Megan M. Reynolds

In Funded Scholars

Megan M.



Assistant Professor
University of Utah

Professional Bio

I am an Assistant Professor of sociology whose research focuses on the social and political factors that impact health and disease. My published work has examined the effects of labor union membership on self-rated health; gender differences in immigrant health, the predictors of public healthcare spending and factors associated with the selection of female CEOs. Excepting years in which I was on fellowship, I worked as a research assistant for the entirety of my graduate career. In every case, my primary responsibility was the preparation and analysis of quantitative data. My dissertation examined the influence of public healthcare, social policies, organized labor and political representation on infant mortality and life expectancy across 22 rich democracies between 1960 and 2010. My dissertation was motivated by my desire to illuminate the structural conditions that engender health inequalities and was supported by the Program for Advanced Research in the Social Sciences through the Duke Social Science Research Institute. These experiences have provided me with considerable statistical knowledge. I am proficient in the analysis of health surveys with complex designs, linear and categorical regression, propensity score analysis, latent variable construction, fixed intercept models, error correction models and data visualization techniques. In addition, I have acquired data management skills such as building multiyear and multilayer datasets from multiple files and databases. Since arriving at the University of Utah in 2014, I have been awarded two intramural seed grants and was inducted into the Vice Presidents Clinical and Translational Research Scholars Program. My substantive expertise in the social policy, the social determinants of health and work and labor combined with my extensive quantitative analysis experience make me uniquely qualified to advance the proposed project.

Project Name

Examining the impact of social policy on obesity among young adults

Project Description

Social protection represents a set of social policies designed to promote labor market participation and buffer individuals from economic shocks. Typically associated with financial well-being, these policies are increasingly linked to health in cross-national research1 -15. Social protection increases resources to support healthcare utilization, healthy diets and physical activity16-19. Individuals with low socioeconomic status (SES) may also have difficulty accessing or affording healthy foods20-22 or recreational facilities23,24. Social protection may also promote health through reducing stress or reactivity to stress. Chronic stress can lead to physiological damage via “allostatic load”25, as well as contribute to unhealthy behaviors35,36. Social protection can mitigate stress by blunting the ill effects of increasingly volatile labor markets and providing an increased sense of social cohesion26,27, a known stress-buffer28,29. This may be particularly impactful for immigrants, for whom stress is often especially acute. Yet, despite the growing cross-national evidence and the myriad plausible mechanisms, research on social protection within the U.S. remains extremely limited. This is especially curious given the widely-publicized findings that the U.S. underperforms in longevity and morbidity relative to peer nations with more established social protection systems30-35 and that life expectancy among rural women of low socioeconomic status is falling, an unprecedented reversal of the steady lengthening of life that the U.S. has enjoyed throughout most of its history36,37. The analysis of social protection effects on health and health disparities in the domestic context, thus, represents a new and promising research endeavor. In this study, I aim to test two hypotheses: (1) I hypothesize that more generous public welfare and unemployment compensation spending are associated with a reduced risk of young adult obesity; and (2) I hypothesize that there is a social protection-group interaction, whereby the salutary effect of more generous public welfare and unemployment compensation spending will be more pronounced among the foreign-born relative to the native-born.

Research Interests

My principal research agenda explores the three-way relationships among health and illness, inequalities and politics and policy. My interest in health is motivated by a view of health as an important measure of life chances that is influenced heavily by political, as well as social, factors. While my work addresses the independent contribution of individual characteristics such as sex and nativity status, I seek to broaden the understanding of health to include the macro-level factors that may affect health at the individual and population levels. Investigating a range of health outcomes (coronary heart disease, self-rated health, morbidity, infant mortality, life expectancy), I attempt to gain traction on more general questions of stratification and inequality. I have thus far examined health inequalities in work, gender and nativity/ethnicity. My research and teaching interests broadly encompass the areas of stratification, medical sociology, labor and labor relations, work and occupations, political sociology and social policy. Drawing on theories of power relations, institutions, social policy, gender and immigration, I use cross-sectional and longitudinal data within and across countries at both the individual and country levels to illuminate the processes whereby different social and political contexts affect health. My work is informed by writings in the areas of political sociology (Evelyne Huber and John Stephens, Walter Korpi), medical sociology (Bruce Link and Jo Phelan, Leonard Pearlin), work & labor (Charles Tilly, Judith Stepan-Norris) and stratification/inequality (Erik Olin Wright, Bruce Western).

The Details
  • New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
  • Award Year: 2016
  • RWJF Team/Portfolio: Sociology

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