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Effects of School, Life, and Family Contexts

In-School Counseling Program Improves Teen Girls’ PTSD Symptoms 

Young women, especially Black and Latina girls, suffer disproportionately from trauma-related depression, PTSD, and anxiety, yet little is known about effective treatment options. In Science Advances, IPR economist Jonathan Guryan and his colleagues examine the effectiveness and affordability of a school-based counseling program, Working on Womanhood (WOW), a trauma-informed, relationship-centered counseling and mentoring program designed by and for Black and Latina women. WOW focuses on addressing anxiety, depression, and PTSD in youngwomen of color and was developed and delivered by Youth Guidance, a social services provider based in Chicago. The study is the first large-scale randomized controlled trial of such an initiative for young women in Chicago. Across the 2017–18 and 2018–19 school years, 3,749 high school girls in 10 public schools in Chicago participated in the study. The research finds that attending the weekly in-school counseling program for four months decreased participants’ PTSD symptoms by 22%, depression by 14%, and anxiety by nearly 10%. The results suggest that group-based, in-school therapy programs such as WOW can improve mental health symptoms. The results also highlight the lack of alternative mental health services available to young women. The authors conclude that WOW appears very cost-effective when judged based on its ability to alleviate mental health symptoms. Guryan is Lawyer Taylor Professor of Education and Social Policy.  

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. 

Encouraging Cognitive Skills with Video Games

Is playing action video games associated with the development of cognitive abilities? In their meta-analysis of studies in Technology, Mind, and Behavior, IPR statistician Elizabeth Tipton and her colleagues investigate this correlation. The researchers examine action video games, defined as first- or third-person shooter games, and cognition using two types of studies in this analysis: cross-sectional and intervention. Cross-sectional studies compared the cognition of those who play action video games regularly to those who do not play them. The intervention studies compared experimental groups playing action video games to a control group that played video games that are not action or brain games. The selection of studies began very broadly, using basic search terms, but was then narrowed through stringent criteria, leaving 74 cross-sectional studies, 22 intervention, and 14 that fell into both categories. In cross-sectional studies, there were significant effects noticed in perceptual, goal-oriented attentional, spatial, and multitasking skills when compared to nonvideo game players. For intervention studies, there was a medium causal effect in goal-oriented attentional and multitasking skills. The researchers conclude that playing action video games is linked to the growth of some cognitive skills, and they suggest that computer games be developed to foster cognitive development.

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.

National Identification and Cultural Assimilation in France 

Immigrant identification, meaning how immigrants perceive themselves in relation to their host country and home country, as well as assimilation have been hot topics in recent decades. In France especially, the balance between immigrants’ allegiance to their home country and their assimilation into French culture has been especially contentious. In Social Forces, IPR sociologist Julia Behrman and Northwestern graduate student Ewurama Okai investigate the relationship between immigrants’ cultural identification and their level of assimilation. They studied 21,761 French citizens living in metropolitan France between 2008–2009 with either a foreign-born parent or a parent from a French territory who came from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Southeast Asia, or Southeast Europe. Participants in the Trajectoires et Origines Survey rated their feelings about their home country and France, including “I feel French,” “I feel [my origin country or parent’s origin country],” “I feel at home in France,” and “I feel seen as French.” The researchers analyzed the data to categorize responses as either ethnic, assimilated, actively bicultural, detached bicultural, or othered bicultural. Results suggest that as national identification increases, sense of belonging increases, and as ethnic identification increases, national identification decreases. Additionally, ethnic identification decreases, and assimilation increases, from generation to generation. Last, the data shows the prevalence of biculturalism, demonstrating that feelings of French identity can co-exist with a sense of social exclusion due to migrant status. The researchers’ findings question how much immigrants' identification to their home countries threaten France’s national cohesion, as well as suggest future research topics on how complex identities are formed within societies that strongly encourage assimilation, such as that of France.  

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.

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.


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.