New Dynamics of Population Diversity. Over the next 5 years, we expect to build on the PSC’s strengths in demography and the social study of race, ethnicity, and migration and Penn’s targeted institutional investments to advance work on a central issue of the 21st century: the demographic determinants of health and health disparities. Within this PRA, PSC researchers focus on how the changing composition and growing diversity of national populations have altered the prevalence and distribution of health conditions and changed the axes of health disparities within and between countries. PSC researchers in this area have been making innovative contributions related to the changing context of racial and ethnic classification and the changing character of population mobility and migration, from both international and national perspectives.
Race and ethnicity. Roth, a new Research Associate, is bringing insight into how people think about their own and others’ racial classification and identity. Her current research project, titled “How Does Genetic Ancestry Testing Affect Perceptions of Race?” (R21-HG-011979-01A1), originated with pilot funds from the PSC. The project considers the implications of genetic ancestry testing (GAT), which has emerged as a mechanism linking awareness of genetic ancestry to perceptions of racial identity. The project has developed a survey experiment conducted with 9,000 U.S. non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic respondents to assess the power of GAT results, facial features, racial self-identification before and after testing, and social context to influence the racial classification that individuals assign to others. This work builds on Roth’s prior research that has illustrated how components of social class position including education and wealth separately condition racial classification of oneself and others.
Issues of racial classification in connection with social policies and identity are also investigated by Marteleto, a new senior Research Associate, in the context of Brazil. Her guiding question is the extent to which affirmative action policies have affected individual self-racial classifications, in particular, respondents changing from white to black classification over time, and how this might connect with health disparities. A key aspect of her work is recognizing racial classification as a dynamic, fluid social construct that is negotiated and contested between majority and minoritized populations with profound implications for shaping health disparities in contexts of high economic and social inequality such as Brazil and the United States. This view resonates with Zuberi’s longstanding work on race and ethnicity, particularly regarding the recent increases in the “black” population in Latin America that cannot be accounted for by natural increase or immigration.
Interdisciplinary research within the PSC around issues of racial disparities in health is exemplified by the collaboration between South (Medicine), Venkataramani (Wharton), Boen (Sociology), and MacDonald (Criminology). Their collaborative work investigates the connection between structural racism and neighborhood conditions and their effect on health in Philadelphia (U01OD033246). The project brings together PSC researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds to conduct a randomized controlled trial of concentrated investment in black neighborhoods informed by the concept of structural racism as a fundamental cause of poor health. At the community level, the project addresses underinvestment in Black neighborhoods by implementing vacant lot greening, abandoned house remediation, tree planting, and trash cleanup. At the organization level, the team partners with community-based financial empowerment providers to develop cross-organizational infrastructure to increase reach and maximize efficiency.
With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Boen (a junior Research Associate hired as part of a health and inequality cluster hire) also delves into the impact of incarceration and policing on population health outcomes, as well as the broader health implications of structural racism. Roberts recently examined the role of institutional actors in influencing racial disparities in health in her award-winning book Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families (Basic Books, 2022). The book uncovers the detrimental effects of the policing aspect within the child welfare system. Roberts’ ongoing research builds upon her extensive and impactful contributions to our understanding of the interplay of race and genetics in medical settings.
Flippen and Freeman’s work further elaborates on the contextual processes, especially neighborhoods and population mobility, that affect racial and ethnic disparities in life chances. Flippen has been contributing to our understanding of the consequences of the dispersion of the Hispanic, especially Puerto Rican, population to emerging destination areas and how the consequences of living in these new contexts vary between Latino racial groups. Freeman, a new Research Associate, has been illuminating the connection between gentrification and population displacement, connecting urban revitalization with difficulties in access to housing among poor residents. The work by Baker conducted at Penn is also relevant in this context as it serves as an exemplary illustration of the training and mentoring environment fostered at the PSC. Her work on the connection between historical racial regimes and variation in racial inequality in poverty within the American South, supported by PSC funding, received the 2023 Charles Tilly Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Comparative and Historical Sociology.
Internal and International Migration. The PSC brings together a large group of researchers with an interest in population mobility and its connection with life chances, social mobility, fertility patterns, and health outcomes. They are investigating emerging topics, such as the changing determinants of international migration, the dispersion of minority populations, the connection between native and foreign-born internal migration, the consequences of immigrant dispersion for incorporation, comparative international studies, and new data sources and methods for the study of population mobility. Parrado is continuing his work on the connection between immigration and fertility (R01 HD075560) documenting that immigrant fertility not only affects the overall level of U.S. fertility but also affects fertility timing, particularly the timing of first births, with important implications for understanding the prevalence and disparities in unintended childbearing. He is expanding this research in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Salamanca, examining these patterns in the European context. Parrado is also collaborating with scholars at Drexel University and in Mexico (R01HD046886) consolidating a binational observatory on migrant health at the Mexico-US border. In addition to providing disease prevalence estimates among returned Mexican migrants, including deportees, the project is developing new methodologies and approaches to survey highly mobile populations.
Migration also induces original research approaches with respect to the mortality paradox, where many host countries have observed lower mortality rates among immigrants than among natives despite immigrants’ relatively lower socioeconomic status. Within the PSC, high-quality French longitudinal social security data with mortality follow-up beyond France are being used to evaluate competing explanations for this phenomenon (R01 HD079475 [PI, Guillot; co-I, Elo]). This research is being done in connection with an international partnership with INED France. Elo and Guillot with colleagues in France are developing a comparative program to connect immigration and health. PSC researchers are also expanding their studies to the African context. Pilot support from R24 HD044964 and P30 AG012836 has led to an application currently being revised (MPIs Elo and Research Affiliate A Bawah, co-I, Behrman) for innovative survey work on what it really takes to link a U.S. population—Ghanaian immigrants to the U.S.—to their ancestral roots in Ghana. The project addresses issues of selection and health both among immigrants in the U.S. and non-migrants in Ghana. H.P. Kohler with a group of international collaborators is investigating the connection between migration and health in Malawi (R21HD071471). Even though migration is strongly connected to health outcomes, the causal mechanisms linking the two are not well established. Using existing longitudinal data and new data collection, they are establishing the sequence of migration and health transitions to better identify causal links. Parrado, with support from the new Data Driven Discovery Initiative at Penn, is applying computational methods to immigration court data to investigate the individual- and court-specific factors affecting deportation decisions.
Over the next five years, we will also partner with Gonzales’ immigration initiative at Penn. The new initiative brings immigration scholars and postdoctoral fellows to Penn to address pressing issues around immigration, including adaptation and socioeconomic progress. The PSC is housing two post-doctoral fellows associated with the initiative. Shams (an early career scholar hired as part of an Asian American cluster hire), is introducing new perspectives to the study of Asian Americans using a demographic lens. Her work connects with other associates working on the dynamic of identity and classification. Her new project examines interracial dating and marriages between Asian immigrants and other racial and migration groups and reveals the complex identity (re)-making process in the formation of interracial relationships. Flippen has been connecting immigration with internal migration. The work recognizes that two forces have affected the U.S. population: the growth of the immigrant population but also the dispersion of the Hispanic and Asian populations to new areas of settlement. In a review of the literature around “new minority destinations,” she charts future directions for research on the topic including the need to disaggregate the notion of new destinations and identify the specific contextual characteristics that set them apart from other areas.