Research at OPR

Research at OPR is now characterized by five signature themes: (1) health and wellbeing, (2) migration and development, (3) children, youth, and families, (4) education and stratification, and (5) data and methods, as described below.

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Health and Wellbeing

The expansion of demographic research worldwide from a focus on mortality to broader concerns about physical and mental health is reflected in the research portfolio at OPR. A majority of OPR researchers conduct health-related research, with many serving as principal investigators of innovative cross-disciplinary data collection efforts in diverse settings. Their disciplines–economics, sociology, public policy, and biology–and the extensive inter-institutional collaborations underscore the interdisciplinary nature and breadth of OPR's health-related research. Much of the ongoing work relates to social, economic, and environmental determinants of health at different stages of the life cycle–ranging from infancy to old age–in both poor and wealthy populations. Within this broad field, a growing number of OPR researchers have been examining the biological linkages among socioeconomic factors, psychosocial factors, stressful experiences, and health. Other areas of interest include reproductive choices and reproductive health, subjective wellbeing, and migration and health.

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Migration and Development

Since the 1980s, economic integration on a global scale, including neo-liberal economic policies, has increased the likelihood of migration within and across international borders. Advanced technologies and cheaper, rapid transportation create new means for people to seek opportunities in advanced countries. The consequences of migration are monumental. In points of origin, these include the demographic depletion of hometowns, the transformation of family and gender dynamics, and the emergence of self-help strategies embodied in the circulation of remittances. In areas of resettlement immigrants constitute a key source of labor in critical sectors, but their growing visibility has revived nativism and harsh anti-immigration policies in various parts of the world. In the post 9/11 era, immigration has been recast as a top security concern. There are few subjects of greater strategic significance than migration and development. OPR research falls under three categories: (a) new developments in patterns of migration; (b) intergenerational variations in socioeconomic mobility; and (c) immigration, health, and wellbeing. Our collective work applies state-of-the-art methodologies to the understanding of processes highly relevant to theory and policy.

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Children, Youth, and Families

The wellbeing of children and future generations of adults is determined in large part by the families in which they grow up. During the past few decades, major changes have occurred in family formation behavior that are altering the amount of time and money parents invest in their children, including increases in maternal employment, cohabitation, divorce, and non-marital childbearing. Changes in family experiences, in turn, affect transitions from adolescence to adulthood, including transitions in schooling, work, and family formation. The role of families in promoting intergenerational success is especially important for immigrant children who make up an increasing proportion of the U.S. population. Extra-familial environments, such as after-school programs and labor market conditions, both complement and interact with family characteristics in determining offspring success. OPR researchers are investigating several diverse topics related to children, youth, and families. Much of this work is derived from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study  and The International Child Migration Network.

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Education and Stratification

As the nation and the world have shifted toward a post-industrial economy in which prosperity derives from investments in human capital and the creation and application of knowledge, education has assumed an increasingly central role in the American stratification system. Over the past two decades, the economic returns to skills and education have risen dramatically, and people's accumulations of human capital have become critical in determining their position in the socioeconomic hierarchy. Interpersonal variance in earnings and assets is increasingly explained by variation in education, and to the degree that different social groups do not have equal access to education, stratification on the basis of income and wealth becomes inevitable. OPR researchers are currently investigating various aspects of inequality in education, and many have been instrumental in creating and disseminating data on educational attainment to the research community.

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Data and Methods

The acquisition of new data and the development and application of new mathematical and statistical methods for analyzing data are important for the continued accumulation of substantive demographic knowledge and the advancement of population science. To that end, many researchers are actively involved in the collection of new data, the development of new methods, or both. These come from a variety of disciplines, including biology, biostatistics, economics, and sociology. Much of the work in this thematic area is cross-disciplinary, involving collaboration with mathematicians and biologists in addition to social scientists both within Princeton University and across universities on five continents. They are also designing surveys and collecting data for projects within the signature themes of health and wellbeing; migration and development; children, youth, and families; and education and stratification.

See projects on data and methods