Projects

The Causal Effect of Education on Population Dynamics

Widespread formal education is shaping population dynamics globally. From new trends in mortality and health disparities in the United States to demographic and epidemiological population transitions in less developed nations, access to schooling is proving to be one of demography’s most potent causal factors.

Research has repeatedly found education to be associated with changes in health, mortality, and fertility patterns, prompting a question central to demography: does education cause these changes and, if so, how? At a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation forum on Health and Society, invited demographers and epidemiologists examined the state of research on this question, and a likely three-part hypothesis is emerging:

1)    Education has its greatest direct causal effect on health and related demographic processes through its ability to enhance individuals’ broad fundamental cognitive skills.

2)    Because of increased worldwide emphasis on human capital formation, education also has a significant indirect effect through its influence on material resources.

3)    The political, economic, and epidemiological environments of a population at a particular time can shift the balance between education’s direct and indirect effects and even cause them to function in conflicting directions.

Led by Professor David Baker of the Penn State University (PSU) Population Research Institute, a multidisciplinary, multinational team of researchers at PSU and other universities is investigating this hypothesis and how education has influenced populations over the 200-year “worldwide education revolution.” Read more here.

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Explaining the Education Effect and the Demography of Risk: Comparing Unschooled and Schooled on Everyday Reasoning and Decision-making Skills about Health Behavior in Peru

Funded by the National Science Foundation-Human Dynamics-Risk/Decision-making 

School Children in Peru

School Children in Peru

Mothers in Peru

Mothers in Peru

Research Projects

THE CAUSAL EFFECT OF EDUCATION ON POPULATION DYNAMICS

Widespread formal education is shaping population dynamics globally. From new trends in mortality and health disparities in the United States to demographic and epidemiological population transitions in less developed nations, access to schooling is proving to be one of demography’s most potent causal factors.

graph

Research has repeatedly found education to be associated with changes in health, mortality, and fertility patterns, prompting a question central to demography: does education cause these changes and, if so, how?  Led by Professor David Baker of the Penn State University (PSU) Population Research Institute, a multidisciplinary, multinational team of researchers at PSU and other universities is investigating this effect and how education has influenced populations over the 200-year “worldwide education revolution.”  Read more here.

TRANSFORMATION OF THE RESEARCH UNIVERSITY AND KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION PROJECT

Science Productivity, Higher Education Development and the Knowledge Society

Scientists working in many nations are contributing to the world’s store of scientific, technological, and engineering knowledge. Still, there are significant cross-national differences in the relative amount of contribution.

“Only a few nations are producing the overwhelming majority of new science, but many others are now entering the game of big science research with innovative strategies to jump-start their contribution,” noted David P. Baker, Penn State professor of education and sociology.

Baker is the primary investigator of a $610,000, two-year study, “Science Productivity, Higher Education Development and the Knowledge Society.” The historical and futuristic study, funded by the Qatar National Research Foundation, will examine how the development of higher education has influenced the capacity for scientific knowledge production.

The cross-national collaboration reaches across six nations. Baker and his Penn State colleagues will be working with social scientists at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Halle University in Germany, Hiroshima University in Japan, and Beijing Normal University in China.

Other Penn State investigators are Liang Zhang and Roger Geiger, College of Education faculty members; Andy Fu, a College of Education graduate student; and Shannon Fleishman, a graduate student in the College of Liberal Arts.

Read more about the study here.

Past, Present, Future: Institutional Models of the Research University in Germany, the United States and China and the Future of Scientific Research

In this research project, we are using cross-national analyses of university enrollment, societal support, and scientific knowledge production data, plus historical accounts, over the 20th century to test a three-part hypothesis: 1) initially Germany developed a successful institutional model for the research university that ultimately failed over the 20th century because of its elitist ideology of limited education; 2) mostly unintentionally, the U.S. merged parts of the Germany model with an ideology of mass education that has produced a greatly expanded super-research university model; and, 3) China has borrowed features from both models with contrasting consequences for its future science production.

Over the 18th Century, Germany created a model for the research university that significantly transformed the knowledge production capacity of the traditional western university, based on the ideas of stratifying education access by social classes of the late feudal order. Many nations, including most notably the U.S., borrowed parts of this model in the development of universities. The success of the Germany model dwindled after WW II, and it has experienced a crisis of productivity and legitimating. Over the 20th century the dual forces of mass education and the rise of the ‘super research university’ created a uniquely American model of higher education, one that continues to spread and has already changed the global higher education landscape. For example, China, after learning from the German, Japanese, and Soviet Union in history, has set up a higher education system acting as a hybrid between both German and U.S. models. Due to their different development stages and historical origins, we are comparing Germany, the United States, and China by examining factors such as trends in enrollment, funding, expenditures, publication productivity, and patents from longitudinal institutional data.

EDUCATION AND PREVENTION OF HIV/AIDS IN AFRICA PROJECT

Our diverse team of investigators* is currently examining the promising hypothesis that formal education serves as a preventative measure against HIV/AIDS.  We find that schooling through literacy and numeracy training enhances neurological development and meta-cognition such as executive functioning skills that in turn lead to improved health knowledge, better health decision making, and healthier behaviors.

The evidence from our studies is as follows:

  1. Exposure to schooling, even one to two years, enhances fundamental executive functioning and other cognitive skills that are known to be used in reasoning and abstract thinking (Baker et al., forthcoming; Blair et al., 2005; Eslinger et al., 2009; and Leon, Benavides, & Baker, draft).
  2. School-enhanced cognition leads to better decision making skills (Leon, Benavides, & Baker, draft; and Peters, Baker, Dieckmann, Leon, & Collins, in press).
  3. The schooling-neurological enhancement-health hypothesis holds up to tests with HIV infection and sexual risk-taking and prevention strategies in Africa (Baker, Collins, & Leon, 2009; Baker, Leon, & Collins, in press; and Peters et al., in press).
  4. Focused on memorizing facts, most health interventions for unschooled and under-schooled adults in developing nations are likely ineffective (Baker, Leon, & Collins, in press; Collins et al., under-review).