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Research Findings

What studying twins tells us about inequality of educational opportunity

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March 26, 2020

Why do the children of highly educated parents so often turn out highly educated themselves? Is this inheritance largely a social affair, that the welfare state can compensate for by levelling the playing field? Or is educational attainment “mostly in the genes” and thereby beyond the influence of policy levers?

Historically, sociologists have tended to favor social explanations. At the same time we have often shied away from competing perspectives (with important exceptions). Recently, that has begun to change. Understanding the links between genetics and the social environment in generating social inequalities is increasingly a concern for social scientists.

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Research Findings

Labor struggles of domestic workers: examples from Lebanon and Belgium

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March 19, 2020

The way housework is organized has changed significantly over time. We have witnessed a proliferation of platforms and private agencies that provide consumers with occasional cleaners or live-in domestic workers. But what are the experiences of these diverse workers and do they share common interests and struggles? 

In the context of globalizing neoliberal policies, documenting experiences of labor organizing and autonomous initiatives is more important than ever for emancipatory politics. In global care chains, the logistics around the mobility, placement and regulation of domestic workers are increasingly mediated through private-sector brokers.

In a recently published article, we compare emerging infrastructures for the regulation of domestic work in Belgium and Lebanon and analyze subversive attempts to organize within these infrastructures. Our case studies illustrate how the commodification and logistification of domestic labor pose new challenges for organizing. 

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Research Findings

Youths’ gender attitudes maintain the status quo

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March 10, 2020

Since the mid-twentieth century, women have entered the labor market in droves and now make up over half of the paid workforce. Still, women do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare, despite their increasing hours spent in the labor force. Both academic research and public sentiment suggest that most people support gender equality and we just need workplace policies to catch up. But what if workplace policies are not the only barrier to progress?

Our new study in Sociological Science finds that fewer young people desire gender egalitarian arrangements—equal earning and caring roles for men and women—than conventional wisdom presumes. We analyzed almost 40 years of Monitoring the Future data to examine trends in young peoples’ division of labor preferences, an indicator of beliefs about appropriate roles for men and women in both work and family contexts.

Our study differs from prior research by evaluating perceptions of both women and men’s behavior in work and family contexts. Each year, high school seniors were instructed to imagine they were married and have one or more pre-school children. They then evaluated six distinct division of labor arrangements as not at all acceptable, somewhat acceptable, acceptable, or desirable for their future selves. This data enabled us to evaluate whose employment was prioritized, not just tolerated.

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Research Findings

LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination policies are important but insufficient for LGBTQ workplace equality

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March 6, 2020

On Tuesday, October 8th 2019, the Supreme Court heard arguments for the first time regarding whether the federal laws that have banned employment discrimination on the basis of sex can also be applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) workers. 

Essentially, the question that is now before the court is whether it is legal for LGBTQ workers to be fired or denied jobs on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Given recent social science scholarship documenting persistent patterns of discrimination against sexual and gender minority workers, it is hard to over-estimate the importance of a favorable ruling for current and future generations of LGBTQ-identifying working Americans. 

A common goal in the existing literature on LGBTQ workers is to uncover mechanisms, such as hiring discrimination, that prevent LGBTQ workers from accessing or entering into certain jobs and occupations. Thus, much attention has been paid to the factors impeding LGBTQ workers’ access to certain jobs and occupations. A Supreme Court ruling making such discrimination illegal, many advocates say, would go a long way to addressing these disadvantages. 

Our research suggests that banning discrimination for the hiring and promotion of LGBTQ workers may not act as the great equalizer many have hoped for. In a study of LGBTQ workers who already enjoy anti-discrimination protections, we find that those workers still face a myriad of biases in their workplaces on a day-to-day basis. 

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Research Findings

The danger of pharmaceutical populism

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March 3, 2020

Most readers of this blog probably live in countries where a pharmaceutical regulatory agency decides what medical treatments are made available. Following the paradigm of the US Food and Drug Administration, for the last fifty years these agencies have been testing new treatments for safety and efficacy with a standardized experimental design called randomized clinical trials (RCTs). Historians of medical experimentation (like the late Harry Marks) claim that RCTs were adopted because they implemented controls that warranted the impartiality of the experiment. 

There is an open debate over how the experiments bear relevance to the world in which regulatory decisions play out. But regulatory agencies have trusted evidence from well-designed RCTs as the most impartial ground to decide on the safety and efficacy of a new treatment. 

A clinical trial often generates major conflicts of interest because the sponsoring pharmaceutical company wants its treatment to succeed in the trial and patients often have preferences on treatments even before enrolling in the trial. Blinding all participating stakeholders is a device to control the experiment and prevent interferences. If neither physicians nor patients know whether they are receiving the experimental treatment or a placebo, their preferences will not influence the outcome of the trial. 

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Research Findings

Retail worker surveillance goes beyond Amazon warehouses


February 28, 2020

At least one good thing has come out of Amazon warehouses. The horror stories about the company’s working conditions—including sonic wristbands that follow employees’ every move—have increased public concern about the potential dangers of workplace surveillance. Beyond Amazon, workers across a range of industries are already being tracked and monitored.

In a recent article, I focus on the digital surveillance of fast fashion retail workers. Fast fashion chains such as Zara and H&M are known for selling a tremendous amount of trendy, cheap clothing. Less well known about these companies is the extent to which they too rely on a vast amount of data—tracking customers and workers alike—to keep their stores running.

Between 2015 and 2018, I immersed myself in this industry. I worked as a sales associate at two major fast fashion retailers in New York City, interviewed twenty other retail workers, volunteered with a retail workers’ center, and attended corporate retail conferences where the latest technologies were on display.

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Research Findings

For Gender Pay Gaps, Organizations Matter

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February 25, 2020

One of the most vexing political and social science problems is the persistence of the gender wage gap. In a recently published article in the American Journal of Sociology, we argue that looking at an organization’s choices is crucial to understanding the gender pay gap. Studies that focus on pay as a result of individual worker choices (such as assuming women choose lower paying jobs to accommodate family) are missing that organizations also make choices about pay. 

Our article offers a new approach to analyzing the gender pay gap, examining how different organizations pay women less than men using multiple mechanisms at the organization level. These organizational-level processes are often hidden, and harder to see than individual choices, but may be more powerful. 

Because we were looking at workers in the federal government in the US, initially we assumed that the federal general schedule (GS)—the system of pay grades tied to job requirements, responsibilities, education, and tenure—would effectively reduce most pay inequality between similarly qualified workers. 

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Research Findings

Strangers, trust, and class cleavages in Mexico City


February 20, 2020

Who would you entrust your car to? Many of us who drive entrust our cars to parking valets, exchanging the keys for a small ticket handed to us by a company employee, often stationed behind a kiosk where prices are shown. We find comfort in knowing that if the car were to be stolen, we could always call the police to handle the matter. We might also entrust our cars to friends or family members. Since they are close to us, we expect them to take good care of the vehicle. 

These two scenarios roughly correspond to the two predominant explanations that the social science literature offers about what makes trust possible. In the first case, reliable institutions make trust possible; in the second, group dynamics—and particularly, the recognition of others as members of our same group (homophily)—do. 

Yet, in a recently published article, I explore the case of informal car-parkers in Mexico City—often dubbed “viene-vienes”—and their interactions with clients, which defies both of these explanations. Amid the busy streets of Mexico City, with its terrible traffic and limited parking, middle- and high-class Mexicans often entrust their cars—keys and all—to informal car parkers with no institutional affiliations. 

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Research Findings

The market-money-infrastructures problem nexus in Europe


February 18, 2020

What is the relationship between markets, money and their infrastructures? Economists tell us that the relationship is straightforward: money makes markets “fluid” and adequate infrastructures make them efficient. But ongoing attempts at integrating financial markets in Europe teach us a different story.

In a series of three recently published research articles, I analyze the interlacing problems in present-day Europe of (a) creating an integrated infrastructure for financial markets, (b) rendering financial markets liquid and efficient without producing systemic risks, and (c) drawing a line between money as a tradeable commodity in the market and as a fluidifying medium for markets (an infrastructure).

This nexus of problems reveals fundamental contradictions inscribed in the legal and political foundations for still ongoing European financial market integration processes. Mapping these contradictions can recast our understanding of controversies and debates related to integration processes ranging from bureaucratic disagreements over technical issues to open political conflict in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis of 2009.

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Research Findings

Are unemployed men more likely to enter female-dominated occupations?

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February 7, 2020

The US labor market has undergone major changes in the types of occupations that are in demand over the last fifty years. Since the 1970s, many jobs and sectors traditionally dominated by men have contracted or disappeared. For example, the manufacturing and construction sectors – both heavily male-dominated sectors – were among the hardest hit industries during the Great Recession in terms of job losses, and jobs in the manufacturing sector have had an overall decline of over 50% since the 1970s

On the other hand, the demand for jobs traditionally held by women has increased significantly, and these patterns are expected to continue in the future. In fact, women dominate the majority of industries projected to have the highest job growth over the next decade. If the jobs that women currently dominate represent the future occupational landscape, will men enter these jobs? 

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