Monthly Archives

August 2018

Research Findings

Are there birth order differences in college major, and does that matter?

August 29, 2018

Many people have an opinion about the importance of birth order. They might recall that while their parents gave them a curfew, that didn’t apply to their younger brother. Or that their parents idolized the oldest child. The interesting thing is, research suggests that birth order actually does influence the long-term paths that people follow in life.

Previous research has shown that, compared to first-borns, later-born siblings in the same family tend to have lower grades in high school, are less likely to go to university, achieve a lower overall level of education, have less prestigious occupations in adulthood, and also make less money.

Furthermore, it is not just a difference between first-borns and all later-born siblings; the second-born typically does worse than the first-born, the third-born does worse than the second-born, and so on. These patterns are observed amongst children who grew up in the same family, and can be seen across families of all sizes.

In our study we wanted to extend this research to see whether there are birth order differences in what siblings choose to study if they go to university. College major can matter a lot for long-term outcomes.

Research in the United States and Norway has shown that the difference in long-term earnings between the most lucrative and the least lucrative college major can be as large as the earnings gap between those who go to college and those who do not.

Examining whether there are birth order differences in college major would help us to further understand the effects of birth order on education. Furthermore, birth order differences in college major might explain part of the long-term birth order differences observed in occupational prestige and earnings, given the importance of college major for those outcomes.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Field of work determines pay, and increasingly so

August 27, 2018

Sociologists have traditionally considered occupation—field of work—a central factor in differentiating people’s life chances. This post summarizes new research reinvigorating sociology’s preoccupation with occupation. It suggests that field of work is a critical factor determining pay, and increasingly so, and that this is the case because different occupations involve different tasks.

Occupational tasks and wages

For a number of years now, I have been studying how occupation relates to pay in the United Kingdom. In this research, I have found that occupations have become a stronger predictor of earnings since the 1970s such that occupations explain the majority of wage inequality and its growth in the United Kingdom. Moreover, this trend has shown no sign of reversal even with the wage stagnation of the last decade.

But how might we explain the connection between field of work and pay, and why the connection might be evolving? An exciting new approach examines the task content of occupations.

At the heart of this idea is that pay is attached to particular types of tasks: Different tasks command different rates of pay in the labor market. Since tasks are differentially bundled together across occupations, some occupations pay more than others.

Since the value of tasks is not constant, this approach might also explain why some occupations’ wages rise faster than others. For instance, sociologists Liu and Grusky examined the growth in wage inequality in the United States and found that occupational tasks explain most of the rise in between-occupation inequality there.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

The price employers pay for employees’ financial precarity

August 25, 2018

It is difficult to overlook the growing number of reports and studies documenting the downward spiral of personal financial wellness within the United States. The American Psychological Association, for example, indicates that finances have become a more frequently cited source of stress than work, family, or health concerns. The Federal Reserve Board further reports that half of the population does not have $400 in the event of an emergency, while spending equals or exceeds income for many households.

As Neal Gabler summarizes in the Atlantic, “In the 1950s and ‘60s, economic growth democratized prosperity. In the 2010s, we have democratized financial insecurity.”

Although rising debt and stagnating incomes are often ascribed as the main culprits for this turn of events, the impact of historic changes in employment relations and the organization of work on these trends tends to be understated if not go unmentioned. Research suggests that companies have increasingly relied on contingent workers, adopted variable pay and scheduling schemes, laid off employees, and increased employees’ share of the costs and risk associated with fringe benefits since the mid-1970s, which in sum has created a context for financial uncertainty and precarity to thrive among a substantial segment of the population.

Given the contribution of changing work practices to the current crisis in personal finance in the United States, an open question that has not received much attention is whether these trends carry economic implications for employers.

We set out to answer this question by collaborating with a national transportation company to collect survey data from over 1,000 short-haul truck drivers and track their accident rates for the subsequent 8 months.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

By giving greater relief to the highest earners, the charitable deduction disadvantages charities which protect the most vulnerable

August 22, 2018

By the end of this month, the Internal Revenue Service will have received about 140 million individual tax returns. Many of those who have filed this year will have hoped to see greater tax relief than they have years past. The tax legislation passed by Congress in December 2017 promised to lower the tax burden for a large swath of American households. One way it does this is by doubling the standard deduction—the baseline deduction in taxable income every taxpayer is eligible to take. Taxpayers are celebrating the change, but charitable organizations are decidedly less enthusiastic about it.

Charities are aggrieved because a larger standard deduction will likely reduce the number of taxpayers who itemize their deductions (rather than take the standard deduction) —and the number of taxpayers who take the tax deduction for charitable contributions (which I refer to as the charitable deduction). The charitable deduction is only available to itemizers, currently about a third of taxpayers. It works by lessening the cost of charitable gifts proportionally by one’s marginal income tax rate; i.e., the after-tax cost of charitable gifts declines as one’s income bracket increases. Now that the standard deduction has doubled in size, some taxpayers who itemized in years past will likely take the standard deduction this year and will no longer have a tax-related motivation for making donations.

This means we might see a dip in charitable giving. Charities have not hesitated to register their displeasure about this. As the tax legislation began to take form last fall, charities began to express their concerns that a diminished itemizer class would strip them of their ability to meet basic needs. In a statement to New York Times columnist Ann Carns, Feeding America executive Diana Aviv explained how a potential decline in charitable giving would “devastate [their] ability to provide food assistance;” Orvin Kimbrough of the United Way of Greater St. Louis voiced his concerns in similarly stark terms: “This is about people’s lives.”

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Which professional jobs are better for mothers?

August 20, 2018

Compared to other workers, mothers face a number of disadvantages, including lower wages, bias in recruitment and promotion, and a greater risk of joblessness. These disadvantages may be more prevalent in professional jobs where ‘ideal worker’ norms are most salient. Professional employers tend to view mothers as less competent and committed than other workers—a major stigma in careers that require around-the-clock dedication.

These biases are so strong that employers often discriminate against mothers irrespective of their experience, skill or job commitment.

Our own research has shown that employers use a variety of strategies to shed, demote and otherwise marginalize professional mothers, including screening mothers out of the recruitment process or channeling them into positions with lower pay, prestige and responsibility.

But little is known about which kinds of professional jobs are better—or worse—for working mothers.

What role does job context play in shaping professional mothers’ access to highly skilled professional jobs? In a recent study we sought to answer this question. Our analysis drew on 51 in-depth interviews with employers in two professional sectors in Hungary: finance and business services. These two sectors allowed us to compare the ways job context shapes recruitment and hiring norms and practices.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

How rising income inequality exacerbates racial economic disparities

August 7, 2018

Fifty years after the civil rights movement, racial economic inequality remains a major fact of American life. In fact, the gap in family income between blacks and whites has been almost perfectly constant since the 1960s.

In a recent study, I show that the persistence of the racial income gap results from two opposing trends. Over the last 50 years there has been real if incomplete progress towards racial equality in income ranks negated by the national trend of rising income inequality overall.

In 1968, just after the Civil Rights Movement, the median African American had family income 57% that of the median white American. In 2016, the ratio was 56%. The utter lack of progress is striking.

It’s also a bit puzzling, because real efforts were made to reduce discrimination in employment and equalize access to education and other resources needed to succeed in the United States.

Continue Reading…