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Students research economies and regime type, gender equality for State Department

Thursday, February 05, 2015



LAWRENCE — As University of Kansas senior Allison McKinnon researched how a country's regime type could influence its economic growth, she discovered an interesting trend.

In looking at data related to economic growth and how educated a country's population is and how much a government spends on education, she determined that democracies fared much better at recovering from economic downturns. It was an important finding given that she examined data for democracies, dictatorships, monarchies, military regimes and single-party regimes from 2003-2012 – a period that included the global recession.

"It seems that human capital, while it might not affect simply the mean growth for those reasons I suggested, it might be an important factor in mitigating the effects of a recession and continuing growth afterward," McKinnon said last November in a video conference with staff members of the Department of State.

A Department of State official in the Financial Department on the other end of the video conference commented that the resilience aspect of her research was interesting, especially how it was found more in democracies.

McKinnon's research was basically a policy briefing for State Department staffers who grapple with these issues daily across the world. McKinnon and nine other KU classmates conducted research projects as part of the Diplomacy Labs pilot project either on regime type and economic growth or gender inequality in developing countries. The State Department selected KU and 13 other universities to participate for fall 2014 in the shared policy analysis project.

John Kennedy, associate professor of political science and director of the Center for Global and International Studies, said the research has been crucial as leaders grapple with how and where to invest resources across the world. A separate KU class study of human trafficking, led by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science, also participated in the Diplomacy Labs program.

"The State Department right now is going through budget cuts, so they have to figure out ways to justify where and how they're going to spend the money for particular projects," said Kennedy, who led McKinnon's course. "We're actually providing information that would help justify certain types of investments, based on empirical evidence."

Kennedy said the program gives the undergraduate students experience at compiling research, especially on topics they are interested in. Then it adds the real-world experience of a presentation to State Department officials who will use the students' findings to make decisions. Kennedy said the students who are studying gender-related issues are working on a topic that has received significant attention worldwide, especially related to domestic violence.

Nikki Richardson, another KU senior in Kennedy's class, for example, had the attention of the State Department staffers during a briefing in November. Richardson's project focused on the health consequences of the practice of female genital cutting, or FGC, in some cultures.

Richardson's main recommendation is for the State Department to use more data that indexes health indicators because many people don't know that the practice can lead to chronic bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, birth complications and potential mortality.

"We see a lot of long-term health consequences that come out of FGC," Richardson said. "What we find in a lot of gender-related issues is that women are having chronic health issues or they're having social issues that are causing these topics to even be a reality. They're not really taken into account by indexes that are very highly focused on the economics part."

The State Department officials acknowledged the department has been getting more and more questions about FGC worldwide.

KU students and State Department topics in Kennedy's Class:

Hometowns listed where available.

Political Systems Affect Economic Prosperity

Jeffrey Ahle, Lawrence, "The Effect of Authoritarian Regimes on Economic Development"

Allison McKinnon, Overland Park, "Regime Type, Human Capital, and Economic Growth"

Allison Morte, Lawrence, "Corruption and Its Effect on Economic Growth in Developing Countries"

Sara Sofia Anderson, Lindsborg, "Presidential and Parliamentary Systems: Effects on Economic Growth in Economic Crisis"

Ellie Brecunier, Shawnee, "Brazil and Egypt: A Comparative Case Study of the Effect of Coup D’états and Authoritarian Regimes on Economic Development"

Gender Equality In Developing Countries

Heather Snay, Rosemount, Minnesota, "Religiosity and Gender Equality"

Janet Neufeld, Dulles, Virginia, "Academic Exchanges between the United States and Attitudes Towards Gender Equality in Thailand"

Logan Masenthin, Kansas City, Missouri, "Skewed Sex Ratio at Birth in India and the Effectiveness of Campaigns on Gender Balance at Birth"

Sally Kagay, Topeka, "A Cross-National Look at the Effectiveness of Gender Quotas"

Nikki B. Richardson, Silver Lake, "Analyzing the Correlation Between Gender-Related Index Scores and Gender-Related Violence."