A large literature shows important effects of self-esteem and stress on mental and physical health in young adulthood. Negative life events are one type of stressor associated with poor health, but it is less clear whether more neutral stressors are also associated with poor health. This study contributes to the existing literature by investigating the association between different types of stressful life events, self-esteem, and health during the transition from adolescence to early adulthood in Switzerland.
We draw on the “Transitions from Education to Employment” (TREE) panel study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of a cohort of Swiss young adults, using logistic regression analysis. The study includes eight waves over a 10-year period, from 2001, average age 16, to 2010, average age 26. Our dependent variable is a dichotomized health self-assessment, and key independent variables include self-esteem and three measures of cumulative significant life events (SLEs): total cumulative SLEs, cumulative negative SLEs, and cumulative neutral SLEs.
Self-esteem had a significant positive impact on health, whereas cumulative SLEs had a significant negative impact. Negative SLEs had a larger negative impact than total SLEs, and neutral SLEs had a smaller impact. Considered individually, negative SLEs were more likely to have a significant negative impact on health.
In addition to their known influence on mental health, stress and self-esteem are important factors influencing individuals’ general health, even in adolescence and young adulthood. While all types of stressors have a negative impact on health, the negative stressors seem to have more prominent effects than neutral stressors.