Jolie is joined by Dr. Monica Longmore and Dr. Wendy Manning, professors of sociology at BGSU, to discuss their National Science Foundation-funded grant to study social distancing compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also discuss how family bonds are being challenged and redefined in this challenging time.

 

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From Bowling Green State University and the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society, this is BG Ideas.

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Jolie:

Welcome back to the Big Ideas podcast, a collaboration between the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society and the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University. I'm Jolie Sheffer, associate professor of English and American Culture Studies and the Director of ICS. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we are not recording in the studio but remotely via phone and computer. As always, the opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of BGSU or its employees. Bowling Green State University is located in The Great Black Swamp, long a meeting place of the Wyandotte, Shawnee, Lenape, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Fox, Pottawatomie, Erie, Miami, Peoria, Chippewa and Seneca Indian tribes. We honor the rich history of this land and its indigenous inhabitants, past and present.

Jolie:

Today I have the pleasure of being joined by two guests, Dr. Wendy Manning and Dr. Monica Longmore. Wendy is a distinguished research professor of sociology who studies the increasing diversity and complexity of contemporary family relationships. She currently serves as Director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research and co-director for the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Monica is also a professor of sociology, she studies how individuals defined themselves along with self-evaluations of various personality components. Thank you for joining me today. Both of you in April, as well as Dr. Peggy Giordano, were awarded a National Science Foundation grant on the subject of the coronavirus pandemic predictors and consequences of compliance with social distancing recommendations. So, we've all been living with social distancing but you're, sort of, really thinking about the impacts of that. So, thank you for joining me today to talk more about this research.

Jolie:

Can you describe the research project and how it's evolved as this pandemic has continued? And generally speaking, how is social distancing connected to your own individual research interests relating to marriage and family relationships and adolescent development? Wendy, will you start us off?

Wendy:

Sure. It's a great pleasure to be here today, so thank you. What we're doing today is really based on a long-term, 20 year project and so, that really has positioned us to best understand what's happening with COVID. And we started this project back in 2001, we did our first year of data collection of teenagers who were living in Lucas County, Ohio and they were all going to public schools and so, it was a population-based sample. And we had about 1,300 adolescents participate in the survey and we have been following them all through their adolescence, all through their 20s and now they're in their early 30s. And so, we had just finished our sixth wave of data collection when the pandemic hit and so, we have these valuable participants who we really know a lot about their lives and we had just finished a data collection, focusing a lot on child well-being and because a lot of our respondents are now parents and we thought, how are our respondents doing in the pandemic?

Wendy:

So, we were considering about how we're doing during the pandemic but we were like, how are our people doing? And so, we decided that it would be really a unique opportunity to ask them, when we just finished interviewing them about child wellbeing and parenting, how are you doing now? And so, that's really how the project stemmed was. We thought we have all of this information for so many years about these respondents and there's a lot of polls and surveys that are going out right now but they're all cross-sectional. And they're just asking you, kind of, one point in time, how are you doing? But we really wanted to know, we knew how they're doing over their whole life course and what they were like prior to the pandemic and how that's influencing what they're doing now. So, that's, sort of, in a nutshell where we got the idea. Maybe Monica, you want to tell us about the actual, how it's going.

Monica:

I think Wendy's correct. I distinctly remember a conference call with Peggy and Wendy and we had just completed our data collection and the first polls were coming out and these posters were saying, "oh, everyone's depressed and there's problem drinking and there's child maltreatment" and Peggy, Wendy and I were saying, "relative to what? What's our baseline?" And we knew that we had those measures, not only did we have them but we had those measures going back many, many years. This is, in a sense, a natural experiment. We've been collecting these data and then this pandemic hits, so that becomes our stimulus, so to speak. What do people look like now? Did their problem drinking really increase? Did child wellbeing decline? Did depressive symptoms go up? Did anxiety go up? And how much so? Or is it the case that individuals who are already experienced in these problems, perhaps the pandemic amplified it?

Wendy:

And also the question of, who does better and who fares better during the pandemic? So, trying also to learn something about maybe targeting programs or targeting efforts to try to help folks out. So, the National Science Foundation had an opportunity, what they call the rapid grants, where they would review them very quickly and that's exactly what we needed was, we needed to get in the field soon, we could not sit around and think about this for a year. Usually we would pre-test, we would have a lot of ideas, we would write a long grant application but we really had to pull something together quickly but we were in a good position because we had just finished asking them a whole compliment of questions. And so, a big feature and something that our colleague, Peggy Giordano, has really been taking the lead on are, we do a fair number of qualitative interviews.

Wendy:

So, we interview people with an online survey but we also target different groups of folks and talk to them. And in their own words, find out what's going on and we've had different themes over time and so, we decided we really wanted to ask some questions about social distancing, about COVID. And so, you were asking about how this project changed. We normally would do those interviews face-to-face, we have a wonderful interviewer in Toledo, Claudia Vercellotti, and she, instead of talking to folks in person, talked to them on the phone, we couldn't be face-to-face. And so, the pandemic did change how we did our interviews and it gave us an opportunity, though, to talk to a wide variety of people. Not everybody was living in the area, we had over 50 of those interviews completed on top of our efforts to do an online survey with close to 1,000 respondents.

Wendy:

So, the online survey continues during the pandemic, so that is something that our respondents are used to. We initially interviewed them in person, the first few waves and then we slowly have been moving to an online format. They know us, they know what the survey is about and it allows them to do the survey in the comfort of their own home, when it's good for them. We're almost out of the field collecting data on them, so we started in June and we'll be hopefully completing at the end of October and about 80% of the respondents have agreed to participate.

Jolie:

That's really impressive. It really speaks to this long-standing relationship that you have. Monica, your research examines how people define themselves in multiple factors, including their identities, beliefs and experiences. How do you see the pandemic and social distancing protocols having complicated or changed or amplified how individuals, particularly adolescents and young adults, craft these self-definitions?

Monica:

Right. So, one of the areas I'm interested in is, what are the psychological resources that people have for coping with problems? Particularly what I'm calling stress-related COVID problems. And so, what I'm suggesting is that, individuals who started out with a higher sense of efficaciousness or sense of control over their lives, would better be able to manage COVID related stresses, things like having to homeschool, having to telecommute, financial problems and that those are the individuals that perhaps would be less likely to experience depressive symptoms, high anxiety and problem drinking because I was trying to think of something that's behavioral and that's of a concern to individuals. So, that's, kind of, the approach that I'm taking up and I'm just recently looking at that, the idea of what I'm calling positive parenting. What are the ways that parents can continue to provide emotional support in a sense of caring to their children? And then, obviously, what's the gendered component of that? Because one of the things many people know is that, when kids are stressed, they call for mom. Kids are angry, they call for mom.

Monica:

And so, it does seem like there's going to be a disproportionate workload for women, particularly in that emotional range, what they have to give and obviously then, something has to give. What is going to give? Perhaps work hours have to give, maybe standards for homemaking have to give, something has to give. And so, as we've said before, we need a base, we have to know what it was prior, we can't just go in now and say, oh, look, women are not working as much as they used to. Well, compared to what? That's the approach that we're always taking. In prior work, Peggy, Wendy and I, have also looked at this notion of uncertainty, whether it's relationship uncertainty. As you probably know, there's high rates of cohabitation. And so, we're interested in whether or not COVID, the pandemic, is making individuals less certain about their relationships. Or perhaps you realize life is short, this is not so bad and then obviously, financial uncertainty, what is the effect of financial uncertainty on psychological wellbeing?

Jolie:

Wendy, much of your research is about cohabitation and its relationship to wellbeing. And we know that due to social distancing, many of them are living in closer quarters that they have ever lived before. Do you have any early implications for short or long-term impacts for couples and families?

Wendy:

I think that's a great question and there's been a lot of speculation about that and we can all draw on our own experiences and thinking about how relationships can be strained during these times but also you might learn that this is really a great relationship for you.

Wendy:

And so, I think, initially a lot of people were thinking, we're going to see high divorce rates because couples aren't going to have any outlets. We don't know the answer to that yet, we don't know if more couples are moving in together. There was a thought that maybe in our effort to create a COVID bubble, you would have COVID cohabitation. And whether those relationships are going to be as stable as other relationships that weren't formed during COVID and so, that all remains to be seen. And so, that's what's going to be really exciting because we'll actually have some evidence about that and we really want to know the answers about that. We've done a lot of research on intimate partner violence and relationship quality and we'll actually be able to understand if there's a change in intimate partner violence or verbal conflict or relationship satisfaction. So, all of these elements of relationships we'll be able to see what was happening before COVID and what was happening after. So, we're interested in that.

Wendy:

Peggy is analyzing, right now, a lot of the qualitative interviews that we've done and she's finding, also that there's couples where there's not agreement about social distancing or about how to manage it and so that can be an extra source of stress. So, it's not just being in the same house together, maybe having financial pressures but also just the pandemic itself and how to manage it, can differ. And she's seeing a decision and I consider there might be more increases in that with the holidays emerging. So, how are couples going to deal with social distancing? And it's one thing if you're social distancing during months where there's not major holidays but eventually, I think, there's going to be additional pressure and strain on couples. So, we're using the surveys, we'll be using the in-depth interviews, so we're really looking forward to moving forward on that.

Jolie:

This team on this grant includes Peggy, who has a background in criminology, Wendy, you as a demographer and Monica with social psychology. Why was it so important for this project and this project in particular, as well as your research, generally, to bring together these different disciplinary perspectives?

Monica:

For all of our projects but this one in particular, I think that we all brought something unique to it. Wendy, of course, understands demographic patterns and I think that I brought to it, sort of, the theory of behavioral motivation and then Peg always has been able to really articulate problem behaviors. And what is life like for individuals who have more disadvantaged backgrounds? Whether it's economic marginality or perhaps a history of substance abuse or a history of intimate partner violence or a history of parental incarceration. And to contextualize it, her point is always, you can't just study family life without looking at how it might differ by these sociological variables. So, I think we've all brought something different into the project.

Jolie:

Monica, your research is so much about child adolescent development. Since most adolescents can't currently have the typical social experiences that define their stage of life, what are some of the questions you're interested in finding answers to about the repercussions or changes to adolescent self-definition?

Monica:

I think this is a tough time to be an adolescent. Part of it is developmental, that the process of individuation, where you're supposed to be separating from your parents and really looking more to your peer group for guidance, at least, in terms of popular culture kinds of things. And that has been completely turned on its head. Now, on the other hand, what young people have now that they haven't had in the past is the social network and Snapchat and FaceTiming and all of these different kinds of ways of connecting. And so, I suspect what we're going to see is that, kids are finding ways to separate from parents in ways that we don't even know because we're just not in the groove, so we have no idea how they are staying connected. But one of the other things I was going to mention but normally when we're thinking about health and wellbeing, usually the larger your social network, the better you are, right?

Monica:

Particularly because the larger the social network, the more likely you'll get the emotional support you need. And you can also give social support because of that norm of reciprocity. But what happens then when you have this large social network and you can't do it anymore. And so, one of the hypothesis that Peggy, Wendy and I have is, this may be one of those instances where individuals with the smallest social networks may actually fare better than an individual with a larger social network. Now, again, this is something, it's a preliminary hypothesis, so we have to still study that.

Jolie:

We're going to take a quick break. Thanks for listening to the Big Ideas podcast.

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Jolie:

Hello and welcome back to the Big Ideas podcast. Today I'm talking to Dr. Wendy Manning and Dr. Monica Longmore about their NSF funded project on compliance amid social distancing protocols. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified many, many of the aspects of systemic, racial and economic inequalities in the United States and around the world. We are seeing that racial and ethnic minority groups are at increased risk of getting sick and of dying from COVID-19. In regard to your study, how diverse is the sample in terms of ethnicity and the variables of disproportionality related to social distances capability?

Wendy:

So, that's a big question that we're interested in, is the idea that the pandemic is not experienced evenly across all groups. And so, there's people who are marginalized in terms of economics, in terms of race and ethnicity, we have folks who are marginalized, all kinds of domains. And so, we'll be able to consider that in our analysis because our sample reflects the population of Toledo. And so, we have a sample and we over-sampled on racial and ethnic minorities in our project. We have...Our sample also includes a fair number of folks of different economic standings and economic wellbeing, so that will be important. We have included questions about who's an essential worker or not, so we'll have some understanding of what their occupation is and whether they've suffered economically due to COVID. We asked very direct questions about that. So, I think we'll be able to answer questions and find out ways that maybe some folks are better able to cope than others.

Wendy:

And so, that's what we're hoping to learn is that, while the pandemic is going to hit some people harder, people might have different kinds of resilience. Maybe if they have different kinds of social networks or different kinds of engagements in their relationships. So, we don't know the answer but it's a good one.

Monica:

I would add to that, that we also know a little bit about their social experiences, in particular. One of the questions we asked is, do you know someone who came down with COVID? And then a second follow-up question is, do you know anyone who passed away from COVID? And so, I think that those are questions that really get at the lived experiences.

Jolie:

What are you hoping your research might reveal about community and cultural factors for compliance with social distancing protocols? How are you hoping that your findings might help public health officials and others to better communicate around particular pandemic protocols but maybe also about qualities for resilience, more generally?

Wendy:

I think that's what makes our project really exciting because we feel like we've done a lot of research over the years but we've never researched something that's so time-sensitive and such a crisis, that's experienced by everybody. So, we're hoping that we will learn, who is resilient, who is able to maybe cope. We assume everybody is stressed, how that differentially impacts some folks versus others. And so, we're trying to reach out to broad audiences. One of the missions of NSF is that you have a public engagement component of your project and so, we are very invested in that. And so, we look forward to speaking to people in our community about what we find but until we know our findings, we don't know what the solutions will be. And so, right now, some of the solutions are, sort of, generic, it's, sort of, a one-size-fits-all and the messaging has changed a lot over time.

Wendy:

I know already that from the qualitative data, that it's complicated, that people have complex rationales for their behavior and they're appropriate for them in their life. But we're really excited about making a difference. We're just not sure exactly how that's going to happen.

Jolie:

I'm wondering if, because of this time, you are also thinking differently about getting some of your findings in the hands of your subjects. Has that been a subject of conversation amongst the three of you co-PIs on this project?

Wendy:

We don't have a specific plan, at this moment, to share the findings with the subjects but we definitely are thinking about new ways of sharing the findings through social media and we have hopes that then, we'll be able to reach out to our respondents. We typically do not correspond directly with our respondents, unless it's about interviewing and about the project but as many of them have participated over the years, I'm sure they've Googled us and they understand what our project is. Sometimes we talk about what some of the findings are, we really want the respondents to know that they are valuable to us because only they can represent their lived experience, nobody else can, we can't replace them with somebody else just like them. So, if I was just doing a big survey, I could just say, oh, here's a 20 year old person who's in college, I can just find another person like that. So, they're very unique and special but we're hoping, not only our respondents but the broader community, as they represent the community, we'll be able to speak out to them.

Monica:

One of the other strategies we've done on this project, more so than any of our other projects, is the involvement of undergraduates in the research process. Through the CFDR, I was able to receive a small grant to hire, I think it was about, five undergraduates, to work on our project, to help with the transcription. We met with them weekly and they were just fabulous. And, in fact, was so successful we're doing it again. We also have several students, undergraduates, who are doing research projects that will be present in their research projects, on campus, at one of our undergraduate conferences. And we're just given thought to, how do we take it to the next step? Is it possible that not only are the students transcribing and critiquing the data and writing about it, is there a role to actually train some of them to be part of the interview process? Is that something we can do as a next step?

Monica:

And so, that's as a research team, that we're trying to do is, bring research to the level of the undergraduate so that they are active participants in it. And with this particular project and because they were all home, it was not hard getting really bright, enthusiastic, students to work with us.

Jolie:

A group of researchers from the University of Maryland, coined the term quarantine fatigue, to talk about the decline of people observing social distancing protocols, as the pandemic has grinded on. Through their research, they estimated around April 15th was when some of that fatigue started to set in. Do you have any advice that you would give to those who are experiencing quarantine fatigue but are trying their very best to comply with social distancing guidelines?

Monica:

Quarantine fatigue is nothing new, I'm thinking back to research that Peggy, Wendy and I did during the HIV epidemic. And it was very similar, kind of, thing, in fact, they sometimes call it zigzag compliance, where you comply with safe sex practices and then it goes down and then you comply and then it goes down and it does get exhausting. And I think the message just has to be the same. You have to wash your hands, you have to social distance, you have to wear a mask. And I think that the constant reminder is the only thing, I don't know what else can work.

Jolie:

How are you two, personally, holding up in this challenging time? What are some of the strategies that each of you has taken to, sort of, deal with the additional stressors of social distancing of, sort of, higher alert around health and wellbeing, things like that? For you Monica, what are some of the strategies you've maybe ramped up or shifted compared to before?

Monica:

No matter what we're doing in terms of our research, I'm always the one who says, let's just remember, everything will take more time, nothing takes the time we think it takes. What used to be 15 minutes is now an hour and a half and we have to give ourselves that break. And I think Peggy, Wendy and I have been fortunate with this long friendship that we connect a lot, we talk a lot. In terms of my own personal life, I live out in the country, I have, maybe, three friends. Once in a while I'll go into Bowling Green but I'm pretty much at home.

Jolie:

What about for you, Wendy? What is this time look like for you and how are you coping, maybe, differently than before?

Wendy:

Well, I think we're working at home, so as faculty, that's different. We are engaging with students in different ways. And, maybe, we're having more intense and even sometimes more emotional conversations with students as they are trying to cope and deal with COVID. So, I think, you feel like you might be making more of a difference for some people who are having a hard time and I think we all, as faculty, feel a responsibility for that but at the same time, we all face our own struggles. And so, trying to think of activities that you can do, to get outside, I went camping, so some things like that. I thought I was past the years of camping but I actually slept on an air mattress on the ground and it was not bad.

Wendy:

So, I think, we're all doing a lot of Zoom calling with family and friends. So, I had a Zoom call on Sunday, with people from all over the world I had went to a international high school, so people were in Japan and Israel and Houston and London. And so, I think sometimes we're reaching out to people in new ways and connecting more, so I think that's helpful. I play online Euchre with my in-laws, once a week, so that I have a card game. It's almost the same as being there, it really feels almost the same. We never did this before the pandemic. So, Monica and I both have dogs, so we spend a lot of time with our dogs.

Monica:

And I also had a huge vegetable garden this year, it's just so classic, just like you see on television. I had a huge garden and every weekend I'm canning something. And when I do go to--

Wendy:

--About bringing me a can. She dropped off at the shops, she goes, I was in town and I left you some salsa, I'm like, great. So, I benefited.

Monica:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jolie:

Thank you so much for joining me today, Wendy and Monica. Listeners, you can keep up with other ICS happenings by following us on Twitter and Instagram at @icsbgsu or on our Facebook page. You can listen to Big Ideas wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Please subscribe and rate us on your preferred platform. Our producers for this podcast are Chris Cavera and Marco Mendoza, with sound editing by Marco Mendoza. Research assistance was provided by Kari Hanlin. Thank you all so much.

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