Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Glanville, Jennifer L.

Second Advisor

Hitlin, Steven

First Committee Member

Lynn, Freda B.

Second Committee Member

Harkness, Sarah K.

Third Committee Member

Simon, Robin W.


This dissertation illuminates health inequalities by focusing on two motivational goods. One is expecting good things to happen: being optimistic, in other words. Another is feeling good, in terms of emotional well-being. While previous research has demonstrated the value of these psychological resources to understanding social inequality, basic questions remain about how and why these resources bring about health inequalities.

In Chapter Two, I use data from the 2005 Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) to examine interactions between optimism and autonomy at work as they relate to psychological distress and positive emotion. I utilize my results to shed light on how autonomy matters to mental health: findings are consistent with autonomy as a lack of oppression or as a "strong" social situation, rather than autonomy as an opportunity to thrive.

In Chapter Three, I test hypotheses about optimism in the context of relationship- and work-based crises, using data from the 2004 General Social Survey. I find that dispositional optimism is associated with increases in self-esteem and health; its effect on these outcomes intensifies around the time of relationship crises and is stronger for women than for men.

In Chapter Four, I draw and build upon a capital activation perspective to argue that emotional well-being activates education. Using a representative panel sample of middle-aged adults (MIDUS: 1995-2005), I indeed find that emotional well-being activates education, leading to especially favorable gains in health, sense of control and voluntary association involvement - or, more strikingly, to no effect of education at low levels of well-being. Moreover, an auxiliary fixed-effects analysis of activation (based on the MIDUS 1995 Identical Twins sample) replicates these findings. In total, I find that capital activation is a powerful source of social stratification that rivals the importance of capital itself.


Education, Emotional Well-Being, Health, Optimism, Stress


ix, 131 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 110-131).


Copyright 2014 Matthew A. Andersson

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Sociology Commons