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Effects of School, Life & Family Contexts

Parental Monitoring and Children's Internet Use

How well can parents monitor their children’s actions, especially when they are not together? IPR economist Ofer Malamud and his co-authors investigate this age-old question in the contemporary context of children’s internet usage in a Journal of Public Economics study. They conducted a randomized experiment in Chile among 7,700 parents of seventh and eighth graders. Parents received weekly texts about their children’s internet usage and/or received an offer of assistance for installing parental control software. A control group received a generic text about their child’s laptop. In families where parents received usage information, children’s internet use dropped by 6–10% in comparison to the control group. The findings suggested that the usage information had larger impacts for parents who were more likely to become involved in their children’s lives, and for working parents who otherwise may have found it difficult to monitor their children while being away from home. The strength and timing of the reminders were important: Decreased usage followed on the days immediately after the texts were received, and households who received messages on a random day of the week had larger reductions in internet usage than those who got messages on the same day each week. There were no significant effects on internet usage among families where parents received offers of software assistance.

Child Development Through Neighborhood Resources and Preschool Classroom Quality

The neighborhood a child grows up in has an impact on their development. In the American Journal of Community Psychology, IPR developmental psychologist Terri Sabol and her co-authors explore how neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES) and resources—such as libraries or doctors’ offices—are related to young children’s gains in language and literacy and executive function skills and the extent to which children’s classroom experiences help to explain that relationship. They analyzed data from two professional development programs for preschools, utilizing information on 955 students across nine cities in the United States. They find that neighborhood SES and resources were individually associated with benefits to children’s development based on the classroom quality experiences, and these associations were magnified in communities that were particularly high in both SES and resources. Overall, the researchers conclude that both neighborhood SES and resources may individually promote child development through levels of classroom process quality, and these associations are enhanced in communities high in both SES and resources. Sabol’s work can help policymakers and practitioners support children’s development through targeting differential classroom experiences within neighborhoods.

Ideal Family Size During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every aspect of life, but how did it affect Americans’ ideal family size? In the Journal of Marriage and Family, IPR sociologist  Julia Behrman examines whether the pandemic changed people’s conceptions of an ideal family. She analyzed a dataset of interviews from 1,823 adults over the age of 18 from the General Social Survey (GSS), collected by NORC at the University of Chicago. The participants were interviewed before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2016 and 2018 on their attitudes, behaviors, and demographic characteristics, including information about their ideal family size. They were re-interviewed in the first six months of the pandemic between August 24 and September 26, 2020. The results show that the pandemic had no impact on the ideal family size of the participants. Prior to the pandemic, the ideal family size was 2.5 among the participants, a number that has remained stable in the United States since the 1970s. The findings suggest that despite the shock of the pandemic, Americans’ ideal family size did not change. Future research should investigate how desired family size might have been impacted by the pandemic and how the ideal family size might have evolved among different subgroups, such as younger Americans and those with less education.

How French Immigrants Self Identify

Questions around immigration and assimilation have been at the forefront of debates in the United States and Europe in recent decades and those in France, where migrant assimilation is strongly valued, have been especially tense. In a working paper, IPR sociologist Julia Behrman and Northwestern graduate student in sociology Ewurama Okai study how migrants in France understand their identity and sense of belonging across generations. Using data from the Trajectories and Origin (TeO) Survey, the researchers examine a nationally representative sample of 11,773 consisting of 1st generation (those who arrived after age 16), 1.5 generation (those who arrived before age 16), and 2nd generation migrants (those born in France to one or more migrant parents). The survey was conducted in 2008–09 among people who migrated from North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Southeast Asia, and Southern Europe. The participants were asked to agree or disagree on a 1 to 4 scale with statements such as “I Feel French” and “I Feel [My Origin Country/Parent’s Origin Country].” The researchers distinguish five distinct identity orientations among migrants. The assimilated group, or 20% of respondents, identified most strongly as French, while the ethnic group, made up of 18% of respondents, felt a stronger connection to their country of origin. The remaining 60% of respondents fell into one of three groups—active bicultural, othered bicultural, detached bicultural—identifying with both their origin country and France in different ways. The results show that biculturalism is highly prevalent among this group of migrants, but it can take many forms.

Women’s Employment and Fertility Rates

Over the last century, women’s employment across the globe has increased dramatically, and women now make up about 40% of the labor force. Over the same time period, global fertility rates have decreased, particularly since the 1960s. In Demographic Research, IPR sociologist Julia Behrman and her co-author study the association between women’s rising employment and fertility rates on a global scale. They combine nationally representative data on women’s wage employment from the International Labor Organization with fertility rates from the United Nations and economic and schooling conditions from UNESCO, OECD, and the World Bank to create a global dataset of 174 low, middle, and high-income countries between 1960–2015. Their analysis shows that increases in women’s employment were associated with decreases in fertility rates in all four major world regions, with Europe and North America seeing the largest fertility decline and Asia and Africa having the smallest. Women’s employment was associated with the use of modern contraception in all regions. They also find that the type of employment matters for fertility rates: although, women’s non-agricultural employment was associated with lower childbearing and greater contraceptive usage, this was not true of for women’s agricultural employment. The researchers propose that the high rates of women’s employment in agriculture and lack of childcare policies may explain why patterns observed in Asia and Africa were different from those in high-income regions.

Is Household Water Insecurity a Link Between Governance and Wellbeing?

Water governance, or the political, social, economic, and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources, is a top priority in addressing the global water crisis. In a study published in the Journal of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene for Development, IPR anthropologist Sera Young and her colleagues explore the relationship between water governance, water insecurity, and wellbeing. The researchers used household data from two Sustainable Water Effectiveness Reviews conducted by Oxfam Great Britain in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2018 and 2019. Oxfam Great Britain asked participants—997 in Zambia and 1,071 in the DRC— survey questions about water governance, household water insecurity using the 12-item HWISE scale, and four indicators of wellbeing. The results showed that better water governance, or the perception of better management and equitability of current water systems, was associated with lower household water insecurity. Additionally, the researchers found that household water security mediated the relationship between good water governance and greater life satisfaction, lower odds of drinking unsafe water, and lower relative impact of cholera outbreaks. Ultimately, improvements in water governance hold promise for the improvement of both water insecurity and well-being, and further advancing progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Metaphors of Feelings and Adolescent Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy uses metaphors to describe emotions, and some metaphors are so powerful they may shape how people understand themselves. In Transcultural Psychiatry, IPR anthropologist Rebecca Seligman examines how one metaphor commonly used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) affects Mexican American adolescents receiving mental healthcare.  Over more than 18 months, she observed an urban outpatient psychiatry clinic, including staff conferences, trainings, and clinical materials. She also interviewed 37 adolescents being treated, the mothers of 21 of the teens, and 17 clinicians. Most of the teens were diagnosed with mood, anxiety, or attention deficit disorders. Seligman focused on a key metaphor used in CBT with children and adolescents: “The Feelings Thermometer.” Just as we measure changes in body temperature, patients are asked to track and measure their emotions and feelings. The metaphorical thermometer encouraged the adolescents to see their emotions as internal and fluctuating, but also as measurable and ultimately controllable. The medical authority behind the use of the thermometer strengthened its power in shaping how teens conceptualized their emotions. It had the effect of distancing them from their own feelings and creating a sense of control over their emotions. At the same time, it also imposed a particular, mechanistic understanding of emotions that sometimes conflicted with teens’ own experience and enforced a cultural value on self-control. The research suggests that the use of metaphor in psychotherapy is deeply rooted in cultural and political understandings of emotion and that therapists should be attuned both to the implications of their metaphors and the metaphors that their patients bring into the clinic with them.

Reshaping Adolescents’ Gender Attitudes

Gender discrimination is especially strong in the northern Indian state of Haryana, where a program designed to alter adolescents’ support for gender equality ran from August 2014 to October 2016 in government secondary schools. The program targeted students in seventh through tenth grades and emphasized valuing girls for both economic and human rights reasons to change students’ fundamental gender assumptions. In a working paper, IPR economist Seema Jayachandran and her colleagues evaluate the program’s impact in a randomized controlled trial across 314 schools, using data for about 14,000 students. The researchers measured three outcomes: gender attitudes, or views about what is right and wrong about women’s roles; aspirations, or goals for one’s life such as pursuing a career; and gender behaviors, or those actions influenced by gender norms such as chores done at home. Their analysis showed that the gender-equality school program succeeded in substantially increasing adolescents’ support for gender equality and had an accompanying effect on behavior. However, the program did not increase girls’ educational and career aspirations. The authors hope to track the study’s participants as they become adults to learn whether the program has long-lasting effects.

Using School-Based Mentors to Reduce Suicide Risk Among Adolescents

Teacher mentoring studentBullying is one risk factor for suicide among adolescents, but as bullying shifts to online platforms, such as texting and social media, cyberbullying is also a common risk factor for suicidality—suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents, making it critical to identify what may reduce suicidality risks. In Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, IPR health researcher Lauren Beach, epidemiologist Gregory Phillips II, and their colleagues evaluate whether mentoring relationships mitigate a student’s chances of suicidality. The researchers used the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and focused on five jurisdictions that asked students if they had at least one teacher or adult in their school they could talk to about problems. Students self-reported their experience with cyberbullying and suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts in the past 12 months. Of the 25,592 students in the sample, 87% reported having an adult they could talk with, and the researchers found mentoring relationships were associated with lower chances of suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts for both females and males. Having a mentor substantially decreased the odds of attempting suicide among males who were cyberbullied. Females who have a mentor have lower chances of suicidal ideation and attempts. These results suggest schools that help their students develop informal and formal mentoring relationships may prevent suicidality among students. 

Attitudes Toward Intimate Partner Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, reports of intimate partner violence (IPV) are among the highest in the world, with roughly one in three women saying they have experienced IPV in their lives. In Demography, Behrman and her colleague examine whether similarities or differences in a couple's characteristics are associated with couples’ joint attitudes toward IPV. The researchers examine a subset of survey data of couples from 33 countries in sub-Saharan countries. The survey, collected between 2008 and 2018, asked husbands and wives about scenarios in which wife beating was acceptable and whether wives experienced IPV in the last 12 months, along with other questions about age, education, media consumption, and whether they were employed. They find that when looking at individuals, 50% of women and 70% of men reject all IPV scenarios, but when they look at couples, 61% said in at least one response that it was justified for a husband to beat his wife. The findings also show that similar exposure to education, work, and media consumption is more predictive that a couple will both reject IPV than if only one had been exposed to them. The researchers suggest this could be because joint exposure to messaging condemning IPV is mutually reinforcing, women may have more bargaining power with more education and a job, or individuals may select a partner with similar perspectives. The results suggest that interventions should target couples to shift attitudes about IPV, rather than men or women separately.

How Do Adolescents Respond to Racism in Social Media? 

Teen on phoneThe prevalence of racism in the U.S. means that people experience it in multiple ways, including racist targeting of others on social media. This second-hand, or vicarious, racism is the subject of a qualitative study in JAMA Network Open by pediatrician and IPR associate Nia Heard-Garris and her colleagues. They investigate how adolescents respond to vicarious racism and how their responses affect their emotional health. Using interviews in small focus groups of three to six people between November 2018 and April 2019, the researchers study the responses of 18 Black, Latinx, and White teenagers, aged 13–19 years, in the Chicago area. The adolescents’ main emotional responses to second-hand racism were feelings of helplessness based on their sense of the futility of trying to change the world. These feelings were stronger when racism was directed at family or friends. Although the participants did not report physical health effects, they did focus on their emotional wellbeing. Their primary coping mechanism was some form of activism—acting collectively or individually to bring about change—usually via social media and, more rarely, in-person action. Activism is a way to empower adolescents in the face of persistent and systemic racism, the researchers explain. Peer and family support, as well as more profound societal change, are needed to buffer adolescents’ experience to second-hand racism.

Childhood Behavior and Gender Differences in the Labor Market

While recent research has examined how children’s non-cognitive skills, such as socioemotional behaviors and temperament, affect later outcomes, little research exists about how gender differences in these skills impact children’s earnings in the labor market as adults. In a working paper, IPR economist Ofer Malamud and his colleague examine the association between child behavioral problems and early adult earnings. The researchers looked at data from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which assessed 4- to 12-year-old children’s emotional and behavior problems, including anti-social behavior, anxiety/depressed mood, headstrong behavior, hyperactive behavior, dependent behavior, and peer conflict. The researchers focused on children born between 1981 and 1990 and examined their adult earnings between the ages of 24 and 30. They find that women who showed more headstrong behaviors, and men who showed more dependent behaviors as children, earned less than their peers as adults. In contrast, there were no penalties for men who were headstrong or women who were dependent. They note that while other child behavior problems are correlated with earnings, they do not find any significant gender differences. The results suggest that children who exhibit behaviors that deviate from gender norms and stereotypes are later penalized economically in the job market.