Research Findings

Women’s changing occupational careers and gender wage inequality

April 17, 2018

The narrowing of the gender wage gap is an important indicator of progress toward gender equality. This pay gap narrowed substantially during the 1980s and then more slowly during the 1990s and early 2000s.  After 2007, wage convergence ceased entirely. Why?

Conventional analyses attribute changes in the female-male wage ratio to corresponding changes in the work experience and qualifications of the female workforce. My research broadens this focus by examining how changes in women’s occupational career paths, and in the relative earnings of the occupations to which those career paths lead, impacted the gender wage gap over the period 1979 to 2015.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

How much gender segregation is there in American doctoral education?

April 11, 2018

“The problem is not that we don’t want to hire women or scholars of color, it’s that there aren’t enough graduating from the departments from which we typically hire.” I heard this refrain often during my stint as a co-PI on Cornell’s NSF-funded initiative to diversify its STEM faculty, and it’s echoed in reports from similar initiatives at other universities.

An assumption embedded in this refrain is that the pipeline of women and scholars of color graduating from elite PhD programs – “the departments from which we typically hire” – is smaller than overall pool of women and scholars of color in a field. This is a claim about segregation: it’s not just that men and women, for example, earn PhDs in different fields (“field segregation”), but that they earn PhDs from programs that differ in prestige (“prestige segregation”).

But, how much prestige and field segregation is there in American doctoral education? Do all fields show prestige segregation, or just some of them? Are differences in prestige segregation across fields predicted by differences in the emphasis put on math skills?

To answer these questions, Dafna Gelbgiser, Sarah Thébaud, and I analyzed data on all PhDs awarded by gender, PhD field (e.g., economics, physics), and institution (e.g., SUNY-Binghamton, MIT) in the United States between 2003 and 2014. We linked these data to National Research Council rankings of PhD-granting programs (e.g., Cornell Sociology) and to Educational Testing Service data on the mean verbal and math Graduate Record Exam scores of test-takers in a field.

We excluded Masters and professional degrees, and limited our analysis to gender segregation. We are working on a similar analysis of racial segregation.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

The class biases of European integration and the rise of winner-take-all dynamics in Europe

April 3, 2018

Over the past decade, Europe has stumbled from crisis to crisis. The conflict-ridden management of the continent’s troubled currency union gave way to discord over migration issues, from the freedom of movement within the continent’s Internal Market to the mass influx of refugees from Syria. Most recently, uncertainty over Britain’s decision to exit (Brexit) the European Union has taken center stage.

The series of calamities seems unending, and each episode seems to be the next step in the progressive disintegration of Europe’s established political economic order.

In addition, populism of an exclusionary bent has made a nasty comeback in the polls, and support for social democratic parties has fallen rapidly. This has made it practically impossible for progressives across the continent to offer viable alternatives to center-right governments.

Observers worry that the continent might have lost its capacity to maintain the egalitarian societies and socially embedded markets that have long informed arguments for social democratic reforms in the United States.

What are the lessons from recent developments? How should social scientists respond? What is the way forward for political activists?

In a recent paper I explore contemporary challenges to institutional reproduction and social citizenship in Europe, focusing on the dynamics of transformation transnationally and within two countries, Germany and Denmark.

Continue Reading…


Race, genetics, and the lure of forbidden knowledge

March 30, 2018

Recently geneticist David Reich published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race.’” In it he contends that “differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real”—and what’s more, that “as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races.’”

The invocation of his status as a natural scientist, the insistence on what is “real,” and the astonishing suggestion that race has been overlooked until now—I’ve seen it all before. Reich is using a rhetorical device that sociologist Reanne Frank has called the “forbidden knowledge” thesis, where academics who identify themselves with “science” (and are usually, though not always, male, white biological scientists) contend that anyone who questions the biological foundations of racial groupings is denying reality, or “sticking their heads in the sand” as Reich puts it. Another recent version of this was New York Times former science reporter Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. The Times also published an op-ed by geneticist Armand LeRoi in 2005 making pretty much the same case, so I’m not sure why they felt it was new in 2018. But the conceit is that there has been a cover-up (or “orthodoxy” in Reich’s words) denying the biological truth about race, so we need brave souls like Reich and Wade and LeRoi to reveal the truth (again!) to the public: race is a biological characteristic of the human species.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

“We do software so that you can do education”: The curious case of MOOC platforms

March 27, 2018

edX president Anant Agarwal—with the words “the future of education” displayed prominently behind him—takes questions from the audience

These days, the word “platform” is commonly used to refer to entities like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. These portals are sites of public discourse and see their role as connecting various sorts of publics: video producers to viewers, journalists to readers, or advertisers to potential consumers.

YouTube, for instance, started in 2005 as a Friendster-type social network portal that proclaimed, “Show off your favorite videos to the world”; by 2008, it had constructed itself into a “distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers, large and small.”

Recent work, both scholarly and popular, has spoken much to our discomfort that so much of public discourse now occurs on these privately-owned, for-profit, and unregulated platforms that lend themselves all too well to unique forms of harassment, invisible algorithmic manipulations, and sinister forms of corruption.

In a recently published ethnographic study, I found that the platform arrangement does much more than muddy the grounds between public and private, commercial and personal, work and play. It transforms the nature of work, the framing of organizational roles, as well as the construction of substantive expertise. From 2013 to 2015, I followed a non-profit start-up called edX through its stated mission of reinventing education by making Massive Open Online Courses. MOOCs caused a sensation in 2012 as three new start-ups (Udacity, Coursera and edX) leveraged the power of networked computing and collaborated with universities to offer prospective students anywhere in the world an interactive distance learning experience.

Continue Reading…

Book review

Book Review: How China Escaped the Poverty Trap by Yuen Yuen Ang

March 24, 2018

The macro-story on China is well-known, but always bears repetition. Emerging from the carnage of the Mao era, China in 1980 had a GDP of $193 per capita, lower than Bangladesh, Chad or Malawi. It’s now the world’s second largest economy, with a 30-fold increase in GDP per capita, based on a textbook-defying combination of one-party Communist state and capitalism – in the words of one tongue-in-cheek official, ‘no capitalist state can match our devotion to the capitalist sector.’

Success on this scale inevitably finds many intellectual forebears claiming parenthood  – China is variously portrayed as a victory for a strong state; free markets; experimentation; and for central planning. How China Escaped the Poverty Trap blows the conventional explanations away, drilling down into what actually happened and reconstructing the history of different cities and provinces through years of diligent research.

This book is a triumph, opening a window onto the political economy of China’s astonishing rise that takes as its starting point systems and complexity. Its lessons apply far beyond China’s borders. The author, Yuen Yuen Ang, starts with a classic developmental chicken and egg problem – which comes first, good institutions or economic prosperity? Different camps within academia and the aid business urge developing countries either to ‘first, get the institutions right’ or ‘first, get growth going’, and then the rest will follow.

Using China as an elephant-sized case study, Ang takes a systems sledgehammer to this kind of linear thinking and argues that development is a ‘coevolutionary process’. Institutions and markets interact with and change each other in context-specific ways that alter over time. The institutions that help to achieve take-off are not the same as the ones that preserve and consolidate markets later on.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Accidental revitalization: Another path to union renewal?

March 20, 2018

The past couple decades have been challenging for trade unions in North America. The rise of neoliberalism and globalization have sparked a period of aggressive anti-union measures by both governments and employers, forcing unions to re-think existing strategies and approaches if they are to survive.

Unions’ attempts to re-establish their strength and counter their declining role in workplaces and society have taken many forms, but they are a response to a common set of issues facing all unions.

A large body of literature has emerged examining union renewal. While it is a broad-scoped area of research, much of it has focused on the shifting of internal union practices and approaches to organizing and member recruitment. Research has also revealed that most renewal efforts arise from one of two key sources of momentum: decisions from central union leadership to alter approaches across the union; or rank-and-file led reform at the local level.

Renewal is usually an intentional, planned process of attempting new practices and structures.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Not covered in ivy: The educational backgrounds of American business and political leaders

March 13, 2018

Elite theorists have long argued that pathways into corporate and political leadership run through Ivy League and Ivy League-type colleges – this is known as elite status transmission theory. According to a study I recently published with Sarah R.K. Yoshikawa, it may be time to retire at least the strong forms of this theory.

The theory holds that a well-traveled road led from wealthy families through Ivy League institutions into executive suites. We focused on the nation’s top 39 undergraduate colleges in the United States, as identified by U.S. News and World Report. These colleges included both private research universities like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and private liberal arts colleges, like Williams, Amherst, and Pomona.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Is the EU subsidising autocracies? Hungary and the rise of the ‘illiberal’ model

March 11, 2018

The rise of self-proclaimed illiberal democracies in East Central Europe arguably constitutes one of the most formidable – albeit perhaps still underestimated – challenges the EU is currently facing.

Whether and how the EU should react has been debated. All sides portray the EU’s role in these illiberal regimes as that of an outsider. But a closer look at the political-economic functioning of these nations suggests that the EU – through its structural development funds – is actually part of their illiberal model. That, in turn, suggests that cutting funding from Brussels could be a potentially powerful incentive to bring them back into line.

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 3

March 9, 2018

Happy Friday, sociologists! Here are a few of the things we’ve been watching and reading this week.

A Trade War?

Race in America