She was chair of the School’s Department of Society, Human Development and Health from 1995–2008. Recognized for her groundbreaking work in the field of social epidemiology, she is noted for identifying the effects of social networks on mortality risks that helped define the field in the late 1970s. Berkman also broadened the field with her investigations of how social conditions related to inequality, race, ethnicity, and social isolation influence health and aging.
Before coming to the Harvard Chan School in 1995 to head what was then the Department of Health and Social Behavior, Berkman was head of the department of chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine.
A graduate of Northwestern University, Berkman received her master’s and doctorate in epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the Yale faculty in 1979 as an assistant professor.
She is a member of the Institute of Medicine, and serves as chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. She is a past president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research and the Association of Population Centers (APC),.
Professor Beckfield’s areas of specialty include the comparative political economy of population health, regional integration, globalization, stratification, and economic sociology. Conceptually, he is interested in how social and political institutions shape structures of inequality, both within and between national societies. Methodologically, he deploys comparative research methods to capitalize on and investigate the significant institutional variation among nation-states. His current research is focused on the impact of European integration on economic inequality and the welfare state, the evolution of the network structure of international organizations, and the social determinants of health inequalities. In particular, he is investigating how institutional arrangements (welfare programs, educational expansion, labor markets, and citizenship rights) stratify health, and help to explain why societies have such different population health profiles.