September 28, 2021

In the News: ‘Pandemic Puppies,’ the Republican Effect on Infant Mortality, and more

A RUSH OF OXYTOCIN: There's a chemical bond between dogs and their owners, says Professor of Economics Paul Zak. (Photo credit:

PETS, HAPPINESS & QUARANTINE: The work of Professor of Economic Sciences Paul Zak is cited in The Atlantic’s recent report “Which Pet Will Make You Happiest?” The year 2020 was big in the pet market. A web-based dog broker reported that the price of purebred puppies shot up by 36% during the year. More than 12 million U.S. households acquired new pets during quarantine, probably to stave off the loneliness created by social distancing and isolation.

That’s where Zak’s research on oxytocin comes in.

Oxytocin is called the “love molecule,” which creates pleasure and builds bonds between people (no surprise that oxytocin levels are especially high for mothers with newborns). For Zak, who studies the effect of oxytocin on human interactions, employee trust, and corporate culture (among other areas), the same is also  true of pets. As part of a series on BBC2, Zak reported that not only do dogs make us feel better, the pooches experience an oxytocin rush, too. When they interact with their owners, dogs get a surge of oxytocin of about 57.2 percent.

What about cats? It’s not so high: just 12 percent. That just shows, The Atlantic’s reporter writes, that “your dog truly adores you. Your cat accepts your presence. For now.” Read more here.


LEAD INVESTIGATOR: Javier Rodríguez, Mary Toepelt Nicolai and George S. Blair Associate Professor at CGU

LEGISLATURES & INFANT MORTALITY: When Republicans control state legislatures, infant mortality is higher—that’s what a new study reports in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

According to the report “Partisan Control of U.S. State Governments: Politics as a Social Determinant of Infant Health,” the investigators studied the change in party composition of state legislatures—including in the upper and lower houses and governorships—and how these changes coincided with changes in infant mortality rates (neonatal and post-neonatal) over nearly 50 years, from 1969 to 2014.

“These findings support the politics hypothesis that the social determinants of health are, at least in part, constructed by the power vested in governments,” explained Javier Rodríguez, the study’s lead investigator and Mary Toepelt Nicolai and George S. Blair Associate Professor at CGU.

State legislatures are responsible for administering many safety-net public programs—like Medicaid—and a party’s stance on these programs can increase or decrease their impact. One data point from the study shows that, when a state moves from a non-Republican-controlled legislature to a Republican-controlled one, one also sees a 4.2% increase in infant mortality and an 8.1% increase in postneonatal morality during that same time period.

Political decisions are “a matter of life and death,” said Rodríguez. “A deep understanding of political processes and institutions at the state level is necessary for improving overall population health and promoting health equity.” Read more here.


Chair of the Division of Politics & Economics
and Public Policy Field Chair Heather Campbell

NEW FELLOW & CHAIR: Public Policy Field Chair Heather Campbell has been named as an Avery Fellow and will be teaching coursework related to environmental public policy at Pitzer College this spring. Campbell was recently selected to served as chair of the Committee of Institutional Representatives for the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), which is one of the largest academic organizations nationwide dedicated to improving public policy and management by supporting and encouraging scholarly research and analysis.

Campbell also has been invited to address the Rotary Club of Claremont on the topic of the widespread nature of environmental injustice. Visit here for more information on that event coming soon.