The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a simple, practical, and highly reliable instrument for measuring levels of stress. Stress is an element in certain health problems, so it's useful to be able to measure it effectively.
The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Last update: 16 January, 2022

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is actually called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, or SRRS. It’s a simple and functional instrument that’s frequently used by doctors and psychologists. In fact, although it’s a very basic tool, it has a significant degree of reliability.

This stress scale was created by psychologists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967. They did so after examining the clinical records of more than 5,000 patients. Their objective was to determine if stressful events were related to the development of diseases.

To establish this, the patients were asked to order a list of stressful events and award each of them a score. The instrument was applied several times and the results were always rather similar. Therefore, it was found that there was a correlation between illness and traumatic or stressful events. Hence, the stress scale was born.

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

-Lee Iacocca-

Using the stress scale

In the light of their research, Holmes and Rahe compiled a list. It contains 43 items. Each of them corresponds to a stressful event. In front of each event is a number. This number indicates the degree to which the event can affect a person, according to the studies that were conducted.

Holmes and Rahe’s stress scale ranges from one to one hundred. The higher the number, the more likely the event is to impact health. Likewise, if the number is low, the likelihood of stress is also low. However, the results are obtained from the total sum of the items. For example, if an individual has experienced a situation with a score of 30 and another with a score of 55, their stress level will be 85.

If you want to complete the stress scale, you look at the list and circle the events that have taken place in your personal life in the last year. Then, at the end, you add up all your scores. If the result is 150, your health risk is medium-low. If it’s 200 or more, you’re at risk. However, if it adds up to 300 or more, your risk is extremely serious.

There are 43 items on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. Some events on the list are clearly stressful. However, at first glance, others may seem neutral or even positive. Nevertheless, as we mentioned earlier, the list has been compiled in accordance with meticulous research.

The scores on the scale

The items and their respective scores are as follows:

  • Death of spouse: 100
  • Divorce: 73
  • Marital separation: 65
  • Jail term: 63
  • Death of close family member: 63
  • Personal injury or illness: 53
  • Marriage: 50
  • Fired at work: 47
  • Marital reconciliation: 45
  • Retirement: 45
  • Change in health of family member: 44
  • Pregnancy: 40
  • Sex difficulties: 39
  • Gain of new family member: 39
  • Business readjustment: 39
  • Change in financial state: 38
  • Death of close friend: 39
  • Change to a different line of work: 36
  • Change in number of arguments with spouse: 35
  • A large mortgage or loan: 31
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan: 30
  • Change in responsibilities at work: 29
  • Son or daughter leaving home: 29
  • Trouble with in-laws: 29
  • Outstanding personal achievement: 28
  • Spouse begins or stops work: 26
  • Begin or end school/college: 26
  • Change in living conditions: 25
  • Revision of personal habits: 24
  • Trouble with boss: 23
  • Change in work hours or conditions: 20
  • A change in residence: 20
  • Change in school/college: 20
  • Change in recreation: 19
  • A change in church activities: 19
  • Change in social activities: 18
  • A moderate loan or mortgage: 17
  • Change in sleeping habits: 16
  • Change in number of family get-togethers: 15
  • A change in eating habits: 15
  • Vacation: 13
  • Christmas: 12
  • Minor violations of the law: 11
A seemingly distressed man.

Adaptations and criticisms

The stress scale has been questioned in terms of its reliability and validity on several occasions. For instance, it’s been suggested that perhaps it was only valid for North American society, since the entire study was carried out in the United States. However, and to the surprise of many, the research was replicated as far afield as Belgium, Japan, and Chile with similar results.

Recently, it’s been suggested that, due to the age of the study, it perhaps no longer corresponds to the perception of contemporary generations. This could be true. However, again, other similar experiments demonstrate that, in general terms, all the items continue to be valid.

Nevertheless, current researchers have detected a difference between men’s and women’s answers to the stress scale. Likewise, there’s a difference between rich and poor. However, these variations aren’t high enough to be considered significant.

Therefore, it can be said that the Holmes and Rahe scale is still a valid instrument for measuring levels of stress. For this reason, it’s worth having to hand as an indicator of the risk of psychological illness.

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  • Acuña, L., García, D. A. G., & Bruner, C. A. (2012). La escala de reajuste social de Holmes y Rahe en México: Una revisión después de 16 años. Revista Mexicana de Psicología, 29(1), 16-32.