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Research Findings

Research Findings

College and earnings are just part of the story: The contributions of marriage and family wealth to college-educated white women’s class location

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December 2, 2021

Most popular discourse on “returns to college” tends to assume—implicitly or explicitly—that adult class location is largely a result of individual earnings that flow from investments in education.

Recently, we published a qualitative longitudinal study of social mobility among a cohort of college-educated white women in the American Journal of Sociology. We followed 45 women who started college on the same residence hall at a flagship public university for 12 years, with a final wave of data collection at age 30.

We show that social class location over time was “sticky,” in that both upward and downward mobility were limited. The heavy hand of social class in shaping both marital patterns and the transfer of wealth accounts for the persistence of class position across generations.

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Research Findings

The politics of public employment in South Africa

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November 25, 2021

Over the past few decades, public employment programmes (PEPs) have played an increasingly significant role in the systems of social assistance of many low and middle-income countries. With the economies of many countries consistently failing to create enough jobs, or enough good quality jobs, to provide for all citizens, many governments have taken up the task of creating jobs directly through PEPs. 

Proponents of PEPs see them as addressing not only the economic, but also the social consequences of widespread unemployment and underemployment, in a way that grants and other forms of social assistance do not. A “job”, in many countries, is seen as a key component of full citizenship. It is thought to promote stability by acting as a “tangible and direct response on the part of the state to the challenge of unemployment, which may enhance citizen perceptions of state legitimacy and capacity”.

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Research Findings

When implementing new practices, engage employees in a process of co-creation


November 18, 2021

Organizations are often a mess. Managers implement all sorts of organizational controls (for example, processes, practices, rules and incentives) to coax employees to do their work in particular ways. Employees often defy managers, performing their work the way they want.

The outcome? Employees feel frustrated that managers are constantly bugging them to perform their work in particular ways that they feel aren’t actually effective. And managers are frustrated that all the work they do to define standardized practices and processes to help their employees is meaningless because the employees don’t actually do what they are told.

A key question for scholars and practitioners alike is how to address this enduring tug of war.

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Research Findings

Are union supporters blacklisted from hiring?

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November 4, 2021

Strikes at Kaiser Permanente, John Deere, and Kellogg’s have brought renewed attention to workers’ clout when they organize unions. Collective bargaining agreements can convert wage gains from a temporarily tight labor market into durable gains for workers. As a result, U.S. employers often pull out all the stops to defeat new union organizing drives. Many employers bet that it’s better to break the law and keep workers from getting a union than to be stuck with collective bargaining for years to come.

Historically, one powerful way that employers have kept unions out is by avoiding hiring union supporters in the first place. If an employer can systematically weed out applications from “bad apples” and pro-union malcontents, then the risk of a successful future organizing drive is mitigated. For example, a case study of hiring in a 1990s foreign auto plant found that managers avoided workers with prior auto experience, because that meant prior employment at the unionized Big Three American automakers. No auto experience, no union problem.

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Research Findings

“Having it all?”: How multi-level marketing organizations exploit cultural pressures on mothers


October 28, 2021

A seemingly perennial debate in the United States is how women can reconcile competing work and family demands. Can mothers really “have it all” given the lack of institutional support and increasing pressure to engage in child-centric lifestyles? Many women pedaling pricey skin care regimes on social media claim they can. They also try to draw other women into their multilevel direct selling business with the promise that they can as well.

Multilevel direct selling organizations—classic examples of which include Amway Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Avon—have  thrived among women in the past because they provide a flexible, individualized solution to the time-bind plaguing mothers.

And yet, this industry’s continued success among women raises concerns given evidence that very few women achieve financial success and given lawsuits alleging that multilevel direct selling organizations are pyramid schemes.

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Research Findings

Meatpacking work: Creating structural precarity and sacrifice zones in COVID-19

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October 21, 2021

In the early weeks of the pandemic, it became clear that meatpacking workers would bear a heavy burden, along with other frontline workers. In the meatpacking and food processing plant sector, nearly 92,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 466 workers have died from COVID-19, as of September 2021. Available data show that workers of color account for 80% of confirmed cases in an industry in which people of color comprise 80% of the workforce.

In a recent article in Sociological Perspectives, we drew on case studies of meatpacking facilities in three Midwestern states to analyze how industry consolidation and the hiring of marginalized workers affected worker safety and food system stability during the pandemic. We find that the meatpacking industry’s hyper-concentration and exploitative labor strategies created precarious structural conditions which COVID-19 deepened, producing two inter-connected processes:

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Research Findings

The Dispossession-Versus-Exploitation Dilemma for Informal Worker


October 14, 2021
informal worker

Defying stereotypes, millions of precarious informal workers have mobilized for labor rights over the past 40 years.  Yet, as my research on Bogotá’s recicladores (informal recyclers) movement demonstrates, organized informal workers may confront structural dilemmas as they seek to improve their working lives. As informal workers gain a measure of power to reshape the structure and conditions of their work, but continue to face constraints due to their subordinated positions in the broader political economy, tensions may emerge between the imperatives of combatting exploitation and dispossession.

Until recently, most scholars in the Marxist tradition viewed neither exploitation nor dispossession as significant threats to informal workers. Rather, such workers were dismissed as marginal outcasts, whose labor and assets were superfluous to the needs of capital. Indeed, Karl Marx categorized many workers who would come to be known as “informal” such as rag pickers, organ grinders, knife grinders, tinkers, and porters as part of the “lumpenproletariat,” an underclass of vagabonds and criminals.

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Research Findings

Another reason organizations need to support mothers returning to work: they are critical members

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October 7, 2021
Baby, Ouderschap, Hand, Vinger, Moeder, Vader

Mothers’ transition back to work after maternity leave is intense. It can be strenuous for mothers as they navigate new routines, relationships, and even identities. As Daisy Wademan Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, stated, “reentry is a transition that’s like no other … everything is changing.” In the United States, reentry may be especially challenging due to the absence of federal support and, on-average, shorter maternity leaves than in other developed nations.

We know that mothers need support from their employers during this critical transition. Yet, our understanding of the impact of organizations’ support on mothers’ as well as their partners’ personal and professional lives is less clear.

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Research Findings

Governing platforms by managing relationships

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September 30, 2021

As the power of digital platforms grows, tensions between platform companies and their users are increasingly making headlines. Prominent content creators have been “deplatformed” for spreading misinformation and hate speech. Uber and Lyft drivers frequently organize to resist exploitative policies.

These and other controversies are rooted in the fact that every platform company has to balance its own interests with the interests of its varied users. This is often called the problem of “platform governance,” or how platforms control the terms of users’ participation.

Existing studies of platform governance emphasize how platforms’ rules are set, implemented, and enforced. One strand of research emphasizes the role of algorithms and digital interfaces, which dictate how users interact with content and with each other. Another focuses on the human labor involved in implementing policies pertaining to user-generated content.

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Research Findings

“Women’s work” and the welfare state: New analysis quantifies how gender, class and social policy shape unpaid care work

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September 16, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened inequalities in unpaid care work, with increased childcare and housework burdens disproportionately borne by women. Across Europe and North America, women have been pushed out of the labor market, while mothers are increasingly suffering from stress and burnout.

Social policy might be able to reverse these trends – and the Carework Network has been urging the Biden-Harris administration to take decisive action now and reinvest in care infrastructure to “build back better”. Similar campaigns have been launched internationally, including in Canada and the UK.

But what can data tell us about the potential for welfare programs to address the gender gap in unpaid care work?

In our recent article in Gender & Society, we quantify the connections between social policy spending and inequality amongst unpaid care workers across 29 European countries.

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