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Population Health Projects

Conference Series on Aging in the Americas: United States and Mexico

Principal Investigator: Jacqueline Angel
Funded by: National Institute on Aging (NIA)

The proposed third competing renewal application extends a successful Conference Series on Aging in the Americas (CAA). Previous international-CAA (ICAA) installments have had a distinctive focus and each resulted in peer-reviewed books and special journal issues as published on the CAA website. The next three iterations at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, (2020), The University of Illinois, Chicago (2021), and The University of California Los Angeles (2022), build upon the same very high quality of work at previous meetings to address a new theme that is a priority for the national health agenda. This will be accomplished by commissioning 36 papers, including six keynote speakers from sociology, psychology, demography, social policy, medicine, gerontology, and economics to address three major goals: First, to provide a vehicle for reviewing and analyzing the contemporary social science research on “resilience,” the major dimensions of which are physical, cultural and economic as it relates to enhancing the health, wellbeing and function of aging Latinos in midlife and beyond; and second, to further the development of emerging scholars through their increased exposure to this body of knowledge, developing their individual research, and career mentoring. The ultimate objective of the series is to explore new science and applications of resilience; provide mentoring resources to help emerging scholars develop research program on resilience, serve as a catalyst for developing bi-national collaborative projects; and promote opportunities to use NIA data bases.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Fortune’s Favor: Implications of Behavioral Genetic Research for Distributive and Retributive Justice

Principal Investigator: Kathryn Paige Harden
Funded by: Templeton Foundation

This project will accomplish the following aims: (1) curating public conversations about genetic research in the lay media, (2) reviewing the behavioral genetic literature to highlight similarities and differences among target phenotypes with regards to genetic etiology, (3) reviewing the philosophical literature on conceptualizations of luck, and how luck should or should not be neutralized to achieve distributive and retributive justice, (4) integrate the scientific and philosophical literatures to build a theory regarding the empirical criteria for considering a phenotype a matter of genetic luck, and (5) disseminating the results of our scientific and philosophical integration, with an emphasis on engaging with and informing public debates about the implications of genetic research. Specifically, we have selected target phenotypes related to distributive and retributive justice, ranging from traits proximal to the individual (intelligence, conscientiousness, aggression) to outcomes that operate within a particular national and economic context (educational attainment, income, and crime). Our project will impact both academic scholarship (via writing individual journal articles, presenting at an academic conference, and organizing a scholarly workshop resulting in an edited book or journal) and undergraduate teaching (via a publicly available course syllabus and a series of faculty teaching seminars).

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.

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) 

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

Principal Investigator: Su Yeong Kim
Co- Principal Investigator - Deborah Parra-Medina
Funded by: Russell Sage Foundation

The proposed study is relevant to public health because it focuses on the health outcomes of children of Mexican immigrants, a population with high rates of poverty, low levels of educational attainment, and a high risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It also focuses on the developmental period of adolescence, a vulnerable phase of life characterized by social and physical changes, during which behaviors that are predictive of adult health first become established. The results of this project should inform researchers and interventionists about how to support adolescents in Mexican immigrant families, by identifying how a confluence of socio-cultural stressors may function as adaptive or maladaptive, to mitigate the most damaging effects and enhance the payoffs of growing up in a Mexican immigrant family.

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.  

The Development of Teaching and Social Learning Across Cultures

Principal Investigator: Cristine Legare
Funded by: NSF

The objective of this research is to document and explain continuity and variation in teaching practices and social learning strategies within and across populations that represent the diversity of childrearing practices. This research examines the interaction between the teaching practices of caregiving adults and peers and children's social learning across populations. First, naturally occurring teaching and social learning practices will be examined using focused following, and structured interview data on beliefs about teaching and social learning will be collected. Second, standardized observational data will be collected to assess the teaching practices of adults and peers in the context of imitation and joint problem solving tasks. The naturalistic and standardized assessments of teaching practices will be compared to children's social learning. The observational and experimental data will be compared to examine the extent to which the teaching practices assessed in experimental tasks are representative of teaching practices that occurs in everyday life. Variability in teaching style depending on content, difficulty, and age and status of the learner will be examined. This research will provide the first systematic cross-cultural account of teaching by caregiving adults and peers and children's social learning. Collecting observational, interview, and experimental data will yield a far richer picture of cultural continuity and variation in teaching and learning. This project is co-funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering.

Ramp-Up Phase: The Consequences of Formal Education for Science and Religion

Principal Investigator: Cristine Legare
Funded by: The Issachar Fund

The aim of this project is to help fill in the blanks identified by the big question at the center of Templeton Religion Trust's theme in Social Scientific Study of Science and Religion: What narratives about the relationship between religion and science are preset in contemporary societies, and what factors shape these narratives?  This project will study the changes that take place in religion-and-science narratives when individuals, communities, and societies become exposed to formal education.  The research team will examine the impact of formal education on individual development and population level outcomes across diverse cultural contexts. This project will use an RFP process and three-year grants to recruit cognitive scientists, anthropologists, and educational psychologists who conduct international fieldwork among diverse populations.

The Impact of Ritual on Healthcare Provider Behavior in Bihar, India

Principal Investigator: Cristine Legare
Funded by: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The goal of this investment is to understand the motivations, rituals, and social dynamics of Front Line Workers (FLW) and to use the knowledge to devise solutions for sustainable improvements in the frequency of quality of FLW services to new expectant mothers and women of reproductive age. Specifically, this project will research the community-specific social, psychological, and environment barriers to health-promoting behavior among FLWs which we will use to design and pilot a set of service solutions to improve the quality of care among FLWs.

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.


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.

Doctoral Dissertation: Therapeutic Alternatives in the Criminal Courts

Principal Investigator: Becky Pettit
Co-Principal Investigator: Mary Stitt
Funded by: NSF

This study examines the growing use of therapy as an alternative to criminal prosecution in the United States. Tens of thousands of defendants each year are now offered a pathway to avoid felony convictions by completing therapeutic activities and passing drug tests for designated periods of time. By analyzing the role and consequences of these pretrial diversion programs, this project will contribute to knowledge about the impacts of the contemporary criminal justice system. It also will provide information to policymakers, legal practitioners, and the public as they determine the role that pretrial diversion should play in criminal justice reform efforts and in the provision of mental healthcare.

Doctoral Dissertation Research: How Low-Level Misdemeanor Courts Regulate Populations

Principal Investigator: Becky Pettit
Co-Principal Investigator: Ilya Slavinski
Funded by: NSF

In this project, the practices through which misdemeanor courts manage and regulate populations are investigated. Specifically, this project studies whether and how the courts may restrict and monitor people and whether that varies according to people?s social position. It also investigates how defendants may react to and resist this regulation. This study will contribute to sociological research on and understanding of social control by focusing in its examination of misdemeanor justice not on how courts regulate but on those who are experiencing regulation. Findings from this project promise to better the general welfare of the population and society by illuminating ways to improve the delivery of misdemeanor justice.

The Impact of Romantic Relationships on the Health of Vulnerable Populations During the Transition to Adulthood

Principal Investigator: Sara Mernitz 
Co-Principal Investigator: Stephen Russell
Funded by: NICHD

The proposed project will enhance knowledge about how sexual minority relationship timing and structure are protective or detrimental for mental health and substance use during the transition to adulthood, and identify how relationship-specific processes alter these pathways. Results from the project can be used to inform programs and practices addressing healthy relationships for sexual minority populations. As such, this project is relevant to public health in the areas of adolescent and young adult risky behavior, specifically substance use, and mental health.

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.

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 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. 

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.

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.

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.

Identifying Genomic Signatures of Evolutionary and Cultural Change in Native Americans

Principal Investigator: Deborah Bolnick
Co-Principal Investigator: Debra Umberson, Jennifer Raff
Funded by: NSF

This project investigates how Native American genetic diversity changed over time and across space in response to sociocultural and demographic shifts over the last 1000 years. During this period, Native American populations in the continental US were affected by expanding trade networks, a growing reliance on agriculture, increasingly permanent settlements, and population growth. After AD 1492, European contact led to significant cultural changes as well as disease epidemics, demographic collapse, population restructuring, and genetic exchange with new tribes and non-native peoples. These developments are well documented, but it is not known how they influenced the genetic makeup of Native American populations. By characterizing genetic diversity, this project will help elucidate the genetic structure and evolutionary history of Native North Americans, improve our understanding of how sociocultural, demographic, and evolutionary change influences the human genome, and fill a critical need for genome-wide data from the indigenous inhabitants of the continental US, who have been underrepresented in scientific research and public genetic databases. The project provides research experience and training for undergraduates, graduate students, a postdoctoral researcher, and a K-12 public school science teacher. Educational modules are also being developed for high school and college science courses and for the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING). This project therefore advances scientific knowledge, expands the participation of underrepresented groups in science, improves science education, and increases public engagement with science.

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.

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.

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Braking the ‘Grass’ Ceiling: Women, Race, and Class in the U.S. Legal Cannabis Industry

Principal Investigator: Christine Williams
Co-Principal Investigator: Katie Rogers
Funded by: NSF

This study examines the experiences of women who work in legal cannabis to understand how what it means to use or distribute cannabis is changing in the transition from prohibition to legalization. Drawing on 17 in-depth interviews, I argue that women’s claims that they are engaged in professional, ethical, legitimate labor constitute a moral enterprise that contests definitions of their work as deviant and criminal. Although these claims are ostensibly color- and gender-blind, I suggest that they actually confer racialized and gendered meanings on cannabis that shore up the hegemony of white patriarchy in the industry. First, I show that my participants talk about customers and products in ways that redefine cannabis as socially acceptable for use by women and by people who are white and middle- and upper-class. Next, I suggest that individuals whose embodiments align with racialized and gendered ideals of professionalism can more easily enter the industry without experiencing shame, guilt, or stigma. Finally, I show that some white women describe sexual harassment in the industry by implicitly drawing on tropes of black and brown men as sexually deviant. Considering how race, gender, and sexuality constitute definitions of deviance and normality is important when answering the question of how an illicit labor market is reconfigured during legalization. This study also adds to the literature on work and organizations by investigating how an organization that is historically associated with black and brown masculinity is reconfigured and comes to be associated with white femininity.

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). 

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