Archive

Research Findings

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by Nick Oliver, Thomas Calvard and Kristina Potočnik

The interactions between technology and human beings are a source of fascination to many social scientists, from the impact of technology on individual well-being, to power relations in the work place to technology’s transformative potential. Technology has the ability to empower and to deskill, to enhance human capability and to subjugate humans to its requirements.

Science fiction plays on the fear that technology may one day ‘take over’ its human creators. A more immediate concern is that advances in technology lure us into designing and building systems that exceed the capacity of their operators to understand them, especially in the face of unusual, non-routine situations.  

Such concerns notwithstanding, humans have succeeded in developing ways to manage and operate very complex, sometimes high-risk technologies with remarkably few mishaps. Such “high reliability organizations” are of great interest to organizational scholars perhaps because they represent a kind of organization-technology frontier in terms of what is possible. Yet scholars of safety science observe that even extremely safe, error-free systems seem to have accident rates, which although very low, are remarkably persistent.

Our recently published study explores some of these issues by examining the interplay between human cognition and system design with reference to the final minutes of Air France flight 447 (AF447), which disappeared over the Atlantic in 2009. Data from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, retrieved from the ocean floor two years after the crash, revealed a situation in which interactions between pilots and aircraft technology caused an initially relatively benign situation to escalate rapidly into a catastrophe.

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by Trish Ruebottom and Ellen R. Auster

The world is awash with massive intersectional social problems, from devastating hurricanes and tsunamis driven by climate change to the refugee crisis, racism and the rise of white nationalism.

We have a huge need for widespread social change. And this includes all of us changing the way we live if we’re going to truly address any of these issues.

Yet many of us seem content to simply continue on with our lives. We are either actively trying to maintain the status quo or pursuing our own self-interests. And we are only able to see the world from our own perspectives.

How can we shake up ourselves and our neighbours in our everyday lives in order to get everyone involved in creating social change?

The rock concert for social change

Each autumn, tens of thousands of young people get ready to take part in We Day, a series of rock concerts and speaking events designed to inspire social change. This year, the event takes place in Toronto on Sept. 28, in Vancouver on Oct. 18, Ottawa on Nov. 15 and in many other locations across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. throughout the school year.

Rock stars like Kelly Clarkson and Hedley will share the stage with celebrity activists like Mia Farrow and world political leaders such as former secretary-general of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon.

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by Steve Coulter

The UK’s vote for Brexit from the European Union last year was a clear response to the economic impact of free movement of labor on economically-deprived regions of otherwise prosperous countries. By far the clearest predictor of a vote to leave the EU was the lack of a university education and presence in low skill, low productivity sectors of the labor market.

When asked by pollsters, the economic ‘threat’ from low wage EU immigrants was cited by Leavers as a prime reason for their vote. The key questions then, are: why were the labor market issues that gave rise to the leave vote allowed to fester; and why were they linked so strongly to EU membership?  

In my recently published study I examine the UK’s skills regime and immigration policies, and suggest that the interaction of these factors produced the economic and political climate responsible for Brexit.

In a nutshell, I argue that the easy availability of cheap, energetic immigrant workers from newer EU members let successive UK governments – and employers – off the hook as regards tackling endemic failures in the UK’s vocational education system. The EU, to a large extent, was the fall-guy for this and bears some responsibility, but we should also look to the organization of the UK’s labor market and skills system.  

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by Francesco Duina

America’s poor have plenty of reasons not to love their country.

By most measures, they face bleak prospects and their government offers them the least support of any other advanced country on earth. Their chances of upward mobility are slim, the gap between their earnings and those of richer Americans continues to grow, and they work exceedingly long hours for very little. They have access to very limited social services and support.

It would be very reasonable for Americans to not love their country – to be resentful, rise up, and demand changes to the social contract of the country.

Instead, America’s poor embrace and idealize their country.

Their patriotism runs deep and exceeds in many cases that of the poor in other advanced countries and that of richer Americans. It not only entails a love of country but a belief in its superiority and greatness. America, they feel, is a better nation than most.

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by Jessica Looze

Changing jobs during one’s early career has become increasingly common, and is often a way for young workers to secure higher pay, better benefits, or greater opportunities. For those who are unable to enjoy the benefits of early career job mobility, these missed opportunities may contribute to a lifetime of lower earnings and other disadvantages. An individual’s ability to change jobs is often dependent upon a number of factors, one important one being motherhood – as bearing and raising young children often has important influences on women’s career decisions.

In a recent study published in Social Science Research, I consider how motherhood shapes women’s decisions to either stay with their current employer or pursue another job. I use panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 to examine how both pregnancy and young children influence women’s job changes and employment exits. I distinguish among three reasons for leaving a job: family-related reasons, non-family voluntary reasons, and involuntary reasons (such as being laid off or fired). In this post, I highlight findings on the effects of motherhood on non-family voluntary job changes, as these are the types of changes that most often lead to wage growth.

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by Ben Merriman

The deep wells that supply Waukesha, Wisconsin’s drinking water are contaminated with radium.

In 2010, the city, a wealthy suburb of Milwaukee, decided to pursue a costly but permanent solution to the contamination: Waukesha sought permission to replace its wells with a supply of water from Lake Michigan, a little over ten miles away. The proposal underwent several years of review in Wisconsin. In spring 2016, Waukesha’s application for Lake Michigan water was brought before a gathering of senior environmental officials from all the states and provinces in the Great Lakes region. After some modification, the proposal was unanimously approved by the eight member states of the Great Lakes Compact, a new regional agreement for managing the Great Lakes.

Environmental groups opposed this proposal at every step of state and regional review. In a recent paper, I tried to explain (1) why Waukesha’s proposal, which was meant to provide safe drinking water, attracted such strong opposition from environmental groups, (2) why this passionate opposition came to be stated in such legalistic, politically unexpressive terms, and (3) how the Waukesha controversy might have larger effects on water safety issues in the Great Lakes.

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houses-2230817_960_720by Pilar Gonalons-Pons and Christine R. Schwartz

Assortative mating – the tendency of people to marry those similar to themselves – has become a popular explanation for increased economic inequality across American families (see the NYT, the Economist, or the NYT Upshot).

The idea is that if people are increasingly matching with partners who have similar economic prospects, families will be increasingly divided between those who pool two large paychecks and those who pool two small paychecks. More assortative mating increases spouses’ economic similarity, which in turn increases inequality.

Our research, however, shows that assortative mating has played a minor role in the increase of spouses’ economic similarity and its impact on inequality. More important than changes in whom people marry are changes in what happens after they marry. In particular, the well-known and dramatic increase in wives’ employment within marriage are responsible for the bulk of the effects of increased spousal economic resemblance on inequality.

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