Portrait of Alexis Dennis

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and a predoctoral trainee at the Carolina Population Center.

My research broadly investigates how and why structural and social stratification processes generate disparities in health and wellbeing.  I draw from theories related to race & ethnicity, medical sociology, mental health, social stratification, and the life course and employ empirical approaches drawn from sociology, demography, and psychology to examine the processes that give rise to health inequalities.

I am particularly interested in uncovering the mechanisms that give rise to health inequalities. I often employ within-group analytical strategies to better understand how stratifying forces uniquely shape life chances and opportunities for health among specific racial/ethnic groups. I am also attentive to the need to refine theory, conceptualization, and measurement in my work to better reflect how our quantitative measures may have qualitatively different meanings across racial/ethnic groups.

A central strand of my research investigates why Nonwhites do not consistently reap the same beneficial health returns to material resources as Whites. My  dissertation, for example, investigates this question by examining how access to various types of socioeconomic resources across early portions of the life course gives rise to the racial/ethnic mental health inequalities observed among US adults. Another thread of my research focuses on how structural racism differentially restricts opportunities for health and wellbeing across all racial/ethnic groups in the United States (beyond just Black and White Americans).  My research to date in these areas is published in Du Bois Review, Ethnicity & Disease, and Demography (forthcoming). 

Prior to beginning doctoral training, I worked in public health – researching HIV, reproductive health, and mental health in Black communities in domestic and global settings at FHI 360 and the Duke Global Health Institute. My research in these areas appeared in PLOS One, AIDS and Behavior, International Journal of Women’s Health, Maternal and Child Health Journal, Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Journal of the International AIDS Society, and Women’s Studies in Communication.

I continue to collaborate with public health colleagues in the Aiello (social epidemiology) Research Group and am currently leading a small collaborative study to investigate the contextual and policy-related mechanisms that explain racial/ethnic and geographic disparities in COVID-19 mortality. Public sociology work stemming from this project appeared on Carolina Demography Blog and Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science Blog.