Author Archives: Guest Contributor


by Dirk Witteveen and Paul Attewell

As enrollments in the American secondary and post-secondary school system grew throughout the 20th century, so did the meritocratic ideal of social mobility. Most people came to believe that stable employment can be secured through hard work in school and by obtaining educational credentials – and to a large extent, this holds true. Both school performance and educational attainment are positively and strongly associated with better, safer, and higher-paying jobs. The more education, the better.

But meritocracy makes another promise: educational diplomas could erase the effect of parental class background on their offspring’s destiny in the labor market. Popular culture celebrates the idea that no matter what your parents do, graduating from college is your ticket into the middle class. So, the American higher educational system is proclaimed the “Great Equalizer,” with the bachelor’s degree as the ultimate vehicle for upward mobility.

Some sociological research published since the 1980s has confirmed that a college degree fulfills this promise, leading scholars to state that the chances of achieving economic success are independent of social background among those who attain a BA. In our study, recently published in Social Forces, we present analyses that challenge this upbeat conclusion.

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Yilmaz & Ledwith

by Gaye Yilmaz and Sue Ledwith

Migrating women may escape conflict, war, poverty, family pressures and responsibilities, and fear of sexual oppression. But they also find themselves caught between the twin ideologies of patriarchy and religion.

This was the case for the 120 women migrants we interviewed for our book, Migration and Domestic Work. All are now domestic workers in London, Berlin or Istanbul. Most were either Muslim or Christian with a handful who were Buddhist, Hindu or Pagan. Twenty atheists had come to disbelief from the two main religions.

These women’s migration decisions, their domestic and working lives, the possibilities for collective solidarity and for joining trade unions, were all influenced by patriarchical gender ideology. When combined with their religion, these pressures were difficult to resist. They were also policed across continents by family: ‘My parents very often phone and check whether I am going to church or fulfill my religious obligations.’

Few of the women in our study positively sought to be a migrant. Yesterday’s refugee is today’s migrant. Regardless of their dreams of a better life, they all finished up far from home, as domestic workers.

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By Mónica L. Caudillo

Although women’s participation in the labor force has increased substantially in the last decades, there is still a large gender gap in political representation in the United States. As of 2017, women occupy only about 20% of the elective offices in the country. Sociologists have found evidence that early involvement in organizations requiring the exercise of political skills is strongly linked to sustained future political participation, higher confidence in leadership skills, and political interest. Thus, increasing young women’s early participation in political organizations could be instrumental to close the gender gap in political representation.

What factors shape young women’s participation in political organizations?

The answer may in part come from one’s childhood environment. Children tend to be strongly influenced by the gender roles they observe within their families. Daughters’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are often deeply influenced by the extent to which their mothers comply with or reject traditional gender scripts. For instance, social scientists have found connections between growing up with an employed mother, and daughters’ positive attitudes towards being employed themselves, holding authority positions, and participating in politics.

In a recent study published in the April 2017 Social Science Research, I show that Millennial women who grew up with a full-time employed mother are indeed more likely to participate in political organizations as young adults, compared to daughters of part-time employed or stay-at-home mothers. This is true for daughters of relatively disadvantaged mothers, with high school or less education. But according to my findings, there is no relationship between maternal employment and the early participation in political organizations among daughters of mothers with at least some college, and sons of mothers with any education level.

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Mother and baby girl lying on the bed together looking at each other.

 by Amy Blackstone

While we give the mothers in our lives their well-deserved thanks and recognition, this Mother’s Day, let’s remember something very important about motherhood: It’s not a given. Not every woman wants to be a mom.

Despite our culture’s deeply held belief that women are uniquely wired to want children, the notion of maternal instinct is a myth. Evidence for the idea that women are innately drawn to having children is scant, if it exists at all.

Not one of the over 700 entries in Sage Publishing’s Encyclopedia of Motherhood is dedicated to the concept of maternal instinct.

Professor Maria Vicedo-Castello reviewed the history of scientific views about maternal instinct and concluded that “there is no scientific evidence to claim that there is a maternal instinct that automatically gives women the desire to have children, makes women more emotional than men, confers upon them a higher capacity for nurturance, and makes them better equipped to rear children than men.”

If women were really born with a maternal instinct, we would see birth rates stay the same through the years. Even the feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s that expanded educational and workforce opportunities for many women shouldn’t change which women decide to be parents. But childfree adulthood has been on the rise since then.

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by Claire Maiers

The advancement of predictive data analytics into areas such as medicine, policing, or education has been greeted with both enthusiasm and concern. Where advocates stress a hopeful narrative in which data analytics will allow scientists to solve some of the society’s most difficult problems, critics worry about the potentially narrow and reductive depiction of the world generated by data analytics and about negative outcomes of allowing analytics and algorithms (rather than seasoned experts) to direct decisions.

In a recent article, I explored this tension between experiential and data-driven knowledge by examining the use of predictive analytics in a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. I argue that data analytics filter into decision-making through an interpretive process. Although highly dependent upon institutional context, this process may buttress, rather than simply replace, experiential knowledge.

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by Adam Cobb and Ken-Hou Lin

Historically, large firms in the United States paid their employees higher wages than did smaller enterprises. For example, economists Walter Oi and Todd Idson showed that firms with 500 or more workers paid wages that are 30 to 50% higher than those of firms with fewer than 25 workers.

By offering a “firm-size wage premium”, scholars argue that large firms are able to recruit better workers, reduce monitoring costs, and stay competitive. However, the firm-size wage premium has experienced a sharp decline in the past three decades. Who have been most affected by this trend? How has it contributed to the rising wage inequality?

Our recent study explores the changing firm-size wage premium and its inequality consequences between 1989 and 2014.

We argue that, by paying a greater premium to low-skilled workers, large firms have been a prominent labor-market institution that constrains inequality. Yet, broader changes to employment relations and organizational practices have undermined large firms’ role as an equalizing institution and led to higher levels of inequality in recent years.

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by Andrew Deener

Millions of people live in geographic pockets without access to supermarkets, what many now call food deserts.  These locations lack affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.  Supermarkets incorporating high volumes and high varieties of products have become so central to U.S. food consumption that their very absence has turned into a unique social problem.  It is now nearly impossible for those living in the U.S. to think about food shopping without also thinking about packed aisles and seemingly endless supplies.

The taken for granted characteristics of the supermarket system are central to the process of infrastructural exclusion.

My recent article on the origins of the food desert in Philadelphia points to a process that dates back to the 1930s, developing out of changing relationships between urban development, population settlements, and distribution systems.  The urban grocery decline that became visible as a policy concern by the end of the 1970s was not intentionally produced.  It was neither the direct outcome of strategic political-economic projects nor ideological regimes.  It was the result of gradually changing infrastructural interdependencies that altered market conventions, constrained profitability, generated financial mistakes, and led to repercussions for many urban consumers.

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woojin strike1

by Minsun Ji

A long-standing question facing labor movements and labor studies is whether the presence of class consciousness strengthens or weakens labor movements. In a recently published study, I examined the premise that the level of class consciousness plays an important role in shaping the nature of union-cooperative relations, and their transformational potential, in the United States and Korea.

I studied two cases of union-cooperatives using in-depth interviews and surveys: Denver’s immigrant taxi worker cooperatives (Union Taxi and Green Taxi) in the US, and a bus cooperative, Woojin, in South Korea. In both cases, worker cooperatives have been formed with significant support from a labor union.

My findings showed that union-cooperative partnership that has a stronger sense of class consciousness develops a strong sense of worker solidarity with other workers and engages in more radical forms of labor activism. By contrast, union-cooperative partnership with a weaker sense of class consciousness among members can be very limited in building an effective labor movement.

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by Richard Benton

Activist investors have become a prominent fixture in corporate America. Recent commentaries proclaim that activists have “captured the center ring and are directing the main event” and acknowledge that “shareholder activism has rapidly changed how corporate America thinks.” Activist investors are at the vanguard of the shareholder value movement, mounting high-profile campaigns against corporate management and strategy.

Given this flurry of activity, scholars and popular commentators have been pressed to explain activists’ increased effectiveness. In a recent study, I show that an important reason for activists’ success involves corporate leaders’ increased social dislocation and ineffectiveness. In recent years, corporate leaders are less socially interconnected with their peers, having seen their social network ties fracture. As a result, corporate leaders are less able to collaborate and coordinate with their peers, losing their collective ability to buttress their own interests.

For most of the last century, corporate leaders were interconnected through a web of social network ties of overlapping board appointments. When a director sits on the board of multiple companies, this forms a social network tie connecting firms and individuals. Considerable research demonstrates that this network was important for coordinating strategies, sharing information, and building consensus across corporate America. This “old boys’ network” was an important source of power and unity for corporate leaders in domains such as politics and corporate governance.

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by Fabrizio Bernardi

Many empirical sociologists misuse statistical significance testing in their research.

At a conference, it is common to hear colleagues presenting their results with sentences like: “the coefficient is highly significant”, suggesting in this way that they have found an important result, or “the coefficient is not statistically significant”, implying that the coefficient is equal to 0. This impression is reinforced if one browses any major sociological journal. Many sociologists thus still engage in a practice that has been characterised as the ritual of Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST).

In a nutshell, this ritual consists of the following: A researcher estimates a coefficient that expresses the effect of a variable X on a variable Y and computes its statistical significance p (note that in what follows I use the term ‘effect’ with no causal implication); if p is smaller than a conventional threshold (usually 0.05, sometimes 0.10), the researcher concludes that the coefficient is statistically significant and that there is an effect; conversely, if p is above the given threshold, the coefficient is statistically insignificant and the researcher concludes that there is no effect.

In this ritual, the size and sociological meaning of the coefficient and the uncertainty associated with the estimate are both ignored. The NHST is then a “yes-no” criterion to establish whether there is or is not an effect.

There are three main flaws associated with the ritual of the NHST.

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