Life Course

  • Greg Duncan
  • Arnold Milstein
  • Sean Reardon
  • Gregory Walton

Leaders: Greg Duncan, Arnold Milstein, Sean Reardon, Gregory Walton

The Life Course RG is dedicated to advancing research on life course theory and assessing how it can contribute to reducing poverty. The research within this RG focuses on issues of toxic stress, neurodevelopment, and epigenetics. The following are a few relevant projects within this RG.

Optimal timing of interventions: It has long been argued that interventions in the earliest years of childhood have larger long-term returns that interventions in later years. Is a comprehensive test of this hypothesis now possible?

Biological mechanisms of disadvantage: We’ve all heard that poverty “gets under the skin.” There is growing debate, however, on whether this biologic embedding of poverty takes an epigenetic form. A study underway at the CPI will be an especially important entry into this debate. 

Infant health and poverty: It is well known that early disadvantages at the “starting gate” parlay into later developmental disadvantages and increased risks of poverty. Are these starting-gate disparities growing larger? Using the census of U.S. birth records between 1970 and 2014, we will soon know whether they are.

Differential EITC effects: Is there a critical moment in the child’s cognitive development in which an EITC supplement is especially consequential? This question, which has long been difficult to answer, can now be taken on by linking vital statistics to administrative data for school children.

Life Course - CPI Research

Title Author Media
The Hidden Costs of War: Exposure to Armed Conflict and Birth Outcomes Florencia Torche, Uri Shwed

The Hidden Costs of War: Exposure to Armed Conflict and Birth Outcomes

Author: Florencia Torche, Uri Shwed
Publisher: Sociological Science
Date: 12/2015

Research suggests that prenatal exposure to environmental stressors has negative effects after birth. However, capturing causal effects is difficult because exposed women may be selected on unobserved factors. We use the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah war as a natural experiment and a siblings fixed-effects methodology to address unobserved selectivity by comparing exposed and unexposed births of the same mother. Findings indicate that exposure to war in early and mid-pregnancy lowers birth weight and increases the probability of low birth weight. The effect is not driven by geographic sorting, migration, or increased miscarriages. Given that birth weight predicts health, developmental, and socioeconomic outcomes, prenatal exposure to acute stress may have long-term effects over the life course.

The Academic Consequences of Early Childhood Problem Behaviors Kristin Turney, Sara McLanahan

The Academic Consequences of Early Childhood Problem Behaviors

Author: Kristin Turney, Sara McLanahan
Publisher: Social Science Research
Date: 11/2015

Social/emotional skills in early childhood are associated with education, labor market, and family formation outcomes throughout the life course. One explanation for these associations is that poor social/emotional skills in early childhood interfere with the development of cognitive skills. In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 2,302) to examine how the timing of social/emotional skills—measured as internalizing, externalizing, and attention problem behaviors in early childhood—is associated with cognitive test scores in middle childhood. Results show that externalizing problems at age 3 and attention problems at age 5, as well as externalizing and attention problems at both ages 3 and 5, are associated with poor cognitive development in middle childhood, net of a wide array of control variables and prior test scores. Surprisingly, maternal engagement at age five does not mediate these associations.

Severe Deprivation in America: An Introduction Matthew Desmond

Severe Deprivation in America: An Introduction

Author: Matthew Desmond
Publisher: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
Date: 11/2015

Poverty researchers from across the social sciences have the opportunity to reach collectively toward a new paradigm—not just a new way of thinking but a whole different approach to the study of vulnerability, violence, and marginality, one that carries methodological, policy-relevant, and normative implications. Most research is rooted in theories now a few decades old. These theories have stood the test of time because they are incisive, sweeping, and validated. But they also were developed before the United States began incarcerating more of its citizens than any other nation; before urban rents soared and poor families began dedicating the majority of their income to housing; before welfare reform caused caseloads to plummet; and before the crack epidemic tore apart poor minority communities. In recent years, the very nature of poverty in America has changed, especially at the very bottom. A new poverty agenda is needed for a world that is itself quite new.

Improving the opportunities and outcomes of California's students learning English: Findings from school district-university collaborative partnerships Ilana M. Umansky, Sean F. Reardon, Kenji Hakuta, Karen D. Thompson, Peggy Estrada, Katherine Hayes, Hilda Maldonado, Susan Tandberg, Claude Goldenberg

Improving the opportunities and outcomes of California's students learning English: Findings from school district-university collaborative partnerships

Author: Ilana M. Umansky, Sean F. Reardon, Kenji Hakuta, Karen D. Thompson, Peggy Estrada, Katherine Hayes, Hilda Maldonado, Susan Tandberg, Claude Goldenberg
Publisher: Policy Analysis for California Education: Stanford, CA
Date: 10/2015

Recent policy changes in California’s education system have opened up a unique opportunity to improve educational opportunities for the state’s 1.4 million English learner students (ELs). The implementation of new state standards including new English Language Development standards will require major changes in teaching and learning for all students including ELs, while the Local Control Funding Formula gives districts that educate large numbers of ELs additional resources to improve the services that they provide. To take full advantage of these opportunities policymakers and educators should rely on the best available evidence to shape state and district policies and to inform classroom instructional practice for EL students. In this policy brief Ilana Umansky and her co-authors review research findings from three university school district research partnerships and present recommendations for changes in policy and practice to expand opportunities for EL students. They draw three main conclusions. First, California must improve the ways in which students who need language supports are classified and reclassified, in order to improve alignment across districts in the state, and alignment between classification and services. Second, state and local officials must become more systematic in how data on ELs are collected and used, by tracking students’ progress over longer time periods and by including all students who were ever ELs in accountability metrics. Finally, and most importantly, the state must improve ELs’ educational opportunities in school by expanding access to core content, bilingual instruction, and well-prepared teachers. Changes along these lines would not necessarily require large new investments, but they could yield substantial benefits for large numbers of California students.

Does Head Start Differentially Benefit Children with Risks Targeted by the Program's Service Model? Elizabeth B. Miller, George Farkas, Greg J. Duncan

Does Head Start Differentially Benefit Children with Risks Targeted by the Program's Service Model?

Author: Elizabeth B. Miller, George Farkas, Greg J. Duncan
Publisher: Early Childhood Research Quarterly
Date: 08/2015

Data from the Head Start Impact Study (N = 3540) were used to test for differential benefits of Head Start after one program year and after kindergarten on pre-academic and behavior outcomes for children at risk in the domains targeted by the program's comprehensive services. Although random assignment to Head Start produced positive treatment main effects on children's pre-academic skills and behavior problems, residualized growth models showed that random assignment to Head Start did not differentially benefit the pre-academic skills of children with risk factors targeted by the Head Start service model. The models showed detrimental impacts of Head Start for maternal-reported behavior problems of high-risk children, but slightly more positive impacts for teacher-reported behavior. Policy implications for Head Start are discussed.

life course - CPI Affiliates

Sean Reardon's picture Sean Reardon Education Research Group Leader, Life Course Research Group Leader, Professor of Poverty and Inequality
Stanford University
Firdaus Dhabhar's picture Firdaus Dhabhar Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
University of Miami
Petra Persson's picture Petra Persson Assistant Professor of Economics
Stanford University
Richard Breen's picture Richard Breen Professor of Sociology; Fellow of Nuffield College
University of Oxford

Pages

Life Course - Other Research

Title Author Media
The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker C. Johnson, Claudia Persico

The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms

Author: C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker C. Johnson, Claudia Persico
Publisher: The Quarterly Journal of Economics
Date: 10/2015

Since the Coleman report, many have questioned whether public school spending affects student outcomes. The school finance reforms that began in the early 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s caused dramatic changes to the structure of K–12 education spending in the US. To study the effect of these school-finance-reform-induced changes in public school spending on long-run adult outcomes, we link school spending and school finance reform data to detailed, nationally-representative data on children born between 1955 and 1985 and followed through 2011. We use the timing of the passage of court-mandated reforms, and their associated type of funding formula change, as exogenous shifters of school spending and we compare the adult outcomes of cohorts that were differentially exposed to school finance reforms, depending on place and year of birth. Event-study and instrumental variable models reveal that a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all twelve years of public school leads to 0.31 more completed years of education, about 7 percent higher wages, and a 3.2 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families. Exogenous spending increases were associated with notable improvements in measured school inputs, including reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries, and longer school years.

Has Adolescent Childbearing Been Eclipsed by Nonmarital Childbearing? Anne Martin, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Has Adolescent Childbearing Been Eclipsed by Nonmarital Childbearing?

Author: Anne Martin, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
Publisher: Societies
Date: 10/2015

Adolescent childbearing has received decreasing attention from academics and policymakers in recent years, which may in part reflect the decline in its incidence. Another reason may be its uncoupling from nonmarital childbearing. Adolescent childbearing became problematized only when it began occurring predominantly outside marriage. In recent decades, there have been historic rises in the rate of nonmarital childbearing, and importantly, the rise has been steeper among older mothers than among adolescent mothers. Today, two out of five births are to unmarried women, and the majority of these are to adults, not adolescents. Nonmarital childbearing is in and of itself associated with lower income and poorer maternal and child outcomes. However, unmarried adolescent mothers might face more difficulties than unmarried adult mothers due to their developmental status, education, living arrangements, and long-term prospects for work. If this is true, then the focus on adolescent mothers ought to continue. We suggest several facets of adolescent motherhood deserving of further study, and recommend that future research use unmarried mothers in their early 20s as a realistic comparison group.

Revisiting the Data from the New Family Structure Study: Taking Family Instability into Account Michael J. Rosenfeld

Revisiting the Data from the New Family Structure Study: Taking Family Instability into Account

Author: Michael J. Rosenfeld
Publisher: Sociological Science
Date: 09/2015

This analysis revisits recent controversial findings about children of gay and lesbian parents, and shows that family instability explains most of the negative outcomes that had been attributed to gay and lesbian parents. Family transitions associated with parental loss of custody were more common than breakups of same-sex couples among family transitions experienced by subjects who ever lived with same-sex couples. The analyses also show that most associations between growing up with a single mother and later negative outcomes are mediated by childhood family transitions. I show that many different types of childhood family transitions (including parental breakup and the arrival of a parent’s new partner) are similarly associated with later negative outcomes.

Civil Rights Legislation and Legalized Exclusion: Mass Incarceration and the Masking of Inequality Becky Pettit, Bryan L. Sykes

Civil Rights Legislation and Legalized Exclusion: Mass Incarceration and the Masking of Inequality

Author: Becky Pettit, Bryan L. Sykes
Publisher: Sociological Forum
Date: 06/2015

Civil rights legislation in the 1960s promised greater racial equality in a variety of domains including education, economic opportunity, and voting. Yet those same laws were coupled with exclusions from surveys used to gauge their effects thereby affecting both statistical portraits of inequality and our understanding of the impact of civil rights legislation. This article begins with a review of the exclusionary criteria and some tools intended for its evaluation. Civil rights laws were designed at least in part to be assessed through data on the American population collected from samples of individuals living in households, which neglects people who are unstably housed, homeless, or institutionalized. Time series data from surveys of the civilian population and those in prisons and jails show that growth in the American criminal justice system since the early 1970s undermines landmark civil rights acts. As many as 1 in 10 black men age 20–34 are in prison or jail on any given day, and in the post–Great Recession era, young black men who have dropped out of high school are more likely to be incarcerated than working in the paid labor force. Our findings call into question assessments of equal opportunity more than half a century after the enactment of historic legislation meant to redress racial inequities in America.

Health Selection into Neighborhoods Among Families in the Moving to Opportunity Program Mariana C. Arcaya, Corina Graif, Mary C. Waters, S. V. Subramanian

Health Selection into Neighborhoods Among Families in the Moving to Opportunity Program

Author: Mariana C. Arcaya, Corina Graif, Mary C. Waters, S. V. Subramanian
Publisher: American Journal of Epidemiology
Date: 03/2015

Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing was a randomized experiment that moved very low-income US families from high-poverty neighborhoods to low-poverty neighborhoods starting in the early 1990s. We modeled report of a child's baseline health problem as a predictor of neighborhood outcomes for households randomly assigned to move from high- to low-poverty neighborhoods. We explored associations between baseline health problems and odds of moving with the program upon randomization (1994–1997), neighborhood poverty rate at follow-up (2002), and total time spent in affluent neighborhoods and duration-weighted poverty. Among 1,550 households randomized to low-poverty neighborhoods, a smaller share of households reporting baseline child health problems (P = 0.004) took up the intervention (38%) than those not reporting a health problem (50%). In weighted and covariate-adjusted models, a child health problem predicted nearly 40% lower odds of complying with the experimental condition (odds ratio = 0.62, 95% confidence interval: 0.42, 0.91; P = 0.015). Among compliers, a baseline child health problem predicted 2.5 percentage points' higher neighborhood poverty at take-up (95% confidence interval: 0.90, 4.07; P = 0.002). We conclude that child health problems in a household prior to randomization predicted lower likelihood of using the program voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood within the experiment's low-poverty treatment arm and predicted selection into poorer neighborhoods among experimental compliers. Child morbidity may constrain families attempting to improve their life circumstances.