Dr. Susan Brown

Dr. Susan Brown (left) with the plaque presented to her by her colleague Dr. Wendy Manning, last year’s Outstanding Young Scholar

Susan Brown is 2006 Outstanding Young Scholar

Her research of cohabitation, and particularly its effects on children, brought Dr. Susan Brown notice as an outstanding young scholar long before she received the BGSU award of the same name.

The Young Scholar award helps enhance the academic career of junior faculty by providing discretionary funds for the support of future scholarly activities. It brings a $1,000 credit to the recipient’s discretionary research account, in addition to a $2,000 cash award.

In 2003, the family demographer received a five-year Mentored Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for study of “Children’s Developmental Outcomes in Cohabiting Unions.”

“No other faculty member at BGSU has received this award,” notes Dr. Wendy Manning, one of Brown’s mentors in the award program, in a letter nominating her sociology colleague for the Outstanding Young Scholar honor on campus.

The national institute typically grants only eight new awards in any given year, adds Manning, explaining that the purpose “is to encourage young scholars to branch out into a new discipline and conduct new research that is interdisciplinary.”

Integrating sociology and developmental psychology, Brown’s project has allowed her “to make significant and innovative contributions to our understanding of children’s well-being in the United States,” according to Manning, also the director of BGSU’s Center for Family and Demographic Research (CFDR).

In a research statement, Brown points out that while much of the study is ongoing, findings so far have generally indicated that “cohabitation is not an ideal setting for child development” and that children in cohabiting families fare worse than their counterparts in married families in several areas, including academic, psychological, behavioral and economic.

“It is likely that children in cohabiting families face cumulative risks not only due to low levels of parental psychological well-being, but also to low socioeconomic status and high levels of relationship instability, all of which may compromise children’s development,” she theorizes.

Brown’s work on cohabitation and children “is widely known; there is no doubt that she is already among the nation’s leading experts,” writes Dr. Gary Lee, sociology chair, in another nomination letter.

The importance of her national award “cannot be overstated,” Lee maintains. “This grant is really an investment in the scholar rather than in a particular research project, and as such reflects the confidence of the scientific community in the promise of her future career.”

In 2004, Brown and Lee received National Institute on Aging funding to examine cohabitation among people over age 50—“an area where few others have ventured,” Lee says.

They have explored predictors of union formation and dissolution among the target population, as well as their sociodemographic characteristics and psychological well-being as opposed to peers who are married or don’t have partners.

The psychological study revealed that married men tend to fare much better, on average, than cohabiting men and women, and married women, “all of whom report similarly high levels of depressive symptoms,” notes Brown, a BGSU faculty member since 1998 and associate director of the CFDR.

As a whole, she continues, the project “is designed to establish the groundwork necessary to motivate a larger-scale investigation of these emerging trends and their consequences for a new generation of aging adults.”

“She is certainly the premier researcher in the country on this issue today,” adds Lee about his colleague. “She has a wonderful national reputation. Her work on cohabitation has broken new ground.”

Brown “will move the field forward” with her work on cohabitation and child well-being, concurs Manning, who also joins Lee in praise of Brown’s teaching and publications in leading journals. “She is involved in innovative research that pushes beyond the boundaries of prior studies of the effects of families on children.”

November 6, 2006