Reducing and eliminating health disparities has been a central priority of U.S. public health policy for the past two decades (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2000;2010;2020). Despite an abundance of research investigating socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in health, only modest progress has been made towards their elimination (Center for Disease Control 2011). Notwithstanding the recognition that socioeconomic disparities in health are fundamental causes of disease (Link and Phelan 1995), most scholars agree that policies and interventions aimed at reducing health disparities must be informed by a thorough understanding of the full range of mechanisms and processes through which they are produced (Aneshensel 2002). In the proposed project, Ms. Kroeger argues that socioeconomic status variation in the structure and quality of intimate relationships represents a previously unexplored mechanism that likely contributes significantly to socioeconomic health disparities. She proposes to explore this possibility through considering the following aims: (1) Identify socioeconomic status variation associated with the structure and quality of intimate relationships experienced by adolescents and young adults over time;(2) Determine how socioeconomic variation associated with intimate relationship structure and quality throughout adolescence and young adulthood contributes to socioeconomic disparities in health and health behavior early in the adult life course;(3) Determine how broader social ties with family and peers interact with intimate ties to shape socioeconomic disparities in health and health behavior. In order to fulfill the proposed research plan, Ms. Kroeger requires additional training in areas such as latent growth curve modeling and social network analysis. Moreover, she requires training to cultivate her ability to critically assess the sociological theory linking relationship quality to individual health and well-being. As such, Ms. Kroeger's team of mentors have carefully developed a training plan to advance her statistical, methodological, and professional repertoire in ways that will allow her to examine the research questions outlined in her proposal and to put her in a position to acquire an academic position at a research university. This training plan includes formal coursework and seminars in addition to one-on-one mentoring from her co-sponsors, and is meant not only to further enhance Ms. Kroeger's research skills and methodological approaches, but also to extend her professional networks, develop her publication record, produce a competitive federal grant proposal, and prepare her for success in obtaining an academic position at a research university.
This project is aimed at identifying relationship trajectories and characteristics that are most strongly implicated in contributing to socioeconomic health disparities from adolescence to young adulthood. As such, the results of this project can importantly help guide educational programs aimed at promoting healthy relationships among adolescents. In doing so, this project is relevant to public health in the areas of fertility, STD transmission, domestic violence, and mental health.