Karen Lincoln

Associate Professor and Director, USC Hartford Center of Excellence in Geriatric Social Work
Contact Information
University Park
City Center
Department of Study 
Adults and Healthy Aging
Research Interest 
Mental Health
PhD, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2002
MA, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1998
MSW, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1996
BA, University of California, Berkeley, 1992

KAREN D. LINCOLN is an associate professor, director of the USC Hartford Center of Excellence in Geriatric Social Work, associate director at the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, and founder and chair of Advocates for African American Elders at the University of Southern California.

Lincoln is an honors graduate from UC Berkeley, where she received a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in African American studies, and a graduate from the University of Michigan, where she earned an MSW, an M.A. in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Social Work and Sociology.

She has published more than 50 articles and book chapters in the areas of stress, aging and mental health disparities. Lincoln has been published in The New York Times and has contributed to articles published in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Los Angeles magazine and Los Angeles Daily News, and is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal. She has received more than $2 million in grant funding to support her research, which focuses on improving clinical and community-based treatment of African Americans with mental health disorders and chronic health conditions. She also contributes to a blog where she fuses social commentary with her vast knowledge of health and mental health of African American communities, disseminating information about how the Affordable Care Act will impact African Americans, sharing her inspiration for a “healthy black America,” and posing questions such as “Is being black bad for your health?”

Lincoln is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and a Hartford faculty scholar. In 2014, she was ranked third among the most influential African American social work scholars in the United States.

Dr. Karen Lincoln first considered social work as a career after a stranger at a beauty salon told her if she pursued the profession, she would always have a job. Shortly thereafter, Lincoln, who held a degree in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, found herself on an eight-year track to a doctorate in social work and sociology at the University of Michigan. Convinced that she had found her true calling, Lincoln wasted no time distinguishing herself as a forward-thinking researcher in the area of mental health disparities.

Recruited by a professor working with the Program for Research on Black Americans, Lincoln cultivated an interest in social support and mental health among African American populations. Completing her studies half a year early, she began exploring social support within the context of race and ethnicity at a time when few were focusing on that topic. That initial focus grew into explorations of the interplay between stress, social support systems, race, personality, personal resources and mental health. Lincoln’s research revealed that social support buffered the effect of stress for whites but not for African Americans, perhaps because close social support systems are more normative in black communities and don’t manifest only during instances of stress.

But Lincoln quickly became far more interested in within-group differences in black populations, a far less understood domain of inquiry. Although African Americans are known for having better mental health than many ethnic groups, stark differences emerge within the African American population when separated by gender, sexuality and relationship status. Subgroups of sick people in black communities often get lost amid the perceived healthfulness of the general population, but Lincoln’s research is prompting social workers to design interventions that address increasingly specific needs.

Lincoln joined the USC faculty in 2007 and quickly expanded her work to include other minority populations such as Latinos, Asian Americans and Caribbean blacks, in addition to specializing in depression. One key study revealed that race alone does not predict depression risk, confirming her general thesis that racial differences shouldn’t be the only factor considered when treating health disorders. Lincoln’s next step is to relate mental health disorders to physical health problems such as obesity, part of her eventual biobehavioral goal of finding hidden linkages that will lead to more encompassing intervention strategies.

Lincoln was recently recruited to be the associate director of the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging, where she has participated in research on minority mental health with faculty and students. A product of invaluable mentoring herself, Lincoln considers her role as mentor to be particularly important. Her philosophy—mentoring “beyond dissertation to tenure”—has resulted in fruitful partnerships with doctoral students interested in similar issues.

Awards and Distinction
Grand Marshal, University of Southern California School of Social Work Commencement (2011)
Principal Investigator, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and the Mathematica Policy Research Project, Marriage and Health in the African American Community, “Stress, Marital Satisfaction, and Mental Health Among African Americans.” 5/01/08-12/31/09. $10,000 (2008)
Scholar, National Institute of Mental Health, African American Mental Health Research Scientist Grant Workshop. Bethesda, Maryland (2006)
National Institutes of Health, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Conference, Moving Forward: Building on Social Work Contributions to Mental Health Research presentation entitled, “Positive and Negative Social Interactions, Personality, and Stressful Events as Predictors of Psychological Distress among African Americans" (2002)
National Institute on Aging, Technical Assistance Workshop, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, MD (1996)
Rackham Merit Fellowship, University of Michigan (1994)
Principal Investigator, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California, Berkeley grant entitled, “The Detroit School: Public Education for African American Males” (1992)
More awards
Selected Publications

Lincoln, K.D., Chatters, L.M. & Taylor, R.J. (in press). Church-based negative interaction among older African Americans, Caribbean Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites. In M. Silverstein & R. Giarrusso (Eds.) From generation to generation: Continuity and discontinuity in aging families.: Johns Hopkins Press.

Aranda, M.P., Chae, D.H., Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J., Woordward, A.T. & Chatters, L.M. (in press). Demographic Correlates of DSM-IV Major Depressive Disorder among Older African Americans, Black Caribbeans, and Non-Hispanic Whites: Results from the National Survey of American Life.International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Taylor, R.J., Chae, D.H., Chatters, L.M. & Brown, E. (in press). DSM-IV Twelve Month and Lifetime Major Depressive Disorder and Romantic Relationships among African Americans. Journal of Affective Disorders.

Chae, D.H., Nuru-Jeter, A., Lincoln, K.D. & Arriola, K.R. (in press). Racial Discrimination, Mood Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Among Black Americans. Annals of Epidemiology.

Taylor, R.J., Brown, E., Chatters, L.M. & Lincoln, K.D. (in press). Extended Family Support and Relationship Satisfaction Among Married, Cohabiting and Romantically Involved African Americans and Black Caribbeans. Journal of African American Studies.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J., Chatters, L.M. & Jackson, J.S. (in press). Correlates of negative interaction and social support among African Americans and Black Caribbeans. Journal of Family Issues.

Chae, D.H., Lee, S., Lincoln, K.D. & Ihara, E.S. (in press). Discrimination, Family Relationships, and Major Depression Among Asian Americans. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.

Woodward, A.T., Taylor, R.J. & Bullard, K.M. (in press). Prevalence of Lifetime DSM-IV Affective Disorders among Older African Americans, Black Caribbeans, Latinos, Asians and Non-Hispanic Whites. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Chae, D.H., Lincoln, K.D. & Jackson, J.S. (in press). Discrimination, attribution, and racial group identification: Implications for psychological distress among Black Americans in the National Survey of American Life.American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

Chatters, L.M., Taylor, R.J., Lincoln, K.D. & Nguyen, A. (in press). Church-Based Social Support and Suicidality among African Americans and Black Caribbeans. Archives of Suicide Research, 15, 337-353.

Chae, D.H., Nuru-Jeter, A.M., Lincoln, K.D. & Francis, D.D. (2011). Conceptualizing racial disparities in health: Advancement of a socio-psychobiological approach. DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 8(1), 63-77.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J., Chatters, L.M. & Joe, S. (2011). Suicide, Negative Interaction and Emotional Support among Black Americans. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Online First.

Aranda, M. & Lincoln, K.D. (2011). Financial strain, social and personal coping resources and depressive symptoms in a clinical sample of older Latinos. Race and Social Problems, 3, 280-297.

Lincoln, K.D. & Chae, D.H. (2011). Social support, negative interaction, and lifetime major depressive disorder among African Americans and Caribbean Blacks. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47(3), 361-372.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J. & Watkins, D. (2010). Correlates of psychological distress and major depressive disorder among African American men.Research on Social Work Practice, 21(3), 278-288.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J. & Chae, D.H. (2010). Demographic correlates of psychological well-being and distress among older African Americans and Caribbean Black adults. Best Practices in Mental Health: An International Journal, 6, 103-126.

Lincoln, K.D., Chae, D.H., Adler, N.E. & Syme, S.L. (2010). Do major experiences of racial discrimination predict cardiovascular health outcomes among African American men? The moderating role of negative attitudes towards Blacks. Social Science and Medicine, 71, 1182-1188.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J., Bullard, K.M., Chatters, L.M. & Himle, J.A. (2010). Emotional support, negative interaction and DSM IV lifetime disorders among older African Americans: Findings from the National Survey of American Life (NSAL). International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25, 612-621.

Lincoln, K.D., Chae, D.H., Chatters, L.M., Himle, J.A., Woodward, A.T. & Jackson, J.S. (2010). Stress, marital satisfaction, and mental health among African Americans in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL). Journal of Family Issues, 31, 1081-1105.

Lincoln, K.D. & Takeuschi, D.T. (2010). Variations in Trajectories of depressive symptoms: Results from the Americans’ Changing Lives Study.Biodemography and Social Biology, 56, 24-41.

Keith, V.M., Lincoln, K.D. & Taylor, R.J. (2009). Discriminatory experiences and depressive symptoms among African American women: Do skin tone and mastery matter?. Sex Roles, 62, 48-59.

Bryant, C.M., Taylor, R.J., Lincoln, K.D. & Jackson, J.S. (2008). Marital Satisfaction among African Americans and Black Caribbeans: Findings from the National Survey of American Life. Family Relations, 57, 239-253.

Lincoln, K., Taylor, R.J. & Jackson, J.S. (2008). Personality, negative interactions and mental health. Social Service Review, 82, 223-252.

Chatters, L.M., Taylor, R.J., Lincoln, K.D. & Jackson, J.S. (2008). Religious coping among African Americans, Caribbean Blacks and Non-Hispanic Whites. Journal of Community Psychology, 36(3), 371-386.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J. & Jackson, J.S. (2008). Romantic relationships among unmarried African Americans and Caribbean Blacks. Family Relations, 57, 254-266.

Lincoln, K. (2007). Race and the sociology of mental health. In W. R. Avison, J. D. McLeod, & B. A. Pescosolido (Eds.) Mental health, social mirror. (pp. 169-189). New York: NY: Springer.

Lincoln, K.D. & Takeuscho, D.T. (2007). Social support. In G. Ritzer (Eds.)The Blackwell encyclopedia of sociology. (pp. 4527-4531). Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Lincoln, K.D. (2007). Financial strain, negative interactions and mastery: Pathways to mental health among older African Americans. Journal of Black Psychology, 33(4), 439-462.

Lincoln, K.D. & Chatters, L.M. (2007). Profiles of depressive symptoms among African Americans and Caribbean Blacks. Social Science & Medicine, 65(2), 200-213.

Lincoln, K.D., Chatters, L.M. & Taylor, R.J. (2005). Social support, traumatic events and depressive symptoms among African Americans.Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(3), 754-766.

Taylor, R.J., Lincoln, K.D. & Chatters, L.M. (2005). Supportive relationships with church members among African Americans. Family Relations, 54, 501-511.

Lincoln, K.D. & Chatters, L.M. (2003). Keeping the faith: Religion, stress, and psychological well-being among African American women. In D. R. Brown & V. M. Keith (Eds.) In and out of our right minds: African American women and mental health. (pp. 223-241). New York: Columbia University Press.

Lincoln, K.D., Taylor, R.J. & Chatters, L.M. (2003). Correlates of emotional support and negative interaction among older Black Americans. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 58B(4), S225-233.

Lincoln, K.D., Chatters, L.M. & Taylor, R.J. (2003). Psychological distress among Black and White Americans: Differential effects of social support, negative interaction and personal control. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44(3), 390-407.

Chatters, L.M., Taylor, R.J., Lincoln, K.D. & Schroepfer, T.A. (2002). Patterns of informal support from family and church members among African Americans. Journal of Black Studies, 33(1), 66-85.