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April 2, 2020

Fabrizio Zilibotti and Coauthor Win Major NSF Grant to Study Inequity in Child-rearing

zilibotti_presenting photo

A joint project examining the link between economic inequality and how parents raise their children has received an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division Of Social and Economic Sciences. 

Fabrizio Zilibotti, the Tuntex Professor of International and Development Economics, along with co-principal investigator, Northwestern University HSBC Research Professor Matthias Doepke, has received a $420,000 grant from the NSF for their project, titled “Parenting Styles within and across Neighborhoods.”

​The award is funded through the National Bureau of Economic Research, which encompasses a wide range of research within traditional fields of economics. The research is a continuation of the authors’ 2019 book, “Love, Money & Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids,” which looks at how family upbringing and parenting styles have diverged across different socio-economic group over the last forty years, causing a decline in social mobility and fostering ever growing inequality.  

The project will study how economic inequality and parenting decisions interact to shape skill acquisition of high school children. Fundamental questions Doepke and Zilibotti ask is why many parents spend a lot of time and effort pushing their children harder to ensure that they have a better path to security and success, and how the rising intensity of parenting has resulted in a growing “parenting gap” between rich and poor families.Coauthors Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti

“Given that parenting is a key determinant of skill formation, the parenting gap puts social mobility and the American ideal of equal opportunity for all at risk,” state the authors. “For these children, the direct influence of their parents is usually less important than those of their peers in schools and neighborhoods. Parents, however, continue to play an important role through their impact on peer selection.”

The research will examine the connections between parenting behavior, neighborhood characteristics, and children’s peer group formation from both empirical and theoretical perspectives and study how peer formation and parenting behavior evolve in a world of growing economic and residential segregation, how these factors affect child development across different socio-economic groups, and how they shape the effects of policies designed to narrow the parenting gap.

“The goal of the study is to identify the mechanisms underlying the vicious circle between inequality, segregation, and parenting gaps, and to assess how public policy should be designed to pursue the ideal of equal opportunity for all,” according to the authors.

The results of the research will look to provide guidance on policies to increase human capital formation while decreasing inequality, thus leading to faster economic growth and poverty reduction.

Since the grant was approved before the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors plan to include some ongoing research on the effects the health crisis will have on students’ achievement gaps, especially as children are separated from their teachers and classmates due to social distancing measures.

They argue that the disruption of schooling during the pandemic will have disparate effects across the socio-economic ladder. The achievement gap between children from poorer and richer families is bound to rise as long as school closures continue. The goal of their research is to identify policy interventions that can reduce this gap.

The seed of this research is described in a recent column published by the authors in Psychology Today (Essential Reading Section).