including mental and physical health, health behaviors, cognitive functioning, and physiological indicators of health.
A bifactor exploratory structural equational modelling (BiESEM) approach was adopted in two aging samples from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; N = 8325 in Sample 1, N = 7408 in Sample 2).
Across the two samples, perceived stress was well-represented by a bifactor structure where there was a robust general perceived stress factor representing a general propensity towards stress perception. Meanwhile, after controlling for the general perceived stress factor, specific factors that represent perceived stress in different life domains were still clearly present. Results also suggested age, sex, race, education, personality traits, and past and recent stressor exposure as possible factors underlying individual differences in the general perceived stress factor. The general perceived stress factor was the most robust predictor of the majority of health outcomes, as well as changes in mental health outcomes. The specific factor of perceived neighborhood stress demonstrated incremental predictive effects across different types of health outcomes.
The current study provides strong evidence for the existence of a general perceived stress factor that captures variance shared among stress across life domains, and the general perceived stress factor demonstrated substantial prospective predictive effects on diverse health outcomes in older adulthood.