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Research Findings

Research Findings

What is the “Value-Added” of teachers? How test scores perpetuate false understandings of the work of teachers and of the process of learning


February 25, 2021

As a middle school math teacher, I taught at a school serving a wealthy student body and my students had incredibly high test scores. But I had also taught at a school where the majority of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch and my students had incredibly low test scores. In the low-poverty school, I was seemingly a very effective teacher—yet, in the high-poverty school, I was seemingly a very low-quality teacher.

This experience led me to a career as a sociologist focusing on inequities in education. In my most recent study, I investigated the use of test scores to assess the effectiveness of teachers.

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Research Findings

Patient Satisfaction is Not Medical Quality


February 23, 2021

Over the last decade, consumer-driven health care elevated customer satisfaction to be the central mission of hospital care. Satisfaction surveys and hotel-style amenities rose hand-in-hand to become central features of U.S. hospitals. This trend has done more harm than good. It focuses everyone’s attention on front-stage aspects of health care over what matters most to patients: excellent medical treatment.

As I discovered in a recent study published in Social Forces with my colleague Xinxiang Chen, satisfaction scores are driven by room and board hospitality, rather than medical quality or patient survival rates. Moreover, when hospitals face greater competition from other facilities, there is higher patient satisfaction, but lower medical quality.

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Research Findings

How computerization has opened up new opportunities for enhancing the earnings of the already privileged


February 18, 2021

Most of the research on rising economic inequality focuses on technological skill, productivity, and market forces. But of course, that is only part of the story. Just as important is workers’ bargaining power. The weakening of labor unions, which has left workers with less collective power to fight for their own interests, is a major story behind rising economic inequality in recent decades.

In a recent article, I find that rising wages for highly rewarded occupations has very little to do with technological advances, in and of itself, and a lot to do with the politics of production (broadly define) and power.

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Research Findings

What explains racial/ethnic inequality in job quality for low-wage frontline workers in the service sector?


February 11, 2021

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, many in the United States have become increasingly concerned not only with police brutality, but with the impact of systemic racism in the United States.

One important aspect of systemic racism comes in the form of job quality. There are significant gaps between white and Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino/Latina, and other racial/ethnic minority workers in the United States in this regard. White workers, for instance, tend to receive better pay, more fringe benefits, and have an easier time getting hired than workers of color.

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Research Findings

In elite professional firms, skill development practices help and hurt racial and ethnic minorities


February 4, 2021

Many large professional firms—such as law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, and investment banks—make substantial efforts to recruit members of racial and ethnic minority groups at the entry level. However, the numbers of people of color in such firms drop significantly at more senior levels. All too often, these professionals find it difficult to obtain recognition and responsibility, and leave their firms when their initial hopes turn to discouragement. Why does this happen over and over?

An important key to this puzzle lies in the process of skill development in professional work.

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Research Findings

Uneven Access to Union Jobs Increases Inequality Within Marginalized Groups

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January 28, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on extant structural inequality. Differences in labor market outcomes and economic security between unionized and non-unionized workers are no exception. It has become increasingly clear that non-unionized workers are less shielded from the economic impacts of the pandemic and that many of these workers are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.

Unions do a great deal to challenge economic inequality. Unions do this by increasing baseline wages among workers, stabilizing promotion decisions reducing their arbitrariness, and providing other resources like job training and skill development. Although unionization benefits all workers, its effects are particularly apparent among already marginalized groups.

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Research Findings

A second chance in the military


January 21, 2021

As many as 1 in 3 Americans have some type of criminal record. Many of them face multiple barriers to employment.

In 2018, 95 percent of employers conducted background checks during the hiring process, which was up from 70 percent of the employers surveyed in 2012. In addition, many state occupational licensing laws prohibit people with criminal records from joining licensed professions. These barriers, coupled with the persistent social stigma surrounding past arrest and conviction records, mean that employment prospects are grim for a substantial segment of the U.S. population.

Within this social context, the United States military happens to be one of the largest employers to regularly hire people with a criminal record. However, we know little about their lives, other than that people with a criminal record perform equally well or better than their counterparts without a criminal record.

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Research Findings

Labor’s Legacy


January 14, 2021

At the same time that union density in the United States has declined and labor law has withered, employment law has flourished, proliferating at the subnational level and expanding into new substantive domains (see Figures 1 and 2 below).

As a result, for the vast majority of 21st century workers, what rights and protections remain come not from labor law and the mechanism of collective bargaining, but from employment laws and the mechanisms of regulation and litigation.

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Research Findings

No escape: When workplaces use social media


January 7, 2021

Existing studies on how information and communication technologies influence work find that workers use digital media to control their work-life boundaries. But in China, social media is all pervasive with a permanent memory. There is no escape in time or space, and resistance is futile.

In a recent article, I examine how workplace subordinates interact with their supervisors on WeChat, the most popular app in China. I find that lower-ranked individuals are compelled to constantly express their loyalty and appreciation and publicly submit to their superiors by clicking “like” or commenting on their posts. They also have to provide immediate and polite responses to their superordinates in WeChat group chats after work hours and with respect to non-work-related issues.

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Research Findings

Who is the boss? The social class disadvantage for becoming a manager is big and it’s costly


December 10, 2020

Social class is arguably the greatest barrier to advancement at work, yet it is mostly ignored by companies’ diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. In a recent study with Jean Oh, we found that in the U.S., individuals from lower social-class origins face disadvantages at least as large as women and Black Americans in terms of becoming a manager. In most countries around the globe, we found, the social-class disadvantage is even greater than it is in the U.S.! And, the social class disadvantage impacts a lot of people—around the world, more people identify with lower than higher social classes.

Of course, individuals from lower social class origins suffer losses because they are less likely to become managers, as managerial roles are associated with job satisfaction, health, and income. But companies and countries also suffer from this exclusion.

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