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Carolyn Tucker Halpern, Ph.D., Chair, Maternal and Child Health

Carolyn T Halpern is a developmental psychologist; her research aims to improve understanding of healthy sexual development and the implications of adolescent experiences for developmental and demographic processes into adulthood. Much of her work focuses on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), and she is co-PI of a recently launched NICHD/NIMHD-funded study, "Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity, Socioeconomic Status, and Health across the Life Course," that will collect new developmental data from sexual and gender minorities in the Add Health cohort.

A developmental psychologist and Deputy Director/co-investigator of the Waves IV and V Add Health program project, Halpern aims to improve understanding of healthy sexual development and the implications of adolescent experiences for developmental and demographic processes into adulthood. Halpern has nearly 30 years of research experience in the study of adolescent and young adult sexuality and reproductive health in both US and global settings, and more than 140 peer-reviewed publications on these topics. She leads the "Precursors of Chronic Disease" subproject in Add Health Wave V. This project will integrate multilevel longitudinal data to test three life course models of chronic disease emergence within the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) paradigm, including the Fetal Origins/Infant Model, the Cumulative Growth Model, and an interactional Pathways Model.

In addition to her work on the Add Health program projects, Halpern is the PI of a five-year NICHD/NIMHD-funded project ("Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity, Socioeconomic Status, and Health Across the Life Course") that will obtain new interview data for sexual and gender minorities (and a matched comparison sample of cisgender heterosexuals) in the Add Health sample. The project will capture information about sexual and gender identity development milestones and wealth accumulation. Despite the importance of SES to health, knowledge about factors that pattern resources and strains across sexual and gender minority groups is incomplete, largely because of the absence of appropriate and high quality data. This project will provide unique information about minorities who have been followed for more than 20 years, from adolescence into adulthood, and who were not originally selected into Add Health based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The project will test hypotheses derived from Minority Stress Theory to understand the implications of developmental and socioeconomic factors for mental health.

Halpern's work often integrates observable and unobservable biological factors with psychosocial variables in longitudinal analysis. Her publications have examined predictors of sexual initiation patterns for diverse population segments, as well as their health consequences in adulthood (e.g., STIs, relationship quality). For example, Halpern and her research team examined the timing of sexual experiences among populations with physical disabilities in the United States from adolescence into early adulthood, and how initiation timing varies by biological sex, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. They find that, in contrast to unfounded assumptions of the past, populations with disabilities start having sex at similar ages to their peers without disabilities, supporting their needs for similar sex education. This evidence supports and informs practice and policies focused on age- and developmentally appropriate sex education for populations with disabilities.

Halpern is also a co-investigator on other projects, based in both the US and sub-Saharan Africa, that are investigating risk-behavior among youth and young adults; gender and gender-based violence are important components of these projects.

Related Projects

Last Updated: 2020-06-08