I research the social stratification of stress, health, and aging. I want to know why length and quality of life tend to vary for different socially defined groups, and how these disparities can be reduced or eliminated. I see two main paths toward resolving these dilemmas from a research perspective. First, newer conceptualizations and measures of abstract constructs like "race," "stress," and "health" are needed. Second, and related to the first, researchers in this area should try to bridge disciplinary silos going forward, synthesizing theories and methods across the social-behavioral and biological sciences.
My current research program follows these paths to reexamine two so-called "health paradoxes" in the United States: (1) White Americans have better physical health but worse mental health than Black Americans; and (2) Black Americans have worse physical health than White Americans even at higher levels of socioeconomic status (SES). While addressing these substantive paradoxes, my studies also serve to blur the lines between racialized group categories and mind/body phenomena, ultimately problematizing current understandings of population health and stress-coping.
My published studies find that Black-White health disparities stem, at least in part, from differential exposures to and styles of coping with structural barriers to SES attainment. I also find that disparities look different depending on the measures of "race" and "health" we choose to include in our models. For instance, Black Americans striving in the face of blocked opportunity tend to self-report better mental health than their White peers, yet also have higher blood pressure and secrete more urinary stress hormones. In another study under review, my co-authors and I find that darker-skin Black Americans report more interpersonal stressors and worse health in their striving for higher status over the life course, relative to their light-skin Black peers who report similar treatment and health outcomes as White Americans.
My ongoing dissertation work looks deeper still into measures and mechanisms of observed Black-White health disparities. In broad strokes, I use latent structural analysis to identify a variety of historical processes, including neighborhood redlining and intergenerational wealth, that continue to unduly advantage White Americans and block many Black Americans from achieving the "American Dream" of financial security and well-being.