David R. Williams is a sociologist who has studied social factors that affect physical and mental health. He is particularly recognized for his research on social inequities in health and his pioneering work on racism as a determinant of health and a contributor to the racial/ethnic gaps in health. Williams grew up in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. He graduated from the University of the Southern Caribbean in Trinidad with a degree in theology. He next earned an M.Div. from Andrews University in Michigan and an M.P.H. from Loma Linda University in California. After working in the public health field, he graduated from the University of Michigan with an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Sociology. He joined the Yale faculty in 1986, the University of Michigan faculty in 1992 and the Harvard faculty in 2006. He has held elected and appointed positions in the American Sociological Association, the American Public Health Association and Academy Health. He has received distinguished contribution awards from the American Sociological Association, the New York Academy of Medicine, and the American Psychological Association. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

David R. Williams is interested in the contribution of race, socioeconomic status (SES), racism, stress, health behaviors and religious involvement to variations in physical and mental health. His research has documented complex interactions between race and SES in predicting health, and delineated multiple ways in which racism, interpersonal and institutional, can affect health and contribute to explaining existing racial differences in health at every level of SES. The Everyday Discrimination Scale that he developed is one of the most widely used measures of perceived discrimination in health studies. His research has also examined how psychosocial stressors, at the individual, household and neighborhood level, can affect health risks and how resources such as social ties and religiosity/spirituality can reduce the adverse association between stress and health. He and his colleagues conducted the largest study of mental disorders in the black population in the U.S. and the first to include a national sample of Blacks of Caribbean ancestry. He also directed (in South Africa) the first nationally representative study of the prevalence and correlates of psychiatric disorders in sub-Sahara Africa. These studies have enhanced our understanding of variations in mental disorders by race, SES, immigrant status and other markers of social marginalization.

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Primary Section

Section 53: Social and Political Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences