The effect of urban hassles on the subjective well-being of low-income urban adolescents
TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS iii
LIST OF TABLES vii
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1 Definition of Stress: Life Events and Hassles 2 Adolescent Stress 3 Urban Adolescent Stress 4 Measurement of Urban Adolescent Hassles 5 Subjective Well-Being 9 Rationale 11 Research Questions 12
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW 14 Urban Adolescent Stress 15 Measurement of Urban Adolescent Stress 21 Development of the Urban Hassles Index (UHI) 22
CHAPTER THREE: METHODOLOGY 26 Participants 26 Procedures 28 Instruments 29 Demographic Questionnaire 29 Urban Hassles Index 29 Positive and Negative Affect Schedule 30 Satisfaction with Life Scale 32 Data Analysis 33
CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS 37 Research Question 1: Factor Analysis 38 Research Question 2: Relationship Between Urban Hassles and Subjective Well-Being 42 Life Satisfaction 44 Positive Affect 44 Negative Affect 45 Summary 45
CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION 48 Research Question 1 48 Research Question 2 50 Limitations 55 Implications for Future Research and Clinical Practice 56 Conclusion 60
APPENDIX A: PARENT PERMISSION FORM 62
APPENDIX B: STUDENT ASSENT FORM 65
APPENDIX C: DEMOGRAPHIC QUESTIONNAIRE 68
APPENDIX D: URBAN HASSLES INDEX 70
APPENDIX E: POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE AFFECT SCHEDULE 72
APPENDIX F: SATISFACTION WITH LIFE SCALE 74
LIST OF TABLES
Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for Sample Background Characteristics 27
Table 2: Nine Factors Which met the Kaiser Retention Criterion of Eigenvalues Greater than 1.00 39
Table 3: Urban Hassles Index: Factor One Item Structure and Factor Loadings 41
Table 4: Urban Hassles Index: Factor Two Item Structure and Factor Loadings 42
Table 5: Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations among Variables 43
Table 6: Summary of Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Subjective Well-Being Variables 45
Low income urban youth have been identified as an understudied and important population to explore. The psychological effects of stress on the well-being of children and adolescents are of particular interest, and the stressors faced by low income urban adolescents are unique in that they are more chronic in nature and due to adverse environmental circumstances. While researchers have examined the effect of stress on the subjective well-being of low income urban adolescents, none have done so utilizing a measure of stress developed specifically to assess the unique stressors experienced by such populations. The Urban Hassles Index (UHI) is a 32-item instrument developed to measure stressors affecting adolescents in urban environments specifically. Exploratory factor analysis was used to identify the underlying factor structure of the UHI. For study participants urban hassles include two dimensions: 1) anxiety and concerns about safety, and 2) coercive interpersonal interactions. The following is discussed: the UHI’s utility as an assessment tool for researchers and practitioners working with adolescents; the relationship between urban hassles and subjective well-being in an urban adolescent population; limitations of the study and implications of the findings.
Adolescence is a time of significant positive psychological growth and development, but this transition between childhood and adulthood can also be perceived as quite stressful for the youth experiencing it. The psychological effects of stress on children and adolescents has often been studied in the psychological literature (Clarke, 2006; Goodman, McEwen, Dolan, Schafer-Kalkhoff, & Adler, 2005; Grant et al., 2006). Adolescents living in urban or low income environments are particularly more vulnerable to stressful risk factors that may compromise well-being. The stressors faced by low income urban adolescents are unique in that they are generally more chronic in nature and due to adverse environmental circumstances (Bennett & Miller, 2006). Chronic exposure to such stressors has been linked to a variety of negative outcomes such as aggression, anxiety, depression, maladaptive coping, etc. (Self-Brown, LeBlanc, & Kelley, 2004; Schmeelk-Cone & Zimmerman, 2003). As such, it is important that researchers understand the stressors urban adolescents encounter, their reaction to these stressors, and the effects they have on both positive and negative psychological outcomes. The following chapter will introduce the topic of adolescent stress and what is currently known about its effects on low income urban adolescents and a study will be proposed to gain further understanding in this important area of examination.
Definition of Stress: Life Events and Hassles To a large extent, the psychological literature has confirmed that stress can have a negative impact on the psychological functioning of individuals. Originally, stress was understood to be any significant life-changing event (either positive or negative). However, definitions of stressors have extended to include less major events, or everyday hassles, that would not be considered “significant” or “life-changing.” As such, daily hassles have been defined by Lazarus (1984) as “experiences and conditions of daily living that have been appraised as salient and harmful or threatening to the endorser’s well-being” (p. 376). Daily hassles have also been described as minor, irritating, and frustrating everyday experiences that take place in response to individual-environment interactions (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981). Hassles, like major events have been shown to contribute to negative psychological outcomes (Lu, 1991) and in some cases, empirical evidence has indicated that they have an even stronger effect on distress and psychological symptoms than do negative life events (Ruffin, 1993). Because of this, it has been suggested that assessing daily hassles, as opposed to major life events, may actually be more useful in predicting psychological adjustment since measures of life events provide little information as to the more minor, daily events which lead to higher perceptions of stress in individuals (Wagner, Compas, & Howell, 1988). Furthermore, empirical evidence indicates that daily hassles which are chronic in nature affect mental health and well-being as much if not more than life events, especially since many measures of life events actually include items that could be considered chronic and continuous stressors (Avison & Turner, 1988).
Adolescent Stress High stress levels have been associated with multiple negative outcomes in adolescents, both psychological and physiological in nature. For example, higher levels of stress were shown to be significantly associated with high-risk sexual behaviors and sexually transmitted diseases in adolescent girls (Mazzaferro et al., 2006), behavioral problems in young adolescents (McCabe, Clark & Barnett, 1999), higher delinquency (Tolan, 1988), higher levels of depression, and lower grade point averages (Windle & Windle, 1996). In addition, higher levels of daily hassles and major life events have been shown to predict later psychological distress in middle school youth, with an increasing effect of hassles in socioeconomically disadvantaged participants (DuBois et al, 1994). Kanner, Feldman, Weinberger, and Ford (1987) examined daily stressors (hassles) in a sample of early adolescents and discovered them to be positively related to anxiety and depression, whereas they were negatively related to feelings of self-worth. For adolescent populations specifically, it has been posited that assessing major life events is not in and of itself sufficient for understanding the relationship between stress and adjustment and that assessment of daily hassles in adolescents’ lives is also necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the effects of well-being in this population (Rowlinson & Felner, 1988). However, much of the research examining stress in adolescents has utilized samples that are largely comprised of non-urban, non-minority, middle class youth (Carter et al., 2006; Kanner et al., 1987). In addition to the normative stressors all adolescents may experience, those residing in urban environments are particularly at risk of facing specifically chronic
stressors such as poverty and exposure to violence (Carr Paxton, Robinson, Shah, & Schoeny, 2004). By definition, low-income urban youth live in disadvantaged neighborhoods and research examining the effects of the chronic stressors associated with living in such areas is lacking. It is crucial for psychologists and other professionals providing services to this population to gain an understanding of the unique types of stressors urban adolescents encounter and the effects of said stressors in order to facilitate effective program development. Urban Adolescent Stress To date, a limited number of studies have utilized a large number of racially diverse urban adolescents when examining stress of low-income urban adolescents, and those that have indicate that higher levels of stressful life experiences contributed to several negative psychological and behavioral outcomes. These negative outcomes include both increases in internalizing symptoms such as somatic complaints, anxiety, and depression (Reynolds, O’Koon, Papademetriou, Szczygiel, & Grant, 2001; Natsuaki, Ge, Brody, Simons, Gibbons, & Cutrona, 2007; White & Farrell, 2006) as well as externalizing behaviors such as aggression and other maladaptive behaviors (Attar, Guerra, & Tolan, 1994; Guerra, Huesmann, Tolan, & Van Acker, 1995; Schmeelk-Cone & Zimmerman, 2003). The results of such studies will be examined in greater detail in the following chapter. Because it is crucial to consider daily hassles in addition to major life events when examining stress, and since the majority of research on the stress of adolescents has focused on the effects of major life events, the current study will focus solely on the
hassles of urban adolescents. Among urban minority youth, the content and range of hassles has been expanded to include experiences more common in urban communities. The definition of daily hassles provided by Miller and Townsend (2005) includes “events that occur on a continuum, from minor, irritating events (e.g., noisy neighbors) to more serious events/transactions (e.g., pressure to join a gang)” (p. 86). For the purposes of the current study, terms such as “daily stressors” and “chronic stressors” are considered forms of urban hassles. Measurement of Urban Adolescent Hassles The potentially harmful outcomes of stress on adolescents have been reviewed, and adolescents residing in urban areas are at particular risk for chronic daily exposure to social and environmental stressors (i.e., violence, poverty, gang/drug activity, substandard housing) (Deardorff, Gonzales, & Sandles, 2003). Therefore, it is especially important that measures of adolescent stress are culturally sensitive and contextually relevant to youth residing in low-income urban environments. While many researchers have examined the measurement of stress in adolescents, many studies have focused on major life events rather than daily hassles (Allison et al., 1999; Swearingen & Cohen, 1985) and most measures of adolescent stress are based on the experiences of middle- class, non-minority, non-urban youth (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983; Miller, Webster, & MachIntosh, 2002). Given that several items on measures of negative life events have been identified as daily hassles that are chronic in nature (Miller & Townsend, 2005), it is extremely important to consider such stressors when assessing stress in urban adolescents.
The Urban Hassles Index (UHI; Miller et al., 2002) was developed as a way to enhance the measurement of stress exposure among adolescents residing in urban settings. The original 9-item UHI was identified as a unidimensional measure of urban stress in adolescents. However, upon consideration of the multitude of hassles faced by such populations, the UHI was expanded to include 32 items (Bennett & Miller, 2006; Miller & Townsend, 2005). Both versions were developed and standardized with urban minority ethnic youth; however, the measures were based primarily on the experiences of urban African American adolescents given that the samples utilized were largely comprised of African American participants. Furthermore, exploratory analyses investigating potential underlying factor structures of the 32-item UHI have produced inconsistent results (Bennett & Miller, 2006; Miller & Townsend, 2005). Results from the two studies which will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter, indicate that further investigation of the psychometric properties of the UHI is warranted utilizing additional ethnically diverse samples of urban adolescents. To briefly summarize the results of these studies, each analysis revealed four subscales based on the emerging four underlying factors; however, although the four factors which emerged in each analysis were somewhat similar qualitatively, they were comprised of different items and were thus labeled differently. Miller and Townsend (2005) found the following four factors: environmental conditions, interpersonal interactions/surveillance, safety concerns, and anticipatory victimization; whereas Bennett and Miller (2006) identified a differing set of four subscales, including harassment, anxiety, social disorganization, and coercion.
In addition to investigating the underlying factor structure of the UHI, Miller and Townsend (2005) utilized the participant scores on the UHI (including 21 items) to examine potential gender differences as well as the relationship of urban hassles to various negative mental health outcomes (i.e., anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and posttraumatic disorder (PTSD) symptoms). As for gender, a statistically significant difference was discovered in that males reported higher levels of hassles than females, but the magnitude was quite small (eta² = .02). With regard to the four mental health outcomes assessed, the level of hassles reported on the total UHI was significantly related to each of them. Higher levels of hassles were related to higher adolescent reports of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Adolescents who reported experiencing low levels of hassles had significantly more positive mental health outcomes than those indicating moderate or high levels of hassles; likewise, those experiencing moderate levels of hassles reported significantly better mental health outcomes than those with a high level of hassles. The effect size (eta²) between level of hassles and the four mental health outcomes ranged between .16 and .24. Though the information provided in these analyses was interesting, a considerable limitation of this study should be noted. In order to conduct analyses of variance (ANOVAs) using urban hassles as the sole predictor, researchers polychotomized the continuous variable in order to divide the UHI scores into three groups (low, moderate, and high), representing the bottom, middle, and top third of the distribution consecutively. This arbitrary classification method oversimplifies a complicated variable and may increase the likelihood of incorrectly categorizing participant scores. Given this consideration, findings should be interpreted with caution.
In addition to examining the relationship between total UHI score and the four mental health outcomes assessed (anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and PTSD symptoms), the correlations between the four UHI subscale scores and the four mental health outcomes were also examined. Results indicated that all correlations between the four UHI subscales and the four mental health outcomes were positive in direction, statistically significant, and moderate in size, ranging from .14 to .45. Therefore, according to the results of Miller and Townsend (2005), the different types of urban stressors (i.e., personal safety concerns versus environmental conditions of the neighborhood) do not appear to differentially affect the magnitude of the correlation. More simply, it does not appear that the presence of any of the four subtypes of urban hassles is related to higher levels of the negative psychological outcomes assessed in this particular study. However, these findings are somewhat discrepant from other research which suggests that certain types of urban stressors may be perceived as more negative or stressful by early adolescents residing in such environments than other types of urban stressors. For example, Schaefer-McDaniel (2007) conducted a study utilizing early adolescents residing in inner-city neighborhoods and found participants more consistently expressed distress related to safety concerns (i.e., the presence of crime and/or violence) as opposed to physical and social disorder (i.e., level of cleanliness, presence of loud noise, etc.).
Subjective Well-Being Like the conceptualization of stressors, the conceptualization of psychological adjustment in the research literature has also expanded during the past few decades. Researchers have moved from an almost exclusive emphasis on negative psychological outcomes (i.e., psychopathology and maladjustment) to an emphasis on the positive end of the mental health spectrum (Lent, 2004). In order to obtain a complete picture of the psychological functioning of urban adolescents, both maladjustment and wellness must be considered. Although the absence of psychological symptoms may be used as a marker of wellness, another commonly used indicator of wellness in the psychological literature is subjective well-being, or an internal and personal evaluation of one’s happiness. Researchers have defined a model of subjective well-being that includes both an affective (or emotional) and a cognitive element (Lent, 2004; Lightsey, 1996). The affective element is comprised of positive and negative affect, which consist of how frequently an individual reports experiencing positive and negative mood/emotions. The cognitive element, life satisfaction, can be defined as an individualized and comprehensive assessment of the overall quality of one’s life. Therefore, this model of subjective well-being encompasses three components: positive affect, negative affect, and global life satisfaction (Deiner, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). While many variables can affect subjective well-being, the effect of stress on psychological functioning has been a focus of study in the psychological literature.
While research examining the effects of stress on the subjective-well being of adolescents has been understudied, studies suggest that negative life events can have a detrimental impact on the subjective well-being of this population (McCullough, Huebner, & Laughlin, 2000). As previously mentioned, low-income urban adolescents are at a higher risk of facing chronic stressors due to residing in adverse environments. Empirical evidence indicates that subjective-well being can serve as a protective factor for such adolescents and those who have lower levels may need psychological services since they are at an even greater risk for negative psychological outcomes (Park, 2004). However, there is a lack of research on the effects of chronic daily stress on the subjective well-being of low-income urban adolescents. One study examined perceived stress in an ethnically diverse sample of low-income urban adolescents, and the results revealed that perceived stress significantly predicted negative affect, but not positive affect or life satisfaction (Vacek, Dick, & Vera, 2010). This suggests that while high stress levels may increase the daily experience of negative emotions in urban adolescents, it does not appear to prevent them from having both a positive daily mood and an overall sense of satisfaction with their lives. Although these results are promising, to the knowledge of this author no studies have yet examined the relationship between stress and subjective well-being of urban adolescents utilizing a measure of stress developed specifically for use with this population.
Rationale While the UHI has been developed as a method of measuring stressors affecting adolescents in urban environments specifically, principal components analysis and exploratory factor analyses have produced mixed results about what underlying factors emerge and which of the 32 items load on each factor (Bennett & Miller, 2006; Miller & Townsend, 2005). Each of the two studies identified a unique combination of four underlying factors (i.e., categories of urban hassles), using data from the same sample of participants. Since the four factors identified in each study were comprised of different items but were somewhat similar qualitatively, it would be useful to conduct an exploratory factor analysis on responses to the UHI utilizing a different sample of ethnically diverse, urban adolescent participants. This would be beneficial in determining whether the resulting set of factors is more similar to the underlying factors found by Miller and Townsend (2005) or Bennett and Miller (2006). In addition, further examination of the UHI is needed across additional culturally diverse samples in order to determine if it is a reliable and valid measure of multidimensional urban stressors, since the investigative attempts to date have been largely been based on the experiences of African American adolescent samples (Bennett & Miller, 2006; Miller & Townsend, 2005). In addition to the importance of having a reliable and valid measure that captures the experience of urban hassles in low-income adolescent populations, it is important to understand the effects of such chronic stressors (hassles) on such adolescents. While a limited number of researchers have examined the effects of daily chronic stressors on
negative mental health outcomes (i.e., internalizing and externalizing behaviors) in low-income urban adolescents (Attar et al., 1994; Bennett & Miller, 2006; Guerra et al., 1995; Miller & Townsend, 2005; Reynolds et al., 2001), to the knowledge of this author none have yet examined the effects of said stressors on positive developmental outcomes (i.e., subjective well-being) utilizing a stress measure specifically developed for this population. Therefore, it would be useful to gain a better understanding about whether urban adolescents who experience high levels of chronic daily environmental stress have a lower level of subjective well-being. Additionally, it would be useful for those providing services to low-income urban adolescents to determine whether the experience of urban hassles differentially effects subjective well-being in order to guide the development of preventative interventions (i.e., do high levels of urban hassles differentially affect the cognitive and emotional components of subjective well-being?). Lastly, given the abundance of literature reporting the deleterious effects of stress on the psychological and behavioral adjustment of urban adolescents (i.e., stress has been significantly correlated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, somatic complaints, etc.), evidence supporting the notion that higher stress levels have a negative impact on a positive psychological outcome (subjective well-being) would contribute to the construct (convergent) validity of the UHI. Research Questions Research Question 1: The first research question will involve the examination of potential underlying factor structures of the Urban Hassles Index (UHI) utilizing an ethnically diverse sample of urban adolescents. Specifically, what underlying factors
emerging from an exploratory factor analysis of the UHI; also, how do the emerging factors compare to the underlying factor structures identified by two previous investigative analyses of the UHI (Bennett & Miller, 2006; Miller & Townsend, 2005) that utilized the same diverse sample of adolescents? Furthermore, results of the exploratory factor analysis should aid the author in determining whether it is appropriate to include all UHI items in the analysis of the second research question regarding the relationship between urban hassles and subjective well-being in low-income urban adolescents. Research Question 2: Are the subjective well-being variables of positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction significantly predicted by urban hassles in an ethnically diverse sample of urban adolescents? Based on the results of previous research examining the effects of stress on the subjective well-being of urban adolescents (Vacek et al., 2010) it is hypothesized that urban hassles will significantly predict negative affect but not positive affect or life satisfaction. Additionally, based on the findings of previous research investigating the differential effects of various types of urban stressors (Shaefer- McDaniel, 2007), it is hypothesized that urban hassles related to personal safety concerns will be more predictive of higher levels of negative affect than urban hassles related to environmental conditions or social disorganization.
The majority of studies examining stress in adolescents have utilized middle class, non-minority, non-urban youth, and it is important to distinguish such studies from those with a focus on stress in low income, urban, minority adolescents since the stressors facing the two populations may vary considerably (Clarke, 2006). Thus, the following chapter provides a review of the psychological and measurement literature as it relates to urban adolescent stress and the development of measures by which to capture urban adolescent stress. By definition, low income urban youth reside in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. A review of the psychological literature reveals that urban adolescents are at risk of facing specifically chronic stressors such as exposure to violence, dilapidated housing, noise, and crowding, just to name a few (Carr Paxton, Robinson, Shah, & Schoeny, 2004; Landis et al., 2007). Additionally, empirical evidence indicates that stressful events similar in salience to individuals are more harmful in their effects if they are chronic in nature as opposed to singular experiences (Grant et al., 2003). Since low income urban youth are more vulnerable than non-urban counterparts to experiencing such chronic and uncontrollable stressors (Allison et al., 1999; Bennett & Miller, 2006), it is important to examine the impact of stress on this population. Additionally, it is vital that researchers develop and utilize measures of urban stress that are reliable and valid.
Urban Adolescent Stress Goodman and colleagues (2005) examined how social characteristics like socioeconomic status (SES) and race/ethnicity contribute to perceived stress in a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse sample of 1,209 adolescents (54.4% White; 45.5% African American). The conceptual model of the researchers considers race/ethnicity and SES as different but overlapping dimensions of social disadvantage. Results provided evidence that social disadvantage, whether defined in terms of race or SES is associated with increased stress among adolescents. Furthermore, it was discovered for the total sample that being African American and having less well- educated parents were also factors that were significantly related to increased levels of stress. If social disadvantage is associated with higher stress levels in adolescents, one can conclude that adolescents residing in low-income urban minority settings are, by definition, much more vulnerable to higher levels of perceived stress. Reynolds and colleagues (2001) examined the effects of stressful life events on the internalizing symptoms of 1,037 racially diverse low-income urban middle school students. Results indicated that somatic complaints were the most commonly reported internalizing symptom for both boys and girls in the sample, and stomachaches and headaches were the most frequently endorsed somatic complaints. As hypothesized, higher levels of reported stressful life experiences significantly predicted higher levels of somatic complaints. Given their findings, researchers concluded that the higher levels of somatic complaints were associated with chronic exposure to environmental stress (Reynolds et al., 2001). White and Farrell (2006) similarly found that among a sample
comprised primarily of African American early adolescents residing in an urban environment, those reporting more stress (i.e., problem situations, violence exposure, victimization) were significantly more likely to report headaches and/or abdominal pain. In comparison to research on White middle-class youth (Ingersoll, Grizzle, Beiter, & Orr, 1993), somatic complaints are especially common responses to stress in low-income urban ethnic adolescents. Natsuaki and colleagues (2007) examined the effects of stressful life events on African American adolescents’ depressive symptoms in a large sample of 777 participants. Multilevel analyses revealed that stressful life events experienced at age 11 predicted depressive symptoms at age 13, suggesting that adolescents who experience frequent exposure to stress are at risk of experiencing greater increases in depressive symptoms during adolescence. Landis et al. (2007) examined whether the experience of uncontrollable contextual stressors would be associated with increased hopelessness in a racially diverse sample of 796 urban adolescents. Results indicated that higher levels of chronic, uncontrollable stressors were, in fact, significantly and positively related to hopelessness in this sample of low-income urban minority adolescents. With regard to externalizing behaviors, Guerra and colleagues (1995) examined whether economic disadvantage and stressful life events were significant predictors of aggression (as rated by teachers and peers) among a large, ethnically diverse sample of urban elementary school children (45% African American, 36% Hispanic, and 18% Caucasian). Results indicated that for the total sample (as well as subgroups divided by gender, ethnicity, and grade level), both life events stress and neighborhood violence
stress significantly predicted aggression, such that children experiencing more frequent incidents of negative life events and neighborhood violence stress displayed more aggressive behaviors. Schmeelk-Cone and Zimmerman (2003) performed a five-year longitudinal analysis of chronic stress in a sample of 421 African American adolescents, examining the effects of chronic stress on both internalizing and externalizing variables including depression, anxiety, social support, antisocial behaviors, and academic success. Adolescents with lower stress levels over time reported fewer psychological problems and more social support, and they were more likely than their higher-stress counterparts to graduate from high school. Adolescents with higher, chronic stress levels engaged in more antisocial behaviors, reported fewer healthy coping skills, and they reported higher levels of anxiety and depression. Li, Nussbaum, and Richards (2007) examined a variety of risk and protective factors on the psychological adjustment, as measured by both internalizing and externalizing symptoms, of a sample of 263 urban African American adolescents. Risk factors included the stressors of exposure to violence, poverty, and hassles; and protective factors included such variables as confidence and family support. As hypothesized, the stressful risk factors examined (exposure to violence, poverty, and hassles) significantly predicted higher levels of both internalizing symptoms (i.e., depression) and externalizing behaviors (i.e., juvenile delinquency). However, it was also discovered that individual variables (i.e., confidence) and family protective variables (i.e., family support) served as buffers against the risk factors, such that adolescents who reported high levels of