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Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

PBS NewsHour Making Sen$e

Anger or fear: which is worse?

May 24, 2017
PBS NewHour | Economics correspondent Paul Solman explores the biology of leadership in this week's Making Sen$e broadcast. Here he delves more deeply into psychologist Jennifer Lerner's research on fear and anger in a print interview. Jennifer Lerner is Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Co-Founder of the Harvard Decision Sciences Laboratory.
Young men falling to the bottom of the income ladder

Young men falling to the bottom of the income ladder

May 22, 2017
Boston Globe | Quotes Lawrence Katz, Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics: "People from elite colleges moving to Wall Street and top law firms and to tech companies are doing perfectly fine. In fact, they're doing much better than comparable people in their parents' generation," Katz said. "But for the typical young man, they're donig substantially worse economically than their father."
Tony Jack - Harvard Ed Magazine

Poor, but Privileged

May 20, 2017
Harvard Ed Magazine | New faculty member Tony Jack knows first hand what his research revealed: some low-income kids come to college more prepared than others. Anthony A. Jack (PhD '16) is is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds the Shutzer Assistant Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Nudge comes to shove: Policymakers around the world are embracing behavioural science

Nudge comes to shove: Policymakers around the world are embracing behavioural science

May 18, 2017

The Economist | Cites Todd Rogers, Associate Professor at Harvard Kennedy School. Also features work in which Elizabeth Linos (PhD '16) of  Behavioural Insights Team North America participated, a collaboration with the Chattanooga Police Department to attract more minority applicants to the force. (Read a detailed account of the Chattanooga experiment, including an interview with Linos, which appeared earlier this year in Quartz).

Price's Remarks On Opioid Treatment Were Unscientific And Damaging, Experts Say

Price's Remarks On Opioid Treatment Were Unscientific And Damaging, Experts Say

May 16, 2017
NPR | Quoted: Brendan Saloner (PhD '12), an addiction researcher and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "I couldn't believe we were having to reopen this conversation. It totally flies in the face of all the evidence," Saloner says. "These drugs are highly effective in restoring a sense of normalcy in people's lives."
Jessica Simes

Mapping Inequality: How Massachusetts is Failing Its Smaller Cities and Towns

May 14, 2017
Boston University | A detailed look at Jessica Simes's (PhD '16) research on the Massachusetts communities that are disproportionately affected by incarceration. Simes is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University and holds a University Provost Career Development Professorship awarded in 2016.
Modern motherhood

Modern Motherhood Has Economists Worried

May 12, 2017
Bloomberg | Cites Harvard economist Claudia Goldin and Joshua Mitchell (PhD '11), a senior economist at the U.S. Census: "A new life cycle of women's labor force participation has emerged," Goldin and Mitchell found in a recent study published in the Winter 2017 issue of Journal of Economic Perspectives. "Women in the U.S. participate in the workforce at high rates in their 20s—but fewer of them are working in their 30s and early 40s, a time Goldin and Mitchell call 'the sagging middle.'"
View the research
'After Piketty' released today

'After Piketty' released today

May 8, 2017

Harvard University Press | Ellora Derenoncourt, Ph.D. candidate in Economics, has authored a chapter in After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, released today by Harvard University Press. Derenoncourt's contribution "addresses the deep historical and institutional origins of [global] wealth inequality, which she argues may be driven by what Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson identify as 'extractive' versus 'inclusive' institutions."

The 688-page volume, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, brings together published reviews by Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Robert Solow and newly-commissioned essays by Suresh Naidu, Laura Tyson, Michael Spence, Heather Boushey, Branko Milanovic, and many others. Emmanuel Saez lays out an agenda for future research on inequality, while a variety of essays examine the book's implications for the social sciences more broadly. Harvard Inequality & Social Policy alumna Elisabeth Jacobs (PhD '08), now senior director of research and a senior fellow at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, probes the political dimension in her contribution, "Everywhere and Nowhere: Politics in Capital in the Twenty-First Century." Piketty replies in a substantial concluding chapter.

Child at play

Flipping the Switch

May 5, 2017

Huffington Post | Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund, urges Congress to heed the evidence and invest in early childhood brain development, citing Ron Ferguson's work with the Boston Basics initiative and findings from Harvard's Center on the Developing Child. Ferguson is faculty director of Harvard's Achievement Gap Initiative and a fellow in the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.

The New Study That Shows Trumpcare’s Damage

The New Study That Shows Trumpcare’s Damage

May 3, 2017

The New York Times | A new study by Amy Finkelstein (MIT), Nathaniel Hendren (Harvard Economics), and Matthew Shepard (Harvard Kennedy School) exploits a natural experiment from Massachusetts health insurance subsidies and finds that "as subsidies fall, insurance take-up falls rapidly" among low-income individuals.
View the research

Black People Are Not All 'Living in Hell'

Black People Are Not All 'Living in Hell'

April 27, 2017

The New York Times | Thomas B. Edsall column discusses a growing body of scholarly work showing that upper-middle class and affluent African-Americans have experienced substantial income gains within the past 15 years. Cites William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard, who has drawn attention to growing economic inequality and the increased heterogeneity of experience within the black community. Wilson is writing a book on upward social mobility among African-Americans.

Orlando Patterson

Harvard professor recognized with a portrait

April 27, 2017
Harvard Gazette | A portrait of Orlando Patterson, the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard, is now among the University-wide collection. To date, 17 portraits (including Patterson’s) have been commissioned and hung throughout the Harvard as part of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations’ Portraiture Project, which ensures recognition of the diversity of individuals who serve the University with distinction. Patterson has been a Harvard Professor for 47 years.
Money magazine

How a Harvard Economist Would Make Free Tuition Even Better

April 26, 2017

Money | Discusses new Hamilton Project policy proposal by David J. Deming (PhD '10), Professor of Education and Economics at HGSE and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

The rising cost of a college degree is only one-half of the problem. The other? Far too few students who start college actually go on to earn a degree. And free tuition models could exacerbate that problem by increasing enrollment at already under-resourced state colleges without improving colleges’ ability to handle an influx of students.

The solution, according to a paper released today by Harvard economist David Deming, is to provide states with a financial incentive to focus on improving outcomes while also reducing costs to families. Deming is suggesting Congress establish a matching grant program, to be paid by the federal government to states with free tuition programs.
Get the full paper

Latest awards

Raj Chetty

Raj Chetty named a 2019 Carnegie Fellow

April 23, 2019

Harvard Gazette | Raj Chetty, the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics and director of Opportunity Insights, is among the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Fellows announced today by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. His project: "Restoring the American Dream: Leveraging Big Data to Support Local Policy Change."

“I’m delighted and honored to have been chosen as a recipient of the Carnegie fellowship,” Chetty wrote in an email. “I intend to use the fellowship to dedicate more time to our team’s work on restoring the American dream at Opportunity Insights, focusing specifically on how we can improve children’s opportunities in communities that currently offer limited prospects for upward income mobility.”

View the 2019 Carnegie Fellows ▶

Margot Moinester

Margot Moinester: Dorothy S. Thomas Award for Best Graduate Student Paper

April 23, 2019

Population Association of America | Margot Moinester, PhD candidate in Sociology, was presented with the Population Association of America (PAA) Dorothy S. Thomas Award for best graduate student paper for her paper, "Rethinking the U.S. Deportation Boom." Margot currently holds an NSF-Law & Inequalty Doctoral Fellowship with the American Bar Foundation.

Michele Lamont

Michèle Lamont named a 2019 Carnegie Fellow

April 23, 2019

Harvard Gazette | Michèle Lamont, Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, is among the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Fellows announced today by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Her project: "New Narratives of Hope: Self-Worth and the Current Crisis of American Society." 

Lamont will spend the year at the Russell Sage Foundation writing a book “trying to make sense of the current moment through the framework through which people understand their value and that of others.” The American dream is no longer working for any group, she said, from the working poor to the upper-middle class, and “we’re now facing a crisis in the way people imagine hope.”

View the 2019 Carnegie Fellows  ▶

Peter A. Hall

Peter A. Hall elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

April 17, 2019

American Academy of Arts and Sciences | Peter A. Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard, has been elected to the 2019 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780 "by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good," the Academy recgonizes outstanding achievements in academia, the arts, business, government, and public affairs.

Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin recognized with BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award

March 26, 2019
Fundación BBVA| Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard, has been awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the category of Economics, Finance, and Management for "her groundbreaking contributions to the historical analysis of the role of women in the economy and for her analysis of the reasons behind gender inequality.” Now in its eleventh edition, the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Awards recognize fundamental contributions in eight disciplines and domains of scientific knowledge, technology, humanities, and artistic creation.
Shom Mazumder

Shom Mazumder: Finalist for Frank Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications

February 25, 2019

Awardee | Stone PhD Scholar Shom Mazumder, a PhD candidate in Government, has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Frank Prize for his paper, "The Persistent Effect of US Civil Rights Protests on Political Attitudes," forthcoming in the Oct 2019 issue of American Journal of Political Science. The Frank Prize, awarded by the University of Florida Center for Public Interest Communications, recognizes peer-reviewed academic research that informs public interest communications. As a finalist, Shom presented his research at frank, a gathering of 300 social change communication practitionerm, scholars, and students.

View Shom Mazumder's presentation ►
View interview with Shom Mazumder ►
View the research in AJPS ►
National Academy of Social Insurance

Forty-Five Experts Elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance

February 14, 2019

National Academy of Social Insurance | Inequality & Social Policy faculty members Amitabh Chandra (Harvard Kennedy School) and  David Laibson (Economics) and alumna Elisabeth Jacobs PhD 2008 (Senior Director for Family Economic Security, Washington Center for Equitable Growth) are among the 45 newly-elected members of the National Academy of Social Insurance. The Academy solutions to challenges facing the nation by increasing public understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security. 

Vesla M. Weaver

Vesla Weaver named Gilman Scholar

December 19, 2018

Awardee | Vesla M. Weaver,  PhD in Government and Social Policy 2007, is one of five Johns Hopkins University faculty members recently named Gilman Scholars, a distinction that honors and celebrates select Johns Hopkins faculty who embody the highest standards of scholarship and research across the university. A leading scholar on racial politics and criminal justice issues, Weaver has devoted her research to investigating the causes and effects of inequality and mass incarceration in America. Weaver joined Johns Hopkins as a Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor in fall 2017, bridging the sociology and political science departments, after holding faculty poitions at Yale and the University of Virginia.  

Oren Danieli: Martin Award for Excellence in Business Economics

Oren Danieli: Martin Award for Excellence in Business Economics

December 5, 2018

Awardee | Oren Danieli, PhD candidate in Business Economics, is the 2019 recipient of the Harvard Business School Martin Award for Excellence, based on excellence in innovative dissertation research. From the award announcement: "Danieli develops novel approaches to study of income inequality. He has developed a big-data method to optimize social experiments aimed at increasing income mobility, used machine-learning tools to improve hiring of teachers and policemen, and created a new method to study wage polarization." Learn more about Oren Danieli's research:

orendanieli.com »

Jason Furman

Jason Furman Joins RSF Board of Trustees

November 16, 2018

Russell Sage Foundation | The Russell Sage Foundation announced the appointment of Jason Furman to its board of trustees. Furman is Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and a nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He is a former economic adviser to President Obama and served as the 28th Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Blythe George

Blythe George awarded Mellon Mays Travel and Research Grant

October 18, 2018

Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation | Blythe George, PhD candidate in Sociology and Social Policy, has been awarded a Mellon Mays travel and research grant to support her doctoral dissertation research. Blythe participated in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College (BA 2012).

Olivia Chi

Olivia Chi: Emerging Education Policy Scholars program

September 4, 2018

Thomas B. Fordham Institute | Olivia Chi, a PhD candidate in Education, has been selected for the 2018-2019 cohort of Emerging Education Policy Scholars, a program of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and American Enterprise Insitute that brings together newly-minted PhD scholars and PhD candidates to the nation's capital to meet with education-policy experts and to share and brainstorm new directions for K–12 education research. Olivia's own research interests include the economics of education, teacher labor markets, and policies that reduce educational inequality.

Amelia Peterson awarded APSA best comparative public policy paper prize

Amelia Peterson awarded APSA best comparative public policy paper prize

September 1, 2018

Awardee | Amelia Peterson, PhD candidate in Education, has been awarded the Best Comparative Policy Paper Award by the American Political Science Association's Public Policy section. The award recognizes an article of particular distinction published in the area of comparative public policy. Amelia's research examines who drives education reforms and the relationship to inequality.

Latest commentary and analysis

Trump Should Support Bipartisan "Evidence Based" Revolution

Trump Should Support Bipartisan "Evidence Based" Revolution

February 22, 2017

Real Clear Policy | By Robert Doar and Andrew Feldman (Ph.D. '07). Feldman is a Visiting Fellow in the Center on Children and Families in the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution and a researcher with the Evidence-Based Policymaking Collaborative. Robert Doar is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Scientific American

Triumph of the City: Engines of Innovation

February 16, 2017

Scientific American | By Edward L. Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics. "In fact, the crush of people living in close quarters fosters the kind of collaborative creativity that has produced some of humanity's best ideas, including the industrial revolution and the digital age. In the years ahead such collaborations can be expected to help solve the world's most pressing problems—poverty, energy shortages, climate change—and to promote fundamental political transitions," writes Glaeser....

Read more about Triumph of the City: Engines of Innovation
The most important phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance

The most important phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance

February 13, 2017

Washington Post | By Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard. "We need a Cleisthenic moment," is the thought on Allen's mind, referring to the faltering and then recovery of Athenian democracy in ancient Greece as Athenians rose up against the tyrant Peisistratos. The takeaway from Cleisthenic moment? "The Athenians reorganized their political institutions to ensure connections among rural, urban and coastal populations," an essential task if America is to secure liberty and justice for all, Allen writes.

Eviction, photo by John Montgomery

No place like home: America's eviction epidemic

February 12, 2017

The Guardian | Soaring rents and low wages have hit the poorest families in the US hard. Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond introduces an extract from his heartbreaking book about the crisis.

Global Citizens, National Shirkers

Global Citizens, National Shirkers

February 10, 2017

Project Syndicate | By Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School.

David A. Moss

All hail partisan politics

February 9, 2017

Harvard Gazette | Harvard historian looks to the past, using case study method to suggest that dogged disputes can strengthen democracy. Interview with David Moss, Paul Whiton Cherington Professor at Harvard Business School and author of a new book, Democrcy: A Case Study (Harvard University Press, 2017).

Rubik's Cube: Equality

What's next? In the wake of the election, HKS faculty discuss the coming challenges

February 9, 2017

Harvard Kennedy School Magazine
Still fresh from the political earthquake of 2016, leading experts at the Harvard Kennedy School came together to assess the new landscape in a series of roundtables in November. Surveying the economy and social policy: Doug Elmendorf, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School; David Ellwood, Isabelle and Scott Black Professor of Political Economy and Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, and Brigitte Madrian, Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management.

We were the victims of fake news

We were the victims of fake news

February 8, 2017

Brookings Institution | By Norm Eisen and Vanessa Williamson (Ph.D. '15),  both fellows in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. "This week, we discovered that our real work is being used to promote 'fake news'. As Yahoo News has reported, an obscure website, the “Center for Global Strategic Monitoring,” has been putting policy experts’ names on articles they did not write..."

Mary Waters

Integrating Immigrants with Mary C. Waters and John Skrentny

February 8, 2017

University of California Television (UCTV) | Mary C. Waters, John L. Loeb Professor of Sociology at Harvard and Chair of a National Academy of Sciences Report on immigrant integration, talks with sociologist John Skrentny, co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.

When Do Renters Behave Like Homeowners? High Rent, Price Anxiety, and NIMBYism

When Do Renters Behave Like Homeowners? High Rent, Price Anxiety, and NIMBYism

February 7, 2017

JCHS Housing Perspectives | By Michael Hankinson, Ph.D. candidate in Government & Social Policy. Hankinson's findings, "based on new national-level experimental data and city-specific behavioral data....help explain why it is so hard to build new housing in expensive cities even when there is citywide support for that housing."  Read the full paper in the Joint Center for Housing Studies Working Paper series, and learn more about Hankinson's work at his website.
mhankinson.com

Democracy: A Case Study

American Democracy is Not a Machine

February 7, 2017

Harvard University Press: Blog | Excerpt from new book by David A. Moss, Paul Whiton Cherington Professor at Harvard Business School. 

Democracy: A Case Study stems from a course that historian David Moss developed in order to bring the strengths of the Harvard Business School’s case study method to conversations about governance, citizenship, and democracy. In the spirit of that course, the book highlights nineteen key episodes in the history of American democracy...In the passage below, excerpted from the book’s Introduction and with reference to its cases, Moss explains why American democracy is better understood as a living organism than a machine...Continue reading»​​​​​​​

The Prophet of Profit

The Prophet of Profit

February 7, 2017

Slate | By Ray Fisman (Boston University) and Michael Luca (Harvard Business School). Betsy DeVos is right that some government services should be approached more like businesses. She’s wrong to think education is one of them, write Fisman and Luca.

"In understanding why different organizational forms have their distinct advantages, it’s useful to focus on the particular assumption that market participants can write a contract that ensures a good or service is delivered as expected," the authors explain.... Read more about The Prophet of Profit

Why Betsy DeVos’ vision of education does little to ensure equity

Why Betsy DeVos’ vision of education does little to ensure equity

February 6, 2017

The Hechinger Report | By Natasha Kumar Warikoo (Ph.D. '05), Associate Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education. "Betsy DeVos promotes a vision for society that outwardly extols the idea of equity but in reality does little to ensure it," writes Warikoo.

Interview Series: How Incomplete is the Theory of the Firm? Q&A with Daniel Carpenter

Interview Series: How Incomplete is the Theory of the Firm? Q&A with Daniel Carpenter

February 6, 2017

ProMarket—Stigler Center Blog | Should the economic theory of the firm be modified? In March, Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Harvard Business School, and Oxford University will hold a conference on this topic. Ahead of the conference, the Stigler Center is launching an interview series with influential scholars in the field.

Latest books—By doctoral fellows and alumni

The Border Within: The Economics of Immigration in an Age of Fear
Watson, Tara, and Kalee Thompson. 2022. The Border Within: The Economics of Immigration in an Age of Fear. University of Chicago Press, 304. Abstract
An eye-opening analysis of the costs and effects of immigration and immigration policy, both on American life and on new Americans.

For decades, immigration has been one of the most divisive, contentious topics in American politics. And for decades, urgent calls for its policy reform have gone mostly unanswered. As the discord surrounding the modern immigration debate has intensified, border enforcement has tightened. Crossing harsher, less porous borders makes unauthorized entry to the United States a permanent, costly undertaking. And the challenges don’t end on the other side.

At once enlightening and devastating, The Border Within examines the costs and ends of America’s interior enforcement—the policies and agencies, including ICE, aimed at removing immigrants already living in the country. Economist Tara Watson and journalist Kalee Thompson pair rigorous analysis with deeply personal stories from immigrants and their families to assess immigration’s effects on every aspect of American life, from the labor force to social welfare programs to tax revenue. What emerges is a critical, utterly complete examination of what non-native Americans bring to the country, including immigration’s tendency to elevate the wages and skills of those who are native-born.

News coverage has prompted many to question the humanity of American immigration policies; The Border Within opens a conversation of whether it is effective. The United States spends billions each year on detention and deportation, all without economic gain and at a great human cost. With depth and discipline, the authors dissect the shock-and-awe policies that make up a broken, often cruel system, while illuminating the lives caught in the chaos. It is an essential work with far-reaching implications for immigrants and non-immigrants alike.
What's the Worst That Could Happen? Existential Risk and Extreme Politics

Why catastrophic risks are more dangerous than you think, and how populism makes them worse.

Did you know that you're more likely to die from a catastrophe than in a car crash? The odds that a typical US resident will die from a catastrophic event—for example, nuclear war, bioterrorism, or out-of-control artificial intelligence—have been estimated at 1 in 6. That's fifteen times more likely than a fatal car crash and thirty-one times more likely than being murdered. In What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Andrew Leigh looks at catastrophic risks and how to mitigate them, arguing provocatively that the rise of populist politics makes catastrophe more likely. 

Leigh explains that pervasive short-term thinking leaves us unprepared for long-term risks. Politicians sweat the small stuff—granular policy details of legislation and regulation—but rarely devote much attention to reducing long-term risks. Populist movements thrive on short termism because they focus on their followers' immediate grievances. Leigh argues that we should be long-termers: lengthen our thinking and give big threats the attention and resources they need. 

Leigh outlines the biggest existential risks facing humanity and suggests remedies for them. He discusses pandemics, considering the possibility that the next virus will be more deadly than COVID-19; warns that unchecked climate change could render large swaths of the earth inhabitable; describes the metamorphosis of the arms race from a fight into a chaotic brawl; and examines the dangers of runaway superintelligence. Moreover, Leigh points out, populism (and its crony, totalitarianism) not only exacerbates other dangers, but is also a risk factor in itself, undermining the institutions of democracy as we watch.

The American Political Economy: Politics, Markets, and Power
Hacker, Jacob S., Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Paul Pierson, and Kathleen Thelen, ed. 2021. The American Political Economy: Politics, Markets, and Power. Cambridge University Press. Abstract

This volume brings together leading political scientists to explore the distinctive features of the American political economy. The introductory chapter provides a comparatively informed framework for analyzing the interplay of markets and politics in the United States, focusing on three key factors: uniquely fragmented and decentralized political institutions; an interest group landscape characterized by weak labor organizations and powerful, parochial business groups; and an entrenched legacy of ethno-racial divisions embedded in both government and markets. Subsequent chapters look at the fundamental dynamics that result, including the place of the courts in multi-venue politics, the political economy of labor, sectional conflict within and across cities and regions, the consolidation of financial markets and corporate monopoly and monopsony power, and the ongoing rise of the knowledge economy. Together, the chapters provide a revealing new map of the politics of democratic capitalism in the United States.

  • Provides a comprehensive analysis of the American political economy in comparative perspective
  • Develops a theoretical framework that emphasizes how distinctive features of the US political economy have interacted with one another over time to produce unique patterns of inequality, power, and precarity
  • Sheds new light on under-examined institutions, actors, and arenas of conflict, generating insights for the study of both American politics and comparative politics
Constructing Community: Urban Governance, Development, and Inequality in Boston
Levine, Jeremy R. 2021. Constructing Community: Urban Governance, Development, and Inequality in Boston . Princeton University Press, 280. Abstract

Who makes decisions that shape the housing, policies, and social programs in urban neighborhoods? Who, in other words, governs? Constructing Community offers a rich ethnographic portrait of the individuals who implement community development projects in the Fairmount Corridor, one of Boston’s poorest areas. Jeremy Levine uncovers a network of nonprofits and philanthropic foundations making governance decisions alongside public officials—a public-private structure that has implications for democratic representation and neighborhood inequality.

Levine spent four years following key players in Boston’s community development field. While state senators and city councilors are often the public face of new projects, and residents seem empowered through opportunities to participate in public meetings, Levine found a shadow government of nonprofit leaders and philanthropic funders, nonelected neighborhood representatives with their own particular objectives, working behind the scenes. Tying this system together were political performances of “community”—government and nonprofit leaders, all claiming to value the community. Levine provocatively argues that there is no such thing as a singular community voice, meaning any claim of community representation is, by definition, illusory. He shows how community development is as much about constructing the idea of community as it is about the construction of physical buildings in poor neighborhoods.

Constructing Community demonstrates how the nonprofit sector has become integral to urban policymaking, and the tensions and trade-offs that emerge when private nonprofits take on the work of public service provision.

Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing

In an era of increasing social isolation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are among the most important tools we have to understand each other. We use social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society but, as Chris Bail explains, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Breaking the Social Media Prism challenges common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, revealing that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.

Drawing on innovative online experiments and in-depth interviews with social media users from across the political spectrum, this book explains why stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less. Bail takes you inside the minds of online extremists through vivid narratives that trace their lives on the platforms and off—detailing how they dominate public discourse at the expense of the moderate majority. Wherever you stand on the spectrum of user behavior and political opinion, he offers fresh solutions to counter political tribalism from the bottom up and the top down. He introduces new apps and bots to help readers avoid misperceptions and engage in better conversations with the other side. Finally, he explores what the virtual public square might look like if we could hit “reset” and redesign social media from scratch through a first-of-its-kind experiment on a new social media platform built for scientific research.

Providing data-driven recommendations for strengthening our social media connections, Breaking the Social Media Prism shows how to combat online polarization without deleting our accounts.

Organizational Imaginaries
Chen, Victor Tan. 2021. Organizational Imaginaries. Edited by Katherine K. Chen. Emerald Publishing Limited. Abstract

Our everyday lives are structured by the rhythms, values, and practices of various organizations, including schools, workplaces, and government agencies. These experiences shape common-sense understandings of how “best” to organize and connect with others. Today, for-profit managerial firms dominate society, even though their practices often curtail information-sharing and experimentation, engender exploitation, and exclude the interests of stakeholders, particularly workers and the general public.

This Research in the Sociology of Organizations volume explores an expansive array of organizational imaginaries, or conceptions of organizational possibilities, with a focus on collectivist-democratic organizations that operate in capitalist markets but place more authority and ownership in the hands of stakeholders other than shareholders. These include worker and consumer cooperatives and other enterprises that, to varying degrees:

  • Emphasize social values over profit
  • Are owned not by shareholders but by workers, consumers, or other stakeholders
  • Employ democratic forms of managing their operations
  • Have social ties to the organization based on moral and emotional commitments

Organizational Imaginaries explores how these enterprises generate solidarity among members, network with other organizations and communities, contend with market pressures, and enhance their larger organizational ecosystems. By ensuring that organizations ultimately support and serve broader communities, collectivist-democratic organizing can move societies closer to hopeful “what if” and “if only” futures.

This volume is essential for researchers and students seeking innovative and egalitarian approaches to business and management.

Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World
Hannon, Valerie, and Amelia Peterson. 2021. Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World. Cambridge University Press. Abstract
Every generation faces challenges, but never before have young people been so aware of theirs. Whether due to school strikes for climate change, civil war, or pandemic lockdowns, almost every child in the world has experienced the interruption of their schooling by outside forces. When the world we have taken for granted proves so unstable, it gives rise to the question: what is schooling for? Thrive advocates a new purpose for education, in a rapidly changing world, and analyses the reasons why change is urgently needed in our education systems. The book identifies four levels of thriving: global – our place in the planet; societal – localities, communities, economies; interpersonal – our relationships; intrapersonal – the self. Chapters provide research-based theoretical evidence for each area, followed by practical international case studies showing how individual schools are addressing these considerable challenges. Humanity's challenges are shifting fast: schools need to be a part of the response.
American Affective Polarization in Comparative Perspective
Gidron, Noam, James Adams, and Will Horne. 2020. American Affective Polarization in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge University Press. Abstract
American political observers express increasing concern about affective polarization, i.e., partisans' resentment toward political opponents. We advance debates about America's partisan divisions by comparing affective polarization in the US over the past 25 years with affective polarization in 19 other western publics. We conclude that American affective polarization is not extreme in comparative perspective, although Americans' dislike of partisan opponents has increased more rapidly since the mid-1990s than in most other Western publics. We then show that affective polarization is more intense when unemployment and inequality are high; when political elites clash over cultural issues such as immigration and national identity; and in countries with majoritarian electoral institutions. Our findings situate American partisan resentment and hostility in comparative perspective, and illuminate correlates of affective polarization that are difficult to detect when examining the American case in isolation.
Reconnected: A Community Builder's Handbook
Leigh, Andrew, and Nick Terrell. 2020. Reconnected: A Community Builder's Handbook. La Trobe University Press, 288. Abstract

We're all in this together.

Strong social connections make communities more resilient. But today Australians have fewer close friends and local connections than in the past, and more of us say we have no-one to turn to in tough times. How can we turn this trend around?

In Reconnected, Andrew Leigh and Nick Terrell look at some of the most successful community organisations and initiatives – from conversation groups to community gardens, from parkrun to Pub Choir – to discover what really works. They explore ways to encourage philanthropy and volunteering, describe how technology can be used effectively, and introduce us to remarkable and inspirational leaders.

Reconnected is an essential guide for anyone interested in strengthening social ties.

After PrisonNavigating Adulthood in the Shadow of the Justice System
Harding, David J., and Heather M. Harris. 2020. After PrisonNavigating Adulthood in the Shadow of the Justice System. Russell Sage Foundation, 304. Abstract

The incarceration rate in the United States is the highest of any developed nation, with a prison population of approximately 2.3 million in 2016. Over 700,000 prisoners are released each year, and most face significant educational, economic, and social disadvantages. In After Prison, sociologist David Harding and criminologist Heather Harris provide a comprehensive account of young men’s experiences of reentry and reintegration in the era of mass incarceration. They focus on the unique challenges faced by 1,300 black and white youth aged 18 to 25 who were released from Michigan prisons in 2003, investigating the lives of those who achieved some measure of success after leaving prison as well as those who struggled with the challenges of creating new lives for themselves.

The transition to young adulthood typically includes school completion, full-time employment, leaving the childhood home, marriage, and childbearing, events that are disrupted by incarceration. While one quarter of the young men who participated in the study successfully transitioned into adulthood—achieving employment and residential independence and avoiding arrest and incarceration—the same number of young men remained deeply involved with the criminal justice system, spending on average four out of the seven years after their initial release re-incarcerated. Not surprisingly, whites are more likely to experience success after prison. The authors attribute this racial disparity to the increased stigma of criminal records for blacks, racial discrimination, and differing levels of social network support that connect whites to higher quality jobs. Black men earn less than white men, are more concentrated in industries characterized by low wages and job insecurity, and are less likely to remain employed once they have a job.

The authors demonstrate that families, social networks, neighborhoods, and labor market, educational, and criminal justice institutions can have a profound impact on young people’s lives. Their research indicates that residential stability is key to the transition to adulthood. Harding and Harris make the case for helping families, municipalities, and non-profit organizations provide formerly incarcerated young people access to long-term supportive housing and public housing. A remarkably large number of men in this study eventually enrolled in college, reflecting the growing recognition of college as a gateway to living wage work. But the young men in the study spent only brief spells in college, and the majority failed to earn degrees. They were most likely to enroll in community colleges, trade schools, and for-profit institutions, suggesting that interventions focused on these kinds of schools are more likely to be effective. The authors suggest that, in addition to helping students find employment, educational institutions can aid reentry efforts for the formerly incarcerated by providing supports like childcare and paid apprenticeships.

After Prison offers a set of targeted policy interventions to improve these young people’s chances: lifting restrictions on federal financial aid for education, encouraging criminal record sealing and expungement, and reducing the use of incarceration in response to technical parole violations. This book will be an important contribution to the fields of scholarly work on the criminal justice system and disconnected youth.

Measuring Culture
Mohr, John W., Christopher A. Bail, Margaret Frye, Jennifer C. Lena, Omar Lizardo, Terence E. McDonnell, Ann Mische, Iddo Tavory, and Frederick F. Wherry. 2020. Measuring Culture . Columbia University Press, 256. Abstract
Social scientists seek to develop systematic ways to understand how people make meaning and how the meanings they make shape them and the world in which they live. But how do we measure such processes? Measuring Culture is an essential point of entry for both those new to the field and those who are deeply immersed in the measurement of meaning. Written collectively by a team of leading qualitative and quantitative sociologists of culture, the book considers three common subjects of measurement—people, objects, and relationships—and then discusses how to pivot effectively between subjects and methods. Measuring Culturetakes the reader on a tour of the state of the art in measuring meaning, from discussions of neuroscience to computational social science. It provides both the definitive introduction to the sociological literature on culture as well as a critical set of case studies for methods courses across the social sciences.
Common-Sense Evidence: The Education Leader’s Guide to Using Data and Research
Gordon, Nora, and Carrie Conaway. 2020. Common-Sense Evidence: The Education Leader’s Guide to Using Data and Research. Harvard Education Publishing Group, 240. Abstract

Written by two leading experts in education research and policy, Common-Sense Evidence is a concise, accessible guide that helps education leaders find and interpret data and research, and then put that knowledge into action. 

In the book, Nora Gordon and Carrie Conaway empower educators to address the federal Every Student Succeeds Act mandate that schools use evidence-based improvement strategies.

The authors walk readers through the processes for determining whether research is relevant and convincing; explain useful statistical concepts; and show how to quickly search for and scan research studies for the necessary information.

The book directs readers through case studies of typical scenarios including a superintendent trying to reduce chronic absenteeism; a middle school math department chair trying to improve student performance on exams; and a chief state school officer attempting to recruit teachers for rural schools.

Common-Sense Evidence helps education leaders build capacity for evidence-based practice in their schools and

Confronting inequality: How policies and practices shape children's opportunities
Tach, Laura, Rachel Dunifon, and Douglas L. Miller, ed. 2020. Confronting inequality: How policies and practices shape children's opportunities. American Psychological Association. Abstract

All children deserve the best possible future. But in this era of increasing economic and social inequality, more and more children are being denied their fair chance at life.

This book examines the impact of inequality on children’s health and education, and offers a blueprint for addressing the impact of inequality among children in economic, sociological, and psychological domains.

Chapters examine a wide range of studies including exposure to stress and its biological consequences; the impact of federal programs offering access to nutrition for mothers and children; the impact of parental decision-making and child support systems; the effects of poverty on child care and quality of education, parental engagement with schools, parent-child interactions, friendship networks, and more.

The book concludes with commentaries from leading scholars about the state of the field, and efforts to help mitigate the effects of inequality for children in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Sosnaud, Benjamin, David Brady, and Steven M Frenk. 2013. “Class in Name Only: Subjective Class Identity, Objective Class Position, and Vote Choice in American Presidential Elections.” Social Problems 60. University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems: pp. 81-99. Publisher's Version Abstract
Partly because of the widespread tendency for Americans to think of themselves as “middle class,” subjective class identity often does not correspond to objective class position. This study evaluates the extent to which American voters' subjective class identities differ from their objective class positions. We then evaluate the implications of such differences for voting behavior using American National Election Studies data from eight recent presidential elections. Coding respondents according to whether subjective class identity is higher or lower than objective class position, we construct a novel schema of inflated, deflated, and concordant class perceptions. We find that there are substantial differences between Americans' subjective and objective social class: over two-thirds of the upper-middle class have a deflated perception of their class position, only half of the middle class have concordant perceptions, and more than a third of the working class have inflated perceptions. We also find that this divergence varies depending on sociodemographic factors, and especially race and education. The analyses initially show a pattern that those with inflated class perceptions are more likely to vote Republican. However, this relationship is not significant once we control for race and income.
Beckfield, Jason, Sigrun Olafsdottir, and Benjamin Sosnaud. 2013. “Healthcare Systems in Comparative Perspective: Classification, Convergence, Institutions, Inequalities, and Five Missed Turns.” Annual Review of Sociology 39: 127-146. Publisher's Version Abstract
This article reviews and evaluates recent comparative social science scholarship on healthcare systems. We focus on four of the strongest themes in current research: (a) the development of typologies of healthcare systems, (b) assessment of convergence among healthcare systems, (c) problematization of the shifting boundaries of healthcare systems, and (d) the relationship between healthcare systems and social inequalities. Our discussion seeks to highlight the central debates that animate current scholarship and identify unresolved questions and new opportunities for research. We also identify five currents in contemporary sociology that have not been incorporated as deeply as they might into research on healthcare systems. These five missed turns include emphases on social relations, culture, postnational theory, institutions, and causal mechanisms. We conclude by highlighting some key challenges for comparative research on healthcare systems.

Scholars have long noted how migration streams, once initiated, obtain a self-feeding character. Studies have attributed this phenomenon – the cumulative causation of migration – to expanding social networks that connect migrants in destination to individuals in origin. Studies however, often disagree on how social networks influence migration decisions. While many establish a positive association between individuals’ ties to prior migrants and their migration propensities, only few acknowledge that multiple social mechanisms might account for these interdependencies. To address this issue, we adopt a typology developed by DiMaggio and Garip (2012) and consider three mechanisms by which social ties may influence individuals’ migration choices. We study the prevalence of these mechanisms in the Mexico-US migration context using a mixed methods approach. First, analyzing data from more than 90,000 individuals surveyed by the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) we establish the presence of network effects in migration and test how prior migrants in the family or community increase individuals’ migration propensities, and whether prior migrants reduce the effect of economic or political indicators on migration propensities. Second, we analyze qualitative data from 120 in-depth interviews to determine the different mechanisms that lead to interdependencies in individuals’ migration choices. We thus provide a deeper understanding of migration as a social process, which we contend is crucial for anticipating future flows and policy responses.

Linos, Elizabeth. 2013. “Do Conditional Cash Transfers Shift Votes? Evidence from the Honduran PRAF.” Electoral Studies 32: 864-874. Abstract
How do national social programs influence local voting? This study utilizes the experimental set up of a conditional cash transfer program to show that small, targeted cash transfers can have large electoral effects. The Honduran PRAF program allocated an average of $18 per capita per year to poor households within municipalities that were randomly assigned to receive the program. Although the program was administered at the national level, the program increased an incumbent mayor’s re-election probabilities by 39%, without significantly influencing voting behavior in presidential elections. Moreover, the evidence suggests that transferring cash to poor households were more effective at increasing political support than interventions providing public goods for poor villages.
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2013. “Dismantling Policy through Fiscal Constriction: Examining the Erosion in State Unemployment Insurance Finances.” Social Service Review 87. The University of Chicago Press: pp. 438-476. Publisher's Version Abstract
Abstract A common proposition in welfare state research is that programs financed through dedicated payroll taxes tend to be more durable. This article examines American unemployment insurance (UI) as an exception to this proposition. UI is a self-financed social insurance program whose benefits have been dismantled over time because of an inability to maintain a constant revenue base. The study first examines the long-run decline in UI finances and concludes that changes in UI taxes are associated with the largest declines in state finances. It then examines why more states have not pursued reforms to strengthen UI finances and finds that opponents of more generous UI benefits have generally succeeded in preventing such measures, thus constricting UI finances and gradually retrenching benefits. These findings have implications for those seeking to improve UI solvency, as well as for the study of welfare state retrenchment more generally.
Huang, Wei, and Yi Zhou. 2013. “Effects of Education on Cognition at Older Ages: Evidence from China’s Great Famine.” Social Science & Medicine 98: 54-62. Publisher's Version Abstract

This paper explores whether educational attainment has a cognitive reserve capacity in elder life. Using pilot data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), we examined the impact of education on cognitive abilities at old ages. OLS results showed that respondents who completed primary school obtained 18.2 percent higher scores on cognitive tests than those who did not. We then constructed an instrumental variable (IV) by leveraging China’s Great Famine of 1959e1961 as a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of education on cognition. Two-stage least squares (2SLS) results provided sound evidence that completing primary school significantly increases cognition scores, especially in episode memory, by almost 20 percent on average. Moreover, Regression Discontinuity (RD) analysis provides further evidence for the causal interpretation, and shows that the effects are different for the different measures of cognition we explored. Our results also show that the Great Famine can result in long-term health consequences through the pathway of losing educational opportunities other than through the pathway of nutrition deprivation.

Huang, Wei, Xiaoyan Lei, John Strauss, Geert Ridder, and Yaohui Zhao. 2013. “Health, Height, Height Shrinkage, and SES at Older Ages: Evidence from China.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5: 86-121. Publisher's Version Abstract

In this paper, we build on the literature that examines associations between height and health outcomes of the elderly. We investigate the associations of height shrinkage at older ages with socioeconomic status, finding that height shrinkage for both men and women is negatively associated with better schooling, current urban residence, and household per capita expenditures. We then investigate the relationships between pre-shrinkage height, height shrinkage, and a rich set of health outcomes of older respondents, finding that height shrinkage is positively associated with poor health outcomes across a variety of outcomes, being especially strong for cognition outcomes.

Feigenbaum, James J, and Cameron A Shelton. 2013. “The Vicious Cycle: Fundraising and Perceived Viability in US Presidential Primaries.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 8 (1): 1-40. Publisher's Version Abstract
Scholars of presidential primaries have long posited a dynamic positive feedback loop between fundraising and electoral success. Yet existing work on both directions of this feedback remains inconclusive and is often explicitly cross-sectional, ignoring the dynamic aspect of the hypothesis. Pairing high-frequency FEC data on contributions and expenditures with Iowa Electronic Markets data on perceived probability of victory, we examine the bidirectional feedback between contributions and viability. We find robust, significant positive feedback in both directions. This might suggest multiple equilibria: a candidate initially anointed as the front-runner able to sustain such status solely by the fundraising advantage conferred despite possessing no advantage in quality. However, simulations suggest the feedback loop cannot, by itself, sustain advantage. Given the observed durability of front-runners, it would thus seem there is either some other feedback at work and/or the process by which the initial front-runner is identified is informative of candidate quality.
Papachristos, Andrew V, David M Hureau, and Anthony A Braga. 2013. “The Corner and the Crew: The Influence of Geography and Social Networks on Gang Violence.” American Sociological Review 78 (3): 417-447. Abstract

Nearly a century of empirical research examines how neighborhood properties influence a host of phenomena such as crime, poverty, health, civic engagement, immigration, and economic inequality. Theoretically bundled within these neighborhood effects are institutions’ and actors’ social networks that are the foundation of other neighborhood-level processes such as social control, mobilization, and cultural assimilation. Yet, despite such long-standing theoretical links between neighborhoods and social networks, empirical research rarely considers or measures dimensions of geography and social network mechanisms simultaneously. The present study seeks to fill this gap by analyzing how both geography and social networks influence an important social problem in urban America: gang violence. Using detailed data on fatal and non-fatal shootings, we examine effects of geographic proximity, organizational memory, and additional group processes (e.g., reciprocity, transitivity, and status seeking) on gang violence in Chicago and Boston. Results show adjacency of gang turf and prior conflict between gangs are strong predictors of subsequent gang violence. Furthermore, important network processes, including reciprocity and status seeking, also contribute to observed patterns of gang violence. In fact, we find that these spatial and network processes mediate racial effects, suggesting the primacy of place and the group in generating gang violence.

Eldik, Yaseen, and Monica C Bell. 2012. “The Establishment Clause and Public Education in an Islamophobic Era.” Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties 8: 245-258. Abstract
The public education system has often been considered a critically important site for inter-ethnic dialogue designed to root out the prejudice that leads to discrimination against ethnic minorities. However, the prohibition of certain religious practices in schools has placed the "celebration" of religious diversity in a more precarious position than the promotion of racial diversity in ways that have deleterious effects for Muslim Americans. This Essay argues that Supreme Court jurisprudence on religious establishment in public schools has contributed to public education’s inefficacy as a tool to dismantle fear and prejudice against Muslims. We explore judicial, political, and practical approaches to bringing constitutionally permissible religious education and interfaith dialogue into public schools.
Western, Bruce, Deirdre Bloome, Benjamin Sosnaud, and Laura Tach. 2012. “Economic Insecurity and Social Stratification.” Annual Review of Sociology 38: 341-359. Publisher's Version Abstract
Economic insecurity describes the risk of economic loss faced by workers and households as they encounter the unpredictable events of social life. Our review suggests a four-part framework for studying the distribution and trends in these economic risks. First, a focus on households rather than workers captures the microlevel risk pooling that can smooth income flows and stabilize economic well-being. Second, insecurity is related to income volatility and the risk of downward mobility into poverty. Third, adverse events such as unemployment, family dissolution, or poor health commonly trigger income losses. Fourth, the effects of adverse events are mitigated by insurance relationships provided by government programs, employer benefits, and the informal support of families. Empirical research in these areas reveals high levels of economic insecurity among low-income households and suggests an increase in economic insecurity with the growth in economic inequality in the United States.
Hirsch, Nicole Arlette, and Anthony Abraham Jack. 2012. “What We Face: Framing Problems in the Black Community.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 9: 133-148. Abstract
While many sociological studies analyze the causes, conditions, and mechanisms perpetuating American racial inequality, the literature on how African Americans understand and explain these inequalities is less developed. Drawing on 150 interviews with middle-class and working-class African American men and women, this paper analyzes inductively how respondents define and conceptualize the most pressing obstacles facing their group when probed on this question. We find that middle- and working-class respondents alike identify the problem of racism as the most salient obstacle facing African Americans. Class differences appear with respect to what other obstacles are singled out as salient: while middle-class respondents focus on lack of racial solidarity among Blacks and economic problems (in this order), working-class respondents are more concerned with the fragility of the Black family followed by the lack of racial solidarity. This analysis discusses the relevance of considering how groups make sense of obstacles, and of racism and discrimination in particular, for the study of destigmatization and antiracist strategies of stigmatized minorities.
Papachristos, Andrew, Anthony Braga, and David Hureau. 2012. “Social Networks and the Risk of Gunshot Injury.” Journal of Urban Health 89 (6). Boston: 992-1003. Abstract

Direct and indirect exposure to gun violence have considerable consequences on individual health and well-being. However, no study has considered the effects of one’s social network on gunshot injury. This study investigates the relationship between an individual’s position in a high-risk social network and the probability of being a victim of a fatal or non-fatal gunshot wound by combining observational data from the police with records of fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries among 763 individuals in Boston’s Cape Verdean community. A logistic regression approach is used to analyze the probability of being the victim of a fatal or non-fatal gunshot wound and whether such injury is related to age, gender, race, prior criminal activity, exposure to street gangs and other gunshot victims, density of one’s peer network, and the social distance to other gunshot victims. The findings demonstrate that 85 % all of the gunshot injuries in the sample occur within a single social network. Probability of gunshot victimization is related to one’s network distance to other gunshot victims: each network association removed from another gunshot victim reduces the odds of gunshot victimization by 25 % (odds ratio = 0.75

Braga, Anthony A, David M Hureau, and Andrew V Papachristos. 2011. “An Ex Post Facto Evaluation Framework for Place-Based Police Interventions.” Evaluation Review 35 (6): 592-626. Abstract

Background: A small but growing body of research evidence suggests that place-based police interventions generate significant crime control gains. While place-based policing strategies have been adopted by a majority of U.S. police departments, very few agencies make a priori commitments to rigorous evaluations. Objective: Recent methodological developments were applied to conduct a rigorous ex post facto evaluation of the Boston Police Department’s Safe Street Team (SST) hot spots policing program. Research Design: A nonrandomized quasi-experimental design was used to evaluate the violent crime control benefits of the SST program at treated street segments and intersections relative to untreated street segments and intersections. Propensity score matching techniques were used to identify comparison places in Boston. Growth curve regression models were used to analyze violent crime trends at treatment places relative to control places. Units of Analysis: Using computerized mapping and database software, a micro-level place database of violent index crimes at all street segments and intersections in Boston was created. Measures: Yearly counts of violent index crimes between 2000 and 2009 at the treatment and comparison street segments and intersections served as the key outcome measure. Results: The SST program was associated with a statistically significant reduction in violent index crimes at the treatment places relative to the comparison places without displacing crime into proximate areas. Conclusions: To overcome the challenges of evaluation in real-world settings, evaluators need to continuously develop innovative approaches that take advantage of new theoretical and methodological approaches.

Robbery, and the fear it inspires, has a profound effect on the quality of life in certain urban neighborhoods. Recent advances in criminological research suggest that there is significant clustering of crime in micro places, or "hot spots," that generate a disproportionate amount of criminal events in a city. In this article, the authors use growth curve regression models to uncover distinctive developmental trends in robbery incidents at street segments and intersections in Boston over a 29-year period. The authors find that robberies are highly concentrated at a small number of street segments and intersections rather than spread evenly across the urban landscape over the study time period. Roughly 1 percent and 8 percent of street segments and intersections in Boston are responsible for nearly 50 percent of all commercial robberies and 66 percent of all street robberies, respectively, between 1980 and 2008. Our findings suggest that citywide robbery trends may be best understood by examining micro-level trends at a relatively small number of places in urban environments.

Braga, Anthony A, Anne M Piehl, and David Hureau. 2009. “Controlling Violent Offenders Released to the Community: An Evaluation of the Boston Reentry Initiative.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 46 (4): 411-436. Abstract

Despite the high level of funding and policy interest in prisoner reentry, there is still little rigorous scientific evidence to guide jurisdictions in developing reentry programs to enhance public safety, particularly for managing those who pose the greatest safety risks. The Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI) is an interagency initiative to help transition violent adult offenders released from the local jail back to their Boston neighborhoods through mentoring, social service assistance, and vocational development.This study uses a quasi-experimental design and survival analyses to evaluate the effects of the BRI on the subsequent recidivism of program participants relative to an equivalent control group. The authors find that the BRI was associated with significant reductions—on the order of 30 percent—in the overall and violent arrest failure rates.

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Latest policy, research briefs, and expert testimony

Pretrial detention

Proposals for improving the U.S. Pretrial System

March 15, 2019

The Hamilton Project | By Will Dobbie (PhD 2013) and Crystal S. Yang (PhD 2013). Will Dobbie is now Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Crystal S. Yang is Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Economics for Inclusive Prosperity

Economics for Inclusive Prosperity (EfIP) Launches

February 15, 2019

Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard Kennedy School, announced the launch of a new initiative - Economics for Inclusive Prosperity (EfIP) - a network of academic economists dedicated to producing creative policy ideas for an inclusive society and economy. Co-directing the initiative are Dani Rodrik, Suresh Naidu of Columbia University, and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California, Berkeley. Download the (free) EfIP eBook: Economics for Inclusive Prosperity: An Introduction and policy briefs.

View the EfIP eBook (pdf) ▶ 
View all policy briefs ▶

BPEA heartland

Saving the heartland: Place-based policies in 21st century America

March 8, 2018
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity | By Benjamin Austin, Edward Glaeser, and Lawrence Summers. Austin is a PhD candidate in Economics at Harvard. Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard. Lawrence Summers is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University.
Tax reform

Macroeconomic effects of the 2017 tax reform

March 8, 2018
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity | By Robert J. Barro and Jason Furman. Barro is Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard. Furman is Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. 
Lawrence F. Katz

Imagining a Future of Work That Fosters Mobility for All

February 1, 2018
U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty | Idea paper by Lawrence Katz, Ai-Jen Poo, and Elaine Waxman. Lawrence Katz is Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics at Harvard and a member of U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty.
Restoring the American Dream: What Would It Take to Dramatically Increase Mobility from Poverty?

Restoring the American Dream: What Would It Take to Dramatically Increase Mobility from Poverty?

January 23, 2018

US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty | The US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty is a collaboration of 24 leading scholars, policy experts, and practitioners tasked with answering one big, bold, and exciting question: What would it take to dramatically increase mobility from poverty? This two-year project was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Co-authored by David T. Ellwood, Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and Nisha G. Patel, Executive Director of the US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, Urban Institute

David J. Deming

The Value of Soft Skills in the Labor Market

January 17, 2018
NBER Reporter | By David J. Deming (PhD '10), Professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Graduate School of Education. Deming provides an overview of the current state of research on soft skills in the labor market. His own work in this area, "The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market," appears in the November 2017 issue of Quarterly Journal of Economics.
View the research
Can the Financial Benefit of Lobbying be Quantified?

Can the Financial Benefit of Lobbying be Quantified?

January 16, 2018
Washington Center for Equitable Growth | A look at a new paper by Inequality doctoral fellow Brian Libgober, PhD candidate in Government, and Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government, "Lobbying with Lawyers: Financial Market Evidence for Banks' Influence on Rulemaking."
View the research
Does a Criminal Past Predict Worker Performance? Evidence from One of America’s Largest Employers

Does a Criminal Past Predict Worker Performance? Evidence from One of America’s Largest Employers

January 12, 2018
Social Forces | New research by Harvard's Devah Pager and collaborators  Jennifer Hickes Lundquist and Eiko Strader provides one of the first systematic assessments of workplace performance by those with criminal records. Examining military employment records, they find that, overall, the military's screening process can result in successful employment outcomes for those with felony convictions. An important question, they write, is whether the military's 'whole person' review can apply succssfully to the civilian sector. Pager is Professor of Sociology and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard.
An inside view of credit checks in hiring

An inside view of credit checks in hiring

October 14, 2017
Work in Progress | By Barbara Kiviat, PhD candidate in Sociology & Social Policy. Barbara Kiviat summarizes findings from her research, "The Art of Deciding with Data," recently published in Socio-Economic Review.  Work in Progress is the American Sociological Assocation's blog for short-form sociology on the economy, work, and inequality.
Jason Furman - PIIE Macroeconomic Policy Conference

Should Policymakers Care Whether Inequality is Helpful or Harmful for Growth?

October 13, 2017
Peterson Institute for International Economics | Presentation by Jason Furman (Harvard Kennedy School) at PIIE's "Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy Conference," with discussion by Dani Rodrik (Harvard Kennedy School), Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Justin Wolfers (PhD '01). View the paper, slides, and conference videos at the conference webpage.