Research Interests

Dr. Yahirun's research asks how the family, as a social institution, contributes to inequalities in health and well-being over the life course. This work investigates three major themes: 1) the role of family in the lives of immigrants, 2) how increasing family complexity challenges the kinship safety net, and 3) how family relationships shape individual health outcomes. Throughout her work, she pays particular attention to how gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status stratify access to a variety of resources, with implications for how the “linked lives” of family members leads to inequality at the population level.

Families and Migration

VangelisB. "Refugee Street Art." Vyronas, Athens. 10/20/2013.  Flickr.

VangelisB. "Refugee Street Art." Vyronas, Athens. 10/20/2013. Flickr.

Migration is a family affair. The United States in particular has historically encouraged migration through family-based reunification. Yet even in countries that have traditionally relied on labor-based models of migration, family networks are a critical source of information about new destinations and can help facilitate settlement once in the new country. Dr. Yahirun's research examines the ways in which families are central to understanding immigrant life and investigates how differences between migrant and non-migrant families can lead to broader inequalities. 

She recently worked on a project that asks how the U.S. migration of adult children affects the well-being of parents left behind in Mexico (Yahirun and Arenas, 2018). Using data on undocumented migrants from the Mexican Family Life Survey, she finds that children’s U.S. migration increases parental loneliness and sadness, even after accounting for the remittances that offspring send home. These results are not surprising given that border security and undocumented migration make it difficult, if not impossible, for parents and children to see each other again. 

Family as a Safety Net

Finn-Irwin, J. "Grandpa and Grandson in Black and White." 8/1/2009.  Flickr .

Finn-Irwin, J. "Grandpa and Grandson in Black and White." 8/1/2009. Flickr.

Increased longevity among older adults today translates to the potential for more frequent and meaningful interactions with younger generations. However, macro-level changes in family structure such as rising rates of divorce and cohabitation challenge the potential for greater intergenerational ties. Dr. Yahirun's work looks at the ways in which increasing family complexity and family diversity affect the relationships between family members and the implications this has for accessing the family safety net. 

A recent paper examines how divorce, remarriage, and re-partnering affect relationships across three-generation families. This project (Yahirun, Park and Seltzer, 2018) shows that racial and ethnic minorities and those with less education are more likely to have step-grandchildren. A contribution of this project is to illustrate how the share of older adults with any step-grandchildren is disproportionately distributed across the population. Prior research has found that there is less support in stepfamilies compared to biological families. Thus, determining which groups are more likely to be affected by complex family histories sheds light on the potential growing disparity in access to the family safety net by socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. 

Families and Health 


The socioeconomic gradient in health is a well-established finding in the social science literature: individuals with access to more socioeconomic resources tend to have better health behaviors and health outcomes that those with fewer resources. Yet a growing body of work also points to the way in which family members’ resources shape individual health outcomes. Dr. Yahirun's research adds to this work and asks how the education of adult children shapes older adult health. She examines this question in two contexts: Mexico and the United States. 

A current paper (with Connor Sheehan and Krysia Mossakowski, In Press) examines how U.S. parents’ depression trajectories are affected by children’s college attainment. Preliminary results reveal that parents with children who completed college have significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than parents without college-educated children. Although this mental health disparity decreases with age, the influence of children’s education on parental mental health is increasing in significance across birth cohorts. These findings highlight the growing importance of education as an intergenerational resource, which contributes to mental health disparities among older adults in the United States.