Structural Stigma and the Transition to Adulthood: Examining Marriage and Independent Living Among Deaf Men in Nineteenth Century America

Megan Lemmon , Pennsylvania State University

Structural stigma—the conditions of the social environment that limit the resources and opportunities available to members of stigmatized groups—contributes to health disparities and may impact other areas of social life. This study uses a historical case study to examine whether structural stigma affects the transition to adulthood for members of a stigmatized group: deaf individuals in 19th century America. Although deafness was particularly stigmatized in this context, qualitative research identifies certain places (“deaf enclaves”) where this stigma was reduced. Using data from the 1850 census, I find that deaf men living in these enclaves were more likely to marry relative to their peers living elsewhere, while hearing men in these locations were slightly less likely to marry. Enclave residence was not associated with establishing an independent residence for deaf men. These results suggest that structural stigma may contribute to disparities in marriage as a pathway to adulthood.

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 Presented in Session 8. Economy, Labor Force, Education, & Inequality