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New IPR Research: September 2019

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

Social Disparities and Health

Supportive Parenting Protects Developing Brains from Poverty

 In the United States, 40 percent of children either live in poverty or close to the poverty line. According to a recent study by IPR health psychologists Edith Chen and Greg Miller and psychologist Robin Nusslock, supportive parents can help protect an adolescent’s brain from the negative consequences of poverty. The researchers looked at 119 African Americans in the rural South at three stages of their adolescence—ages 11 to 13, 16 to 18, and finally at age 25—and measured the amount of support, involvement, and levels of unresolved conflict their parents displayed. They then used MRI to measure the strength of neural networks in the brain that support higher order thinking, goal-directed behaviors, and managing one’s emotions. They found that growing up in poverty was associated with weaker connections in these neural networks. However, this was only observed for young adults who received low levels of supportive parenting and not for those who received high levels of such parenting. The findings add to a growing body of literature suggesting that supportive parenting can help protect children from the negative effects of poverty on both mental and physical health.

Education Policy 

Does Vocational Education Work?

As primary education has become nearly universal in many developing and low-income countries, scholars have increasingly focused their attention on the role of secondary education. In a new working paper, IPR economist Ofer Malamud evaluated the impact of admission to vocational training in secondary schools on labor market outcomes in Mongolia. He and his colleagues created randomized lotteries for admission to 10 secondary vocational schools that received more applicants than they had places. The researchers followed three cohorts of applicants to the schools—about 8,000 people—for up to four years after they completed their training. The analysis showed that admission to these vocational schools led to significantly higher employment of admitted students and to increased earnings for female students; in other words, the women who were admitted to the schools earned more than their peers who were not admitted. The researchers concluded that these positive effects were likely due to acquiring more skills, working more hours, longer terms of employment, and increased opportunities for high-paying jobs.

Bolstering Career Readiness in Florida

As the American economy continues to reward college-educated workers and provide fewer lucrative opportunities for their unskilled, non-college-educated counterparts, educators have developed new programs to bolster post-high school success. IPR education researcher James Rosenbaum and his coauthors recently surveyed more than 200 Florida teachers about one such effort, Florida’s College and Career Readiness Initiative, as part of a study published in the Phi Delta Kappan magazine. The initiative identifies “below college-ready” high school seniors and places them in college readiness courses. The researchers find that many teachers view it as insufficient in preparing non-college-bound students for the workforce. They report that only 20% of teachers surveyed believe most of their students will finish a bachelor’s degree, and a slim majority think most of their students will not even obtain an occupational certificate. Numerous studies have found that educational programs across the board are more effective when they have the full confidence of teachers. The researchers find that as a potential fix, the teachers advocate for focusing instruction on students’ needs for meeting college-level skills, They say separating students will allow them to better address each group’s needs. They also support a broader definition of “career readiness” to include certificate programs and applied associate’s degree programs.

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy

News, Entertainment, or Both?  

In today’s media environment, with late-night talk shows and TV pundits on broadcast news, lines have blurred between news and entertainment. In a study, media scholar and IPR associate Stephanie Edgerly and her co-author explore how audiences perceive the genre of a news story in a hybrid media environment. They asked participants to watch three separate news segments with hosts taking a traditional news correspondent approach, a combatant approach—where a host engaged in a more aggressive and curt style—and a comic approach—where a host included humor in their approach. Participants then ranked them as news, entertainment, or a mixture of both. The researchers find that 80% of viewers considered the correspondent to be news, 60% considered the combatant to be news, and 11% labeled the comic as news. In a separate experimental study, they asked participants to rank news headlines from The New York Times, Mother Jones, Drudge Report, and The Daily Show on a scale of 1 (entertainment) to 5 (news). The average rating for “news-ness” was 3.74, indicating that respondents viewed the headlines as a mixture of news and entertainment. The researchers' overall findings reveal modern media’s hybridity and show that audiences do not purely view news reporting as either news or entertainment. This suggests the need for further study on the concept of news and its role in a democratic society.

Performance Measurement and Rewards

How Legal and Illegal Drug Markets Affect Opioid Prescriptions 

In this working paper, IPR economist Molly Schnell examines how the entwined nature of legal and illegal drug markets has affected the U.S. opioid epidemic. Schnell designs and estimates a supply-and-demand model of how physicians’ prescribing behavior changes when they know patients have access to an illegal secondary market. Her model allows physicians to be motivated both by concern for patient health and their own financial gain. She identifies that spectrum of motivation by observing which doctors were altruistically motivated, and more or less likely to prescribe a new opioid that was less addictive, but also less profitable. The research shows that physicians decrease the number of opioid prescriptions they write to account for the secondary market, with more altruistic providers adjusting their prescribing the most. Despite this reduction in prescriptions, she finds that the total amount of opioid prescriptions is still too high. Her estimates suggest that feedback between legal and illegal markets limits the effectiveness of policies aimed at curbing abuse. To address the crisis, it will be key to target both the initial flow of medications from providers in the legal market as well as the exchange of medications across patients on the illegal market.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies

Successful Two-Generation Human Capital Program

Assisting low-income parents while their children are in preschool is an avenue to improving the future of both generations. One example of these two-generation human capital programs, CareerAdvance® in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, uses Head Start as a platform for recruiting parents into healthcare job training, coaching, peer support, tuition-free. IPR developmental psychologists Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Terri Sabol, IPR research associate professor Teresa Eckrich Sommer, and their colleagues investigated the impact of CareerAdvance® on parents’ employment, income, and psychological well-being. The researchers compared the program’s enrolled parents to very similar parents whose children attended Head Start but who did not participate in the workforce training program. The IPR scientists discovered that after one year, CareerAdvance® parents had higher rates of healthcare certification and employment. These parents also benefited psychologically: They were more optimistic, better at achieving their goals, and had a stronger career identity. Despite the difficulty of juggling family, school, and jobs, the parents did not report more stress or financial difficulties. The authors note that in contrast to other, less successful, two-generation programs, CareerAdvance® is small-scale, the group of parents is older, and the focus is on promoting parents’ human capital in the context of the entire family.

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

Are Best Practices in Meta-regression Being Used?

The growing use and significance of research synthesis by means of meta-analysis in education, psychology, and medicine have led IPR statistician Elizabeth Tipton, former IPR graduate research assistant James Pustejovsky, now at the University of Texas at Austin, and Teachers College’s Hedyeh Ahmadi to examine meta-regression methods. Meta-regression, the extension of regression models to the meta-analysis setting, enhances our understanding of different effect sizes in the studies being analyzed and is especially important when large numbers of studies are being synthesized. In the first of two articles, the authors review the historical development of meta-regression methods over the last 40 years and identify five best meta-regression practices on which scholars broadly agree. They examine current instances of meta-regression methodology in four major journals covering psychology, organizational psychology, education, and medicine in a second article. Tipton and her colleagues compare the methodologies in the studies published by the four journals in 2016 to the best practices they had already identified from their historical research. They discover that the five best practices are rarely carried out in practice. Default settings in common meta-regression software cause some of the discrepancies between best and actual practice, they noted, and they recommend improving methodologist-researcher partnerships to help close the gap.

Poverty, Race, and Inequality 

Look Like Girls, but Act Like Boys: Adolescent Girls’ Adherence to Masculinity Norms

Conforming to gender norms has often been considered a healthy part of development. But in societies that value masculine qualities, such as emotional stoicism, over feminine ones, such as displaying emotions, girls are torn between the pressure to look feminine in appearance but act masculine in behavior. In a study, IPR psychologist Onnie Rogers looks at girls in the United States and China to understand how the pressure to conform to masculine behaviors can affect their psychological well-being. Rogers and her colleagues looked at data from two longitudinal mixed-methods studies of middle school girls—1,047 from the United States and 710 from China—that asked the girls to rank statements about masculinity and their psychological well-being. They find that in both countries when girls reported conforming to masculine behavior, it was linked with low self-esteem, lack of peer-support, and depressive symptoms. Though Chinese girls showed slightly more signs of adhering to masculine norms compared to U.S. girls, the results reveal that the consequences of conforming to masculine behaviors on well-being consistent across cultures. “We interpret the finding as consistent with our theory that norms of masculinity are at odds with what humans—girls and boys alike—need most in order to thrive, which is connection, and such connection is fostered via emotional vulnerability and intimacy,” wrote Rogers and her co-authors. 

Urban Policy and Community Development

Shifts in Political Power Shape Perception of Government

After Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005, the state of Louisiana took over most traditional public schools and they became charters. Although test scores rose, surveys of black citizens in the city show that the majority do not perceive that their schools have improved, although a majority of white residents perceive that the schools are better post-Katrina. To account for the disparity in perception, IPR public policy expert Sally Nuamah and her co-author analyze data from two surveys in 2011 and 2013 that included questions about the public schools. They discover that racial differences in perception of schools’ quality were related to shifts in power from local to state control of schools, rather than to differing levels of satisfaction with schools, partisanship, or education. Blacks’ perception that schools had not improved post-Katrina were positively related to returning public schools to local—and thus majority black—control, especially among middle-class respondents. In explaining the results, the authors argue that despite apparent black control of New Orleans’ local government in the years following the hurricane, in reality, blacks were politically marginalized in the control of the public schools, and that the charter takeover of traditional public schools came at the cost of political disruption for black residents.

Published: September 24, 2019.