Linda Waite (Department of Sociology, University of Chicago)
11-04-2008, at noon in room 6050 ISR-Thompson.
Jointly sponsored by PSC and SRC. Tuesday, 12-2 pm.
Social isolation has been linked to poor mental and physical health and mortality, but we know little about the physiological processes that underlie this association. This paper examines one important potential pathway between social isolation and health. The stress response leads to short-run increases in blood pressure that may damage arterial walls in the long-run, leading to hypertension and inflammation. Inflammation is now thought to be a root cause of a number of diseases, especially cardiovascular disease. We use data from the 2005-6 National Social Life, Health and Aging Study, to model the effect of key dimensions of social isolation on systolic blood pressure and C-Reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation. We also model effects of isolation through several measures of emotional well-being and through health behaviors, and assess gender differences in these relationships. We look especially for gender differences in the stress response and the inflammation process to test the notion that while “fight or flight” describes the stress response for males, “tend and befriend” is more accurate for females.