Monthly Archives

June 2018


The merit of marshmallows

June 26, 2018

Let them eat marshmallows! It turns out the famous marshmallow test of willpower – the association between how long preschoolers can resist one marshmallow now for the promise of two later and higher test scores and earnings – did not replicate. Once the sample expanded beyond Stanford’s faculty daycare, and controls for parental social class and child characteristics were included, the effect of delayed gratification was much reduced.

But why did people take such psychological ideas so seriously in the first place?

At the outset, it is important to clarify that the recent replication failure does not tell us that willpower does not “matter.” It tells us specifically that willpower or delayed gratification measured in childhood doesn’t matter to academic attainment independently of parental social class and other factors. But it is the underappreciation of these other factors that led to a popular, yet misleading, narrative tying willpower to desert.

To understand how this began, let’s look at how Walter Mischel, the man behind the marshmallow test, got started in 1960s Stanford. Mischel set a model for today’s bestselling celebrity-psychologists, such as Angela Duckworth, by publishing popular books that combined simple summaries of their research with personal memoirs and how-to guides.

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, no. 7

June 22, 2018

Happy Friday, sociologists! Like many of you, we’ve been following the immigration news closely. Here are some of the latest updates and a smattering of other news we’ve managed to catch this week.


Immigration and the Media

Scaling Back the Safety Net



Research Findings

Hyper-selectivity and the Asian second-generation advantage

June 20, 2018

Asian Americans have increasingly been in the national spotlight. Last month, “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” a documentary by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu, aired nationwide as part of PBS’s American Experiences series. The film focuses on the historical legacy of anti-Asian racism and a unique moment in American history when a law banned the entry into the U.S. of an entire ethnic group for the first time.

Last week, the New York Times highlighted the importance of the Asian American vote in the upcoming midterm election in Orange County where one-fifth of the population is of Asian descent. This Spring, an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard alleges that Harvard admissions files showed a clear pattern of discrimination against Asian applicants, with implications for the future of affirmative action policy.

How are Asian Americans advantaged or disadvantaged in the current national debate on race? In a recent post on this blog, Arthur Sakamoto argued that the obsession over “white privilege” has blinded scholars to the reality of Asian American success. Informed by the majority-minority paradigm of racial hierarchy, academic and public debates continue to treat Asians as a minority, despite their increasing presence in and acceptance by the American mainstream.

In a related post on the org theory blog, Raj Andrew Ghoshal and Yung-Yi Diana Pan challenged the claim of Asian American privilege by highlighting new research documenting mixed success among and persisting social exclusion towards Asians in workplaces and communities across the country.

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 6

June 15, 2018

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



Indigenous Issues

The Gig Economy

On Campus

Research Findings

Does education create good jobs?

June 13, 2018

In January 2012, President Obama called for states to extend compulsory education in the U.S. to age 18.  More recently, the White House unveiled its America’s College Promise Proposal, which calls for free community college tuition for responsible students. 

Common arguments in support of more education suggest that education spurs innovation and expands skilled and higher paying jobs.  Counterarguments suggest education could reduce skilled jobs by promoting the development of new technology, production practices, and machines that can replace skilled labor.

We know that education has important occupational benefits for individuals, but do these benefits spill over into society as well?  At the turn of the century, I find that they do. Continue Reading…


Panel – The Fight for $15 movement for low-wage workers

June 6, 2018

Workers and supporters celebrate a $15 minimum wage at Sea-Tac Airport.

Labor Studies Journal recently published a debate on the Fight for $15 labor movement. We are delighted to host a virtual panel including short summaries of the debate by each of the authors, all of whom are leading labor scholars and activists.

Steven Ashby praises The Fight for $15 as “one of the most vital, innovative, and militant struggles in recent US labor history.” He notes that the movement has “created the pressure to win 19 million low-wage workers a total of $61 billion in annual raises through state and local legislation raising the minimum wage, and employers pressured to raise their minimum pay.”

Ashby concludes that the American labor movement must build on the momentum of the Fight for $15 and coalesce around a movement to organize low-wage workers nationwide.

Jonathan Rosenblum points out that although the Fight for $15 movement has been successful in winning pay increases for more than 19 million low-wage workers, in the years since SEIU leaders launched the Fight for a Fair Economy, private sector union density has continued to decline – down from 7% to 6.5%.

Rosenblum asks whether the Fight for $15 movement can channel the energy of the walkouts into the construction of a more durable organizational basis for increased workers’ power.

Tom Juravich agrees that the Fight for $15 has been successful – both in increasing wages and in changing how Americans think about low-wage work. But its gains have largely been in the form of symbolic power. He questions whether the movement can expand beyond the “low-hanging fruit on both coasts?”

Juravich concludes that for the movement to succeed, it needs to find a way to move beyond symbolic power and gain “real structural (economic) leverage,” perhaps by focusing resources on organizing a specific “union city” rather than running “low level campaigns across the country.”


In defense of the stunning Fight for Fifteen movement

June 6, 2018

The Fight for Fifteen movement, launched in New York City in late 2012, is one of the most vital, innovative, and militant struggles in recent US labor history.  As one Fight for Fifteen organizer put it, now many young workers “are looking at the union movement, not as something that’s stodgy, old, and past its prime, but as something that’s exciting and new and the way forward for hope in our lives…Fight for Fifteen is making the union movement cool again.”

Fight for Fifteen has won unprecedented victories.  The National Employment Law Project reports that in its first four years Fight for Fifteen created the pressure to win 19 million low-wage workers a total of $61 billion in annual raises through state and local legislation raising the minimum wage, and employers pressured to raise their minimum pay.

Yet the movement has been the subject of exaggerated, often snarky and dismissive, critical comments from a number of left writers.

Continue Reading…


The Fight for $15 campaign of fast food workers: A good start, but not nearly enough

June 6, 2018

Hit “pause” for a moment on the latest Trump outrage and recall the political landscape following the Wall Street-induced train wreck of nine years ago. The Obama administration bailed out the financiers, businesses fired 8.7 million workers, banks foreclosed on more than 14 million homeowners, and unions lost 1 million members.

Labor law reform died in spite of Democratic congressional supermajorities. The Affordable Care Act, stripped of universal coverage and the public option, barely limped across the finish line. Democrats lost control of the political narrative and got crushed in the November 2010 elections.

One in every six American workers was seeking work, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched his union-busting plan, and an ascendant Tea Party–driven national discourse – setting the stage for today’s mess – blamed the economic crisis not on corporate greed but on the federal government, immigrants, and unions.

Amid this deepening crisis, in early 2011 the leadership of SEIU, the union I worked for at the time, experienced an organizational epiphany. To stop the slide into irrelevancy, SEIU swung the union’s resources into a massive, $60 million grassroots campaign in 17 cities, deploying 1,500 organizers to reclaim the high ground in the economic debate and to organize workers into unions on a massive scale.

Continue Reading…


The Fight for $15 and the limits of symbolic power

June 6, 2018

Steven Ashby is right to mark the achievements of the Fight for $15. As he reminds us, this national campaign brought wage increases to nearly 20 million American workers during a time when union density fell to below 7%. Equally important is the way in which the Fight for $15 forever redefined low wage work in the U.S.

Much like the occupy movement altered the discourse on inequality, I would argue that Fight for $15 forever changed how Americans think about low wage work

But by looking primarily at the tactics of Fight for $15, Ashby backgrounds an analysis of the larger strategy of the Fight for $15. The closest he comes is when he suggests that “The Fight for Fifteen goal is to create such bad publicity that a company like McDonalds chooses unionization to end the protest and to gain the positive publicity of the first food chain to treat its workers with respect.”

To date, the Fight for $15 had largely worked building symbolic power through one day strikes and media campaigns. They have been very successful in changing public perceptions of low wage work, and in the Gramscian sense of changing hearts and minds of Americans.

The Fight for $15 have very effectively used this symbolic power along with short-term coalitional power to affect change to wage laws and other employment standards. In the process they have realized the power that this “naming and shaming” around the poor wages and horrific working conditions of low wage workers has over progressive politicians and those striving to be considered progressive.

To date we have seen these changes in the most progressive state and municipalities. The question that remains for the Fight for $15 is how far can this movement expand beyond the low hanging fruit on both coasts?

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 5

June 1, 2018

Happy jobs report Friday, sociologists! Here is watch we’ve been reading and watching this week.



Prisons and Policing

Trade Wars




On Campus