Over the past 50 years, economic inequality in the U.S. has grown at an alarming rate. Although the U.S. is historically idealized as the “land of opportunity,” the large majority of people in the country today live paycheck to paycheck and have little opportunity to improve their financial, educational, or occupational standing. In the wake of this growing inequality, people’s experiences in life are increasingly determined by their social class—i.e., their access to material resources and their rank in society relative to others. Social class not only shapes health, happiness, and success, but also the fundamental ways people understand themselves and a wide array of psychological tendencies.
In my research, I examine social class as a significant cultural context that has a powerful influence on how people think, feel, and act, in large part, because of its influence on the nature of their close relationships. While relationships are universally important for health, happiness, and well-being, my research reveals that they are also highly sensitive to the opportunities and constraints of a person’s social class. This work falls under two broad research questions. First, how does social class shape the nature of close relationships, including the form and function of social networks as well as the meaning that people assign to their relationships? Second, what role do close relationships play in mitigating or exacerbating disparities across social class? Ultimately, the goal of my research is to (1) understand the consequences of adversity and inequality on human psychology and (2) identify novels pathways for mitigating social disparities.