Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Reverberations of Inequality - INEQUALITY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD ADVERSITY (Bruce and Craig McEwen)

Thursday, November 21, 2019 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Forum (Room 250), Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics
Map Accessibility / Refreshments Provided

Read the McEwen brothers' essay here.

IN MANY SOCIETIES, BUT ESPECIALLY IN THE UNITED STATES, the reverberations of inequality are felt most profoundly by children growing up in poverty. Poverty increases the risk that they will not be ready for school by age 5, will not complete high school, and will be poor as adults. A lack of high-quality pre-schools, secondary schools that are poorly funded and ineffective, challenging neighborhoods, and limited parental resources, among other variables, contribute to these odds. These factors are compounded, however, by the ways that inequality literally gets under the skin, as the toxic stress produced by poverty affects brain and bodily development in early childhood. Combining the perspectives of neuroscience and sociology, brothers BRUCE MCEWEN, head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University, and CRAIG MCEWEN, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Bowdoin College, explore the feedback loops between social inequalities and biological responses to chronic stress, which create potentially life-long consequences for health and life trajectories. As much as neuroscience is key to understanding these effects, the sociological perspective cautions against too narrow a focus on biology. There is the risk of medicalization, which defines problems of adversity primarily as medical conditions requiring individual diagnosis and treatment. Sociological perspectives emphasize the social structures and practices that give rise to adversities and the resources that can protect against their potential impact on bodies and brains. This perspective turns attention to social policies to reduce adversities and to development of community resources to protect against them.

Read the McEwen brothers' essay here.

BRUCE MCEWEN is Alfred E. Mirsky Professor and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University. A prominent neuroscientist, he leads research on the effects of sex, stress and hormones on the brain. In 1968, his laboratory discovered adrenal steroid receptors in the hippocampus — a truly seminal discovery. His current research focuses on how stress affects particular areas of the brain, including the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. He is also investigating how brain regions differ between men and women. Dr. McEwen’s research has significantly deepened our understanding of how the brain changes over the course of development, from childhood to old age, and it continues to shine new light upon the causes and progression of psychiatric illnesses, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

CRAIG MCEWEN is Daniel B. Fayerweather Professor of Political Economy and Sociology Emeritus at Bowdoin College where he taught from 1975 to 2012.  His early research examined community corrections in comparison to traditional incarceration for juveniles and resulted in a book, Designing Correctional Organizations for Youths.  Over the next 25 years his research and commentary focused largely on mediation programs — small claims, community, corporate, family and general civil – and has been published widely in law reviews, social science journals and professional magazines.  He is co-author of the treatise Mediation: Law, Policy, Practice (with Sarah Cole, Nancy Rogers, James Coben, and Peter N. Thompson).  He also co-authored with Lynn Mather and Richard Maiman an empirical study of Divorce Lawyers at Work:  Varieties of Professionalism in Practice.  Most recently he co-authored Designing Systems and Processes for Managing Disputes with Nancy Rogers, Robert Bordone and Frank Sander.