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Iliya Gutin

Postdoctoral FellowPh.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Population Health; Social Demography; Medical Sociology; Sociology of Health & Illness; Social Theory; Structural Equation Modeling


I am a postdoctoral fellow at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I received my PhD in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, having received my BA in Sociology at the University of Chicago and then worked at the NORC research organization as a research analyst. My work focuses on the conceptualization, definition, and measurement of health, illness, and disease in medical and social research, and how these decisions influence what it means to be “healthy” in a highly-dynamic and stratified society. Specifically, my dissertation examined clinical, epidemiologic, and subjective ambiguity in our understanding of body weight as a health risk, and how we can better account for this uncertainty in studying population health. I hope to continue this kind of work throughout my career, collaborating with health researchers across different disciplines and backgrounds to achieve closer and more meaningful linkages between the health concepts, issues, and disparities we are interested in and the measures we have access to in our data.


As a social demographer, my research addresses social determinants of population health, using social demographic theories and methods to document the social patterning of emerging health risks in the U.S. As a medical sociologist, I also care deeply about better understanding, and challenging, extant definitions and measures of health and wellbeing in contemporary society.

My dissertation examined individuals’ body weight as an emerging dimension of health and social inequality in the U.S. Amid rising concern about the ongoing obesity ‘epidemic’, body weight has emerged as key criterion by which we assess individuals’ health and wellbeing. Yet, categorizing and labeling people as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ on the basis of their weight has contributed to the growing stigmatization and devaluation of many children, adolescents, and adults. The health and social consequences of this marginalization are profound, fueled by a narrow perspective on what it means to be ‘healthy’ and ‘fit’ in the modern world. Seeking to better understand uncertainty in the study of obesity and weight-related health, my dissertation used a mixed-methods approach to examine the many contexts in which body weight is defined or constructed as a health risk.

Beyond my dissertation, my past and ongoing research projects have addressed similar issues concerning the definition and measurement of health and the social determinants of population health. I have published papers in two theory-based journals, emphasizing the utility of sociological theories for advancing health and biomedical research. In the first paper, published in Social Theory & Health, I argue for a more holistic – and less diagnostic – approach to body mass index in research and clinical practice. In a similar vein, my paper in Medical Humanities demonstrates how the biological reification of race in biomedical research contradicts scientists’ personal desires for greater racial health equity; rather, greater awareness of the social determinants of racial variation in biomedical studies would further efforts to recognize race as a social construct. I also have a paper on the issues in conflating the language and assumptions of unhealthiness versus riskiness in the use of the body mass index and obesity in research, forthcoming at Sociology of Health & IllnessRecently, I have sought to translate these theoretical critiques into empirical examinations of measurement in health research. I am currently working with Dr. Kenneth Bollen on modeling measurement error in the reliability and trajectories of self-rated health, with papers published in Social Science Research and Demography.

My independent and collaborative work has also explored the distal and proximate determinants of health and mortality in U.S. society. I have examined educational variation in the association between central obesity and premature mortality, finding that the relative harmfulness of obesity is higher among college-educated adults relative to their less-educated peers, likely owing to a lack of competing risks. This work has been awarded by IPUMS and IAPHS, both of which recognized the paper as an example of outstanding student research, and was published in Social Science Research. I have also collaborated with my advisor, Dr. Robert Hummer, to document racial/ethnic and nativity disparities in the health of older U.S. adults for a National Academies of Science report, as well as to study the association between individuals’ employment and occupations and working-age mortality in recent years. Building off recent interest in rising “working-class” mortality in the U.S., our project finds that adults in various service, manual labor, and even some “white-collar” occupations – as well as those not at work – are at significantly elevated risks for drug-related deaths. This work has also been recognized by IPUMS and was published in Preventive Medicine. I have also collaborated with fellow graduate students at UNC and the University of Colorado at Boulder to document geographic determinants of early life mortality in the U.S, recently published in Demographic Researchas well as the role of financial losses as a mediator between individuals’ educational attainment and propensity for harmful, despair-associated behaviors, published in SSM-Population Health. Dr. Robert Hummer and I have a paper in the most recent issue of the Annual Review of Sociology on the intersection of social inequality and the future of life expectancy in the U.S.

Finally, prior to my starting graduate school, I was involved in education and adolescent research at NORC at the University of Chicago, serving as a contributing author on studies published in the Journal of Marriage and Family as well as Teachers College Record.

A full list of my published research can be found on my Google Scholar profile.

Curriculum Vitae

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