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New IPR Research: October 2019

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

Social Disparities and Health

The Consequences of Foster Care Versus Institutional Care in Early Childhood on Adolescent Cardiometabolic and Immune Markers 

 It’s well-documented that children raised in institutional care are at risk for impediment to their cognitive, social, and emotional functioning. In a new study in Psychosomatic Medicine, IPR anthropologist Thomas McDade with a group of researchers examine for the first time what effect institutional upbringing, considered a form of adversity, might have on children’s risk for chronic diseases in adulthood. The researchers hypothesize that adolescents who have been raised since early infancy in institutions would show elevated levels of biomarkers for cardiovascular and immune-related diseases compared to those raised in excellent foster families or in biological families. They examined blood samples from more than 100 adolescents from three groups, one allocated to foster care, one to institutional care, and a control group of children raised in their biological families, all in Romania. They find, contrary to their hypothesis, that children primarily raised in institutions did not show any markers of elevated risk for cardiometabolic or immune disease compared to their peers raised in foster homes. Their findings raise questions about how adverse childhood experiences manifest differently across the span of a child’s development.

Newborn Health and Childhood Disabilities

About 6.4 million public school students receive special education services for disabilities at a cost of almost $40 billion annually. Scholars searching for the causes of childhood disability have found it hard to disentangle the roles of children’s health from their family socioeconomic status (SES). IPR education economist David Figlio, former IPR graduate research assistant Claudia Persico (PhD 2016), and their colleagues are able to separate newborn health from SES and trace the role of neonatal health in childhood disability. They use a large dataset that links K–12 education records to birth certificates of children born in Florida who attended public schools there from kindergarten through fourth grade. In their working paper, the researchers find that birthweight was by far the most significant measured health issue of all neonatal metrics in its impact on childhood disability. They discover that children with lower birthweights were much more likely to be diagnosed with disabilities in elementary school. They find that a 10% increase in birthweight reduced disability rates in fourth grade by 1.2 percentage points. In addition, they learn that SES did not matter in this case: Low-birthweight, economically disadvantaged children are not more likely than advantaged ones to end up with disabilities.    

Education Policy 

Racial Identity and Ideology in Schools

Generations of educators have tried to address disparities in achievement between black male students and their peers. In a recent article in the American Educational Research Journal, IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers examined how meritocratic thinking by teachers affects those disparities by interviewing two young, white male teachers in an all-black boys’ high school. Rogers and her co-author look at how the teachers’ own identities serve as a lens through which they see their students. The researchers find that white teachers’ belief in meritocracy — that achievement is a direct result of effort and talent — inhibited their ability to connect with and mentor their black male students. The authors note this disconnection because prior studies show that a personal connection is a key to improving educational outcomes. Rogers and Brooms also show that the teachers’ own self-conceived identities as white and privileged not only separated them from their students but also led them to ascribe academic failure to identities of black males. The authors also highlight that these problematic ideologies persisted among teachers despite the fact that they were teaching in a charter school devoted specifically to the education of black male students. The results of their study suggest that the preparation of white teachers needs to more aggressively question whiteness and the ideological premises of identity to better connect with black male students.

The Role of Socioeconomic Status in Student Mindsets

For many reasons, students from higher socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds tend to do better in school than students from lower SES backgrounds. Students whose mindset—or understanding of themselves and the world—is that intelligence can grow through education and persistence also achieve more academically, compared to students who believe their intelligence is a fixed trait. Some might put these ideas together to suggest that SES can play a role in the development of mindsets or that mindset might even play a role in perpetuating socioeconomic disparities in achievement. IPR social psychologist Mesmin Destin, IPR statistician Elizabeth Tipton, and a group of interdisciplinary scholars in the Mindset Scholars Network directly test these potential emerging assumptions about SES, mindset, and achievement  in AERA Open. Using unique data that measure academic mindset, SES indicators, and student grades from a nationally representative sample of ninth graders, the researchers do find that higher SES students were less likely to have a fixed mindset than students from lower SES backgrounds students. They also confirm that students with a mindset that intelligence is flexible do better in school than those who believe intelligence is fixed, regardless of the student’s SES. Importantly, however, the scholars also estimate that mindset explained only 2% to 7% of the relationship between SES and achievement. They conclude that while mindset is a significant factor in academic performance that may be part of perpetuating inequality, the relationship between SES and academic success is complex and due primarily to root causes related to systemic and structural inequality.

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy 

The Emotional Experience of Consuming News About President Trump

Few studies have looked at the connection between emotions and consuming the news. In a study published in Journalism, media scholar and IPR associate Pablo Boczkowski and María Celeste Wagner of the University of Pennsylvania observed the emotional experience of consuming news during the first 10 months of the Trump presidency, from January–October 2017, through interviews with 71 people in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami. They show that those who read political news, which often focused on President Trump, expressed negative feelings, “in particular anger, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed as part of their experience consuming news.” This was true on both sides of the political spectrum—liberals were more often angry and frustrated about politics and President Trump, while conservatives were more frequently upset about the mainstream media’s coverage of Trump. Interviewees commonly consumed news on social media, finding it more emotionally intense than consuming it directly from a news source because it was more personal. The researchers also uncover that individuals developed coping mechanisms for dealing with the heightened emotions, such as being more selective about news content or avoiding it temporarily. In some cases, taking political action shifted negative emotions from reading the news into positive ones.

Are TV Drug Ads a Good or Bad Influence?

Since 1997, prescription drugs have been advertised on American television, and pharmaceutical companies spent over $5 billion in 2016 on direct advertising to consumers. Do the ads raise drug costs by increasing demand, or do they inform people about available treatments for their health problems? Strategy professor and IPR associate Amanda Starc and her colleague Michael Sinkinson trace the impact of drug ads aired in 2008. In The Review of Economic Studies, they show that political advertising prior to the 2008 presidential election diminished time available for drug ads in early primary and battleground states. Concentrating on those states during the election season, they track and compare the sales of all cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, whether name-brand, generic, advertised, or unadvertised. The researchers also examine the effects that year when the manufacturer was forced to withdraw its ads for Lipitor, a major branded statin. They discover that the ads expanded the market for all statins, and that ads were effective in persuading consumers to obtain a particular brand of statin over another, despite their very similar characteristics. More patients taking statins meant that fewer people had heart attacks. The benefit of the health gains from increasing the number of people taking statins exceeded the costs of all direct consumer drug advertising in 2008, Starc and Sinkinson conclude.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies 

Marriage, Family Structure, and Maternal Employment Trajectories

Cohabiting with a romantic partner without marrying has become common in Western countries. A study by IPR social demographer Christine Percheski looks at whether the employment of women with children was similar for married and cohabiting mothers. She examines data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal study of a birth cohort of children born between 1998 and 2000 in large U.S. urban areas. She focused on whether a mother went back to work in the first year of her child’s life and how many hours she worked per week for five years after her child was born. She finds that cohabiting mothers return to work sooner and work more hours than married mothers. The data reveal that cohabiting mothers and single mothers have similar employment patterns, while unmarried mothers who later marry develop work patterns similar to married mothers. Married mothers who divorced eventually increased the number of hours they worked. Marital status matters when it comes to employment for mothers, even for those in a stable cohabiting relationship. Percheski speculates that cohabiting mothers work more because they are not confident they can rely on their partners’ income if the relationship ends. Percheski writes that this “inequality may have consequences for women’s health, happiness, and well-being as well as that of their children and partners.”

Reshaping Adolescents’ Gender Attitudes

Gender discrimination is especially strong in the northern Indian state of Haryana, where a program designed to alter adolescents’ support for gender equality ran from August 2014 to October 2016 in government secondary schools. The program targeted students in seventh through tenth grades and emphasized valuing girls for both economic and human rights reasons to change students’ fundamental gender assumptions. In a working paper, IPR economist Seema Jayachandran and her colleagues evaluate the program’s impact in a randomized controlled trial across 314 schools, using data for about 14,000 students. The researchers measured three outcomes: gender attitudes, or views about what is right and wrong about women’s roles; aspirations, or goals for one’s life such as pursuing a career; and gender behaviors, or those actions influenced by gender norms such as chores done at home. Their analysis showed that the gender-equality school program succeeded in substantially increasing adolescents’ support for gender equality and had an accompanying effect on behavior. However, the program did not increase girls’ educational and career aspirations. The authors hope to track the study’s participants as they become adults to learn whether the program has long-lasting effects.


Published: October 21, 2019.