Child Development and Human Endowments. Many differences in health and social outcomes between and within populations are functions of individual differences in the characteristics with which individuals are endowed, from genes and their phenotypic expression through family background characteristics. These outcomes also depend on the health, nutritional, and educational resources that they are granted, acquired, or invested in across the life cycle, especially in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. The PSC has considerable strengths in this area that also bring together international perspectives.
Human capabilities and outcomes. Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance (Scriber 2016) was a New York Times bestseller that established a highly influential research agenda that has positioned that “talent,” as conventionally measured by metrics like IQ, is not the only determinant of success, and that stick-to-itiveness and resilience, or grit, and self-control are measurable, have independent effects on life outcomes, and can be acquired. The findings have prompted policy-makers to increasingly turn to behavioral science for insights into how to improve citizens’ decisions and outcomes. H.P. Kohler in the context of Malawi takes a longitudinal view of the role of adverse childhood experiences and HIV risk during adolescence to elaborate a causal relationship between child development and behavioral outcomes. Wolf is also providing longitudinal evidence from Ghana about the centrality of early adolescence development for learning outcomes. The project is funded by the European Research Council and is being conducted in collaboration with Ghana’s Ministry of Education.
Investments in child development. With substantial support for coordination from the PSC Administrative Core, Behrman has been leading a large interdisciplinary collaboration including Buttenheim, Hannum, Wolf, and PSC post-docs, plus over 50 collaborators from 24 countries worldwide to document the effects of health, nutrition, and education on development, from earliest childhood through adolescence to later life, in the developing countries where most of the world’s children live. Project support has been provided by R01s HD070993, HD065436, HD072120 plus Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the Sackler Institute, UBS Optimus Foundation, International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3IE), UK Department for International Development, and the World Bank. Studies include (1) the impact of early-life undernutrition in Guatemala; (2) development and estimation for the Guatemalan context of a structural model of parental investments in child nutrition; and (3) a randomized controlled trial of training kindergarten teachers in Ghana that has resulted in more school readiness for children. Todd’s work significantly adds to this area of research within the PSC. With NSF funding, she is using newly available longitudinal student data from Mexico to study the determinants of educational attainment and achievement. She is considering factors such as grade repetition, achievement scores, and student, teacher, and school characteristics that were previously not investigated in the Mexican context.
Agostinelli, a new junior Research Associate, asks the question “What are the effects of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic on children's education?” He argues that online education is an imperfect substitute for in-person learning, particularly for children from low-income families. Agostinelli has also documented the differential effect of parental involvement and school quality on child development. He estimates that differential parental investments are the more important source of end-of-kindergarten inequality. Introducing a gender perspective, Park, with NSF funding (SES 2213917) is investigating the long-run causal effects of single-sex high schools on adult outcomes. The project addresses the question with both survey and experimental information. H.P. Kohler has been awarded a 5-year R01 from NICHD (direct costs: $2.5 million) to understand how childhood adversity influences sexual, reproductive, and mental health in early adulthood, and how it is transmitted across generations to their children in Malawi. The project is highly innovative in relying on longitudinal data that translates into a cohort study of the connection.
Networks and behavior. Computational demography is becoming a prominent approach within the PSC. Connected to the use of new technologies and data sources, PSC researchers are making numerous contributions toward understanding the relationship between network interconnectedness and health outcomes. Watts is extending a computational social science approach that focuses on social and organizational networks and analysis of large-scale digital data to identify the production, consumption, and absorption of health-related information. The PSC is partnering with his computational social science lab. Albarracin is making significant contributions toward understanding the impact of communication and persuasion on health-related behaviors, including the formation of beliefs, attitudes, and goals. Centola also connects social networks and behavior change. His book How Behavior Spreads (Princeton, 2018) directly tackles the role of networks and diffusion in affecting behavioral change. PSC associates’ research on networks and behavior has appeared in leading peer-reviewed journals and public media outlets and has been highly influential in understanding ideas and behaviors that prevailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing reactions to vaccine mandates, and the use of information or misinformation regarding infection risk. These innovative perspectives within the Center connect with our partnership with the Data Driven Discovery initiative and exemplify the interdisciplinary innovation built around the PSC.