Elizabeth Wrigley-Field Receives The Milbank Quarterly Early Career Award in Population Health

The Milbank Quarterly was pleased to present its Early Career Award in Population Health to Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, PhD, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and the director of the Minnesota Population Center, at the 2023 Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science (IAPHS) Conference in October. Dr. Wrigley-Field studies racial inequality in the historical and contemporary United States and was recognized with the award for her research on mortality disparities and the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

In addition to conducting research on mortality rates during the pandemic, Dr. Wrigley-Field co-founded the Seward Vaccine Equity Project to make vaccine access more equitable, particularly in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. The Seward Vaccine Equity Project vaccinated about 500 people, most of whom were African immigrants. Wrigley-Field observed that the uprising following George Floyd’s death helped foster community collaboration that made the vaccination program possible.  

Wrigley-Field stumbled into population health research as a graduate student and was intrigued by the intellectual puzzle of switching between thinking about individuals and populations while using imperfect data. More personally, the death of family member at a pivotal moment in her postdoctoral research prompted her to focus on preventable death. As someone who cares about inequality, she has focused her research on mortality disparities in the United States. In explaining the methodological challenges of comparing mortality rates in populations with structural disadvantages and those with advantages, she notes that studies often look at two older-age populations. “We often understate how serious mortality inequalities are because we only measure people who live long enough to be counted,” she says. “In disadvantaged groups, that’s a very particular slice of the population, so a lot of the comparisons we make about inequality can be wrong.”  

Wrigley-Field says she enjoys research that challenges unspoken assumptions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people assumed that the mortality rate was unprecedented, but her research showed that White mortality during the pandemic was equivalent to African American mortality every year outside the pandemic. She asks, “if we think about the scale of changes that we as a society were willing to embrace to try to limit pandemic deaths, what would it look like to have that same willingness to embrace changes on a similar scale to prevent the excess deaths that African Americans experience every year?”  

Wrigley-Field thinks it is important to recognize researchers early in their careers. She shared that the death in her family could have derailed her career and highlights that academia won’t be equitable as long as universities assume that researchers and professors are only workers. Of The Milbank Quarterly Early Career Award in Population Health, she says, “I’m so honored to win this award associated with two institutions — The Milbank Quarterly and IAPHS — that do so much to improve our evidence base about population health. It’s a great tradition to be part of.” 

Past recipients of The Milbank Quarterly Early Career Award in Population Health include Merlin Chowkwanyun (2022), Atheendar Venkataramani (2021), Dustin Duncan (2020), and Jennifer Karas Montez (2019).