Lawrence Berger

Interview with Lawrence Berger, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and visitor scholar at INED for the coming year.

(Interview conducted in November 2019)

What research subject(s) are you working on at the Institute for Research on Poverty of University of Wisconsin–Madison?

My research broadly focuses on how family contexts and resources influence family functioning and child wellbeing, and the role of public policies in shaping all of these factors. I am currently engaged in U.S.-based research projects pertaining to family complexity and fluidity, child support policy, household debt, the opioid epidemic, foster care placement, and ‘aging out’ of foster care. I am also collaborating to evaluate two large-scale randomized experiments of pilot programs intended to reduce child maltreatment and associated child protective services involvement, one of which focuses exclusively on connecting disadvantaged families at high risk of maltreatment to existing economic supports, with implications for better understanding the potential causal role of economic resources vis-à-vis child maltreatment.

What research projects will you be working on during your year in France at INED? Are those projects directly related to your research in the United States?

During my year in residence at INED, I am collaborating with Lidia and Panico and Anne Solaz on two studies, both of which use Elfe data. The first employs a quasi-experimental design to examine the impact of creche attendance, compared to a variety of other forms of childcare, including parental care, on children’s literacy, motor skills and behavioral development at age 2, with attention to potential differences in effects for children from more- and less-advantaged families. The second describes complexity and fluidity in family composition and living arrangements from children’s birth through about age 5 and examines associations thereof with children’s development. Both studies are consistent with the types of research I conduct in the United States. For example, while I have not specifically focused on childcare policy in the U.S. context, I have used quasi-experimental methods to examine the influence of a range of other social welfare policies on family functioning and children’s development. I have also engaged in a series of studies examining family complexity and fluidity and their associations with child development in the U.S. context. Notably, while there is are large research literatures from the U.S. and other Anglo/English-speaking countries on both of these topics, there has been very little research on either topic in the French context. The Elfe cohort is crucial to enabling such work.

What is your perception of the French research system? How do the French and American research systems differ?

I have visited Ined intermittently for the past 8 years and have been thrilled with the intellectual environment, rigor of research, and collegiality I have experienced. My research has benefitted considerably both from my explicit collaborations with Ined researchers and from the advice and feedback I have received on my own work from my Ined colleagues; I hope I have reciprocated accordingly and have helped contribute to Ined’s inclusive, lively, and intellectually engaging atmosphere. I have also had the pleasure of hosting Ined researchers at my home institution, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and very much look forward to expanded interactions between our two institutions in the coming years, as we have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to encourage collaborations and bidirectional in-residence visits by graduate students, postdocs, researchers, and faculty. More broadly, I have been quite impressed with the French research system, and particularly with the range and quality of studies carried out by non-university-based research institutions, such as Ined, and with the level of government support for such institutes, which is crucial for conducting rigorous research to inform public policy. The most notable difference to me between the French and American systems is the wide range of topics and studies addressed by such institutes in France. In my perception, similar institutes in the U.S. tend to focus on more narrow sets of research questions, often at the direction of a particular governmental administration, with larger scale and broader questions being more likely to be addressed in university settings.