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Department of Sociology Inequality and Well-Being
Sociologists at WSU are centrally concerned with the causes and consequences of opportunity and equity. Whether in the context of family, work, school, or the criminal justice system, expert scholars in the department study structured and recurrent patterns of unequal distributions of goods, wealth, opportunities, rewards, and punishments, the mechanisms through which these patterns arise, and the consequences for individuals, communities, and society.

Core Faculty in Area:

Selected Examples of Faculty Research in this Area


Understanding women’s under-representation in engineering in the U.S. is a national priority. Dr. Julie Kmec is PI on a collaborative NSF funded project that looks to countries where women’s STEM representation is relatively high (Jordan, Malaysia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia) to identify how cultural, social, political, economic factors shapes women’s STEM participation. Read more about her project here.

Graduate Students:
Sarah Morton, PhD Dissertation: “The Gendered Culture of STEM”

Related Funding, Presentations, & Publications:
NSF HRD Award #1561430. “COLLABORATIVE: Women’s Engineering Participation in the US: What can the US Learn from Women’s Decisions to Pursue Engineering in Diverse Cultural Contexts?” ($589,200) PI along with Dr. Jennifer DeBoer (Purdue University), co-PIs: Dr. Ashley Ater-Kranov, Dr. Nehal Abu-Lail (WSU-Engineering), Dr. Karen Bradley (Western Washington University-Sociology) (09/2016-2018)

NSF ADVANCE “Women in Engineering: What the Muslim Paradox Can Teach us about the U.S.” ($7,745) PI along with Dr. Abu-Lail (WSU-Engineering) (subcontract of NSF Grant No.0810927, see (05/2015-06/2015)

DeBoer, Jennifer et al. 2017. “Global Women’s Voices: Case Study Descriptions from Four Predominately Muslim Countries with High Participation of Women in Engineering.” To be presented at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, June 25-28, Columbus, OH.


Poverty, industrial decline, and inequality are increasing concerns in the rural United States. Dr. Jennifer Sherman examines the impact of job loss, underemployment, and poverty on U.S. families. Her work illustrates the ways in which cultural norms, moral boundaries, stigma, and shame shape survival in rural and small city settings. She has studied the impacts of these cultural understandings on low-income adults’ decisions regarding pursuing and accepting aid, as well as family relationships and gender norms. She is currently examining the impacts of amenity-tourism and related in-migration on poverty and inequality in the rural West, focusing on issues including social divisions and changing meanings of community, rural gentrification, housing shortages, and evictions.

Graduate Students:

Marisa Cervantes, MA Thesis: “‘Isn’t That The Cycle?’: An Examination of the Intergenerational Transmission of Violence Among Low-Income Women”

Ella McCalidaine

Morgan Montanez

Namrata Ray


Related Funding, Presentations, & Publications:
Sherman, Jennifer. 2015. The American Sociological Association, Sydney S. Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy Community Action Research Award. Principal Investigator. “Amenity Tourism and Inequality in Rural Washington.” ($3,000).

Tickamyer, Ann, Jennifer Sherman, and Jennifer Warlick, editors. Forthcoming. Rural Poverty in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Sherman, Jennifer. 2016. “‘Stress I don’t Need’: Gender Expectations and Relationship Struggles amongst the Poor.” Journal of Marriage and Family.

Sherman, Jennifer. 2013. “Surviving the Great Recession: Growing Need and the Stigmatized Safety Net.” Social Problems 60(40): 409-432.

Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. “Bend to Avoid Breaking: Job Loss, Gender Norms, and Family Stability in Rural America.” Social Problems 56(4): 599-620.

Jennifer Sherman, “Rural Decline, Moral Capital, and Political Preferences: Lessons from the Rural West.” To be presented as part of the Rural Sociological Society Mini-Conference, “The 2016 Elections: Past, Current and Future Rural Voting Patterns and Influences on Rural Politics,” Columbus, Ohio, July 28, 2017.
Jennifer Sherman, “A house before I was 40”: Gentrification, Housing Scarcity, and Poverty in the Amenity-Rich Rural West. To be presented to the Poverty Session at the 112th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal, Quebec, August 12-15, 2017.


Changes in the economy, higher education, and family life have fundamentally altered the opportunities and constraints young people face in becoming adults. Dr. Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson studies changing educational and employment opportunities for teenagers and young adults. She explores how social psychological resources and orientations are differentially developed based on unequal early life circumstances and the role these play in helping young people navigate successfully into adulthood and maintain their health and well-being. She has studied early work experience and family financial support and their effects on goals, health, and well-being.

Graduate Students:
James McCall, MA Thesis (December 2016): “Sequencing of a College Bachelor’s Degree with Family Formation during the Transition to Adulthood: Implications for Well-Being.”

Marisa Cervantes

Gina Castillo

Clair (Xiaoqu) Huang

Adam McKee


Related Funding, Presentations, & Publications:
Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick, and Steven Hitlin. 2017. Family (Dis)advantage and Life Course Expectations. Social Forces 95(3):997-1022.
Shanahan, Michael J., Jeylan T. Mortimer, and Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson (Eds). 2016. Handbook of the Life Course, Volume 2. Springer.
Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick, Jeremy Staff, Megan E. Patrick and John E. Schulenberg. 2016. “Adolescent Adaptation Before, During, and in the Aftermath of the Great Recession in the United States.” International Journal of Psychology.

Hitlin, Steven and Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson. 2015. “Reconceptualizing Agency within the Life Course: The Power of Looking Ahead.” American Journal of Sociology 120:1429-1472.
Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick, and Jeylan T. Mortimer. 2015. “Parents’ Work and Financial Conditions in the Great Recession and Adolescents’ Work Values.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 87:89-100.


Health outcomes are closely tied with the composition of social networks. Dr. Thomas Rotolo has used social network analysis to explore how social and economic support networks link to security and resilience in Eastern Africa.  Collaborators with this research have included faculty and students from Anthropology, Economics, and Global Animal Health.

Graduate Students:

Adam Roth, MA (Fall 2016): Network Ties in a Pastoralist Society: Social Connectivity Inequalities (Fall 2016)

Related Funding, Presentations, & Publications:

Caudell, Mark, Thomas Rotolo, and Mulye Grima. 2015. “Informal Lending Networks in Rural Ethiopia.” Social Networks 40:34-42


Related Funding, Presentations, & Publications:

Denney, Justin., Jarron M. Saint Onge, and Jeffery A. Dennis. “Neighborhood Disadvantage and Mortality: Insights for Racial and Ethnic Differences.” Forthcoming in Population Research & Policy Review. doi: 10.1007/s11113-018-9461-9

Kranjac, Ashley W., Rachel Tolbert Kimbro, Justin T Denney, Kristin M. Osiecki, Brady S. Moffett, and Keila N. Lopez. 2017 “Comprehensive Neighborhood Portraits and Child Asthma Disparities.” Maternal and Child Health Journal 21(7): 1552-1562. doi:10.1007/s10995-017-2286-z