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Cancer Disparities

Sol Levine Lectureship on Society and Health: Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities In Cardiovascular Disease: The Promise and Perils of John Henryism


The Sol Levine Lectureship on Society and Health Presents:



The Promise and Perils of John Henryism


In technologically advanced societies, poor and working class individuals are usually 1 ½ -2 times more likely than their non-poor counterparts to develop debilitating, and often fatal, cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension-related strokes and heart attacks. In the US, the burden of these diseases is especially pronounced among poor and working class African Americans. The reasons for this are largely unknown. The John Henryism Hypothesis, which Dr. Sherman James developed in the mid-1980s, posits that prolonged high-effort coping (i.e. John Henryism) with difficult social and economic stressors could be a major factor in the heightened vulnerability of the poor and working classes, especially African Americans in these social positions, to hypertension-related diseases and death. The John Henryism Hypothesis derives, in part, from the legend of John Henry, the unskilled 19th century “steel-driving man,” who reputedly beat a machine in an epic steel-driving contest but then dropped dead from complete exhaustion. In this lecture, Dr. James will review population-based studies, including two recently completed studies, testing the John Henryism Hypothesis. He will note the conditions under which John Henryism appears to protect, rather than impair, cardiovascular health. He will conclude with a brief commentary on future research needs and on the social policy implications of John Henryism as a culturally conditioned, and potentially problematic coping strategy for the poor and working classes - especially under current conditions of rising social inequalities.


Sherman A. James, PhD

Susan B. King Professor of Public Policy

Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy



Thursday, April 25, 2013

4-5:30 p.m. Kresge G-2



The event is sponsored by the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

and Lung Cancer Disparities Center at Harvard School of Public Health 


A downloadable event flyer is available below. 


Sol_Levine_lecture_Sherman_James_04_25_13.pdf450 K