Tracey Anne LaPierre
- Associate Professor
- Director of Undergraduate Studies
Professor LaPierre (PhD Duke) specializes in family studies, life course/aging and medical sociology. Her research projects include investigating the role of non-kin in providing informal care to older adults, examining the relationship between marital status and depression, and exploring various aspects of custodial grandparent families. Recent publications include “Marital Status and Depressive Symptoms over Time: Age and Gender Variations” (Family Relations, 2009), “Estimating the Impact of State Health Insurance Mandates on Premium Costs in the Individual Market” (Journal of Insurance Regulation, 2009) and “All in the Family: The Impact of Caring for Grandchildren on Grandparents’ Health” (Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 2007). She also co-wrote a chapter for the International Handbook of Population Aging on the “Demography of Aging in Canada and the United States.” Professor LaPierre teaches undergraduate class on quantitative methods and death and dying, and graduate seminars on gender, family and the life course, and health and social behavior.
Professor LaPierre is also an affiliate of the Gerontology Center and a Courtesy Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
Family, Life Course/Aging, Medical Sociology, Demography, Social Policy, Quantitative Methods.
In what ways do our social relationships influence our health and well-being?
My research interests lie at the intersection of social relationships and health across the life course. Health is more than just the absence of disease or illness; it also encompasses the complete physical, mental and social well-being of an individual. Relationships can have a positive impact on health and well-being by providing access to social, psychological and financial resources. However, the impact of social relationships on health is not uniformly positive; relationships can also have a negative impact on well-being when the quality of the relationship is less than desired or interpersonal interactions are negative and/or demanding (emotionally, physically, financially, or time intensive). The major focus of my program of research is to understand how social relationships affect well-being and subsequently contribute to systematic health inequalities. Much of my research focuses on older populations or highlights how the impact of social relationships on health may vary depending on age or life stage. This life course perspective is important to the study of social relationships and health because as we age bodies’ change and the impact of various resources and stressors accumulate over time. In addition, the composition and quality of our social networks also change as we pass through various stages of life.
I address this overarching question in diverse ways, using different populations and a variety of quantitative and qualitative research techniques. My research on marital status and health has demonstrated that there are certain points in the life course where marital status has a stronger influence on depressive symptoms than in others, and that these patterns differ for men and women. I have also investigated the relative importance of psychological, social and economic resources in explaining the health advantage of marriage for men and women and found that adjusted household income is the main reason why married women have lower levels of depressive symptoms, and home ownership is the primary reason for men.
A large portion of my current work focuses on custodial grandparents. Through my collaborations with Linda Waite (University of Chicago), Mary Elizabeth Hughes (Johns Hopkins) and Ye Luo (Clemson), we have established that contrary to previous findings (from cross-sectional studies) caring for grandchildren does not have dramatic and widespread negative effects on grandparents’ health and health behaviors. Independent of this research, I have looked at the impact of custodial grandparenting on positive and negative indicators of marital quality. Overall, custodial grandparents were not significantly different than other older adults who were still raising minor children. An exception though, was when custodial grandparents had responsibility for grandchildren as well as their minor children. This may reflect additional stressors and complicated family dynamics that occur in families that experience teenage pregnancies. I have also conducted research focusing on the legal relationships grandparents have with the grandchildren they are raising. Child custody laws in the United States are based on a traditional view of the nuclear family where two biological parents have exclusive parental rights.
The experiences of grandparents raising grandchildren exemplify how current child rearing arrangements don’t fit with this traditional view of the family. This disconnect between the legal system and the experiences of American families creates challenges as individuals enact family roles and take on responsibilities that are not legally sanctioned or supported, and attempt to navigate the legal system to receive legal and societal recognition for their role. These structural constraints faced by custodial grandparents influence not only their physical and emotional well-being, but the well-being of their children and grandchildren as well.
Death and Dying
Gender, Family and the Life Course