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The University of Chicago Population Research Center

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Poverty and Inequality

As the PRC has cultivated a stronger multi-disciplinary focus and more extensive relationships with policy school faculty, the focus on social welfare policy, sociology of education, measurement of cognitive achievement of children and the dynamics of the work-and-family or career-and-parenting behaviors have come to play an increasingly important role in the Center's research. These topics broadened the research scope of the PRC, which had been traditionally focused on economic research on employment.
Within poverty and inequality research, we have identified three major research subfields:

 

Employment and Youth Transitions to the Marketplace

A key transition is the one from school to work, from dependence to relative economic independence and a career in the labor market. Derek Neal looks at the complexity of job mobility. He distinguishes between job changes among firms while performing the same basic tasks and job changes that involve changing tasks or careers. He offers a formal model suggesting that young people first move among jobs to get the career and its tasks right, and then at a second stage of their search, they select the "right" firm or job. Neal suggests both theoretically and empirically using the NLSY, much of what is going on in those early years is finding a good career match. In related work, Neal, with former student Nathaniel Baum-Snow, examined the assessment of hours in the Census and ACS and found that the methods employed lead to inflated hourly wage rates. They caution about the use of these data and recommend that such information is best assessed by face-to-face interview. Neal and Kerwin Charles co-directed the Black/White Workshop on Inequality which focused on both education and health. Damon Jones is studying the effects of Social Security policy on the labor supply of older workers. He examines whether the Social Security Earnings Test affects the extent to which these workers enter or exit the labor force and how they adjust to the Social Security Earnings Test, conditional on having entered the labor force. His current R03 is related to this work.

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Education and Skill Investments

Continuing the long tradition of research in both economics of education and the sociology of education, Center faculty currently study both the nature of schooling and its effects on subsequent earnings and demographic behaviors. Stephen Raudenbush combines a depth of understanding about schools with methodological insights about how best to capture and assess contributions on the individual, school, and neighborhood level. He is leading the Committee on Education and his work on the quality of public schooling has been influential in Chicago Public Schools and beyond. His role as a Co-PI on the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) has led to fundamental contributions in our understanding of how context shapes the life experiences of children. Raudenbush's new effort, funded in 2014, Successful Pathways from School to Work, supports rigorous inquiry on how to improve education to better prepare urban youth to succeed in the modern labor market. A very different aspect of schooling is considered by Ofer Malamud as he investigates different strategies by school systems for causing youths to make choices about their occupational specialization early or late in their training –he contrasts the policies in Scotland and England that differ substantially in when they require students to specialize. Malamud has recently undertaken a large-scale study to evaluate the impact of computer and internet use on violence, aggressive behavior and educational performance. Ariel Kalil and Susan Mayer founded the Behavioral Insights Lab in 2014. They investigate whether a variety of low-cost, light-touch "behavioral nudges" can successfully change behavior. They use experimental research to investigate whether these approaches can make a difference in parenting strategies to promote children's development in low income families. James Heckman has a series of papers assessing the effectiveness of job training programs, especially JTPA, and, in other work, he studies the importance of parental background and family environment, as well as credit constraints as determinants of human capital investments. Kaz Yamaguchi studies gender role attitudes, both comparatively across the sexes and across nations, focusing on U.S.-Japanese commonalities and differences. Jeff Grogger has investigated several distinct features of U.S. education policy and their impact on post-school earnings. He and Jens Ludwig are examining the effect of speech patterns and racial wage differences in the NLSY and in MTO. Derek Neal has investigated the reasons for the differential student test scores and other outcomes from Catholic and public schools. Dan Black is the principal investigator for the 1997 Cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) and some of his recent work draws directly on those data. Black, with fellow Associate Kerwin Charles and Rebecca Ryan used data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the NLSY to examine test scores of women relative to men; they document a large improvement in the test scores of women. Among African Americans, Hispanics, and whites, the test scores of women improved relative to men, and the gains appear concentrated at the lower and middle portions of the distributions. Charles, with Erik Hurst, examines conspicuous consumption and race along with a number of papers on how race shapes opportunity. Hurst and Affiliate Jonathan Guryan have also collaborated on a study of parental time spent with children and parental education. Susan Mayer and Alicia Menendez are working on a project to enhance education quality in developing countries, aiming to improve cognitive and non-cognitive skills of school children by improving educational instruction using computerassisted learning. Menendez is collaborating with a number of NORC colleagues to conduct a USAID performance and impact evaluation of the School Health and Reading Program currently being implemented in 15 districts in Uganda. Cheol-Sung Lee engages in international comparative research, examining income inequality and pubic sector expansion.

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Neighborhood Context and Mobility

UC's location on the South Side of Chicago, together with the rich data infrastructure available from the City and the willingness to local government officials to actively collaborate on research related to urban issues, presents unique opportunities to learn more about how to improve health and other aspects of well-being for disadvantaged urban populations. For example PRC associate Jens Ludwig has received NICHD funding to help support the UC Crime Lab, a project that partners with government agencies and non-profits in Chicago and elsewhere to carry out randomized experiments to learn more about how to reduce violence and improve well-being among disadvantaged urban youth. It has now grown into one of the five components of the recently funded Urban Labs. His current PDB NICHD P01, Remediating Academic and Non-Academic Skill Deficits among Disadvantaged Youth, a collaboration with Susan Mayer and Harold Pollack, aims to learn more about the most effective, and cost-effective, ways to improve schooling and other long-term life outcomes and reduce risk of violence involvement and delinquency. Jim Sallee is working on new research that surveys low-income populations to determine their awareness of, attitudes about, and behavior regarding energy conservation and costs in their homes. There is a substantial literature that studies the energy consumption choices of consumers, but none of the existing literature is focused on low-income populations, and very little of it seeks to directly assess the knowledge and energy literacy of the population. Michael Greenstone also examines energy consumption in the context of household and societal level choices. Ben Keys explores household financial decision-making in a new project that studies why some homeowners fail to refinance their mortgages, leaving significant amounts of money on the table.

The PRC has also benefitted from a long-standing tradition in urban sociology at the University of Chicago, which has attracted a generation of scholars interested in rethinking neighborhood-based research. For instance, Kate Cagney's neighborhood-based work draws on the body of research by Raudenbush and Robert Sampson from the PHDCN. She is currently studying the evolution of a new community, Lakeside, now under construction on the 600-acre former US Steel Southworks site. She works with a number of colleagues, including Charles, Keys, Meltzer, and Sallee, to develop a social survey evaluating the impact on surrounding communities. In 2012, she, Hawkley and Waite, along with colleagues in Sociology, organized a conference on new methods in neighborhood research where Luc Anselin and Jens Ludwig were among the presenters.

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