Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child Development and Education, Teachers College and College of Physicians and Surgeons
Co-director, National Center for Children and Families
Co-director, Columbia University Institute for Child and Family Policy
Past Research: Professor Brooks-Gunn is a nationally-renowned scholar and expert whose research centers on family and community influences on the development of children and youth. She is interested in factors that contribute to both positive and negative outcomes (and changes in well-being) across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, with a particular focus on key social and biological transitions (in schooling, family structure and dynamics, parenthood, and puberty, sexual onset, and pregnancy) over the life course. Brooks-Gunn has also designed and evaluated interventions aimed at enhancing the well-being of children living in poverty and associated conditions. She has published over 500 articles and chapters, written 4 books, edited 13 volumes, and been the recipient of numerous major awards and honors. Brooks-Gunn’s research has significantly shaped our understanding of child development and the influence of parents, schools and contextual factors. For example, her research has demonstrated the deleterious consequences of economic deprivation (especially deep and persistent poverty) during early childhood for later child and adolescent outcomes, including health, behavior, cognitive ability and schooling. Another body of work has assessed how maternal employment affects child well-being; Brooks-Gunn and her co-authors have found that mothers’ working full-time in the first year after a baby’s birth is linked to lower cognitive and behavioral scores in middle childhood, especially for Whites (although these effects are offset by increases in income from working in families with lower household incomes and are also mediated by maternal responsivity in parenting and child care experiences). A third example of Brooks-Gunn’s contribution is her research on successful pathways through adolescence and various complicating factors, such as early childbearing; Brooks-Gunn and colleagues have highlighted the overlapping domains of adolescent development and the multiple contexts in which it occurs, drawing implications for the design of effective interventions to support youth in diverse circumstances.
Present/Future Research: As Co-Director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Brooks-Gunn is currently involved with several large research and intervention projects. These include the Early Head Start Follow-Up Study, which is evaluating outcomes at age 10 for children who had participated in Early Head Start as infants or toddlers; researchers are assessing the children, interviewing their mothers, and sending questionnaires to their teachers. She is also conducting a long-term follow-up of the Infant Health and Development Program, an eight-site randomized trial assessing the efficacy of early childhood education and home visiting on the outcomes of low birth-weight children (followed through age 18). She is also conducting a series of studies and evaluations of After School Matters (looking at the effects of extracurricular activities, community activities, and extended day programs on well-being in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood). She is one of the PIs for the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, a study of 7,000 children in 80 neighborhoods over an eight-year period. Current analyses are focusing on ethnic, gender, immigrant, and neighborhood influences on the timing of puberty, sexual onset, and pregnancy, and on changes in anxious, depressive, and aggressive behaviors from ages 3 to 20 (looking at the subjective weathering hypothesis). Brooks-Gunn is also spearheading the Child Care, Schooling and Parental Employment in Fragile Families project, which is adding a child care module to the Fragile Families Study, including child assessments and interviews with providers and parents. She is also responsible for the component of Fragile Families focusing on the schooling experiences of children (school and teacher characteristics, and child school behavior including achievement, attention, and behavior problems). Brooks-Gunn has numerous papers in progress with various collaborators; topics include variation in child care type and quality, predictors of child emotional self-regulation, race/ethnic differences in childhood overweight and obesity, Head Start experiences and child outcomes, maternal employment and child development, father involvement and child behavior, family structure and parenting behaviors, early feeding practices as a function of family structure, immigration status, education, and employment status (as well as the consequences for infant health), and trajectories of couple relationship quality and parenting.
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