Skip to main content

New IPR Research: January 2020

Get all our news

Subscribe to newsletter

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

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy 

The Evolution of Human Trafficking Messaging in the United States

factory workerHuman trafficking is a term used nearly synonymously with slavery, but what the general public considers to be human trafficking has been unclear. In a recent study, IPR political scientist Tabitha Bonilla and Cecilia Hyunjung Mo find that most Americans mistakenly regard human trafficking as mainly the sex trafficking of women. In reviewing more than 12,500 news articles published between 1979 and 2013 on human trafficking, they discover that the media overwhelmingly emphasized sex trafficking in their reporting on the topic, and anti-trafficking nonprofits have largely focused their attention on sex trafficking. A national online survey they conducted of over 2,000 people asking about human trafficking reveals that most believe human trafficking victims are mainly foreign women in the sex industry. According to the researchers, the best estimates show that sex trafficking is a small portion of all human trafficking, and most victims are exploited through labor trafficking in industries such as agriculture or domestic work. Bonilla and Mo explain that because people strongly link human trafficking with sex trafficking, victims who are not exploited in the sex industry are more likely to be miscategorized and not considered human trafficking victims. The researchers suggest that emphasizing the various types of human trafficking beyond sex trafficking can “increase public response to the issue.”

The Unexpected Consequences of Policy Drift 

“Policy drift” is when a policy stays the same but the broader social or economic context in which it operates changes. This leads to a shift, often negative, in the policy’s intended effects. Examples of policy drift abound: the eroding value of the minimum wage as inflation rises is one example. Increasing gridlock and partisanship in American politics makes it easier to preserve policy rules than to change them, magnifying this drift. In a recent working paper, IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin and Jacob Hacker of Yale examine how drift affects the political process. They outline two types of drift: contraction, when a policy’s generosity decreases, and expansion, when it increases; and two potential outcomes: formal policy revision or perpetual stalemate. Galvin and Hacker then examine four policy areas—labor law, healthcare, welfare, and disability insurance—to trace how the dynamics of policy drift influence subsequent political development in each policy domain. The consequences primarily involve actions taken by the “losers” of policy drift, as reformers and activists take steps to circumvent the drifting policy and soften its effects. The researchers demonstrate that drift encourages several types of responses: policy “layering” to address the policy in new ways; the adaptation of old groups seeking to survive; and the formation of new groups to respond to emergent problems. Galvin and Hacker’s findings indicate that the “downstream effects” of drift can have a significant impact in reshaping the dynamics of U.S. politics over time.

Performance Measurement and Rewards 

Rewarding Physicians to Take Medicaid Patients

doctorDo physicians turn away Medicaid patients because they are paid less to see them than their other patients on private insurance or Medicare? Are doctors more likely to provide care to Medicaid patients if they are paid more? To answer these questions, IPR economist Molly Schnell and Diane Alexander of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago examine what happened when federal regulations required states to increase their Medicaid payments for certain primary care services to match Medicare’s levels of payment. In an IPR working paper, the economists discover that increasing payments did decrease the number of Medicaid patients turned away by doctors. If Medicaid reimbursement rates were increased by an estimated $45—enough to close the gap in payments between private insurance and Medicaid on average—it would reduce disparities in access to care by at least 70%. For children, the effect would be even larger. Although policymakers and others have argued that raising reimbursement rates by itself would not improve Medicaid recipients’ access to healthcare, the researchers’ findings demonstrate that increased reimbursements do lead to physicians treating more Medicaid patients.

Measuring Cancer Caregivers’ Quality of Life

Spouses, family members, and friends are key caregivers to cancer patients. Although there are measures of the impact on an unpaid caregiver of caring for someone with cancer, they are outdated and do not address the current reality of cancer patients living longer with treatments or the adaptations caregivers make in their careers and other parts of their lives. IPR associate David Cella, professor and founding chair of medical social sciences, examined the topic with four U.K. colleagues. They developed and tested a new scale to assess caregivers’ quality of life and their burdens, specifically for those who care for cancer patients. Caregivers, who were nominated by the patients, were interviewed in depth about their experiences. The researchers refined existing questions and created new ones based on the feedback from subsequent waves of interviews and administrations of the survey. Their “Caregiver Roles and Responsibilities Scale” consists of 41 questions in five areas of caregiver experience. The authors tested for validity against other scales and found their new measure to be a promising tool for assessing the effects of cancer and its treatment on the family and friends who care for cancer patients. 

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies 

Early-Term Delivery and Breastfeeding 

mother and newbornBreastfeeding has long been recognized as beneficial to both mothers and babies. Mothers who exclusively breastfeed tend to stick to breastfeeding longer. Does the length of a pregnancy relate to whether mothers breastfeed their newborns exclusively? In a new study, IPR developmental psychobiologist Emma Adam, IPR health psychologist Greg Miller, and obstetrician and IPR associate Ann Borders, along with their colleagues, examine differences in breastfeeding outcomes between early-term babies—born between 37 and 39 weeks—and full-term babies, born at 39 weeks or later. Using data from two research projects on racially diverse mothers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas, the researchers examine whether mothers exclusively breastfed their infants while still in the hospital after giving birth. They determine that mothers of early-term babies exclusively breastfed for 30% less time than mothers of full-term babies, even when other factors, such as pregnancy complications, maternal race/ethnicity, and Medicaid status, are adjusted for. Because breastfeeding is key in maternal-child healthcare, these findings suggest that U.S. medical practice should provide additional support for mothers who deliver early-term babies, as is the case in other countries such as Australia and Canada.  

Education Policy

Designing Technology for Project-Based Learning 

Educational technologists will be more likely to have their innovations used in the classroom if they address instructors’ challenges and needs. In Educational Technology Research and Development, IPR associates mechanical engineer Elizabeth Gerber and learning scientist Matthew Easterday and their colleagues examine what technological assistance would be best for teaching projects known as “authentic project-based learning” (APBL). In APBL, students work in teams with real-world clients to solve an actual problem and implement the solution. Students acquire tremendous experience in teamwork and professional practice, but because each project is different and inherently complex, teaching APBL is demanding. To uncover genuine requirements and difficulties in teaching APBL, the researchers surveyed 47 university APBL instructors about their most significant challenges. The study uncovers that the instructors needed help to set up the problem for the APBL, to prepare a flexible curriculum for it, and to monitor and assist teams. They also needed assistance in managing the various stakeholders, such as co-instructors, clients, and students. The researchers conclude that useful innovations, therefore, would include software databases and tools for sourcing projects and forming teams. Tools to share and remix curricular materials, project management tools, and software to help instructors track actions are also called for. 

The Impact of Single-Sex Education

Student test scores at all-boys and all-girls schools tend to be better than at co-ed schools, which has led school building
parents, researchers, and policymakers to advocate transforming co-ed into single-sex schools. IPR labor and education economist Kirabo Jackson studies an experiment in Trinidad and Tobago that converted pairs of public secondary schools that were nearby to one another, similar in size, and low-performing: One became all-boys, and the other, all-girls. Jackson examines the academic and social outcomes of over 124,000 students across seven cohorts who began single-sex education in sixth grade. He demonstrates that boys scored higher on national exams, both boys and girls took more advanced courses, and girls did better on secondary-school completion exams than their peers at co-ed schools. Additionally, boys were 60% less likely to be arrested by the age of 18, and girls were about 40% less likely to have had a baby by the age of 18. What is the mechanism of change? Using survey data he collected, Jackson finds direct and indirect peer effects probably played an important role. He points out that no additional funding was needed to bring about these improved outcomes, in contrast to other methods that achieve comparable results—such as reductions in class size or tutoring—that can be costly.

Does Lengthening the School Day Help Students Learn?

Discussions of whether to expand the school day are often emotionally charged, but little data exist on whether it would improve educational outcomes. To better understand how a longer school day might affect student learning, IPR education economist David Figlio and his co-authors estimate its impact on reading achievement. In Economics of Education Review, they examine the case of Florida, where in 2012 the state added one hour of literacy instruction to the school day of its 100 most underperforming elementary schools. They find that in the program’s first year, students enrolled in those schools scored slightly better in reading than students in the comparison group, who were in schools that scored just above the cutoff for extending the school day. Furthermore, they show that the effect size is roughly comparable to a scenario where an extra month of teaching time was added. This nearly equaled the amount of time the extended day added to the students’ school year. The researchers warn that several factors could complicate that comparison, including the amount of resources at the disposal of any given school on either side of that cutoff line, but the findings suggest a benefit roughly in line with that of reducing class sizes by about four students. 

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

How to Measure Inequality in Small-Group Discussion

small groupIn any group working together, such as a jury, some people talk more than others. This inequality may promote efficiency, but sometimes means that some people, or certain kinds of people, have been ignored. Court opinions on jury size have discussed inequality in talk, with some scholars telling the courts that smaller groups, while offering less diversity in membership, are more egalitarian than larger ones. Is this true? Are smaller juries “better"? In a recent article, law professor, psychologist, and IPR associate Shari Seidman Diamond and her colleagues Mary R. Rose and Dan Powers question this conclusion because, the authors note, there are problems with measuring inequality in small groups. They apply three commonly used metrics to juries to evaluate which is most useful for comparing inequality in small groups. Using four highly realistic datasets from juries that deliberated, either in real trials or in experiments, the researchers tested the measures by counting each time someone new speaks and the number of words spoken by each juror. Diamond and her co-authors find that all three tested measures of inequality correlate with the number of words and turns of speech, but some measures falsely portray small groups as more egalitarian than they are. The authors show that a metric known as the index of concentration is the most useful in demonstrating the level of equality across small groups of differing sizes, and they urge more research into applying it. From a policy perspective, this study helps to shed light on what the best size for an equitable jury might be. 

Poverty, Race, and Inequality

The Long-Term Effects of Entering the Job Marketing During a Recession

Young workers are most vulnerable to changes in the economy and many studies show that entering the labor market during a recession can having long lasting consequences on earnings. A study by IPR economist Hannes Schwandt and Till von Wachter of the University of California, Los Angeles published in the Journal of Labor Economics looks at how the economy impacted young people entering the job market from 1976–2015 and how the impact might vary by education level, gender, and race. The researchers used several data sets, including data from the Current Population Survey, U.S. Census, and American Community Survey to examine the effect of joining the workforce during a recession. They find that cohorts of graduates entering the job market when unemployment is high earned on average less. These lower wages could last for up to 10 years into a worker’s career. Less advantaged workers, specifically nonwhites and high school dropouts, are substantially more affected than other demographic groups. Safety-net benefits like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) help to partially offset the losses in earnings for the least advantaged workers. Overall, their results reveal that entering the job market during a recession increases poverty rates. The researchers note that more research is required to understand the sources of this persistent reduction in employment and wages.

Perceiving Discrimination: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in the Legal Workplace

Despite the demographic changes in the legal industry and increased support for diversity and inclusion, law books
information about workplace discrimination in legal workplaces is limited. While women now make up more than 30% of lawyers and about 25% of all law school graduates are persons of color, both groups are underrepresented in partnership positions, among tenured law professors, and Fortune 500 general counsels. In a study, sociologist and IPR associate Robert Nelson and his colleagues examine whether legal professionals believe they were the target of workplace discrimination. The researchers conducted surveys asking 5,399 attorneys across the nation, who were admitted to the bar before 2000, to report whether they had experienced discrimination in 2002–03, 2007–08, and 2012–13. Between 44% and 48% of respondents said they had experienced discrimination in each of the survey years. The researchers discover that persons of color, white women, and LGBTQ attorneys were far more likely to say they were a target of discrimination than white men. The discrimination they described was overt, instead of due to unconscious or implicit bias. The researchers argue that the first step in combating workplace discrimination is for law firms to understand the scope of the problem, writing, “the fate of equal justice may be tied to the fate of equal opportunity in lawyers’ careers.”


Published: January 21, 2020.