Addressing Global Social Problems

“Human development involves improving peoples’ lives, by expanding their freedom and the opportunities they have to live the life they value. Creating environments for people to develop their potential and lead productive lives requires effective policies and practices at the local, national, regional, and global levels. Research, education, and partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) involve faculty, students, and staff in an interdisciplinary effort to identify and address the world’s most vexing social problems.”

– Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger, Associate Dean for Global Studies

Research in Africa

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research in Ghana focuses on responses to donor proliferation in the country’s health sector. They have investigated how donors and government agencies responded to a proliferation of donors providing aid to Ghana’s health sector between 1995 and 2012.

Governance of HIV/AIDS in Malawi: Study of the Effect of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s National Poverty Reduction Strategy Process on the Resourcing and Implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework in Malawi 2000-2004

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research in Morocco focuses on health financing and insurance reform. They have performed analysis of health financing and insurance reforms in Morocco and examined prospects and future challenges for reform implementation.

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research in South Africa focuses on social grants, welfare, and the incentive to trade-off health for income among individuals on HAART. They have examined the disability grant’s importance to individual and household welfare and the impact of its loss using a unique longitudinal dataset of HAART patients in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Their findings indicate that grant loss was associated with sizeable declines in income and changes in household composition. However, no evidence was found of individuals choosing poor health over grant loss. Their analysis also suggested that though the grants officially target those too sick to work, some people were able to keep grants longer than expected, and others received grants while employed. This has helped cushion people on HAART, but other welfare measures need consideration.

Research in Asia

Dr. Yin-Ling Irene Wong’s research in China focuses on understanding the cultural manifestation of stigma of mental illness in Chinese society and developing innovative interventions to reduce stigma among persons with mental illness and their family members. Mental illness is a medical condition that affects 173 million people in China. Dr. Wong has developed this research agenda with an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural team of researchers from the United States and China.

Dr. Zvi Gellis’ research focus in Hong Kong is on Geriatric Mental Health Services: specifically, evidence-based interventions for depression disorders in community-based older adults. He provides consultation and training in Cognitive Behavioral and Problems Solving Therapies to mental health professionals for depression care management.

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research in India focuses on health, technical efficiency, and agricultural production. They investigated whether better population health may impact economic performance through improvements in technical efficiency in agricultural production. Their work involved an analysis of district-level data from India, employing a random-coefficients approach to estimate a Cobb-Douglas production function and computing overall and input-specific technical efficiencies for each district. They then modeled health (through the district’s infant mortality rate) as a determinant of (in)efficiency in a second stage, controlling for a range of other socioeconomic variables.

Dr. Femida Handy is researching the ancillary effects on the labor market as a result of the widespread Self-Help-Groups (SHGs) in the Microfinance movement in India.

While labor market impacts on women participating in the Microfinance based SHGs are studied in terms of entrepreneurial activity, self-employment, and resulting job creation, an accounting of the overall labor market impact of job creation resulting from the formation and operations of SHGs remain absent from the literature. As SHGs are comprised of informal groups of low-income, financially illiterate women, capacity building efforts require intensive labor inputs at the village, NGO, and bank levels. Furthermore, the collection of deposits, repayments of loans, and other related jobs also require personnel in the banks and NGOs involved. Thus, the activities of SHGs create employment in the formal sector, which in and of itself may be significant in alleviating unemployment and poverty. The present research fills this gap in the literature by documenting the ancillary job creation generated by the SHG movement of microfinance initiatives.

Women’s Health Capability and Maternal and Child Health in India: Study aimed at understanding women’s health capability in the context of a participatory community maternal and child health project in Uttar Pradesh, India

Effects of the World Bank’s Maternal and Child Health Intervention on Indonesia’s Poor: Evaluating the Safe Motherhood Project (SMP): Study of infant, child and maternal health outcomes of Indonesia’s poor before and after introduction of SMP, comparing membership and non-membership in SMP, using a difference-in-difference approach

Dr. Zvi Gellis’ research focus in Israel is on Home Health Care Services and Geriatric Mental Health Services: specifically, evidence-based interventions for depression disorders in community-based older adults. He provides consultation to home health professionals.

Dr. Phyllis Solomon is providing consultation to a professor in psychiatric nursing on a couple of studies that she has and is conducting on violence in families of persons with severe psychiatric disorders. She recently completed a survey of their family group and is now undertaking another one both consumer’s perspective on this issue.

Political Economy of Health and Healthcare in the Republic of Korea: Four research projects: (1) examining out-of-pocket health-care spending by the poor and chronically ill in the Republic of Korea; (2) studying the relationship between socioeconomic status, behavioral risk factors, and health inequality in the Republic of Korea; (3) analysis of pharmaceutical reforms in the Republic of Korea and the lessons they provide for developed and developing countries; and (4) examining price elasticity of demand for medical care services in the Korean national medical insurance program

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research in Malaysia focuses on cost-effectiveness of buprenorphine, naltrexone, and placebo interventions for heroin dependence.

Health System Financing and Health and Economic Welfare in Vietnam: Three research projects: (1) study of the impact of medical expenses on the allocation of household resources among the poor in Vietnam; (2) understanding the demand for, and health and financial impacts of, health insurance in rural Vietnam; and (3) examining the existence and determinants of coping strategies for external health shocks by income status in rural Vietnam.

Research in Australia

Dr. Allison Werner-Lin’s research addresses the intersection of genomic discovery and family life and seeks to broaden social work’s guiding ‘person-in-environment’ framework to include genetic variation as a core feature of assessment, one in constant interaction with developmental, sociocultural, and environmental contexts. She is currently pursuing a research agenda that seeks to identify how best the rapidly evolving knowledge base of genomics may be translated into community education and outreach programs for adolescents and young adults, given the social, cognitive, and cultural contexts within which they acquire health knowledge and behaviors. Specifically, she studies how individuals, couples, and families understand, consent for, and adapt to genetic testing, make treatment decisions, and integrate this information into life cycle planning, with a specific focus on reproductive decision making.

Research in Europe

Dr. Ioana Marinescu is researching labor market policy. Using administrative data, we examine the impact of unemployment insurance on job search and job finding. We expect that unemployment insurance will reduce job search on the official online job site. Yet, this reduction may not translate into a proportional decrease in job finding. We will assess how much of a decrease in job finding is generated by the decline in job search efforts due to unemployment insurance.

Dr. Ioana Marinescu is researching labor market trends. In the 1980s and 1990s, US prime-age employment rates were higher than employment rates in Germany, France and the UK. But since 2000, the US has been losing ground in prime-age employment rates, and has, in 2013, about 5 percentage point lower prime-age employment rate than the UK, France or Germany. An important part (about 50%) of this gap between the US and the three large European countries is explained by the fact that US employment in professional, managerial and technical jobs has been slightly decreasing since 2000 while such high skill employment has continued to grow unabated in European countries. This healthy growth in employment rates in professional, managerial and technical jobs has allowed European countries to maintain high overall employment rates despite the steep decline in production employment which occurred both in Europe and the US.

Dr. Femida Handy is researching Happy birthdays, not Happy Meals for Children: Food Insecurity and Social Exclusion.

Food insecurity for children can manifest itself in many ways, and one way is the lack access to typical foods required to participate in the societal customs. This deficiency subjects children to social exclusion and manifests as an issue of social justice. In this paper, we examine this type of food insecurity, one that children (4-12-year-olds) face who cannot afford foods required to celebrate their birthdays in schools. This leads to absenteeism to avoid stigmatization and social exclusion. We examine this using the case of Jarige Job (JB), a Dutch nonprofit that uses the network of food banks to identify children and deliver birthday boxes with food items and gifts to their parents. We further explore how corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in 50-75 firms support (or not) food insecurity, and how different types of food insecurities garner different attitudes and levels support. Using survey by CSR donors and volunteers to JB, we gather data that to test hypotheses related to whether CSR donors prefer to support JB over foodbanks: Because JB pursues a (1) social justice mission, (2) promotes cultural norms or (3) has as children as recipients who are perceived as more ‘deserving’ than adults. Or whether companies, especially those in the food services sector find it easier to support food banks as they (1) can donate in-kind or (2) because they understand security issues narrowly. By examining the CSR donor understandings of food insecurity our research findings will assist non-profits to attract a variety of corporate donors.

Dr. Ioana Marinescu is researching labor market policy. By reducing the commitment made by employers, fixed-term contracts can help low-skilled youth find a first job. However, the long-term impact of fixed-term contracts on these workers’ careers may be negative. Using Spanish social security data, we analyze the impact of a large liberalization in the regulation of fixed-term contracts in 1984. Using a cohort regression discontinuity design, we find that the reform raised the likelihood of male high-school dropouts working before age 19 by 9%. However, in the longer run, the reform reduced number of days worked (by 4.5%) and earnings (by 9%).

Research Across Continents

Dr. Femida Handy is researching Environmental Habitus: The Intergenerational Transmission of Environmental Behaviors in Cross-National Comparison.

Recent scholarly attention finds that individuals’ pro-environmental orientation is related to their parents’ pro-environmental values, attitudes, and behaviors, and that family socialization exerts a significant influence on young people’s pro-environmental orientations and behaviors. This research takes environmental behavior into the family domain, and proposes to investigate the links between environmental behaviors of three generations to measure the impact of cultural and economic contexts on intergenerational transmission of environmental behaviors. Our main theoretical heuristic is the notion of environmental habitus, arguing that a pro-environmental stance may run in the family, not necessarily because individuals follow the imperatives of the environmental movement or because they hold an environmental ideology, but because their families hold values and behavioral dispositions of frugality, modesty, or conservation that have consequences for everyday pro-environmental behavior. Furthermore, we examine environmental habitus comparatively, asking if it takes different forms in three different national contexts – Israel, the United States, and South Korea. These countries are characterized by different cultural and economic contexts, different framings of environmental issues, and different historical trajectories starting from pre-World War II and continuing up to today. We will conduct surveys in the three countries through online panels. We will interview parents and their children, and ask the parents questions about their own parents. An additional source of data will be focus groups aimed at better contextualizing and interpreting the results of the surveys. Our research will contribute to the understanding of the determinants of environmental behavior, the cross-national differences in environmental behavior, and the influence of intergenerational social reproduction on environmental issues.

Dr. Femida Handy is researching experiencing aesthetic-cultural cosmopolitanism: a comparison of youth in Paris, São Paulo, and Seoul.

We present an original attempt to comparatively document the variations of aesthetic-cultural cosmopolitanism in global cities. We link global cultural flows with a micro-sociological approach, analyzing cultural consumption and global imaginaries of young people (18-24) living in three global cities – Paris, Seoul, and São Paulo – characterized by different demographic, economic, and political environments. We show how in each city, the global gaze reaches out in different directions, west and east, central and peripheral. In addition, we explore how young people engage with otherness through cultural consumption and how they build imaginaries of the world based on their cultural consumption. We address three questions: 1) What are the origins of the cultural products that young adults in these cities consume, what are their preferences for national vs. foreign culture, and how do they justify these preferences?; 2) How do young people imagine and embrace the world through the analysis of the semantic use of consumption?; 3) To what extent are internationalized cultural consumption and global imaginaries generational taste markers? The data for this analysis is drawn from in-depth interviews (N=80 for each city) conducted by the authors during 2015-2017, focused on cultural consumption, imaginaries of the global, and individuals´ profiles.

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research across continents focuses on the international comparison of cross-national inequalities in mortality of adults and of children aged less than five years. They have used a novel approach of clustering techniques to stratify countries into mortality groups (better-off, worse-off, mid-level) and to examine risk factors associated with inequality. Their work analyzed data from the World Development Indicators 2003 database, compiled by the World Bank, and placed countries into distinct mortality categories based on the main outcome measures of adult and child mortality.

Dr. Jennifer Prah Ruger and colleagues’ research across continents focuses on the impact of donor proliferation in development aid for health on health service delivery and population health. They have performed a cross-country regression analysis on annual data from 1995 to 2010 on 139 low- and middle-income countries that received health sector aid from donors reporting to the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System. Their study used a two-step system generalized method of moments regression models to test whether the number of health aid donors and an index of health aid donor fragmentation affect health services (measured by DTP3 immunization rate) or health outcomes (measured by infant mortality rate) for three subsectors of health aid.