There For The Kids

Kevin Lewis

November 07, 2021

Shifting parental beliefs about child development to foster parental investments and improve school readiness outcomes
John List, Julie Pernaudet & Dana Suskind
Nature Communications, October 2021

Socioeconomic gaps in child development open up early, with associated disparities in parental investments in children. Understanding the drivers of these disparities is key to designing effective policies. We first show that parental beliefs about the impact of early parental investments differ across socioeconomic status (SES), with parents of higher SES being more likely to believe that parental investments impact child development. We then use two randomized controlled trials to explore the mutability of such beliefs and their link to parental investments and child development, our three primary outcomes. In the first trial (NCT02812017 on, parents in the treatment group were asked to watch a short educational video during four well-child visits with their pediatrician while in the second trial (NCT03076268), parents in the treatment group received twelve home visits with feedback based on their daily interactions with their child. In both cases, we find that parental beliefs about child development are malleable. The first program changes parental beliefs but fails to lastingly increase parental investments and child outcomes. By contrast, in the more intensive program, all pre-specified endpoints are improved: the augmented beliefs are associated with enriched parent-child interactions and higher vocabulary, math, and social-emotional skills for the children. 

The Effect of TV Viewing on Children’s Obesity Risk and Mental Well-being: Evidence from the UK Digital Switchover
Adrián Nieto & Marc Suhrcke
Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming

We examine the effect of screen-based activities on obesity and mental well-being for children, using a large survey dataset representative of the UK population and an event study model that exploits exogenous variation in the entry date of the digital television transition in the UK. The digital transition increased the number of available free television channels from 5 to 40, leading to a rise in television viewing time. Our results show that receiving access to digital television signal considerably increases the mental health total difficulties score among children, and that this impact grows over time. We also find suggestive evidence that the digital transition could have increased BMI for children. Underlying the net effects appear to be decreases in participation in social and physical activities. 

Good Friends, Better Enemies? The Effects of Sibling Sex, Co-Residence, and Relatedness on Sibling Conflict and Cooperation
Catherine Salmon & Jessica Hehman
Evolutionary Psychological Science, December 2021, Pages 327–337

While siblings can be close allies, they can also be significant competitors. They are also family members that are typically with us for most of our lives. Research has raised questions about the factors shaping sibling relationships, and an adaptationist perspective would predict a role for a number of factors including sex, genetic relatedness, and childhood co-residence. Recent work has highlighted sex differences with regard to conflict and emotional closeness, greater conflict among full-siblings than half-siblings, and a role for co-residence in increasing sibling altruism. This study examines levels of both sibling conflict and sibling cooperation as a function of respondent sex, sex of sibling, birth interval (or absolute age difference), co-residence, and relatedness. Results indicate that sibling conflict and cooperation may not be shaped by the same set of factors. Sibling conflict was predicted by own sex, sex of sibling, birth interval, duration of co-residence, and the degree of relatedness. Greater levels of conflict were reported by sisters, those closer in age, those who have co-resided longer, and full-siblings compared to half-siblings. However, sibling prosocialness was only predicted by sex and relatedness with females and full siblings reporting greater levels of sibling prosocialness. More research investigating patterns of conflict and cooperation within families using more ecologically valid cues are necessary to determine whether the two are operating under the same mechanism, sensitive to the same cues, or are, indeed, operating under different mechanisms. 

Vietnam Era Fathers: The Intergenerational Transmission of Tertiary Education
Louis Christofides et al.
Review of Income and Wealth, forthcoming

A strong positive correlation between the educational attainment of parents and their children is well documented. Determining whether this relationship is due to nature (selection) or nurture (causal factors) is both a challenge and an important policy issue. We use the Vietnam era draft lottery and educational exemptions as a “natural experiment” to address this issue. Substantially more men attended university during this war, creating a cohort of fathers many members of which would not normally have enrolled in tertiary education (TE). Using US Current Population Survey (CPS) and Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) data on the father’s and his children’s TE involvement, we find that, for this war cohort, the intergenerational transmission leading their children to enrollment in TE is at least as high (CPS) or even higher (PSID) than that of control cohorts. In the context of university attendance in the US, these findings suggest that nurture plays an important additional role. 

Low perceived susceptibility to pregnancy as a reason for contraceptive nonuse among women with unintended births
Alison Gemmill & Sarah Cowan
Demographic Research, January-June 2021, Pages 759–774

We use data from the 2004‒2011 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System and limit our sample to women in the United States with unintended births who were not using contraception at the time of the index pregnancy (n = 55,940). Women were classified as having low PS if they indicated they could not get pregnant at the time the index pregnancy occurred or they or their partner were sterile. We use logistic regression to identify correlates of low PS and determine whether low PS is associated with timing of pregnancy recognition and prenatal care initiation.

Over one-third of women with unintended births cited low PS as a reason for contraceptive nonuse. Maternal age and disadvantage are correlated with low PS. Among women with unintended births, those with low PS had lower odds of early pregnancy recognition (adjOR = 0.88; 95% CI: 0.82, 0.94) and prenatal care initiation (adjOR = 0.86; 95% CI: 0.79, 0.94) compared to those who did not hold these beliefs. 

Something Scary Is Out There: Remembrances of Where the Threat Was Located by Preschool Children and Adults with Nighttime Fear
Richard Coss
Evolutionary Psychological Science, September 2021, Pages 239–253

Young children frequently report imaginary scary things in their bedrooms at night. This study examined the remembrances of 140 preschool children and 404 adults selecting either above, side, or below locations for a scary thing relative to their beds. The theoretical framework for this investigation posited that sexual-size dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis, the presumed human ancestor in the Middle Pliocene, constrained sleeping site choice to mitigate predation. Smaller-bodied females nesting in trees would have anticipated predatory attacks from below, while male nesting on the ground would have anticipated attacks from their side. Such anticipation of nighttime attacks from below is present in many arboreal primates and might still persist as a cognitive relict in humans. In remembrances of nighttime fear, girls and women were predicted to select the below location and males the side location. Following interviews of children and adult questionnaires, multinomial log-linear analyses indicated statistically significant interactions (p < 0.001) of sex by location for the combined sample and each age class driven, in part, by larger frequencies of males selecting the side location and females selecting the below location. Data partitioning further revealed that males selected the side location at larger frequencies (p < 0.001) than the below location, whereas female selection of side and below locations did not differ significantly. While indicative of evolutionary persistence in cognitive appraisal of threat locations, the female hypothesis did not consider natural selection acting on assessment of nighttime terrestrial threats following the advent of early Homo in the Late Pliocene.


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