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New IPR Research: March 2024

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This month’s new research from our faculty experts investigates adolescent experiences and wellbeing the pandemic and the connection between abortion access and selective high schools. It also explores how parents talked to their children about Black Lives Matter and a Chicago community violence intervention program. 

Social Disparities and Health 

Adolescent Experiences and Wellbeing During the Pandemic

Adolescents’ wellbeing and development are influenced by the context they develop in, everyday stressors they experience, and support from loved ones, among other factors. Beginning in 2020, adolescents were affected by a new factor: the COVID-19 pandemic. Teenage mental health was an increasing concern prior to the pandemic, and many feared that the pandemic would exacerbate the issue. In Current Opinion in Psychology, Northwestern postdoctoral fellows Tierney McMahon and Sarah Collier Villaume and IPR developmental psychobiologist Emma Adam investigate how pandemic policies affected teenage stress, support, coping mechanisms, and wellbeing. They analyze teenagers’ diary entries in various longitudinal studies conducted during the pandemic.  Applying their Contexts, Histories, and Everyday Stressors and Supports (CHESS) Model of Adolescent Affective Wellbeing, the researchers consider how policies relating to the pandemic interact with teenage developmental contexts and histories to alter their everyday experiences of stressors and supports. They conclude that the unprecedented nature of the pandemic increased depression and anxiety symptoms and those with mental health issues prior to the pandemic, or fewer socioeconomic resources, experienced worse symptoms during the pandemic. Several helpful supports, including coping and positive health behaviors, were also identified. Based on these conclusions, the researchers suggest that public health and economic policy makers should consider mental health risks for adolescents, focusing on policies supporting family economic resources, access to mental healthcare, and social connection. Emma Adam is Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Human Development and Social Policy.

Education Policy

The Relationship Between Abortion Access and Selective High Schools  

​​Are the benefits of attending a selective school larger or smaller when access to abortion is restricted? IPR economist Ofer Malamud and his colleagues explore this potential interaction between family and school environments in Romania in The Journal of Human Resources. Using administrative, census, and survey data, the researchers compared children born just before Romania lifted its abortion ban in 1990 to those born in 1991, just after the ban was lifted. They used data from high school admission exams to compare students who just barely got admitted or rejected from selective schools. They measured causal effects on students’ educational success with the high-stakes Baccalaureate exam which is taken after high school and determines university acceptance. The survey provided information about parent and student behaviors. The researchers’ findings provide strong evidence that both abortion access and access to selective high schools improved children’s educational outcomes, but the two factors did not appear to reinforce each other. It appeared that the benefits of attending more selective schools was larger among students who were born into less advantaged family environments associated with abortion restrictions. Survey evidence suggests that family behavior, such as students in disadvantaged households doing more homework or getting more help with homework from parents, may have served to reverse any positive interaction between family and school environments. This suggests that later schooling interventions may deliver larger benefits even when they are targeted at more disadvantaged children.

Race, Poverty, and Inequality

How Did Parents Talk to Their Children About Black Lives Matter? 

In summer 2020 following the death of George Floyd and subsequent widespread racial protests, discussions of race came to dominate the national conversation. In Developmental Psychology, IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers investigates whether and how U.S. parents, both Black and White, discussed the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement with their children during this period of heightened racial tensions. Rogers and her team conducted an online survey between November 2020 and January 2021 among 725 Black and White parents of children aged 8–11. The survey inquired whether parents had discussed BLM with their children, and if so, what they had discussed. These open-ended responses were then coded, categorized, and analyzed, revealing that 84% of Black parents and 76% of White parents had spoken to their children about BLM within the year following Floyd’s murder. Additionally, 78% of Black parents affirmed Black lives and acknowledged systemic racism, while only 35% of White parents reported similar messaging. According to Rogers and her team, these results underscore that encouraging parents to speak with their children about race, while necessary, is not enough. Rogers said that it is crucial to encourage in-depth, substantial conversations.

Urban Policy and Community Development 

Chicago CVI Program Proves Effective 

Given the national increase in gun violence, interest in Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs, which address gun violence by utilizing local experts and circumventing interactions with the criminal justice system, has risen in recent years. IPR director and sociologist Andrew Papachristos, and CORNERS’ Marisa Ross and Erin Ochoa, recently conducted a study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to determine the effect of the Chicago Create Real Economic Destiny (CRED) program on the participants’ experience with violence. This study compared 324 arrested men who participated in the CRED program between 2016 and 2021 to 2,500 arrested men, who also lived in CRED’s service areas, but did not participate in its program. Researchers compared data to determine CRED’s effect on individual violence-related outcomes of participants, such as violent crimes, shootings, or other gun-related violence, including those who completed the entire CRED program and those who only completed parts of the program. Results indicated that those who completed the entire program were over 73% less likely to be arrested for a violent crime in the two years post-completion, as compared to the individuals who did not complete the program. CRED participants were also significantly less likely to engage in assaults, robberies, shootings, and other gun-related violence. Based on these results, researchers suggest addressing obstacles to CVI program participation, scaling up CVI programs, and integrating CVI programs with other efforts in the community. Papachristos is  John G. Searle Professor of Sociology.  

Photo credits: iStock

Published: March 27, 2024.