Emily S. Ihara, Ph.D., M.S.W.


Emily Ihara is an Assistant Professor of social work at George Mason University, where she teaches courses on social policy and social justice, human behavior in the social environment, and the social determinants of health. Ihara began her career as a social worker with Japanese American older adults, and brings her extensive clinical experience with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing trauma, health, and mental health issues to her understanding of research and policy. Previously, she was an H. Jack Geiger Congressional Fellow in the office of Congressman Mike Honda and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). There, she provided legislative assistance on issues such as racial and ethnic health disparities, health care, women, seniors, Medicare, welfare, and housing. Ihara earned her doctorate and master’s degree in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, her master’sdegree in social welfare from the University of California Los Angeles, and her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California Berkeley.

Research Interests & Projects

Ihara’s work focuses on the sociocultural and political influences of health among predominantly immigrant population groups, including Asian and Pacific Americans and Latino Americans. She is primarily interested in the ways that factors related to a group’s social position perpetuate health inequities among people of color and immigrants. Education and other socioeconomic conditions are understood to be associated with good health because those who are higher up in the social hierarchy have better access to important resources such as knowledge, money, power, prestige, and social connections. For immigrants who are educated in another country or for groups who are unable to reap the rewards of higher education, Ihara’s research explores whether other markers of social position might be better predictors of health outcomes. A better understanding of the different pathways to good health for immigrants may provide policy makers with innovative options for addressing the health inequities these groups experience.

Contact Information: eihara@gmu.edu


Ihara, E. S., & Vakalahi, H. F. O. (in press). Spirituality: The essence of wellness among Tongan and Samoan elders. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought. Note: This paper will be receiving an Honorable Mention for the Betty J. Cleckley Minority Issues Research Award, Aging and Public Health Section, American Public Health Association (2011).

Ihara, E. S., Wolf-Branigin, M., and White, P. Quality of life among adolescents with disabilities. Social Work in Public Health. In press.

Ihara, E. S. (in press). Exploring the socioeconomic and immigration health contexts of Asian Americans. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

Ihara, E. S., & Vakalahi, H. F. O. (in press). Collective worldviews and health: Through the lens of Pacific American elders. Educational Gerontology.

Cleaveland, C., & Ihara, E. S. (in press). “They treat us like pests”: Undocumented immigrants’ experiences with health care in the wake of a “crackdown” ordinance. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

Ihara, E. S., (2011). Exploring the socioeconomic and immigration health contexts of Asian Americans. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21, 521–539. doi: 10.1080/10911359.2011.580239

Vakalahi, H. F. O., & Ihara, E. S. (2011). Research with indigenous cultures: A case study analysis of Tongan grandparents. Families in Society, 92(2), 230–235. doi: 10.1606/1044-38

Ihara, E. S. (2009) Ethnicity matters: The socioeconomic gradient in health among Asian Americans. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 36(2):125-144.

Vakalahi, H. F. O., and Ihara, E. S. Lessons learned from conducting research in indigenous cultures. Families in Society. In press.

Ihara, E. S. and Takeuchi, D. T. (2004) Racial and ethnic minorities. In: B. L. Levin, J. Petrila, and K. Hennessy (Eds.), Mental health services: A public health perspective (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.