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Family Demography and Intergenerational Relationships

REU Site: Undergraduate Research in Race, Ethnicity and Fami Demography

Principal Investigator: Shannon Cavanagh
Funded by: National Science Foundation

The Population Research Center requests three years of funding for the Texas REU program. Our program focus this cycle is Race, Ethnicity and the Demography of U.S. families. Our primary goal is to create a new generation of scholars studying the intersection of demography, race/ethnicity, and families. We will pursue this goal through three related objectives: 1) to shed light on the evolving interaction between changes in family structure and the racial/ethnic diversification of the U.S. population; 2) to develop and support translational scholarship on family change; 3) to diversify the next generation of demographers conducting basic and applied research on family change in an array of professional settings.


Fertility Trends, Changing Maternal Characteristics, and Children’s Health

Principal Investigator: Shannon Cavanagh
Funded by: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Today, mothers of young children in Western societies “look” different than they did in the past—in terms of their age, how many children they have, and whether they are married. Amidst all this change, one thing that remains the same is mothers’ primary responsibility for managing their children’s early health and development. The stakes of this responsibility are growing, given evidence illuminating the critical role of early childhood in lifelong health and the associated efficacy of early interventions. The interplay of these two trends—changes in fertility-related maternal characteristics, increased recognition of the importance of early childhood health disparities—has clear implications for children’s futures. The purpose of this project, therefore, is to test a life course-influenced conceptual model of the linkages among key characteristics of individual mothers, population trends in those characteristics in their home countries, their management of children’s early health, and their children’s physical health in six English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States). This comparative approach is valuable because, despite some similarities, these countries vary across a variety of fertility trends and social supports. Consequently, they are diverse contexts in terms of the relative standing of different types of mothers within their societies as well as differences in the public scaffolding available in these countries to reduce the intergenerational transmission of inequality.


Identifying the Optimal Levels and Timing of Family and School Influences on Child and Youth Development

Principal Investigators: Robert Crosnoe and Elizabeth Gershoff
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Successful development depends on a child receiving adequate resources and experiencing minimal risks, but the timing of when resources and risks have their greatest impacts on children’s lives needs to be better understood. Knowing when contexts have the most influence on development would allow practitioners who work with children and families to better design and time interventions to have their maximum, and most efficient, impact. This project, to be known as the Interdisciplinary Collaborative on Development in Context (ICDC), will identify the optimal levels and timing of key aspects of the two most important contexts in children’s lives, namely their families and their schools, for their development from birth through the transition to adulthood. This knowledge will inform the design of interventions and will guide the direction of public dollars toward the most efficient times for intervention.

The ICDC will focus on three ways of characterizing the influence of family and school contexts on child and youth development: sensitive periods, tipping points, and transitions. Sensitive periods refer to the times in development that are most susceptible to contextual influence and predictive of future functioning. Tipping points are the levels at which a contextual influence affects accelerated, or diminishing, returns. Transitions are major changes in a context that can affect changes in the individual. The ICDC team will analyze data from six national longitudinal datasets that cover multiple stages of the early life course as well as three experimental datasets that will permit stronger conclusions about causal relationships. The team will implement cutting-edge statistical methods that adhere to the best practices across disciplines. Throughout the project, the ICDC will use the best available measurement to examine each part of the conceptual model, replicate models across datasets and cohorts as a means of increasing confidence in results, leverage state-of-the-art methods to capture the dynamic nature of individual development, and consider alternative explanations and specifications in order to increase confidence in causal inferences.


Image of Children and Adults for Health Research

Principal Investigator: Rachel Gordon
Co-Principal Investigator: Robert Crosnoe
Funded by: NICHD

This project will significantly contribute to a number of fields of health research by archiving an expansive longitudinal set of images of the faces and bodies of children and their parents over a 15 year period. With a secure system to facilitate ease of access and use, such images can be human rated (e.g., perceived age, weight, skin color) and machine scored (e.g., biologically informative facial measurements) to measure continuity and change in physical development and health and to capture the physical toll of the environment on individual well-being.


Environmental, Genetic, and Epigenetic Mechanisms for Hormonal Change at Puberty

Principal Investigator: Kathryn Paige Harden
Funded by: NICHD

Understanding the genetic and environmental regulators of puberty has become a topic of increasing urgency. Recognizing the importance of the pubertal transition for health across the lifespan, NIH/NICHD issued PA-18-033, Characterization of the Adolescent Reproductive Transition to solicit applications for projects that will fill essential gaps in the knowledge base regarding pubertal development, including increasing our understanding of the “influences of lifestyle factors and environmental exposures.” Our research aims to identify specific and potentially modifiable environmental factors that influence pubertal development; we view genetic and epigenetic data as essential tools for accomplishing that goal.


Collaborative Research: Mexican American Language Brokers’ Multiple Levels of Stress and Academic and Health Outcomes

Co-Principal Investigators: Su Yeong Kim, Belem G. Lopez, and Katherine Zeiders
Additional Investigator: Cindy Liu
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This proposal examines the academic and health outcomes of language brokers, i.e., children who act as intermediaries and translators for their parents, in Mexican immigrant families. Close to 90% of children in immigrant families perform a language brokering function in their family’s resettlement process, taking on the task of translating between their heritage language and English for parents with limited English-speaking skills. However, scholars have a limited and oftentimes contradictory understanding of the developmental consequences of being a language broker. The goal of this project is to illuminate the benefits and drawbacks of language brokering as it relates to parent-child relationships and, more importantly, as it relates to children’s adjustment in terms of physiological stress reactivity as well as academic and health outcomes. The project capitalizes on a previous NSF CAREER award to collect additional laboratory assessments, day-to-day diaries, and longitudinal data during adolescent language brokers’ transition from middle to high school in 449 Mexican immigrant families. The study has three research aims: 1) to identify profiles/subjective experiences of language brokers, examine their change over time, and understand how these profiles/subjective experiences affect parent-child relationships and adolescents’ academic, health, and psychosocial outcomes longitudinally; 2) to examine how language brokering affects daily, acute, and chronic levels of stress (cortisol) and, in turn, may predict outcomes; and 3) to determine how adolescents’ personal attributes, language brokering context, and cultural factors condition the effects examined in Aims 1 and 2. This project has the potential to shed light on the ways in which language brokering positively and negatively influences the adjustment of the children of Mexican immigrants, a large and growing minority group in the U.S.


Children's Family and Household Experiences by Maternal Education, Race and Ethnicity

Principal Investigator: Kelly Raley
Funded by: National Institutes of Health

Just under half of all children growing up in the 1990s experienced part of their childhood living with an unmarried parent (Bumpass and Lu 2000). Approximately 35 percent of children born between 1970 and 1990 experienced a spell of poverty before reaching age 15. Previous research has linked these aspects of childhood household experience to child cognitive and socio-emotional development. Basic descriptions of change and variation in children’s household experiences guide researchers interested in understanding the implications of family change and growing socioeconomic inequality for the health and well-being of the next generation. Yet we do not have contemporary descriptions of children’s family experiences while growing up or how these experiences vary by race-ethnicity or maternal education. Using data from the 2008 and 2014 SIPP panels this project will produce estimates of the percentage of children experiencing a single parent family and percent experiencing poverty, as well as duration in single-parent family and duration in poverty as well as overall household and income instability.


Impact of Marital Quality and Alcohol Use on Health in Diverse Marriages

Principal Investigator: Amanda Pollitt
Faculty Mentor: Deb Umberson
Funded by:
 National Institutes of Health

Excessive alcohol use accounts for 88,000 deaths and nearly $225 billion in costs in the U.S. annually. Marriage is protective for alcohol use: married couples report less alcohol use than their unmarried counterparts. One pathway through which spouses influence each other is marital quality; marital quality is then inversely associated with alcohol use. Sexual minority people report elevated rates of alcohol use compared to heterosexuals, yet almost all past research on marital quality and alcohol use has been based on experiences of different-sex couples. We do not know if marriage is protective of alcohol use for same-sex couples as for heterosexual couples and whether these processes follow similar patterns when marriages consist of two men or two women. There is a need to understand marital quality and alcohol use in same-sex marriages to inform prevention and intervention programs to decrease sexual minority alcohol use disparities. In the proposed project, Ms. Pollitt’s major objective is to assess how marital quality in same- and different-sex marriages relates to alcohol use and how these associations differ for men and women in these marriages. She proposes to address this objective through the following aims: (1) Compare the association of day-to-day marital quality with alcohol use in same- and different-sex marriages; (2) Identify non-marital stressors that exacerbate the estimated effect of marital quality on alcohol use in same- and different-sex marriages; (3) Examine the impact of marital quality and alcohol use on physical and mental health symptoms for same- and different-sex couples.



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    University of Texas at Austin
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