Research Findings

Are millennials worse off than baby boomers? That’s the wrong question.

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December 28, 2023

The question of whether Millennials are doing better or worse than previous generations remains a highly debated subject. Millennials are often positioned as the victims of changes in American society that have made employment and family life less stable, rendering them, according to some observers, “the first generation that is worse off than their parents”. A recent article challenged the “myth of the broke Millennial”, however, claiming that they are actually thriving.

Framing the question in this way is somewhat misleading. It suggests that there is a typical or average Millennial, who we can compare to the average Baby Boomer. Millennials are so different from one another, however, that it is not particularly meaningful to talk about the ‘average’ Millennial experience. There are some Millennials who are doing extremely well—think Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Altman—while others are struggling.

The Baby Boomers are similarly internally divided: those who went to university and found middle class jobs had very different experiences and life outcomes compared to those in working class occupations. Comparing generations in terms of their average economic outcomes overlooks the vast discrepancies within generations. Instead, we should ask which Millennials were better or worse off than previous generations.

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Research Findings

It takes more than a ‘body count’ to make diversity matter on corporate boards


December 21, 2023

Corporate boards shape strategy and decision-making, rendering their composition highly consequential. Such boards have been, and still are, predominantly composed of individuals from similar demographic backgrounds – notably white men. This is an issue, as homogeneity is known to lead to groupthink, and suggests that some needed talent is excluded from the board room.

Calls for diversity, notably gender diversity, grow louder, and some countries have legal targets or quotas. Corporate boards, not least in large, publicly-traded firms in the Global North where power and money concentrate, are thus in the hot seat. However, research findings are mixed when it comes to the outcomes of having more diversity on boards.

In a recent study of corporate board diversity, our starting rationale was that simply adding more ‘diverse directors’ to the mix wouldn’t necessarily translate into them having influence – and indeed, we found that increasing the ‘diversity count’ by adding women or foreign directors doesn’t inherently reshape the power dynamics in the corporate elite.

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Research Findings

White Parents Discriminate Against Schools with More Asian Students

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December 7, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic increased public attention to anti-Asian discrimination and bias in the United States. Even though media coverage of the subject has grown recently, Asian Americans have been civically and socially ostracized by white Americans throughout U.S. history. Existing research has shown that Asian Americans today face discrimination in the workplace and in a range of contemporary social settings.

In a recent study published in Sociology of Education, we find pervasive anti-Asian sentiments among white parents with different backgrounds. This bias is strong among parents with higher and lower levels of education, and among both liberal and conservative parents. The results of our study span the COVID-19 pandemic, and we found similar levels of anti-Asian biases in our experiment both before and after the pandemic began. These results demonstrate that anti-Asian bias in educational settings is not only a recent phenomenon and pre-dates the uptick in anti-Asian sentiment that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Research Findings

The Moral Ramifications of How Algorithms “See” People


November 24, 2023

Imagine that you are deciding whether to release a person on bail, grant a consumer a loan, or hire a job candidate. Now imagine your method of making this decision involves using data to algorithmically predict how people will behave—who will skip bail, default on the loan, or be a good employee. How will you know if the way you determine  outcomes is fair?

In recent years, computer scientists and others have done a lot to try to answer this question. The flourishing literature on “algorithmic fairness” offers dozens of possibilities, such as testing whether your algorithm predicts equally well for different people, comparing outcomes by race and sex, and assessing how often predictions are incorrect.

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Research Findings

Dangerous workplaces and the counterintuitive value of scars


November 9, 2023

Think of a dangerous job. One where workers experience daily risk and suffering. Where the accidental burn, cut, and blood is to be expected— maybe even mundane. Perhaps what comes to mind is a firefighter barreling into a fiery building, a meat packing plant worker who trims sides of beef, or a police officer in a foot chase with an armed suspect.

What likely did not come to mind are the folks who whipped up the plate of palak paneer you dined on last Saturday or baked the croissant you nibbled this morning: chefs, cooks, and other restaurant kitchen workers. But, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that workers at dining establishments—about 2.3 million people in the United States— experience comparatively more pain and injury than those of other professions, including the stereotypically dangerous ones I mentioned earlier (see table below).

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Research Findings

Gender Segregation in Civic Life – Women’s and Men’s Involvement in Voluntary Associations

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October 26, 2023

Many social settings are gender-segregated: At the workplace, in higher education, and in friendship cliques, women and men typically encounter peers of their own gender. This separation slows down efforts toward gender equality because women and men get access to different resources through their social networks and engage in gender-typed behaviors and activities. But much less is known about gender segregation in civic life. Voluntary associations, such as sports clubs, community associations, or leisure groups, are often viewed as places that bring communities together and equalize access to social resources. However, previous research suggests – often based on highly simplified figures – that voluntary associations are segregated along gendered lines as well: Women and men are usually involved in different types of associations and perform different voluntary work, often matching broader gender stereotypes and extending traditional patterns of labor division to community life. For example, while women pull together in school- or care-related organizations, men more often meet each other in sports clubs and local political parties. 

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Research Findings

On habit and organizing: a transactional perspective relating firms, consumers and social institutions

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October 19, 2023

The surest way to get a player to come back to the game is to make it a habit, a part of their life.”

 — A game designer and product manager

Much of consumption, which includes the acquisition, appreciation, and use of goods and services, is habitual. On any typical day, millions of people engage in various activities available on their Apple or Android smartphones, communicate with friends and family through social networks such as Twitter, and use popular streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify to entertain themselves. Reinvigorated by the rise of social media, digital platforms, and artificial intelligence, and recently jolted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the recurrent and habitual transactions of individual consumers with provider firms are a mainstay of the market economy.

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Research Findings

Changing how surveys are conducted shows there is no gap in political sophistication between women and men


October 5, 2023

Survey researchers and pundits alike frequently lament the fact that citizens know too little about politics. Furthermore, public opinion polling consistently suggests that women appear to be less knowledgeable about politics than men. But how can we measure political sophistication in the first place? And more importantly, how does our measurement approach impact our conclusions about citizen competence about politics? The conventional approach to measure political sophistication in surveys focuses on multiple-choice questions assessing people’s ability to recall information about political institutions and officeholders. (For instance, the American National Election Study routinely asks questions such as, “Do you happen to know which party currently has the most members in the U.S. Senate?”) These types of factual knowledge questions—which have been used in scores of surveys for academic research and polling—have important limitations. For instance, determining a comprehensive set of knowledge questions is far from trivial since it involves strong assumptions about what information is necessary for people to be politically competent. Furthermore, knowledge questions vary in difficulty across demographic segments and can therefore introduce systematic measurement error when comparing groups of respondents.

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Research Findings

Does money shape couples’ labor division after the birth of their first child?


September 21, 2023

After the birth of their first child, different sex couples often opt for a gendered labor division, with mothers assuming more of the primary responsibility for childcare, which often leads to a reduction in their salaried working hours, while fathers continue full-time employment. In my research, I analyzed the role financial aspects play when new parents negotiate their labor division. What role do childcare costs play when parents decide whether to work outside the home or take care of their children by themselves? Are mothers more likely to reduce their paid working hours and take on more unpaid work than fathers, because, on average, they earn less?

To answer these questions, I traced the financial decisions of 54 parents (27 couples) living in Switzerland. While most of the couples belonged to the middle-class, their income configurations varied: before childbirth, the man earned more than the woman did in 12 couples.  In 9 couples, both parents earned the same.  In 6 couples, the woman earned more than the man did. Each parent was interviewed once before and once or twice in the first two years after the birth of their first child. This longitudinal data with more than 130 in-depth interviews provided a detailed picture of how the couples navigated their financial decisions.

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Research Findings

In business to save the world? which companies join moral markets


September 7, 2023

Why did Unilever enter the market for plant-based alternatives to meat? Why was BP engaged in solar panel manufacturing? And why did Patagonia enter the organic food market?

Usually market entry decisions are ascribed to superior resources or capabilities: companies enter markets where they can leverage their knowledge, technology, or expertise to gain an advantage. But of the three instances mentioned above, only one is largely consistent with this story. What accounts for market entry decisions when companies do not have the requisite resources and capabilities?

A first step to solving this puzzle is to acknowledge that the markets these companies have entered—markets for organic food, solar energy, and plant-based meat alternatives—are all instances of so-called “moral markets”: sectors that emerge not just to create economic value, but to explicitly offer market-based solutions to social and environmental problems.

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