Debra Umberson

Debra Umberson
University of Texas at Austin | UT · Department of Sociology

MSW PhD

About

147
Publications
89,323
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19,988
Citations
Citations since 2017
51 Research Items
8616 Citations
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Introduction
Skills and Expertise
Additional affiliations
August 1988 - present
University of Texas at Austin
Position
  • Professor (Full)

Publications

Publications (147)
Article
Full-text available
Dyadic coping is a daily interpersonal process that married couples use to manage stress and maintain their marriage. However, little is known about its mediating role in the association between empathic response and marital quality among same-sex and different-sex couples. This study aimed to examine the extent to which dyadic coping mediates the...
Article
Full-text available
Reasons for having sex and frequency of sex are significant correlates of sexual satisfaction. However, the possible interplay between sexual motives and sexual frequency remains unexplored. Also, prior studies on sexual satisfaction largely focused on heterosexual couples and less is known about the experiences of same-sex couples. Using dyadic su...
Article
Full-text available
Prior research has not considered how exposure to parental death across the life course may contribute to lasting social isolation and, in turn, poor health among aging adults. The present study uses longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; 1998-2016) to consider linkages of parental death, social isolation, and health (self-rat...
Article
Dyadic coping, the process through which couples manage stress together, is important for relationship well-being. However, very few studies have considered dyadic coping and its link with marital quality in same-sex marriages. We analyze dyadic data from a sample of midlife same- and different-sex married couples ( N = 838 individuals, 418 couples...
Article
Although the bereavement literature is voluminous, we know very little about how exposure to multiple family member deaths across the life course shapes health trajectories as people age and whether unequal exposure to bereavement contributes to racial inequities in cardiometabolic health. We use longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Stu...
Article
Social isolation has robust adverse effects on health, well-being, dementia risk, and longevity. Although most studies suggest similar effects of isolation on the health of men and women, there has been much less attention to gendered patterns of social isolation over the life course—despite decades of research suggesting gender differences in soci...
Article
Full-text available
While previous studies evince a strong link between family bereavement and worse cardiovascular functioning, factors that may influence the association remain unexplored. This study examined the relation between experiencing the death of an immediate family member and heart rate variability (HRV) and whether the associations differed by sleep quali...
Article
Full-text available
Parental bereavement in adulthood is a stressful event that can have adverse health consequences for middle and older adults, including weight gain. Considering that the impact of bereavement is found to vary depending on the timing of death as well as across race/ethnicity, changes in weight after a parent’s passing may also be contingent on the t...
Article
Objectives This study considered whether experiencing the death of a child is associated with subsequent psychological distress in older populations, as well as variation in both exposure and vulnerability to the death of a child among Black, Hispanic, and White older parents. Methods We used multilevel models to link the death of a child with sub...
Article
Objectives: Sibling loss is understudied in the bereavement and health literature. The present study considers whether experiencing the death of siblings in mid-to-late life is associated with subsequent dementia risk and how differential exposure to sibling losses by race/ethnicity may contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in dementia risk. Me...
Article
Support for a spouse with psychological distress can be expressed in many different ways. Previous research indicates that support expression is shaped by gender, but we do not know much about how support within marriage is provided in response to a spouse’s distress outside of a different-sex couple context. In this study, we analyze dyadic data f...
Preprint
Accepted at the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships Abstract: Support for a spouse with psychological distress can be expressed in many different ways. Previous research indicates that support expression is shaped by gender, but we do not know much about how support within marriage is provided in response to a spouse’s distress outside of...
Article
Full-text available
Growing evidence points to the role of stress in contributing to dementia risk, and experiencing the death of a family member is a particularly stressful life event. Sibling relationships are typically life-long relationships and the death of a sibling is likely to be a stressful event in the life course; however, there is little research illuminat...
Article
Rationale Different-sex spouses influence each other's alcohol consumption, with women having more influence on their spouses than men. Because women drink less than men, this long-term influence partly explains why married men and women consume less alcohol than their unmarried peers. However, much less is known about possible gender differences i...
Article
This article employs the gender‐as‐relational (GAR) approach to enhance the study of the long‐term romantic relationships of sexual and gender minority mid‐ to later‐life adults. The GAR approach states that gender in relationships is shaped by three key factors: own gender, partner gender, and the gendered relational context. This approach emphasi...
Article
Objective This study considers how the provision of daily emotion work may affect the psychological well‐being of the emotion worker, and how this linkage may vary for men and women in same‐ and different‐sex marriages. Background Emotion work–work intended to bolster a spouse's well‐being by reading and managing the spouse's emotional needs—is co...
Chapter
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people report worse physical and mental health than their heterosexual peers. We review the literature on physical and mental health outcomes among parents and children in LGBTQ-parent families through a family resilience framework. In doing so, we describe research on mechanisms of vulnerabili...
Article
Purpose We examine widowhood effects on mortality across gender and race-ethnicity, with attention to variation in the mediating role of economic resources. Methods Data were drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (1992-2016). The analytic sample included 34,777 respondents aged 51 and older who contributed 208,470 person-period records. Discr...
Article
Family ties have wide‐ranging consequences for health, for better and for worse. This decade review uses a life course perspective to frame significant advances in research on the effects of family structure and transitions (e.g., marital status) and family dynamics and quality (e.g., emotional support from family members) on health across the life...
Article
The death of a child is a stressful and traumatic life event that has been linked to increased mortality risk among parents. Tragically, black parents are significantly more likely than white parents to lose a child in the United States; however, prior research has not addressed this racial disadvantage in relation to parents' mortality risk. In th...
Article
Objectives: This study considers whether experiencing the death of a child prior to midlife (by parental age 40) is associated with subsequent dementia risk, and how such losses, which are more common for black than for white parents, may add to racial disparities in dementia risk. Method: We use discrete-time event history models to predict dem...
Article
Full-text available
Numerous studies show that bereavement, including bereavement following the death of a minor child, increases mortality risk in white populations. The death of a child prior to midlife has received much less attention. Moreover, recent research shows that black Americans are substantially more likely to lose a child compared to white Americans, but...
Article
Full-text available
We use a mixed-methods strategy to generate insights into gendered marital dynamics when one partner is experiencing high levels of psychological distress/depression. Our data are unique in their dyadic design and in the inclusion of same-sex and well as different-sex marital dyads. The data are from closed- and open-ended survey responses (from 80...
Article
Full-text available
Recent work exploring links between stress processes and well-being within marriage suggest that women may be at an increased risk for exposure and emotional reactivity to daily stress. However, studies have focused primarily on heterosexual couples, raising questions concerning whether and how these gendered patterns might unfold differently for m...
Article
Although we know much about demographic patterns of smoking, we know less about people's explanations for when, how and why they avoid, develop, or alter smoking habits and how these explanations are linked to social connections across the life course. We analyze data from in-depth interviews with 60 adults aged 25-89 from a large southwestern U.S....
Preprint
Although we know much about demographic patterns of smoking, we know less about people’s explanations for when, how and why they avoid, develop, or alter smoking habits and how these explanations are linked to social connections across the life course. We analyze data from in-depth interviews with 60 adults aged 25-89 from a large southwestern U.S....
Article
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is tied to higher levels of depression, but the social factors that shape these associations are not well understood. This study considers whether family transitions affect depressive symptoms differently for young adults with and without childhood symptoms of ADHD at subthreshold or diagnostic levels...
Article
Objective: This study examines the association of marital strain - as reported by each spouse - with psychological distress and considers whether the associations vary for men and women in gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriages. Background: Prior studies show that marital strain is associated with psychological distress. However, most studies...
Article
This study considers when, whether, and how spouses encourage professional mental health care by analyzing qualitative data from 90 in-depth interviews with gay, lesbian, and heterosexual spouses. Findings show that a majority of spouses are engaged in promoting each other’s mental health care but that the strategies used to promote care vary by ge...
Article
Objectives Social integration (involvement with a diverse array of social ties) has been linked to positive outcomes including better physical health. Research has not investigated whether encounters with diverse social ties enhance individuals’ daily behaviors. The objectives of this study were to assess whether social ties connect individuals to...
Article
Ample work stresses the interdependence of spouses' psychological distress and that women are more influenced by their spouse's distress than men. Yet previous studies have focused primarily on heterosexual couples, raising questions about whether and how this gendered pattern might unfold for men and women in same-sex marriages. We analyze 10 days...
Article
Objective: To examine whether exposure to family member deaths throughout the life course is associated with subjective life expectancy-a person's assessment of their own mortality risk-at age 65, with attention to differences by race. Method: We analyzed 11 waves of data from a study of men and women above age 50 (Health and Retirement Study; n...
Article
Marriage benefits health in part because spouses promote one another's well-being, yet how spouses facilitate formal health care (e.g., doctor's visits, emergency care) via what we call health care work is unknown. Moreover, like other aspects of the marital-health link, health care work dynamics likely vary by gender and couple type. To explore th...
Article
Numerous studies show the death of a family member increases health and mortality risks. Recent research further reveals race differences in exposure to the death of a family member with black Americans substantially more likely to lose a family member (child, mother, father, sibling, spouse), to lose a family member earlier in life, and to lose mo...
Chapter
The death of a spouse is an involuntary form of relationship dissolution with deleterious health consequences for the surviving partner. Yet, to date, researchers have not examined widowhood experiences of individuals in same-sex marriages. Past research shows that spousal caregiving during illness and end-of-life planning shapes the bereavement ex...
Article
Discrimination due to personal characteristics (e.g., gender, sexuality, appearance) is a common yet stressful experience that is detrimental to mental health. Prior work has not considered how spouses in same- and different-sex marriages help each other cope with discrimination despite the importance of marriage for managing stress and adversity....
Article
Prior research based on studies of heterosexual populations suggests that men’s health benefits more from marriage than women’s, in part because women do more than men to influence the health habits of their spouse. We extend this work by using dyadic survey data from 838 spouses in 419 gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriages to consider differenc...
Article
Objective This study examines how married straight and lesbian women understand sexual changes in midlife. Background Sexual satisfaction is key to marital quality, yet marital sex typically diminishes in midlife. Little is known, however, about how married straight and lesbian women make sense of midlife sexuality. Comparing the narratives of les...
Article
Research on gender inequality within different-sex marriages shows that women do more unpaid labor than men, and that the perception of inequality influences perceptions of marital quality. Yet research on same-sex couples suggests the importance of considering how gender is relational. Past studies show that same-sex partners share unpaid labor mo...
Article
Full-text available
Childhood adversity has enduring consequences for individuals throughout life, including increased reactivity to stress that may contribute to marital strain in adulthood. Past research on gendered experiences of heterosexual spouses raises questions about how the influence of childhood adversity might differ for men and women in same-sex marriages...
Article
Close relationships are a resource for mental and physical health that, like other social resources, is unequally distributed in the population. This article focuses on racial disparities in the loss of relationships across the life course. Racial disparities in life expectancy in the United States mean that black Americans experience the deaths of...
Article
Full-text available
Family relationships are enduring and consequential for well-being across the life course. We discuss several types of family relationships—marital, intergenerational, and sibling ties—that have an important influence on well-being. We highlight the quality of family relationships as well as diversity of family relationships in explaining their imp...
Article
Full-text available
Two key components of end-of-life planning are (1) informal discussions about future care and other end-of-life preferences and (2) formal planning via living wills and other legal documents. We leverage previous work on the institutional aspects of marriage and on sexual-minority discrimination to theorize why and how heterosexual, gay, and lesbia...
Article
Research shows that heterosexual spouses are concordant on a variety of health and health behavior outcomes. Yet, little is known about patterns of concordance between spouses in same-sex marriages, or whether concordance patterns differ for spouses in same- and different-sex marriages. Using descriptive techniques, we analyze survey data from both...
Preprint
Two key components of end-of-life planning are informal planning for future care and end-of-life preferences and formal end-of-life plans via living wills and legal documents. We build on previous work on the institutionalization of marriage and sexual minority discrimination to theorize the dynamics and strategies of heterosexual, gay, and lesbian...
Article
Objectives: Increasing risk for cognitive limitations in later life, along with an aging population, presents critical challenges for caregiving families and health care systems. These challenges urgently call for research examining factors that may protect against or exacerbate cognitive limitations among older adults. We examine the quality of r...
Preprint
Research on intimate relationship dynamics around depression has primarily focused on heterosexual couples. This body of work shows that wives are more likely than husbands to offer support to a depressed spouse. Moreover, when wives are depressed, they are more likely than husbands to try and shield their spouse from the stress of their own depres...
Article
Full-text available
Significance Due to historical racial inequalities in the United States, including poverty, inadequate health care, and criminal victimization, black Americans die at much higher rates than white Americans. How the consequences of these elevated rates reverberate across family networks warrants attention. If blacks die at higher rates and earlier i...
Article
Although research shows that spouses influence each other’s health behaviors and psychological well-being, we know little about whether these patterns extend to young people in nonmarital as well as marital relationships. We use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to consider how a romantic partner’s binge drinking and dep...
Article
The inclusion of same-sex married couples can illuminate and challenge assumptions about gender that are routinely taken for granted in studies of physical illness. We analyze gender dynamics in gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriages with in-depth interview data from 90 spouses (45 couples) to consider how spouses co-construct illness experiences...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives We consider emotion- and instrumental-focused care work and marital stress during significant physical health events in midlife gay, lesbian, and heterosexual marriages. Method We employ the factorial method, an extension of the actor–partner interdependence model, to analyze survey data from 808 midlife gay, lesbian, and heterosexual s...
Article
It is well established that married heterosexual women do more intergenerational caregiving for aging parents and parents-in-law than married heterosexual men do. However, gay men and lesbian women's recent access to marriage presents new questions about the gendered marital dynamics of intergenerational caregiving. We use dyadic data with gay, les...
Article
We develop a gendered marital biography approach—which emphasizes the accumulating gendered experiences of singlehood, marriage, marital dissolution, and remarriage—to examine the relationship between marital statuses and transitions and heavy alcohol use. We test this approach using individual-level (n = 10,457) and couple-level (n = 2,170) longit...
Chapter
The married are in better health than the unmarried and this benefit is greater for men than women. Moreover, marital quality is associated with better health and tends to be more positive for men. The definition of marriage has changed over time though, raising new questions about gender, marriage, and health. In particular, the rise of same-sex m...
Article
Full-text available
Marital relationships, like individuals, follow a developmental trajectory over time with ups and downs and gains and losses. In our study «As Good as it Gets? A Life Course Perspective on Marital Quality» we work from a life course perspective and use growth curve analysis to look at trajectories of change in marital quality over time. A number of...
Chapter
Contemporary research suggests that same-sex couples are similar to heterosexual couples in many ways (e.g., love, commitment) but also differ in important ways (e.g., same-sex couples have a more equitable division of labor than heterosexual couples). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are increasingly likely to parent and...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives: Prior U.S. population studies have found that childhood adversity influences the quality of relationships in adulthood, with emerging research suggesting that this association might be especially strong for black men. We theorize psychosocial and behavioral coping responses to early life adversity and how these responses may link early...
Article
Research on intimate relationship dynamics around depression has primarily focused on heterosexual couples. This body of work shows that wives are more likely than husbands to offer support to a depressed spouse. Moreover, when wives are depressed, they are more likely than husbands to try and shield their spouse from the stress of their own depres...
Article
Despite substantial evidence of the linkage between stress and weight change, previous studies have not considered how stress trajectories that begin in childhood and fluctuate throughout adulthood may work together to have long-term consequences for weight change. Working from a stress and life course perspective, we investigate the linkages betwe...
Article
Knowledge about how gender shapes intimacy is dominated by a heteronormative focus on relationships involving a man and a woman. In this study, the authors shifted the focus to consider gendered meanings and experiences of intimacy in same-sex and different-sex relationships. They merged the gender-as-relational perspective—that gender is co-constr...
Article
Full-text available
Identifying factors associated with cognitive limitations among older adults has become a major public health objective. Given the importance of marital relationships for older adults' health, this study examines the association between marital quality and change in cognitive limitations in late life, directionality of the relationship between mari...
Article
Research on same-sex relationships has informed policy debates and legal decisions that greatly affect American families, yet the data and methods available to scholars studying same-sex relationships have been limited. In this article the authors review current approaches to studying same-sex relationships and significant challenges for this resea...
Article
The provision and receipt of emotion work—defined as intentional activities done to promote another's emotional well-being—are central dimensions of marriage. However, emotion work in response to physical health problems is a largely unexplored, yet likely important, aspect of the marital experience. We analyze dyadic in-depth interviews with husba...
Article
Full-text available
Previous work on social control—the direct and indirect regulation of an individual's health behaviors by others—suggests that parent–child relationships promote healthy diet and exercise. Yet parenthood is associated with less healthy diet and exercise patterns. The authors investigated this paradox by examining social control processes in 40 in-d...
Article
Full-text available
We use a life course approach to guide an investigation of relationships and health at the nexus of race and gender. We consider childhood as a sensitive period in the life course, during which significant adversity may launch chains of disadvantage in relationships throughout the life course that then have cumulative effects on health over time. D...
Article
Despite extensive evidence of the importance of marriage and marital processes for mental health, little is known about the interpersonal processes around depression within marriage and the extent to which these processes are gendered. We use a mixed methods approach to explore the importance of gender in shaping processes around depression within...
Article
This article integrates critical gerontology and masculinities theories to examine how midlife gay and heterosexual men experience their bodies in relation to cultural discourses of aging. Analyses of in-depth interviews with 15 gay and 15 heterosexual men ages 40-60 reveal that while both groups of men describe their bodies as deteriorating or dec...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives.To document short- and long-term trajectories of depressive symptoms following widowhood and to test whether these trajectories vary by gender and anticipatory spousal loss.Method.Eight waves of prospective panel data from the Health and Retirement Study, over a 14-year period, are used to evaluate gender differences in depressive sympto...
Chapter
The study of stress and health is one of the richest areas of research in the social and biomedical sciences. In this chapter, we first describe core concepts in the study of stress, coping, and health. Second, we summarize key theoretical perspectives that frame social psychological research on stress and health. Third, we review the methods and m...
Chapter
Some of the earliest and most well-known sociological studies showed that marriage was beneficial to mental health, marriage benefited the mental health of men more than women, and parenthood caused psychological distress, especially for women. However, recent longitudinal research, reviewed in this chapter, questions these basic relationships. Rec...
Article
This article reports the experiences of women aged 55 to 75 with mobility impairments who attributed aspects of their limitations to workplace injuries and provides insight into worker's compensation policies. The study sample includes Mexican American (MA) and non-Hispanic White (NHW) women aged 55 to 75 who participated in a 4-year ethnographic s...
Article
Despite extensive evidence of the importance of marriage and marital processes for mental health, little is known about the interpersonal processes around depression within marriage and the extent to which these processes are gendered. We use a mixed-methods approach to explore the importance of gender in shaping processes around depression within...
Article
The authors integrate theoretical work on the performance of gender with a life course perspective to frame an analysis of in-depth interviews with 17 long-term married couples. The findings indicated that couples' sexual experiences are characterized by change over time, yet that change is shaped by the intersection of gender and age. Midlife coup...
Article
Many studies focus on health behavior within the context of intimate ties. However, this literature is limited by reliance on gender socialization theory and a focus on straight (i.e., heterosexual) marriage. We extend this work with an analysis of relationship dynamics around health behavior in 20 long-term straight marriages as well as 15 gay and...
Article
Scholars call for greater attention to social contexts that promote and deter risk factors for health. Parenthood transforms social contexts in a myriad of ways that may influence long-term patterns of weight gain. Life course features of parenthood such as age at first birth, parity, and living with a minor child may further influence weight gain....
Article
Full-text available
Social relationships--both quantity and quality--affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. Sociologists have played a central role in establishing the link between social relationships and health outcomes, identifying explanations for this link, and discovering social variation (e.g., by gender and race) at the pop...
Article
We work from a life-course perspective to explore how relationships with parents affect adult children's marital quality. We further ask whether the effects of parents on adult children's marital quality depend on the adult child's gender, age, marital duration, and childhood family experiences. Growth-curve analysis of national, longitudinal data...
Article
Full-text available
Sociological theory and research point to the importance of social relationships in affecting health behavior. This work tends to focus on specific stages of the life course, with a division between research on childhood/adolescent and adult populations. Yet recent advances demonstrate that early life course experiences shape health outcomes well i...
Article
This article reviews recent research (1999 - 2009) on the effects of parenthood on wellbeing. We use a life course framework to consider how parenting and childlessness influence well-being throughout the adult life course. We place particular emphasis on social contexts and how the impact of parenthood on well-being depends on marital status, gend...
Article
Full-text available
We consider how marital status and marital transitions, important features of the social environment, influence weight change over time, and how these effects vary by age, race, and gender. Growth curve analysis of a four-wave national survey suggests that marital transitions are more important than marital status in predicting change in body weigh...
Article
Full-text available
The majority of Americans will marry in their lifetimes, and for many, marriage symbolizes the transition into long-term commitment. However, many Americans cannot legally marry. This article analyzes in-depth interviews with gays and lesbians in long-term partnerships to examine union formation and commitment-making histories. Using a life course...
Article
Recent work emphasizes a “natural alliance” of stress and life course perspectives with both childhood and adult stress exposure having consequences over the life course. Research in this tradition is primarily concerned with mental and physical health outcomes and views health behaviour as a possible mechanism linking stress to health. This chapte...
Article
Full-text available
Although the meanings and rates of being married, divorced, separated, never-married, and widowed have changed significantly over the past several decades, we know very little about historical trends in the relationship between marital status and health. Our analysis of pooled data from the National Health Interview Survey from 1972 to 2003 shows t...
Article
We integrate theoretical traditions on the social construction of gender, heterosexuality, and marriage with research and theory on emotion work to guide a qualitative investigation of how married people understand and experience sex in marriage. Results, based on 62 in-depth interviews, indicate that married men and women tend to believe that sex...
Article
Parental status is one of the most important contextual features that shape the quality and dynamics of long-term intimate relationships over time. In this chapter, we build on a stress and life course perspective to analyze in-depth interviews with long-term lesbian and married heterosexual couples. Our goal is to explore (1) the interactive proce...
Article
As we live longer, most of us maintain relationships with our parents into middle age and beyond. How do these connections affect our health and well-being?
Article
Full-text available
We work from a life course perspective and identify several reasons to expect age and gender differences in the link between marital quality and health. We present growth curve evidence from a national longitudinal survey to show that marital strain accelerates the typical decline in self-rated health that occurs over time and that this adverse eff...
Article
We work from a stress and life course perspective to consider how stress affects trajectories of change in marital quality over time. Specifically, we ask whether stress is more likely to undermine the quality of marital experiences at different points in the life course. In addition, we ask whether the effects of adult stress on marital quality de...

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