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 in the Workplace

Her research contributes insights into racial and gender equity across various organizational settings. Her recent research explores how work organizations perpetuate inequality. She has studied  the ways employers support efforts to promote diversity initiatives, and how their efforts are shaped by the features of racialized organizations. She also studies the interplay between organizational context, gender beliefs, and responses to sexual harassment as well as the organizational characteristics related to gendered leadership in non-profits.  Most recently, she has worked with collaborators to understand the publics’ impression of university DEI efforts. 

Understanding women’s under-representation in engineering in the U.S. is a national priority. Julie Kmec has worked 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.

Rural Poverty and Inequality

Poverty, economic decline, and inequality are increasing concerns in the rural United States. Jennifer Sherman examines the impact of job loss, underemployment, and poverty on rural U.S. families and communities. Her work illustrates the ways in which moral boundaries, stigma, and shame shape survival in rural settings. She has studied the impacts of rural poverty and inequality on adults’ decisions regarding pursuing and accepting aid, as well as family relationships and gender norms. She has also examined 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, and housing shortages. Currently, she is studying the drivers and impacts of rural jail incarceration, and its intersections with poverty, social inequality, and the structural challenges faced by rural communities.

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 uses sociological tools to understand the social determinants of health and health disparities. She has applied her analytical skills to study the unique conditions of minority populations suffering a disproportionate burden of disease, such as American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Hispanic Americans. She works on grants committed to not just understanding health disparities but also testing interventions with the potential to improve health outcomes in the most underserved populations. More recently, she is leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve cancer screenings in a rural community. She funds at least one graduate student every summer and has previously collaborated with students in peer-reviewed publications and book chapters.

Justin Denney studies how the social and economic characteristics of people and places impact a variety of health and well-being outcomes, such as food insecurity, mental and physical health, and mortality. He 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 published manuscripts focused on the social determinants of health disparities.