"Eureka!" - Archimedes
My sociological imagination emerged during my Sophomore year at Cornell University. I became intrigued by the ways that social scientists employed rigorous methods, guided by theory, to answer questions about the social world. I officially caught the 'research bug' while serving as a research assistant for Dr. Gary Evans, in which we investigated the ways in which childhood poverty impacted an individuals' health and wellbeing later in life. I identify as a life course sociologist and social demographer who employs quantitative methods to address questions regarding the social distribution of poor health in the United States population. Further, I am interested in investigating the ways in which social and structural forces shape the health of individuals and how this varies across social locations (race/ethnicity, class, gender, etc.).
While most of my work to date has focused on later-life cognitive function and cognitive impairment among older adults in the U.S., I have branched out recently to examine the health and wellbeing of adults age 18+. In 2021, I founded the Health Equity Research Collective (HERC) Lab which consists of a team of undergraduate students all interested in health disparities research. We draw on mixed methods to investigate patterns of health and wellbeing across the population.
Please see below for a small sampling of my work. For a full accounting of my research and presentations, please access my CV below.
Select Publications and Research Abstracts
Thierry, Amy D., Kyler J. Sherman-Wilkins, Marina Armendariz, Allison Sullivan, and Heather R. Farmer. "Perceived Neighborhood Characteristics and Cognitive Functioning among Diverse Older Adults: An Intersectional Approach." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18:1-14.
Unfavorable neighborhood conditions are linked to health disparities. Yet, a dearth of literature examines how neighborhood characteristics contribute to cognitive health in diverse samples of older adults. The present study uses an intersectional approach to examine how race/ethnicity, gender, and education moderate the association between neighborhood perceptions and cognitive functioning in later life. We used data from adults ≥65 years old (n = 8023) in the 2010–2016 waves of the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We conducted race/ethnicity-stratified linear regression models where cognitive functioning, measured using the 35-point Telephone Interview Cognitive Screen (TICS), was regressed on three neighborhood characteristics—cleanliness, safety, and social cohesion. We examine whether there is heterogeneity within race/ethnicity by testing if and how the relationship between neighborhood characteristics and cognitive functioning differs by gender and education. Among White adults, worse neighborhood characteristics were associated with lower cognitive functioning among those with less education. However, for Black adults, poor perceived quality of one’s neighborhood was associated with worse cognitive functioning among those with more years of education compared to those with fewer years of education. Among Mexicans, perceived neighborhood uncleanliness was associated with lower cognitive functioning among those with less education, but higher cognitive functioning for those with higher levels of education. Thus, this study contributes to the literature on racial/ethnic disparities in cognitive aging disparities by examining neighborhood contextual factors as determinants of cognitive functioning. In particular, we find that higher education in the context of less favorable neighborhood environments does not confer the same benefits to cognitive functioning among all older adults.
Sherman-Wilkins, Kyler J. , and Amy Thierry. "Education as the Great Equalizer?: Racial and Ethnic Differences in Returns of Education on Cognitive Functioning in Later Life." Geriatrics 4(51):1-13.
Though evidence suggests that the prevalence of cognitive impairment has declined, there still exists a disproportionate burden of ill cognitive health for people of color. In this paper, we test two alternative mechanisms to explain the interactive effect of education and race/ethnicity on cognitive impairment risk: the minority poverty and diminishing returns hypotheses. Drawing on data from the 2012 wave of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (n = 8093), we estimate logistic regression models to determine differential effects of education on cognitive impairment. We find that non-Hispanic black and Mexican American older adults have higher odds of being cognitively impaired compared to whites, though the ethnic difference (whites vs. Mexican Americans) is mediated by education. Further, we find that while high levels of education are protective against cognitive impairment at older ages, it is more protective for non-Hispanic blacks than for whites and more protective for whites than Mexican Americans. Lastly, we find that racial/ethnic disparities are widest at lower levels of education, consistent with the minority poverty hypothesis. We conclude that the results herein highlight the importance of attending to how factors that are protective for cognitive functioning (e.g., education) may operate differently across racial and ethnic groups.
Alwin, Duane F., Jason R. Thomas, and Kyler J. Sherman-Wilkins. "Race, Social Relations and the Life Course." in Social Networks and the Life Course, edited by D. Alwin, D. Felmell, and D. Kreager. New York: NY:Springer.
In this chapter we investigate the potential linkage between race/ethnicity and social relationships. We discuss this topic within the framework of the “racialized life course,” which argues that lives and the pathways persons follow are ordered much differently across different racial and ethnic groups. One of the key differences involves the nature of social relationships, particularly the nature of social network ties and social participation. This is an important issue because recent theorizing about present-day racial inequalities emphasize the interlocking nature of several aspects of the racial paradigm, including racial ideology, segregation practices, and the role of discrimination.
Pudrovska, Tetyana, Eric Reither, Ellis Logan,* and Kyler J. Sherman-Wilkins.* "Gender and Reinforcing Associations between Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Body Mass over the Life Course." Journal of Health and Social Behavior 55(3):283-301. *Denotes equal contribution
Using the 1957–1993 data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we explore reciprocal associations between socioeconomic status (SES) and body mass in this 1939 birth cohort of non-Hispanic white men and women. We integrate the fundamental cause theory, the gender relations theory, and the life-course perspective to analyze gender differences in (a) the ways that early socioeconomic disadvantage launches bidirectional associations of body mass and SES, and (b) the extent to which these mutually-reinforcing effects generate socioeconomic disparities in midlife body mass. Using structural equation modeling, we find that socioeconomic disadvantage at age 18 is related to higher body mass index and a greater risk of obesity at age 54, and that this relationship is significantly stronger for women than men. Moreover, women are more adversely affected by two mechanisms underlying the focal association: the obesogenic effect of socioeconomic disadvantage and the SES-impeding effect of obesity. These patterns were also replicated in propensity score matching models. Gender and SES act synergistically over the life course to shape reciprocal chains of two disadvantaged statuses: heavier body mass and lower SES.