Source: Google Images.

by Marianne Cooper

In the fall of 2011, I received an e-mail from Professor Shelley Correll, director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. Its subject line read: “An opportunity.” Shelley explained that Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, was looking to hire someone to do research for her on women and work and to help translate the research into everyday language for a general audience. This seemed like an intriguing opportunity. I said yes, and a meeting was set up.

At this first meeting, Sheryl and I had a wide-ranging conversation about why so few women get to the top. We talked about structural barriers like gender bias and the lack of flexibility in so many jobs. We also talked about internal barriers such as the fact that women often have lower expectations for success than men. At the end of the meeting, we agreed that I would do a preliminary project and then progress from there. I left with a list of topics she wanted to know more about; on my way out Sheryl said, “It’s important to me that I get the research right.” I took this as a positive sign.

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by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman

There is no dispute that income inequality has been on the rise in the United States for the past four decades. The share of total income earned by the top 1 percent of families was less than 10 percent in the late 1970s but now exceeds 20 percent as of the end of 2012. A large portion of this increase is due to an upsurge in the labor incomes earned by senior company executives and successful entrepreneurs. But is the rise in U.S. economic inequality purely a matter of rising labor compensation at the top, or did wealth inequality rise as well?

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tilt deskThat women are paid less than men at work is not news.  In the U.S., a gender pay gap is nearly ubiquitous.  Even in Hollywood.  We’ve figured out the gender pay gap is largely an artifact of women and men working in different jobs (and the jobs men work in simply pay more than the ones women work in). Yet when women and men work in similar jobs, men still tend to earn more than their female counterparts. What accounts for this difference?

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Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson recently had an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on “How sociologists made themselves irrelevant.” He discusses how sociologists have had almost no influence on the design of policies dealing with poverty among black youth and related problems such as unemployment, gangs and incarceration, despite the fact that these topics have been core topics of sociological research for decades. He argues that the main problem is that “In the effort to keep ourselves academically pure, we’ve also become largely irrelevant in molding the most important social enterprises of our era.”

As a result, sociologists have been reticent to engage in public discourse. The main shapers of policy have been economists, who often come to radically different conclusions than sociologists, based on differing theoretical assumptions, which affect research design. For instance, sociologists find that moving people out of ghettos has strong positive effects on outcomes for black youth, while economists find that such an effect does not exist. Patterson wryly quips that the rational response to the finding that neighborhoods have no effect on youth outcomes means that scholars should advise their children move to the inner city to take advantage of low rents!

Credit: Lindsey G (Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

Credit: Lindsey G (Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

Corporations today proclaim a strong commitment to gender diversity. They publicize this commitment in their mission statements, job advertisements, recruitment materials, public relations, and personnel policies. Since the 1990s, a cottage industry of diversity consultants has developed to help companies become more diverse, advertising their services as a means to improve the corporate bottom-line and reduce potential legal liabilities. In response, most major corporations have instituted a variety of diversity management initiatives; some of the most popular of these include affinity groups, formal mentoring programs, diversity training, and targeted recruitment and promotion programs.

On the surface, corporate efforts to promote gender diversity seem promising. However, despite two decades of the corporate “diversity craze,” executive suites are still overwhelmingly male-dominated. For example, even though women now account for more than 50 percent of college graduates and roughly half the paid labor force, they comprise fewer than 17 percent of board directors and 15 percent of executive officers. In addition, most contemporary workplaces remain characterized by high levels of horizontal gender segregation, with women overrepresented in “feminized occupations” characterized by lower pay, prestige, and little room for advancement.

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Soup kitchen

Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler

Can it be true that capitalists prefer crisis over growth? On the face of it, the idea sounds silly. According to Economics 101, everyone loves growth, especially capitalists. Profit and growth go hand in hand. When capitalists profit, real investment rises and the economy thrives, and when the economy booms the profits of capitalists soar. Growth is the very lifeline of capitalists.

Or is it?

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Which_way_homeby Herbert J. Gans

The United States, like other modern economies, is experiencing a new and possibly long-lasting era of rising economic inequality, which may result in further political and class inequality. Consequently, sociologists should be asking themselves what roles they and their discipline can play in understanding these inequalities, particularly the societal changes and social costs they are likely to bring.

However, the discipline as a whole also needs to become more relevant to the country, and thereby also make itself more visible and valued. Although the current rise in inequalities is global, the differences in national political economies, and in national sociologies suggest that every country must find its own answers – as long as global implications and consequences are also considered. What follows is my attempt to suggest a more detailed scenario, or a vision of where American sociology should be headed.

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