Research Findings


by Gretchen Purser and Brian Hennigan

The passage of welfare reform in 1996 reshaped the principles and practices of poverty management in the U.S. Most notably, it brought about an end to welfare as an entitlement and imposed rigid time limits, work requirements, and a programmatic focus on “job-readiness.”

Less well known is the fact that welfare reform also decentralized and privatized welfare delivery, opening the door for faith-based organizations to play a more formal and zealous role in the delivery of social services as well as the moral tutelage of the poor.

This two-fisted overhaul of social policy was not a happenstance conjuncture. Rather, it reflects the ascendance of what Jason Hackworth, in his 2012 book Faith-Based, calls religious neoliberalism: the “ideological fusion” between conservative evangelicals and neoliberal politicians that calls for the shrinking and privatization of the welfare state while promoting the faith-based sector as its ideal replacement.

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by Aliya Hamid Rao

“How’re you going to find a job when you have no confidence and are very emotional?”

Emily Bader, an office administrator asked me this rhetorical question when I interviewed her about her husband’s unemployment. Emily was worried about her husband, Brian, currently unemployed, who used to work as a project manager. She was concerned about the personality he projected when he went on job interviews. She thought he needed to be confident and upbeat. In his interview with me, Brian agreed with this.

But, after half a year of being unemployed and job-searching, Brian was down in the dumps. Projecting cheer was difficult for him. Emily worried about Brian, but she also worried about when and whether he would find a job. She worried for their future.

Being unemployed is difficult. There is a lot on the line: money, your relationship with your spouse (especially if you’re a man), and feelings of shame and stigma are just some of the negative impacts of unemployment.

But if you’re a white-collar worker, job-searching means showing your best side even you feel your worst. It means convincing potential employers that you not only have the right skills, but, as on a date, you also have “chemistry” with the employers. As sociological research has shown, job-searching and going on job interviews requires tremendous amounts of what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called emotional labor – “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display.”

Emotional labor is usually done for the benefit of employers, for pay, while its counterpart in the private realm of the family is not done for pay. The white-collar job seeker has to show that he or she is upbeat, cheerful, enthusiastic, and passionate about each job he or she applies to.

But, as I show in a forthcoming article, job-seekers don’t work on their presentation of self alone, nor are they the only ones to worry about how they perform in their job interviews.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

by Hadas Mandel and Moshe Semyonov

Following the implementation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the enactment of affirmative action policies in the United States, both the educational level and the relative income of black men and women rose. Consequently, earnings disparities between blacks and whites declined; this trend continued until the end of the 20th Century, for both genders.

But from the turn of the new millennium, the trend reversed for women and men for the first time since 1970. In light of the continual convergence in black and white pay and the gender differences in the size and sources of the pay gaps, this uniform reversal of the trend is intriguing.

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by Max Besbris

Consumers generally hope that, when making large purchases, they weigh the objective conditions of the market along with their finances and idiosyncratic tastes. Yet consumers often find themselves without the necessary time to learn about every possible product so they turn to experts and brokers who presumably know more about a particular market.

In the housing market, this means using real estate agents to help sort through all the available houses in a desired neighborhood and within a given price range.

In a recent study published in Socio-Economic Review, I show that agents do a lot more than just show prospective homebuyers available units. Part of their work is to get buyers to feel different emotions during the search process. These emotions then impact economic decisions.

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by Karly Ford and Jason Thompson

Having a parent who graduated from a college or university with selective admissions criteria is associated with a three-fold increase in the likelihood that a child will also attend a selective university.

In our recent article published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, we deploy new data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics that code the names of colleges attended by both parents and children. We link these data with a measure of college admissions selectivity provided by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.

Prior work notes the advantages afforded to children of alumni in the admissions process at elite colleges and universities. However, the advantages afforded graduates of selective colleges and universities are not limited to children attending the same institution as their parent.

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by T

The populist wave of 2016 saw politicians pushing back against experts, both during the Brexit debate and the U.S. presidential campaign. Economists in particular saw their views repudiated as voters and parties turned their backs on many central tenets of mainstream economics, particularly the benefits of free trade.

This backlash against intellectuals poses a question: When should the public place its trust in expert opinion? It might be that we trust experts when they have reached a policy-relevant consensus. For example, support for policies to address climate change is based on a broad consensus among the experts that global warming is the result of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another possibility is that we might trust professional opinion when it is independent of party and ideology. Experts are also citizens, and they may not distinguish between their political views and their expert knowledge when addressing policy questions. If political ideology influences professional opinion, it is unclear that experts have any special claim to the public’s trust. So is the economics profession dominated by consensus or ideology?

One source of data on these questions is the Economic Experts Panel run by the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago. Since 2011, a small group of economists from elite universities have responded to questions about current policy issues. In a paper published in the American Economic Review, the economists Roger Gordon and Gordon Dahl argued that the panel supported both points: Panelists showed overwhelming consensus, and the remaining disagreements showed no evidence of ideological “polarization.” This result surprised economists like Paul Krugman and Noah Smith accustomed to seeing their field as divided into “factions” or “warring camps.”

As sociologists, my co-authors and I suspected that terms like “faction” and “polarization” do not really capture ideological debates among economists. We used a method better suited to identifying what we call ideological alignment: the intuitive idea that some people are on the far left, some in the middle, others on the moderate right, and so on. We tested this idea in a recently published paper and found that there is more evidence of ideology than previously claimed.

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PATCO members picketing during the 1981 Aircraft Controllers Strike; Image via Forth Worth Star-Telegram

by David Jacobs

In a stunning reversal in the long but slow trend toward greater economic equality that began in the late 1920s and the start of the great depression, U.S. income differences began a sharp acceleration about 35 years ago. In a recent study co-authored with Jonathan Dirlam, I find that a national political shift best explains this reversal. After the effects of many alternative explanations are taken into account, the evidence from this study shows that the election of Ronald Reagan and the two subsequent Republican presidents who supported Reagan’s policies provide the strongest explanation for this reversal in the prior trend toward greater equality.

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