Hedwig Lee

Professor of Sociology, Duke University

About Hedwig

Lee’s research and teaching focuses on the social determinants and consequences of population health and health disparities, with a particular focus on race/ethnicity, poverty and stress. Her recent work examines the impact of family member incarceration on the health and social well-being of family members (not incarcerated), the association between discrimination and mental and physical health, socioeconomic causes and consequences of obesity in childhood and adolescence, and using social media data (e.g., twitter) for demographic, health and sociological research.


Measuring the Social Impact of Mass Imprisonment on America's Black and White Families and Communities

  • Tyler McCormick
  • Margaret T. Hicken
  • Christopher Wildeman

People with Family Members in Prison are Less Likely to be Engaged American Citizens

  • Megan Lee Comfort
  • Lauren Porter

Why Poverty Leads to Obesity and Life-Long Problems

In the News

Quoted by Timothy Williams in "Report Details Economic Hardships for Inmate Families," New York Times, September 15, 2015.
Quoted by Peter Kelley in "Nearly Half of African-American Women Know Someone in Prison," UW Today, June 11, 2015.
Research discussed by Peter Kelley, in "Nearly Half of African-American Women Know Someone in Prison," UW Today, June 11, 2015.


"State-Level Variation in the Cumulative Prevalence of Child Welfare System Contact, 2015–2019" (with Youngmin Yi, Frank Edwards, Jane Waldfogel, Christopher Wildeman, and Natalia Emanuel). Children and Youth Services Review 147 (2023).

Provides new estimates of spatial and racial/ethnic variation in children’s lifetime risks of child welfare system involvement, as well as relative risks of these events. Discusses In the U.S., state-level investigation risks ranged from 14% to 63%, confirmed maltreatment risks from 3% to 27%, foster care placement risks from 2% to 18%, and risks of parental rights termination from 0% to 8%, with great racial/ethnic variation in all of these.

"Black-White Disparities in Hypertension: Reconsidering the Role of Chronic Stress" (with Margaret T. Hicken, Jeff Morenoff, James House, and David Williams). American Journal of Public Health 104, no. 1 (2013): 117-123.

Examines the notion of “vigilance” or the psychological burden of racism on health inequalities. Proposes that, in addition to the measureable risks that stem from structural racism (poor neighborhood quality, mass incarceration, high unemployment), there is a toxicity stemming from the stigma of non-White racial group membership that is driving health inequalities.

"Racial Inequalities in Connectedness to Imprisoned Individuals in the United States" (with Tyler McCormick and Christopher Wildeman). Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 12, no. 2 (2015): 269-282.

Argues that that with high rates of connectedness to prisoners and the vast racial inequality in them, it is likely that mass imprisonment has fundamentally reshaped inequality not only for the adult men for whom imprisonment has become common, but also for their friends and families.

"Investigating the Relationship between Perceived Discrimination, Social Status, and Mental Health" (with Kristin Turney). Society and Mental Health 2, no. 1 (2012): 1-20.
Examines the relationship between experiences with discrimination and hostility, depression and loneliness. Important positive associations exist between discrimination and mental health with variation by race and gender.
"Trends in Body Mass Index in Adolescence and Young Adulthood in the United States: 1959–2002" (with Dohoon Lee, Guang Guo, and Kathleen Mullan Harris). Journal of Adolescent Health 49, no. 6 (2011): 601-608.
Uses multiple nationally representative data sets to examine trends in body mass index from adolescence through young adulthood by race/ethnicity and sex over a period of almost 50 years and finds increases in BMI over time, particularly for black females.
"Life Course Perspectives on the Links between Poverty and Obesity during the Transition to Young Adulthood" (with Kathleen Mullan Harris and Penny Gordon-Larsen). Population Research and Policy Review 28, no. 4 (2009): 505-532.
Examines the association between poverty and obesity among adolescents as they transition to young adulthood in a national data set and finds an association between poverty/welfare receipt for females but not males.