Children, Youth and Families

Jeanne Brooks-Gunn • Jean Grossman • Sara F. McLanahan • Marta Tienda • Yu Xie


Janet Currie, Michael Greenstone (University of Chicago) and Katherine Meckel (University of California, Los Angeles) published, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Infant Health: New Evidence from Pennsylvania” in Science Advances. The development of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is considered the biggest change to the global energy production system in the last half-century. However, several communities have banned fracking because of unresolved concerns about the impact of this process on human health. To evaluate the potential health impacts of fracking, they analyzed records of more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2013, comparing infants born to mothers living at different distances from active fracking sites and those born both before and after fracking was initiated at each site. They adjusted for fixed maternal determinants of infant health by comparing siblings who were and were not exposed to fracking sites in utero. They found evidence for negative health effects of in utero exposure to fracking sites within 3 km of a mother’s residence, with the largest health impacts seen for in utero exposure within 1 km of fracking sites. Negative health impacts include a greater incidence of low–birth weight babies as well as significant declines in average birth weight and in several other measures of infant health. There is little evidence for health effects at distances beyond 3 km, suggesting that health impacts of fracking are highly local. Informal estimates suggest that about 29,000 of the nearly 4 million annual U.S. births occur within 1 km of an active fracking site and that these births therefore may be at higher risk of poor birth outcomes.


Diane Alexander (Federal Reserve Bank, Chicago) and Janet Currie’s article, “Is It Who You Are or Where You Live? Residential Segregation and Racial Gaps in Childhood Asthma,” was published in the Journal of Health Economics. Higher asthma rates are one of the more obvious ways that health inequalities between African American and other children are manifested beginning in early childhood. In 2010, black asthma rates were double non-black rates. Some but not all of this difference can be explained by factors such as a higher incidence of low birth weight (LBW) among blacks; however, even conditional on LBW, blacks have a higher incidence of asthma than others. Using a unique data set based on the health records of all children born in New Jersey between 2006 and 2010, they show that when they split the data by whether or not children live in a “black” zip code, this racial difference in the incidence of asthma among LBW children entirely disappears. All LBW children in these zip codes, regardless of race, have a higher incidence of asthma. Their results point to the importance of residential segregation and neighborhoods in explaining persistent racial health disparities.


Diane Alexander (Federal Reserve Bank, Chicago) and Janet Currie’s research article entitled, “Are Publicly Insured Children Less Likely to be Admitted to Hospital than the Privately Insured (and Does It Matter)?” was published in the Economics and Human Biology. It examines the continuing controversy about the extent to which publicly insured children are treated differently than privately insured children, and whether differences in treatment matter. They show that on average, hospitals are less likely to admit publicly insured children than privately insured children who present at the ER and the gap grows during high flu weeks, when hospital beds are in high demand. This pattern is present even after controlling for detailed diagnostic categories and hospital fixed effects, but does not appear to have any effect on measurable health outcomes such as repeat ER visits and future hospitalizations. Hence, the results raise the possibility that instead of too few publicly insured children being admitted during high flu weeks, there are too many publicly and privately insured children being admitted most of the time.


Jean Grossman is an expert on programs serving disadvantaged youth, especially mentoring programs and out-of-school time programs (afterschool and summer programs). She has authored (with colleagues) over 15 reports on out-of-school time programming, including: An Analysis of the Effects of an Academic Summer Program for Middle School Students; Evaluation of Enhanced Academic Instruction in After-School Programs; Engaging Older Youth; Testing the Impact of Higher Achievement’s Year-Round Out-of-School Time Program on Academic Outcomes; Quality Time After School: What Instructors Can Do to Enhance Learning; and The Cost of Quality Out-of-School Time Programs, Quality Time After School.

Grossman authored two of the mentoring fields most seminal evaluations based on the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program: Making a Difference and Making a Difference in School. She also recently finished The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles; and Youth-Initiated Mentoring: Investigating a New Approach to Working with Vulnerable Adolescents. Along with Jean Rhodes and others, Grossman has also written a series of papers on the mechanisms of mentoring, exploring the role of the match length, rematching and the quality of the relationship.

NIH Clinical Study of Friends of the Children (FOTC). (2007- ) FOTC identifies very high-risk children when they are very young (first grade) and matches them with a mentor (or Friend) who provides one-on-one support and guidance for an extended period of time (twelve years). Dr. Grossman (as co-PI) and her colleagues at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) are conducting a randomized control trial evaluation of the program’s effects on the children’s behavior, health and well-being. She will head the cost study.


Sara McLanahan, Margot Jackson (Brown University), and Kathleen Kiernan (University of York) published. “Maternal Education, Changing Family Circumstances, and Children’s Skill Development in the U.S. and U.K.,” in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. McLanahan and colleagues look at how maternal education influences family structure, family economic insecurity and maternal depression and how trajectories in these characteristics influence children’s cognitive development. They use latent class analysis and data from two nationally representative birth cohort studies that follow children from birth to age five to address two questions: (1) How do children’s family circumstances evolve throughout early childhood, and (2) To what extent do these trajectories account for differences in children’s cognitive development? Cross-national analysis reveals a good deal of similarity between the U.S. and U.K. in patterns of family life during early childhood, and in the degree to which those patterns contribute to educational inequality.


Louis Donnelly, Irwin Garfinkel (Columbia University), Jeanne Brooks-Gunn (Columbia University), Brandon Wagner (University of Texas), Sarah James and Sara McLanahan published, “Geography of Intergenerational Mobility and Child Development,” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These researchers examine the association between Chetty and Hendren’s county-level measure of intergenerational mobility and children’s cognitive and behavioral development. Focusing on children from low-income families, they find that growing up in a county with high upward mobility is associated with fewer externalizing behavioral problems by age 3 years and with substantial gains in cognitive test scores between ages 3 and 9 years. Growing up in a county with one SD better intergenerational mobility accounts for ~20% of the gap in developmental outcomes between children from low- and high-income families. Collectively, the findings suggest that the developmental processes through which residential contexts promote upward mobility begin early in childhood and involve the enrichment of both cognitive and social-emotional development.


Kate Choi (The University of Western Ontario, Canada) and Marta Tienda published, “Marriage-Market Constraints and Mate-Selection Behavior: Racial, Ethnic and Gender Differences in Intermarriage,” in Journal of Marriage and Family. Despite theoretical consensus that marriage markets constrain mate-selection behavior, few studies directly evaluate how local marriage-market conditions influence intermarriage patterns. Using data from the American Community Survey, the authors examine what aspects of marriage markets influence mate selection, assess whether the associations between marriage-market conditions and intermarriage are uniform by gender and across pan-ethnic groups, and investigate the extent to which marriage-market conditions account for group differences in intermarriage patterns. Relative group size is the most salient and consistent determinant of intermarriage patterns across pan-ethnic groups and by gender. Marriage-market constraints typically explain a larger share of pan-ethnic differences in intermarriage rates than individual traits, suggesting that scarcity of co-ethnic partners is a key reason behind decisions to intermarry. When faced with market constraints, men are more willing or more successful than women in crossing racial and ethnic boundaries in marriage.


Yu Xie and Amy Hsin’s (Queens College, City University of New York) paper, “Life-course Changes in the Mediation of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills for Parental Effects on Children’s Academic Achievement,” published in Social Science Research, assesses life-course changes in how cognitive and noncognitive skills mediate the effect of parental SES on children's academic achievement using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. Their results show: (1) the direct effect of parental SES declines while the mediating effect of skills increases over time; (2) cognitive and non-cognitive skills differ in their temporal sensitivities to parental origin; and (3) in contrast to the effect of cognitive skills, the mediating effect of non-cognitive skills increases over time because non-cognitive skills are more sensitive to changes in parental SES. Their results offer insights into the dynamic role skill formation plays in status attainment.


Yu Xie and Yongai Jin (Renmin University of China) published, “Social Determinants of Household Wealth and Income in Urban China,” in Chinese Journal of Sociology. Using data from a nationwide household survey—the China Family Panel Studies—they study how social determinants—political and market factors—are associated with wealth and income among urban households in China. Results indicate that both political and market factors contribute significantly to a household’s economic wellbeing, but the political premium is substantially greater in wealth than in income. Further, political capital has a larger effect on the accumulation of housing assets, while market factors are more influential on the accumulation of non-housing assets.