Indiana University Bloomington

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Jennifer Caputo

Jennifer Caputo

My research explores how social structures influence the well-being of individuals, with a special emphasis on inequality. This interest is exemplified in my dissertation, which explores gender differences in symptoms of psychological distress using the most recent wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The analyses in my dissertation: (1) provide a descriptive profile of gender differences in distress in Add Health, (2) assess gender differences in the relationship between contemporary adult social roles and distress, and (3) explore how mismatches between adolescent expectations for adulthood and current achievements affect distress, as well as gender differences therein. The dissertation elaborates existing work on gender and psychological distress in three ways. First, I use four outcomes to capture a range of ways individuals express distress (including depressive symptoms, alcohol abuse, hypertension and sleep problems). Second, I explore racial/ethnic and socioeconomic differences in the relationship between gender and distress, which have generally been overlooked. Third, prior work focuses on gender differences in distress in the general population, but recent changes in the structure and meaning of gender for contemporary young adults mean that these patterns do not necessarily extend to this cohort, who are coming of age in a different social and economic context, and need examining.

Findings from the dissertation underscore that there are contingencies in the ways that individuals of different genders, races/ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds encounter and experience distress, and highlight the continuing significance of gender for adults’ emotional lives.  For example, analyses from the first analytic chapter show that for this sample—in which more women than men have graduated college—the gender gap in depressive symptoms that favors men is smaller among college graduates than it is among less educated groups. However, the analyses also show that as women of Add Health become more educated relative to men they abuse more alcohol than less educated groups of women.

My other research projects are similarly focused on inequalities in adults’ health and well-being. A paper based on my thesis (with Robin Simon) explores functional limitation status and gender differences in the emotional benefits of marriage using two longitudinal samples of adults in midlife. Published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2013, the study shows that the relationship between marriage and mental health varies by functional limitation status, gender, and the outcome explored. Dr. Simon and I are investigating health inequalities associated with another major social role in two papers examining parental status differences in health. I am also working on projects exploring the relationships between discrimination and caregiving at midlife and later health and mortality (with Eliza Pavalko and Melissa Hardy).

In addition to these research endeavors, I have taught or served as a teaching assistant for a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses, including designing and teaching a course in social psychology and teaching a section on using Stata within a graduate methods course. I was awarded a College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship for this year, and look forward to completing work on my dissertation and other current projects.