Anna S. Mueller is a Sociologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. She is also a Research Associate at the Population Research Center. She received her BA from Wellesley College in 2002 and her PhD in sociology in 2011 from the University of Texas at Austin with a traineeship from the Population Research Center at UT.
Broadly speaking, Mueller’s research examines how social relationships and social contexts shape adolescent health and wellbeing over the transition to adulthood. She is also interested in how schools, as social organizations, shape social relationships and opportunities to learn, thereby affecting the life chances of children. Her conceptual research interests are matched by her methodological interests in social network analysis, multi-level modeling, and in-depth case studies of adolescent societies. Currently, she has three on-going and interrelated research projects on suicide in adolescence and young adulthood with her colleague Seth Abrutyn at University of Memphis. These projects examine how exposure to the suicide deaths of significant others (e.g., friends, family or schoolmates) shape adolescent mental health and vulnerability to suicide by drawing on insights from social psychology, cultural sociology, sociology of emotions and social network theories.
The first project uses nationally representative survey data, multi-level modeling and social network analysis to improve our understanding of how and when the diffusion of suicide through social ties occurs. This work has emphasizes how (1) gender, (2) life course stage, (3) the relationship to the person who attempted or died by suicide, and (4) communication about suicide between friends shape suicide diffusion.
The second project involves an in-depth case study of a small, highly-integrated, majority white, wealthy, suburban U.S. community with a high number of youth suicide deaths (including a history of repeat or “echo” suicide clusters). Drawing from in-depth interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, this project identifies the structural and cultural forces within this community that render adolescents more vulnerable to suicide and shows how pressure to live up to high expectations can have unintended consequences for youth, such as generating an intense fear of failure, suppressing help-seeking, and reifying mental health stigma.
Her final project leverages empirical insights from the first two projects to develop a more elaborate sociological theory of suicide. From this work, she has published several theoretical essays that develop the idea that the structure and cultural content of communities condition their role in preventing or promoting suicide. This work begins with Durkheim’s important insights on social integration/regulation and elaborates them using insights from the empirical projects and with ideas from social psychology, cultural sociology, sociology of emotions and social network theories.
Mueller’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and her articles on suicide have received the Eliot Friedson Outstanding Publication Award from the Section on Medical Sociology of the American Sociological Association as well as best publication awards from the ASA Sections on Sociology of Mental Health, Children & Youth, and Emotions. Her research can be read in the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Sociological Theory, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and American Journal of Public Health, among others. She teaches courses on sociology of health, mental health, education, children/youth, gender, social networks, and social statistics.