Parental Responsibility

Kevin Lewis

January 23, 2022

Fathers' Multiple-Partner Fertility and Children's Educational Outcomes
Donna Ginther, Astrid Grasdal & Robert Pollak
Demography, forthcoming

Fathers' multiple-partner fertility (MPF) is associated with substantially worse educational outcomes for children. We focus on children in fathers' second families that are nuclear: households consisting of a man, a woman, their joint children, and no other children. We analyze outcomes for almost 75,000 Norwegian children, all of whom lived in nuclear families until at least age 18. Children with MPF fathers are more likely than other children from nuclear families to drop out of secondary school (24% vs. 17%) and less likely to obtain a bachelor's degree (44% vs. 51%). These gaps remain substantial -- at 4 and 5 percentage points, respectively -- after we control for child and parental characteristics, such as income, wealth, education, and age. Resource competition with the children in the father's first family does not explain the differences in educational outcomes. We find that the association between a father's previous childless marriage and his children's educational outcomes is similar to that between a father's MPF and his children's educational outcomes. Birth order does not explain these results. This similarity suggests that selection is the primary explanation for the association between fathers' MPF and children's educational outcomes. 

Public Investments and Class Gaps in Parents' Developmental Expenditures
Margot Jackson & Daniel Schneider
American Sociological Review, forthcoming

Families and governments are the primary sources of investment in children, providing access to basic resources and other developmental opportunities. Recent research identifies significant class gaps in parental investments that contribute to high levels of inequality by family income and education. State-level public investments in children and families have the potential to reduce class inequality in children's developmental environments by affecting parents' behavior. Using newly assembled administrative data from 1998 to 2014, linked to household-level data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we examine how public-sector investment in income support, health, and education is associated with the private expenditures of low- and high-SES parents on developmental items for children. Are class gaps in parental investments in children narrower in contexts of higher public investment for children and families? We find that more generous public spending for children and families is associated with significantly narrower class gaps in private parental investments. Furthermore, we find that equalization is driven by bottom-up increases in low-SES households' developmental spending in response to progressive state investments of income support and health, and by top-down decreases in high-SES households' developmental spending in response to universal state investment in public education. 

Early concepts of intimacy: Young humans use saliva sharing to infer close relationships
Ashley Thomas et al.
Science, 20 January 2022, Pages 311-315

Across human societies, people form "thick" relationships characterized by strong attachments, obligations, and mutual responsiveness. People in thick relationships share food utensils, kiss, or engage in other distinctive interactions that involve sharing saliva. We found that children, toddlers, and infants infer that dyads who share saliva (as opposed to other positive social interactions) have a distinct relationship. Children expect saliva sharing to happen in nuclear families. Toddlers and infants expect that people who share saliva will respond to one another in distress. Parents confirm that saliva sharing is a valid cue of relationship thickness in their children's social environments. The ability to use distinctive interactions to infer categories of relationships thus emerges early in life, without explicit teaching; this enables young humans to rapidly identify close relationships, both within and beyond families. 

Life course linkages between enriching early-life activities and later life cognition: Evidence from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study
Emily Greenfield, Addam Reynolds & Sara Moorman
Social Science & Medicine, forthcoming

Prior research suggests that participation in enriching early-life activities (EELAs) has long-term benefits for cognitive health and aging. This study aims to examine the life course processes underlying these associations by drawing on theoretical models from life course epidemiology. Specifically, we tested sensitive-period effects, social pathways, and selection effects as potential explanations for linkages between greater participation in EELAs and better later life cognition. We drew on data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), which is among the longest-running cohort studies in the U.S. that has followed graduates (all identified as non-Hispanic White) from Wisconsin high schools since 1957. We used prospective measures of key variables, including information from high school yearbooks, with assessments of cognitive performance at ages 65 and 72. Results from multilevel modeling indicated that greater participation in cognitively oriented extracurricular activities (but not physically nor socially oriented activities) was associated with both better language/executive functioning and memory at age 65. Although the size of these associations was reduced when accounting for other cognitive resources in adolescence (childhood socioeconomic status and adolescent cognitive ability) and in midlife (adult socioeconomic status and formal group participation), there remained small, yet statistically robust, associations. We did not find robust associations between greater EELA engagement and slower rates of decline in cognition between ages 65 and 72, nor did we find evidence of gender differences. Results suggest that for this cohort of older adults, EELA participation is part of life course "protective chains," whereby exposures to assets at one point in the life course increase the likelihood of subsequent exposures, each sequentially and in their own right, toward better later life cognition. We discuss how results support the importance of policies and practices to promote healthy cognitive development among youth for the long-term cognitive health of a rapidly aging U.S. population. 

The influence of harshness and unpredictability on female sexual development: Addressing gene-environment interplay using a polygenic score
Gabriel Schlomer & Qi Sun
Development and Psychopathology, forthcoming

Recent developments in the application life history theory to human development indicate two fundamental dimension of the early environment - harshness and unpredictability - are key regulators life history strategies. Few studies have examined the manner with which these dimensions influence development, though age at menarche (AAM) and age at first sexual intercourse have been proposed as possible mechanisms among women. Data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (N = 3,645) were used to examine direct and indirect effects of harshness (financial difficulties) and unpredictability (paternal transitions) on lifetime and past year sexual partners during adolescence and young adulthood. Genetic confounding was addressed using an AAM polygenic score (PGS) and potential gene-by-environment interactions were also evaluated using the PGS. Path model results showed only harshness was directly related to AAM. Harshness, unpredictability, and AAM were indirectly related to lifetime and past year sexual partner number via age at first sexual intercourse. The PGS did not account for any of the associations and no significant interactions were detected. Implications of these results for developmental models derived from life history theory are discussed as well as the role of PGSs in gene-environment interplay research. 

Evidence for cognitive plasticity during pregnancy via enhanced learning and memory
Bridget Callaghan et al.
Memory, forthcoming

Human and animal neuroscience studies support the view that plastic shifts occur in the brain during pregnancy that support the emergence of new maternal behaviours. The idea of adaptive plasticity in pregnancy is at odds with the notion of "baby brain", in which pregnant women describe the onset of forgetfulness. While inconsistent evidence for memory deficits during pregnancy has been reported, few studies have investigated spatial associative memory (which is consistently enhanced in studies of pregnant rodents). Moreover, most studies assess domain-general stimuli, which might miss adaptations specific to parent-relevant stimuli. In the present study, we examined the retention of spatial associative memory for parenting-relevant and non-parenting-relevant stimuli across 4-weeks in a sample of women in their third trimester of pregnancy, and compared their performance to a sample of never pregnant women. We demonstrated that relative to never pregnant women, pregnant women exhibited enhanced long-term retention of object-scene-location associations (spatial associative memory), as well as better initial learning about parenting-relevant, relative to non-parenting-relevant, stimuli. Thus, similar to studies in rodents, cognitive improvements were seen during pregnancy in humans, and those improvements were specific to the domain of spatial associative retention, and in the recognition of stimuli relevant to parenting.


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