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Dr. Justin Denney, Rice University – Social Status and Accidental Death


In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Justin Denney of Rice University reveals the connection between social status and the likelihood of death in a preventable accident. 

Justin Denney is an assistant professor of sociology and Associate Director of the Kinder Institute Urban Health Program at Rice University. His primary research is focused on identifying individual and structural conditions that jointly contribute to health and mortality inequalities.

About Dr. Denney

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Dr. Justin Denney – Social Status and Accidental Death

Most adults have reflected on their own mortality and reasonably have not envisioned their ultimate demise resulting from an automobile accident driving home from work or from taking the wrong dosage of a prescribed medication. But accidents are the 5th leading cause of all deaths in the United States and the leading cause of death among persons age 15 to 44. They kill roughly the same number of people as acute myocardial infarction, more commonly referred to as heart attacks.

Social scientists argue that social and economic characteristics are fundamentally related to how long we live. Married adults live longer than the divorced and college graduates longer than high school graduates. The reasons for these associations are complex but intimate relationships and education reduce risks and lengthen life through enhanced social and emotional support and greater resources, such as access to safer and more high paying jobs.

Recently, social scientists and physicians have worked together to create preventability rankings for all causes of mortality to better understand the social factors associated with how long we live. Applied to accidents, if social relationships and socio-economic resources prevent death, then they should be more important in situations where death can be avoided and less valuable in situations that closely resemble random events. Our research shows that divorced and low educated adults, compared to married and more highly educated adults, are over two times more likely to die from the most preventable, and equally likely to die from the least preventable, accidents. This shows that accidents resulting in death are not purely random events but that the people and resources available to you may contribute importantly to how long you live and how you die.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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