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Research Findings

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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Research Findings

Geographic disparities in student debt by rural, suburban, and urban background


September 9, 2021

American youth from rural backgrounds are making the most of the college-for-all era. Despite long-standing inequalities in access, rates of both college enrollment and completion have risen faster in recent years for rural youth than for youth from suburban and urban areas.   

These successes both reflect and reinforce contemporary challenges facing rural America. Rising enrollments stem in part from structural shifts in the economy that have reduced the number of decent-paying jobs available to less-educated rural workers. And rural sociologists have documented the family and community costs of college-going, highlighting tensions between the desire to stay close to home and the hope of future economic security.

Yet it is also important to consider how rural youth are financing these college gains, especially given the high costs of college, rising student debt, and longstanding spatial inequalities in the resources students have to pay for college.

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Research Findings

Consumer redlining at Dollar General


September 2, 2021

“We are awakening to a dollar-store economy,” the New York Times declared in 2011, a culture of fear-induced bargain hunting spurred by the 2008 market meltdown and jobless recovery. More than ever before, anxious consumers are looking to stretch a buck due to the shrinking middle class and a widening gap of economic inequality. Dollar stores thrive in climates of economic uncertainty. In fact, their success is built on the death of the American middle class.

Yet all Dollar General stores are not equal. That was my conclusion in a recent article, after conducing six months of ethnographic fieldwork investigating service relations between dollar store managers, low-wage workers, and their customers. Of the nineteen stores in the district I worked in as a low-wage sales associate, three standout stores emerged as the very worst. Conditions there were dirtier and more hazardous than the rest, with barren shelves, slower customer service, and a tense atmosphere for those who worked and shopped amidst the squalor. I identified these Dollar General locations as consumer redlined stores. 

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Research Findings

Misery has company:how predatory investors have exacerbated and exploited the coronavirus crisis

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July 15, 2021
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A once-in-a-century pandemic has sparked an unprecedented crisis. With over 167 million cases and 3.5 million deaths recorded worldwide and entire economies in turmoil, the fallout has been felt by all—but unevenly so. Public attention has rightfully focused on curbing COVID-19’s spread and alleviating economic hardship.

But lurking behind the headlines of vaccines and new variants are predatory financial investors whose work has placed many workers at risk and exploited those very vulnerabilities to profit from the pandemic.

In a recent article in American Behavioral Scientist, we examine how the rise of U.S. “shadow banks”—less regulated, private credit intermediaries such as private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund firms—has impacted the course of hardship and inequality during the crisis. These shadow banks play an instrumental role in how executives manage companies, which has important ramifications for societal responses to crises, the wellbeing and livelihoods of workers, and inequality throughout the labor market.

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Research Findings

Economic loss causes greater mental harm for immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic


July 8, 2021

Although many studies have shown that inequalities have widened in many ways ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the discussion has focused on objective measures, such as numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, access to healthcare and medical treatment, or unemployment/poverty. Less attention has been paid to inequality consequences in connection with subjective experience.

Objectively, studies have shown that chances of physical as well as economic survival are not evenly distributed across class, racial and ethnic groups, as well as residential areas and regions, with the disadvantaged vulnerable to more severe consequences. Subjectively, however, it is unclear whether disadvantaged population groups also bear more psychological burdens.

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Research Findings

Inhabited ecosystems of change: Attending to the “social” aspects of movements

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June 17, 2021

Workplaces exert considerable influence in society. They mediate the economic exchanges that enable modern life and facilitate (or block) achieving large-scale, collective goals. As such, they are integral to the advancement of social progress. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they are often implicated in movements promoting social justice.

The substantial research on workplace organizations and social movements focuses primarily on how outsiders target specific organizations through protests or boycotts or on how employee activists leverage insider knowledge to effect change from within.

Our work purposely blurs these distinctions, exploring a case where it was neither simply the work of external agents applying pressure from the outside, nor of insiders skillfully manipulating the internal levers of change, that propelled change. Rather, it was a community of workplace activists, linked together and acting between and through their organizations, to face opposition yet sustain and even expand their efforts with and for each other.

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Research Findings

What is left for sociologists of pay-setting to study?


June 10, 2021

Much of the best sociology of pay-setting from the last twenty years has documented the declining importance of non-market constraints on pay.

The collapse of labor unions means fewer and fewer employers are bound by restrictive collective bargaining agreements. Similar outcomes come from the rise of shareholder value; restructuring and opening up of internal labor markets; erosion of fixed, bureaucratic pay schedules; outsourcing and contracting…The list goes on.

There’s a ton of great research on these important changes. But they can mostly be summarized as changes that eliminate protections from market competition that workers previously enjoyed.

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Research Findings

Driven by Inequalities: Exploring the Resurgence of Domestic Work in US Cities


May 27, 2021

To many Americans, the term “domestic servant” conjures up images of other places and other times. Maybe it is Downton Abbey. Or maybe it is a Latin American country. Or if we do think about the United States, we think about a time long in the past. 

But contrary to popular perceptions, domestic service is very much a part of the contemporary American landscape, and is in fact on the rise for the first time in over one hundred years.

What explains this twenty-first century resurgence of an occupation that sociologist Lewis Coser declared obsolete in 1973? The short answer: inequality.

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Research Findings

How gentrification reproduces racial inequality

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May 20, 2021

Gentrification—the socioeconomic upgrading of previously low-income neighborhoods—has spread to more cities and more neighborhoods over the last two decades. It has increasingly ignited opposition around how it displaces poor residents out of their once-neglected neighborhoods.

But research has consistently found that this isn’t the case.

Nearly all studies, including our own, that track poor residents living in gentrifying neighborhoods find that they do not move out of their neighborhoods—in general or involuntarily—substantially more than those living in low-income neighborhoods that don’t gentrify. Instead, most of the demographic changes in the neighborhood are due to the changing demographics of who is moving into neighborhoods rather than who is moving out.

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Research Findings

Public Sector and Politically Engaged: The Role of Unions

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May 14, 2021

Research finds that public sector workers are more politically active and civically engaged than the broader public. Our work investigates the role of labor unions in amplifying and shaping this participation. 

With one in three public sector workers unionized, unionization has widespread implications. Public workers make up nearly half of all union members in the United States, including large numbers of women and people of color. However, the political terrain of public unions is shifting with the passage of restrictive laws and increased political opposition, especially over the past decade. This opposition threatens to erode public union membership, potentially undermining political and civic participation.

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