My research aims to advance understandings in the sociology of religion, health, inequality, occupations and work, and the social dynamics of survey research. My research leverages advanced quantitative methods to model social processes, but I have also published using historical and qualitative methods.
Research in Clergy Health
In my post-doctoral position, I am part of the Clergy Health Initiative, a 10-year longitudinal study of all 1,800 United Methodist clergy in North Carolina. This group suffers from high rates of chronic disease, particularly obesity, diabetes and depression. My research has three major components:
Racial Disparities in Economic Attainment among Clergy
First, I am studying the occupational factors that create racial disparities in economic attainment. In one paper, being prepared for review at Work & Occupations, my colleagues and I analyze both quantitative and qualitative data to document the organizational mechanisms that create barriers to economic and professional success among black clergy. We find that pervasive race matching between clergy and congregations, when combined with broader patterns of racial inequality creates a situation where black pastors face a much more limited set of opportunities than their white colleagues. Additionally, we discover that black clergy find themselves in the difficult position of simultaneously competing with other black clergy for a small number of jobs, yet also relying on their solidarity with other African American clergy to cope with the implicitly racist system they inhabit.
Social Support and Health
My research also explores how social support networks influence mental and physical health. I designed a social support module for the Clergy Health Panel survey, which collected the names and social characteristics of more than 9,000 people clergy turn to for support. At present I am analyzing these data to uncover the ways in which differences in social support mediates mental health, stress, and occupational well being.
Modeling Health Trajectories
Finally, I am working to understand the causal processes that create various health trajectories. One example of this research is in a manuscript being prepared for review at JAMA Psychiatry where we uncover a cross-lagged, prospective relationship between depression and the precursors of cardiovascular disease among clergy, with the former being a much stronger predictor. We argue that interventions addressing these correlated risk factors (e.g., exercise, collaborative care) may be useful in preventive efforts. In another paper, being prepared for Diabetes Care, we evaluate the short and long term impacts of a major health intervention targeting metabolic disorder. Future research will identify the personal and social characteristics that predict short and long term weight loss.
Research in the Sociology of Religion
Causes and Consequences of Megachurches
My dissertation, a series of three articles, examines the causes and consequences of a major trend in American religion-- the concentration of people into very large churches. In the first article, published in the Journal of Social History, I challenge the perception of so-called megachurches as new and fleeting organizations. In the second article, which is under review at Socius, I uncover that religious service attendance declines with congregational size. I argue that this trend may help explain the decline in national patterns of church attendance. In the third article, published in Research in the Sociology of Work, I demonstrate that church size is positively correlated with a congregation's socio-economic status composition.
Religion and Inequality
Other published research in the sociology of religion explores the theoretical connections between religion and inequality. In a co-authored article published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, we argue that research on religion and inequality must carefully consider how multiple identity categories combine, overlap and intersect to impact consequential outcomes. In another published book chapter, we use a mixed-methods approach to highlight the variable ways in which religion, gender and ethnicity interact to influence women's employment decisions. We find that Arab American women show the surprising pattern of high levels of religiosity and high levels of education, but very low employment.
Panel Conditioning on Repeated Survey Measures
My research in quantitative methodology covers broad territory. In an article in Social Networks, I uncover important methodological considerations when implementing name generator questions on web-based surveys and in panel designs. I find strong evidence of panel conditioning, even with waves spaced 2 years apart. This study presses researchers to consider how the visual display of web-questionnaires may exert a major influence on network characteristics.
Capitalizing on the gains offered by new statistical methods also motivates my research. For example, in an article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, I develop a spatially and temporally conditioned Bayesian hierarchical growth curve model of the effect of a government land-use policy on the price of farmland over a 35-year period. This article demonstrates the flexibility that Bayesian methods offer by modeling the response of land prices to environmental policy initiatives. I have also adapted Bayesian methods to a Heckman selection model to examine the correlates of charitable giving. Giving has a highly irregular distribution that even zero-inflated models cannot accommodate (this model is part of a manuscript being prepared for submission to Sociology of Religion.
Going forward, I have two new projects on the horizon. First, I received a development grant from the Lake Institute at Indiana University to use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to study the how the Great Recession impacted charitable giving and whether those impacts varied by class, religious affiliation, gender and race. This research has major importance to non-profit organizations and I am certain will attract the attention of foundations to receive additional support. In addition, working with the PSID will also allow me to track longitudinal patterns in religious affiliation and attendance, something that continues to be an under-researched topic in the demography of religious change. Second, I plan to extend my work on the racial barriers faced by black clergy in majority white denominations. I plan to conduct interviews with denominational officials to uncover the narratives they employ to explain racial disparities among the clergy they supervise.
David Eagle, PhD >