Population Health Projects

Single Parent Families and Young Adolescents' Substance Use

Principal Investigator: Robert Crosnoe
Funded by: NIH

Because early adolescent substance use can be a symptom of current and future maladjustment, the stakes of alcohol and marijuana use among young adolescents in the U.S. are high. As such, elucidating the etiology of early use serves an important public health purpose. In this spirit, this R03 project will delve into an ecological setting linked to substance use: family structures with only one biological parent. Past research documents that adolescents who live with only one biological parent (especially a single father and somewhat regardless of the presence of a stepparent) tend to have higher levels of alcohol and marijuana use than youth living with both biological parents through stress-related, family-based, and peer-based mechanisms. Drawing on life course theory, this project will innovatively expand on this foundational knowledge by focusing on especially young and vulnerable adolescents and by exploring variability in the links among family structure (single mother and single father vs. two biological parent and stepparent families), the focal mechanisms, and substance use across multiple layers context.


The Texas Resource Center on Minority Aging Research (RCMAR)

Principal Investigator: Ronald Angel
Funded by: University of Texas Medical Branch - Galveston

The overall purpose of the Texas RCMAR is to provide an infrastructure that facilitates the development of research on health and aging in minority populations with special focus on the Hispanic population in the United States as well as in Mexico. Special focus is given to mentoring researchers from underrepresented populations. The Texas RCMAR is based at the University of Texas Medical Branch with the University of Texas at Austin being the primary collaborating institution. To accomplish its objectives, the Texas RCMAR will have three cores: Administrative Core, Analysis Core, and Research Education Core. The Administrative Core will be directed by Kyriakos S. Markides, PhD, Gnitzinger Professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB). As overall RCMAR Principal Investigator/Director, Dr. Markides will oversee and promote the activities of the other two cores. The Analysis core will be directed by Yong-Fang Kuo, PhD, Director of the UTMB Office of Biostatistics and Professor of Internal Medicine (Geriatrics) and of Preventive Medicine and Community Health. The Analysis Core will provide methodological and statistical support to promote the research and career development of minority aging investigators, especially those from underrepresented populations. The Core will interface with the Research Education Core to support Pilot research projects of mentored investigators and to participate in an annual two-day conference on minority aging to take place each September in conjunction with the annual International Conference on Aging in the Americas (ICAA) directed by Jacqueline Angel, PhD, University of Texas at Austin and member of our Research Education Core. The Research Education Core (REC) will be directed by Rebeca Wong, PhD, Kempner Professor and Director of UTMB's Pan American Health Organization Collaborating Center on Aging and Health. The REC will oversee funding of five pilot grants by minority investigators at UTMB, UT Austin and elsewhere. An effort will be made to recruit RCMAR scholars through the ICAA network of investigators conducting research on Hispanic aging in the United States and Mexico. Special emphasis will be given to providing training opportunities to Hispanic Servicing Institutions (e.g., University of Texas Pan American) and major universities in Texas with large numbers of minority/Hispanic students and faculty (e.g., Texas A&M University).


Cultivating Connections: An Innovative Approach to Building the Social Supports of Formerly Homeless Youth

Principal Investigator: Stephen Russell
Funded by: LifeWorks Foundation

Youth & Family Alliance dba LifeWorks plans to leverage design-thinking principles and participatory action research methods to develop an approach for helping newly housed youth with a history of homelessness connect with their broader community and cultivate positive social networks to help them achieve housing stability and upward economic mobility.  During the first nine months, those involved with this initiative will work closely with recently housed youth to identify best practices, complete a needs assessment, and conduct focus groups (among other things) to gather the information necessary to design and implement the program.  The following 15 months will be dedicated to piloting the program and conducting a process evaluation to cultivate a better understanding of the program’s long-term potential.


Education, Early Life Divisions, and Trends in Dementia

Principal Investigator: Mark Hayward
Funded by: NIH

Dementia rates have fallen in the US in recent decades. Researchers have hypothesized that the decline reflects the older population’s rising levels of educational attainment, a critical indicator of cognitive reserve. Technological and socioeconomic advances have disproportionately allowed well-educated persons to maximize the potential for a longer, healthier life due to healthier jobs and lifestyles, early adoption of health enhancing technologies, and improved control over disease risks (e.g., hypertension and diabetes)–all indicators of cognitive reserve. The ability of those with advanced education to garner health advantages also may be accelerating, thereby widening inequality of dementia. This study is designed to enrich understanding of how educational attainment is contributing to declines in dementia rates and dementia-free life expectancy, in the US for persons 65 years of age and older. Drawing on the Health and Retirement Study, 1998-2018, the project is organized around three major aims. A1. How has the underlying association between educational attainment and dementia changed over time and for whom? Aim 2: Because early-life conditions set in motion complex adult pathways largely through the experience of education, how do early-life conditions and education combine to influence changes in dementia? A3. How sensitive are the effects of childhood educational attainment, net of early life conditions, to the inclusion of major adult pathways indicative of cognitive reserve?


USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health (Supplement)

Principal Investigator: Mark Hayward
Funded by: USC

The USC/UCLA Center on Biodemography and Population Health (CBPH) represents a unique and highly successful collaboration between the Davis School of Gerontology of the University of Southern California (USC) and the Multi-campus Program in Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology in the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), each of which focuses on research and teaching on aging. Since its inception in 1999, the CBPH has leveraged the unique combination of demographic and epidemiological expertise of the CBPH directors, along with the range of interdisciplinary expertise of CBPH faculty affiliates, to become a leader in the development of the field of biodemography. The CBPH has been at the forefront of efforts to promote theory-based integration of biological measurement into population-based studies and on-going development and validation of biological measurement protocols. The CBPH has effectively and efficiently developed infrastructure and pilot projects to improve understanding and use of biodemographic indicators, increase indicators available to population studies, support more reliable and valid collection of data across a large number of national and international surveys, help introduce genetics to demographic and economic researchers, and made advances in measurement and validation in the field of genetics/genomics that allow population surveys to keep pace with the scientific advances in this area. This application proposes a set of activities designed to (i) expand and enhance theoretical development of the field of biodemography, (ii) continue efforts to attract new and promising researchers to the field, and (iii) enhance our Center's unique role in supporting development, validation, implementation and dissemination of new and better biodemographic measurement protocols. The specific aims of the CBPH will be to: (1) support and foster biodemographic research to understand the multiple and interacting factors that affect population health (with a particular focus on expanding and deepening our understanding of the biological pathways through which experiences and exposures over the life-course impact trajectories of health and how such influences may vary across subgroups and settings) 


Reinventing Criminal Prosecution

Principal Investigator: Bill Kelly
Funded by: Charles Koch Foundation

Prosecutors are the most powerful individuals in the American criminal justice system.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  Sentencing reform -- referring to the nationwide movement away from indeterminate sentencing to determinate and mandatory sentencing -- shifted tremendous amounts of discretion from judges to prosecutors. As policy makers at many levels of government contemplate criminal justice reform, there is little discussion or research regarding the culture of criminal prosecution and prosecutorial decision making, and the role of prosecutors in the bigger picture of comprehensive change. The obvious question is why the American criminal justice system has failed to reduce recidivism. I propose in-depth interviews with District Attorneys or prosecutors who have been identified by a variety of sources as innovative, reform-minded leaders who have implemented recidivism reduction strategies or are in the process of developing or implementing them. My goal is to discover what types of reform they have launched or are considering, the anticipated impact on recidivism, the problems or challenges involved, what the development and implementation processes should look like, and any lessons learned in the course of their efforts. I anticipate conducting extensive personal interviews with approximately 25 to 30 innovative District Attorneys and prosecutors. I also propose conducting a case study of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. 


Socio-cultural Stress Profiles, Stress Responses, and Academic and Health Outcomes in Mexican American Adolescents

Principal Investigator: Su Yeong Kim
Funded by: Sage Foundation

This application presents the plan for a forthcoming conference series and documents the outstanding scholarship and the distinguished scholars that have become a hallmark of the Conference Series on Aging in the Americas (CAA). Building upon previous installments, the mission of the next three iterations is to examine ways to improve methods of defining and measuring social constructs to help advance a bi-national research agenda of Latino aging and health resilience. Specifically, the proposed new conference sequence will examine resilience, broadly conceptualized according to various personal and social factors, and how it affects responses and adaptations to adversity, and health outcomes of resilience (1) living better with chronic conditions; (2) reducing risks of physical disability; (3) protecting brain health; and (4) improving mental health.  


Early Childhood Health Among Latinos/as

Principal Investigator: Robert Crosnoe
Funded by: National Institutes of Health

The children of Latinos/as in the U.S. are a large and fast-growing demographic group at risk of experiencing adverse health outcomes in early childhood. Infants born to Latinos/as have a number of health advantages including higher birthweights, but this health paradox is not sustained into early childhood based on outcomes such as general health status and cognitive development. The recent dispersion of the Latino/a population to “new” immigrant-receiving gateways across the U.S. in places such as North Carolina and Nebraska could further place the health of young children of Latinos/as at risk. Relative to more established gateways, new destinations pose challenges to Latino/a families due to fewer co-ethnic and institutional supports and higher levels of residential segregation. Additionally, because they encompass rural, suburban, and urban locations, new destinations may be more likely to include communities with a lower supply of health care options such as pediatricians and non-profit community clinics. This project, therefore, will address how the geographic dispersion of Latino/a families to new destinations is associated with Latino/a early childhood health disparities.


Dementia and Physical Disablement Process among Aging Latinos 

Principal Investigator: Jacqueline Angel
Funded by: University of Louisville

Disparities in dementia raise serious public health concerns; yet, there have been surprisingly few longitudinal studies on the role of dementia and cognitive impairment for physical disablement processes in the Mexican-origin population. Understanding how dementia shapes physical disablement pathways and identifying factors that slow down or speed up disablement will lead to a better understanding at which point geriatric public health intervention is most needed. We propose to employ a longitudinal cohort study of 3,050 older Mexican-origin individuals the 1993/94-2016/17 Hispanic Established Populations for the Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly (H-EPESE). First, we will use nine waves of survey data to 1) describe the long-term patterns of dementia and cognitive impairment for a prospective cohort of older Mexican Americans. Growth Mixture Modeling (GMM) is used for this part of the analysis. Then, we will 2) estimate the role of dementia and cognitive impairment for changes in physical disablement processes over twenty years of study data. Finally, we will 3) assess differences in dementia-related physical disablement within the group by gender, socioeconomic status, and sociocultural factors. The proposed research will lead to a better understanding of long-term health change for Mexican Americans in late life and an estimation of how many Mexican Americans with dementia need support in late life. Ultimately, our objective is to develop and evaluate a new empirical model to describe long-term patterns of dementia for physical disablement processes that can be replicated with other segments of the aging population to determine the extent of need for specialized long-term support services.


The Influence of Intersections of Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation Discrimination for the Mental Health of LGB Youth

Principal Investigator / Mentor: Stephen Russell 
Additional Investigator / Mentee: Allen Mallory
Funded by: National Institutes of Health

Mental illness costs the United States 1.93 billion in lost earnings per year and suicide, which often occurs in the context of mental health problems, is the 10th highest cause of death leading to an estimated 40,000 deaths annually. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults are twice as likely as heterosexual adults to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. The main objective of Mr. Mallory’s project is to understand how race, gender, and sexual identity discrimination independently and in different combinations are associated with mental health trajectories. He will accomplish this objective with two aims: (Aim 1) elucidating the individual longitudinal associations between race, gender, and sexual identity discrimination and mental health trajectories for LGB youth and adults and (Aim 2) testing three competing explanations of how multiple forms of discrimination jointly to impact trajectories of mental health for LGB youth and adults.


Contextualizing Diseases of Despair: Individual, Family, and State Factors (Doctoral Dissertation Research)

Principal Investigator / Mentor: Debra Umberson
Additional Investigator / Mentee: Rachel Donnelly
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Mortality rates may be stalling, or even increasing, for midlife white Americans (Case and Deaton 2015). Recent narratives suggest that white Americans are facing stress and hopelessness due to bleak economic prospects which leads them to engage in destructive behaviors that drive “deaths of despair” (Stein et al. 2017). In this study, we focus on how job insecurity influences important contributors to “deaths of despair” and we bring to the forefront the role of social contexts, including marital status and state-level social policies. The three primary aims of this study are to examine 1) whether job insecurity is associated with alcohol consumption, prescription drug use, and depressive symptoms in midlife adults, 2) whether this association is moderated by marital status with attention to household socioeconomic status, and 3) whether this association is modified by state-level social policies. As the first study to investigate a range of micro- and macro-level factors contributing to a current public health crisis, this research will have wide-ranging implications for organizations and policies that hope to address the stalling mortality rates in the United States.


Reproducing the State: Women Community Health Volunteers (Doctoral Dissertation Research)

Principal Investigator / Mentor: Sharmilla Rudrappa
Additional Investigator / Mentee: Vrinda Marwah
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This project focuses on the case of women community health volunteers in India, who have spearheaded a dramatic improvement in the country’s reproductive health outcomes despite rigid gender and caste barriers. We ask, how and why do community health volunteers succeed? Moreover, what does their success tell us about the micro-level workings of state power and its capacities to shape the lives of marginalized groups? We will answer this overarching question through a set of more specifically targeted interventions: why do women continue to work as community health volunteers? Beyond their formal tasks, what meaning does their work have for them? How does caste effect their experiences with their community on the one hand, and with the health system on the other? We will conduct 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in two districts in the North Indian state of Punjab with women community health volunteers, official referred to as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs).


Race/Ethnic Differences in Life Course Exposure to Death: Consequences for Health

Principal Investigator: Deb Umberson
Funded by: National Institutes of Health

Since blacks have long had a much lower life expectancy than whites, we argue that a dramatic and overlooked element of racial disadvantage and adversity is exposure to the death of family members. Latinos, on the other hand, have modestly higher life expectancy than whites and much higher life expectancy than blacks. This suggests that Latinos may have similar exposure to the death of family members as whites and much less exposure than blacks, which may be important in the relatively favorable health profile of Latinos in the United States. The proposed project will shift thinking about racial/ethnic disparities and health by focusing on the death of family members throughout the life course as a fundamental cause of lifelong and accumulating disadvantage that affects long-term health and longevity.


Jacobs Advanced Research Fellowship

Principal Investigator: Elliot Tucker-Drob
Funded by: Jacobs Foundation (Switzerland)

Cognitive abilities and academic skills are crucial for individual health and well-being, and for economic growth and productivity in society. Rather than competing with one another, genetic and experiential factors intersect and interact. Across societal contexts, socioeconomic privation and scholastic disadvantage are associated with vitiated trajectories of the neural structures and functions that undergird cognitive development. How, then, do disadvantaged social contexts “get under the skin” to influence neurocognitive development and learning in childhood? Over the fellowship period, a main focus of my work will be on how multiple aspects of socioeconomic and academic disadvantage relate to hormonal, neural, and epigenetic processes, and how such biological processes relate to cognitive development and learning. I will capitalize on data from the Texas Twin Project, a large-scale population-based study of socioeconomic, biological, and psychological foundations of cognitive development, academic achievement, psychiatric health, and behavioural risk. I will focus specifically on how the hormonal stress response system (the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal “HPA” axis) and epigenetic signatures of stress (methylation profiles) relate to one another and to neurocognitive development and learning.


Cinema Smoking and Youth Smoking in Latin America - Supplement

Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Vandewater
Co-Principal Investigator: Narayan Sastry (University of Michigan)
Funded by: University of Michigan

This project will continue the collection of data on children in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) that is currently funded under NICHD Grant R01HD52646. The existing grant supported the PSID Child Development Supplement, which followed a cohort of children in PSID families who were 0-12 years of age in 1997 through three waves of data collection and focused on understanding the socio-demographic, psychological, and economic aspects of childhood in an on-going nationally-representative longitudinal study of families. By 2014, all of the children in the original cohort will have reachd adulthood, and a new generation of children will have replaced them in PSID families. Our goal is to collect information in 2014 on all children aged 0-17 years in this new generation, shifting the orientation from a cohort study to one that obtains information on the childhood experiences of all children in PSID families, who will become primary respondents in the Core PSID when they form their own economically-independent households. These new data will support studies of health, development, and well-being in childhood; the relationship between children's characteristics and contemporaneous family decisionmaking and behavior; and the effects of childhood factors on subsequent social, demographic, economic, and health outcomes over the entire lifecourse for these individuals as they are followed into the future as part of PSID. The specific aims are to: (1) Design and field a new PSID Child Development Supplement (CDS) in 2014, collecting data on approximately 6,800 children aged 0-17 years through interviews with primary caregivers (typically the mother) and with older children themselves (aged 9- 17 years); (2) Collect weekday and weekend time diaries and obtain saliva samples (for subsequent genetic analysis) for all children and their primary caregivers; and (3) Process, document, and distribute the new CDS data, with scale composites, time diary recodes, and links to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Common Core of Data (CCD) and Private School Survey (PSS). The new CDS will provide rich data on a large, nationally-representative sample of children that includes an over-sample of African American children and a representative sample of immigrant children. CDS data will be available free of charge through the PSID Online Data Center, which provides customized extracts and codebooks using a cross-year index of variables across all waves as well as other variable-selection options. 


Cinema Smoking and Youth Smoking in Latin America - Supplement

Principal Investigator: James Sargent, Dartmouth University
Co-Principal Investigator: Elma Lorenzo-Blanco
Funded by: National Institutes of Health

This minority research supplement on The Cinema and Youth Smoking in Latin America study (R01 TW009274) will provide two years of funding and professional development/training for Dr. Elma Lorenzo-Blanco, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of South Carolina (USC), where she conducts research on how culture and gender-related factors influence Latina/o youth smoking to inform smoking prevention efforts. The aims of Dr. Lorenzo-Blanco’s proposed research are to investigate the influence of remote acculturation, a non-immigrant form of acculturation to U.S. culture, on Mexican’s youth exposure to movie smoking and youth smoking behaviors, including youth smoking norms and susceptibility. The
aims of the proposed research project are to: 1) Understand the relationship between preferred language (English vs. Spanish) for movie consumption and movie smoking exposures, smoking-related expectancies, susceptibility to smoking (among never smokers), and actual cigarette smoking among Mexican youth, 2) Pretest and evaluate the utility of additional and novel measures for enriching the assessment of remote acculturation (identification with U.S.
culture and English language preference) by adding questions to the wave 2 survey of the parent grant that tap into identification with U.S. culture and by conducting interviews with 15-20 youth in Mexico to gather information about additional or alternative ways to assess acculturation in youth from Mexico, and 3) Investigate the overtime influence of parents on youth exposure to media smoking, including moderation of these relationships by youth gender.
Data for the proposed study come from the Mexico survey. Dr. Lorenzo-Blanco’s proposed research project will complement the aims of The Cinema and Youth Smoking in Latin America study by examining the influence of movie smoking on the smoking behavior of Mexican youth.


Evaluating Longitudinal Changes in the Human Structural Connectome in Relation to Cognitive Aging

Principal Investigator: Elliot Tucker-Drob
Funded by: National Institutes of Health

Progressive aging-related cognitive declines are associated with limitations in self-care and functional independence, deteriorating physical health, and impending dementia and mortality, even among the otherwise healthy. Identifying and understanding the neurodegenerative processes that underlie cognitive aging is key to developing interventions to prevent or ameliorate cognitive decline. Disconnection theories of aging specifically implicate weakening of interregional brain connectivity as a key mechanism of cognitive decline, but until recently the diffusion MRI data and connectomic methods needed to rigorously test such theories has been lacking. To catalyze understanding of how aging-related changes in the human connectome relate to aging-related cognitive declines, we will apply the latest connectomic and longitudinal data analysis methods to existing data from a narrow-age cohort of older adults (baseline age = 73 years; N = 731) who have been diffusion MRI scanned, tested on a comprehensive cognitive ability battery, and have provided extensive sociodemographic and medical information over three separate occasions, each separated by three years.


American Psychological Foundation's David Wechsler Early Career Grant - Margherita Malanchini

Principal Investigator: Margherita Malanchini
Faculty Sponsor: Elliot Tucker-Drob
Funded by: American Psychological Foundation

In summary, the proposed project tests for the first time the joint roles of cortisol exposure and epigenetic regulation as biological mediators of the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and impaired childhood neurocognitive functioning. By testing, for the first time, biomarkers of the association between environmental stressors and neurocognitive functioning, the proposed project has the potential to provide unprecedented insights into the mechanisms through which environmental disadvantage gets ‘under the skin’ and shapes children’s neurocognitive development.


Nonprofits, Civic Infrastructure, and the Health and Well-Being of Individuals and Communities

Principal Investigator: Pamela Paxton
Funded by: Corporation for National and Community Service

How can we better measure and assess the civic infrastructure provided by nonprofit organizations? Do large nonprofits or nonprofits that use more volunteers produce greater benefits to the communities in which they are located? Does the introduction of a VISTA member into a nonprofit increase its number of volunteers? This proposed project addresses these questions and others related to civic infrastructure, volunteerism, and other outcomes. Using newly-released IRS data on 1.4 million nonprofit tax forms over the period 2010 to 2014, the project will create a database of thousands of measures of nonprofit finances, expenditures, mission, capacity, and leadership. Then, through both simple aggregation and leading-edge text analytics techniques, the project will create new county- and city-level measures of civic infrastructure (volunteerism, nonprofit capacity, and area mission-focus) based on features of the nonprofits located in the community. We will then estimate multilevel models that relate the health and well-being of individuals to the civic infrastructure created by nonprofits in their communities. The Corporation for National and Community Service, academic researchers, and local politicians, administrators, activists, and citizens would all benefit from a better understanding of how nonprofits support civic infrastructure and increase the health and well-being of individuals and communities.


Can Beliefs About Change Improve Adolescent Mental Health?

Principal Investigator: David Yeager
Funded by: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The problem we seek to address is the rise in symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety that often accompanies the transition to high school and that is predicted by social difficulties such as bullying and victimization. We propose a national evaluation of a behavioral-science-based intervention to prevent a portion of this increase. The intervention--which teaches an incremental theory of personality, or, the idea that people can change--has been found effective in some small studies, but the present study will replicate the findings in 20-25 schools. The evaluation study will be a "generalizability replication," meaning that it will examine generalizability (a) across outcomes (by having a large sample and multiple, correlated measures, and then examining specificity of treatment effects to certain symptoms); (b) across student sub-groups (by having enough power to examine moderation by baseline characteristics); and (c) across school contexts (by including a diverse, national sample of schools).


Biopsychosocial Pathways Linking Discrimination and Adolescent Health

Principal Investigator: Aprile Benner
Funded by: National Institues of Health

Incidents of discrimination are part of the everyday life experiences of adolescents of color, and although many studies document the negative psychological and academic repercussions of discrimination, we know almost nothing about how discrimination gets under the skin to influence adolescent health. Yet it is precisely these processes that could initiate racial/ethnic health disparities observed in adult populations, and adolescence is the key time to study these processes since the social-cognitive ability to recognize discriminatory treatment emerges in the second decade of life. My proposed project targets biodemography and the biopsychosocial pathways by which discrimination influences adolescent health and well-being. I have two primary aims for my K01 award: 1) gain extensive training in biodemography that will build my expertise as a population dynamics scholar and 2) test a biopsychosocial model of racial/ethnic discrimination using secondary data from three population-based studies with young adult samples and primary data from collected from adolescents.


Consequences of Substance Use on the Development of Impulse Control

Co-Principal Investigators: K. Paige Harden and Donald Dougherty
Additional Investigator: Donald Dougherty, parent project PI, UT Health San Antonio
Funded by: National Institue on Drug Abuse

This competing renewal of our longitudinal project proposes to elucidate mechanisms driving the initiation and progression of substance use is consistent with NIDA and NIMH's recently outlined strategic plans (NIDA, 2016; NIH CRAN, 2015; NIMH, 2015) prioritizing research on the period between adolescence and young adulthood. Defining features of typical adolescent development are increases in sensation seeking followed by more gradual increases in impulse control (described by the Dual Systems model). The discrepancy between developing sensation seeking and impulse control are theorized to result in risk-taking behaviors like substance use. In at-risk youth, these developmental processes may be further discrepant, which may be one mechanism for increased rates and severity of substance use involvement. The renewal project has been documenting the relationship of sensation seeking and impulse control since before substance use onset (10 to 12 years old at study entry), and this renewal will to continue to assess these processes and outcomes into young adulthood. More specifically, we will continue longitudinal assessments (every 6 months) of our at-risk (due to family history of substance use disorder) and control youth to monitor changes in substance use, impulse control, environmental, sensation seeking, risk and resiliency factors. Outcomes will be interpreted from the perspective of the Dual Systems model, and importantly, this work will extend this model by testing: (1) whether impulse control and sensation seeking develop independently from one another; (2) whether impulse control and sensation seeking development has additive or interactive effects on substance use involvement; (3) how the onset and escalation of substance use affects subsequent development of impulse control and sensation seeking; (4) how processes identified in the Dual Systems model develop among adolescents and young adults with family history risk; and (5) how social and environmental factors influence risk and resiliency for substance use and are interpreted in the context of the Dual Systems model. Interpreting these findings within the context of the Dual Systems model will help to refine and extend the key premises of this model, as well as reveal more detail about developmental mechanisms of substance use involvement. 


Minority Population Experiences of Healthcare

Principal Investigator: Emily Paine
Faculty Sponsor: Deb Umberson
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Equal access to healthcare and wellbeing played a leading role in debates for and against the recent legalization of same sex marriage same-sex marriage. For example, scholars questioned how lack of access to legal marriage impacted the mental health of same-sex couples (Wight et al., 2013) as well as same-sex couples’ access to health insurance (Buchmueller & Carpenter, 2010), and found that the passage of state laws in favor of same-sex marriage increased wellbeing and decreased healthcare needs among gay men (Hatzenbuehler et al., 2011). Less studied, however, are the ways in which the central social institution of healthcare in the U.S. shapes healthcare experiences among individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for increased attention to barriers to care for LGBT individuals using intersectional and minority stress frameworks—a call that remains largely unanswered. This report emphasized that in particular, little is known about the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ individuals who are multiply marginalized—namely, those who are not only sexual identity minorities but also people of color, women, transgender and/or gender non-conforming (see also Grant et al., 2011). Moreover, although in the U.S., LGBTQ activists have prioritized the creation of health care organizations (HCOs) and clinics purposed to increase access to healthcare for the LGBT community, whether (and if so, how) LGBT HCOs work to encourage diverse LGBTQ individuals to continue seeking care has yet to be empirically examined. The primary goal of this study is to understand the healthcare experiences of LGBTQ individuals in light of sexual, gender, and racial identities and the organizational contexts in which their experiences take place. This project is the first to triangulate perspectives of patients, providers, and ethnographic fieldwork across two HCOs: one specialized for the LGBT community and one purposed for the general population. The proposed project is particularly focused on the perspectives of LGBTQ individuals who are racial and ethnic minorities, sexual minority women and transgender men, as they are the least researched yet most likely to have unmet health care needs and to delay seeking care despite being at heightened risk for multiple negative health outcomes (Blosnich et al., 2014; Everett and Mollborn, 2014; Grant et al., 2011; IOM, 2011).


Longitudinal Study of Mexican American Elderly Health

Principal Investigator: Ronald Angel
Additional Investigators: Jacqueline Angel, Co-Investigator; Kyriakos Markides, parent project PI, University of Texas Medical Branch - Galveston
Funded by: National Institute on Aging

This project will conduct two in-person follow-ups of the Hispanic EPESE (Established Population for the Epidemiological Study of Elderly) during 2009-2010 and 2011-2012. The study's baseline was conducted during 1993-1994 when a representative sample of 3,050 Mexican Americans age 65 and over residing in the five Southwestern states - Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California - were interviewed and followed up four times. By 2004-2005 (Wave 5) 1,167 of the original subjects now aged 75 and over were re-interviewed. An additional representative sample of 902 Mexican Americans also aged 75 and over was added at Wave 5 giving us a combined sample of 2069 subjects aged 75 and over. Of these, 1542 were re-interviewed in 2007 (data still being processed), approximately 2 1/2 years later. The study thus far has generated over 170 publications and has provided valuable information related to the health and health care needs of older Mexican Americans. Wave 7 is proposed to take place in 2009-2010 and we estimate interviewing slightly over 1,000 surviving subjects aged 80 and over. We also propose to interview a "focal relative", most likely a child, who will supply information on the subjects' health, family, and financial situation. Both will be followed up two years later in 2011-2012. We expect that we will re-interview 700 subjects aged 82 and over and 800 of the focal relatives. Family members of deceased subjects will provide information on circumstances surrounding the subjects' death, which we have done over the years by using a proxy death questionnaire. Our first and new aim will be accomplished primarily by interviewing the focal relatives who will provide assessments of the older subjects' financial, family, and health situation. We will assess the nature and extent of any caregiving arrangements in very old Mexican Americans and the physical, psychological, and financial burdens of advanced age on the extended family. Given the advanced age of the sample, we expect to have sufficient numbers of subjects entering nursing homes and assisted living facilities to learn about factors leading to institutionalization. Although the rate of institutionalization among Mexican Americans is lower than that in the general population, our data thus far have suggested that it may be rising. We will have the opportunity to assess the influence of psychosocial and medical factors leading to institutionalization. We continue to assess trajectories of change in physical function, depressive symptomology, and cognitive function. We also propose to do a more extensive assessment of cognitive function including assessments made by the focal relatives. As we have done in the past, we plan to rapidly archive the data and to encourage others to use them. The Mexican American population is experiencing rapid rates of aging, and very little is known about the health, health care needs, and financial situation of the very old. Our findings thus far suggest that this is a population characterized by rising life expectancy which is accompanied by increased disease burden and increasing disabilityrates.


Social Networks and Well-Being in Late Life: A Study of Daily Mechanisms

Principal Investigator: Karen Fingerman
Additional Investigators: David Schnyer and Debra Umberson, Co-Investigators
Funded by: National Institute on Aging

Strong social networks (e.g., family, friends, acquaintances) exert positive effects on older adults’ emotional, cognitive, and physical health. Research on social engagement theory suggests encounters with close ties and social groups lead to everyday activities that benefit health. Yet, gaping holes remain in understanding how social networks foster well-being via interactions and behaviors in daily life. Different social partners may serve complementary functions. This study addresses three important questions: 1) Do older adults who report a greater variety of social ties engage in more diverse social interactions throughout the day? 2) Do social partners serve distinct global (e.g., social support) and daily functions (e.g., conversations and physical activity)? 3) Are these patterns of social networks and activities associated with daily and overall well-being? This study includes an initial interview assessing global properties of close ties and well-being and daily processes among older adults (N = 300). The study will use cutting edge modes of data collection throughout the day over four days: self-reports of social interactions collected via handheld computers, recorded conversations (via electronically activated recordings, EAR), and physical activity measured via actigraphs. This research will address older adults’ social, emotional, cognitive, and physical experiences in the following three aims: Aim 1 will examine links between reports of the social network and social partners encountered in daily life. Individuals who report large social networks may interact with some of those social partners on a daily basis, but also report ties to social partners with whom they have infrequent contact. The study considers several modalities of contact (phone, in person, text). Aim 2 will assess how daily social interactions (incorporating relationship type, intimacy of tie, variety of interactions) are associated with daily cognitive, physical, and emotional experiences. A functionalist perspective suggests different social partners serve distinct functions. Aim 3 will examine associations between social networks, daily experiences, and daily well-being and global well-being. Interacting with a variety of social partners may be beneficial for daily mood, and physical symptoms. We also ask whether daily activities (e.g., conversations, physical activity) mediate associations between social networks and well-being. Across aims, we will consider correlates of social networks and daily activities: SES, gender, and age. Prior research has relied primarily on self-reports of close partners. This study will provide a novel investigation of how such reports are associated with daily social interactions, and objectives measures of physical and cognitive activity in everyday life. Researchers have documented the critical role of social ties on health for over three decades, but this study will be the first to examine how social partners contribute to emotional, physical and cognitive experiences and to daily and global well-being. This study sets a stage for future longitudinal follow up of these participants and important information aimed at improving the social lives of older adults. 


Family Exchanges Study II

Principal Investigator: Karen Fingerman
Funded by: National Institute on Aging 

Due to cultural traditions, limited government assistance for young adults, and gaps in services for elderly adults in the US, family ties are a mainstay of support. Rewards and demands of providing and receiving support may have profound effects on each family member's well-being. The proposed study will collect a second wave of data from Family Exchanges Study (NIA R01AG027769) which interviewed 633 middle-aged adults, their grown children (n = 592), aging parents (n = 377) and spouses who were parents of the grown children (n = 197) about their relationships and exchanges of support in 2008. Over 36% of participants identified as racial minority. FES2 will provide an unprecedented opportunity to examine family exchanges over time, factors that influence exchanges, and implications of exchanges for individual physical and psychological health. Aim 1) Describe and explain changes and continuity in support. FES2 will examine variability and identify factors that elicit changes in support over time. Family support may alter due to events in individual family members' lives or in the larger social context. The multi-reporter design of FES will illuminate how changes in support to one family member affect support of other family members. Aim 2) Assess repercussions of receiving support over time. In FES1, many individuals received considerable support, but we know little about consequences of receiving support over time. We will assess effectiveness of support at FES1 in eliciting positive outcomes or deterring negative outcomes in FES2 for different family members. Aim 3) Examine implications of providing support family support. We address a fundamental contradiction in the literature: whether providing family support is beneficial or detrimental to well-being. FES1 captured helping situations appraised as either stressful or rewarding. FES2 will begin to establish links between providing help under different conditions and individual physical and psychological health. A data collection burst will provide unique information regarding daily interactions between grown children and their parents as well as salivary hormones associated with stress (i.e., DHEA and cortisol). Most young adults and their parents report frequent contact and FES2 will be the first to examine their daily interactions. The dyadic data will provide insights into how each party's daily life affects the other and how daily interactions fit into broader relationship patterns. The hormones may provide physiological evidence for theories regarding implications of relationship qualities and support exchanges under stressful versus rewarding circumstances. In sum, FES2 will allow an unprecedented longitudinal examination of support exchanges within and between families from perspectives of multiple family members in a diverse sample. The parent-child tie is highly influential throughout life and has a large impact on psychological and physical health and mortality. This study has potential practical implications for improving support patterns and relationships within families and thus, individual health and well-being.


Sexual Minority Youth Alcohol Use: Risk and Protective Factors

Principal Investigator: Jessica Fish
Faculty Sponsor: Stephen Russell
Funded by: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Excessive alcohol use and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are a leading public health concern in the United States. Excessive alcohol consumption is related to nearly $225 billion in economic costs and over 80,000 fatalities annually. Sexual minority youth (SMY; lesbian/gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning [LGBTQ+]) are at heightened risk for mental health symptoms and alcohol use due to their unique experiences as sexual and gender minorities (e.g., discrimination, victimization). Their propensity for excessive alcohol use puts them at greater risk for adverse consequences, including the development of an AUD and alcohol related morbidity and mortality. Both the National Institute of Health and the Institute of Medicine have expressed the need for researchers to address health disparities among sexual minorities. Despite identifying the elevated risk for excessive alcohol use among SMY and young adults, researchers have yet to build a comprehensive picture of how modifiable interpersonal (relationships with peers and parents) and contextual (school climate) factors influence their alcohol use. Consequently, there are large gaps in the available research regarding how indicators of risk and protective factors differ between heterosexual and SMY and among subpopulations of SMY (differentiated by gender, sexual minority status, and race/ethnicity). As such, there are no empirically validated prevention or intervention programs addressing SMY and young adult alcohol use.  This research program will identify modifiable risk and protective factors across differences in gender, sexual minority status, and race/ethnicity with complementary training goals that will develop the skills necessary to establish a focused career of studying sexual minority health disparities.


Testing Gene-Testosterone Interplay in Adolescent Alcohol Use

Principal Investigator:  Paige Harden
Additional Investigator: Elliot Tucker-Drob, Co-Investigator
Funded by:  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Adolescence is a critical period for the initiation and escalation of alcohol use and for the emergence of sex differences in alcohol use. The proposed research will test how changes in testosterone (T) during adolescence intersect with genetic influences on the development of alcohol use and related risk-taking behaviors. T levels increase dramatically from childhood through adolescence, particularly in males. Adolescent increases in T affect brain structure and function, including neural response to reward. Moreover, behavioral studies have found that individual differences in T predict alcohol use phenotypes, with stronger associations seen in boys than in girls. A largely independent stream of behavioral genetic research has established that genetic influences on substance use and related risk-taking behaviors increase over the course of adolescence. How these genetic influences intersect with hormonal changes during adolescence is unknown, as endocrine measures and behavioral genetic data have rarely been integrated. This gap is partly due to methodological challenges associated with measuring hormones in saliva: Single measures do not fully discriminate basal levels of hormones from state fluctuations (e.g., situational reactivity, diurnal rhythm), while high-intensity repeated measurement is costly and burdensome to participants. The proposed research aims to overcome this barrier to research progress by using cutting-edge technology to measure accumulated T in hair. Hair T represents a 3-month hormonal accumulation and thus reflects chronic individual differences un-confounded with state fluctuations but sensitive to pubertal changes. We will examine the interplay between T and genetic influences on alcohol use in a sample of 500 twins (250 same-sex MZ and DZ pairs) ages 13-18. We will collect data on (1) T in saliva and hair, (2) reward sensitivity using a battery of in-lab behavioral tasks and self-report surveys, and (3) alcohol use using youth-report, parent-report, and school disciplinary records. This approach will address the following specific aims: (1) investigate the measurement of T in hair as a novel method that captures the underlying genetic “signal” better than salivary T, (2) examine T as an endophenotype that mediates genetic influences on alcohol use through its effects on reward sensitivity, and (3) examine T as a moderator of genetic influences on reward sensitivity and alcohol use (i.e., gene × hormone interaction). We hypothesize that accumulation of T in hair will represent a highly heritable endophenotype that both mediates and moderates genetic influences on alcohol use, with genetic risk being exacerbated in high T individuals. We also hypothesize that there will be sex differences in the gene  hormone  behavior links, with stronger associations evident in males than females, thus contributing to the emerging sex difference in alcohol use phenotypes. Given the novelty of measuring sex steroids in hair and the potential to illuminate genetic and epigenetic mechanisms underlying adolescent alcohol use, the project is both high-risk and high-reward, and is thus perfectly suited for the R21 mechanism.


Network on Life Course Health, Dynamics and Disparities in 21st Century America

Principal Investigator: Mark Hayward
Additonal Investigators: James House, parent project PI, University of Michigan; Eileen Crimmins, University of Southern California, Co-Principal Investigator; and Robert Hummer, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by:  National Institute of Aging

This proposal seeks to formally create a research network to understand how and why the United States is increasingly falling behind virtually all comparably developed/wealthy nations, and even some developing countries, on major indicators of population health, despite the U.S. spending far more than any nation on health care and insurance. Limitations in data comparability across nations currently make comparative analysis of these issues difficult, and the proposed network and other scientists will be working to alleviate these limitations.  However, understanding how and why portions of our population exhibit poor and/or worsening health is crucial to understanding America's paradoxical decline in health despite burgeoning spending for health care and insurance. Thus, the network will focus initial efforts on working across many existing sources of data to understand: 1) how and why the health of American women has been worsening since 1980 relative to both American men and women in other countries; 2) how and why socioeconomic disparities in health, especially by education, have persisted and even increased over the past three decades; and 3) how and why racial-ethnic disparities in health exist and persist, while also alleviating in some ways in recent decades. This work will later lead the network to: 1) systematic projection of past, present and especially future trends in U.S. population health and health disparities and the implications for expenditures on health care and insurance; and 2) comparative research to understand what factors have been most important in the worsening of America's population health relative to other comparably developed/wealthy nations. The network will bring together multidisciplinary teams of investigators from three institutions that have been leaders in research on social and biomedical determinants of population health and health disparities: Univ. of Michigan, Univ of Southern California/UCLA, and the Univ. of Texas at Austin. Key scientists from other institutions will be added to the network and/or will interact and collaborate with it via annual meetings and/or ongoing working groups. We seek to generate and disseminate new scientific analyses and findings, and to facilitate development of methods and data that can improve these analyses.


Social Capital at the Community Level: A New Measure and Test of its Relationship with Economic and Health Outcomes

Principal Investigator: Pamela Paxton
Funded by: Corporation for National and Community Service

How can local administrative or digital networking data complement and extend our existing survey measures of social capital and civic engagement at the community level? Does social capital at the community level influence important economic and health outcomes? Or does the economic well-being or health of a community influence levels of social capital? This project addresses these questions and others, as recommended by the National Research Council report, Civic Engagement and Social Cohesion: Measuring Dimensions of Social Capital to Inform Policy. The Corporation for National and Community Service, academic researchers, and local politicians, administrators, activists, and citizens will all benefit from a rigorous county-level measure of social capital that can be tracked over time and related to important social, economic, and health outcomes.

Using confirmatory factor analysis, the project will test new county-level measures of social capital and civic engagement drawn from the IRS, the Census, CNCS, and digital sources and integrate them with existing measures drawn largely from supplements to the Current Population Survey. Then, using a longitudinal cross-lagged panel design, the project will test whether county-level social capital influences several important economic and health outcomes while acknowledging the likely reciprocal relationship from economic well-being and health back to social capital.


Identity Stress and Health in Three Cohorts of LGB Individuals

Principal Investigator: Stephen Russell
Additional Investigators: Ilan Meyer, parent project PI, University of California Los Angeles
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth and adults suffer disparities in health outcomes compared with their heterosexual peers. Minority stress theory suggests that because of prejudice and stigma in the social environment, LGB people experience excess stress that leads to poor health outcomes and health disparities. Because of its focus on the social environment, minority stress theory leads us to predict that the character of stress processes affecting LGBs shift along with improvement in the social environment. Similarly shifting are notions of LGB identity, connection with the community, and the types of social and health services LGB people seek. If we are to achieve the U.S. Public Health Services' goal of reducing health disparities related to sexual orientation, we need to understand the impact of changes in identity and minority stress on LGB health and, using this knowledge, inform public health interventions across the lifespan. To gain this knowledge, we will carry out a longitudinal study using a probability sample of diverse LGBs representative of LGBs in the U.S. population. We seek to compare 3 cohorts of LGB individuals-aged 18 - 25, 34 - 42, and 48 - 55 years old-who are distinct in that they were exposed to significantly different social environments when they came of age. We are interested in ways that identity and minority stress predict health across the cohorts. We will use a mixed method design that allows us to gain knowledge from both qualitative and survey data. We use an innovative 2-stage procedure to recruit a sample of 676 LGB individuals representative of U.S. Black, Latino, and White LGB populations. We assess respondents baseline and annually for 3 years thereafter. In a qualitative study, we use a narrative life history to assess a diverse group of Black, Latino, White, and Asian LGB individuals in urban and rural regions of New York, California, and Arizona. We hypothesize that: 1. Despite readily acknowledging an LGB identity and coming out at a younger age than did older cohorts, the younger cohorts differ from older cohorts in that their LGB identity is less central, they are less strongly identified with the LGB community, and have different meanings of sexual orientation and identity. 2. Compared with older, the younger cohort experience less minority stress related to their own acceptance of a gay identity and coming out, but more external stress, including prejudice-related stressful life events, antigay violence, and everyday forms of discrimination. 3. Members of younger LGB cohorts utilize fewer LGB-identified social and health services than do members of older LGB cohorts. 4. In structural equations, the minority stress model functions equally well in predicting health outcomes in the younger and older cohorts, but patterns of stress, resilience, and health outcomes differ among the cohorts in accordance with findings in Aims 1 and 2.


Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide among Sexual Minority Youth

Principal Investigator: Stephen Russell
Additional Investigator: Arnold Grossman, parent project PI, New York University
Funded by: National Institute of Mental Health

The risk for suicide is a major health concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. This project will be a longitudinal study to recruit and follow a diverse sample of 1160 LGBT youth aged 15 to 21 youth from community-based organizations in three metropolitan areas across the United States. We will use snowball and respondent-driven sampling to increase the number and diversity of the participants. The youth will be assessed four times, post baseline, over a three-year period. These assessments will allow us to determine changes in constellations, magnitudes, and developmental sequences of risk and protective factors for suicidal behaviors with a particular emphasis on the major components of the interpersonal psychological theory of suicide: thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and the capacity for self-lethal injury. We will simultaneously document whether or not risk and protective factors for suicide are uniquely related to LGBT youths' developmental milestones. Our emphasis will be comparing LGBT youth who do and do not experience any suicidal behaviors, i.e., ideation, threats, and serious attempts. Documenting the protective factors of the youth who emerge with positive psychological adjustment is crucial to the generation of knowledge of those youth whose adjustment is compromised by LGBT-related experiences emanating from society's negative view of youth who do not conform to sexual and gender role expectations. The knowledge we generate will allow us to more accurately assess LGBT youth at risk for suicidal behaviors, identify those risk factors that are malleable to change at various developmental milestones, and to create preventive messaging and intervention models that simultaneously increase protective factors and reduce risk factors.


Risk Behaviors in Preadolescent Boys

Principal Investigator: Delida Sanchez
Additional Investigators: Robert Crosnoe, Co-Investigator and Tiffany Whittaker, Co-Investigator
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Perceived discrimination is a concrete aspect of racism with well-documented health implications for people of color in the U.S. Importantly, such health disparities related to perceived discrimination are clearly evident among Latino youth, the largest racial/ethnic minority segment of the increasingly diverse American child population and a particularly vulnerable group subjected to discriminatory treatment. To date, the growing literature on the health implications of perceived discrimination has not really delved into sexual risk-taking, which is curious given that it is a key component of Healthy People 2020 and in light of the plethora of research highlighting the disproportionately higher rates of STDs, HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancies afflicting Latino adolescents. Studying this link in this population, therefore, has significant public health relevance, both in terms of promoting sexual health in general and serving the specific needs of youth of special concern. The purpose of this project – which is based on a successful pilot study that already addressed many of the practical barriers to studying this topic in this population – is to test the pathways through which perceived discrimination affects Latino preadolescents’ sexual risk behaviors and identify culturally congruent developmental processes that support sexual health. We extended this model to include the role of Latino gender role attitudes (e.g., traditional machismo vs. egalitarian or “caballerismo” attitudes) to identify culturally congruent developmental processes that support sexual health. The study has the following aims: 1) Examine the link between perceived discrimination and sexual risk behaviors in a sample of low-income preadolescent Latino boys attending middle schools in Texas; 2) Investigate the mediating role of psychological distress and substance use on sexual risk behaviors; and, 3) Examine the link between Latino gender roles (traditional machismo attitudes vs. egalitarian or “caballerismo” attitudes) and sexual risk behaviors. Studying these links within this age group (11-14) during the sensitive period of early adolescence, when Latino youth are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, and before sexual activity becomes common has significant public health relevance, both in terms of promoting sexual health in general as well as serving the specific needs of Latino youth. An innovative contribution of this study is that it seeks to map more specific contextual, behavioral and cultural pathways onto sexual risk behaviors, which may help identify preadolescents who may transition to sexual activity early, and can help enhance culturally-based prevention and intervention programs for Latino adolescents.  The successful completion of this project will lead to a multi-site R01 proposal to identify cultural resilience pathways to behavioral health outcomes in a diverse population of youth. The long-term goal of this line of research is to reduce disparities in negative sexual health outcomes affecting low-SES Latino adolescents and similar high-risk underserved youth populations. 


The Right to Kill: Guns, Justified Homicide, and the Future of American Democracy

Principal Investigator: Harel Shapira
Funded by: Carnegie Corporation of New York

While Americans have long used guns for hunting and target-shooting, it is only in the last forty years that they have broadly embraced guns as part of everyday protection. Moreover, while the American government has long protected the rights of gun owners, the recent passage of laws such as concealed carry and “Stand Your Ground” have dramatically expanded Americans’ ability to own, carry and use guns in self-defense. Today, about a third of American households have a gun, and between 8 and 11 million Americans have licenses to carry a gun with them nearly everywhere they go. But how do people become capable of destroying another human being and what do such
capabilities mean for democracy? This is the question my research asks. The research will consist of a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. The qualitative component consists primarily of ethnographic and interview research with gun owners in Texas and Massachusetts. Quantitative data collection will consist of analyzing statistical data that has been previously obtained regarding gun ownership and gun owners, as well as submitting Freedom of Information Requests to obtain police reports for incidences of justifiable homicide. These reports will be analyzed using content analysis techniques.


Cortisol, Socioeconomic Status, and Genetic Influences on Cognitive Development

Principal Investigator: Elliot Tucker-Drob
Additional Investigators: Paige Harden, Co-Investigator
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Cortisol (CORT), a steroid hormone that is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, is a well-established biomarker for chronic stress and stress reactivity. HPA axis function is a cross-cutting physiological mechanism linked to individual differences in an array of psychiatric, health, and social outcomes, including childhood cognition. Childhood cognition, in turn, is itself a cross-cutting mechanism underlying individual differences in psychiatric disorders, physical health, and human capital across the lifespan. Previous research has conceptualized CORT as a response to environmental stress and disadvantage, as chronically elevated CORT is associated with low socioeconomic status (SES) and partially mediates the SES-cognition association. However, the genetic underpinnings of individual differences in CORT are poorly understood. Moreover, animal research has found that glucocorticoid responses to early stressful rearing experiences change the expression of genes involved in neural development. This suggests that CORT may also interact with genetic influences on child cognition, and may be a mechanism that underlies gene × SES interactions observed in previous research. This project will examine the relations between genes, SES, CORT, and childhood cognition using both biometric and molecular genetic approaches. We will recruit a diverse sample of 700 same-sex twin pairs (50% monozygotic, total N = 1400 children) in grades 3-5 identified from public school rosters in two major metropolitan areas. Multi-method data will be collected from numerous sources, including (a) parent and child survey responses; (b) in-laboratory cognition and achievement testing; (c) cumulative individual-level educational records with school grades and performance on state-mandated achievement tests; (d) administrative data from state and federal agencies on neighborhood context and school quality; (e) in-laboratory cortisol reactivity and recovery in response to an acute psychosocial stressor; (f) repeated in-home assessments of cortisol diurnal rhythm; (g) accumulated cortisol levels in hair, and (h) salivary DNA samples, which we will genotype for polymorphisms in the biological CORT pathway. This combination of behavioral genetic, genotypic, educational, endocrine, and demographic data will allow us to (1) examine the genetic etiology of HPA axis function, as indexed by multiple measures of CORT output, using both twin and measured-gene methodologies; (2) test the genetic and environmental mechanisms by which CORT output is associated with child cognition; (3) test whether CORT, as well as genetic polymorphisms in the CORT pathway, interact with latent genetic influences on cognition, as estimated in a twin model (gene × hormone and gene × gene interactions). This innovative and interdisciplinary project will break new ground in understanding the etiology of individual differences in HPA axis function and its relations to socioeconomic disadvantage and cognitive development in children.


Relationships and Health: Comparing Union Types

Principal Investigator: Debra Umberson
Funded by: National Institute on Aging

Married heterosexuals enjoy greater health and longevity than the unmarried, and the importance of marriage for health increases as people age. However, since same-sex couples cannot legally marry in most parts of the United States, we know very little about the health implications of marriage for aging gays and lesbians. This project will provide the first in-depth and systematic analysis of legal marriage and health to compare, gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples. The major goal of the project is to assess how married men and women promote or deter one another’s health, and how these processes vary across gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriages. The primary focus of this project is on revealing the pathways and processes through which gay, lesbian, and heterosexual spouses influence each other’s  health, therefore we will collect new data and use an analytic approach that is uniquely suited to addressing issues of process. The R21 period will be used to construct a novel three-part mixed-methods dataset. We will conduct face-to-face 60-minute baseline surveys with open and closed-ended responses, and collect 14 days of daily process data from both spouses in 60 gay marriages, 60 lesbian marriages, and 60 heterosexual marriages (N=360 individuals, 180 couples, 5,040 diary days). Daily process (also known as diary) data are uniquely suited to investigating psychosocial processes that unfold in daily interactions with spouses, while also accounting for the contexts of those interactions. The diary data obtained from both spouses in each marriage will be analyzed in tandem to assess daily fluctuation in spousal dynamics and health outcomes (i.e., health behaviors, psychological state, and physical health symptoms) as well as mechanisms (e.g., stress, social support) that link spousal dynamics to health outcomes. Open-ended questions from the baseline survey and previously collected in-depth interview data will also provide qualitative data to analyze meanings and processes that explain and elucidate significant patterns revealed in the daily process analysis. This mixed methods project will inform health policy involving the gendered dynamics through which marriage influences health across couple type. We must identify areas of greatest risk and resilience for men and women in gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriage to ground the most effective strategies for policy and practice.


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