Research Findings

The New Economy as Multi-Level Marketing Scheme: Career Coaches and Unemployment in the Age of Insecurity


February 17, 2022

The forty unemployed professionals who made it to this meeting at Jump Start Job Club are prepared to chant. Arranged in folding chairs with Styrofoam cups in hand, their eyes are fixed on their lines, projected on a PowerPoint slide: “I’m not over-qualified, I’m absolutely qualified!”

The bubbly presenter orchestrates: “Let’s say it all together!”

The crowd looks like a twenty-year reunion of the characters in the movie Office Space: not its scheming anti-work hero, but the background cast, the characters who decided to stick with the company until the layoffs came around.

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Research Findings

Mothers are the primary earners in growing numbers of families with children


February 10, 2022

About 70% of U.S. moms can expect to be primary financial providers before their first child turns 18.

In a substantial number of families with children, mothers, whether single or partnered, are now the primary breadwinner. More than 40 percent of American mothers solely or primarily support their minor children through their own earnings in any given year.

For most of the 20th century, except in wartime, says historian Stephanie Coontz, women who were the primary source of their children’s income were generally unmarried, divorced, or widowed. But for the past two decades, the most rapid growth in breadwinning mothers has been among partnered women. As late as 2000, only 15 percent of primary-earning mothers were married. But by 2017, married women accounted for almost 40 percent of mothers whose earnings were the primary support for their families, based on the 1990-2000 Censuses and 2010-2017 American Community Surveys.

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Research Findings

How do occupations conceal job variation and gender segregation?


February 3, 2022

Gender segregation – the tendency of men and women to work in different kinds of jobs – is an enduring problem in the United States. Because jobs dominated by women tend to be paid less than those dominated by men, segregation contributes to gender inequality. Despite progress over time, the rate of desegregation has slowed in recent decades, and segregation remains a major contributor to the gender pay gap.

However, gender segregation may be worse than we thought. It turns out that the way we typically measure segregation – using occupations – conceals gender segregation based on job titles. Therefore, we know very little about how men and women might be segregated into different job titles within occupations, especially over time and at the national level.

My recent article in the American Sociological Review shows that occupations hide significant levels of gender segregation and that job title desegregation may be slowing relative to occupational desegregation.

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Research Findings

The Unintended Persistence of Recycling in India


January 27, 2022

Self-driving cars and manufacturing automation are widely discussed as challenges for the contemporary workforce. Less visible, however, are labor questions at the other end of the commodity chain: is household garbage collected by hand or lifted by giant compactors? Does sorting for recycling take place on conveyer belts or in the back of informal workers’ carts? How are these decisions made?

These questions became especially urgent in countries across the Global South over the last few decades, when people increasingly concentrated in cities and became reliant on the packaged goods that are predestined to become trash.

While administrators feverishly cooked up policies under the guidance of international organizations, informal recyclers continued to plie streets, knocking on doors and mining dumpsites in search of waste they sell into recycling markets. Without the support of formal policies or programs, and often in spite of them, informal workers have sustained recycling globally.

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Research Findings

Hope in Organizations Tackling Grand Challenges

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January 20, 2022

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic – and other large-scale issues facing humanity – organizations all over the globe have been working to tackle challenges that are key for human flourishing, and even survival. For example, non-profit organizations, medical institutions, think tanks, and corporate CSR efforts have aimed to tackle challenges such as climate change, social inequity, and finding the cure for disease or illnesses.

However, as organizations aim to address these important societal issues, they are likely to find that it’s hard to tackle grand challenges. Given the magnitude of the issues they seek to address, and the difficulty in doing so, organizations may never fully realize their goals. In such situations, progress is often slow, and failures and setbacks are almost inevitable.

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Research Findings

Business or personal? Gendered professional pathways after job loss


December 16, 2021

John is a white, college-educated professional who lost his job. When I interviewed John, he chalked up his job loss as being a business decision, “A work superior explained to me that the business outlook was not looking good for the upcoming months. And consequently, it was a business decision, and not related to my work performance.” John added, “it was all based on dollars.” 

As I explain in a new article published in Gender & Society, for John and for dozens of other unemployed men that I interviewed, the process of losing a job was a fact of the contemporary U.S. economy. For some it also appeared to reinforce their professional value.

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Research Findings

Opaque algorithms are creating an invisible cage for platform workers


December 9, 2021

We live in a world run by algorithms. Nowhere is this more apparent than with platform companies, such as Facebook, Uber, Google, Amazon, and Twitter. Platforms claim that their algorithms collect and use our data to optimize our experience with breathtaking speed and efficiency. 

Recent reports from scholars, journalists, and policy makers, however, have revealed that platforms’ algorithms exacerbate bias and discrimination in ways that are difficult to audit. 

In my recent study of workers on a labor platform, I found a broader concern about the way platforms use algorithms to control participants. Platforms’ algorithms create an invisible cage for platform users, because workers have no way of reliably accessing how their data is being processed or used to control their success on the platform.

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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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