Stephen J. Kunitz, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus
Department of Public Health Sciences
University of Rochester School of Medicine
Email: Discipline: Medicine, Sociology Expertise: Health Outcomes, Public and Population Health

Investigator Award
Nation-States and Population Health
Award Year: 2001 This project will explore how the standard of living debate and the consequences of modernization on traditional communities affect our understanding of the determinants of mortality. Improvements in the health of populations over the past few centuries have frequently been attributed to the rising standard of living, even though mortality in Europe began to decline before socioeconomic status had risen appreciably. Dr. Kunitz will examine the role of local and national governments in the decline of mortality and the relationship between national sovereignty and international governance. Other areas of study may include: environmental change, quarantine, drug pricing and production, use of sweated labor, emergence of infectious diseases, effects of free trade agreements, and the emergence of supra-national organizations. Dr. Kunitz' work should contribute to a greater understanding of the role government plays in reducing mortality and equalizing the life chances of its citizens.


Stephen J. Kunitz. Received his M.D. from the University of Rochester in 1964. After an internship in internal medicine, Dr. Kunitz spent two years as a medical officer at the Indian Health Service hospital in Tuba City, Arizona, on the western end of the Navajo Reservation. It was there that he began working with a medical anthropologist, Jerrold E. Levy, on problems related to alcohol misuse and deviant behavior. Dr. Kunitz received his Ph.D. in sociology from Yale in 1970. His dissertation was based upon continuing fieldwork among Navajo and Hopi Indians. He returned to Rochester in 1970 and has been on the faculty of the medical school ever since. He continued to do field studies in the American Southwest with Professor Levy, most of them dealing with substance misuse, problems of the elderly, and changing patterns of disease. During graduate school Dr. Kunitz became interested in population history as well as medical history, and spent a sabbatical year (1981-2) at Cambridge University indulging both of those interests. Since then he has continued to work on both topics. Throughout much of the 1990s, he spent three months per year at the Australian National University. His research has been on several related topics perhaps best described as the sociology of medical knowledge, the history of medicine, and the relationship between social change and morbidity and mortality. In the first area, Dr. Kunitz has done work on changing ideas of disease causality and classification in medicine and public health, and on the social determinants of differing concepts of disease. In the second, he has done work on the causes of mortality decline in Europe, the impact of Europeans on the health of non-Europeans, and numerous field studies among American Indians on changing disease patterns and on the causes and consequences of alcohol use and abuse. His most recent books, all published by Oxford University Press, are Disease and Social Diversity: The Impact of Europeans on the Health of Non-Europeans (1994), Drinking, Conduct Disorder, and Social Change: Navajo Experiences (2000) and The Health of Populations: General Theories and Particular Realities (2006).