University of Utah Researchers Utilize Research Data Center to Study Social Issues


With 32 sites throughout the U.S., the Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDC) program aims to decentralize access to restricted federal agency databases and promote novel avenues of academic inquiry utilizing “big data,” which has historically only been available to federal researchers. One such site is the Wasatch Front Research Data Center (WFRDC), which is directed by University of Utah Distinguished Professor of Family Studies & Population Science Ken Smith.




“While we are a relatively new FSRDC site, we already have several intriguing projects using our resources,” Smith said. “To facilitate use of the WFRDC, the proposal process has been designed so that university researchers can obtain the necessary security clearances to access and use data from the Census Bureau and other federal organizations.”


Utah projects utilizing WFRDC data include research teams from the University of Utah’s Department of Geography and the Eccles School of Business. Specifically, researchers are conducting an intersectional environmental justice study to examine micro-level disparities in various communities and their outcomes.


“Our goal is to clarify inequities across population subgroups by quantifying the environmental conditions experienced by individuals and households at a very fine spatial scale,” said Professor of Geography Tim Collins. “It would be impossible to develop that knowledge with publicly available Census data.”


Meanwhile, University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business Professor Elena Patel is using “big data” via the WFRDC to study the implications of gender diversity on corporate boards of directors.


“We are looking at the role that diversity in leadership plays on rank-and-file employee outcomes,” Patel explained. “There has been a large regulatory push, both in the United States and in other developed countries, to require diversity on corporate boards of directors without a lot of evidence to justify what we expect will happen.”


“The administrative data collected by the U.S. Census, which matches workers to firms, is the only way to study employment outcomes,” she continued. “For example, are more diverse boards more likely to hire and promote women? Answers to these questions matter in the pursuit of understanding the mechanisms underlying the long-standing gender-wage gap.”


Smith said that the WFRDC is also engaged in activities with Hispanic-serving institutions as there isn’t an FSRDC currently located at a Hispanic-serving institution. “Our goal with these efforts is to facilitate access to these secure data centers to faculty and students who otherwise would not have the opportunity,” Smith said.


“The West Hub looks forward to connecting our community with WFRDC and strengthening this partnership,” West Big Data Innovation Hub Executive Director Ashley Atkins said.