Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) recently announced new cofunded faculty member Jessica Ho, who will join the institute in the 2022-23 academic year.
Ho is an associate professor of sociology and demography and an associate of the Population Research Institute and comes to Penn State from the University of Southern California. Her research interests include demography, medical sociology, aging and stratification.
“I seek to understand how factors related to American culture, social institutions, and the organization of everyday life may explain why the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy of any high-income country,” said Ho.
Her previous research found that the mortality of Americans aged 50 years and younger contributes to the bulk of the life expectancy shortfall and that drug overdoses are a key contributor to premature deaths at these ages.
“The drug overdose epidemic is both a manifestation and a driver of inequality within the U.S., and it has also become an important contributor to our life expectancy shortfall relative to other rich countries,” said Ho. “My work examines the causes and consequences of the contemporary drug overdose epidemic for older adults, families and intergenerational relationships.”
Ho also explores how stratification processes have caused health disparities to emerge, widen or narrow over time. Her work highlights the importance of focusing on policies to prevent the major causes of death for Americans at the prime adult ages of 20-64, and the need to reduce the social inequalities that lead to them.
At Penn State, Ho will undertake research that identifies the role differences in welfare states and social protections play in driving the U.S. life expectancy shortfall and cross-national variations in life expectancy.
She will also examine the impacts the drug overdose epidemic is having on family structure and living arrangements, and how families have coped with these impacts, including the time, money and support transferred across multiple generations to provide for their households overall and care for children.
“I’m thrilled to continue my research at Penn State, as it has an esteemed sociology environment, a strong population center, and a lot of exciting interdisciplinary research is being conducted here,” said Ho.
Ho received her doctorate in demography and sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and was previously a consultant to the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Understanding International Health Differences in High-Income Countries. She is the recipient of a career development award from the NIH, and her work has also been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“This SSRI cofunded faculty hire is an important part of our priority to expand research expertise in the area of aging, and with a goal of understanding and reducing disparities over the life course.,” said SSRI Director Deborah Ehrenthal, professor of biobehavioral health. “Dr. Ho will play a leadership role in research and training programs in this critical priority area.”
SSRI enables and facilitates research that addresses critical human and social challenges at the local, national, and international levels. The institute supports 59 cofunded faculty positioned within nine colleges and over 500 faculty across nine campuses via various funding mechanisms. Under SSRI, the PRI is a multidisciplinary center that supports innovative population research. and is funded by the National Institutes of Health.