Research Findings

Misery has company:how predatory investors have exacerbated and exploited the coronavirus crisis

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July 15, 2021
pink and blue pig figurine

A once-in-a-century pandemic has sparked an unprecedented crisis. With over 167 million cases and 3.5 million deaths recorded worldwide and entire economies in turmoil, the fallout has been felt by all—but unevenly so. Public attention has rightfully focused on curbing COVID-19’s spread and alleviating economic hardship.

But lurking behind the headlines of vaccines and new variants are predatory financial investors whose work has placed many workers at risk and exploited those very vulnerabilities to profit from the pandemic.

In a recent article in American Behavioral Scientist, we examine how the rise of U.S. “shadow banks”—less regulated, private credit intermediaries such as private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund firms—has impacted the course of hardship and inequality during the crisis. These shadow banks play an instrumental role in how executives manage companies, which has important ramifications for societal responses to crises, the wellbeing and livelihoods of workers, and inequality throughout the labor market.

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Research Findings

Economic loss causes greater mental harm for immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic


July 8, 2021

Although many studies have shown that inequalities have widened in many ways ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the discussion has focused on objective measures, such as numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, access to healthcare and medical treatment, or unemployment/poverty. Less attention has been paid to inequality consequences in connection with subjective experience.

Objectively, studies have shown that chances of physical as well as economic survival are not evenly distributed across class, racial and ethnic groups, as well as residential areas and regions, with the disadvantaged vulnerable to more severe consequences. Subjectively, however, it is unclear whether disadvantaged population groups also bear more psychological burdens.

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New book

The War Among Algorithms


July 1, 2021

Twenty years ago, a financial trader was still usually a human being, either sharing a trading pit along with dozens or hundreds of other sweaty human bodies, or sitting at a computer terminal, talking into a telephone and buying and selling with keyboard and mouse. A decade later, digital algorithms had made decisive inroads into trading, but those algorithms still mostly ran on conventional computer systems. Nowadays, a trader is very often a specialised silicon chip known as an FPGA, or field-programmable gate array, such as the large, square chip at the centre of this photograph, coated with white paste that had held a cover in place.

The FPGAs that do so much of today’s trading are mainly to be found in about two dozen anonymous, warehouse-like buildings in and around Chicago, New York, London, Frankfurt and other major global financial centres. To walk through one of these computer datacentres is to listen to the hum of tens of thousands of computer servers in row upon endless row of metal cages and to glimpse the incomprehensible spaghetti of cables that interconnect the machines packed into those cages. When I first did so, in October 2014, I was still struggling to find a way of understanding the complex new world of ultrafast trading algorithms that was evolving.

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New book

Rethinking Pay in the 2nd Gilded Age


June 24, 2021

What determines the number on your paycheck? When asked, the vast majority of U.S. workers list their own individual performance as a key factor. Large majorities of pay-setters – senior management, human resource directors, and others directly involved in setting compensation rates – likewise believe workers’ individual performance is very important.

I know, because in a series of surveys conducted over the last few years I asked average workers and pay-setters about their ideas about how our wages and salaries are determined. No matter how I posed the question, no factor garnered as much support as individual performance when it comes to our understandings of pay determination in the modern economy.

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Research Findings

Inhabited ecosystems of change: Attending to the “social” aspects of movements

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June 17, 2021

Workplaces exert considerable influence in society. They mediate the economic exchanges that enable modern life and facilitate (or block) achieving large-scale, collective goals. As such, they are integral to the advancement of social progress. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they are often implicated in movements promoting social justice.

The substantial research on workplace organizations and social movements focuses primarily on how outsiders target specific organizations through protests or boycotts or on how employee activists leverage insider knowledge to effect change from within.

Our work purposely blurs these distinctions, exploring a case where it was neither simply the work of external agents applying pressure from the outside, nor of insiders skillfully manipulating the internal levers of change, that propelled change. Rather, it was a community of workplace activists, linked together and acting between and through their organizations, to face opposition yet sustain and even expand their efforts with and for each other.

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Research Findings

What is left for sociologists of pay-setting to study?


June 10, 2021

Much of the best sociology of pay-setting from the last twenty years has documented the declining importance of non-market constraints on pay.

The collapse of labor unions means fewer and fewer employers are bound by restrictive collective bargaining agreements. Similar outcomes come from the rise of shareholder value; restructuring and opening up of internal labor markets; erosion of fixed, bureaucratic pay schedules; outsourcing and contracting…The list goes on.

There’s a ton of great research on these important changes. But they can mostly be summarized as changes that eliminate protections from market competition that workers previously enjoyed.

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New book

How war spurred seaborne enterprise and enabled new careers in the early modern world


June 3, 2021

Social science historians have long recognized that war was the rule rather than the exception in early modern Europe. The so-called “Second One Hundred Years’ War”, for example, pitted France and Britain against each other in at least six major confrontations between 1688 and 1815. 

The motivations behind these armed conflicts were manifold: religious rifts, dynastic interests, territorial expansion, and commercial rivalry.

But these wars had political implications that are felt to this day. Following Charles Tilly’s dictum, state-making was inseparable from war-making during this period. Armies and navies were costly. To pay for their services, taxes had to be raised. 

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Research Findings

Driven by Inequalities: Exploring the Resurgence of Domestic Work in US Cities


May 27, 2021

To many Americans, the term “domestic servant” conjures up images of other places and other times. Maybe it is Downton Abbey. Or maybe it is a Latin American country. Or if we do think about the United States, we think about a time long in the past. 

But contrary to popular perceptions, domestic service is very much a part of the contemporary American landscape, and is in fact on the rise for the first time in over one hundred years.

What explains this twenty-first century resurgence of an occupation that sociologist Lewis Coser declared obsolete in 1973? The short answer: inequality.

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Research Findings

How gentrification reproduces racial inequality

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May 20, 2021

Gentrification—the socioeconomic upgrading of previously low-income neighborhoods—has spread to more cities and more neighborhoods over the last two decades. It has increasingly ignited opposition around how it displaces poor residents out of their once-neglected neighborhoods.

But research has consistently found that this isn’t the case.

Nearly all studies, including our own, that track poor residents living in gentrifying neighborhoods find that they do not move out of their neighborhoods—in general or involuntarily—substantially more than those living in low-income neighborhoods that don’t gentrify. Instead, most of the demographic changes in the neighborhood are due to the changing demographics of who is moving into neighborhoods rather than who is moving out.

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Research Findings

Public Sector and Politically Engaged: The Role of Unions

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May 14, 2021

Research finds that public sector workers are more politically active and civically engaged than the broader public. Our work investigates the role of labor unions in amplifying and shaping this participation. 

With one in three public sector workers unionized, unionization has widespread implications. Public workers make up nearly half of all union members in the United States, including large numbers of women and people of color. However, the political terrain of public unions is shifting with the passage of restrictive laws and increased political opposition, especially over the past decade. This opposition threatens to erode public union membership, potentially undermining political and civic participation.

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