Mini-Series: Issues in Educational Inequality (3 of 4)

Unequal origins: Prenatal exposures, stratification, and children's educational achievement

A PSC Brown Bag Seminar

Florencia Torche (Stanford University, Department of Sociology)

Monday, 4/16/2018, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm.   ARCHIVED EVENT

Location: 1430 ISR - Thompson

The presentation draws on unpublished work and a forthcoming Demography article entitled "Prenatal Stress, Inequality, and Children's Outcomes." Combining a natural experiment with panel administrative and survey data, I show that prenatal exposure to acute stress results in lower cognitive ability and lower educational achievement in elementary school.

The effect of prenatal stress on educational achievement is strongly stratified by family SES. Prenatal stress exposure has no association with children's educational outcomes among middle-class families, but it has a strong negative influence among poor families.

Examination of possible pathways for this stratified effect indicate that it is not driven by differential exposure to stress across SES, or differential sensitivity, or differential effects on birth outcomes. Rather, qualitative evidence based on in-depth interviews suggests that the stratified effect of prenatal stress emerges from parental responses: Advantaged families -but not poor families- mobilize multiple resources that compensate for the early shock experienced by children.

Given that disadvantaged populations are more likely to be exposed to environmental stressors, this study indicates that exposures to stress even before birth may provide a strong, and largely invisible, mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

If you require an accommodation to participate in this event, please contact Anna Massey at at least one week in advance of this event.

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Florencia Torche is a social scientist with substantive interests in social demography, stratification, and education. Professor Torche’s scholarship encompasses two related areas. A longer-term area of research studies inequality dynamics -- the dynamics that result in persistence of inequality across generations -- with a particular focus on educational attainment, assortative mating (who marries who), and the intergenerational transmission of wealth. A more recent area of research examines the influence of early-life exposures –as early as the prenatal period– on individual development, attainment, and socioeconomic wellbeing. She has studied the effect of in-utero exposure to environmental stressors on children’s outcomes, and how these exposures contribute to the persistence of poverty across generations.

PSC Brown Bag seminars highlight recent research in population studies and serve as a focal point for building our research community.

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