Family and Communities

logo of three cartoon silhouettes holding handsOur researchers address critical issues facing families and communities, while promoting healthy human development and productive relationships. This work touches all of our lives. 

These discoveries are made possible through public and private investments, legislator support, multi-institutional partnerships, and the dedication of faculty and student scholars. 

Below, we showcase a fraction of our world-class research in the area of family and communities. You can also view a pdf version and subscribe to one of our ACES e-newsletters to stay abreast of new developments in ACES research. 

Food education means healthy cooking and less waste

Kohlrabi and asparagus

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. But low-income families face unique obstacles to healthy eating, including higher costs of fresh foods and limited resources for cooking. An ACES research team is developing a food education curriculum for low-income families, focusing on food management and cooking strategies for better nutrition and less waste. Participants receive local, fresh produce, giving them the opportunity to taste different foods and learn how to prepare them. They will also learn how to use and repurpose food items in a variety of dishes. The program draws on experiences from the Market to MyPlate curriculum, delivered through Illinois Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) to qualifying Illinois residents.

Funding: This work was funded by the National Science Foundation, as part of a $15 million grant spanning 14 institutions; USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture; the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP); and the University of Illinois Extension Foundation.

ACES investigators and departments:
Melissa Pflugh Prescott, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Jessica Metcalfe, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Paola Gordillo, Food Science and Human Nutrition
Melissa Schumacher, University of Illinois Extension
Caitlin Kownacki, University of Illinois Extension
Jennifer McCaffrey, University of Illinois Extension

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Older couples’ heart rates beat in sync

graphic of two hearts

As couples grow old together, their interdependence heightens and they become each other’s primary source of physical and emotional support. ACES research examines the dynamics of long-term relationships, looking at heart rate patterns when older partners (age 64 to 88) are close together. The researchers followed the couples for two weeks, continuously tracking their heart rates and their proximity to each other at home. The couples’ heart rates synchronized in lead-lag patterns where one partner led the change and the other followed. These change patterns were unpredictable, even within couples, suggesting a “unique couple-level dance,” the researchers say. The small interactions that accumulate over a day illustrate the nature of couples’ interactions playing out moment to moment. The findings illustrate the importance of including micro-level processes in relationship research.

Funding: This work was supported by the Center for Social and Behavioral Science and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

ACES investigators and departments:
Brian Ogolsky, HDFS
Kiersten Dobson, HDFS
Christopher Maniotes, HDFS
Yifan Hu, HDFS
TeKisha Rice, HDFS
Jaclyn Theisen, HDFS

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When older couples are close together, their heart rates synchronize

Financial and digital literacy promote economic wellbeing

graphic of a phone with cash and credit card

Financial inclusion is key to improving economic and social welfare, reducing inequality, and promoting economic growth. Globally, 1.7 billion people have limited access to financial services, especially in the developing world. ACES researchers, together with a team of international collaborators, are studying how financial and digital literacy intersect to build economic resilience. The team surveyed populations in developing and emerging economies around the world, measuring knowledge about standard financial concepts, as well as ownership and use of mobile phones, apps, and mobile money services. The researchers focused specifically on impacts for vulnerable groups, including women, youth, elderly, rural, and poor populations. They found digital technologies overall provide greater access to financial services, but there are still many barriers to usage. Such challenges require continued political interventions to address education, infrastructure, and regulations.

ACES investigator and department:
Angela Lyons, Agricultural and Consumer Economics

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Understanding the effects of racial discrimination in the U.S. rental housing market

graphic of hands raised towards a hand holding a key

Racial discrimination limits minority household access to housing in high-opportunity, high-amenity neighborhoods. Using an original tool to evaluate interactions with rental property managers, research from an ACES economist and colleagues provides evidence of discriminatory behavior in the rental housing market across the 50 largest U.S. cities. For example, property managers were less likely to respond to prospective African American and Hispanic/Latinx tenants when they inquired about rental listings. Stronger discrimination, particularly against African Americans, is also associated with higher levels of residential segregation and larger gaps in intergenerational income mobility. The tool will continue to help both researchers and other agencies understand and prevent racial discrimination in housing.

Funding: This project is supported by the National Science Foundation Economics Program and the Russell Sage Foundation Social, Political and Economic Inequality Program.

ACES investigator and department:
Peter Christensen, Agricultural and Consumer Economics

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