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Center broadens scope of demography

December 12, 2008

Arizona State University is constantly moving past traditional boundaries and redefining research perspectives. The Center for Population Dynamics is doing just that by changing the way we think about demography and creating an inclusive and multi-discipline approach to its research.

The center, based in the School of Social and Family Dynamics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, offers research assistance for all ASU faculty members. Its affiliates come from the school, as well as from other academic units across the university, including geographical sciences, history and anthropology.

Center affiliates share interests in social demography, which goes beyond measuring population size, composition, and distribution, and studies societal factors that shape population characteristics. It also explores the influence that these characteristics exert on a variety of social phenomena and processes.

“By nature, population research is interdisciplinary,” says Associate Professor Victor Agadjanian, the center’s director. “Population issues can be studied from different perspectives: sociology, economics, geography, anthropology and history to name a few.”

In recent decades, the field of demography has become broader to include studying such matters as household structure, marriage and family processes, and health disparities from a demographic perspective, says Agadjanian.

The center was established in 2005 by a group of faculty members in recognition of the importance of population issues globally and nationally, as well as on the state level, more specifically the Phoenix metropolitan area. With a rapidly growing community, the Phoenix population is diverse and highly mobile.

“In terms of issues of population growth, urban expansion, environmental challenges and immigration, Phoenix is a great laboratory for social demography,” says Agadjanian.

“The research that we conduct can be of great use to other cities across the country where similar processes are taking place,” he says. “The city has unique attributes but its population dynamics are very informative as far as the future of the country’s demographics.”

The center’s demographic research in the Phoenix metropolitan area also has important implications for understanding social change and formulating public policy.

Immigration policies affect social networks

Changes and shifts in immigration policy and public perceptions of immigration and immigrants are not only affecting individuals but also entire social networks in Phoenix.

Jennifer Glick, associate professor in the School of Social and Family Dynamics and the center’s associate director, leads an interdisciplinary research team of center affiliates who examines the consequences of current immigration policies in the south Phoenix Latino community. Reduced access to resources as a result of policy changes, aggravated by rising anti-immigrant feelings, has had a negative effect on the overall well-being and the fabric of social networks of the community.  

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, aims to evaluate how these social networks are affected by adverse policies and attitudes. Glick and her collaborators seek to determine how households have adjusted their social and economic strategies and resources in response to changes in immigration policy and enforcement, growing xenophobia, and whether these processes have detrimental implications for health and other outcomes in the communities.

The study is part of a larger project by a group of scholars, the South Phoenix Collaborative. The group includes more than 40 scientists across disciplines at ASU who examine health and environmental inequities in the south Phoenix community.

Glick hopes her contribution to the Collaborative’s work will shed light on how people are affected by policy shifts and help “develop immigration-related policy and practice with fewer negative unintended consequences.”

“The project makes it possible to clarify the potential changes in immigration enforcement or employer sanction laws to impact individuals who may or may not be directly targeted by these policies,” she says. “I hope to apply the findings to examine the potential impact of future large-scale shifts in immigration policy.”

Southwest migration is focus of study

To better examine the dynamics and consequences of immigration in metropolitan Phoenix, the center has broadened the scope of this research beyond the U.S. border and has developed new international partnerships.

A new study funded by the School of Social and Family Dynamics will explore the large scale immigration to the Phoenix metropolitan area from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. The study, led by Associate Professor Scott Yabiku, hopes to demonstrate the interconnections of immigration, the environment and health.

“We want to look at both ends of the migration process to better evaluate its environmental causes and health consequences, which is why we are partnering with the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa in Mexico,” says Yabiku.

According to Yabiku, while there are many aspects of the environment that affect health, this study will focus on air quality and access to recreational areas.

“These factors are likely to be most strongly tied to health outcomes like decreased lung function, obesity and diabetes,” says Yabiku.

In addition to environmental effects on immigrants’ health, the study also explores immigrants’ labor force participation, socioeconomic outcomes, and ties to Mexico.
HIV and AIDS: Childbearing in sub-Saharan Africa

The center’s international reach is also exemplified by its affiliates’ research on social and demographic consequences of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Two studies funded by the National Institutes of Health look at how HIV and AIDS affects childbearing.

Jenny Trinitapoli, assistant professor in the School of Social and Family Dynamics, leads a study in rural Malawi, a sub-Saharan country. Malawi has one of the highest levels of HIV and AIDS prevalence in the world. The study investigates how young adults transitioning to parenthood, amid a generalized epidemic, simultaneously navigate the dual goal of avoiding HIV and AIDS and assuring healthy childbearing

This five-year study will follow a cohort of young women and their partners for three years to examine how knowledge of their own and partner’s HIV status affects decisions to marry and to have a child. Trinitapoli and her team will also look at how traditional cultural authorities influence young people’s reproductive preferences and choices.

Agadjanian leads another study in Africa in rural Mozambique, another country with high HIV prevalence. His study focuses on how knowledge of HIV status or perception of HIV risks, shape reproductive choices and behavior of married women, especially those whose husbands are labor migrants and spend a long time away from their families. Agadjanian and his team of researchers will follow a cohort of earlier interviewed married women over a period of several years.  

The Malawi and Mozambique projects involve large-scale data collection and collaboration between U.S. based and African scholars. Both are expected to generate new findings and to contribute to the policy efforts aimed at mitigating the impact of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

Poised for rapid growth

The center’s affiliates can provide expertise, assistance and participation in projects related to population issues on both an individual and a collective basis.

“The center was meant from day one to become a magnet for researchers across the campus who would be interested in different aspects of population research. They can come and collaborate, share their ideas, and put together proposals to carry out research projects,” says Agadjanian.

The Center for Population Dynamics is expanding and diversifying its focus to take advantage of ASU strengths in sustainability, geographic information systems, social network analysis, and other cutting-edge areas.

Agadjanian’s expectation is for the center to become a prominent force in the field in three to five years. With continued support from ASU and new grants being awarded, the center is on track to accomplish this goal.

“We are a young center but we are in the process of rapid and ambitious expansion,” he says.