Jackson awarded NIH grant to examine public investments on child well-being

May 28, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] – Associate Professor of Sociology Margot Jackson has been awarded a two-year R03 research grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine public investments in children and families. Her project will produce the first research to comprehensively examine the effects of public investments on inequality in family behavior and child well-being.  

Jackson will work with an interdisciplinary team to advance understanding of the role of governments and families in supporting children’s healthy development. Recent research identifies significant class gaps in “parental investments,” defined by expenditures and time with children, as well as in children’s development and academic achievement, Jackson said. And parents with more income and education invest more resources and developmentally targeted time toward their children, and these investments influence cognitive and academic development. 

Public investments in children and families, though increasingly under threat, have the potential to reduce class gaps in child investments both by providing a “floor” of investment and potentially freeing low-income parents to reallocate expenditures and time use from basic necessities and basic care to development investment, Jackson said. The combination of public investment and equalization in private investment then has the potential to reduce class inequality in child development. However, there is very limited evidence on how public and private investments interact to impact family and child inequality. 

Jackson’s project will examine how state-level public investments in children and families affect class inequality in private investments and child outcomes. She will collect state-by-state data on local, state, and federal spending on major programs (in the areas of income support, education, health, and other spending) affecting children and families between 1992-2015, in order to describe state by state trends in children’s public goods.

Jackson will also link the state-by-state database to individual-level microdata that permit examination of family and child inequality and examine whether class gaps in parental investments and children’s developmental outcomes are smaller or larger in states with higher child and family spending. She will be using public spending data from the U.S. Census State and Local Government Finance Survey Data (1992-2015), as well as from federal agency websites and other sources. These data will be linked to two national, longitudinal surveys measuring family investments and children’s academic development: the Consumer Expenditure Survey from 1992-2016, and the 1998-1999 and the 2010-2011 kindergarten cohorts of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.