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New IPR Research: March 2023

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Food market
This month’s new research from IPR faculty examines a meaningful measure of food policy progress, how liberals and conservatives engage with social media posts from elites, and effects of enrollment brokers on Medicaid enrollment. It also looks at how parenting and wealth are connected, how White parents communicate messages about race and racism to their teenage children, and trends in hiring discrimination in six Western countries. 

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

Developing a Meaningful Measure of Food Policy Progress 

Inclusive and accountable food policy processes are the critical structures that enable developing nations to reduce poverty, improve nutritional outcomes, increase employment, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Many developing countries have inadequate policy processes, but existing assessments of policy processes are “mashups” of non-statistical metrics that make meaningful cross-country comparison difficult at best. In World Development, Northwestern University’s James Oehmke and co-authors, including IPR anthropologist Sera Young and Buehler Center Director and IPR associate Lori Post, develop a food and agricultural policy readiness index that measures a country's ability or "readiness" to pursue inclusive policy to end poverty and hunger. Application of this measurement tool can be a game-changer in helping developing countries' governments to really move the needle on poverty reduction and food security, especially in light of growing threats from climate change. The researchers classify 19 developing countries and five regional economic communities into three levels of policy readiness by applying measurement analysis to 338 policy commitments and actions in these countries between 2013 and 2015, as tracked by the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative. Countries in the highest category of policy readiness include Mali and Rwanda, where research has found food policies to be sensible and effective. Kenya had the lowest policy readiness score, partly because observation occurred during the constitutional devolution of the national government. In Mozambique, the researchers used the measurement to inform where donors had contributed to national policy commitments and where donors were impediments to policy change. Countries with low readiness scores would benefit most from donor support to strengthen inclusive policy processes such as giving greater voice to the marginalized. Countries with high readiness scores would benefit most from support for specific policy changes.

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy

 How Do Liberals and Conservatives Engage with Content from Political Elites on Twitter?

phone showing social media apps

Social media allows citizens to engage with information shared by political elites, but what kinds of messages do they spread on social media? In a working paper, IPR political scientist James Druckman and his colleagues study how liberals and conservatives engage with social media posts from political elites on Twitter. The researchers analyzed more than 13 million users’ retweets of Twitter posts by members of Congress between 2009 and 2019. They determined users’ political ideology by relying on Twitter patterns over time to categorize users as liberal or conservative. Liberal users retweeted 19% more posts about diverse policy topics compared to conservatives, who were more selective about which policies they retweeted and avoided topics that were not on the conservative agenda. Liberals also responded to and retweeted more toxic content than conservatives by 56%. The results reveal that liberals and conservatives react and share different types of information on Twitter, with liberals sharing more diverse policy and toxicity and conservatives creating “information bubbles” with like-minded users. These findings shed light on how social media platforms should be designed to decrease polarization and increase exposure to information from the opposite political party.

Do Enrollment Brokers Increase Medicaid Enrollment?

In 2018, only 79% of the 86 million Americans eligible for Medicaid had enrolled in it. To increase participation, some state Medicaid agencies contracted with independent brokers to reach out, assist, and enroll those who qualify. In Health Affairs, IPR economist Molly Schnell and her colleagues analyze the effects of enrollment brokers on Medicaid enrollment and other outcomes, such as application processing, for 2008–2018. During those years, six states and Washington, D.C., began contracting with brokers, joining 18 states that already had contracts as of 2008. The researchers compared changes in Medicaid participation following the initiation of a contract with an enrollment broker with contemporaneous changes in Medicaid participation in the 26 states that never used brokers. The results demonstrate that state contracts with enrollment brokers had no significant effects on Medicaid participation. Plus, the researchers did not find any other advantages stemming from broker contracts, including improved processing times, better plan choices, or reduced administrative costs per eligible person. States aiming to expand Medicaid enrollment must consider whether contracting with independent brokers is the best use of limited funds.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies

Are Wealth and Parenthood Connected?

familyOver the last several decades, raising a child has become increasingly more expensive, yet previous research shows inconsistent evidence about how parenthood affects wealth. In Sociological Science, IPR social demographer Christine Percheski and Christina Gibson-Davis of Duke University examine how wealth and parenthood are connected. They analyze data from the 1989 through 2019 waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), a cross-sectional survey of U.S. families conducted by the Federal Reserve, for 41,625 households where the head of the household is younger than 65 years old. The survey included information on net worth, parental status, demographics, household income, and wealth-building behaviors for each household. On average, parents have almost three times as much median wealth as those without children. This difference partly reflects differences in demographic characteristics, such as age and education. But more importantly, there are huge differences in wealth among parents. Even accounting for differences in age, education, and other characteristics, married parents have had the highest levels of wealth consistently across the last 30 years. Mothers who have never been married, divorced mothers, single fathers, and co-habiting parents had lower average levels of wealth than married parents. What explains this? One factor is home ownership. Married-parent couples were substantially more likely to own homes than adults in any other household types. This pattern raises important questions about economic inequality resulting from policies that subsidize and promote homeownership.

Poverty, Race, and Inequality

Racial Socialization Messages in White Parents’ Conversations About Current Events with Their Children

Given the rise of white nationalism since the 2016 presidential election, researchers have identified an urgent need to understand the conversations White families have—or do not have—about race and racism. In the Journal of Research on Adolescence, IPR psychologist Sylvia Perry and researchers from the University of Vermont examine how White parents communicate messages about race and racism to their teenage children when discussing current events involving racism. In the first study, conducted in September 2019, the researchers asked 123 White parents to answer questions about their attitudes toward and interactions with various social groups, and how they discuss social groups and current events involving police brutality and white supremacy with their child aged 14–17. In the second study, conducted in June 2020, the researchers asked 104 White parents of teenagers ages 14–17 if and how they discussed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, and other Black Americans killed by police with their child. The researchers find that the rates of discussions in 2020 (79–81%) were double those in 2019 (40–43%). Despite this finding, color-conscious messages, which show awareness of racism, were less common in 2020 than in 2019, and color-blind messages, which deny race and racism are real or important, were similarly prevalent across both groups. The evidence shows that while the higher rates of conversations in 2020 suggests progress toward racial justice, the content of the conversations suggest otherwise. The researchers write that the next step is to identify intervention points that will help redirect White parents toward more color-conscious conversations.

Urban Policy and Community Development

Trends in Hiring Discrimination in Six Western Countries

interviewWhile Western countries have established a legal framework and are publicly against discrimination, fair and equal treatment—regardless of race or ethnicity—has not been achieved in the workplace.  In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, IPR sociologist Lincoln Quillian and his co-author, former Northwestern PhD student John Lee, investigate trends in racial and ethnic discrimination in hiring in six European and North American countries: Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. The researchers analyze 90 field experimental studies of hiring discrimination against African/Black, Asian, Latin American/Hispanic, and Middle Eastern or North African groups, which include more than 170,000 applications for jobs. The country with the longest history of field experiments is Great Britain, with studies from 1969 to 2017. Germany has the shortest history, with studies ranging from 1994 to 2017. The researchers find that racial and ethnic discrimination in hiring has not declined significantly in the last 20–40 years in Canada, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, but remained stable. Three exceptions to this were that hiring discrimination against ethnic groups with origins in the Middle East and North African increased after 2000, discrimination in France declined but from an unusually high starting point, and discrimination in the Netherlands increased over time. The results suggest that hiring discrimination in these countries stem from enduring stereotypes, prejudices, and racist ideology, despite hiring practices that aim to increase diversity. The researchers argue that future research into how to reduce persistent racial and ethnic biases in Western labor markets is needed.

Photo credits: Pexels and Unsplash

Published: March 27, 2023.