One core question guides my research: How do we explain and redress persistent population health inequities in the United States? With training in interdisciplinary biosocial research at the Carolina Population Center (CPC), I approach this question using insights from the social-behavioral and life sciences. My studies apply advanced statistical methods and various quantitative data sources, including surveys, biomarkers, census data, and administrative records. My research has received multiple awards and is published sole- or first-authored in Social Forces, Demography, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, among other outlets.
I have published extensive work on Black-White health inequities and the stress process. In the area of Black-White health inequities, an influential body of research suggests that residential segregation and lower levels of education, occupational status, and financial resources explain why Black Americans tend to live shorter and sicker lives than White Americans. In two studies, I depart from this work by showing how chronic discrimination can also undermine the health of Black Americans who attain higher SES and move into affluent neighborhoods. The first study, published in Social Forces, shows that Black residents in high-status neighborhoods suffer more distress from discrimination than their peers in disadvantaged Black areas. Discrimination-related distress, in turn, negates the health benefits of living in affluent communities for Black residents. Building on these insights, the second study, published in Demography, shows that dark-skin Black Americans are particularly vulnerable to harsh treatment in high-SES contexts, while their light-skin Black peers report similar treatment as White Americans.
The takeaway from both studies is that attaining higher SES does not lead to better health for Black Americans, due in large part to discrimination-related stressors. This is especially true for dark-skin Black Americans, who report declining health after attaining higher levels of education, occupational prestige, and income during the transition to adulthood. These findings reveal the critical importance of examining health inequities within Black American groups, predicated on skin tone and other contextual distinctions. Fundamentally, these studies highlight the historical reality that institutes of higher education, prestigious occupations, and affluent neighborhoods have long been dominated by persons racialized as White, who still tend to stigmatize Black entrants as dangerous outsiders.
I have also maintained an interest in the sociology of religion, specifically in how dimensions of religious involvement affect population health and stress processes. Most of this work has centered on the topic of religion as a coping resource for structurally disadvantaged groups in the United States. In one study, published in Society and Mental Health, I find that belief in a loving and controlling deity promotes higher self-esteem but lower feelings of personal control for people grappling with strained aspirations. In another study, published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR), I find that belief in divine control buffers aspirational stressors primarily for high school-educated adults. In a third study, also published in JSSR, I show that chronically ill and low-SES groups are more likely than their advantaged peers to turn to religious scripture for coping insights. However, scriptural coping appears to exacerbate psychological distress in these contexts. Taken together, these findings reveal that religious coping resources have mixed and sometimes even harmful mental health consequences, depending on a person’s broader social contexts and motivations for turning to religion.
Besides this work, I have also published over a dozen articles covering related topics on religion and sleep health, social support in religious congregations, disparities in parenting stress, goal-striving stress among Black Americans, and systemic racism in police killings. These studies have been published in outlets such as Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Race and Justice, Population Research and Policy Review, Sleep Health, Journal of Religion and Health, Review of Religious Research, Religions, and Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.