In a recent study, people with the highest levels of financial stress looked like they had aged more over a decade than people with lower levels of money woes.
Financial stress actually takes a larger toll on appearance than other types of stress.
“It may be that people who are under a lot of financial stress do not pay much attention to their appearance,” says study author Margie Lachman, professor of psychology at Brandeis University. “Stress can also accelerate the aging process.”
For the study published in Research on Aging, more than 200 people rated their level of financial stress. Headshots were taken of them in 1994-1995 and then again in 2004-2005. A separate group of 19 reviewers then saw the photos and judged how old the people in the pictures looked.
The reviewers consistently estimated that those under financial stress had aged more than those who weren’t under financial stress.
Lachman and colleagues also studied how stress in general affects how old people think you are. They found that financial stress actually takes a larger toll on appearance than other types of stress. This is consistent with other research showing that money worries rate as the most significant source of stress in people’s lives.
Finally, the research suggests that people are not the best judge of their appearance when it comes to aging. The individuals who had their headshots taken were asked how old they thought they looked to others. It turned out on average they thought they looked younger than the panel of reviewers.
Lachman, who is also the director of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Lab at Brandeis University, is an expert on health and well-being in later life. While much research has focused on the age people feel, this study also looked at the age people appear to others relative to their actual age. Lachman says that being perceived as older than you actually are can affect behavior and lifestyle with the potential to negatively affect your health.
This research was part of a larger study funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging. Coauthors are from Antioch University of New England and the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.