Advisor: Dr. Jeralynn Cossman
Many studies of adult health postulate that elements of socioeconomic status (SES), including educational attainment, precede or predict health outcomes. But, much of this research investigates adult health outcomes, which, along with the risks and societal stressors shaping them, actually take root much earlier in life – often well before the onset of education. Further evidence demonstrates that experiences with poor health early in the life course can have detrimental effects on academic attainment, which in turn circularly affects SES and health in later stages of the life course and across generations. Research has also shown that the relationships between health and education are context dependent, and much of the information available to date on inequalities and health focus primarily on urban and suburban populations, and often in wealthier nations. Guided by cumulative inequality theory my dissertation will use ethnography to unpack how experiencing poor health in adolescence for self or family differs by sociodemographic and environmental factors and through what ways and means health may or may not affect educational attainment among a cohort of rural Appalachian high school students. Observations in the school, community and students’ homes paired with student and family interviews and surveys about stressors, coping resources and strategies and health will allow for an exploration of how inequalities are produced, and reproduced across generations. In addition to improving the explanation of the fundamental social processes that shape the attainment of health and education in rural America, it is my hope that my dissertation will inform policies and interventions aimed at addressing socioeconomic factors with the goal of improving health and education, and reducing inequities in both.