January / February 2001
Welcome to Research Notes, a summary of Princeton
University research, events and experts of interest to the
media and general public. This issue includes news of
Child support: Why has the
proportion of children receiving child support remained
stagnant while the need has increased? A Princeton analysis
suggests that child-support programs are based on obsolete
assumptions and offers policy adjustments.
Body sense: Research on how the
brain senses limbs and other body parts eventually could
improve prosthetic limbs.
Black-white unemployment gap:
When incarceration rates are taken into account, the gap
between white and black joblessness is even greater than
Princeton researchers find that groups make decisions as
quickly as individuals, and those decisions are usually
Older professors: Economists find
that the number of faculty members over the age of 70 will
continue to grow at universities across the country.
Faculty experts identified in this issue can comment on
the Middle East, foreign policy challenges for the new
administration, prescription-drug coverage and
African child soldiers. Two important events open to
the media, including an address by Supreme Court Justice
Antonin Scalia, are noted at the end of this report.
Research Notes is available on the Internet at
For information, contact Marilyn Marks at (609) 258-5748
Child support: Welfare and child-support policy
may be driven by obsolete and incorrect assumptions about
who participates, according to researchers in Princeton's
Center for Research on Child Wellbeing.
More than half of all American children are expected to
live apart from at least one biological parent -- usually
the father -- by the time they are 18, largely because of
non-marital childbearing. But welfare and child support
policies are based on times past, when death and divorce
were the main reasons that children lived without dads.
Economist Anne Case and sociologist Sara McLanahan, along
with I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University, note that
while the need for child support has increased dramatically,
the proportion of eligible children who receive payments has
not changed much since the late 1970s -- despite attempts by
Congress to remedy the problem. Landmark welfare legislation
in 1996 called for additional child-support enforcement
The Princeton report, "Understanding Child Support
Trends: Economic, Demographic, and Political Contributions,"
is the first to examine this lack of progress by evaluating
five explanations, including inflation and the shift to
no-fault divorce, over 30 years. It is available online at
~rpds/ macarthur/Underchildsupp.pdf (or home page,
~rpds/ macarthur/ ).
The researchers found that two child-support policies --
legislative guidelines for awards and universal wage
withholding -- are key to improving support levels, and that
awards should be tied to changes in the inflation rate.
Still, current policies work better for divorced mothers
than for those who have never been married, the researchers
conclude. "Our analyses suggest that further gains in
child-support payments will rest with our ability to collect
child support for children born to unwed parents," they
write. "These children are the fastest-growing group of
children in the U.S. and they are the least likely to
receive child support."
McLanahan may be contacted at (609) 258-4875 or email@example.com.
To reach Case, call (609) 258-2177 or e-mail her at
Body sense: Princeton neuroscientists are beginning
to uncover the brain's surprisingly complex mechanism behind
what would appear to be a very mundane ability: sensing the
location of arms, legs, head and torso. In addition to
answering fundamental questions about how the brain keeps
track of the body, this research could one day help people
with prosthetic limbs to have better mobility and
"It's something that people take for granted, but your
body sense is really one of the most important senses you
have," said Michael Graziano, a research scientist in the
psychology department. "You can lose sight and still recover
your ability to function by relying on other senses. But if
you lose your body sense, you don't know what parts are your
own and what are external objects. You could not even
organize and coordinate a movement. You would be totally
In a paper published in the Dec. 1 issue of Science
magazine, Graziano and colleagues found that the brain
achieves this sense of what psychologists call "body schema"
through a set of calculations that are much more complicated
and finely tuned than was previously imagined. In
particular, they found that certain neurons receive and
reconcile a variety of sensory signals, including visual
data as well as felt feedback from muscles and nerves.
Graziano has now become interested in the possibility
that the brain can adapt its body-sensing neurons to
recognize the identity and position of external objects,
particularly tools. This line of research may one day help
people with prosthetic limbs to successfully incorporate the
devices into their body schema, said Graziano. "If we could
understand the body schema sufficiently, we could perhaps
devise better fake limbs or better training methods to allow
people to adjust quickly to their new limbs."
Graziano may be reached at (609) 258-4890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read the paper in Science, click on www.sciencemag.org/
Black-white unemployment gap: Standard estimates of
the employment gap between black and white high school
dropouts are greatly understated, according to a new paper
by Princeton sociologist Bruce Western and a colleague at
the University of Washington, Becky Pettit.
The two sociologists adjusted standard estimates by
taking incarceration rates into account, and found that the
employment difference among young male dropouts has been
understated by about 45 percent. Joblessness of black, male
dropouts grew steadily between 1982 and 1996 despite periods
of very low unemployment in the labor market, they
Adjusting for imprisonment, Western and Pettit found that
in every year between 1982 and 1996, fewer than half of all
young, black, male high school dropouts held jobs. Indeed,
fewer than one-third of all young, unskilled black men held
jobs in 1996, despite very low unemployment throughout the
economy. For white dropouts, the employment rate was more
than 70 percent.
Low unemployment through the mid-1990s meant greater job
opportunities at the margins for white workers, but not for
blacks, the researchers conclude.
Western and Pettit suggest their analysis only partially
describes how the criminal justice system influences job
inequality, especially because a conviction is believed to
hurt job opportunities long after release.
The article, "Incarceration and Racial Inequality in
Men's Employment," was published in the October issue of
Industrial & Labor Relations Review. It is not
available online, but you may get a copy of the paper by
calling the Princeton University Communications Office at
(609) 258-3601. You may contact Western at 609-258-2445 or
Group decision-making: Two heads really are better
than one, according to Princeton economists who have studied
group decision-making. Professors John Morgan and Alan
Blinder conducted two sets of experiments and found that
groups were just as quick as individuals to reach decisions.
On average, the groups also made better decisions.
In their paper, Blinder and Morgan note that there is
little economic literature on group decision-making, since
economists usually focus on individual choices. But many
decisions in the real world -- including monetary policy --
are made collectively, they point out.
Most of the subjects in the experiments were Princeton
undergraduates. One experiment contained no economic
content, although it was designed to evoke the problems
faced by monetary policy makers. The second experiment
required its subjects to have had at least one course in
macroeconomics. In that experiment, subjects were asked to
steer an electronic model of an economy by manipulating the
"The main implication of the study is to call into
question the conventional wisdom about the 'paralysis of
analysis' that is often thought to afflict group decisions,"
Morgan said. "Our results suggest that even in complex
environments, groups are not paralyzed by indecision...If I
were running a company, I think this would be a good thing
to keep in mind when thinking about how to structure task
forces for handling various key projects."
Two Heads NBER.pdf (or home page, www.princeton.edu/~rjmorgan/)
to read the paper. Morgan may be reached at email@example.com
or (609) 258-4842.
Older professors: A new study on faculty retirement
trends by economists at Princeton and the University of
California at Berkeley suggests that most U.S. colleges and
universities will experience a significant rise in the
percentage of faculty over age 70 in coming years.
Princeton's Orley Ashenfelter and Berkeley's David Card
found that the fraction of faculty expected to remain
employed until age 72 has risen from less than 10 percent to
about 50 percent since 1994, when mandatory retirement of
tenured faculty at age 70 was completely abolished.
The researchers conclude that the increase will be
experienced at all types of institutions and among all
disciplines. Their results contradict two 1991 studies which
suggested that the elimination of mandatory retirement was
unlikely to have a significant impact on retirement at most
Those studies "really didn't have the ability to observe
the change in law as we did," said Ashenfelter. "We observed
what happens to people when they hit that 70 threshold."
Card said the end of mandatory retirement definitely has
had an effect. "You can argue whether the scale is big
enough to worry about," he said. "But you're definitely
going to see some 72-year-old faculty."
The new study, which is available at www.irs.princeton.edu
/ pubs/pdfs/448.pdf, analyzes detailed administrative
records for more than 16,000 older faculty members at 104
colleges and universities across the country. You may reach
Ashenfelter at (609) 258-4040.
Mid-East turmoil: As President Clinton's Middle
East peace-making efforts come to an end, Michael Doran,
assistant professor of Near Eastern studies, can comment on
the region's politics and outlook. This semester, Doran is
teaching about the Arab-Israeli conflict and about American
policies toward the Middle East. He is available at (609)
258-0256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prescription drugs: Uwe Reinhardt, a nationally
known expert on health policy, told the National Health
Policy Conference in December that it will become even
harder to ensure that the elderly and chronically ill have
access to pharmaceuticals. Reinhardt strongly supports a
prescription drug program for the elderly. To reach him,
phone (609) 258-4781 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
The new Northeast Asia: Kent Calder (firstname.lastname@example.org;
609-258-4788), director of Princeton's Program on U.S.
-Japan Relations and former special adviser to two U.S.
ambassadors to Japan, believes that the new U.S. foreign
policy team must rethink regional policies to accommodate
the fallout from the historic rapprochement between North
and South Korea, deepening tensions across the Taiwan
Straits, and missile proliferation across the region. In an
article in the January/February issue of Foreign
Affairs, he sketches out a new policy toward Northeast
Asia. Calder is a professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of
Public and International Affairs.
Globalization: Street demonstrations against the
IMF and WTO in Seattle and Prague are small -- but loud --
illustrations of the rising disaffection with globalization.
Richard Falk (email@example.com;
609-258-4864) professor of politics and international
affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, calls for a global
parliament to respond to give citizens a voice in the global
era. "Political leaders will find it more difficult to win
citizen acquiescence to unaccountable policies that extend
globalization's reach into people's lives," Falk and
co-author Andrew Strauss write in the January/February issue
of Foreign Affairs. "To all those concerned about
social justice and the creation of a humane global order, a
democratic alternative to an ossified, state-centered system
is becoming ever more compelling."
Child soldiers: About 120,000 children under 18
are now taking part in armed conflicts across Africa, some
no more than 7 or 8 years old. Jeffrey Herbst, a Princeton
politics professor, can discuss the tragedy of child
soldiers, as well as other child victims of African unrest.
The problem is likely to grow -- not only because of ongoing
conflicts but because there will be an estimated 10 million
orphans in Africa due to the AIDS virus early this century,
and "these children will be especially vulnerable to being
coerced into fighting," Herbst says. What's needed, he says,
is for the international community to begin the difficult
job of investigating how to enforce existing agreements to
protect children. Herbst may be reached at (609) 258-5633 or
Scalia on Madison: U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Antonin Scalia will be the keynote speaker at a conference
Feb. 22 and 23 on James Madison. Scalia will speak at 8 p.m.
Feb. 23 on "James Madison's Constitutional Interpretation."
The conference celebrates both the 250th anniversary of
Madison's birthday and the centennial of Princeton
University's Graduate School. Madison, the fourth president
of the United States, is believed to be Princeton's first
graduate student in a field other than theology. He stayed
on after his graduation in 1771 to study Hebrew and
The two-day conference will bring Madison scholars from
across the country to Princeton to address such topics as
"Was James Madison Really the Founding Father of the CIA?"
and "James Madison and Constitutionalism." For information,
contact the Princeton University Communications Office at
(609) 258-3601 or visit www.princeton.edu/centennial/.
Back to the U.S.S.R.: Princeton's Center of
International Studies and the Central Intelligence Agency's
Center for the Study of Intelligence will host a conference
March 9-10 to examine newly declassified documents covering
the nearly 40-year span of the Cold War, from 1947-1991.
Participants will address the accuracy of the CIA's analysis
of Soviet political and economic developments, its military,
and its scientific and technical capabilities and
Speakers and panelists include both scholars and members
of the intelligence community. This conference is open to
the media. For information, contact the Princeton University
Communications Office at (609)
Professor Richard Falk has been appointed to the
three-member United Nations team investigating alleged human
rights violations in the Palestinian territories. Falk also
was a member of the Independent Commission on Kosovo and
presented its final report to U.N. Secretary General Kofi
Annan. A professor of politics and international affairs in
the Woodrow Wilson School, Falk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (609) 258-4864.
Princeton inaugurated its Liechtenstein Institute on
Self-Determination in December. The Institute, created with
a $12 million gift from Prince Hans Adam II of
Liechtenstein, will serve as a research center on issues
relating to self-determination and self-government. The
Institute is directed by Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, who may be
reached at (609) 258-5685 or email@example.com.