My research investigates the social and demographic consequences of deindustrialization. Over the past half century, the U.S. labor market has experienced an industrial restructuring that has fundamentally reshaped the occupational profile of the American middle class. How have these changes in economic opportunity impacted population processes?

My research centers around four major domains:

1. Socio-Demographic Consequences of Deindustrialization

My work relies on many forms of data, including administrative and vital statistics records, geospatial data, survey data, and simulations. I have also written about data quality issues accompanying online survey recruitment tools.


1. Socio-Demographic Consequences of Deindustrialization

For much of the 20th century, employment in manufacturing industries acted as a ladder that raised poor and working-class families into the middle class through stable, well-paying jobs. As this pillar of economic opportunity has disappeared over recent decades, what are the consequences for work and family life? Despite widespread scholarly and public attention to the ongoing decline of manufacturing sectors in U.S. communities, sociologists have under-theorized and under-studied the sociodemographic implications of this postindustrial transition. In three separate studies, I examine how this economic restructuring of labor markets has altered population processes, reduced upward mobility, and created new fronts of inequality.

Beyond the Great Recession: Labor Market Polarization and Ongoing Fertility Decline in the United States [article] [pre-print]
Nathan Seltzer
Demography, 2019

  • Abstract In the years since the Great Recession, social scientists have anticipated that economic recovery in the United States, characterized by gains in employment and median household income, would augur a reversal of declining fertility trends. However, the expected post-recession rebound in fertility rates has yet to materialize. In this study, I propose an economic explanation for why fertility rates have continued to decline regardless of improvements in conventional economic indicators. I argue that ongoing structural changes in U.S. labor markets have prolonged the financial uncertainty that leads women and couples to delay or forgo childbearing. Combining statistical and survey data with restricted-use vital registration records, I examine how cyclical and structural changes in metropolitan-area labor markets were associated with changes in total fertility rates (TFRs) across racial/ethnic groups from the early 1990s to the present day, with a particular focus on the 2006–2014 period. The findings suggest that changes in industry composition—specifically, the loss of manufacturing and other goods-producing businesses—have a larger effect on TFRs than changes in the unemployment rate for all racial/ethnic groups. Because structural changes in labor markets are more likely to be sustained over time—in contrast to unemployment rates, which fluctuate with economic cycles—further reductions in unemployment are unlikely to reverse declining fertility trends.

Unequally Insecure: Rising Black/White Disparities in Job Displacement, 1981-2017 [working paper]
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field and Nathan Seltzer

  • Abstract Social scientists have increasingly called for attention to economic insecurity—the chances of losing what one has—alongside material deprivation. An important source of insecurity is job displacement (permanent layoffs). Surprisingly little is known about the racial patterning of job displacement in the United States, despite sustained attention to racial disparities in other economic outcomes. Here, we provide the first documentation of black/white inequality in displacements occurring from 1979 to 2017. We show that, for both men and women, blacks are nearly always more likely to be displaced than whites, but that the black/white disparity has generally grown over time. In particular, excess black displacement was notably low during the 1990s but had nearly doubled for women, and nearly tripled for men, by the 2010-2017 period. The rising racial inequality in displacement occurred for workers with and without a college degree, and during the 1990s, being black replaced lack of college as the better predictor of displacement. Finally, the proportion of the total racial disparity in job displacement explained by broad occupational category declined for both men and women during the 1980s and 1990s, while the proportion explained by racial disparities within occupation grew in the 2000s and has remained high. As a result, for both men and women, most displacement disparity has been associated with disparities within broad occupational groupings since around 2000. More generally, disparities are located within, not between, major economic categories.

Manufacturing Decline and Intergenerational Income Mobility | In Preparation
Nathan Seltzer

  • Abstract This study examines how deindustrialization in U.S. communities over the final two decades of the 20th century has reshaped the upward mobility prospects for cohorts born between 1980-1988. This study develops a conceptual framework for interpreting spatial and temporal variation in intergenerational income mobility across U.S. communities by proposing that (a) the industrial composition of labor markets, (b) community-specific histories of industrial restructuring, and (c) the distinct experiences of cohorts within communities help explain geographic variation in mobility outcomes. The findings demonstrate how long-term, but ongoing, structural changes in social structures disrupt and redistribute opportunities within societies.

2. Economic Opportunity and Population Health

My work relies on many forms of data, including administrative and vital statistics records, geospatial data, survey data, and simulations. I have also written about data quality issues accompanying online survey recruitment tools.


2. Economic Opportunity and Population Health

How do contexts of economic opportunity shape inequalities in population health outcomes? This research domain investigates how changing labor market opportunities across geographic areas influence health outcomes, including opioid-related emergency room visits and deaths, social security disability claims, and middle-age life expectancy. In one study, I use quasi-experimental research methods to evaluate the extent to which state-level differences in socio-political policy regimes predict the rise of opioid-related morbidity and mortality. In another study, with several coauthors, we develop a new empirical tool, based on repurposed measures of intergenerational income mobility, for assessing racial health disparities across geographic areas.

The Association Between U.S. Manufacturing Decline and All-Cause and Drug Overdose Mortality, 1999-2017 | Under Review
Nathan Seltzer

Structural Racism as a Fundamental Cause of Racial Health Disparities: Evidence from U.S. Localities [working paper]
Rourke O’Brien, Tiffany Neman, Nathan Seltzer, and Atheendar Venkataramani

  • Abstract Racial disparities in health cannot be fully explained by differences in socioeconomic status (SES). This motivates consideration of racism as a fundamental cause of health disparities. In this research note we introduce the ‘racial opportunity gap’ as a holistic, place-based measure of structural racism for use in population health research. We first detail constructing the opportunity gap using race-sex specific estimates of intergenerational economic mobility outcomes for a recent cohort. We then illustrate its utility in examining spatial variation in the racial mortality gap. First we demonstrate a correlation between the racial opportunity gap and the racial mortality gap across U.S. counties; where the gap in the adult earnings of black and white children born to families at the same income level is greater so, too, is the gap in mortality. Second, we show in a multivariate framework that the racial opportunity gap is associated with the racial mortality gap net of differences in the socioeconomic composition of the two groups. In so doing, we aim to provide population health researchers with a new empirical tool and analytic framework for examining the role of structural racism in generating racial health disparities both through and independent of SES.


Intergenerational Mobility and Disability | In Preparation
Nathan Seltzer, Tiffany Neman, and Rourke O’Brien

3. Natural Disasters and Population Dynamics

My work relies on many forms of data, including administrative and vital statistics records, geospatial data, survey data, and simulations. I have also written about data quality issues accompanying online survey recruitment tools.


3. Natural Disasters and Population Dynamics

This domain examines the multigenerational implications of natural disasters. How do disasters reshape the composition of populations? Additionally, how do we even measure population change when disasters abruptly and chaotically displace people? In a study published in Population & Environment with Jenna Nobles, we document how Hurricane Katrina changed fertility patterns across racial/ethnic groups in New Orleans, net of hurricane-driven displacement. In a study which is being prepared for journal submission, we develop and test a method for identifying migration patterns of displaced persons from disasters. We first use computational methods to demonstrate how the method works, and then apply the method to contexts including Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Post-Disaster Fertility: Hurricane Katrina and the Changing Racial Composition of New Orleans [article] [pubmed]
Nathan Seltzer and Jenna Nobles
Population and Environment, 2017
Press: [Washington Post]

  • Abstract Large-scale climate events can have enduring effects on population size and composition. Natural disasters affect population fertility through multiple mechanisms, including displacement, demand for children, and reproductive care access. Fertility effects, in turn, influence the size and composition of new birth cohorts, extending the reach of climate events across generations. We study these processes in New Orleans during the decade spanning Hurricane Katrina. We combine census data, ACS data, and vital statistics data to describe fertility in New Orleans and seven comparison cities. Following Katrina, displacement contributed to a 30% decline in birth cohort size. Black fertility fell, and remained 4% below expected values through 2010. By contrast, white fertility increased by 5%. The largest share of births now occurs to white women. These fertility differences—beyond migration-driven population change—generate additional pressure on the renewal of New Orleans as a city in which the black population is substantially smaller in the disaster’s wake.

Finding and Characterizing the Displaced: A Method Using Administrative Data [working paper]
Jenna Nobles and Nathan Seltzer

  • Abstract In the aftermath of environmental disaster, documenting the welfare of affected populations serves goals in both policy and science arenas. Population displacement makes this task difficult, and sometimes impossible. We propose a method to document the welfare of the displaced that is inexpensive, quick-to-implement, and available whenever administrative data systems are minimally disrupted in areas neighboring sites of disaster or conflict. We use a series of Monte Carlo simulations to demonstrate when the method can be used. These simulations incorporate several varying dimensions, including disaster effect size, heterogeneity, and spillover; patterns of displacement; and features of the data available to the researcher. To further demonstrate the value of the approach, we apply the method to provide estimates of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on birth outcomes among displaced Gulf Coast residents.

4. Early Childhood and Adolescent Outcomes

My work relies on many forms of data, including administrative and vital statistics records, geospatial data, survey data, and simulations. I have also written about data quality issues accompanying online survey recruitment tools.


4. Early Childhood and Adolescent Outcomes

I worked for several years in a psychosocial research lab at New York University School of Medicine before starting work on my M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. These are public health oriented research studies that I worked on during this period.

  • Insomnia in Adults: The Impact of Earlier Cigarette Smoking from Adolescence to Adulthood [article]
    Judith Brook, Chenshu Zhang, Nathan Seltzer, and David Brook
    Journal of Addiction Medicine, 2015

  • Adolescent ADHD and Adult Physical and Mental Health, Work Performance, and Financial Stress [article]
    Judith Brook, David Brook, Chenshu Zhang, Nathan Seltzer, and Stephen Finch
    Pediatrics, 2013

  • Adult Work Commitment, Financial Stability, and Social Environment as Related to Marijuana Trajectories Beginning in Adolescence [article]
    Judith Brook, Jung Yeon Lee, Stephen J. Finch, David W. Brook, and Nathan Seltzer
    Substance Abuse, 2013

  • Longitudinal Determinants of Substance Use Behaviors [article]
    Judith Brook, Jung Yeon Lee, Elizabeth Rubenstone, Stephen J. Finch, Nathan Seltzer, and David Brook
    Journal of Urban Health, 2013

  • Personality Characteristics in the Mid-Forties Predict Women’s Smoking Cessation in their Mid-Sixties [article]
    Judith Brook, Chenshu Zhang, Elinor Balka, Nathan Seltzer, and David W. Brook
    Psychological Reports, 2013

 

Nathan Seltzer, nseltzer@wisc.edu, 2019