Debra J. Umberson

Faculty Research AssociatePh.D., Vanderbilt University

Director, PRC; Professor of Sociology; Christine and Stanley E. Adams, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts
Debra J. Umberson



Social Ties & Population Health, Aging & the Life Course, Marriage & Family, Same-Sex Unions, Gender & Race, Blended Methods


Debra Umberson is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Umberson's research focuses on social factors that influence population health with a particular emphasis on aging and life course change, marital and family ties, and gender and racial variation in health disparities. Her recent publications have focused on marital transitions and body weight; stress and health behavior; gender and health in gay, lesbian, and straight couples; race, social ties, and disadvantage in health; and health policy addressing the link between social ties and health. She has been the recipient of a National Research Service Award and a FIRST Award from the National Institute on Aging. Dr. Umberson is also an elected Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. Her current research, supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator in Health Policy Research Award and the National Institute on Aging, examines how marital relationships affect health-related behavior and health care, and how those processes vary across gay, lesbian, and heterosexual unions. She is the immediate past editor of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and Chair-elect of the Medical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association. She is also the recipient of the 2015 Matilda White Riley Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Aging and the Life Course.





Death of a Parent:  Transition to a New Adult Identity (2003). Cambridge University Press. Paperback issued 2006.  UK edition released 2007. Turkish edition released 2010.


Articles and Chapters (*articles in peer-reviewed journals)

*Umberson, Debra, Mieke B. Thomeer, Kristi Williams, Patrica Thomas, and Hui Liu. (forthcoming). “Childhood Adversity and Men’s Relationships in Adulthood: Life Course Processes and Racial Disadvantage.” The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

*Liu, Hui and Debra Umberson (forthcoming). “Gender, Stress in Childhood and Adulthood, and Trajectories of Change in Body Mass.” Social Science & Medicine.

*Reczek, Corinne, Mieke B. Thomeer, Tetyana Pudrovska, Deborah Carr, and Debra Umberson (forthcoming). “Marital Histories and Heavy Alcohol Use Among Older Adults.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

*Umberson, Debra, Mieke B. Thomeer, Rhiannon Kroeger, Amy Lodge, and Minle Xu (2015). “Challenges and Opportunities for Research on Same-Sex Relationships.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 77:96-111. PMC4294225

*Xu, Minle, Patricia Thomas, and Debra Umberson (2015). “Marital Quality and Cognitive Limitations in Late Life.” Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences. PMID: 25765315

Umberson, Debra and Rhiannon Kroeger (forthcoming, 2015). “Gender, Marriage, and Health for Same-Sex and Different-Sex Couples: The Future Keeps Arriving.” To appear in Gender and Couple Relationships, edited by A. Booth, V. King, Susan McHale, and J. Van Hook. NY: Springer Publishing.

*Umberson, Debra, Mieke B. Thomeer, and Amy C. Lodge (2015). “Intimacy and Emotion Work in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Relationships.” Journal of Marriage and Family,77: 542-556. PMC4370347

*Thomeer, Mieke B., Corinne Reczek, and Debra Umberson (forthcoming).” Gendered Emotion Work around Physical Health Problems in Mid- and Later-life Marriages.” Journal of Aging Studies.PMC4324498

Lodge, Amy C. and Debra Umberson. (forthcoming). “Sexual Intimacy among Mid to Later Life Couples.” To appear in Couple Relationships in Mid and Late Life: Current Perspectives, edited by J. Bookwala. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

*Reczek, Corinne, Mieke B. Thomeer, Amy C. Lodge, Debra Umberson, and Megan Underhill (2014). “Diet and Exercise in Parenthood: A Social Control Perspective.” Journal of Marriage and Family 76: 1047-1062

*Umberson, Debra, Kristi Williams, Patricia Thomas, Hui Liu, and Mieke B. Thomeer (2014). “Race, Gender, and Chains of Disadvantage: Childhood Adversity, Social Relationships, and Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 55:20-38.

*Sasson, Isaac and Debra Umberson (2014). “Widowhood and Depression: New Light on Gender Differences, Selection, and Psychological Adjustment.” The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 69(1):135-145.

*Thomeer, Mieke, Tetyana Pudrovska and Debra Umberson (2013). “Marital Processes around Depression: A Gendered Perspective.” Society and Mental Health 3:151-169. Recipient of the Best Mental Health Publication Award, Mental Health Section of the American Sociological Association, 2014.

*Lodge, Amy and Debra Umberson (2013). Age and Embodied Masculinities: Midlife Gay and Heterosexual Men Talk about their Bodies. Journal of Aging Studies 27:225-232.

*Harrison, Tracie, Brittany LeGarde, SungHun Kim, Janiece Walker, Shelley Blozis and Debra Umberson (2013). “Work Related Injury Among Aging Women.” Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice 14:16-25. PMC3695038

Carr, Deborah and Debra Umberson (2013). “The Social Psychology of Stress, Health, and Coping.” Pp. 465-487 in John Delamater and Amanda Ward (Editors), Handbook of Social Psychology, 2nd Edition, Springer Publishing.

Umberson, Debra, Kristi Williams and Mieke Thomeer (2013). “Family Status and Mental Health: Recent Advances and Future Directions.” Pp. 405-431 in Carol S. Aneshensel and Jo C. Phelan (Eds.), Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (Second Edition), Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research, Springer Publishing.

Thomeer, Mieke, Debra Umberson and Kristi Williams (2012). “Women, Stress, and Health.” Pp. 685-695 in Marlene B. Goldman, Rebecca Troisi, and Kathryn M. Rexrode (Editors), Women and Health (2nd Edition), Elsevier Inc.

*Reczek, Corinne and Debra Umberson (2012). “Gender, Health Behavior, and Intimate Relationships: Lesbian, Gay, and Straight Contexts.” Social Science and Medicine74:1783-1790.PMCID: PMC3337964

*Lodge, Amy and Debra Umberson. (2012). “All Shook Up:  Sexuality of Mid to Later Life Married Couples.” Journal of Marriage and Family 74:428-443.

*Umberson, Debra, Hui Liu, John Mirowsky and Corinne Reczek (2011). “Parenthood and Trajectories of Change in Body Weight over the Life Course.” Social Science and Medicine 73:1323-1331.PMCID: PMC3391503

*Umberson, Debra and Jennifer Karas Montez (2010). “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Public Policy.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51: S54-S66. PMCID: PMC3150158

*Umberson, Debra, Tetyana Pudrovska and Corinne Reczek (2010). Parenthood, Childlessness, and Well-being: A Life Course Perspective.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:612-629. PMCID: PMC3159916

*Reczek, Corinne, Hui Liu and Debra Umberson (2010). “Just the Two of Us? How Parents Influence Adult Children’s Marital Quality.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:1205-1219. PMCID: PMC3151657

*Umberson, Debra, Robert Crosnoe and Corinne Reczek (2010). “Social Ties and Health Behavior across the Life Course.”  Karen S. Cook and Douglas S. Massey (Editors), Annual Review of Sociology 36:139-157. PMCID: PMC3171805

*Harrison, Tracie, Debra Umberson, Li-Chen Lin and Hsui-Rong Cheng. (2010). “Timing of Impairment and Health-promoting Lifestyles in Women with Disabilities.” Qualitative Health Research 20(6):816-829. PMCID: PMC3159916

*Umberson, Debra, Hui Liu and Daniel Powers (2009). “Marital Status, Marital Transitions, and Body Weight.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 50(3): 327-43. PMCID: PMC3149893

*Reczek, Corinne, Sinikka Elliott and Debra Umberson (2009).  “Commitment without Marriage:  Union Formation of Long-term Gay and Lesbian Couples.”  Journal of Family Issues 30(6):738-756. PMCID: PMC3151657

Liu, Hui, Sinikka Elliott and Debra Umberson (2009).  “Marriage in Young Adulthood.”  In Young Adult Mental Health, Jon E. Grant and Marc N. Potenza (Editors).  Oxford University Press.

Umberson, Debra, Hui Liu and Corinne Reczek (2008).  “Stress and Health Behaviors.” Pp. 19-44 in Advances in Life Course Research: Stress Processes Across the Life Course (Heather Turner and Scott Schiemann, Editors), Volume 13.

*Liu, Hui and Debra Umberson (2008). “The Times They Are A Changin’: Marital Status and Health Differentials from 1972 to 2003.”  Journal of Health and Social Behavior 49:239-253. PMCID: PMC3150568

*Elliott, Sinikka and Debra Umberson (2008).  “The Performance of Desire:  Gender and Sexual Negotiation in Long-term Marriages.”  Journal of Marriage and Family 70:391-406. PMCID: PMC3151655

Umberson, Debra and Corinne Reczek (2007).  “Interactive Stress and Coping around Parenting: Explaining Trajectories of Change in Intimate Relationships over the Life Course.”  Pp. 91-126 in Timothy J. Owens and J. Jill Suitor (Eds.), Advances in Life Course Research: Interpersonal Relations Across the Life Course, Volume 12. 

Umberson, Debra (2006).  “Parents, Adult Children, and Immortality.”  Contexts 5(4): 48-53.

Umberson, Debra and B. Needham (2006).  “Parenthood, Parenting, and Marital Interaction.”  In V. Bengtson, A. Acock, K. Allen, P.Dilworth-Anderson, and D. Klein (Eds.), Sourcebook of Family Theory and Research.  NY:  Sage Publications.

*Umberson, Debra, Kristi Williams, Daniel P. Powers, Hui Liu, and Belinda Needham (2006).  “You Make Me Sick: Marital Quality and Health Over the Life Course.”  Journal of Health and Social Behavior 47: 1-16. PMCID: PMC3149975.  Reprinted in Choices in Relationships by David Knox and Caroline Schacht, 2010.

*Umberson, Debra, Kristi Williams, Daniel P. Powers, Hui Liu, and Belinda Needham (2005).  “Stress in Childhood and Adulthood: Effects on Marital Quality Over Time.”  Journal of Marriage and Family 67: 1332-1347. PMCID: PMC3148820

*Umberson, Debra, Kristi Williams, Daniel P. Powers and M.D. Chen (2005).  “As Good As It Gets?  A Life Course Perspective on Marital Quality.”  Social Forces 84:493-511. PMCID: PMC3151658

*Umberson, Debra and Kristi Williams (2005).  “Marital Quality, Health and Aging:  Gender Equity?”  Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 60B. PubMed # 16251580, PMCID: PMC3150525

*Williams, Kristi and Debra Umberson (2004). “Marital Status, Marital Transitions, and Health: A Gendered Life Course Perspective.”  Journal of Health and Social Behavior 45:81-98. PMCID: PMC3149893

*Umberson, Debra, Kristin Anderson, and Kristi Williams (2003).  “Relationship Dynamics, Emotion State, and Domestic Violence:  A Stress and Masculinities Perspective.”  Journal of Marriage and Family 65(1):233-247.

Elliott, Sinnika and Debra Umberson (2003).  “Families in the United States:  Demographic Trends and Current Debates.”  In J.L. Scott, J.K. Treas, and M. Richards (editors), The Blackwell Companion to Sociology of the Family.  Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.

Anderson, Kristin, Debra Umberson, and Sinnika Elliott (2003).  “Violence and Abuse in Families.”  In A. Vangelisti (editor), Handbook of Family Communication.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

*Umberson, Debra, Kristi Williams, and Kristin Anderson (2002).  “Violent Behavior:  A Measure of Emotional Upset?”  Journal of Health and Social Behavior 43:189-206. PMID: 12096699

*Anderson, Kristin and Debra Umberson (2001).  “Gendering Violence:  Masculinity and Power in Men’s Accounts of Domestic Violence.”  Gender and Society 15: 358-380. Reprinted in Feminist Perspectives on the Study and Practice of Social Research (Pp. 251-270), edited by S. Hesse-Biber and M. Yaiser, Oxford University Press, 2004. Reprinted in In Their Own Words: Criminals on Crime(5th ed.), edited by Paul Cromwell, Oxford University Press, 2010. Reprinted in The Kaleidoscope of Gender (3rd ed.), edited by Joan Spade and Catherine Valentine. Sage, 2010.

*Goodrum, Sarah, Debra Umberson, and K. Anderson (2001).  “The Batterer’s View of the Self and Others in Domestic Violence.”  Sociological Inquiry 71(2):221-240.

Umberson, Debra and Kristi Williams (2000).  “Medical Sociology and Health Psychology.” Pp. 353-364 in Handbook of Medical Sociology, 5th Edition, (Chloe E. Bird, Peter Conrad, Allen M. Fremont, and Sol Levine, Eds.).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall.

Umberson, Debra and Ellen Slaten (2000).  “Gender and Intergenerational Relationships."  Pp. 105-127 in David H. Demo, Katherine R. Allen and Mark A. Fine (Eds.), Handbook of Family Diversity.  NY:  Oxford Univ. Press.

*Williams, Kristi and Debra Umberson (1999).  “Medical Technology and Childbirth:  Experiences of Expectant Mothers and Fathers.”  Sex Roles 41:147-168.

*Winterich, Julie and Debra Umberson (1999).  “How Women Experience Menopause:  The Importance of Social Context.”  Journal of Women and Aging.  PMID: 10721689

Umberson, Debra and Kristi Williams (1999).  "Family Status and Mental Health."  Pp. 225-253 in Carol S. Aneshensel and Jo C. Phelan (Eds.), Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (Recipient of 2001 Best Publication Award, Sociology of Mental Health Section, American Sociological Association).  Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Pubs.

Williams, Kristi and Debra Umberson (1999).  “Women, Stress, and Health.” Pp. 553-562 in Marlene B. Goldman and Maureen C. Hatch (Editors), Glorian Sorenson (section editor), Women and Health.  NY:  Academic Press.

*Umberson, Debra, Kristin Anderson, Jennifer Glick and Adam Shapiro (1998).  "Domestic Violence, Personal Control, and Gender."  Journal of Marriage and the Family 60:442-452.

*Umberson, Debra and Toni Terling (1997).  "The Symbolic Meaning of Relationships: Implications for Psychological Distress Following Relationship Loss."  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 14:723-744.

*Umberson, Debra, Meichu D. Chen, James S. House, Kristine Hopkins and Ellen Slaten (1996).  "Social Relationships and their Effects on Psychological Well-being:  Are Men and Women Really So Different?"  American Sociological Review 61:836-856.

Umberson, Debra (1996).  "Demographic Position and Stressful Mid-life Events:  Effects on the Quality of Parent/child Relationships."  Pp. 493-531 in When Children Grow Up: Development and Diversity in Mid-Life Parenting, edited by Carol D. Ryff, Marsha M. Seltzer, and M. Mailick.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

*Umberson, Debra (1995).  "Marriage as Support or Strain?  Marital Quality Following the Death of a Parent."  Journal of Marriage and the Family 57:709-723.

(2001) Reprinted in Families in Later Life:  Connections and Transitions (A.J. Walker, M. Manoogian-O’Dell, L.A. McGraw, and D.L.G. White, Eds.).  Thousand Oaks. CA:  Pine Forge Press.

*Umberson, Debra and Meichu D. Chen (1994).  "Effects of a Parent's Death on Adult Children:  Relationship Salience and Reaction to Loss."  American Sociological Review 59:152-168.

*Umberson, Debra (1993).  "Sociodemographic Position, World Views, and Psychological Distress."  Social Science Quarterly 74(3):575-589.

*Umberson, Debra and Christine L. Williams (1993).  "Divorced Fathers:  Parental Role Strain and Psychological Distress."  Journal of Family Issues 14(3): 378-400.

Umberson, Debra, Camille B. Wortman, and Ronald C. Kessler (1992). "Widowhood and Depression: Explaining Gender Differences in Vulnerability."  Journal of Health and Social Behavior 33:10-24. PMID: 1619255

*Umberson, Debra (1992).  "Gender, Marital Status, and the Social Control of Health Behavior."  Social Science and Medicine 34(8):907-917. PMID: 1604380

*Umberson, Debra (1992). "Relationships Between Adult children and their Parents:  Psychological Consequences for Both Generations."  Journal of Marriage and the Family 54(3):664-674.

*Umberson, Debra and Kristin Henderson (1992).  "The Social Construction of Death in the Gulf War."  Omega:  Journal of Death and Dying 25(1):1-15. 

*Umberson, Debra (1989), "Relationships with Children: Explaining Parents' Psychological Well-being." Journal of Marriage and the Family 51: 999-1012.

*Umberson, Debra (1989).  Parenting and Well-being: Theory, Measurement and Stage in the Family Life Course." Journal of Family Issues 10(4): 440-462.

Umberson, Debra (1989). "Sources of Relationship Strain for women." Pp. 23-32 in Women and Stress, edited by Sharon E. Kahn, Bonita C. Long and Anita DeLongis.  Vancouver: Academic Women's Association, University of British Columbia.

*Umberson, Debra (1989).  "Parenting and Well-being: The Importance of Context." Journal of Family Issues 10(4):427-439.

*House, James S., Karl Landis and Debra Umberson (1988). "Social Relationships and Health." Science 241: 540-545. PMID: 3399889. Reprinted (abridged version) in Economic Outlook USA 15(4), 1989. Reprinted in The Sociology of Health and Illness: Critical Perspectives (1990). (3rd edition) edited by Peter Conrad and Rochelle Kern. NY: St. Martin's Press. Reprinted in Social Psychology of Health (2003). Pp. 218-226 in Peter Salovey and Alexander J. Rothman (Eds.). NY: Psychology Press.

*House, James, Debra Umberson and Karl Landis (1988). "Structures and Processes of Social Support." Pp. 293-318 in W. Richard Scott and Judith Blake (Eds.) Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 14.

*Umberson, Debra (1987). "Family Status and Health Behaviors: Social Control as a Dimension of Social Integration." Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 28(3): 306-319.  PMID: 3680922

*Umberson, Debra and Michael Hughes (1987). "The Impact of Physical Attractiveness on Psychological Well-being and Achievement." Social Psychology Quarterly 50(3): 227-236.

*Umberson, Debra (1986). "Sociobiology: A Valid Explanation of Child Abuse?" Social Biology 33(1-2): 131-137. PMID: 3775434

*Lee, Barrett A., Daphne Spain and Debra Umberson (1985). Neighborhood Revitalization and Racial Change: The Case of Washington, D.C." Demography 22(4): 581-602.  PMID: 4076485

Published Commentary, Book Reviews, Encyclopedia Entries and Reports

Umberson, Debra (forthcoming). “Long-term Same-Sex Couples.” The Sage Encyclopedia on LGBTQ Studies, edited by Abbie E. Goldberg.

Lodge, Amy C., Emily A. Paine, and Debra Umberson. (forthcoming). “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Families.” Encyclopedia of Adulthood and Aging, edited by S.K. Whitbourne and K.A. Roberto.

Thomeer, Mieke and Debra Umberson (in press). “Widowhood.” To appear in Alex C. Michalos (Editor), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life Research. Springer Publishing.

Lodge, Amy and Debra Umberson (forthcoming). “Family and Mental Health.” To appear in William C. Cockerham, Robert Dingwall, and Stella Quah(Editors), The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Umberson, Debra and Gilbert Gee (2013). “Two Articles on Same-sex Couples and Health: An introduction.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 54:22-23.

Giarelli, G., E. Annandale, V. Rabeharisoa, G. Scambler, C. Seale and D. Umberson (2013). “Sociological Theory and Sociology of Health and Medicine in International Journals.” Sciences Sociales et Sante 31:13-35.

Umberson, Debra (2010). Review of H. Elizabeth Peters and Claire M. Kamp Dush (Editors), “Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities,” in Contemporary Sociology.

Zaligson, Jennifer and Debra Umberson (2007).  “Sex and Mental Health.”  In James T. Sears (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Sex, Love and Culture, Volume 6: The 20th and 21st Centuries.  Greenwood Publishing Group.

Umberson, Debra (2002).  Review of Allan V. Horwitz, “Creating Mental Illness,” in Journal of Biology.

Williams, Kristi and Debra Umberson (2000).  “Mental Health and Social Factors.” Pp. 360-364 in Encyclopedia of Criminology and Deviant Behavior, Clifton D. Bryant, Editor: Paul M. Roman, Section Editor).  Taylor and Francis.

Anderson, Kristin and Debra Umberson (1999).  "Child Abuse."  Pp. 223-238 in Lester Kurtz and Jennifer Turpin (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict.  San Diego:  The Academic Press.

Campbell, Thomas, William Doherty, James S. House, Elizabeth Thomson, Debra Umberson, and Nicholas Zill.  "Families and Health:  Resources and Risk Factors."  Report commissioned by the National Center for Health Statistics, June, 1993.

Umberson, Debra (1993).  Review of Pat M. Keith and Robert B. Scheafer (editors), "Relationships and Well-being over the Life Stages" in Contemporary Sociology.

Umberson, Debra (1993).  Review of Carol Baines, Patricia Evans and Sheila Neysmith (editors), "Women's Caring: Feminist Perspectives on Social Welfare," in Social Science and Medicine 36(6):835.

Umberson, Debra (1992).  Review of Anne Marie Ambert, "The Effect of Children on Parents," in Journal of Marriage and the Family 54(4):1002-1003.

Umberson, Debra (1992). Review of Margaret K. Nelson, "Negotiated Care: The Experience of Family Day Care Providers," in Contemporary Sociology 21(1):72-73.

Umberson, Debra (1991). Review of Philip A. Cowan and Mavis Hetherington (Editors), "Family Transitions," in Journal of Marriage and the Family 53(4): 9.

Umberson, Debra (1989). Commentary:  "Marital Benefits for Men vs. Women." Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality 23(5): 56.

Curriculum Vitae

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