In the twenty-first century, administrative data collected by the government, schools, hospitals, and other institutions are essential for effectively managing and evaluating public programs. Yet the U. S. lags behind many other countries when it comes to organizing these data and making linkages across different domains, such as education, health, and the labor market. This double issue of RSF, edited by sociologist Andrew Penner (University of California, Irvine) and developmental psychologist Kenneth Dodge (Duke University), illustrates the tremendous potential of administrative data and provides guidance for the researchers and policymakers. Contributors across multiple disciplines demonstrate how linking disparate sources of administrative data can help us better understand the challenges faced by people in need, thereby improving the reach and efficiency of policy solutions.
Several contributors show how databases tracking educational attainment yield new insights into the role of schools in either ameliorating or perpetuating socioeconomic inequalities. Sean Reardon analyzes standardized test scores of roughly 45 million K-12 students nationwide to explore how educational opportunity varies by school districts over time. He finds that while affluent districts typically provide high levels of early childhood learning opportunities, there are some schools in high-poverty districts that do have increased average test scores between third and eighth grade. However, this growth still does not close the large achievement gap between low-and high-socioeconomic-status students. Megan Austin and coauthors, using student-level longitudinal data from Indiana, analyze the effects of school voucher programs on academic achievement and find that students who switch from a public to a private school with a voucher experience significant declines in achievement, particularly in math.
Other articles demonstrate how the analysis of administrative data can further our understanding of racial and gender inequality. Janelle Downing and Tim Bruckner link housing foreclosure records and birth records to show that foreclosures and related stresses during the Great Recession contributed to premature births and lower birth weights, particularly for Hispanic mothers and their children. Roberto Fernandez and Brian Rubineau investigate hiring data to explore how network recruitment, or recruitment through employer referrals, affects the “glass ceiling” in the workplace. They show that network recruitment increases women’s representation strongly at lower job levels, and to a lesser extent at higher levels.
Researchers now have unprecedented access to administrative data. As this issue shows, finding innovative ways to combine multiple data sets can facilitate partnerships between social scientists, administrators, and policymakers and extend our understanding of pressing social issues.