MHS Professor Tara McKay receives 5 year, $1.9 million grant from National Institute of Aging to study LGBT social networks and health in the US South

by | Sep 13, 2019 | Home, Research |

Dr. Tara McKay, in collaboration with MHS faculty Gilbert Gonzales and Lauren Gaydosh, and Professor of Economics and Director of the Vanderbilt LGBT Policy Lab, Kitt Carpenter, has received $1.9 million over 5 years from National Institute of Aging to study the effects of social networks and policy contexts on health among older (50-70 yr) sexual and gender minority (SGM) adults in the US South. This research is being conducted

The study will collect new panel data from a cohort of 50 to 70 year old SGM adults living in and around four midsize cities in the US South: Nashville, TN; Birmingham and Montgomery, AL; and Raleigh, NC. This includes the suburban and rural areas that are frequently ignored by SGM researchers. The primary aim of the study is to examine two of the main drivers of disparities in morbidity, disability, diagnosis, and mortality for older SGM adults: exposure to stress due to one’s minority status and differences in social support and social networks. By bringing together two theories of health disparities in older age for SGM populations, we hope to account not only for those people at the margins who are at high risk of morbidity and mortality, but also to account for why many older SGM adults are thriving despite the accumulation of stress from negative life experiences.

This project stands to make a significant contribution because SGM populations experience substantial disparities in morbidity, mental health, and physical disability as they age. In this longitudinal panel study of minority stress, social networks, and health among older SGM adults in the US South, it will be possible to see how a person’s social networks–and the attendant support they provide–shape individuals’ responses to negative life experiences, including discrimination, harassment, and violence, and the effects of these life experiences on physical and mental health, morbidity, and disability.  Understanding how networks and social support may moderate the effects of negative life events on health will have important policy and prevention implications for reducing health disparities by sexual orientation and gender identity, especially as the SGM population in the United States ages. This study will also provide new and much needed data on aging SGM adults in the US South, who are severely under-represented in research on SGM adults.

Dr. McKay previously led a small study of social network effects on health among older SGM adults residing in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of the larger University of California, Berkeley Social Networks Study (UCNets) led by UC Berkeley professor Claude Fischer. Using all five sites, we will compare the patterns and variations in network structures, responses to negative life events, and health outcomes for older SGM populations living in California, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

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