The Cost of a Having a Twin Brother

A large new study has found that women with a twin brother do worse in school and make less money than those with a twin sister, Claire Cain Miller wrote in the New York Times. In their 30s, the women wound up earning 9 percent less. They were also less likely to graduate from school, marry, and have children.

Study coauthor and SESP dean David Figlio noted that the effects were because the women were naturally exposed to their brothers’ testosterone in the womb. The study, published in PNAS, included all births in Norway for 11 years. “Women exposed to testosterone have some of the educational challenges more frequently associated with men,” Figlio told the Times. “However, to the extent to which labor market discrimination exists in society, they don’t have the discriminatory benefits that men enjoy.”

As reported in the Times, the study involved 728,842 people, including 13,800 twins—everyone born in Norway from 1967 to 1978—in addition to records about their family, education, and work. Women with a male twin were 15 percent less likely to graduate from high school than women with a female twin, and those who went to college were 4 percent less likely to finish. The women had a 12 percent lower probability of being married and a 6 percent lower probability of having children.

Notably, the research showed no effect on the careers people pursued. Among those who graduated from college, women with a male twin were no more likely to pursue degrees in traditionally male-dominated fields like science, engineering, math, and economics. The study did not find that men experienced long-term effects from having a female twin.

Car emissons

‘Clean Diesel’ Fraud Linked to Worse Health

In 2015, Volkswagen was charged with violating the US Clean Air Act, in a scandal dubbed “Dieselgate.” On the road, so-called clean-diesel cars, which had passed emissions tests by using illegal “defeat device” software, were in fact pumping out dangerously high levels of nitrogen oxide. One diesel car could emit as much as 150 gasoline-powered vehicles.

The cheating cars had a noticeable effect on the health of babies and children, according to a working paper coauthored by economist and assistant professor of human development and social policy Hannes Schwandt and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Diane Alexander.

Automakers (not just Volkswagen) sold more than 600,000 diesel cars in the US between 2008 and 2015. Schwandt and Alexander found that the additional pollution these cars produced was linked to lower birth weight in nearly 38,600 children and an increase in acute asthma in infants and children.

Children across the socioeconomic spectrum were affected, but the impact was pronounced for those born to white, non-Hispanic mothers with college degrees. As the cars were marketed to environmentally conscious consumers—with ads touting power and mileage in combination with low emissions—they sold especially well in higher-income areas.

Although the poor are at greater risk, “even the wealthiest members of society are exposed to car pollution on a daily basis,” Schwandt says.

Tracking US car registrations to pinpoint where the cheating diesel cars were sold, researchers linked the data to detailed information on pregnancies and births in those counties. They also collected data from Environmental Protection Agency monitoring stations and satellites to measure air pollution.

  While previous research had documented the ill effects of pollution on disadvantaged populations living, for example, next to highways, this study provides the first quasi-experimental, causal evidence that even moderate levels of pollution can have detrimental health effects across the entire population.

“This is a necessary reminder that fighting pollution isn’t just important because of the effects on the climate, it’s also about the immediate effects on our health and the health of our children,” Kelsey Piper wrote in Vox. “It might be easier to get the public to back strong emissions standards if there’s greater awareness that pollution won’t just affect our climate down the road—it can kill our children right now.”

SESP Undergraduates

SESP Enriches Undergraduate Curriculum

SESP’s updated undergraduate curriculum emphasizes global engagement, advanced research methods, experiential learning, and more.

Philanthropic funding has supported several innovative new courses, such as Modern Organiza­tions and Inno­vations, which partners a SESP faculty member with an industry leader, and a hybrid course that connects undergraduates with Evanston Township High School students.

Other new classes feature co­­instructors and guest experts in policy, nonprofits, business, and other disciplines—and allow students to gain practical experience. “We want every class to be based on state-of-the-art thinking and real-world relevance,” SESP dean David Figlio says. “Philan­thropic support helps us give our faculty the headspace they need to innovate courses and the wherewithal to hire talented instructors.”

In her class American Women and Political Leadership, Highland Park (Illinois) mayor Nancy Rotering (MBA85) leveraged her network to bring in several high-profile speakers, including civil rights icon Diane Nash and Illinois congress­woman Jan Schakowsky.

SESP’s new global engagement requirement encourages students to experience a culture different from their own, through a quarter abroad or a year of language study. Forty-five percent of SESP undergraduates study abroad. To learn more about the new courses and requirements, visit the SESP website.

Andrea Kinghorn Busby and daughter, Ruth,

Shedding Light on Albinism

Andrea Kinghorn Busby’s daughter, Ruth, is biracial, though few people would guess. The two-year-old’s wispy blond hair and blue eyes are certainly not reliable clues.

But they hint at another truth about Ruth: she lives with albinism, a rare genetic condition associated with decreased pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes.

Her diagnosis explains the disconnect between Ruth’s coloring and her heritage, says Busby, a child development researcher and human development and social policy doctoral student at SESP. The real challenge with albinism, she says, is the vision impairment that accompanies it.

Ruth’s albinism causes constant, uncontrollable eye movement, sensitivity to light, trouble with depth perception, and reduced visual clarity. “Yes, her cute little glasses help,” Busby says, but they can’t begin to correct the less obvious effects of Ruth’s vision problems.

“Vision motivates infants to roll over and crawl. It helps toddlers attach meaning to language. Researchers know a lot about average developmental trajectories,” Busby says, “but not as much about the developmental process for children with visual impairments.”

Busby studies how home and school environments affect children’s development, especially in disadvantaged families. Newly named to the Frances Degen Horowitz Millennium Scholars Program, which supports scholars from underrepresented groups in pursuing developmental science graduate degrees and careers, she’ll delve deeper into studying neighborhood effects on teachers and children.

She says her research experience made early intervention possible after Ruth was originally misdiagnosed. And being a mother has made her a more compassionate, determined researcher. With time and help from her parents and professionals, Ruth has taken her own path and made up for the delays she experienced earlier. “She might get there in a different way,” Busby says, “but she ends up in a wonderful place and is even strong in areas that are not commonly strong for other children.”

“It’s About Power”

“It’s About Power”

Computer science educators should think more deeply and critically about the far-reaching effects that new technologies have on historically marginalized communities, argued assistant professor of learning sciences Sepehr Vakil in a recent commentary.

Most discussions about equity in computer science education focus on inclusivity, especially in relation to students of color. But the dynamics of power and ethics play a central role in computer science equity, Vakil wrote in “It’s About Power,” an essay he coauthored with Jennifer Higgs of the University of California, Davis.

“We must fundamentally rethink who computing education is for,” the authors wrote.

Vakil is working with Chicago and Evanston high school students, SESP undergraduates, and community organizations to dig into questions of racism, surveillance, policing, and technology.

He points out that machine learning, for example, is changing how police do their jobs. Automation technologies are reshaping welfare eligibility. And popular search engines can reinforce racist and sexist biases.

By focusing on power’s role, students can explore how the internet and other data-gathering networks intersect with social and political systems, including racism, militarism, and US immigration policies.

“These are fraught intersections, where ethical dilemmas arise and thrive, where technology and society collide to simultaneously create challenges and opportunities for education and social action,” Vakil and Higgs wrote.

Cross-disciplinary programs that link computer science to the humanities and social sciences can help integrate ethics and politics into computing, the authors argued.

From US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s statements underscoring racial bias in artificial intelligence to Google and Microsoft engineers protesting their companies’ entanglements with the Homeland Security Department, “there is a powerful discourse emerging at the intersections of ethics, culture, race, and technology,” said Vakil.

The commentary was published in Communications of the Association for Computer Machinery magazine.

In Brief

New faculty member Sally Nuamah was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow to support her study “How the Punishment of Black Women and Girls Affects Our Democracy.” She joins Kirabo Jackson, who was named a Carnegie Fellow in 2016.

Sociology, education, and social policy professor James Rosenbaum received the Elizabeth G. Cohen Distinguished Career in Applied Sociology of Education Award from the American Education Research Association.

Cynthia Coburn

Danny Cohen

Mesmin Destin

Heather McCambly

Diane Schanzbach

Sepehr Vakil

SESP Welcomes New Faculty

Tabitha Bonilla

Lina Deng

Sally Nuamah