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Effects of School, Life & Family Contexts

How Parent-Child Interaction Affects App-based Learning

IPR associate Ellen Wartella (standing), a communications studies researcher, reviews research results with Elizabeth Diamond  (center), an IPR summer undergraduate  research assistant, and communications researcher Alexis Lauricella.

The use of mobile devices is common among young children today, leading educators and researchers to explore how they might function as learning tools. In a recent study, communication studies researcher and IPR associate Ellen Wartella and co-authors examine parent-child interaction during the use of a touchscreen coding app and whether it affected children’s learning from the app. Focusing on four- to five-year old children, the researchers observed a group of 31 child-and-parent pairs, tracking four different types of communication as the children performed assignments meant to teach coding: spatial talk, or direction-based statements; question-asking; task-relevant talk, or any discussion explicitly relevant to the app; and responsive statements. They compared each factor to the children’s success in completing the task at hand and their comprehension. The authors find that the children better learned coding when parents engaged in more task-relevant talk focused on the app. When conversations featured more question-asking, less learning resulted, which may indicate a child’s having difficulty with the task. Wartella and her co-authors suggest that further research should take a longer view of parent-child interactions to find out whether the effects of such communication, especially question-asking, may change over time. Wartella is the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor of Communication.

The Impacts of Car Pollution on Child Health: Evidence from Emissions Cheating

Although car exhaust is a major source of air pollution, shockingly little is known about its impacts on population health, especially amongst American youth. In their new working paper, IPR economist Hannes Schwandt and his associate Diane Alexander at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago analyze the in-depth impacts of car pollution on the youngest members of society. To do this, the researchers examined the dispersion of emissions-cheating diesel cars—which secretly polluted up to 150 times as much as gasoline cars—across the United States from 2008–2015 to measure the health impact of car pollution. By using vehicle registration and birth data, the researchers demonstrate that a 10% cheating-induced increase in car exhaust increases rates of low birth weight by 1.9% and acute asthma attacks among children by 8%. Moreover, they found that these health impacts occur across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, regardless of race or class. The paper has three main takeaways for policymakers. First, car pollution is a society-wide health threat, not just a threat to those in disadvantaged communities. Second, regulators, consumers, and communities need to be informed about the broader health costs of car pollution. And third, strong regulation needs to be paired with strong enforcement in order to fully combat this serious and pressing issue.

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.

The Critical Role of Women’s Empowerment in Child Nutrition Outcomes

Women's empowerment, the expansion of women's ability to make strategic life choices, has gained attention as a potential pathway to improving child nutrition globally. IPR anthropologist Sera Young co-authored a study in Advances in Nutrition that systematically reviews what is currently known about this relationship, and to document how women’s empowerment has been measured in the context of child nutrition. Young and her colleagues examined 62 studies and identified 200 unique indicators of women’s empowerment. Despite this large number, indicators for critical components of empowerment, such as reproductive decisions and men’s engagement with child nutrition, were missing. Interestingly, the majority of the studies were based on data from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting a gap in how women’s empowerment may impact child nutrition in different contexts. Overall, Young and her colleagues found that the women’s empowerment indicators used in these studies were inconsistent and limited in scope. The strength of the relationship between women’s empowerment and child nutrition was also frequently overstated. They suggest that future research about women’s empowerment and child nutrition should be more targeted in study design, assess empowerment across a longer period of time, and explicitly declare which pathways between empowerment and child nutrition are being tested.

Exploring the Links Between Household Water and Food Insecurity

Previous research has shown that both household food and water insecurity undermine individual well-being, including physical and mental health. Yet the relationship between food and water insecurity has not been rigorously assessed. In a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology, IPR anthropologist Sera Young and her colleagues sought to fill this knowledge gap by exploring the connections between food and water insecurity across 21 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Data were drawn from the Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) study, a large-scale project that aimed to develop the first cross-culturally validated to measure water insecurity. Young and her colleagues discovered that worse water insecurity was associated with worse food insecurity. Specifically, food quantity and quality both decreased when household water insecurity increased. Interestingly, rural households appeared to be buffered against water insecurity’s deleterious impact on food quantity, while urban households were buffered against its impacts on food quality. Additionally, the effects of water insecurity on worsening food insecurity were more acute for lower-status households. Their findings directly challenge traditional siloing in development and research that considers food and water insecurity separately. Instead, they argue that policies and interventions must concurrently address barriers to quality food and water to be most effective.