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Debra Umberson, Director 305 E. 23rd Street, Stop G1800 78712-1699 • 512-471-5514

Jennifer Melvin

PRC Graduate Student Trainee M.A., University of Florida

PRC Graduate Student Trainee; NICHD Pre-doctoral Trainee 2014-2015
Jennifer Melvin



Jennifer is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is committed to producing methodogically sound and theoretically driven sociological research that addresses questions of health and aging, within the context of how race/ethnicity, nativity, gender, and key social environmental factors shape health trajectories in later life.

Her dissertation delves into the troubling patterns of health and functioning among immigrants and racial/ethnic minority groups in our society and asks how socioeconomic status and critical aspects of the social environment (i.e. marital status, living arrangements) shape race/ethnic, nativity, and gender differences in measures of self-care and performance of household activities among older adults. Her research questions include: 1.) How do foreign-born and disadvantaged minority groups compare to non-Hispanic whites on measures of self-care and key household activities? 2.) To what extent are race/ethnic and nativity differences in self-care and household activities minimized once differences in the social environment, health, socioeconomic factors, and physical capacity are taken into account? To answer these questions, she uses data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older. Her findings thus far indicate that nativity combines with race and gender in complex ways to influence older adult health.

Building on the fundamental questions and conceptual framework of her issertation, Jennifer's post-dissertation research will examine how race/ethnicity and nativity intersect and shape health outcomes for immigrant women in later life. While previous work on race/ethnic and gender disparities in health establish that race/ethnic minorities experience worse health across a number of indicators (including functional limitations, chronic conditions, and disability) and men face higher mortality risks while women experience more chronic conditions, there is little research on how nativity status combines with race to create very unique trajectories of health and functioning in later life for U.S. women. This is a very important topic in light of the increase in migration to the U.S. at older ages that leaves many older women without access to existing support services and programs (i.e. Social Security, Medicare) and with less retirement savings than their native-born or male counterparts.  In addition, social factors such as widowhood, access to adult children, and living arrangements are increasingly important in later life since these are the most likely sources of support and assistance, especially for older foreign-born female seniors living at or near the poverty level. This project will investigate these intersections and determine how dimensions of later life health are associated with both socioeconomic resources as well as social factors such as widowhood/divorce, family structure and living arrangements for older women.


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