Recent Poverty, Race, and Inequality Research

Economic Opportunity and Growth

Changing Gender Attitudes in India
IPR economist Seema Jayachandran is examining gender-discriminatory attitudes among adolescents in India. She is assessing an intervention aimed at eliminating these attitudes in 314 secondary schools in the Indian state of Haryana. It has one of the most skewed sex ratios in the world, with just 914 females per 1,000 males. Half of the schools in the study were randomly assigned to receive the two-year intervention, in which staff of a human rights nongovernmental organization facilitated classroom discussions about gender equality, while the other half did not receive the intervention. The researchers hypothesize that by getting adolescents to think about and discuss the human rights and economic rationales for treating women equally to men, the intervention will decrease gender-biased attitudes and therefore change behavior. Preliminary results show that the intervention successfully changes attitudes about gender. The researchers plan to survey the participants once they become adults to examine if the program increased women’s educational attainment and decreased sex-selective abortions.

Seema Jayachandran
IPR development economist Seema Jayachandran
focuses on health and gender in developing
countries. One of her current projects examines
gender-discriminatory attitudes among adolescents
in India.

Job Networks Disadvantage Women
Up to 50 percent of jobs are attained through informal channels, including employee referrals. In the Journal of Labor Economics, IPR development economist Lori Beaman asks whether these informal processes disadvantage women. Beaman and her colleagues use a competitive recruitment drive in Malawi that advertised positions for survey enumerators by posting fliers. After a half-day application process, candidates were asked to refer a friend or relative to apply for the position. Researchers split candidates into three groups: They were either told that they could refer a woman, a man, or a person of either gender. In the National Science Foundation-funded study, Beaman finds that the use of referrals disadvantaged women: When candidates were allowed to choose either gender for a referral, only 30 percent of referrals were women. This is driven by male candidates, with 77 percent of men referring other men when given the choice. In contrast, female candidates did not exhibit a strong preference for either gender. Female candidates also refer people who are not very likely to qualify for positions. Beaman concludes that
the role of job networks in the labor market could contribute to persistent gender gaps.

Social Networks and Gender
Social networks are one way to diffuse information, particularly in areas missing more formal institutions, but does the way that information spreads differ based on which individuals in a network are first targeted? Beaman examines data from a composting study among farmers in Mali. Using data from 52 villages, she finds the spread of information decreases with social distance, or how socially close or far apart the member of one social group is to members of another. This particularly disadvantages women, who are not as connected within many social networks. The results caution that while social networks might enable policymakers to spread information cheaply and efficiently, the choice of whom to target within a network has implications for who will benefit from the information. In particular, targeting the most connected people within a network tends to leave out those on the periphery, including women.

Relationship Status Discrimination in Hiring
Junior faculty search committees play a vital role in shaping the demographics of university departments
and disciplines, but how committees select new hires has received minimal scholarly attention. In American Sociological Review, organizational sociologist and IPR associate Lauren Rivera examines how relationship status discrimination can lead to gender inequalities in academic hiring. Through a small case study of junior faculty search committees at a large university, she discovers that when selecting hires, search committees actively considered women’s—but not men’s—relationship status. Committee members assumed that women whose partners held academic or high-status jobs would not move for the open position. However, they rarely discussed male applicants’ relationship status and did not consider their female partners as an obstacle to their moving. Rivera concludes that even if women do “everything right,” excelling in school and pursuing demanding work, hiring committees might still treat them as if their careers are secondary to those of their partners and exclude them from top jobs.

Occupational Licensing for Migrants
Researchers typically argue that occupational licensing—such as that required for lawyers or even hair stylists—limits entry into an occupation due to the substantial barriers involved, including time and cost. However, IPR sociologist
Beth Redbird finds that occupational licensing can actually make certain occupations more accessible to immigrants. Using a dataset of occupational licensing enactments between 1994–2012, paired with nationally representative data from the Current Population Survey, Redbird finds that licensing creates institutional mechanisms and publicizes uniform standards for entry into an occupation. Licensing is particularly helpful for migrants arriving as adults who have already completed their education in their home country, as well as for those who recently entered the United States and do not have the social network to follow typical informal paths to enter a chosen field. In related work in the American Sociological Review, Redbird examines more than 500 occupations in all 50 states to determine whether licensing drives up prices by limiting the number of workers who can enter an occupation. With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, she finds that licensing actually increases access—in particular helping women get jobs—and has no effect on wages.

Poverty and Income Inequality

Senate Testimony on SNAP
Economist and IPR Director
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach testified before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee in a hearing to discuss nutrition programs covered by the 2018 Farm Bill. She discussed what current research, including her own, says about SNAP’s benefits and offered suggestions for improvements in the upcoming bill. She noted that SNAP, which is the nation’s largest food assistance program, kept more than 8.4 million people out of poverty in 2014. The program also has economic benefits, with the USDA estimating that every $5 in new SNAP benefits can generate as much as $9 of economic activity. Highlighting her own research, Schanzenbach outlined how those who had access to SNAP benefits during their childhoods were 18 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school. They also grew up to be healthier. Schanzenbach called SNAP “a smart public investment that will improve both public health and economic growth.” Schanzenbach is the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor.

IPR Director Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach,
an economist, co-edited a new book that
proposes evidence-based reforms to
increase women's participation in the
labor force.

The 51 Percent
Over the course of the 20th century, more American women have received college degrees and worked than ever before, adding an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. economy. Still, the U.S. economy has room to grow and will only reach its full potential if women are able to fully participate in the labor market, according to a new book that Schanzenbach co-edited. In The 51 Percent: Driving Growth Through Women’s Economic Participation (The Hamilton Project, 2017), researchers propose evidence-based public policy reforms aimed at addressing the structural problems in the economy that are holding women back. Schanzenbach and two colleagues contributed the first chapter that traces women’s participation in the U.S. labor force since the middle of the 20th century. They demonstrate that the number of women working jumped dramatically between 1962 and 2000, but since then, the growth in women’s labor force involvement has stagnated and reversed. Schanzenbach, Sandra Black of the University of Texas at Austin, and Audrey Breitwieser of The Hamilton Project suggest that U.S. policies and labor-market institutions have played a role in women’s labor force participation.

The Impact of Savings Groups
Some nonprofit organizations train villagers to create and lead microfinance programs that save and then lend out the accumulated savings to other members. But do these programs actually work to improve lives? Development economists and IPR associates
Dean Karlan and Christopher Udry use a randomized evaluation across three countries to determine the answer in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They discover that the promotion of these informal savings groups in Ghana, Malawi, and Uganda leads to an improvement in household business outcomes, as such programs stimulate investment to extend and expand businesses operated by the households. The informal savings groups also empower women, increasing their access to credit and raising their influence on household decision-making. However, Karlan and Udry do not find evidence that the program changed average consumption or improved food security. Udry is the Robert and Emily King Professor of Economics, and Karlan holds the Frederic Esser Nemmers Chair.

The Role of Microcredit
How did India’s 2010 “microfinance crisis,” in which the state of Andhra Pradesh stopped all microcredit lending, affect the rest of the country? IPR economist Cynthia Kinnan and Emily Breza of Harvard University use this “natural experiment” to show how the microcredit crisis rippled throughout the nation, affecting average borrowers via lenders’ balance sheets. They illustrate how district-level reductions in credit supply are associated with significant decreases in daily wages, household wage earnings, and consumption. The inability of institutions to finance credit-worthy borrowers outside of the district led to nationwide decreases in lending, consumption, earnings, wages, and agricultural yields. Even those who did not borrow were affected by the fall in wages, suggesting that evaluations that only focus on “likely borrowers” might miss significant impacts.

The Value of Health Insurance
Since 2008, India’s public health insurance has covered the poorest quarter of the population. The Indian government is now considering expanding coverage to include households above the poverty line. To create the most effective policy for nearly 700 million people, it is vital to understand how care-seeking behavior works with and without insurance. In partnership with the government of Karnataka, India, Kinnan and fellow researchers from the United States, England, and India are currently conducting a randomized controlled field experiment to measure the effects of expanding the free inpatient public health insurance plan called Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY). RSBY is centrally funded, state-run, and provides hospitalization insurance to households below the poverty line. Preliminary results show that demand for low-cost insurance is significant: 78 percent of households take up RSBY when it is free, 71 percent buy the insurance when given a cash transfer equal to its cost, and 60 percent buy it even without receiving a cash transfer. The researchers are continuing to analyze the health and financial effects of access to the program.

Class, Gender, and Social Dynamics

Changing Gender Stereotypes
How do stereotypes about men and women change over time as the roles of men and women also evolve? IPR social psychologist Alice Eagly, who holds the James Padilla Chair of Arts and Sciences, and her colleagues examine changes in stereotypes in Ghana, where women are increasingly attending school and participating in the labor force. For the study in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 150 participants from a Ghanaian university answered questions about whether a man or woman would be more likely to have specific characteristics. The researchers also estimated the percentages over time of men and women in roles that were female-dominated, such as a flight attendant or nurse, or male-dominated, such as a manager or lawyer. Eagly and her co-authors discover that participants were less likely to consider roles as inherently “male” or “female” in the present day, compared with what they believed people thought in the past. They observed the same trend for personality traits, with participants assigning women more traditionally masculine traits in more recent years and the future. Eagly and her colleagues note that expectations about the future can become reality as men and women engage in new social roles.

Defining Gender Identity
How do people define their gender identity, and how much of that identity is due to nature versus nurture? Eagly
and Wendy Wood of the University of Southern California review the evidence. They note that a great deal of children’s socialization involves gender, with children learning what to expect of men and women from both observation and direct experience. As children mature, they begin to form ideas of gender roles based on the division of labor between the sexes. These stereotypes promote conformity in both men and women, and they form the basis for gender identities. Eagly and Wood note that the division of labor, which often informs stereotypes, is itself informed by biology. Each sex’s unique physical attributes—including men’s greater size and women’s capacity for childbearing—are often tied to typical roles. However, as societal changes have decreased childbearing and revolutionized work so that it does not typically prioritize physical strength, the gender identities of men and women have partially converged. The researchers note these changes reflect a cascade of intertwined biological and social processes.

Building Identities
How do children build their identities? IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers is examining the development and intersectionality of racial and academic identities, as well as gender and sexuality, among African American youth attending a public all-girls high school. She is also investigating the associations between identity and psychosocial well-being, as well as the implications for academic success. Rogers notes that African American girls are disproportionately expelled from school and exposed to psychological and physical violence. The project has the potential to inform interventions to improve mental health and well-being, in addition to the practices and policies of schools to support development.

Stereotypes and Identity Development
In further work, Rogers is seeking to understand how racial and gender identities intersect, as well as how stereotypes impact identity development. She gathered primary data from 2013–16, using in-depth interviews, survey measures, and experimental techniques. With a sample of 240 children aged 7–14 at predominantly low-income public schools, Rogers is analyzing how children speak about and make sense of social groups, including race, gender, academics, and athletics. She asked the children about their thoughts on race and gender, identity and self-perceptions, school and learning, peers and friendships, and future aspirations. The ongoing qualitative analysis is focused on how the content of children’s identity narratives changes over time and how their understandings differ across social identities. In addition, Rogers is exploring the relationship between multiple identities and stereotypes. For example, she examines how children understand what it means to be African American, what it means to be a boy, and what it means to be an African American boy.

Race, Interracial Relations, and Prejudice

How Many Racists?
How do different factors work together to shape an individual’s experience of race? IPR social demographer Quincy Thomas Stewart is using agent-based modeling for his forthcoming book, “How Many Racists? How Everyday People Contribute to a System of Inequality.” Stewart uses a computational simulation to examine racial inequality from a dynamic perspective, specifically investigating the social dynamics that lead to the emergence and maintenance of racial inequality. He also examines the history of racial inequality from 1865–1965, as well as the social organizations involved in maintaining inequities between whites and African Americans. Stewart finds that a large number of racists is not needed to maintain institutional inequalities, as biased social dynamics are also at play. People who do not expressly act or talk in a racist manner also learn subtle prejudices that can contribute to racial inequality. The results underscore the need for a broad, multifaceted policy approach to eradicate racial inequality. As Stewart notes, policies that strictly focus on preventing discriminatory action among individuals will miss the unique structural components of inequality.

Skin Tone's Relation to Mortality
Is skin tone in African Americans and whites related to mortality?
Stewart uses data from the 1982 General Social Survey, linked to the National Death Index until 2008. He finds that observed skin tone is a significant determinant of mortality among African Americans. Light-skinned blacks had the lowest mortality hazards among African Americans, while those with medium- and dark-brown skin experienced significantly higher mortality. These results differed by education: Skin tone disparities are large among African Americans with at least a high school education, but not significant among those with lower education levels. This reveals that the nuanced social experiences of African Americans with different observed skin tones markedly change the experience of racial inequality. Stewart calls for further research on the social processes and biological mechanisms that connect skin tone to mortality outcomes in order to discover policies that might
help mitigate the disparity.

Race and College Athletics
How does race affect student-athletes in college? In a series of IPR working papers, IPR political scientist James Druckman investigates aspects of race for both coaches and players. One study examines coaches’ beliefs about athlete protests, such as kneeling for the national anthem, within the NCAA. Among 800 college coaches from a variety of sports and institutions, African American coaches were 40 percent more supportive of anthem protests and 26 percent more likely to believe that players genuinely care about the issues they protest. In another project, Druckman conducts a vignette survey experiment about NCAA medical staff to explore perceptions of an injured student-athlete—for example, asking respondents to gauge how likely it is that a student-athlete will follow medical recommendations. The researchers find little evidence of bias, although related work by Druckman finds that a majority of respondents view African Americans as having a greater tolerance for pain than white athletes—but only when the African American athletes come from less privileged social backgrounds. Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science.

Native American Inequality
In the first wide-scale examination of Native American inequality in 30 years,
Redbird is examining the ways in which changing tribal structures and processes are affecting well-being and inequality. Since the last study of this scale, there have been multiple important developments across Native American lands and tribes, including gaming, energy projects, expanded health and social services, and the advent of tribal colleges. Redbird is using the Decennial Census, American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, and General Social Survey, paying particular attention to whether shifts in inequality are seen between different tribes or between members of the same tribe.

Affirmative Action Laws and Their Effects

Diversifying the Teacher WorkforceThe Origins of Affirmative Action
As debate over affirmative action continues, IPR sociologist Anthony Chen is working to chronicle its social, political, and intellectual origins in college admissions. With New York University’s Lisa Stulberg, Chen is completing a book manuscript that illustrates how affirmative action originated as college and university leaders drew inspiration from the civil rights movement. These leaders also sought new ways to racially integrate the Northern, Midwestern, and Western universities over which they presided in the early 1960s. Through extensive archival research, the book will help to clarify the circumstances under which affirmative action emerged and developed in the United States. Chen hopes that having a clear understanding of the past will help policymakers make sound decisions about affirmative action policy today—and in the future.

Can hiring guidelines increase the share of African American teachers? In an IPR working paper, former IPR graduate research assistant Cynthia (CC) DuBois and Schanzenbach examine a 1969 court-ordered hiring mandate in Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish, which was finally enforced in 2010. They find the policy significantly increased the share of African American teachers in the district, which rose 2 to 5.6 percentage points in the five years after the policy’s enactment. The policy also decreased the student-teacher representation gap, measured as the difference in enrollment share among African American students and teachers. DuBois and Schanzenbach outline how this increase in the share of African American teachers held across both predominantly white and predominantly African American schools in the district. They call for further research into the potential effects of “soft” versus “hard” affirmative action policies to diversify the teacher workforce. DuBois passed away in January 2018 as a result of brain cancer.