Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Sociology

Major Professor

Elizabeth Vaquera

Co-Major Professor

Sara Green

Keywords

commitment, life course, marriage, satisfaction

Abstract

Previous research suggests that obesity can be stigmatizing in interpersonal relationships, including romantic relationships. Timing of obesity and weight stability are also especially important. The negative effects of obesity on interpersonal relationships appear most salient in women and Whites, while men and racial/ethnic minorities appear to experience fewer negative consequences from obesity in their relationships, suggesting that an intersectional lens is necessary in studies on the long-term effects of obesity on interpersonal relationships. In this dissertation, I employ an intersectional lens to understand how histories of obesity, gender, and racial/ethnic identity work together to influence three aspects of romantic relationships during the third decade of life: formation of romantic relationships, satisfaction with romantic relationships, and commitment to romantic relationships. Data were drawn from Waves I, III, and IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 9,588). Obesity was measured using a dynamic measure indicating whether respondents were obese in adolescence (Wave I) and/or early adulthood (Wave III). Participants were coded as non-obese (not obese at neither point), chronically obese (obese at both points), recently obese (obese in early adulthood only) and formerly obese (obese in adolescence only). Findings suggest that the effects of obesity histories on romantic relationships in early adulthood are contingent upon timing of obesity, gender, and racial/ethnic background. Whether obesity manifested in stigma or compensated for negative main effects of gender and/or race/ethnicity on romantic relationship was considerably variable throughout. The empirical findings suggest that experiencing obesity is a multidimensional process which, for some groups, is associated with qualitatively better relationship outcomes, while for others, the effects or null or negative. This dissertation adds necessary nuance to discussions on the complexity of obesity processes on romantic relationships and indicates that future research on obesity and interpersonal relationships necessitates an intersectional lens and framing that considers that obesity may not be uniformly stigmatizing.

Included in

Sociology Commons

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