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Research Findings

Research Findings

Automation and the future of work: A view from inside a tech startup


November 13, 2018

Are smart machines coming for our jobs?

In the past, technological change has generally led to the displacement of workers from some jobs, but also to the creation of new work. For example, as automation reduced the number of workers needed to grow and harvest crops in the early 20th century, technological change resulted in employment gains in the manufacturing and service sectors.

Today, however, many worry that the historical link between technological innovation and job creation may be coming to an end.

Big data and artificial intelligence make it possible for computers to perform tasks that previously required complex human cognition. Software algorithms are already driving cars, diagnosing diseases, and writing news articles.

A credible case can be made that, thanks to the rapid development of AI, this wave of technological change will usher in an era of widespread unemployment.

Most contemporary inquiries into the future of work offer projections of employment trends at the level of industries or occupations. These studies are useful for helping us conceptualize broad shifts in labor markets, but they aren’t able to shed light on the complex and unpredictable ways in which human workers and software systems interact in real-world settings.

In a recent study, I argue that in-depth examinations of the organizations in which software algorithms are developed and implemented can help us generate new insights into the question of when software systems function autonomously, and when they rely on the assistance of complementary human workers.

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Research Findings

Captives in Cycles of Invisibility? Prisoners’ Work for the Private Sector

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November 9, 2018

Prison Barbed Wire Fence

This summer we have seen what could be considered one of the largest prison strikes in US history, where prisoners are undertaking nineteen days of peaceful protest.

Some of the demands that underpin these protests are the need for improved prison conditions and greater funding in rehabilitation. But at the heart of this protest is a demonstration against imposed prison labour and the disturbingly low wages that accompany such work. This approach to prison work, an approach where profit is becoming more prevalent and private organisations are becoming more and more involved in the prison system, is not isolated to the US.

The research discussed here is based on a study conducted in the UK and is particularly pertinent in helping us to understand the reasoning behind the strikes and the feelings and experiences of those prisoners protesting.
Employment has been singled out as an important factor in reducing reoffending.

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Research Findings

Learning to be Latino in college


November 6, 2018

Every fall, a new crop of students enrolls in colleges across the country. Some pack up their belongings, leaving home and moving into dorms on campuses, while others start daily commutes.

And just as students’ paths to college vary, so do the campuses at which they arrive.

Colleges vary across multiple dimensions: from organizational and political culture, to level of prestige, peer culture, party scene, athletic emphasis, and racial-ethnic climate.

In recent work, I ask how some of these differences shape the college experiences of Latino students and find impact on their identity formation, civic engagement and more.

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Research Findings

Income and wealth are not highly correlated: here is why and what it means


October 29, 2018

The association between income and wealth is surprisingly complex and not well-understood. Yet this relationship is central to many of the questions that scholars of work, occupations, and inequality study.

The two are related but conceptually distinct: income is the flow of financial resources into a household from wages and salaries, investment returns, government transfer payments, and other sources. By contrast, wealth is a household’s total saved resources and is usually measured as net worth (total assets less total debts).

Both income and wealth are important measures of household financial well-being, the benefits a household receives from paid labor, and inequality across households. Not surprisingly, academics have rightfully studied both measures extensively; however, the association between income and wealth—beyond what each measure tells us on its own—holds additional and critical information that has attracted very little attention.

At first, the relationship between income and wealth may seem simple: as income increases, so too should wealth. Indeed, many assume that these indicators are strongly and positively correlated. In reality, the correlation between income and wealth is positive but relatively low, and there is no single, simple explanation for what happens to wealth when income rises.

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Research Findings

Promises and lost illusions of the political homeownership dream


October 24, 2018

The political homeownership ideal is the promise to create more equal and stable societies as well as to solve housing market problems by making more people homeowners, largely through the extension of mortgage credit to homebuyers. It also promises to fill the gap left by declining public housing and infrastructure investments and retrenching welfare states.

The British sociologist Colin Crouch considers the political homeownership ideal to be part of a neoliberal “unacknowledged policy regime”. He calls this, “privatized Keynesianism” which he sees as gaining the upper hand in most Western countries since the 1980s.

In a recent study, I trace the rise of the homeownership ideal in nineteen Western countries, from its origins as a conservative answer to the nineteenth-century upheavals of industrialization and urbanization, to the present day.

Based on extensive analysis of election manifestos, I find that virtually all conservative parties in the countries I examined have defended the ideal of homeownership, and supported the expansion of mortgage lending rather than public welfare programs. However, there are large differences on the political left, especially before the 1980s.

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Research Findings

Men’s entry and exit from female-dominated occupations


October 22, 2018

Compared with the increasing number of women entering male-dominated occupations, the number of men in female-dominated occupations remains very low. The male presence in typically female occupations has hovered at the levels observed in 1980, rising only slightly from 8 percent to 9.5 percent over the ensuing two decades.

Much ink has been spilled about men’s reluctance to enter so-called female professions (i.e. jobs in nursing, teaching, secretarial work, waitressing, or child care). Researchers note that typically male occupations offer higher pay, more fringe benefits, and more opportunities for promotion than jobs in female-dominated fields. Furthermore, there is substantial evidence that men working in female jobs suffer negative stereotyping, adding a social cost to their career choice. Therefore, while entering male-dominated fields is crucial for women’s economic and social advancement, men have few incentives to choose female-dominated jobs.

Though these barriers have been well documented, less attention has been paid to the actual experiences of men who, despite the drawbacks, decide to work in a female-dominated job (see this  and this for some exceptions). I address this topic and examine the work histories of men employed in the United States between 1979 and 2006 (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979). Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Should CEO pay rise with performance?


October 17, 2018

The median CEO pay in Standard and Poor’s 500 companies is about $10 million.  Many Americans think Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are overpaid. Still, they underestimate how much CEOs are paid.

One recent study shows that many people in the U.S. support capping CEO pay at a maximum amount relative to the average worker. Not everyone thinks so, of course, but sizeable numbers of Democrats (66%), Republicans (52%) and Independents (64%) do.

While evidence of discontent with CEO pay continues to grow, we still know very little about why.

A challenge in the study of attitudes toward executive pay, as with the study of attitudes toward anything, is that people consider many factors in forming their attitudes and expressing their opinions. In the case of executive pay, these might include people’s perceptions of current pay levels, their perceptions about company performance, and their core values, among others.

My research examines one of the major determinants of attitudes toward pay: beliefs about whether and how rewards should rise with contributions.

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Research Findings

Are overeducated workers unhappy at work?

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October 15, 2018

Many people enter occupations that require about the same level of education as they have, but some people enter occupations where their level of education exceeds the required level.  Are these overeducated workers less happy with their work than other workers?  We sought to answer this question in our recent paper.

Since the 1950’s, social scientists have voiced concerns about overeducation, and the recent trend of bifurcation in the labor market (i.e., jobs coming to require either very high skills or very low skills) has intensified these concerns.  For the country as a whole, the presence of overeducated workers in the labor market indicates underutilization of worker skills, which in turn limits the country’s ability to achieve its economic potential.

For individual workers, overeducation may lower earnings and increase health problems.  Overeducation may also lower work satisfaction.

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Research Findings

The emotional labor of stand-up comedy


October 13, 2018

In the popular imagination, comedians live extreme and volatile lives.

A cursory knowledge of the careers of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, John Belushi, and Sam Kinison is enough to tell us that stand-up is a world where occupational success often goes hand-in-hand with scandal, excess, and self-destructive behavior.

For most professional comedians, however, stand-up is extreme and volatile in another, more mundane sense: it involves insecure employment, short-term contracts, irregular patterns of work, and months or even years of unpaid labor.

Like other types of creative workers, such as musicians or actors, comedians are prepared to tolerate low wages and uncertain career prospects because they view their occupation as a labor of love. Making audiences double-up with laughter every night, so the theory goes, is meant to be its own reward.

But of course, stand-up is still a job, albeit one that is outside conventional 9-to-5 hours. So how do comedians earn a living on the stand-up circuit, especially when there are a hundred other gag merchants happy to work for free?

Recent research I conducted with my colleague Dimitrinka Stoyanova Russell, based on interviews with 65 full-time comedians in the UK, shows that finding work in stand-up is a complex emotional process.

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Research Findings

Union innovations in organizing young workers


October 10, 2018

Unions matter because they provide a voice for workers at their workplace and often in their communities, sectors and in the economy more widely. But in most countries, union membership is ageing rapidly which raises questions about who unions speak for and who they speak to.

By and large, unions recognize the challenges facing them and have been trying to address them for some time. This has led to many unions and activists experimenting with new ways of doing things in an effort to engage young workers.

What’s different about young workers?

Our research looked at some of those innovations in the USA, UK, Germany and France  and found that where initiatives were supported by the union, and were in sectors that had some history of bargaining, unions could be very effective at reaching out to young workers.

But it can be difficult to sustain these initiatives with the churn of activists and the precarious work that inevitably comes with working in some of the sectors targeted. Laws and restrictions on what unions do can also be a major hurdle. Nonetheless, our research suggests there is good reason to be optimistic that unions can target and represent young workers very effectively when they are open to new approaches.

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