University of Minnesota

Minnesota Population Center announces annual IPUMS Research Awards

July 14, 2014

The Minnesota Population Center (MPC) is excited to announce the winners of its annual IPUMS Research Awards. The awards honor the best of 2013’s published research and self-nominated graduate student papers that used MPC data to advance or deepen our understanding of social and demographic processes.

The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), developed by and housed at the MPC, is the world's largest individual-level population database, making freely available harmonized data on people in the U.S. and around the world. IPUMS-USA provides data from the U.S. decennial censuses, the American Community Survey, and the Current Population Survey (CPS) from 1850 to the present. IPUMS-International (IPUMS-I) harmonizes data contributed by more than 100 national statistical office partners; it currently includes information on 480 million people in 211 censuses from around the world, from 1960 forward. The Integrated Health Interview Series (IHIS) makes available the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, from the 1960s to the present.

Over 1,200 publications based on MPC data appeared in journals, magazines, and newspapers worldwide last year. From these publications and from self-nominated graduate student papers, the award committees selected the 2013 honorees.

IPUMS-USA Research Awards
The IPUMS-USA committee awarded this year’s published paper prize to Aliya Saperstein and Aaron Gullickson for their article “A Mulatto Escape Hatch in the United States? Examining Evidence of Racial and Social Mobility during the Jim Crow Era” (Demography 50 (2013): 1921-1942). In “A Mulatto Escape Hatch?” Saperstein, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford, and Gullickson, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon, used longitudinal data from the IPUMS Linked Representative Samples to test the rigidity of racial categories, especially black versus white, for the years 1870-1920. The authors found that racial boundaries between black, “mulatto,” and white were quite fluid during the early Jim Crow Era. In addition, they concluded that increasing social status was a key vehicle for increasing racial status—that money “whitens.” This analysis challenges a commonly accepted critique that racial measures in the Census are unreliable; the author assert that the lack of consistency (or fluidity) is precisely what makes these measures worthy of study by demographers.  

For best graduate student paper, the IPUMS-USA committee selected Taylor Jaworski’s article, “’You’re in the Army Now’: The Impact of World War II on Women’s Education, Work, and Family” (Journal of Economic History 74 (2014): 169-195). Jaworski, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at the University of Arizona, used IPUMS-USA data from 1940-1970 to demonstrate that World War II not only disrupted the education of a generation of high school-aged women, but that the disruption had a long term effect on education, work and family formation. While the women who left school in the early 1940s to join the workforce during the war lagged behind their younger and older peers in education through 1960, by 1970, Jaworski found, they had caught up with their peers in education, meaning they returned to school to complete their education after marriage.

The selection committee was especially impressed by the longitudinal use of the IPUMS data and felt that both of these papers made excellent use of historical data to give new perspectives on two important eras in American history.

IPUMS-International Research Awards
The IPUMS-I committee awarded this year’s published paper prize to Paola Giuliano, Assistant Professor of Economics at UCLA, Alberto Alesina, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, and Nathan Nunn, Professor of Economics at Harvard, for their article “On the Origin of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough” (The Quarterly Journal of Economics 128 (2013): 469-513). The authors used a wide variety of data, including IPUMS-I data, from around the world in an innovative test of the hypothesis that cross-cultural beliefs regarding the appropriate role of women in society had their genesis in the pre-industrial period: societies traditionally using the plough for ground preparation tended to privilege males, while those using the less capital-intensive hoe and digging stick tended to favor neither gender over the other. Their findings support the plough-based explanation of gender roles, and the results hold across countries, within countries and districts, and across ethnicities within districts.  Additional analysis on the children of immigrants living in Europe and the U.S., where agricultural activity plays a smaller role in individual food consumption, showed that these gender roles hold for the next generation even when living outside of plough-based agricultural systems.

For the best graduate student paper using IPUMS-I data, the prize committee selected Natalie Bau’s “Cultural Norms, Strategic Behavior, and Human Capital Investment” (Harvard Working Paper, 2013). Bau, a Ph.D. candidate in public policy at Harvard, employed IPUMS-I data for children in Ghana, Indonesia, Mexico and Rwanda to provide the first direct empirical evidence that parents strategically invest in their children's education to ensure their own care and support in later years. Bau argues that cultural norms incentivize selective parental investment in specific children and increase the probability that the chosen child will receive an education, often at the expensive of her siblings. Bau’s findings have implications for public policy. One of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals is to "ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling." The findings in this paper suggest that to meet this goal, public resources need to be targeted at the children in a household not already chosen for investment by their parents.

The IPUMS-I selection committee felt that both papers demonstrated how cross-country comparisons among several nations can reveal deep underlying social norms with major implications for current social disparities and public policy goals.

IHIS Research Awards
The IHIS committee co-awarded this year’s published paper prize to Jennifer Karas Montez and Anna Zajacova for “Explaining the Widening Education Gap in Mortality among U.S. White Women” (Journal of Health and Social Behavior 54 (2013): 165-181) and to Justin T. Denney, Bridget K. Gorman and Cristina B. Barrera for “Families, Resources, and Adult Health: Where Do Sexual Minorities Fit?” (Journal of Health and Social Behavior 54 (2013): 46-63).

Montez, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University, and Zajacova, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wyoming, investigated the puzzling increase in disparities in all-cause mortality among white U.S. women. Their study found that growing gaps in economic circumstances and health behaviors by educational status contribute significantly to the observed trend in mortality inequality. Denney, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rice University; Gorman, Professor of Sociology at Rice University, and Barrera, a Rice University undergraduate, examined how the health of same-sex cohabitators fares relative to different-sex cohabitators and different-sex married couples. They found same- and different-sex cohabitators exhibit similar odds of poor health relative to married couples when controlling for socioeconomic differences.

For the best graduate student paper, the committee selected Christopher Holmes and Anna Zajacova’s paper “Education as ‘the Great Equalizer’: Health Benefits for Black and White Adults.” Holmes, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Zajacova use IHIS data to answer the question of whether racial inequalities in health are ameliorated by educational attainment. While they did find, as expected, that overall health for blacks and whites increased with education, their results also revealed that increased education did not serve as an equalizer. Surprisingly, they found that the health gap may widen between whites and minorities at the highest levels of education. They conclude that scientists and policy makers may need to re-evaluate the accepted view of education as “the Great Equalizer” when it comes to health outcomes in the United States.

All of the papers selected by the IHIS award committee highlight important relationships between persistent and emerging social disparities and health, and provide significant contributions to our understandings of how education in particular does or does not moderate observed inequalities.

About the Minnesota Population Center
The Minnesota Population Center (MPC) is a University-wide interdisciplinary cooperative for demographic research. The MPC serves more than 90 faculty members and research scientists from eight colleges and institutes at the University of Minnesota. As one of the world’s leading developers and disseminators of demographic data, the MPC also serves a broader audience of some 50,000 demographic researchers, policymakers, teachers, and students worldwide. All MPC data are available free over the internet. For more information, visit or

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