Formal Demography and Demographic Methods. The PSC is anchored by a long, distinguished tradition (J Durand, D Thomas, R Easterlin, van de Walle, F Furstenberg, S Preston, J Menken, D Massey, SP Morgan, H. Smith, H-P Kohler) in demography. Demographic topics are a major source of intellectual identification across fields within the PSC, as researchers who are not trained in formal demography, but who are studying fertility, marriage, family formation, and related topics are attracted to population research (e.g., Fang, Fernández-Villaverde, Greenwood, Freeman, Ríos-Rull, and Roth). The Graduate Group in Demography (GGD) directed by Guillot, previously by H.P. Kohler, Elo, Smith, Zuberi, and Preston) is a powerful recruitment and retention tool for PSC faculty with core identities as demographers and a source of skilled research workers for large-scale PSC projects and for PSC faculty in departments without access to similarly trained research assistants (e.g., Culhane, MacDonald, Wolf). We continue to invest in this demographic tradition. The recent additions of Agostinelli, Fomby, Marteleto, and Song, and earlier recruitment of Atal, Boen, Gonalons-Pons, Hoke, and Roth reinforce and bring continuity to innovative research in central demographic topics and methods.
Fertility, family planning, and reproductive health. The PSC is the home to several externally funded projects on fertility and reproductive health and other perspectives on these core PDB areas of interest. The Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (directed by H.P. Kohler) includes research on the influence of social networks on HIV-related behaviors, HIV prevention strategies employed by individuals in rural high-HIV prevalence contexts, and the acceptability of HIV testing and counseling (PI R01HD083343). The project also crosses the PSC focus on early childhood experiences investigating the connection with HIV risks (PI R01HD09088). An important component of the Malawi project is the development of experimental interventions regarding HIV testing and sexual behavior. The experimental design and the innovative methodologies around it, connect with related projects directed by Thirumurthy on partner testing in high-risk populations in Kenya (R01 MH111602) and Uganda (R01 MH105254). Thirumurthy is currently the PI of an R01 (HD103563) testing a savings intervention to reduce men's engagement in HIV risk behaviors in Kenya. His research has also been funded by the Gates Foundation. There is considerable collaboration and cross-fertilization between PSC researchers around this area. Thirumurthy and Buttenheim are conducting a study (R01MH132401) addressing HIV vaccine misinformation among adolescent girls and young women in South Africa. The project brings together two promising disciplinary approaches – psychological inoculation theory and behavioral economics – to develop strategies that can reduce HIV vaccine misinformation. I. Kohler adds to this strength within the PSC with a project (R03-AG-069817) that leverages social networks to promote healthy living in Malawi. Marteleto (PI R01HD091257) continues to build a highly innovative and policy-relevant research agenda connecting new epidemics, specifically Zika and COVID, to fertility in Brazil. The project is developing new methodologies and data collection techniques that will help monitor the effect of pandemics on different health outcomes and in different contexts.
Mortality. Mortality, as the main indicator of the health of a population, remains a central area of research within the PSC, anchored around projects with an international and local focus. Combined with our interest in big and new data sources PSC researchers are making considerable innovative methodological contributions, especially regarding the measurement of child mortality but also for the analysis of the impact of the COVID pandemic and the reversal in mortality in the United States.
- Global age patterns of under-5 mortality. Guillot (PI) is leading an international research team in constructing the largest and most up-to-date database of high-quality global mortality information by detailed age (days, weeks, months, years) from birth through age 5, by sex (R01 HD090082). This database is the basis for generating models summarizing regularities in the distribution of under-5 mortality by age in human populations. The international research team includes: J Katz and L Li (Johns Hopkins), G Reniers (LSHTM), G Pison (INED), and P Gerland (UN). There is also an international scientific advisory committee (including Behrman). The project has led to closer examination of childhood mortality in India. Guillot’s NICHD R01 grant application “The Dynamics of Late Fetal and Neonatal Mortality in the Indian Context” scored at the 3.0 percentile 3.0 and is thus very likely to get funded (total direct costs: $2.7m). The proposal was developed with PSC funding for a conference on the topic in India.
- Recent stagnation in U.S. mortality decline and impact of COVID-19 on mortality. This is a continuation and extension of a line of research concerning mortality differentials both within the US (geographical and social variation) and between the US and other nations. Recently, researchers have been incorporating specific analyses of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mortality, including differences by race and ethnicity. Preston and colleagues show that: (1) sociodemographic risk factors for mortality, such as race/ethnicity and sex, tend to work multiplicatively, but that the effects of obesity are additive; (2) the effect of obesity on mortality may be underestimated when obesity is measured by contemporaneous BMI, instead of maximal lifetime BMI; and (3) smoking histories across cohorts can explain many mortality differentials across populations. PSC researchers are also highlighting the role of diabetes in mortality risk. Elo and Preston (MPIs, R03 AG055724) undertook a nationally representative cohort study to identify excess mortality risk among persons with diabetes, and to estimate the contribution of diabetes to disparities in US life expectancy by race and ethnicity. In a related project funded by RWJF (#544026), they study (with former PSC PhDs A Hendi and J Ho, of USC) the suite of reasons explaining the “stall” in mortality decline in the US in the 21st century.
Preston and Elo have been expanding their focus on mortality to evaluate the impact of the COVID pandemic. They evaluate the effect of the response to the pandemic on mortality patterns. While the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 mortality among older adults during the early stages of the pandemic was well documented, subsequent change in mortality patterns is less clear. They document dramatic reductions in COVID-19 mortality among older populations, which they attribute to vaccination prevalence and reduced exposure to infection over time. Greenwood and colleagues are focusing on the economics of addiction from a multidisciplinary perspective to integrate micro-economic and behavioral perspectives to explain the opioid epidemic. Greenwood is extending the research to investigate the consequences for labor markets. Rios-Rull, assessing the policy options in the event of pandemics such as the COVID pandemic, is studying the optimal economic mitigation policy for a government that can redistribute public revenue across older and younger individuals. He finds that more modest shutdowns are optimal when redistribution is more costly.