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New IPR Research: November 2019

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Below is this month's new research from IPR faculty. 

Social Disparities and Health

Female Disadvantage in Under-Five Mortality in India

In Indian family life infant sons are preferred to daughters, leading to well-documented negative health consequences for the latter. In a recent working paper, IPR sociologist Julia Behrman and her co-author explore the mortality risks that young girls in India face due to this discrimination by examining a sample of mixed-sex twins and their health outcomes. By looking at this sample, they explore how a child’s sex is linked to their risk of mortality under the age of five. Behrman makes a key distinction between explicit and implicit discrimination—the former being the overtly unequal distribution of resources between male and female children, and the latter being the structural processes that lead to girls being born into larger and poorer families. She finds evidence that explicit discrimination has declined in recent years despite an enduring female mortality disadvantage. Behrman says this highlights the need for further research on the forms implicit discrimination may take, which could lead to more effective policy responses to improve girls' health.

Childhood Adversity and the Onset of Chronic Disease in Young Adults

Research has continued to show a strong link between adverse childhood experiences and poor health and behavioral outcomes in adulthood. Research professor and IPR associate Joe Feinglass and his colleagues examine the connection between adverse childhood experiences and chronic disease in young adulthood in a study published in Preventive Medicine. The researchers looked at Center for Disease Control data between 2011 and 2012, where nearly 87,000 participants from nine states answered questions about child abuse and household stressors, as well as chronic health conditions. Even though rates of chronic disease were low among young adults, the researchers find those between 18 and 34 years old who had higher levels of adverse childhood experiences were at much greater risk reporting chronic conditions and more likely to report that their health was fair or poor. Feinglass and his colleagues point out that the prevalence of ACEs and the relative health risks associated with ACEs were highest among young adults as compared to middle age or older respondents. 

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy 

The Effects of Blaming Others for Legislative Inaction

Legislative gridlock has become common in recent years, and legislators often blame it on members of the opposite party. IPR political scientist Laurel Harbridge-Yong and David Doherty of Loyola University look at how voters respond when legislators blame others for inaction. In six survey experiments conducted online in 2017 and 2018, they asked participants to read content from an electronic newsletter a member of Congress sent their constituents—both fictional content and real excerpts—about various policy issues. The researchers then evaluated how the participants viewed the legislator based on whether she or he blamed the other party or chamber for inaction. They find that evidence that people respond less favorably toward legislators who blame the other party for inaction. Although individual legislators do not gain much by blaming others for gridlock—and may even be viewed negatively for it—blaming can improve the standing of the legislator’s party relative to the opposing party. “This suggests that blaming can be an effective negative‐sum strategy when legislators see little opportunity to cultivate positive accomplishments,” the researchers wrote. They also note that it may be an effective collective strategy if many legislators follow this approach as it can boost opinions of their own party relative to the opposing party while distributing the penalty for engaging in blame across many legislators.

Performance Measurement and Rewards 

Communicating Uncertainty in Policy Analysis

In a public discourse filled with accusations of “fake news,” public policy experts across disciplines are striving to ground their analyses and predictions in facts. But in a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, IPR economist Charles Manski argues they undermine their own credibility by expressing “incredible certitude”—exact predictions that are based on assumptions and incomplete data. He details how this false certainty creeps into policy analysis through six types of practices: conventional certitude, dueling certitudes, conflating science and advocacy, wishful extrapolation, illogical certitude, and media overreach, describing examples of each. Manski warns that incredible certitude discourages new research and prevents analysts and their audiences from learning to cope with uncertainty. He writes that policy analysts could bolster their credibility by more forthrightly stating their uncertainty, suggesting that a greater awareness of the harmful nature of incredible certitude could help transform the social norms that encourage it.

Meeting the Challenge of Effectiveness in Nonprofit Partnerships

When social service-oriented nonprofits choose the partner organizations with which they carry out their work, there are a number of competing factors in the selection process. In a study published in Voluntas, communication studies scholar and IPR associate Michelle Shumate and her co-author examine those factors with an eye toward the impact of that process on the ultimate effectiveness of the partnership itself.  They note that effectiveness is not defined solely by goal achievement, but by the smooth functioning and reciprocity of the working relationship. By surveying more than 200 human services nonprofits in a single state, the authors determine that two key factors make that happen: trust and the quality of the two groups’ communication, as measured by a five-item inventory. Respondents said that two of the most important factors in the selection process were prior experience with the partner and that partner’s positive reputation. Shumate and her co-author say those factors increase the amount of knowledge each party has about the other, therefore inducing the trust and smooth communication that leads to effectiveness. They find that the most effective outcomes come when nonprofits choose their partners based on such factors that mitigate risk above all else.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies 

Understanding Recent Trends in U.S. Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity, which increases the chances of adult obesity and other health issues, has risen in the United States over the last several decades. In a study published in Economics & Human Biology, IPR economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and her colleagues examine data on children’s weight from six different nationally representative datasets to understand this trend and how it differs across time, race, and gender. They find that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last four decades, rising from 5% in 1978 to 18.5% in 2016, but the rise in obesity rates slowed down between 2004 and 2016. Their analysis of the data by age shows that obesity rises through early childhood and levels off by age 10. Recent data shows that overall, growth in the prevalence of obesity between the ages of 5 and 9 declined, which may be the result of school policies, after-school programs, or other interventions, according to the researchers. Black and Hispanic 5-year-olds were more likely than white five-year-olds to be obese—with black and Hispanic boys experiencing the largest rise in obesity. White boys experienced smaller gains in obesity than white girls, while black and Hispanic girls’ obesity levels were lower than black and Hispanic boys. The researchers suggest that future studies should look for variations in the pre-kindergarten environment for these children to identify what is causing the weight difference.

The Impact of Changing Income Levels on Children

It’s well-established that children from high-income families fare better than their low-income counterparts by a number of measures, but researchers are still trying to understand better what happens when that income status changes during childhood. In a study for the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, IPR developmental psychologist Terri Sabol and her co-authors including current graduate IPR research assistant (RA) student Courtenay Kessler and former IPR graduate RA student Lindsay Till Hoyt, compare over time the health and well-being of children who experience four distinct economic circumstances from birth to age 15. Dividing a sample of more than 1,300 children into four groups—those who experienced either a consistently high income or consistently low income or an increasing income or decreasing incomes—they find that of all groups those who experienced consistently high incomes had better outcomes with regard to psychosocial well-being, risk-taking, and physical functioning. They also show that the children who grew up in families where income decreased experienced numerous adverse health outcomes, despite having the apparent protective effects of a higher income at the beginning of their lives. In the past, such longitudinal studies have rarely tracked changing income across different stages of childhooh. Their research suggests that the connection between income and well-being is not set in stone at birth, but shaped by what children experience during their development.

Responding to the Emotions of Others

When people encounter others’ emotions, whether in joyful or sad circumstances, they respond with their own, signaling their concern for others. This concern can lead to close and positive relationships with others. Do people’s responses to others’ emotions differ across age groups, and do these differences relate to how people connect with one another? To answer these questions, developmental psychologist and IPR associate Claudia Haase and her colleagues measure facial expressions of emotions in research published in Emotion. Participants of different ages, 20–30 years old, 40–50 years old, and 60–80 years old, were shown two film clips depicting others in need, a “distressing” and an “uplifting” one. Findings show that older adults expressed more sadness and more concern when watching the distressing clip than younger adults. For the older adults, more sadness and fewer disgust expressions were associated with higher levels of connectedness to others. When they viewed the uplifting clip, older adults showed more happiness than younger adults. It is a mistake, the authors point out, to think of particular emotions as “good” or “bad”—even supposedly negative emotions such as sadness can have a positive side. 

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

“Thin-Sliced” Child Personality Assessment

One way to accurately describe children’s personalities is to have strangers observe the children’s behavior in the lab for short periods, or “thin slices.” In a recent study published in Psychological Assessment, psychologist and IPR associate Jennifer Tackett and her colleagues examine a statistical model that integrates this type of observational data from multiple observers and multiple situations in which the children were observed. The model, called the correlated traits, correlated methods model (CTCM), was employed using data from a sample of 326 children aged 9–10 years. The researchers find that the personality traits identified using the CTCM model align with traditional child personality assessments performed by parents, and even provide more information than the parental questionnaires, thus demonstrating that CTCM is reliable and valid. When the CTCM model is applied to data gathered by the thin-slice method, investigators may gain valuable understanding of childhood personality. Tackett and her colleagues include online access to detailed materials used in their study to encourage others to employ them.

Poverty, Race, and Inequality

Understandings of Leadership Among Female School Principals

Gendered expectations of emotional labor, or the ability to manage one’s own and other’s emotions, can undermine women’s ability to take on authority in their jobs. In Gender & Society, IPR education sociologist Simone Ispa-Landa looks at how gender and race intersect with women’s emotional labor in a school setting. Ispa-Landa and doctoral student and former IPR graduate research assistant Sara Thomas analyzed 132 interviews from 2010–2015 with 21 first-time female principals—8 white and 13 black and Latina. The researchers show that the white female principals started off wanting to emotionally support their staff, but expressed tension between being nurturing and holding teachers accountable. After their first year, all but one of them shifted to a more direct leadership style. In contrast, the female principals of color began acting with more managerial authority as soon as they started and maintained a more direct, “take charge” leadership style. They considered this leadership style as complementary to being nurturing. The researchers conclude that each group’s understanding of authority and emotional labor related to their management of teachers: For the white women principals, their understanding created “binds” on their ability to initially engage in direct leadership. For the women principals of color, their understanding led to them to experience “freedoms” in adopting a more direct leadership style from the start.

The Impact of Occupational Licensing on Immigrants

More and more occupations in the U.S. require licensing, spreading from white-collar professions to less-skilled jobs including carpet layers, massage therapists, and agricultural inspectors. As of 2016, about one-third of all U.S. workers are required to hold licenses in their occupations. In Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, IPR sociologist Beth Redbird and her co-author ask whether licensing is helping or hurting immigrants join the workforce, and what mechanisms are at work in this process. To answer their questions, they use data from occupational legislation and regulations in all 50 states from 1994–2016 in combination with the Current Population Survey. The researchers show that licensing eases access into occupations for immigrants, especially for the most vulnerable—such as those who obtained educational credentials in their countries of origin and those who entered recently and may not have social networks to help them find work. Licensing works to help immigrants become part of the labor force by promoting various institutions, such as vocational schools, job fairs, and application assistance, that can help immigrants develop the social and cultural capital to enter occupations. A state-granted license that provides credentials also helps to legitimize foreign-born workers and overcome the disadvantages of entering the U.S. labor market as an immigrant.

Urban Policy and Community Development 

Racial Differences in Public Opinion on School Closures

In 2013, nearly 2,000 U.S. public schools were closed, following a federal government initiative to turn around 5,000 of the country’s lowest-performing schools. Many of these school closings were in cities with large minority populations. In a Journal of Urban Affairs article, IPR public policy expert Sally Nuamah looks at how attitudes toward school closings in Chicago differ by racial group. She constructs a dataset on school closings, including each school’s location and its number of free/reduced-price lunches, linking it to American Community Survey data and to parental responses from a 2013 survey on educational attitudes. She finds that a majority of black and Latino parents surveyed held negative attitudes toward school closings. Whites are 50 % more supportive of closures than Blacks, despite having fewer experiences with them. Living in a neighborhood with a school threatened for closure and earning less than $50,000 a year were also significant factors in whether someone held a negative attitude toward close schoolings. Nuamah notes that although black students only made up 48% of students in the Chicago Public School system, school closings affected 88% of them. She argues that these findings have “implications for democracy responsiveness” and demonstrates that when policy attitudes are divided, the opinions of marginalized and affected groups are ignored.

Published: November 19, 2019.