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New IPR Research: February 2020

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


Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy 

How Anger in Protest Movements Can Backfire

The past decade of American life has been marked by high-profile social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. According to research from political and organizational sociologist and IPR associate Brayden King, the anger displayed by activists in such movements can make employees who are sympathetic to the movement, and may have the power to change policy, more resistant to do so. In Administrative Science Quarterly, King and his co-authors, Katherine DeCelles of the University of Toronto and Scott Sonenshein of Rice University, conducted four studies examining the effects of anger on activists and insiders. For the first study, they conducted a field survey, giving questionnaires to Occupy Wall Street protestors and Wall Street professionals as the protests were ongoing in 2011. For the subsequent three studies they conducted both online and in-person surveys of activists in spaces like LGBTQ rights and the fight for racial equality, as well as professionals who self-identified as hoping to drive “transformational change” within their institutions. They asked participants about their feelings regarding anger in protest messaging, finding it has a galvanizing effect on activists and a threatening effect on institutional insiders. The authors write that insiders may “[want] to do something about an injustice committed by an organization but [face] serious career risks for doing so,” as they could have a valued relationship with the target of such change. King and his co-authors suggest further research on other emotions that could potentially be more effective motivators. These could include hope for an institution’s capacity to change, or shame at the asymmetry between one’s ideals and the reality of injustice.

Social Disparities and Health

The Impact of Health on Academic Disparities Between Boys and Girls

In the United States, girls have been outperforming boys academically, with most girls earning higher scores on standardized tests. In a study, IPR health psychologists Edith Chen and Greg Miller, and former IPR postdoctoral fellow Cynthia Levine, now at the University of Washington, examine the relationship between gender disparities in academic performance and students’ health outcomes. To understand the relationship between the two, they took various measures of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, in 240 healthy eighth grade boys and girls in the Chicago area. In another group of 275 eighth graders with asthma, they looked at their immune function using blood samples. Then using the students’ standardized test scores of the schools the children attended, the researchers calculated that the average difference between the girls’ and boys’ performance in a school was 11%. They find that across the two studies, when boys attend schools where there is a greater disparity between boys’ and girls’ academic performance (in the direction of boys performing worse than girls), the boys have worse health (that is, higher metabolic syndrome scores and worse immune function). The researchers note that while their work establishes a relationship between gender disparities in academic outcomes and boys’ health, an important next step should be to test what the cause-and-effect relationship might be between the two, especially before making policy proposals to improve boys’ health.

Performance Measurement and Rewards 

Sports-based Development Programs and Well-being

In global development, youth sports programs are seen as a way to improve the well-being, socioemotional state, and “soft skills” of at-risk youth, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on them each year. But do they work? In a recent working paper, IPR economist Lori Beaman and her colleagues run a randomized experiment in Liberia, a country where three-fifths of its population is under the age of 25 and youth unemployment is high. They compare 1,200 15-to-25-year-olds randomly selected to participate in a program, Sport for Change, to a control group who did not. While Beaman and her co-authors find little evidence of an impact on psychosocial traits such as resiliency that are thought to improve job prospects, those participating were 12% more likely to work and earn 12% more than those in the control group. Although the researchers were unable to isolate the factors driving that participation, they do observe that those most likely to struggle to find a job—young people, women and the uneducated and untrained—benefited the most from participating in a sports program.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies  

Exploring the Links Between Household Water and Food Insecurity

 Previous research has shown that both household food and water insecurity undermine individual well-being, including physical and mental health. Yet the relationship between food and water insecurity has not been rigorously assessed. In a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology, IPR anthropologist Sera Young and her colleagues sought to fill this knowledge gap by exploring the connections between food and water insecurity across 21 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Data were drawn from the Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) study, a large-scale project that aimed to develop the first cross-culturally validated to measure water insecurity. Young and her colleagues discovered that worse water insecurity was associated with worse food insecurity. Specifically, food quantity and quality both decreased when household water insecurity increased. Interestingly, rural households appeared to be buffered against water insecurity’s deleterious impact on food quantity, while urban households were buffered against its impacts on food quality. Additionally, the effects of water insecurity on worsening food insecurity were more acute for lower-status households. Their findings directly challenge traditional siloing in development and research that considers food and water insecurity separately. Instead, they argue that policies and interventions must concurrently address barriers to quality food and water to be most effective.

Education Policy

Preschool Options and School Readiness

Growth in funding for subsidized pre-kindergarten (e..g, state-funded pre-K), especially for 4-year-olds, has allowed Head Start to serve more 3-year-olds. Many of these younger children continue Head Start for a second year, while others switch into one of many alternative programs, such as state pre-K. IPR developmental psychologist Terri Sabol collaborated on a paper with her colleagues Jade Jenkins and George Farkas (UIC) examines whether the students experienced any benefit or downfall after switching programs. In a recently published article in Evaluation Review, Sabol used data from the Head Start Impact Study, which compared nationally representative Head Start participants to a group of comparable nonparticipants. Sabol finds no differences in school readiness based on whether children stayed or left after one year from Head Start, though those who stayed at the same Head Start center for two years had slightly fewer behavior problems at the end of preschool through the end of first grade than those who attended the second year at a different center. The study suggests the range of preschool options for low-income families offers similar benefits for child school readiness.

School Segregation and Racial Gaps in Special Education Identification 

Racial gaps in the identification of students for special education contribute to gaps in education and economic outcomes. In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Labor Economics, IPR education economist David Figlio and his colleagues investigate how the identification of special-needs students varies by race in schools with different populations—mostly white or mostly minority. Using a large dataset of birth and education records from Florida, they find black and Hispanic students were underidentified overall, but overidentified in schools with a relatively small share of racial minorities. The researchers were able to predict disability rates using detailed economic and health data and examined the difference in expected and actual identification rates of minority students. Figlio and his colleagues dispute that the identification gap exists because of differences in resources across schools or economic or academic differences between students. Instead, they point to the racial makeup of schools. They suggest school administrators might have a heightened awareness of disabilities in students whose race and ethnicity differs from the school’s majority. Alternatively, the threshold of identifying a student for special education could depend on the relative number of students with disabilities in the entire school population. In other words, a student with a disability might be more likely to be identified for special education in a school with relatively fewer students with disabilities than those with more.

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

How Schools are Chosen for Research

As education policymakers increasingly rely on evidence, researchers have conducted more cluster-randomized trials. But much work remains be done in reviewing those trials’ methodology, specifically how researchers choose which schools to include as what works for one school or district may not work for another. In a recent working paper, IPR statistician Beth Tipton and her co-authors examine 34 such trials to determine whether their samples are truly representative of particular populations of schools and students. They compare the sample data from those studies, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences and selected and evaluated by Tipton and her co-authors, to general population data from the U.S. Department of Education. They find that recruitment for studies is heavily dependent on pre-existing local relationships between researchers and the schools that are ultimately selected. Therefore, those schools skew, like the universities, larger in size and more urban than the population being studied. They find this poses major challenges to any generalizations drawn from such studies. The researchers recommend three major changes to recruitment: including the sample-collection methodology in the grant proposal, increasing training for sample collection, and establishing best practices for school recruitment.

Urban Policy & Community Development

‘Hot Spots Policing’ and Crime Reduction

Research shows that crime is not spread evenly across communities, but tends to cluster in “hot spots,” or areas that see higher rates of crime. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, IPR sociologist Andrew Papachristos and his colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis looking at the effectiveness of focusing policing effects on hot spots to reduce crime rates. They identified 65 studies—51 in the U.S.—containing 78 tests of policing interventions in hot spots. Then they conducted a meta-analysis of studies looking at small, medium, and large cities. The policing interventions fit into one of two categories: increased traditional policing and problem-oriented policing (POP). The POP method attempts to address crime and disorder by identifying and analyzing their underlying causes to develop solutions. As previous research has shown, the researchers find that focusing policing efforts on areas of high criminal activity can be an effective way to reduce crime. Problem-oriented policing interventions seem to be more effective compared to increasing policing interventions. The researchers believe that the POP approach holds promise in developing tailored responses to recurring problems at hot spots.

Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Housing and Mortgage Lending Market

Over 50 years ago, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law to address racial discrimination in the U.S. housing market. Evidence shows, however, that discrimination still persists in the housing sector. In a meta-analysis published in Race and Social Problems, IPR sociologist Lincoln Quillian and his colleagues review how racial discrimination has changed between 1976 and 2016. They analyzed data from 16 field experiments of housing discrimination and 19 observational studies of mortgage lending discrimination. In terms of housing discrimination, they discovered overt racial discrimination has sharply declined in responses to inquiries about housing and the availability of an advertised unit. When trained white auditors posed as prospective renters or home buyers to test for discriminatory practices, they still were offered more units when compared with African American ones. These trends are consistent in both the large audits conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and smaller audits conducted by researchers.  In examining the mortgage market, the researchers find that discrimination has not changed: Black and Hispanic borrowers are still more likely than white borrowers to be rejected when applying for a loan—and if approved for one, to receive a mortgage that costs more. The researchers argue that the subtle discrimination in housing serves to maintain residential segregation, and mortgage discrimination will continue to depress the home equity, and wealth accumulation, of black and Hispanic families. Thus, they argue that anti-discrimination enforcement is still necessary and should be increased “to ensure that all home seekers receive equal treatment regardless of their race or ethnic background.”

Photo Credits: Flickr.

Published: February 28, 2020.