Leonard I Pearlin



Leonard I. Pearlin, whose work on the social origins of mental illness shaped sociological research on the stress process, passed away Wednesday, July 23, after a brief illness at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife Gerrie, daughters Susan and Gena, and grandson Derrick. Len also leaves behind a small army of colleagues who also count him as a cherished friend.

Len's contributions to the field have been monumental. His ideas about the ways in which the social organization of society shapes the psychological well-being of its members form the intellectual roots for a vast body of research on stress and mental health. The publication of “The Structure of Coping” in 1978 and “The Stress Process” in 1981 propelled forward sociological research on how enduring stressors encountered in ordinary daily life lead to the depletion of the very social and psychological resources that might otherwise offset the damaging emotional impact of these stressors. Both of these papers are Citation Classics on the Web of Science. This emphasis on everyday life stood in contrast to the dominant paradigm at the time on eventful change. It also opened the door to the further conceptual elaboration of the universe of stressors to encompass a much wider array of challenges and obstacles that impinge on people's mental health.

His 1989 article, “The Sociological Study of Stress,” chastised sociologists for the prevailing tendency to reduce social phenomena to intra-individual processes. This critique reoriented sociological research toward the ways in which social stratification generates differences in risk for psychological distress by socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, gender, and age. The agenda set forth in this paper is still being actualized.

In addition to his theoretical contributions to the field, his empirical research spanned a broad spectrum of social life including work and the family, aging and the life course, and caregiving. His research has a lasting legacy.

This extraordinary record of scholarly achievement garnered Len a lengthy list of accolades. He was the 1991 recipient of the Leo G. Reeder Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Medical Sociology from the American Sociological Association. In 1992, he received the award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychiatric Sociology from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. That same year, he received a MERIT Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1998, he was named recipient of the Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology by the American Sociological Association. Leonard Pearlin also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ghent in Belgium in recognition of his international stature as a gerontological researcher. He was the 2004 recipient of the Distinguished Career Contribution Award of the Behavior and Social Sciences Section of the Gerontological Society of America.

His service in other capacities is also noteworthy. He was a special grants consultant for a host of U.S. National Institutes of Health review committees for over 40 years. Len also served on the Advisory Committee of the National Institute on Aging and on the Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the Alzheimer’s Association. He served on the National Board of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association as well as the Advisory Committee of the Herczeg Institute on Aging in Israel.

Len also has been one of the finest mentors in the discipline. He trained a number of outstanding doctoral students who have gone on to have excellent careers. He has always had time to encourage and support the work of new researchers. He helped to launch the careers of a number of people who have gone on to make important contributions to the field in their own work. Len has been a helpful and approachable colleague whose efforts have resulted in a stronger and more vibrant field.

As much as Len is esteemed by his colleagues, this regard is surpassed by their affection for him.

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