Current Projects

CDE’s overarching objective is to support and facilitate innovative and influential research and rigorous training in population science. Demographic research at CDE provides foundational information about the health and well-being of individuals, families, and groups, and the changing composition of the broader populations that they comprise. A selection of current and recently funded projects is below.

Improving Data Collection of Debt and Financial Strain to Assess Health Impacts of Economic Insecurity

Funder: NICHD
Grant Number: 1R01HD103356-01A1
Principal Investigator: Lawrence Berger | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work

Summary: In recent decades, individual and household debt has played an increasingly important role in the dynamics of economic inequality and insecurity in the United States. However, limitations of current data impede scientific understanding of the role of indebtedness in reducing or exacerbating economic insecurity for low-income families. This project consists of a multi-pronged data collection and analysis effort aimed at building a stronger data infrastructure, more adequate and accurate measures of indebtedness, and best practices for analyzing various forms of indebtedness and their relation to economic hardship and financial strain for low-income families.

Prenatal Opioid Exposure: Birth, Health, Socioeconomic, and Educational Outcomes

Funder: NICHD
Grant Number: 5R01HD102125-02
Principal Investigators: Lawrence Berger | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work
Deborah Ehrenthal | Penn State University | Social Science Research Institute
Investigators: Christine Durrance| University of Wisconsin–Madison | LaFollette School of Public Affairs
Jenna Nobles | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Department of Sociology
Jessica Pac | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work

Summary: The rapid rise in prenatal exposure to prescription and other opioids over the last decade mirrors dramatic trends in opioid use across the general population of the US and in some states nearly one in four pregnancies are exposed to prescription opioids. However, the impact of prenatal opioid exposure on pregnancy and child outcomes, independent of co-occurring factors, remains unclear. This study will support a multilevel examination of individual factors, and the influence of health care and community characteristics, needed to better understand and address the effects of the opioid epidemic on women and their children.

Reproductive Outcomes and Schooling Expansion for Men in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda

Funder: NICHD
Grant Number: 1R03HD103866-01A1
Principal Investigator: Monica Grant | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Department of Sociology

Summary: This project explores a set of complementary analyses focused on the reproductive consequences of schooling expansion for men. Using secondary data from the Demographic and Health Surveys, Grant will explore how boys’ schooling expansion is related to shifting reproductive and attitudinal norms. She will also examine how shifts in the educational composition of husbands and wives over time is associated with reproductive outcomes and couples’ decision-making. These analyses will contribute to the overall understanding of how education influences demographic behavior and the changing contributions of men’s and women’s schooling to reproductive outcomes over time.

Sexual Acceptability's Role in Women's Contraceptive Preference and Behavior

Funder: NICHD
Grant Number: 5R01 HD095661-02
Principal Investigator: Jenny Higgins | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Department of Gender and Women’s Studies

Summary: By following new contraceptive users across 12 months, this study aims to 1) document sexual acceptability for a variety of contraceptive methods, 2) determine associations between sexual acceptability and continuation over time, and 3) set the stage for the creation of new, more valid sexuality measures to be used in future reproductive health research and interventions. The project catalyzes a patient-centered approach to contraception that has the potential to improve women’s experiences with their methods. Research from this program could ultimately be used to help match women with the method(s) they will find the most sexually acceptable—methods they will like and use—thereby helping women fully realize the social, economic, and health benefits of contraception.

Effects of Deportation on Remaining Family Members and Social Surroundings

Funder: Rockwool Foundation
Investigator: Michael Light | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Department of Sociology

Summary: This project aims to measure the causal effect of deportation on the life chances of the remaining family and social surroundings. For every deported person, several others (family members but also other people within the deported person’s social vicinity) are likely to be affected, which implies that the consequences of deportation may be far-reaching. In addition to affecting many individuals and families, deportation has grown into a mass phenomenon since the turn of the century, which makes it all the more important to identify the effects of this policy. Yet because of a lack of causal research designs, whether the consequences are good or bad is unknown—and , the causal effects could indeed go in either direction, although existing correlational studies seem to agree that consequences may be predominantly negative.

Baby's First Years

Funder: Various private and federal agencies, including NICHD
Principal Investigators: Katherine Magnuson | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work
Kimberly Noble | Teachers College | Columbia University
Qualitative Sub-Study Principal Investigator: Sarah Halpern-Meekin | University of Wisconsin–Madison | School of Human Ecology

Summary: Baby’s First Years is the first study in the United States to assess the impact of poverty reduction on family life and  infant and toddlers’ cognitive, emotional, and brain development. One thousand low-income mothers and their newborns were recruited in several ethnically and geographically diverse communities. Mothers receive either (1) $333 each month ($4,000 each year), or (2) $20 each month ($240 each year), for the first 40 months of the children’s lives with the first payments occurring shortly after the baby’s birth. To understand how poverty reduction affects children’s development and family life, quantitative data will be collected on or around the children’s first, second, and third birthdays. Each wave of data collection will capture:

  • Aspects of family life hypothesized to be affected by poverty, including parent stress, family expenditures, family routines, parents’ time use and parenting practices, and child care arrangements.
  • Children’s development, as well as their physical health, stress, and behavior.

Impact of COVID-19 Exposure on U.S. Birth Outcomes

Funder: NICHD
Grant Number: 1R21HD105361-01
Principal Investigators: Jenna Nobles | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Department of Sociology
Florencia Torche | Stanford University | Department of Sociology
Investigators: Felix Elwert| University of Wisconsin–Madison | Department of Sociology

Summary: Uses state-level birth records with early release, researchers will estimate the effects of COVID-19 on birth outcomes at the population level, over time, and across groups defined by different sources of disadvantage. The research team focuses on six states that provide large and diverse samples in areas in which the pandemic unfolded with significant variation: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. With this data, the researchers will:

  • Estimate the effect of local-level exposure to COVID-19 on birth outcomes, including intrauterine growth restriction, birthweight, and delivery complications;
  • Test for differences in COVID-19 effects on birth outcomes by maternal age, race, nativity, economic disadvantage, and pre-pandemic, local-level economic conditions and health care infrastructure; and
  • Model the change in the number and composition of women giving birth as a result of COVID-19 exposure.

Using this information, the researchers will adjust estimates of COVID-19 effects on infant health, while also providing the earliest evidence of COVID effects on population fertility. The research identifies communities and subpopulations in which the pandemic has had the largest impact, and in which lasting effects for the next generation may unfold.

Understanding Trends in Mothers' Work Schedules: Implications for Child Health and Development

Funder: NICHD
Grant Number: 1K01HD104002-01A1
Principal Investigator: Alejandra Ros Pilarz | University of Wisconsin–Madison | Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work

Summary: For the study, Pilarz will document and explain trends in mothers’ work hours and schedules over the past 30 years and assess how the associations between mothers’ work schedules, mothers’ time with children, and childcare arrangements have changed as a result of increased public spending on childcare and early education programs. She will also determine how mothers’ work schedules are associated with children’s health and developmental outcomes in a contemporary, nationally representative sample of U.S. children. The project will generate novel findings on how mothers’ employment matters for child health and development. The findings will help make informed policy decisions about how to best support families in order to improve child health and well-being.