My overarching research question is “what are the social causes and consequences of social networks across society and time?” My work contributes to five major specialty areas: social networks, medical sociology, social psychology, social stratification, and comparative historical sociology. It also extends the literature on marriage and family, education, work and occupations, culture, life course and aging, body, media, environment, and genetics.
I investigate three major research themes: how social networks produce inequalities in health and well-being, how social networks generate social stratification, and how social forces stratify social networks. The network-based concepts I analyze include accessed status (network members’ status), social capital, social cost, social support, social integration, reference group, social comparison, social cohesion, homophily and homogamy, and tie strength. The social stratifiers I study include age, gender, race/ethnicity, SES, and class. The well-being outcomes I examine include status attainment, physical and mental health, health information search, life satisfaction, lifestyle, body weight, genetics, treatment adherence, and environmental concerns.
Does who you know protect or hurt? My current work centers on a paradox: the puzzling double-edged (protective and detrimental) role of accessed status for health and well-being. I propose social cost theory in contrast with social capital theory to explain this double-edged role. I also develop three competing institutional explanations (collectivistic advantage, collectivistic disadvantage, and inequality structure) to interpret the variation of this double-edged role by culture and society. As nine of my studies suggest, accessed status is more protective (as social capital theory predicts) in more egalitarian and individualistic societies but detrimental (as social cost theory expects) in more unequal and collectivistic societies.