Fellows Present Research at ASA Annual Meeting, Aug 16-19, 2014

The RWJF Center for Health Policy will be well-represented at this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.  Five RWJF Health Policy Fellows in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University will present their research at the conference. The students are: Helena Dagadu, Taylor Hargrove, Mia Keeys, Courtney Thomas and Kanetha Wilson. Each submitted abstracts that were accepted for presentation or poster display.  Also attending will be Gabriela León-Perez. The meeting takes place August 16-19, 2014 at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Parc55 Wyndham Hotel in San Francisco. Below are the fellows and the research abstracts they will present at ASA:

Helena Dagadu (Co-Author: Evelyn Patterson, Ph.D.)

Research Title: "Mortality Transitions and Inequities: Towards a Global Framework"

In this paper, we focus on both developed and developing countries to investigate the role income inequalities play in mortality transitions. Specifically, we investigate differences in life expectancy from communicable and noncommunicable diseases across high income, upper middle income, lower middle income, and low income countries in 2000 and 2009 before examining whether income inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient) has an impact on the transition to lower mortality from communicable diseases for a select number of countries worldwide. Additionally, we present a new framework that prioritizes socioeconomic equity as a pathway to longevity within and across countries. 

Taylor Hargrove

Research Title: "Multidimensional Approaches to Gendered Racial Stratification of Health Trajectories"

Central to the discipline of sociology is the study of how ascribed statuses affect life chances. Toward this end, gender, racial/ethnic and age inequalities in health have been well-documented. However, few studies have examined how these dimensions of stratification intersect to impact health trajectories. The conventional, unidimensional approach to studying the social stratification of health has been to examine how an individual’s position in a single status hierarchy impacts well-being. In other words, previous studies have tended to examine the health consequences of gender, race/ethnicity, and age separately. Other studies have assumed that these characteristics have additive effects, which may obscure their multiplicative role in the production of health inequality. This study extends previous research examining how the simultaneous processes of gender inequality, racial/ethnic inequality, and aging impact health trajectories in mid- to late-life. We draw on multidimensional stratification and life course perspectives, as well as panel data from the Health and Retirement Survey and growth curve models to better understand the diversity of health experiences among non-Hispanic Blacks, non-Hispanic Whites and Mexican Americans between the ages of 51 and 77. We examine group differences in several commonly-used indicators of population health including self-rated health, life-threatening chronic conditions, and functional limitations. Findings from this study provide strong support for intersectionality, double jeopardy and aging-as-leveler hypotheses. By integrating multidimensional and life course approaches to study health inequality, we aim to provide a better understanding of the joint and long-term health consequences of gendered racial inequality.

Mia Keeys

Research Title: Revisiting Early Sociologists and the American Sociological Society: Exclusionary Patterns of Black Sociological Contributions

During the 1920s, in the U.S. and abroad, the marginalization of women in formal sociological spheres was undeniable. It was no uncommon occurrence for a white woman scholar to have found her voice, anyhow, through some form of social activism, supported by a life of privilege; by becoming a major fiduciary support for a struggling white male scholar; or through fares of familial connection to a white man (e.g. father, husband, brother) who, due to his influence, was the vessel through which to “legitimate” a woman’s work. In such ways, women including Jane Addams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (“The Yellow Wallpaper”), and Virginia Woolf (“A Room of One’s Own”) forged creative spaces to explore and explain their personal frustrations about social barriers to the formal sociological canon, thereby contributing to the era’s burgeoning female authorship. Yet, these women were more social reformers than social science researchers.

Contemporaneously, many black Americans migrated from southern cotton fields to industrial northern cities. A New Negro Renaissance—an outburst of creativity—easily characterizes the era, as does crisis of identity and hardship. Access to academic venues by which to study and make sense of societal shifts was often not an option for black men or women. Without the patronage of white beneficiaries, little scientific scholarship existed that knowledgeably spoke to the rampant poverty or deep discrimination facing blacks of the early 20th century. Black creative narratives emerged within this crisis in order to understand oneself and one’s community, thereby producing the literary bedrock of sociological study concerning American inequalities along racial lines.

This paper will predominately focus on the socio-historical contributions to the social sciences of W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright. Furthermore, it will explore implications of current approaches to race discourse in the social sciences.

Courtney Thomas

Research Title: "Higher Education and Stress: Implications for Black-White Disparities in Pregnancy"

Section on Race, Gender, and Class Roundtable

Scholars investigating potentially modifiable factors that may improve pregnancy outcomes have long noted the association between higher maternal education and decreased risk for low birth weight infants. However, this relationship is not typically found among black women, resulting in a seemingly a paradoxical relationship, as highly-educated black women may actually have the highest risk for negative outcomes. Previous literature suggests that college-educated black women may face higher exposure to stress and negative health factors, which burdens them in ways that vary from both their highly-educated white counterparts and black women with less education. This study is the first to evaluate this hypothesis empirically, investigating whether racial differences in the protectiveness of maternal education for pregnancy are substantially attributable to differences in stress exposure and other maternal health factors. Using nationally-representative data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), this study finds racial disparities in pregnancy outcomes, with significantly higher rates of black women with low birth weight (LBW) or very low birth weight (VLBW) infants. Further, there is evidence suggesting that higher levels of education actually increase black women’s odds of having poor pregnancy outcomes, and that stress and negative health factors contribute to their increased risk for LBW and VLBW. Results from this study illustrate the complexities of pregnancy disparities and underscore the need for further research on stress and birth outcomes.

Research Title: "Atlanta and the Black American Stress Experience: The Significance of City Contexts for Health and Well-Being"

Invited Session: Race, Ethnicity, and Uneven Development: Emerging Issues in the 21st Century Southern City

Section on Community and Urban Sociology

Past research has shown that black Americans have worse health than white Americans in nearly every area of well-being, regardless of socioeconomic status. There is a vast literature outlining the negative effects of stress exposure and how such exposure is differentially patterned by a number of social characteristics such as race, gender, and social class. In addition, factors such as neighborhood context have become the focus of many studies,  demonstrating that examining one’s context can provide additional information about social patterns in health relative to individual-level factors alone. Thus, the examination of cities, focusing on their historical and contemporary characteristics, may further elucidate the complexities underlying persistent racial disparities in health. Drawing from classic studies of race and urban sociology, and using the city of Atlanta, Georgia as a case, I argue that southern cities and Atlanta specifically, are more reflective of the black experience in America today. In addition, I propose that examination of the historical and contemporary characteristics of this city, including its black middle class, black businesses and industry, political life, and entertainment, may provide further context for the stress experiences of black Americans. By creating city profiles to examine the significance of this broader context for individuals’ stress exposure and subsequent health outcomes, we may better understand the complex mechanisms underlying persistent disparities in health.

Kanetha Wilson

Research Title: "Access to Dental Care and Health Disparities: The Digital Divide and Other Divides in Dental X-Rays and Treatment"

This paper examines dental health care disparities between blacks and whites using MEPS data on procedures experienced at last dental visit.