Blair Wheaton ranks among Canada's top sociologists and among the world's top stress researchers. His career, spanning almost forty years, has been marked by outstanding scholarly contributions to the Sociology of Health and by equally impressive work as an institution builder in Sociology and at the University of Toronto.
Professor Wheaton began his career at the University of Wisconsin where he received his doctorate in 1976. Upon graduation, he took a position as Assistant and then Associate Professor at Yale until 1985, before moving to McGill from 1985 to 1989. He came to the University of Toronto in 1989. He has distinguished himself in all these positions.
Professor Wheaton's research has been foundational in the Sociology of Mental Health. He introduced innovative methodological approaches to establishing social causation of mental health problems; he provide novel ways of evaluating the long-term life course effects of early life stress and adversity; he classified and documented previously-unknown variations in different forms of stress and their inter-relationships. His work on social contextual approaches to the study of mental health trajectories through life, especially as expressed by neighbourhood effects on the mental health profile of children from school-age to early adulthood, is a particularly exciting contribution.
Wheaton's published work is widely recognized for its quality and its influence on the direction of the field. His exceptionally high citation counts are not the result of one or two publications from early in his career; all of his articles reflect important research that has an extensive impact. While his most widely cited work was his application of new structural equation methods in 1977, his more recent works on "stress-buffering" effects and coping, his application of innovative models to the study of neighbourhood effects on children as they grow up, and his conceptual pieces on the nature of social stress are also widely read and have sparked the creative innovations of others. His work on the contextual importance of life history in altering the consequences of presumptively stressful life transitions is often cited as a conceptual breakthrough in the study and operationalization of stress.
Professor Wheaton's current and future work promises to be every bit as ground breaking as the research for which he is already known. Currently, he is studying the integration of temporal and spatial influences on mental health in individual lives over time, with an emphasis on past (including early) residential environments in the determination of mental health across adulthood. His next project studies this through a twenty-year follow-up of children interviewed for his study of Toronto families in the 1990's, focusing on the impact of "gender-egalitarian" households on children's lives as they move through the life course into middle adulthood.
In recognition of his contributions to stress research, Professor Wheaton received the inaugural Leonard I. Pearlin Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Sociology of' Mental Health in 2000-an award named after one of the finest mentors in the discipline. Before that, he was invited to be one of fifteen prominent researchers on stress to form the Consortium for Research in Stress Processes, funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation in New York City, which met for ten years (1984-1994) and produced three influential books on stress research over that period.
Wheaton was also awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation (1990-1994), was elected Chair of the Mental Health section of the American Sociological Association from 2002-2004, and was a Visiting Professor at Princeton University in 2014. He has been invited to give numerous keynote addresses, and received a "Best Paper Award" from the top disciplinary association in Sociology. Professor Wheaton was elected to the prestigious Sociological Research Association in 2010.
In addition to his scholarship, Professor Wheaton has provided leadership at the University of Toronto and in the field of Sociology. He served as Chair of the Sociology Department and Graduate Chair from 2003 to 2012 and Director of the Institute for Human Development, Life Course, and Aging, at the University of Toronto from 1999 to 2003. A particularly significant achievement was his leadership in establishing the Toronto Region's Statistics Canada Research Data Centre, for which he served as Academic Director (Toronto Region) from 2001-2004.
All of Professor Wheaton's scholarly achievements enrich his role as a teacher and mentor. During the course of his career, Professor Wheaton has provided extensive mentoring and professional socialization of graduate students. As his students publish their work in top-tier journals, present at international conferences, and participate in successful grant awards, the visibility and status of the department and university have been greatly enriched. For decades, students have benefited from his teaching and research leadership, and his experience in the discipline. By involving students in his current innovative work, those mentoring relationships will continue to flourish in the years ahead.