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Luca Maria Pesando

McGill University

Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology and Centre on Population Dynamics (CPD)

PhD, Demography and Sociology,
University of Pennsylvania, 2018
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Research Focus

Luca Maria Pesando is a demographer and sociologist whose research explores the interplays between family formation, human capital accumulation, and dynamics of poverty/inequality within and across generations. His agenda is interdisciplinary in nature, combining macro- and micro-level perspectives, and drawing on disciplines as diverse as demography, sociology, economics, education, and public policy. At the macro-level, his work explores the relationship between changes in family forms and structures (e.g., family instability, polygyny, early marriage, etc.) and children’s health and educational outcomes. At the micro-level, he has explored the effectiveness of educational interventions on school attendance, progression, and learning in multiple contexts.

My plans for the fellowship period

As a Jacobs Research Fellow, I aim to shed light on dynamics of youth development and educational inequalities adopting a multi-stage, multi-perspective, and multi-country approach leveraging my theoretical skills as demographer and sociologist, empirical skills as applied social scientist versatile in a variety of methods (including big data and machine learning), and expertise as policymaker in the educational arena. I envision working primarily on three projects, each of which will approach the study of educational inequalities from a different angle, moving progressively from macro- to micro-level analyses. First, I will expand the study of the intergenerational implications of parental educational similarity (”assortative mating”) for child health/wellbeing from birth to adolescence across 30+ low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Second, I will explore whether schools can serve as the great equalizers in LMICs obtaining “seasonal estimates” and comparing socioeconomic gaps in skills when school is in effect with gaps when school is not in effect (e.g., summer) – and simulate how these have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Third, I will explore whether digital technologies may contribute to reducing learning losses and narrowing socioeconomic inequalities across students and reflect on potential interventions (RCTs). In parallel, I am looking forward to kickstarting new projects with other Fellows.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

During my fellowship, I intend to produce interdisciplinary and policy-relevant work that may ultimately positively impact children’s lives, either directly or indirectly. For instance, producing population-level estimates of how different family structures affect children’s health and educational outcomes across a large number of LMICs will entail cleaning and pooling multiple large-scale datasets that I will make available for public use, alongside the estimated associations. This wealth of data will in turn be instrumental to (i) identify contexts where data/measurement issues prevent reliable analyses, and (ii) reflect on policies that may help compensate for family disadvantages. In my perspective, this is an indirect channel, yet an important and often overlooked one. The implications of my second and third projects will instead be more direct and will shed additional light on family- and school-level policies to compensate for summer learning losses and extended (and often sudden) school breaks, more broadly. Also, my work leveraging recent advances in big data, digital technology, and behavioral science will help identify cost-effective and potentially scalable interventions aimed at narrowing inequalities across students from different socio-economic strata. I will also foster exciting new collaborations with other Fellows, alongside public dialogue with people in science, technology, and policy.

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