In Weathering (Little, Brown Spark, Apr.), public health scholar Geronimus examines how racism, classism, and other forms of oppression affect marginalized people’s health.

How do you define weathering?

Weathering is a biopsychosocial process whereby oppressed, marginalized, or economically exploited people face structural barriers to survival, let alone to opportunities or resources. They include living with environmental toxins, suffering indignities and interpersonal racism, and having to decide whether to pay for your medications or your food. These chronic stressors erode your health in multiple ways and explain the persistent, entrenched racial inequities in health.

What led you to the notion of weathering?

The concept really gelled when I looked at risks of poor birth outcomes to Black and white women by age, finding that white women had the highest risk births in their teens, but for Black women that was the lowest risk age. I made it my mission to understand how weathering could be an alternative to conventional wisdom, not just about teen mothers, but about health inequities and individual behavior in poor health. I also saw how my father’s stories, my mother’s stories, and my grandparents’ stories could all be described in the same way. Both my parents came from immigrant families, were working class and low income, and lived through antisemitism. Everything I was learning and describing about Black and Latinx young women and older women and men could be applied to my parents and grandparents.

You suggest that—from a health perspective—teen pregnancy for Black women may not be as bad as it’s been made out to be.

As you get older, the risks of childbearing get higher and higher. That’s true for white women and Black women, but it starts much earlier for Black women and is far more severe. The medical profession and all of us think being a teen mom is the worst thing you can do and symbolizes all kinds of bad things about you or your family. But weathering research has shown over and over that for Black women, the risks begin in their 20s.

There’s some risk readers may be overwhelmed by the systemic causes of weathering and feel like they can’t do anything. I suspect you don’t want them to read the book this way.

No. I firmly believe there’s lots to do that would address and disrupt weathering and hopefully eliminate it. In one sense, it’s very daunting to see all the places weathering happens. But it also means anyone can impact how much the environment and their setting, whether it’s a school setting, a hospital setting, or a community, will proliferate the stressors that cause weathering. If we move to what I call a weathering lens, the possible solutions will start becoming clearer and we’ll start evaluating them and finding ones that work well.