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I research the social stratification of stress, health, and aging. I want to know why length and quality of life tend to vary for different socially defined groups, and how these disparities can  be reduced or eliminated. I see two main paths toward resolving these dilemmas, at least from a research perspective. First, new conceptualizations and measures of constructs like "race," "stress," and "health" are needed. Second, and related to the first, researchers should try their best to bridge disciplinary silos going forward, synthesizing theories and methods across the social-behavioral and biological sciences. 

My current research program follows these paths to reexamine two so-called "health paradoxes" in the United States: (1) White Americans have better physical health but worse mental health than Black Americans; and (2) Black Americans have worse physical health than White Americans even at higher levels of socioeconomic status (SES). While addressing these substantive paradoxes, my studies also serve to blur the lines between racial categories and mind/body phenomena, ultimately problematizing current understandings of stress-coping and population health.

My published studies find that Black-White health disparities stem, at least in part, from differential exposures to and styles of coping with structural barriers to SES attainment. I also find that disparities vary depending on chosen measures. For instance, Black Americans striving in the face of blocked opportunity self-report much better mental health than their White peers, yet have higher blood pressure and secrete more stress hormones in their urine. In another study under review, my co-authors and I find that darker skin Black Americans report more interpersonal stressors and worse health in their striving for higher status over the life course, relative to their light-skin Black peers who report similar treatment and health outcomes as White Americans.

My ongoing dissertation work looks deeper still into measures and mechanisms of Black-White health disparities. In broad strokes, I identify a number of historical processes, including neighborhood redlining and intergenerational wealth, that continue to unduly advantage White Americans and block many Black Americans from achieving the "American Dream" of financial security and well-being.

Research Interests

Social inequalities in health; stress and coping processes; biomarkers of stress and aging.


Allison Aiello, Robert Hummer