International Trade Research Paper Assignment on Race Gender and Chains of Disadvantages

Race, Gender, and Chains
of Disadvantage: Childhood
Adversity, Social
Relationships, and Health
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
2014, Vol. 55(1) 20-38
© American Sociological Association 20 1 4
DOI: 1 0. 1 1 77/0022 1 465 1 452 1 426
Debra Umberson1, Kristi Williams2, Patricia A. Thomas3,
Hui Liu4, and Mieke Beth Thomeer1
We use a life course approach to guide an investigation of relationships and health at the nexus of race and
gender. We consider childhood as a sensitive period in the life course, during which significant adversity
may launch chains of disadvantage in relationships throughout the life course that then have cumulative
effects on health over time. Data from a nationally representative panel study (Americans’ Changing Lives,
N = 3,477) reveal substantial disparities between black and white adults, especially pronounced among
men, in the quality of close relationships and in the consequences of these relationships for health. Greater
childhood adversity helps to explain why black men have worse health than white men, and some of
this effect appears to operate through childhood adversity’s enduring influence on relationship strain in
adulthood. Stress that occurs in adulthood plays a greater role than childhood adversity in explaining racial
disparities in health among women.
cumulative disadvantage, health disparities, race, relationships, stress
The positive effects of social relationships on
health and longevity are widely recognized by sci-
entists, policy makers, and the public at large.
Sociologists have long argued that the broader
social context as structured by race and gender
influences the formation and quality of social ties
(House, Landis, and Umberson 1988; Turner and
Avison 2003; Williams and Sternthal 2010), yet, to
date, “few studies consider how these structural
variables might modify social tie/health linkages”
(Umberson and Montez 2010:S62). This is particu-
larly important because social relationships may
contribute to or reduce social disparities in health
(Umberson and Montez 2010). A life course per-
spective emphasizes that socially patterned varia-
tion in strains and resources begins in childhood
and accumulates over time to produce (disadvan-
tage in health throughout life (Ben-Shlomo and
Kuh 2002; Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe 2003;
O’Rand 2006; Shuey and Willson 2008). We work
from this perspective to suggest that different lev-
els of exposure to childhood adversity by race
launch chains of disadvantage in stress and social
relationships across the life course, contributing to
inequalities in adult health, and this occurs in dif-
ferent ways for men and women.
Prior studies suggest race and gender variation
in social relationships and, potentially, race and
gender differences in the impact of relationships on
‘University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
2Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
3Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
4Michigan State University, East Lansing, Ml, USA
Corresponding Author:
Debra Umberson, University of Texas, I University
Station A 1 700, Austin, TX 787 1 2- 1 088, USA.