My research examines how public policies can improve the lives of low-income people, and in particular children. With graduate training in social policy, I use a cross-disciplinary lens and quantitative analytic techniques to study low-income families, guided primarily by the theories, concepts, and methods of social demography, developmental psychology/child development, and family sociology. To this end, I have published research results in journals that reach a multidisciplinary audience, using a wide range of large-scale datasets and a number of different methodological techniques. My research falls into four broad areas: 1) household sharing among families with children, 2) public and private safety nets, 3) maternal employment and child wellbeing, and 4) family processes among economically vulnerable families.
Many families share households in order to make ends meet. Yet surprisingly, researchers know little about the prevalence of shared households among children, nor about the consequences of household sharing. My work on living arrangements centers on children living in doubled-up/extended households and three-generation/multigenerational households. By studying children living with individuals beyond the nuclear family my research has extended our understanding of family complexity and the use of private safety nets, showing that many more children live with non-nuclear family members than was previously thought. My work has also shown that household sharing can be economically beneficial but it is often unstable and policies like the EITC can help reduce household instability. Housing affordability has decreased over the last 15 years and my research improves our understanding of both housing trends and ways to tackle housing instability.
Public and Private Safety Nets
Low-income families with children employ a variety of strategies to make ends meet. Many families rely on private financial transfers (from family/friends) and public transfers (from the government). As public safety net programs are cut (or cuts are considered), low-income families may have to increasingly rely on private safety nets to make ends meet. My work shows that low-income families provide financial transfers in times of economic crisis, but these transfers can increase economic hardship among these families, which has implications for families trying to escape poverty in the long term. My research also demonstrates that in times of economic crisis, public safety nets are effective at increasing income and reducing hardship. Together my research on the recession suggests that cuts to public assistance programs will likely exacerbate the challenge of making ends meet for low-income families with children and may worsen intergenerational inequality.
Maternal Employment and Child Wellbeing
Another important source of support for low-income families with children is employment, and in particular, maternal employment. Maternal employment rates have climbed dramatically over the last 40 years. Among economically disadvantaged groups the increase in maternal employment has been even greater and these mothers often face unstable, low intensity, or poor quality employment. My research focuses on this population of women, considering how tax policies influence employment, the patterns and characteristics of maternal employment among lower-wage workers, and links between employment and child wellbeing. The goal of this research is to better understand low-wage employment among mothers, its implications for child wellbeing, and to consider how public policies might better support these families to ultimately help lift children out of poverty.
Although most of my research focuses on how low-income families make ends meet, I also study how family characteristics and processes, like parenting behaviors or fertility patterns, shape the social, psychological and economic wellbeing of families. I have studied relationship quality and parenting, predictors of non-marital fertility for men, the role of religion in supporting breastfeeding behaviors and preventive care practices with elderly patients. I am currently studying the links between paternity leave and parental engagement examining differences between resident and non-resident fathers.
My research has been funded by the American Education Research Association, Poverty Solutions, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation and the Institute for Research on Poverty. I have also worked on researched funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Development and the Russell Sage Foundation.
2017-2019 National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation. “Maternal employment stability, intensity, and quality: Exploring the links with children’s school readiness and later educational outcomes.” Postdoctoral Fellow. $70,000.
2017-2018 Institute for Research on Poverty’s Extramural Small Grants Program for Research on Policies and Programs to Reduce Child Poverty and Its Effects, University of Wisconsin/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. “Assessing the effectiveness of tax credits in early childhood: Links between the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Poverty and Material Hardship.” Principal Investigator (with PI Katherine Michelmore). $25,000.
2017-2018 Institute for Research on Women and Gender Junior Faculty Scholar 2017-2018, University of Michigan. “Maternal employment and child wellbeing”. Faculty Fellow. One course release.
2017-2018 Poverty Solutions Junior Faculty Small Grant, University of Michigan. “Does the EITC reduce housing instability?” Principal Investigator (with PI Katherine Michelmore). $14,391.
2011-2012 American Education Research Association Grants Program, dissertation grant. “Three-generation family households and child wellbeing. Principal Investigator. $20,000.
University of Michigan, Ford School of Public Policy