2009–10 Pilot Projects

The Social Transmission of Health and Mortality in Old Age Addressing the Endogeneity of Spousal Death in the Widowhood Effect

PI: Felix Elwert, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Abstract: This project investigates the health consequences of spousal loss and examines the dimensions of variation in this transmission. The death of a spouse is strongly associated with increased mortality in the remaining spouse the so-called widowhood effect (CITE1). Research further indicates that one spouse’s illness, short of death, is also associated with increased mortality in the other spouse (CITE2). This study argues that these two findings together raise the possibility that the death of one spouse is endogenous to the surviving spouse’s ill health; whereas previous studies of the widowhood effect have treated the first spouse’s death as an exogenous shock to the second spouse’s mortality, it may be that the first spouse’s death is the outcome, rather than the cause, of the second spouse’s morbidity. This suggests that previous estimates of the widowhood effect may suffer substantial upward bias in that too much of the second spouse’s mortality is attributed to the first spouse’s death rather than to the second spouse’s own ill health. A newly developed statistical technique indicates that the widowhood effect is robust to unobserved dimensions of homogamy and shared exposure bias. We will study the contribution of spousal loss to the race crossover in mortality.

The Dynamics of Eviction in Inner-City Milwaukee

PI: Robert M. Hauser, Vilas Research Professor Emeritus, sociology
Abstract: Eviction is perhaps the most understudied process affecting the lives of the urban poor. It also offers a unique opportunity to gain new perspectives on the reproduction of urban poverty and structural disadvantage. Previous research has suggested that housing dynamics can place significant economic strain on the aged population, especially if their fixed income remains stagnant as the cost of living increases by sizeable margins. Milwaukee Area Renters Study (MARS), 2009-2010 is designed to explore the causes, dynamics, and consequences of eviction and, more broadly, to plumb the intricate workings of poor neighborhoods and the low-cost housing market. MARS interviewers visit approximately 2,000 households selected from low- and high-poverty neighborhoods through a multi-stage stratified probability sampling design. This survey gathers data on tenants’ current housing situation, social networks, neighborhoods, civic engagement, and material hardship. It includes a two-year residential history of all respondents, who are asked about their previous housing conditions, renter behavior, landlords, and household rosters as well as about the location and number of moves they have made and why they moved. The MARS survey not only collects information on the causes and consequences of eviction, but also gathers new data on poverty, inner-city communities, the low-income housing market, and social networks among the poor. This project received a two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 2010. This funding expands the scope of MARS. Data collected from MARS will be examined to address needs in these public policies: 1. to identify the major causes of eviction and to understand the prevalence and consequences of involuntary moves; 2. to document and eradicate housing discrimination in the eviction process; and 3. to understand how housing dynamics are implicated in urban poverty and other social problems.

The Spatial Distribution of Elderly Populations: Trends, Implications, and Cross-National Differences

PIs: James Raymo, Professor, sociology, Katherine Curtis, assistant professor, community & environmental sociology
Abstract: This is a multi-year study of changes in population age structure at the local (municipality) level and relationships between local age structure and individual health outcomes at older ages in Japan and the U.S. The specific aims of the proposed research are: (1) to describe change over time and differences across countries in the geographic concentration of elderly (65+) and oldest-old (80+) populations, (2) to describe relationships between local area age structure and various dimensions of health at older ages, (3) to evaluate the mechanisms linking age structure with individual health status and trajectories. We focus particularly on the ways in which differences in population composition, economic context, social context, and environment may explain observed relationships between local area age structure and health at older ages.