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IPR Experts Turn Research Excellence into Policy Impact

Studies cited in president’s report, legislation, and elsewhere signal depth and rigor of IPR research

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It's a clear signal of the overall quality, range, and rigor of our faculty’s research that seven of our faculty were cited in it. It testifies to how policymakers—and not just the academy—value IPR’s unique research brand of interdisciplinarity, rigor, and attention to policy questions that matter.”

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach
IPR director and economist

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Mesmin Destin, Christopher Kuzawa, Soledad McGrath, Jonathan Guryan, Terri Sabol, Kirabo Jackson, Andrew Papachristos, Sera Young, Dan Galvin (from top left, clockwise)

Each year, the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) releases the "Economic Report of the President" to Congress. Chock full of data and recommendations, it details the president's priorities and the nation’s progress on key economic and social goals. The 2023 report cited research by seven IPR faculty in economics, finance, psychology, and strategy 14 times across the 507-page report.

"It's a clear signal of the overall quality, range, and rigor of our faculty’s research that seven of our faculty were cited in it," said IPR Director and economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, who had seven studies cited in the March report. "It testifies to how policymakers—and not just the academy—value IPR's unique research brand of interdisciplinarity, rigor, and attention to policy questions that matter."

Schanzenbach, who is stepping down as IPR director to take up a position with the University of Florida this August, says that raising IPR’s profile in policy circles represents one of the highlights of her six years as director. She widely shared her experiences dealing with policymakers inside and outside of the Beltway, where she led the Hamilton Project from 2015–17, with IPR faculty experts.

"IPR is a pioneer in its drive to transmit faculty research to policymakers in ways they can understand and use," Schanzenbach said. "Working with our incredibly talented faculty to encourage and hone their policy outreach efforts was one of the most gratifying aspects of my time as IPR director."

While a CEA report is likely one of the highest-profile research-driven reports in U.S. policymaking, IPR studies also frequently find their way into school districts and state legislatures, national agencies and international NGOs. IPR faculty have also been sworn into government posts, led branches of federal agencies, and testified before Congress.

President's Report Cites Research by Seven IPR Faculty Experts

The IPR researchers' studies cited in the 2023 CEA Report cover the impact of early childhood education, food insecurity, school funding, employment, returns to college-going, economic growth, and climate change.

In outlining the "substantial benefits" of early childhood investments, the report cites three IPR researchers. In terms of early childhood education, the report points to evidence from IPR economist Kirabo Jackson showing how Head Start led to higher earnings and reduced poverty and incarceration for participating children. It cites studies by Schanzenbach and her colleagues on how free preschool programs increased enrollment and test scores and how high-quality kindergartens improve the children’s adult outcomes. Another, co-authored by IPR psychologist Terri Sabol, outlines the benefits of stable relationships between children and caregivers as foundational to the youngsters' healthy development. Some studies also offered counterfactuals to prevailing policies, indicating what might not be working as intended, for example, Schanzenbach’s evidence on providing free school breakfasts.

Beyond early childhood education, the report also references a study Schanzenbach co-authored on the sizable benefits of increasing low-income families’ access to food stamps, including improving children's health as adults and increasing their mothers’ economic independence. It pulls from Jackson's ongoing work to illustrate how increasing K–12 school finances improves students' later economic and social outcomes. And it points to work from IPR economist Ofer Malamud showing that four-year colleges do have clear benefits, but they might not be best for everyone.

Last, the CEA report relies on evidence from three IPR faculty to better understand economic growth and the impact of climate change on it. A study by finance professor and IPR associate Paola Sapienza reveals how factoring for a person's distinct cultural background can help better account for real-world economic growth. Studies by economists Jonathan Guryan and Benjamin Jones and their fellow researchers outline the effects of climate change and rising temperatures: Guryan's shows they will increase infant mortality and worsen infants' health—and Jones' illustrates how they can slow down global economic growth, especially in countries in poorer and hotter regions.

Read more about the IPR faculty research cited in the President's 2023 economic report

Political Scientist’s Research Helps Craft Wage-Theft Legislation

IPR political scientist Dan Galvin has been working on the issue of wage theft, or when employers pay employees less than the minimum wage, for nearly a decade. In his 2016 national analysis of all 50 states' laws and minimum wage violations, Galvin shows that workers were less likely to be paid below minimum wage in states with stricter enforcement, and those where back pay was tripled as penalty for violations saw the steepest declines in wage theft.

Since then, he has been working with several state departments of labor and city labor standards enforcement agencies to study minimum wage violations in Chicago and the states of Oregon, Texas, and Washington. A 2021 report that he wrote for the state of New Jersey served as a guidepost as that state overhauled its enforcement of workers' earnings and benefits.

"I’m grateful that my reports helped lay the groundwork for New Jersey’s exciting new strategic enforcement initiative," Galvin said. "It will help to protect exploited low-wage workers in 'quiet' industries where workers are fearful of complaining but labor violation rates are high."


Psychologist's TEDx Talk Amplifies His Research's Impact

Though direct outreach to policymakers is a typical starting point for getting research into the policy sphere, other approaches exist. In September 2022, IPR social psychologist Mesmin Destin took to the TEDxChicago stage to share his personal experiences in education and how they went on to shape his research as an academic. To date, the video has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.

In the video, Destin begins by discussing what a high school guidance counselor told him when he said he wanted to attend Northwestern: "That’s a nice plan and great school but it costs a lot of money and they don’t let a lot of people in," he recalled the counselor replying.

"I put the conversation aside and kept moving forward, but it stuck with me," Destin continued.

The experience followed Destin across his education and subsequent career as an academic (and yes, he did attend Northwestern as an undergraduate). He began a research program that now spans 15 years examining how "key messages at a critical moment can keep people inspired by possibilities."

For example, he details what his research shows about how giving such identity-building messages at key moments can have powerful, even life-changing, effects. For instance, he explains how a message about financial aid was shown to boost an 11-year-old's belief that they can get into college by 30%.

"It's the specific connection between [a person’s] identity and those strengths that's especially powerful," Destin said. Embedding such messages in curricula and school programs and just hearing them in our daily lives has the power to support "everyone's vision and potential," he concluded.

Watch the complete talk.

Scales Co-Developed by Anthropologist Help Measure Progress on U.N. Goal

As climate change intensifies draught and storms, how can communities around the world better prepare to deal with not having enough water—or too much? IPR anthropologist Sera Young and a group of 40 scholars and practitioners launched the first scale to improve measurement and understanding of how individuals experience water insecurity in their daily lives in 2019. The scale is currently administered by Gallup in around 60 countries, providing researchers with holistic and precise data about water availability and access.

Beyond conducting research, Young has been working with scholars, practitioners, and policymakers from around the world to implement the scale. Recently, the United Nations made the Water Insecurity Experiences (WISE) scales an official indicator of progress on its Sustainable Development Goal to "ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all." Success stories around the scales' implementation in Latin America were applauded at an April meeting of 60 thought leaders from 14 countries in Mexico City that she co-organized.


As the momentum to eradicate water insecurity grows, Young has been circling the globe, joining events that mark progress on addressing the issue through use of the WISE scales. She attended the release of a report in Australia in February that finds dangerous tap water produced water insecurity in Aboriginal communities, as well as the signing of an agreement in July where Nuevo León became the first Mexican state to join a regional network for water insecurity.

"We are working hard to bring human voices from around the world to the water sector to make invisible water hardships visible," Young said.

Researchers Work with Policymakers to Stem the Tide of Gun Violence

While by some measures of gun violence, like homicides, the U.S. is doing better, in others, like gun suicides or mass shootings, it falls short. Chicago, for example, continues to experience a heavy toll of weekend shootings, with more than 60 shot over July 22–23 alone. How can we address this ongoing gun violence? The Center for Neighborhood Engaged Research and Science, or CORNERS, housed within IPR, seeks to examine and address gun violence by working side-by-side with community and civic partners to collect and analyze data on networks of residents, institutions, and organizations. IPR sociologist Andrew Papachristos co-leads the center with research professor Soledad Adrianzén McGrath.

CORNERS serves as a research and evaluation partner to both institutional and community organizations. For example, it has evaluated both Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative (CNPI), as well as a community-based collaboration, Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P) that spans 14 organizations covering 27 Chicago communities. In both cases, Corners delivered rigorous research on CNPI and CP4P examining their successes and challenges, in addition to offering recommendations for improvement.


At its annual symposium in December, the center brought many of these organizations, policymakers, police representatives, and researchers under one roof to discuss research and cooperation. In speaking about its latest findings on CP4P, Papachristos pointed to citywide, neighborhood-level collaboration as preventing at least 383 homicides and shootings between 2017 and 2021.

"That's 383 families that were spared the trauma and pain associated with homicides, and that is a big deal," Papachristos said at the event. "You should be proud of that number."

Beyond the research, the center is also regarded as a valued adviser. Both Papachristos and McGrath, who is the center's executive director, serve as advisers to Evanston and Chicago on matters of policing and public safety.


McGrath was recently appointed to Brandon Johnson's Mayoral Transition Subcommittee for Public Safety, where she and 43 others worked feverishly over June hosting a series of events to help guide the new administration's approach to public safety. In their subcommittee's blueprint to the mayor, they proposed six goals that included increasing Chicagoans' confidence in public safety programs, boosting accountability, and safeguarding marginalized communities. Their recommendations and metrics coalesced around creating a "new path to public safety."

Anthropologist Testifies Before Task Force on Reparations

In invited testimony before California's Task Force on Reparations last year, IPR biological anthropologist Christopher Kuzawa, an epidemiologist and expert in health inequities, outlined stark differences in life expectancy: Black women live three years less and Black men live four and a half years less than Whites on average.

Kuzawa walked through his and others’ work indicating how life experiences from in utero and infancy can influence a person’s health and life chances as an adult: Babies with low birth weights face a sizeable increase in the risk of developing a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease as adults. These findings have particular relevance to race-based health inequality in the US in light of African Americans’ higher burden of giving birth to low birth weight babies.

For Kuzawa, the evidence from his and others’ research into health disparities is clear: Improved economic, housing, or educational opportunities for Black Americans can reverse these inequities and narrow the racial gap in adult health.

"Although my testimony to the California Reparations Task Force began with bleak statistics, it ended on a hopeful note," Kuzawa wrote in a recent LA Times' op-ed. "Because the racial health gap is not genetic, we can reverse it. Health improves when we reduce stressors—and when families have access to adequate resources." 

Watch his testimony and read his op-ed.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor of Human Development and Social Policy. Kirabo Jackson is the Abraham Harris Professor of Education and Social Policy and Professor of Economics. Terri Sabol is associate professor of human development and social policy. Ofer Malamud is associate professor of human development and social policy. Paola Sapienza is the Donald C. Clark/HSBC Chair in Consumer Finance Professor. Jonathan Guryan is the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy. Dan Galvin is associate professor of political science. Benjamin Jones is the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Strategy. Christopher Kuzawa is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Anthropology. Mesmin Destin is associate professor of psychology. Sera Young is associate professor of anthropology. Andrew Papachristos is professor of sociology and faculty director of CORNERS. Soledad Adrianzén McGrath is an IPR research professor and executive director of CORNERS. All are IPR faculty members.

Photo credits: Photos courtesy of IPR faculty.

Published: August 1, 2023.