Is Rising GDP Making Life More Stressful?

Therese Relucio, Stewart AM period, Honorbound

How often do we walk through these hallowed Ursuline halls, and at every corner, we’ll hear some poor girl saying, “I’m literally so stressed out, I got like 3 hours of sleep”? For the typical Ursuline girl, the word “stress” is ubiquitous and not uncommon, mostly because of school and life in general. But there is a low probability that a typical Ursuline girl would blame their stress on the gross domestic product of the United States. Most girls would probably think that gross domestic product is the last thing causing their stress (and place an emphasis on “gross”), because, actually, most girls probably wouldn’t even know what GDP really is.

Gross Domestic Product “represents the total value of all goods and services produced in an economy,” and according to Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics, it is “a decent measure of our well-being.”[1] If that statement is true, the higher the GDP is, the better an economy is doing, and the better an economy is doing, the better off people are. Right? Not exactly.

Wheelan mentions a paradox that “rising GDP seems to come with a perception that life is getting more stressful and difficult, not less.”[1] (I knew my opening sentiments of stressed Ursuline girls had a point somewhere.) It is called a paradox for a reason; it makes no sense that an index meant to measure people’s happiness based on the state of its economy also measured how stressed they were. An easier way to explain this paradox?

Let’s say that Ursuline’s GDP is an all-school cumulative GPA, and students’ “goods and services” were all grades from homework, quizzes, tests, and exams. A high cumulative GPA implies that Ursuline is a very smart school, correct? Ergo, students must be better off because they are so smart and so well-prepared for college. Well, it’s not entirely wrong, but those good grades require resources like effort, active learning, time, and—drawing this back to economics—money. Ideally, the more of these resources we use, the higher our GPA should be. Unfortunately, the possible—and perhaps inevitable—side effect of using these resources is stress. It almost seems as if stress is a resource itself, that we must be stressed to get the wanted outcome.

It seems GDP and stress is directly proportional. According to Jonathan Rowe and Judith Silverstein, stress “comes from the barrage of stimuli, the prolixity of choices, the pressures to perform and the multiplying claims upon our attention and time, which drive a rising GDP.”[2] In English, stress may actually cause a rising GDP. Either way, there seems to be a correlation; one cannot seem to exist without the other. And if GDP has been rising over time in America, then that implies that Americans that are more stressed more now than ever. Why is that? As discussed during a class seminar, nowadays, as time progresses, there is more to learn, more to invent, more to produce, and for the general population, more to do.

You might want to keep the GDP in mind the next time you’re stressed out.


[1] Wheelan, Charles, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 191-217.

[2] Rowe, Jonathan, and Judith Silverstein. “The GDP Myth.” Jonathan Rowe. March 16, 2013. Accessed June 19, 2017.



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