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New IPR Research: January 2024

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This month’s new research from IPR faculty investigates the COVID-19 "baby bump," racial disparities in school belonging and long-term health outcomes, and how to make space for Black and Latinx parents to engage in their child's learning. It also examines the evolving online learning landscape, English-language attainment of refugees in the 20th century, and income segregation in cities. 

Social Disparities and Health

The COVID-19 ‘Baby Bump’

Birth rates typically drop following recessions, so how did the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic influence births? In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, IPR economist Hannes Schwandt and his colleagues examine the effects of the pandemic on U.S. childbearing. The researchers analyzed national birth data from 2015 through 2021, and California birth data from 2015 through February 2023. The researchers show that U.S. fertility rates fell by much less than predicted by standard economic models in 2020, masking two separate patterns. The number of births to foreign-born women fell sharply in early 2020, although the decline was too early to reflect fertility response to the pandemic. In contrast, U.S.-born women saw little decline in percentage terms and experienced a “baby bump” in 2021, resulting in a net increase of 39,760 births over the years 2020 and 2021. Data from California suggest that the increase in fertility among U.S.-born women continued through February 2023. Not only was this the first recession in recent history not followed by a baby bust, but it reversed declining fertility rates for the first time since the Great Recession of 2007– 2009. For foreign-born women, births decreased by more than 45,000 in early 2020 and continued to remain 4.7% lower into 2021. This is likely due to the Trump administration's restrictions on international travel from China in January 2020, followed by restrictions on those traveling from Mexico and other countries. Some likely reasons for the bump among U.S.-born women include pandemic government aid which kept many Americans financially stable. The increase was also driven largely by women without children (first births) and women with a college education, who may have been more likely to benefit from working from home.

Racial Disparities in School Belonging and Long-Term Health Profiles   

high school girlWhat are the implications of students’ sense of belonging in school on their health outcomes? In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, IPR health psychologist Edith Chen, former IPR graduate research assistant and Carnegie Mellon University professor Phoebe Lam, and their colleagues, investigate whether racial disparities in students’ sense of belonging at school are associated with cardiometabolic health in adulthood. Chen and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that spanned from 1994–2008, focusing on 4,830 Black and White students between seventh and twelfth grade. The research team examined school-wide questionnaires that students completed to determine average sense of belonging by racial groups at schools across the U.S. The researchers then analyzed blood samples collected from the 4,830 participants when they were between the ages of 24 and 32 years old in 2008 to evaluate the connection between gaps in school belonging across racial groups and the risk for diabetes in adulthood. The researchers discovered that Black students who attended a school where, on average, Black students felt that they belonged less than White students were more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes in adulthood and they also displayed more risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a condition which increases risk of heart disease and stroke in adulthood. The researchers argue that U.S. schools that foster a more equitable and inclusive sense of school belonging among different racial groups may help reduce health disparities among students. Chen is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Psychology.

Education Policy

Making Space for Black and Latinx Parents to Engage in Their Child’s Learning

Educational programs outside of traditional school hours can offer parents a different way to engage in their child’s learning. In International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, learning sciences scholar and IPR associate Nichole Pinkard and her colleagues analyze the Digital Youth Divas (DYD) program, which provides youth educational programming, to understand how caregivers navigate out-of-school (OST) learning programs, relationships in these program, and what supports are necessary for them to be involved. DYD is a youth educational program the researchers run providing activities around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) for Black and Latina girls in fifth through eighth grades. During the 2021–22 program year, 16 girls met twice a week during the school year to work on activities such as cooking, digital design, rocket building, and block-based coding. The researchers interviewed ten families to understand their experiences in the program, how they manage their child’s activities and interests, and how they navigate OST learning programs. Parents discussed a desire to give their child an inclusive learning environment, how much autonomy to give their daughter in choosing the program, and their appreciation for the opportunities to engage with their daughter through DYD. The researchers argue that to engage in justice-orientated approaches to computer education, OTS must be designed to meet the needs and desires of families in the community, make space for multiple parenting styles, and give parents ownership and opportunities to participate. Pinkard is Alice Hamilton Professor of Learning Sciences. 

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy

Understanding the Evolving Online Learning Landscape

The internet is central to how people learn new information, but everyone doesn’t find and access online resources, especially about religion and science, in the same way.  In Social Media + Society, University of Zurich media scholar and IPR adjunct Eszter Hargittai and Will Marler of Tilberg University assess where people turn online for knowledge about science and religion, what are the strategies they use to learn, and what shapes how people decide between them. The researchers interviewed 45 people in the United States from 21 states across a range of religious identities and levels of religiosity. They asked the participants about their religious and science-related backgrounds, level of interest in each topic, and how they used the internet to learn about religion and science. Using search engines and specific websites or applications for content in each domain were common ways of looking up information, but searching for information on one’s own was the most popular. People’s personal networks, online and offline, were also important avenues for incidental learning, including friends’ social media posts. Participants used fewer resources to learn new information about religion compared to science, and they turned to other people as resources for more subjective information about religion and those they trusted and regarded as experts about science. The findings suggest that researchers should pay attention to how people’s personal networks can shape learning opportunities, and future research should examine larger sample sizes.

English-Language Attainment of Refugees in the 20th Century

The United States has admitted more than three million refugees since 1980 through official refugee resettlement programs, but before 1948, refugees arrived without formal selection processes or federal support. In Sociological Science, computational linguist and IPR associate Rob Voigt and his colleagues study the integration of refugees to the U.S. in the early 20th century by examining their level of English attainment. They classify immigrants as refugees if they left their home country because of war, violence, or persecution. The researchers examine an archive of 1,190 oral history transcripts and audio interviews of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island between 1893 and 1957. Using computational methods, they compare English proficiency refugees learned to the English skills of other immigrants, looking at their complexity of speech—vocabulary and sentence structure—and fluency—whether an individual had an accent and speech rate. The researchers find that those who were categorized as refugees achieved a higher level of English proficiency by the end of their lives compared to immigrants who came to join family or seek a better job. They also use data from the New Immigrant Survey to compare the English attainment of refugees in the past with refugees who received permanent residence in 2003 and find similar patterns. These findings suggest that refugees work to improve their linguistic proficiency, possibly because they have more incentive to learn English since they cannot return to their home countries.

Urban Policy and Community Development 

Residents of Large Cities Have Less Exposure to People From Different Socioeconomic Backgrounds 

ChicagoWhile the United States is highly segregated by income, some suggest that densely populated cities may help bring people from different socioeconomic backgrounds into contact with one another. In Nature, IPR sociologist Beth Redbird and her colleagues test this hypothesis to understand the relationship between urbanization and segregation. The researchers collected mobile phone data tracking GPS locations of 9.6 million individuals, who could not be identified, from different socioeconomic statuses (SES) in the U.S., which the researchers estimated based on the average rent of a home where they lived. The data showed 1.6 billion encounters in people’s daily lives, which happened when two individuals crossed paths and were exposed to each other. The researchers then used the data to construct a dynamic network that measures exposure to segregation across 382 metropolitan areas and 2,829 counties. They find that in large cities, residents interact less with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds than in small cities because these cities offer more spaces targeted to specific socioeconomic groups, leading to more segregation. Their evidence also suggests that segregation may be mitigated in cities when “hubs,” or spaces that serve as bridges to people from high- and low-SES like a shopping center, are in between high- and low-income neighborhoods. The study sheds light on segregation in cities and how urban design could encourage socioeconomic mixing. Future research should examine cross-population differences in segregation and how urban design can reduce segregation.

Photo credits: iStock and Unsplash

Published: January 31, 2024.