Jo Phelan holds a master’s degree in psychology and a PhD in sociology. She is currently associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Social Inequalities and Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Her broad research focus is on social inequalities, particularly on the interplay between social structural conditions and social psychological processes in producing, maintaining, or changing those inequalities. Her current research interests include socioeconomic inequalities as “fundamental causes” of inequalities in health and mortality, public conceptions of mental illness, and stigma, particularly stigma associated with mental illnesses.
With two grants from the National Human Genome Research Institute, she has recently been examining the potential impact of the genetics revolution on stigma and discrimination, including how genetic and other causes of stigmatized characteristics are presented in the news media, and whether genetic causal attributions for stigmatized characteristics, such as mental illness and obesity, increase or decrease stigmatizing attitudes among the general public. With grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation, she is s also examining the relationship between stigma and related concepts and processes of status and prejudice. Her co-edited book Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (1999) was awarded the prize for best publication by the American Sociological Association’s Section of the Sociology of Mental Health.