Inequality & 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.

Examples of Faculty Research

Gender and Stem

Understanding women’s under-representation in engineering in the U.S. is a national priority. Julie Kmec is the principal investigator on a collaborative NSF-funded project to look at countries where women’s STEM representation is relatively high— Jordan, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia—to identify how cultural, social, political, economic factors shape women’s STEM participation.

Job Loss and Rural Poverty

Poverty, industrial decline, and inequality are increasing concerns in the rural United States. 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.

The Transition to Adulthood in Uncertain Times

Changes in the economy, higher education, and family life have fundamentally altered the opportunities and constraints young people face in becoming adults. 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 maintain their health and well-being and navigate successfully into adulthood. She has studied early work experience and family financial support and their effects on goals, health, and well-being.

Health and Social Networks

Health outcomes are closely tied with the composition of social networks. Thomas Rotolo has used social network analysis to explore how social and economic support networks link to security and resilience in Eastern Africa. His collaborators include faculty and students from anthropology, economics, and the WSU School of Global Health.

Health and Mortality Disparities

WSU sociology faculty are engaged in multiple projects focused on understanding how families and communities shape health and mortality disparities. For example:

Anna Zamora-Kapoor studies the social determinants of obesity and obesity comorbidities with a focus on American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Justin Denney studies how the characteristics of the places in which people live and work shape food insecurity and early death.  He also is a scientific co-director of the Northwest Health Education Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON), a practice-based research network focused on health disparities and healthcare delivery in rural, tribal, and underserved communities in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Dr. Denney is the William Julius Wilson Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and through the WJW Summer Health Equity Fellowship, graduate students have worked alongside him to produce a publishable manuscript on a topic that matches their interests.