Neighborhood as a Social Context of the Stress Process

  • Carol S. Aneshensel


A fundamental objective of the stress process model is to explain the connection between low social status and high levels of psychological distress and disorder (Pearlin 1989, 1999; Pearlin et al. 1981). This goal has been realized, in part, through the elaboration of the connection between exposure to stressors and status locations within various institutions and social arrangements – education, occupation, economy, gender, and race/ethnicity. In addition, the model articulates the role of low social status in limiting access to psychosocial resources that might otherwise ameliorate the adverse mental health impact of exposure to stress.

Applications of the model that emphasize social status generally treat social status as an attribute of the individual, for example, the person’s educational attainment. However, Wheaton and Clarke (2003) call attention to the relevance of contextual social inequality to the stress process, conceptualizing inequality as existing across multiple layers of the social hierarchy. In addition, Pearlin’s (1999) recent formulations of the stress process model also call attention to the importance of context, accentuating the neighborhood in particular. In this regard, neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage can be conceptualized as a meso-level indicator of the stratification of neighborhoods that intensifies exposure to stressors and restricts access to social psychological resources, thereby damaging health and emotional well-being.

In this chapter, I review research linking neighborhood to domains of the stress process and then describe an ecological model built around the idea that the mental health impact of the neighborhood may be conditional upon the person’s social status, exposure to stress, and access to psychosocial resources.


Mental Health Ecological Model Mental Health Outcome Neighborhood Disadvantage Stress Process 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community Health SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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