Congratulations to Professor Blair Wheaton, recently named Distinguished Professor of Sociology. Professor Wheaton ranks among Canada’s top sociologists and among the world’s top stress researchers. His career, spanning almost forty years, has been marked by outstanding scholarly contributions to the Sociology of Health and by equally impressive work as an institution builder in Sociology and at the University of Toronto.
Professor Wheaton’s research has been foundational in the Sociology of Mental Health. He brought new approaches to establishing social causation of mental health problems, shone a light on the long-term life course effects of early life stress and adversity, on the variation in forms of stress and their inter-relationships, and on social contextual approaches to the study of mental health trajectories through life, especially as expressed by neighbourhood effects on the mental health profile of children from school-age to early adulthood.
Wheaton’s published work is noted for its quality and its impact. His work has been methodologically innovative, ushering in new ways to seek and find answers to important questions in the sociology of mental health. His work on “stress-buffering” and coping, his application of innovative models to the study of neighbourhood effects on children as they grow up, and his conceptual pieces on the nature of social stress are widely read and have had a powerful impact on the field. On the basis of his research, Wheaton was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation (1990-1994), was elected Chair of the Mental Health section of the American Sociological Association from 2002-2004, and was a Visiting Professor at Princeton University in 2014. He has been invited to give numerous keynote addresses, and received a “Best Paper Award” from the top disciplinary association in Sociology.
Professor Wheaton’s current and future work promises to be every bit as ground breaking as the research for which he is already known. Currently, he is studying the integration of temporal and spatial influences on mental health in individual lives over time, with an emphasis on past living environments as formative in the determination of mental health across adulthood. His next project studies this through a twenty-year follow-up of the 888 children interviewed as part of his study of Toronto families in the 1990’s, looking at the impact of gender-egalitarian households on children’s lives as they move through the life course into middle adulthood.
In addition to his scholarship, Professor Wheaton has provided leadership at the University of Toronto and in the field of Sociology. He served as Chair of the Sociology Department and Graduate Chair from 2003 to 2012 and Director of the Institute for Human Development, Life Course, and Aging, at the University of Toronto from 1999 to 2003. A particularly significant achievement was his leadership in establishing the Toronto region’s Statistics Canada Research Data Centre, for which he served as Academic Director (Toronto Region) from 2001-2004.