Stress Valuation and the Experience of Parenting Stress in Late Life

  • Alex Bierman


Pearlin’s stress process model serves as an organizing instrument for the study of mental health by delineating the pathways by which stress is both created and subsequently influences mental health. In its most recent iteration (Pearlin 1999), the model emphasizes the sociological study of stress by bringing attention to the way in which social status is endemic to each aspect of the stress process. As Pearlin (1999) states, “the social and economic statuses of people are imposed on the stress process. It is these characteristics that make the model and the orientation to stress research it embodies quintessentially sociological” (p. 397). Thus, core social statuses such as race, class, and gender are seen as both conditioning exposure to stress, as well as the direct and indirect paths by which stress influences mental health.

Although social statuses are central to a sociological perspective, such statuses are only one aspect of the socially-situated experience of stress. In fact, across Pearlin’s work there is a wider and more nuanced examination of different aspects of socially-based influences on the stress process. In an earlier work, Pearlin highlighted an additional set of socially conditioned factors, on which it was argued the stress process was contingent. Pearlin argued that for researchers who seek to understand the experience of stress, the values of individuals must also be considered. According to Pearlin (1989, p. 249), “By values I refer to what is defined socially as good, desirable, and prized or something to be eschewed.” As these are defined socially, values are conceived of in explicitly social, rather than psychological terms. These socially constituted judgments are critical in the process of stress formation because, “Values, I believe, regulate the meaning and the importance of the experience” (Pearlin 1989, p. 249). Thus, socially-constituted values serve as a regulating agent by helping to define both whether an experience will be seen as noxious or adverse, as well as the importance of the experience.

The purpose of this paper is to call attention to the process by which socially-based values lead individuals to experience social circumstances as both salient and stressful, a process I refer to as stress valuation. To underscore the sociological nature of stress valuation, I synthesize Pearlin’s focus on social values with insights from social constructionist and life course perspectives. A social constructionist perspective is useful for emphasizing the social nature of stress valuation because this perspective underscores the way in which judgments of worth and meaning are derived from individual embeddedness in social groupings (Holstein and Gubrium 2007). A life course perspective is also helpful for understanding the process of stress valuation because, rather than viewing development as a series of concrete and chronologically-delimited stages, a life course perspective views development as a fluid trajectory which occurs throughout one’s life (Elder et al. 2003). Thus, an integration of a life course perspective with the concept of stress valuation suggests that values may continue to play an important role in shaping the experience of stress across the life course because individuals face new developmental challenges and opportunities as they age.


Adult Child Late Life Full Information Maximum Likelihood Stress Process Dichotomous Indicator 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study is supported by a National Institute of Aging grant award (AG17461; Leonard I. Pearlin, Principal Investigator).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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