Elaine Hernandez Wins Dissertation Award at 2012 ASA Meeting

Mon, August 27, 2012

PRC postdoctoral fellow Elaine Hernandez was awarded the 2012 Roberta G. Simmons Outstanding Dissertation in Medical Sociology Award at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Denver in August 2012.

Dr. Hernandez's dissertation is entitled "The Unintended Consequences of Biomedical Advances: Socioeconomic Gradients in Health Behaviors Among Pregnant Women."

Socially advantaged people are better able to avoid newly identified health risks when biomedical information emerges, and they are positioned to make decisions that lead to longer and healthier lives. Over time this results in the formation of a socioeconomic gradient in health—the unintended consequences of biomedical advances. To gain a better understanding of this process, I consider the role of education, health knowledge and social relationships. I focus on a specific empirical example: prenatal health behaviors among women who are pregnant for the first time (prima gravida women). Over the course of sixteen months, I enrolled 225 prima gravida women from four clinics to participate in in-person survey interviews during their first or second trimesters, and I conducted in-depth interviews with a subset of 41 women at the beginning of their third trimesters. To gain a more complete understanding of their prenatal care, their health care providers also participated in in-depth interviews. The results provide evidence that health knowledge and social relationships mediate the association between education and decisions about health behaviors, but education remains a predictor of health behaviors. I argue that educational attainment serves as a very important upstream metamechanism influencing the way people make decisions about health in the context of newly available information. This example not only advances our knowledge about the processes that contribute to inequalities in health, it also provides insight into decisions about behaviors that lead to unequal health among women and infants.

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