Life Course Research


This theme encompasses numerous research projects exploring the demographic behavior and well¬being of groups at various stages of the life course. Research on children and youth within this theme emphasizes child development, risks to youth, criminal behavior and incarceration, effects of minority and immigrant status, and educational investments. Several of the projects conducted by CSDA associates involve significant data collection and dissemination activities. CSDA researchers also work on a variety of life transitions in middle and old age, including caregiving and intergenerational support, retirement savings, and the effect of minority status.

At the beginning of the life course, a focus on children and youth binds several of our life course projects, such as, those on immigration. Here, we group those projects that concentrate on risks to children and adolescents. In early childhood, Brandon, for example, is beginning new research examining the risks to two vulnerable groups of children, namely, those with disabilities and those in immigrant families, who either lack child care options or attend child care facilities in environmentally-compromised neighborhoods. In other child care-related research, which uses American and Australian time use data, Brandon is examining the effects of long-term health conditions and disabilities among parents on their time investments in children and the gendered distribution of unpaid labor. Lastly, Brandon will submit an application to the NICHD seeking funds to develop a new methodological approach to monitoring and measuring family change and variation, especially among families with young children that have been affected by the great recession.

A series of past studies sponsored by the CSDA confirms that much has been learned from the Rochester Youth Development Study (RYDS) about youth involvement in crime. However, as the next five years will attest, there is still more to discover. Spearheaded at Albany by Lizotte (Criminal Justice) in collaboration former associates Terry Thornberry (University of Maryland) and Marvin Krohn (University of Florida) and current associate Smith (Social Welfare), the RYDS is a longitudinal study of poor youth in Rochester, NY. Details of the data collection are discussed in Theme 5, Data and Methods for Population Research. Recently, the power of these data for developing new projects was demonstrated by novel research exploring the intergenerational transfer of crime and violence across generations.

Bushway (School of Criminal Justice, Department of Public Administration and Policy) has also worked extensively with the RYDS data to examine how life events like employment and marriage affect offending over the life course. Bushway has been particularly interested in studying desistance, and has several current funded projects which look at recidivism and desistance. He has been working with Megan Kurlychek, also at the School of Criminal Justice, to examine how many years of non-offending do policymakers need before they can be reasonably assured that an ex-offender has levels of risk that approach those of the population without a criminal history record. Recent work has focused on both describing the behavior during this waiting period, and identifying other signals that ex-offenders can provide during this period, which might help already desisted individuals identify themselves to employers who wish to hire from the growing pool of people with criminal history records. Bushway is also a consultant on an NSF-funded grant by Jeff Morenoff and David Harding at the University of Michigan examining the causal impact of the criminal justice system sentencing practices on recidivism across the lifecourse. Bushway is currently developing a proposal (NIJ) to explicitly examine the demographic implications of crime, in collaboration with Tsao (CSDA, Computing and Data Services Core manager) and Herb Smith (University of Pennsylvania). Like Bushway, Smith (School of Social Welfare) has published widely with the RYDS data. Her current work examines the relationship between having been mistreated as a child and subsequent substance abuse when they become young adults. Given the potential of these important and unique data, the CSDA intends to support over the next five years other innovative research using the RYDS data.,/

Crime and its effects on population dynamics is becoming an important focus of research in CSDA due in part to the mentoring efforts of Bushway (Criminal Justice, Director Computing and Statistics Core). CSDA has supported a number of young criminologists/sociologists with junior scholar awards. In particular, Apel (Criminal Justice), a CSDA junior scholar last year has published several papers on the effects of incarceration on such demographic outcomes as marriage and divorce, and the transition to adulthood. New CSDA associate King (Sociology) with South (Sociology) has recently studied the effects of crime and race on marriage. This study uses the NLSY79 to operationalize discrete-time event-history models, which show that, among young men, criminal behavior is inversely associated with the risk of marriage. However, rather than reflecting criminal offenders’ reduced value as marriage partners, much of this association is because of offenders’ lesser desire to marry.

Other CSDA associates conduct research on youth and educational processes. Psychologist Prelow studies ecological risk factors, maternal psychological distress, and social network support on the parenting behaviors of Latina mothers. Using data from the Three City Study and structural equation modeling, she showed that ecological risk was associated with higher contemporaneous psychological distress, which, in turn, predicted lower positive parenting behaviors approximately 18 months later. Schiller of the School of Education is heavily involved in Add Health-derived research. Schiller’s work, with grant support from NSF and NICHD, has examined the impacts of school curricula and course content on students’ opportunities, especially for adolescents from non-mainstream backgrounds, including how the high-stakes testing implemented as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act leads to different outcomes for students by race and ethnicity. Another part of Schiller’s effort in recent years collected the high-school transcript data for the Add Health dataset. Provision of detailed academic records greatly enhances the value of the data as school is such an important component of adolescent life. Currently, she is assisting with the migration of the Add Health Data from UNC to ICPSR for broader dissemination to the research community. Schiller has been exploring several new areas, including the genetics of educational outcomes (using the Add Health Data) as a part of the Biodemography Working group, and also fetal programing effects on educational and psychological outcomes with Gage (Anthropology), DiRienzo (Epidemiology and Biostatistics) and Ploubidis (Psychology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). This is an extension of the fetal programing work described above. In other education oriented research, Deane (Sociology) with Geizheiser (Research Foundation SUNY) recently received a major IES grant to conduct an experimental intervention study of third and fourth graders who have disabilities or are struggling readers. The intention is to identify interventions that accelerate students’ basic reading skills, vocabulary, and listening and reading comprehension.

Perhaps indicating that the CSDA has begun to expand its life course focus, a new set of research on mid-life by CSDA associates South and Trent (Sociology) will examine the impact of imbalanced adult sex ratios on four dimensions of family life in China: family formation behavior, women’s socioeconomic status, sexual behavior, and internal family dynamics. This NICHD-funded project uses the Chinese Health and Family life Survey and the geographic distribution of sex ratios within China to explore how the overabundance of males affects multiple dimensions of family life. In a recent publication from this project, they find that high sex ratios (indicating more men relative to women) are associated with an increased likelihood that women marry before age 25, consistent with demographic-opportunity theory and sociocultural theory. However, high sex ratios are also associated with an increased likelihood that women engage in premarital and extramarital sexual relationships and have more than one sexual partner, findings which are consistent with demographic-opportunity theory but inconsistent with sociocultural theory.

Recently South and Trent (together with Dr. Sunita Bose of SUNY New Paltz) have received a second R01 to extend this mid-life research to India. This project uses data from three different sources—the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), the 2004-05 India Human Development Survey (IHDS), and the 1981, 1991, and 2001 Censuses of India—to examine the impact of India’s imbalanced population sex ratio on key family formation behaviors; on sexual behaviors and health outcomes; on gendered family dynamics; and on women’s socioeconomic attainment.

Complementing these sociologists’ research projects is new research by Brandon on three-generation households and grandparenting. Capitalizing on two rich sources of international time use data and precise measures of household relationships, Brandon seeks to model grandparents’ time investments in grandchildren. Brandon’s new project will add much to the extant slim literature that focuses on grandparents’ investments in grandchildren since the project expands the field to focus on the allocation of time to coresidential and non-coresidential grandchildren. Moreover, the design of the project will examine whether grandparents’ allocation of time to grandchildren for activities like reading and physical care require grandparents to reduce their time for leisure and recreational activities and other productive pursuits, such as, volunteering. Related to this research is Brandon’s other new project examining socioeconomic issues associated with the transition into grandmotherhood. Using NLSY97 and SIPP data, (for comparison and validation), he will seek an NICHD R03 to examine effects of unmarried child bearing on the trajectories of employment, earnings, and household savings of newly-minted, co-resident grandmothers. This research is novel because the proposed research emphasizes the effects of unmarried child bearing one generation removed and underscores Brandon’s interest in understanding the formation and organization of three-generation households.

Moving to the end of life, Shaw (Health Policy and Management) is examining ethnic and cross-cultural differences in the impact of aging on health lifestyles and quality of life during old age. In one project, Shaw and colleagues use a life-course perspective to analyze how individual assessments of well-being change in old age among black, Hispanic, and white Americans. They find significant differences in self-reported health across race/ethnicity and a age by race interaction indicating that declines are steeper in Blacks than Whites. In another project, Shaw, Gallant, with Kelly McGeever (doctoral student Sociology) and colleagues seek to study changes in health lifestyles—including physical activity, weight management, tobacco use, and alcohol use—among older adults in the US and Japan. They find that American adults appear to reduce their levels of physical activity relatively early in the life course and at increasingly steep rates among older age groups. They find that alcohol consumption declines with age, although cohort and period effects remain important.

Shaw and his colleagues have also found that self-esteem increased, on average, over the course of the study period. However, significant age variations around this trend were observed, with younger adults experiencing increases in self-esteem and older adults experiencing decreases. Overall, race differences were undetectable with respect to average levels or rates of change in self-esteem. However, a significant age and race interaction suggested that late-life declines in self-esteem were steeper for Blacks compared with Whites. These findings suggest the presence of age- and race-based stratification with respect to self-esteem. Finally, physical activity increased within younger adults and decreased within middle-aged and older adults throughout the study period. Initial Black–White differences in activity converged over time, whereas initial male advantages over female widened, particularly among older adults. Gender-based differences disappeared after accounting for differences in health; however, significant age and race differences in the trajectories of physical activity persisted, even after accounting for the effects of health and social relationships on leisure-time physical activity. American adults apparently reduce their levels of physical activity relatively early in the life course and at increasingly steep rates among older age groups.

In a new initiative, Shaw and colleagues are following up on his earlier studies of physical activity to examine obesity among older adults. This project will examine the aspects of the social environment that encourage and discourage physical activity and healthy diet in middle and later life. The study will move beyond assessing global aspects of social relationships, such as social network characteristics, social support and interpersonal conflict by also assessing specific social processes, including social control, social comparisons, social identity and perceived norms that may affect physical activity and dietary behavior. Much of the current research on obesity, physical activity and diet involves children or young adults. This project will examine these same issues in middle and older aged adults. This work intersects with other ongoing projects in the Health, Health Disparities and Biodemography theme where activity levels and obesity have been examined across a range of disciplines.

Other population research at Albany relating to the life course continues, as well. Sociologists, Spitze and Ward continue to publish on the relationships between parents and adult children. Much of this work involves collaborative projects with other CSDA associates, particularly Deane and Trent, both Sociologists, as well. Their focus on multiple siblings in terms of their relationships among each other as well as to their parents is novel and complements other research on aging conducted in the School of Public Health. Jones (Economics), has just begun a project on the costs and benefits of Medicaid in old age.

Given the multiple lines of inquiry on the life course at the CSDA over the next 5 years, we expect that these various projects will produce important scientific findings that will benefit the nation. More specifically, the research proposed, which builds upon a solid foundation, has the potential to advance our understanding of American family life in the 21st century, which is increasingly complex; increase our knowledge of change and variation among the nation's families; and, better characterize family's contribution to individual productivity and well-being and healthy transitions into older ages. Research under this theme is increasingly being linked with the study of health outcomes (e.g. obesity, sexual health), which will likely facilitate collaboration with researchers working under the Health, Health Disparities, and Biodemography theme.

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