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Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development

Jacobs Foundation and Jacobs Center Symposium “Insights on the manyfold impacts of children’s context on their development”

Date: Friday, November 17, 2023
Venue: Main Building, University of Zurich, Lecture room KOL-G-217 (Rämistrasse 71, 8006 Zurich)

On the occasion of the presentation of the 2023 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize and in honor of the laureate, Janet Currie, the Jacobs Foundation and the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development invite you to the symposium “Insights on the manyfold impacts of children’s context on their development” on November 17, 2023.

Organizers and chair

Moritz Daum, University of Zurich, Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development
Ana Cubillo, Jacobs Foundation

Please note seats are limited. If you would like to attend, please send an email to . Attendance is only possible upon email confirmation.
LIFE-Academy participants DO NOT need to register separately for the symposium.


09:00 Moritz Daum (University of Zurich, Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development)
Welcome and Introduction

09:15 Janet Currie (Princeton University)
2023 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize Laureate
Child Mental Health and Human Capital Formation
Children's education and their mental health are often viewed through distinct lenses, and yet they are intimately related.  This talk will provide an overview of some of the evidence about the importance of child mental health for children's educational attainment and adult outcomes, social programs that can promote child mental health, disparities in access to care, and important areas for future research.

10:00 Michael Shanahan (University of Zurich, Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development)
Social genomics in the study of human development
A large body of research led to the emergence of a relatively new perspective, social genomics, which examines how social experiences influence health via gene expression, as indicated by mRNA abundance levels. I briefly introduce this framework and provide empirical examples from the Social Genomics Laboratory at the University of Zurich’s Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health (Add Health).  The examples illustrate how the social genomics perspective is well-suited to the study of human development in terms of pre-disease pathways and aging, processes that extend over decades of life.

10:20 Simone Kuehn (Max Planck Institute for Human Development)
How the physical environment impacts mental and brain health
Within the scope of this presentation research will be presented that attempts to link features of the living environment to human brain structure and function. Although we know a lot about how lifestyle factors influence human brain plasticity, the impact of the external physical environment has seldom been studied in humans. However, animal studies clearly suggest strong effects of so-called “enriched environments” on brain structure. Within the field of Environmental psychology, it has been demonstrated that brief interactions with natural environments - such as a walk in a forest - can improve cognition as well as mental and physical health. The research that will be presented aims to unravel the brain-related mechanisms of these effects.

10:45 Coffee Break

11:15 Aline Buetikofer (NHH Norway)
Title: Long-Term Consequences of Air Pollution: Does Age or Years of Exposure Matter?
This paper examines the long-term impacts of early childhood pollution exposure by exploiting the sharp decrease in acid rain in Norway after the enactment of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. We combine a difference-in-differences and a movers’ design to analyze the outcomes between cohorts born in municipalities before and after a significant decrease in pollution exposure relative to those same cohorts born in municipalities with little initial exposure. We find that a higher pollution level is associated with lower academic performance and that children are most vulnerable to pollution exposure before the age of 4 years.

11:35 Gabriella Conti (University College London)
Promoting Child Well-Being at Scale: Challenges and Opportunities
High-quality early childhood interventions have been shown to improve child development in a long-lasting fashion in small-scale trials. However, when interventions are delivered at scale, the literature evaluating their effectiveness finds mixed results. This talk will present recent evidence on the challenges and opportunities for promoting child well-being at scale since the prenatal period via home visitation. It will examine how features of home visiting programs linked to the composition and quality of the workforce relate to programme implementation and its impacts on child development and the potential for technology of driving program improvements.

11:55 Valentina Duque (American University)
The Effects of Public Housing on Children: Evidence from a National Experiment in Colombia
We analyze the effect of Colombia’s ambitious “Free Housing” program on children’s educational outcomes. The program was generous, giving free housing to beneficiaries in desirable areas. We evaluate the program by leveraging housing lotteries and linking applicants to their children. We find that public housing increases high school graduation by seven percentage points – a seventeen percent increase relative to the control mean – and boosts exit exam scores and college-going. Exploring mechanisms, lottery winners attend better schools, their families become wealthier, and they live in higher income neighborhoods with less crime.

12:30 Lunch Break

14:00 Integrative Discussion Panel
Moderator: Charles Nelson (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital)
2021 Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize Laureate

15:25 End