Current Research

My broad research area is comparative politics and public policy in democratic countries, especially social, health and family policy. Specifically, I examine the conditions under which governments in formal democracies respond to policy issues that disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups. Empirically, most of my research focuses on Latin America, a region where formal democracies co-exist with the world's highest economic inequalities. I have co-authored with political scientists, sociologists, public health specialists and economists. Below are descriptions of my current research projects as well as a summary of prior research. 

The Politics of Social Protections during Times of Crisis: COVID-19 and Latin America 

This is a short book monograph, with Jennifer Pribble and Cecilia Giambruno, published as part of the Cambridge Elements series. The manuscript explains the massive variation in cash transfer assistance that Latin American countries provided to families following the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from broad and adequate responses in Brazil and Chile to no national-level response in Mexico. Examining political decision-making during the first full year of the corona crisis in ten democratic countries across the region, we argue that two variables explain the scope of initial government policy responses: divided government and policy legacies. A third variable -fiscal space- explains changes in policy response during the first year. 

This research project builds on a report that I published in September 2020, with Cecilia Giambruno and Fernando Filgueira, for the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), on social protection responses following COVID-19. Here is the full report: Policy expansion in compressed time: Assessing the speed, breadth and sufficiency of post-COVID social protection measures in ten Latin American countries. You can also find a shorter piece comparing Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, from February 2021 and co-authored with Nora Lustig and Mart Trasberg, here.

In March 2021, Jenny Pribble and I presented our findings and initial theoretical framework at Harvard’s Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. See the recording of the presentation here.  

Understanding Social Policy Preferences: Representative surveys in six Latin American countries (2021-2023)

Non-contributory cash transfers are one of the major social policy innovations of the last quarter century in Latin America. Yet, we have no systematic survey data on people's attitudes toward them.  With funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG), Juliana Martinez Franzoni and I designed a phone survey to assess people's attitudes, and test for a variety of socio-demographic and ideological hypotheses. We also add a dimension related to family composition, to test whether people's family circumstances influence their attitudes. The representative surveys were carried out in six Latin American countries between May and August, 2022. Initial results as country policy briefs will be published in March 2023.   

Policy efforts on Gender-Based Violence (2020-  )

I am collaborating in the Lancet Commission on Gender-Based Violence and Maltreatment of Young People. I am co-authoring a report on measuring policy efforts on domestic and gender-based violence in nine Latin American countries, with PhD researchers Nancy Madera (Universidad Nacional San Martin) and Johanna Pieper (GIGA/University of Hamburg). The report will be an input for the Commission report.

See a GIGA Focus where together with Asma Khalifa, Nancy Madera and Johanna Pieper, we assess government policy efforts on domestic violence in 13 countries in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, during COVID-19.  This assessment received funding from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in 2021. You can find out more here including links to working papers.   

See here our Lancet Global Health Viewpoint on linkages between cash transfers and intimate partner violence programming in Latin America, published on November 25, 2021, on the International Day to End Violence Against Women. 

Pilot Project on Diagnosis and Treatment of Syphilis in the Colombia-Venezuela Border Region (2022-2023)

Rates of syphilis contagion have skyrocketed among vulnerable migrant populations in Colombia, close to the Venezuelan border. Syphilis is highly treatable but when untreated, can lead to devastating consequences, especially among pregnant women and infants. With a local team and with funding from the German development cooperation, through the COL-VAC-SIF project of the Cahritee and administered through the GIGA, we developed and CARE-Colombia implemented a pilot project on diagnosing and treating syphilis among these vulnerable groups. The project report can be found here (in Spanish). The results will inform design of further healthcare outreach to vulnerable populations, especially in setting of humanitarian crisis.   

Fathers and Families in the Western World: Social Changes and Policy Responses (2018-  )

In this research project I am collaborating with Fernando Filgueira. We examine the major changes that families with children have undergone over the past decades, and policy responses. The changes have taken two broad paths: first, into biparental families where both parents work; second, with men delinking from hoeuseholds with children, reflected in the increase in out-of-wedlock births, in single parent households, and in separations. Much of the academic and policy attention has focused on mothers, and less on fathers. Our project seeks to chart and explain the variation -or lack thereof- a) among men’s behavior as fathers; and b) on public policies toward men as fathers. We are currently compiling a database of social indicators and the policy process. What we are finding is significant variation in social changes as well as policy responses, from paternity testing, to child support policies, to paternity leaves. For example, countries with a higher share of “absent” fathers may also have weaker policy responses to it. Given that children depend on both income and care to flourish, the policy implications for human and economic development are profound.  

We have a chapter on changing family regimes in Latin American Social Policy Developments in the Twenty-First Century, 2021, see here 

Work-Family Policies 

Our current project builds on earlier research.  In 2020, I published with Mike Touchton "Moving Away from Maternalism? Parental Leave Policies in Latin America” in Comparative Politics. In mixed-methods analysis, we find that variables that have predicted reform in advanced industrialized countries, such as political ideology, share of women in the legislature, and gender of the executive, do not emerge as significant. We find that programmatic governing parties increase the likelihood of parental leave reform, while expert deliberation and influence in policy design facilitate more paternal involvement and social equity. The article won the 2020 Best Article Award from the Latin American Studies Association Labor Studies Section. 

Together with Juliana Martínez Franzoni we published a typology of work-family policies in Social Politics (2015) as well as an empirical overview of work-family policies in Latin America with UN Women in 2015. 

Fernando Filgueira and I coordinated a collective effort among thirteen scholars, to produce a report in 2018 on the Pluralization of Families, under the aegis of the International Panel on Social Progress, and published at Cambridge University Press.  

During my visiting research professorship at INSPER University in São Paulo (2011-2012), I teamed up with economist Regina Madalozzo to conduct a representative survey of work-family reconciliation strategies among 700 low-income parents—mothers and fathers—in São Paulo. The results are published here, in Brazil-based journal, Estudos Feministas.  

Gender Equality and the Left Turn in Latin America 

Christina Ewig and Jenn Piscopo, and I edited a special issue for Social Politics in 2017, titled The Left and Gender Equality: Achievements, Setbacks and Variation after Latin America’s Pink Tide. In the introduction we assess the effects of Latin America’s pink tide on gender equality, and find that left governments and left competition provide an opportunity for advancing gender equality. However, the dominant pattern during Latin America’s pink tide was one of a reactive left. Pink tide governments typically did not have clearly articulated gender equality initiatives on their immediate policy agendas. Instead, left governments mostly reacted to pressures from domestic gender equality activists. In addition to left ideology and feminist mobilization, left party type and policy type explain progress and setbacks in gender equality across six outcome area. 

Other articles in the issue address women’s economic empowerment, gender and political parties, political empowerment of indigenous women, gender policy machineries, and violence against women. In addition, Christina Ewig and I address abortion politics across the region, and find that institutionalized partisan left governments are more likely to liberalize abortion than populist left governments.

Public Policies, Outputs and Governance 

Together with Camila Arza and Fernando Filgueira, I am co-editor of the Latin America section of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on the Governance of Social Policy.

I also have chapter, with Liesl Haas, on policy outputs in the Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics.  

Care Work and Class: The Politics and Policies of Paid Domestic Workers 

My book Care Work and Class: Domestic Workers’ Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America (2012) examined the policy process on paid domestic workers in Latin America (about 15% of the female labor force), who have been heavily discriminated against in labor codes and enforcement, and found that organization, government ideology, and international allies are crucial in promoting more equitable policy. It received the Sara Whaley Award for Best Book on Women and Labor from the National Women’s Studies Association in 2013. 

More recently in 2018, Merita Jokela and I published an article in Current Sociology, where we assess legal and actual working conditions of domestic workers in Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico and Peru, highlighting the interactive effects of domestic workers organizing, left-wing governments, and the watershed ILO 2011 Convention on Domestic Workers in improving labor conditions. 

I examine the politics of reform in more detail in a chapter in an edited volume on Legacies of the Left Turn in Latin America (2020). 

Inequality and Politics 

My edited volume, The Great Gap: Inequality and the Politics of Redistribution in Latin America (2011), investigated the impact of inequalities on the policy process. Guillermo O’Donnell called it “the best and most important contribution to the study of Latin America written for quite some time.”

In 2011, I published an article in Spanish titled “La desigualdad y la política” in the Journal of Democracy en español. The English-language version is here. In it, I argue that, in addition to well-established mechanisms, “social distance” among elites helps to explain how high inequalities are perpetuated in Latin America despite formal democracy. 

Abortion Politics 

My first book The Politics of Moral Sin: Abortion and Divorce in Spain, Chile and Argentina (2006) examined the intersection of religion and women’s rights in Catholic countries, arguing that high socio-economic inequalities influenced the policy process even in areas we normally consider non-economic, “values” issues such as abortion and divorce. In a 2008 Comparative Politics article I extended the analysis to a broader indicators of a ‘woman’s right to choose’, looking at policy outcomes as well, and examined abortion politics in six countries: Italy, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.