Loren Beard
Loren Beard BA, Global Studies, University of Pennsylvania
BA, Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania
Office: Phone: Email Interests:

Poverty and Inequality, Governance and the State, Children and Family, Health and Wellbeing

Doctoral Candidate (2018)

Dissertation Title: The Transition Shock: Emancipating into State-Defined Adulthood

Committee: Kristen Schilt (Chair), Robert Vargas, Anna Mueller (Indiana University – Bloomington), Eugene Raikhel (Comparative Human Development)

My research examines how social institutions shape family life using mixed-methods approaches. My dissertation, The Transition Shock: Emancipating into State-Defined Adulthood, addresses this focus through a longitudinal study of the Chicago child welfare system. Where low-income families often do not use welfare supports as policymakers expect, social scientists posit that bureaucrats actually discourage such use to manage resource scarcity. In my research, however, I examine a case in which state resources are expanding yet engagement remains minimal. In doing so, I argue that the social safety net’s tenuous conditions can merge the aims of both bureaucrats and recipients in pursuit of the family as an alternative resource. 

I advance this argument by drawing from fieldwork with child welfare workers and youth nearing system exit due to age restrictions. Here, I identify how staff and youth alike unexpectedly seek assistance via the family, even after years of state-based separation. I thus show how the state recasts the family from harmfully deviant to critically useful in its attempts to resolve issues of scarcity and welfare dependence – shifting youth’s needs back onto the family as they near system exit. Taken together, my work extends theories on the state management of poverty to demonstrate how the social safety net persistently relies on the family, leaving youth to manage dire consequences in the process.


Using a multi-method approach, I focus on how state policy context contributes to family systems involvement across welfare and carceral institutions. My dissertation received the National Science Foundation’s Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant and the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy’s Dissertation Grant and Robert K. Merton Social Theory Award. My work is also published in outlets like Social Science & Medicine and Sociological Forum and has received awards from the American Sociological Association and Society for the Study of Social Problems. 

I am also committed to engaging with broader audiences, such as through my previous work as a Research Fellow at NPR, and advancing equity in higher education, such as through my founding the University of Chicago's First-Generation, Low-Income Graduate Student Network, participation in the QuestBridge Alumni Association, and mentorship of LGBTQ+ college students.

Recent Research / Recent Publications

Selected Publications

Beard, L. M. and Choi, W. K. (equal authorship). (2024). “Disrupted Family Reunification: Mental health, race, and state-level factors.” Social Science & Medicine.

  • Winner, Best Graduate Student Paper Award, Section on Mental Health, American Sociological Association.

Ismayilova, L., Beard, L. M., Claypool E., and Heidorn, E. (2023). “From institutional care to family reunification in a post-Soviet country: A qualitative study of challenges and opportunities in restoring child-parent relationships.” Child & Youth Services Review.

Beard, L. M., Schilt, K, and Jagoda P. (2023). “Divergent Pathways: How Pre-Orientation Programs Can Shape the Transition to College for First-Generation, Low-Income Students.” Sociological Forum.