CU Population Center

CU Population Center

The CU Population Center (CUPC), funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development, represents an interdisciplinary community of scholars and professionals engaged in population research and training. Building on the foundation of a distinguished thirty-year-old Population Program within the Institute of Behavioral Science, CUPC affiliates explore demographic processes in the U.S. as well as in a wide variety of international settings. Areas of particular research interest are Environmental Demography, Migration and Population Distribution, and Health and Mortality.

Research Findings


Antman, F., Duncan, B., & Trejo, S. J. (2016). Ethnic Attrition and the Observed Health of Later-Generation Mexican Americans. The American Economic Review, 106(5), 467-471.

CUPC affiliate Francisca Antman and coauthor Stephen Trejo (UT - Austin) contribute to the understanding of Hispanic health by studying the outcomes of several race/ethnic groups, most notably looking at people who do not identify as "Hispanic," but have Mexican ancestry (which they call "ethnic attritors"). Understanding how these folks fare is very important to better assess "assimilation" among the children and grandchildren of immigrants (in this case, from Mexico). Antman and Trejo find that that Mexican American ethnic attritors are generally more likely to display health outcomes closer to those of non-Hispanic whites, which downplays the extent to which Mexican Americans are converging to the health levels of non-Hispanic whites. While prior studies on ethnic attrition (by Trejo and colleagues) suggest that Mexican Americans would experience stronger socioeconomic progress than otherwise when including ethnic attritors, the picture is a little more complicated with regards to health given that Hispanics are not uniformly disadvantaged in many important health indicators. Thus, convergence on health does not always mean progress, a "paradox" of immigrant assimilation.


Cadena, B. C., & Kovak, B. K. (2016). Immigrants equilibrate local labor markets: evidence from the Great Recession. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 8(1), 257-290.

CUPC affiliate Brian Cadena and coauthor Brian Kovak (Carnegie Mellon University) contribute to the hotly contested issue of the economic impacts of immigration (e.g., on the labor market outcomes of US natives) by showing that low-skilled Mexican-born immigrants' location choices respond more strongly to changes in local labor demand than US natives. This higher mobility, in turn, helps equalize spatial differences in employment outcomes for low-skilled native workers by leveraging the substantial geographic variation in labor demand during the Great Recession to better identify migration responses to local shocks. A corollary of these results is that, because Mexican migrants are more mobile in response to local labor demand (or lack thereof), the negative effect of immigration on e.g., wages is weaker than otherwise. More importantly perhaps, Cadena and Kovak find that higher Mexican immigrant mobility in fact helped reduce the impact of the recession on natives: the impact of local shocks on the employment probabilities of US natives during the Great Recession was 50 percent weaker for natives living in metro areas with a substantial Mexican-born population. The results of this study informed the work of a recent National Academies panel on the economic and fiscal impacts of immigration and provide fascinating insights into why immigration may not necessarily negatively impact native labor market outcomes.


Conley, D., Laidley, T., Belsky, D. W., Fletcher, J. M., Boardman, J. D., & Domingue, B. W. (2016). Assortative mating and differential fertility by phenotype and genotype across the 20th century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(24), 6647-6652.

Dalton Conley (Princeton University) and coauthors -including CUPC affiliates Jason Boardman and Ben Domingue (now of Stanford University)- study dynamics in assortative mating -the likelihood that people marry/couple with spouses/partners who are alike them- and fertility according to an individual's polygenic score, i.e., an index of genetic locations in this case associated with anthropometric traits, depression, and educational attainment. Looking at a sample of individuals belonging to the 1920 through 1955 birth cohorts, Conley and colleagues find that increases in assortative mating in educational attainment amply documented in the literature are not matched by similar increases in assortative mating in polygenic scores. Conley and colleagues also show that, despite a widening gap between the more and less educated with respect to fertility, there is no evidence that this trend is associated with genes. These findings are important for understandings of the roots of shifting health and behavior in US society.


Gutmann, M. P., Brown, D., Cunningham, A. R., Dykes, J., Leonard, S. H., Little, J., ... & Sylvester, K. M. (2016). Migration in the 1930s: Beyond the Dust Bowl. Social Science History, 40(4), 707-740.

CUPC affiliates Myron Gutmann, Angela Cunningham, Jani Little, and Seth Spielman -along with Daniel Brown, Jim Dykes (University of Colorado Boulder), Susan Leonard , Jeremy Mikecz, Paul Rhode, and Kenneth Sylvester- analyze the role of environmental and economic shocks in U.S. internal migration in the turbulent 1930s. The widely known migration literature for the 1930s describes an era of relatively low migration, with much of the movement that did occur radiating outward from the Dust Bowl region -mainly traversing SE Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, NW Texas, and SE Colorado- and the cotton South. Gutmann and colleagues' work using the complete United States, and analyzing but going beyond environmental conditions in rural areas, provides a fuller examination of migration than prior work in this socially and economically important Era. Using the 1940 US Census of Population as well as data on temperature and precipitation, and on agricultural production from the agricultural Census, Gutmann and colleagues find that while, indeed, people left places that were very hot or very dry and stayed in places that were cooler and wetter, this was not true everywhere. In the Great Plains, heat and drought reduced production, lowering wages and leading to migration. In contrast, in Georgia, Florida, and along the Mississippi delta, higher production -as opposed to production failures- drove down wages, which also led to out-migration. In revealing both national and regional patterns, this work does not discredit the visceral conventional story of 1930s migration that is beautifully illustrated by Steinbeck or Lange, or described historically by Worster and Gregory; rather, Gutmann and colleagues' analyses ground the drama of what we know about specific cases within a wider context.


Mollborn, S. (2016). Young Children's Developmental Ecologies and Kindergarten Readiness. Demography, 53(6), 1853-1882.

CUPC affiliate Stef Mollborn contributes to understandings of how is it that social and race/ethnic disparities in child development and health are already firmly established by the time young children enter the crucial transition to school, specifically by examining children's environments operationalized in broader ways than the extant literature on e.g., poverty and family structure has thus far used. Building on existing theory, Mollborn uses the concept of developmental ecology-those interrelated features of a child's proximal environment that shape development and health. This concept links structural factors with interactional, psychological, and genetic factors. Mollborn uses the nationally-representative U.S. Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) and latent class analysis that allows for the identification of how 41 factors form (three) main domains-household resources, health risks, and ecological changes. Most notably, Mollborn finds that these developmental ecologies predict each of six kindergarten cognitive, behavioral, and health outcomes, and that these developmental ecologies are strongly predicted by socioeconomic background, race/ethnicity, maternal nativity, and teen parenthood. With these findings, Mollborn argues that, while changing a child's socioeconomic status may not be a feasible policy intervention (in the short-run), intervening in their developmental ecology is feasible. Key resources can be supplemented, health risks can be mitigated, and policies can support stability in children's social environments.


Nawrotzki, R. J., Runfola, D. M., Hunter, L. M., & Riosmena, F. (2016). Domestic and International Climate Migration from Rural Mexico. Human Ecology, 44(6), 687-699.

Raphael Nawrotzki (former graduate student in Sociology at CU and affiliated with CUPC, now of the Minnesota Population Center) -along with CUPC affiliates Dan Runfola (now of the College of William and Mary), Lori Hunter, and Fernando Riosmena- examine the much-debated question of whether climate change has begun and will likely generate displacement (or, more broadly, additional migration) and, more specifically, whether this displacement will be internal or international, with their somewhat different policy implications. Looking at the Mexican case- with its sizable internal and international flows out of rural hinterlands- and using Mexican Migration Project data from communities located in 68 municipalities Nawrotzki and colleagues find that a warming in temperature and lower levels of precipitation declined the odds of (international) migration. Indeed, they find a stronger association between climate and international rather than internal migration move. These results challenge prior work carried out using data from African and Asian countries, which shows that climate-related migration is predominantly short distance and domestic. Using the literature on Mexican migration, Nawrotzki and collagues argue that the stronger climate impact on international migration may be explained by the fact that international migration is likely to be used as a self-insurance mechanisms more often than internal movement; to the presence of strong international migrant networks across a large swath of rural Mexico, indeed facilitating international movement; and by the fact that climate-related changes may create larger wage differences between Mexican and US locales as opposed to between Mexican (e.g., rural and urban) locales.


Pampel, F. C. (2016). Cohort Changes in the Social Distribution of Tolerant Sexual Attitudes. Social Forces, 95(2), 753-777.

CUPC affiliate Fred Pampel contributes to the understanding the massive shift in societal attitudes towards nontraditional sexual behaviors and sexualities -most notably perhaps, towards homosexuality as well as pre-marital sex- taking place in much of the world -and certainly within the United States- over the last few decades. More specifically, Pampel contributes to this literature by examining how the social distribution of tolerant attitudes has changed across cohorts -which more fully exploits the potential for change to occur across groups born and socialized in different historical periods. Pampel tests a diffusion-of-innovations approach that, if true, would predict nonlinear change in said social distribution, with high SES groups adopting these attitudes first, followed by other, lower SES groups. Using the General Social Survey from 1973 to 2014 to compare the SES determinants of attitudes toward premarital sex, same-gender sex (along with extramarital sex and teenage sex, which have not quite become more socially accepted across periods) across cohorts born between 1900 and 1985, Pampel finds that multilevel age, period, and cohort models support diffusion arguments concerning tolerance of adult sexual autonomy in the form of premarital sex, with only preliminary but suggestive support concerning the social diffusion of tolerance of same-gender sex, i.e., of declining heterosexual hegemony. (In contrast, Pampel finds little support for diffusion arguments concerning tolerance of extramarital sex and teenage sex). Pampel's findings move beyond the description of average relationships between social characteristics and attitudes to treat these relationships as part of a dynamic framework that describes how the relationships vary across cohorts or time.


Riosmena, F., Kuhn, R., & Jochem, W. C. (2017). Explaining the immigrant health advantage: self-selection and protection in health-related factors among five major national-origin immigrant groups in the United States. Demography, 54(1), 175-200.

CUPC affiliates Fernando Riosmena, Randall Kuhn (now of UCLA), and Chris Jochem (now of Southampton University) contribute to the understanding of why immigrants in many industrialized societies often exhibit better health relative to native-born populations despite their newcomer status and, in some cases, their low socioeconomic position in the host society. Prior work on the topic has identified that the immigrant health advantage is due to the fact that immigrants are a healthy lot upon immigration (self-selection), or to the notion that the health of the foreign-born may be protected by different mechanisms during the immigrant experience. Riosmena and colleagues contribute to this literature by attempting a clearer isolation of self-selection and protection in smoking -an important risk factor of cardiovascular health and a major contributor to the health and mortality advantage of Hispanics in the United States; by doing sex-specific analyses of five major national origin groups, which they use to understand whether the sources of the immigrant health advantage vary a lot across sex and national origin and to leverage potential explanations for selection or protection mechanisms; and by using better counterfactuals to assess protection in particular. Using data from both the United States and the sending countries, Riosmena and colleagues assess health-related selection in immigration by estimating the smoking status immigrants had prior to migration and, using matching techniques, comparing it to the smoking status of nonmigrant peers (i.e., people of the same sex, age, and socioeconomic status) in sending nations (Riosmena and colleagues also examined similar contrasts using height/stature given its correlation with child and adolescent nutrition and health). With the exception of Dominican migrants, for whom there is no selection in smoking or height, all other groups exhibited some degree of positive selection, especially men. Mexican and Chinese immigrant men in particular were positively selected in both smoking and height, with Indian immigrant men being highly selected in terms of height but not so much in smoking. Riosmena and colleagues argue these selection patterns are likely (partially) explained by the reasons behind the migration of people from each group (e.g., Indians because they disproportionately come using independent, highly-skilled immigrant visas and thus less likely to be "tied" migrants, who may thus have lower selection; Mexicans because a majority of them cross the border without authorization, which can increase selection as enforcement effort goes up; Chinese because their situation includes a nontrivial amount of highly-skilled and undocumented migration experiences). Finally, to assess protection, Riosmena and colleagues compare the post-arrival smoking trajectories of immigrants. Unlike selection, they find that women (especially Mexicans and Dominicans) exhibit lower smoking levels than comparable US natives and than comparable nonmigrants (groups that the authors use to test for "full assimilation" and "no migration" counterfactuals, respectively). This article shows that the immigrant health advantage is driven by different processes for men, women, and people from different national origin groups, and that Mexican immigrants benefit from both positive selection and some protection in smoking (but likely, not in e.g., obesity). As such, selection processes suggest US immigration policy (and border enforcement) have a role in producing the immigrant health advantage. On the other hand, because protection implies a lack of convergence to US native health levels, the existence of protection mechanisms is relevant for policies aimed at promoting immigrant adaptation or assimilation as they can promote or be associated with some negative collateral consequences.


Rogers, R. G., Lawrence, E. M., & Montez, J. K. (2016). Alcohol's Collateral Damage: Childhood Exposure to Problem Drinkers and Subsequent Adult Mortality Risk. Social Forces, 95(2), 809-836.

CUPC affiliates Rick Rogers and Liz Lawrence (now of UNC - Chapel Hill) -along with coauthor Jennifer Montez (Syracuse University)- contribute to the understanding of mortality and population health in the United States by studying the role of childhood exposure to problem drinking behaviors on adult mortality. As childhood conditions are fundamental to shape later-life experiences and outcomes, and given the importance of alcohol abuse as a disruptor of family and household relations across many settings (in the data used in this study, childhood exposure to problem drinkers is common, with nearly one in five individuals exposed), Rogers and colleagues set out to investigate whether exposure to problem drinking leads to higher mortality. Using data from the 1988-2011 National Health Interview Survey-Linked Mortality Files and Cox proportional hazards models, Rogers and colleagues indeed find a positive and nontrivial association between exposure to problem drinkers in childhood and overall as well as cause-specific mortality risk. In addition, Rogers and coauthors find compelling evidence that the duration, source, and intensity of exposure to problem drinkers in childhood contributes to inequality in adult mortality risk, mainly as exposure to these behaviors in childhood may have had a role in modeling unhealthy drinking and smoking behavior in adulthood. Interestingly, Rogers and colleagues find that favorable socioeconomic status in adulthood does not ameliorate the consequences of childhood exposure to problem drinkers. These findings should thus inform policies to improve childhood circumstances, reduce detrimental effects of problem drinking (and, likely, drug abuse), and thus increase life expectancy.

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