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Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

Creating cities to be spaces for voice and influence

Creating cities to be spaces for voice and influence

April 27, 2016

Harvard Kennedy School | Interview with Quinton Mayne, Assistant Professor of Public Policy.

"I'm really interested in understanding the difference in the powers that cities and local governments have and what the consequences of those differences are for how people think and act politically. I’m also interested in how these differences affect the types of goods and services local governments are able to produce.

"There's a lot of excitement right now, and energy, around cities as the site of participation and engagement and at the level where problems can get solved and challenges can be addressed. I care a lot about trying to figure out the conditions under which cities are able to realize their potential as real problem-solvers and spaces of meaningful participation."

To Ban the Box or Not Ban the Box? How Policy Change Can Affect Hiring and Employment

To Ban the Box or Not Ban the Box? How Policy Change Can Affect Hiring and Employment

April 27, 2016

Chicago Policy Review | Reviews new paper by Daniel Shoag (Ph.D. '11,  Assistant Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School) and Stan Veuger (AEI), which finds that ban-the-box measures increased employment of residents in high crime neighborhoods by as much as 4%, benefiting low-skilled African-American men, while reducing employment opportunities for women as employers responded by increasing experience requirements. View the paper.

Boston has a new program to help young workers build credit

Boston has a new program to help young workers build credit

April 26, 2016

Boston.com | Alicia Sasser Modestino (Ph.D. '01) will be working with Boston's Office of Financial Empowerment to evaluate a new program for low-income workers to build credit. Modestino is an Associate Professor at Northeastern University and Associate Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

New Research: How your Reputational Awareness can Incite Action

New Research: How your Reputational Awareness can Incite Action

April 26, 2016

Harvard Kennedy School | Interview with Todd Rogers, Associate Professor of Public Policy, about his research  examining  how subtle interventions to increase the perceived observability of society-benefiting behaviors might be used to increase contributions to public goods. Read the original study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

#AirbnbWhileBlack: How Hidden Bias Shapes the Sharing Economy.

#AirbnbWhileBlack: How Hidden Bias Shapes the Sharing Economy.

April 26, 2016

NPR Hidden Brain | Discusses study by Inequality faculty affiliate Michael Luca and HBS colleagues Benjamin Edelman and Dan Svirsky on racial discrimination in the sharing economy [Article and audio: 22:29 minutes]. Read the original study, based on a field experiment Luca and colleagues conducted on Airbnb, here.

Economic Inequality and the Founding Fathers

Economic Inequality and the Founding Fathers

April 25, 2016

The Atlantic |Discussion of new book, American Growth and Inequality since 1700, by Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson (Laird Bell Professor of Economics Emeritus, Harvard), also highlights The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century, by Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B. Freeman (Herbert Ascherman Professor of Economics), and Douglas L. Kruse.

Cities that used lead pipes to carry water have higher murder rates says new study

Cities that used lead pipes to carry water have higher murder rates says new study

April 22, 2016

International Business Times | Coverage of research by James Feigenbaum (Ph.D. candidate in Economics) and Christopher Muller (Ph.D. '14, now an RWJ Health & Society Scholar and Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley) linking lead exposure and violent crime in the early 20th century. Feigenbaum and Muller presented their paper, which is forthcoming in Explorations in Economic History, in the April 18 Inequality Seminar.

Do Felons Make Good Employees?

Do Felons Make Good Employees?

April 22, 2016

NPR Morning Edition | Devah Pager, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy, explains how the military provided a natural experiment to test how those with felony records perform on the job and what she found.

Lead Water Pipes Linked to Higher Murder Rates

Lead Water Pipes Linked to Higher Murder Rates

April 20, 2016

The Huffington Post | Spotlights research by James Feigenbaum (Ph.D. candidate in Economics) and Christopher Muller (Ph.D. '14, now an assistant professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley) linking lead exposure and violent crime in the early 20th century. Feigenbaum and Muller presented this work, which is forthcoming in Explorations in Economic History, in the Inequality Seminar on April 18. Read the Feigenbaum and Muller paper.

How Violence Shapes Children for Life

How Violence Shapes Children for Life

April 20, 2016

Washington Post | Discusses new research by Patrick Sharkey (Ph.D. '07), Associate Professor of Sociology at NYU, which suggests that places with more violent crime lower children's prospects for economic mobility. Nathaniel Hendren, Assistant Professor of Economics, comments on the study.

Want to Fix Education? Give a Kid a Tutor

Want to Fix Education? Give a Kid a Tutor

April 19, 2016

Bloomberg View | Reviews a new survey of field experiments on the production of human capital by Roland Fryer, Henry Lee Professor of Economics, and the lessons they offer for education policy. View Fryer's paper, "which concludes with a back of the envelope simulation of how much of the racial wage gap in America might be accounted for if human capital policy focused on best practices gleaned from randomized field experiments."

Jeffrey Liebman appointed to new federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking

Jeffrey Liebman appointed to new federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking

April 18, 2016

Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy, has been appointed by Senate Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to the federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, which was enacted into law in March 2016. The law establishes a 15-member commission to study how best to expand and coordinate the use of federal administrative data to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs. (See American Statistical Association community website for list of appointees to date).

See also: Urban Institute, "Everything you need to know about the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking."

The Tobin Project: Conference on Inequality and Decision-Making Participants Selected

The Tobin Project: Conference on Inequality and Decision-Making Participants Selected

April 15, 2016

The Tobin Project | Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellows Beth Truesdale (Ph.D. candidate in Sociology) and Robert Manduca (Ph.D. student in Sociology & Social Policy), and alumnae Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington (Ph.D. '14) and Vanessa Williamson (Ph.D. '15), are among the group of national and international scholars selected to participate in The Tobin Project's Conference on Inequality and Decision-Making, to be held August 4-5 in Cambridge.
... Read more about The Tobin Project: Conference on Inequality and Decision-Making Participants Selected

Reassessing the Gender Gap

Reassessing the Gender Gap

April 15, 2016

Harvard Magazine | Examining the gender wage gap with Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics.

The Egalitarian

The Egalitarian

April 15, 2016

Harvard Magazine | Danielle Allen's mission to return equality to the heart of American democracy. Allen is Professor of Government and Director of Harvard's Safra Center for Ethics.

How conservative megadonors built a shadow GOP that weakened the official party

How conservative megadonors built a shadow GOP that weakened the official party

April 14, 2016

Vox | Elite donor groups have pulled Republican politicians to the far right on economic policy, according to research by Theda Skocpol (Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology), Alexander Hertel-Fernandez (Ph.D. candidate in Government & Social Policy), and Vanessa S. Williamson (Ph.D. '15, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution).

America's Eviction Epidemic

America's Eviction Epidemic

April 12, 2016

The New Republic | A look at Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences.

Good jobs without a degree? Boston's $3 million test

Good jobs without a degree? Boston's $3 million test

April 11, 2016

Christian Science Monitor | Facing problems of income inequality, US cities looking at new ways to create well-paying jobs for workers. With insights from Alicia Sasser Modestino (Ph.D. '01), associate professor at Northeastern University.

Latest commentary and analysis

Forum: What Is Education For?

Forum: What Is Education For?

May 9, 2016

Boston Review | By Danielle Allen, Professor of Government and of Education. Reducing inequality, Allen argues, requires more than the dissemination of technical skills. "The civic conception of education...begins with the recognition that fair economic outcomes are aided by a robust democratic process and, therefore, by genuine political equality." We should aspire to "educate for civic participation, and not merely work."

Is the American Party System About to Crack Up?

Is the American Party System About to Crack Up?

May 5, 2016

The Nation | By Danielle Allen of Harvard, Rick Perlstein, and Daniel Schlozman (Ph.D. '11) of Johns Hopkins University. Three scholars of American politics and history consider whether we're on the verge of a fundamental realignment. 

No room for the urban poor? 'Eviction' author explains

No room for the urban poor? 'Eviction' author explains

May 5, 2016

The Christian Science Monitor | Interview with Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, who explains why eviction must be central to any comprehensive anti-poverty discussion and why he chose to document the perspectives of landlords as well.

The worrisome return of a racist form of home lending

The worrisome return of a racist form of home lending

May 5, 2016

Urban Institute | By Steven Brown, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. How and why "contract for deed" is making a comeback and what it means for economic mobility and wealth accumulation for minority families.

How contraception can boost social mobility

How contraception can boost social mobility

April 26, 2016

Brookings Institution—Social Mobility Memos | By Adam Thomas (Ph.D. 07, Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy) and Quentin Karpilow (Child Trends).

American Ghetto

American Ghetto

April 24, 2016

The Chronicle Review | By Mario L. Small, Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology. Review of Mitchell Duneier's Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea. "The heart of book," writes Small, "is three detailed studies of black scholars who in the 1940s, ’60s, and ’80s wrote definitive texts on urban conditions among African-Americans," with William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, and The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) the focus of the third.

Leah Wright Rigueur on African Americans and Politics

Leah Wright Rigueur on African Americans and Politics

April 22, 2016

Harvard Kennedy School | Leah Wright Rigueur, an historian and assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, sits down for a wide-ranging analysis of the 2016 presidential campaign, African Americans' relationship to the Republican and Democratic parties, and Black Lives Matter in historical context.

Americans Like Taxes

Americans Like Taxes

April 13, 2016

No Jargon [Podcast—Ep. 28] | Vanessa Williamson (Ph.D. '15), now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, dispels the misconception that Americans hate taxes. In fact, most Americans support taxes and are willing to increase them for services they care about. She outlines how, despite this, anti-tax policies became so popular. No Jargon presents interviews with top university scholars on the politics, policy problems, and social issues facing the nation. Subscribe  in iTunes, or listen to individual episodes at the SSN website.

Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Do Tax Cuts Produce more Einsteins? The Impacts of Financial Incentives Versus Exposure to Innovation on the Supply of Inventors
Bell, Alex, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, and John Van Reenen. 2019. “Do Tax Cuts Produce more Einsteins? The Impacts of Financial Incentives Versus Exposure to Innovation on the Supply of Inventors.” Journal of the European Economic Association 17 (3): 651–677. Abstract
Many countries provide financial incentives to spur innovation, ranging from tax incentives to research and development grants. In this paper, we study how such financial incentives affect individuals’ decisions to pursue careers in innovation. We first present empirical evidence on inventors’ career trajectories and income distributions using deidentified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records in the United States. We find that the private returns to innovation are extremely skewed—with the top 1% of inventors collecting more than 22% of total inventors’ income—and are highly correlated with their social impact, as measured by citations. Inventors tend to have their most impactful innovations around age 40 and their incomes rise rapidly just before they have high-impact patents. We then build a stylized model of inventor career choice that matches these facts as well as recent evidence that childhood exposure to innovation plays a critical role in determining whether individuals become inventors. The model predicts that financial incentives, such as top income tax reductions, have limited potential to increase aggregate innovation because they only affect individuals who are exposed to innovation and have essentially no impact on the decisions of star inventors, who matter most for aggregate innovation. Importantly, these results hold regardless of whether the private returns to innovation are fully known at the time of career choice or are fully stochastic. In contrast, increasing exposure to innovation (e.g., through mentorship programs) could have substantial impacts on innovation by drawing individuals who produce high-impact inventions into the innovation pipeline. Although we do not present direct evidence supporting these model-based predictions, our results call for a more careful assessment of the impacts of financial incentives and a greater focus on alternative policies to increase the supply of inventors.
Antitrust Enforcement as Federal Policy to Reduce Regional Economic Disparities
Manduca, Robert. 2019. “Antitrust Enforcement as Federal Policy to Reduce Regional Economic Disparities.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 685 (1): 156-171. Abstract
Regions of the United States have seen their incomes diverge dramatically over the last four decades. This article makes the empirical and political case for treating regional economic disparities as a national phenomenon best resolved through federal policy, rather than exclusively as a matter of local responsibility. It then considers reinvigorated antitrust enforcement as an example of a federal policy that would strengthen local economies while benefiting from policy feedback effects.
The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor
Daminger, Allison. 2019. “The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor.” American Sociological Review 84 (4): 609-633. Abstract
Household labor is commonly defined as a set of physical tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Sociologists sometimes reference non-physical activities related to “household management,” but these are typically mentioned in passing, imprecisely defined, or treated as equivalent to physical tasks. Using 70 in-depth interviews with members of 35 couples, this study argues that such tasks are better understood as examples of a unique dimension of housework: cognitive labor. The data demonstrate that cognitive labor entails anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress. Because such work is taxing but often invisible to both cognitive laborers and their partners, it is a frequent source of conflict for couples. Cognitive labor is also a gendered phenomenon: women in this study do more cognitive labor overall and more of the anticipation and monitoring work in particular. However, male and female participation in decision-making, arguably the cognitive labor component most closely linked to power and influence, is roughly equal. These findings identify and define an overlooked—yet potentially consequential—source of gender inequality at the household level and suggest a new direction for research on the division of household labor.
Unemployment insurance and reservation wages: Evidence from administrative data
Barbanchon, Thomas Le, Roland Rathelot, and Alexandra Roulet. 2019. “Unemployment insurance and reservation wages: Evidence from administrative data.” Journal of Public Economics 171: 1-17. Abstract

Although the reservation wage plays a central role in job search models, empirical evidence on the determinants of reservation wages, including key policy variables such as unemployment insurance (UI), is scarce. In France, unemployed people must declare their reservation wage to the Public Employment Service when they register to claim UI benefits. We take advantage of these rich French administrative data and of a reform of UI rules to estimate the effect of the Potential Benefit Duration (PBD) on reservation wages and on other dimensions of job selectivity, using a difference-in-difference strategy. We cannot reject that the elasticity of the reservation wage with respect to PBD is zero. Our results are precise and we can rule out elasticities larger than 0.006. Furthermore, we do not find any significant effects of PBD on the desired number of hours, duration of labor contract and commuting time/distance. The estimated elasticity of actual benefit duration with respect to PBD of 0.3 is in line with the consensus in the literature. Exploiting a Regression Discontinuity Design as an alternative identification strategy, we find similar results.

Environmental Inequality: The Social Causes and Consequences of Lead Exposure
Muller, Christopher, Robert J. Sampson, and Alix S. Winter. 2018. “Environmental Inequality: The Social Causes and Consequences of Lead Exposure.” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (1): 263-282 . Abstract
In this article, we review evidence from the social and medical sciences on the causes and effects of lead exposure. We argue that lead exposure is an important subject for sociological analysis because it is socially stratified and has important social consequences—consequences that themselves depend in part on children's social environments. We present a model of environmental inequality over the life course to guide an agenda for future research. We conclude with a call for deeper exchange between urban sociology, environmental sociology, and public health, and for more collaboration between scholars and local communities in the pursuit of independent science for the common good.
he consequences of lead exposure for later crime are theoretically compelling, but direct evidence from representative, longitudinal samples is sparse. By capitalizing on an original follow-up of more than 200 infants from the birth cohort of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods matched to their blood lead levels from around age 3 years, we provide several tests. Through the use of four waves of longitudinal data that include measures of individual development, family background, and structural inequalities in how lead becomes embodied, we assess the hypothesized link between early childhood lead poisoning and both parent-reported delinquent behavior and official arrest in late adolescence. We also test for mediating developmental processes of impulsivity and anxiety or depression. The results from multiple analytic strategies that make different assumptions reveal a plausibly causal effect of childhood lead exposure on adolescent delinquent behavior but no direct link to arrests. The results underscore lead exposure as a trigger for poisoned development in the early life course and call for greater integration of the environment into theories of individual differences in criminal behavior.
Public Campaign Financing, Candidate Socioeconomic Diversity, and Representational Inequality at the U.S. State Level: Evidence from Connecticut
Conventional wisdom holds that public campaign financing can diversify the socioeconomic makeup of candidate pools and, therefore, of U.S. elected officials, which could make U.S. public policy more responsive to lower socioeconomic status (SES) citizens. I argue that in addition to the absence of a positive relationship between public financing and candidate socioeconomic diversity, public financing, depending on the program design, may, in fact, reduce candidate socioeconomic diversity. Using occupational data on state legislative candidates in public financing state Connecticut and two paired control states to execute a difference in difference analysis, I demonstrate that when public financing is available, fewer low SES candidates run for state legislative office, and those who do run are not more likely to win and are less likely to utilize public financing.
Environmental Inequality: The Social Causes and Consequences of Lead Exposure
Muller, Christopher, Robert J. Sampson, and Alix S. Winter. 2018. “Environmental Inequality: The Social Causes and Consequences of Lead Exposure.” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (1): 263-282. Abstract
In this article, we review evidence from the social and medical sciences on the causes and effects of lead exposure. We argue that lead exposure is an important subject for sociological analysis because it is socially stratified and has important social consequences—consequences that themselves depend in part on children's social environments. We present a model of environmental inequality over the life course to guide an agenda for future research. We conclude with a call for deeper exchange between urban sociology, environmental sociology, and public health, and for more collaboration between scholars and local communities in the pursuit of independent science for the common good.
Introducing a performance-based component into Jakarta's school grants: What do we know about its impact after three years?
Samarrai, Samer Al, Unika Shrestha, Amer Hasan, Nozomi Nakajima, Santoso Santoso, and Wisnu Harto Adi Wijoyo. 2018. “Introducing a performance-based component into Jakarta's school grants: What do we know about its impact after three years?” Economics of Education Review 67: 110-136. Abstract
Using administrative data, this paper evaluates the early impact of introducing a performance-based component into Jakarta's long-standing school grant program on learning outcomes. The authors use difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity approaches to identify the component's impact on both government primary and junior secondary schools. Learning outcomes improved in primary schools at the bottom of the performance distribution, which narrowed the performance gaps between schools. However, the component had a negative impact on the better performing primary schools. Overall, primary examination scores fell slightly but this effect was only temporary. In contrast, the performance-based component improved examination scores in junior secondary schools. This impact seems to have been greatest among better-performing schools, thus widening the performance gap between these schools and those whose performance was worse. The data suggest that the main impact of the performance-based grant in terms of learning outcomes operated through an increase in competition among schools to earn the performance-based grant rather than through receipt of the actual grant funds.
Beyond the Border and Into the Heartland: Spatial Patterning of U.S. Immigration Detention
The expansion of U.S. immigration enforcement from the borders into the interior of the country and the fivefold increase in immigration detentions and deportations since 1995 raise important questions about how the enforcement of immigration law is spatially patterned across American communities. Focusing on the practice of immigration detention, the present study analyzes the records of all 717,160 noncitizens detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008 and 2009—a period when interior enforcement was at its peak—to estimate states’ detention rates and examine geographic variation in detention outcomes, net of individual characteristics. Findings reveal substantial state heterogeneity in immigration detention rates, which range from approximately 350 detentions per 100,000 noncitizens in Connecticut to more than 6,700 detentions per 100,000 noncitizens in Wyoming. After detainment, individuals’ detention outcomes are geographically stratified, especially for detainees eligible for pretrial release. These disparities indicate the important role that geography plays in shaping individuals’ chances of experiencing immigration detention and deportation.
Attitudes Toward Mass Arrivals: Variations by Racial, Spatial, and Temporal Distances to Incoming Disaster Evacuees
Raker, Ethan J., and James R. Elliott. 2018. “Attitudes Toward Mass Arrivals: Variations by Racial, Spatial, and Temporal Distances to Incoming Disaster Evacuees.” Social Science Quarterly 99 (3): 1200-1213. Abstract

Objective

Disasters can send large numbers of evacuees into new contexts of reception, where attitudes toward them can vary significantly by perceived social distance. To conventional assessment of such distance along racial lines, we add spatial and temporal distance from point of central arrival.

Methods

A novel research design combines the natural experiment triggered by Hurricane Katrina with five consecutive Kinder Houston Area Surveys (2006–2010), which gather data on attitudes toward arrived evacuees as well as tract‐level data on residential context.

Results

Regression analyses reveal that spatial and temporal distance act similarly to racial distance in predicting negative attitudes toward evacuees. Results also show these effects are moderated by the racial context of incumbents’ residential neighborhoods.

Conclusions

Social distance exerts a multifaceted influence on evacuee reception in ways that become especially pertinent in the arrival of communities from large‐scale, urban evacuations.

Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities
Zoorob, Michael. 2018. “Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities.” Occupational and Environmental Medicine 75: 736-738. Abstract

Objective Economic policies can have unintended consequences on population health. In recent years, many states in the USA have passed ‘right to work’ (RTW) laws which weaken labour unions. The effect of these laws on occupational health remains unexplored. This study fills this gap by analysing the effect of RTW on occupational fatalities through its effect on unionisation.

Methods Two-way fixed effects regression models are used to estimate the effect of unionisation on occupational mortality per 100 000 workers, controlling for state policy liberalism and workforce composition over the period 1992–2016. In the final specification, RTW laws are used as an instrument for unionisation to recover causal effects.

Results The Local Average Treatment Effect of a 1% decline in unionisation attributable to RTW is about a 5% increase in the rate of occupational fatalities. In total, RTW laws have led to a 14.2% increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionisation.

Conclusion These findings illustrate and quantify the protective effect of unions on workers’ safety. Policymakers should consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health.

The Persistent Effect of U.S. Civil Rights Protests on Political Attitudes
Mazumder, Soumyajit. 2018. “The Persistent Effect of U.S. Civil Rights Protests on Political Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science 62 (4): 922-935. Publisher's Version Abstract
Protests can engender significant institutional change. Can protests also continue to shape a nation's contemporary politics outside of more formalized channels? I argue that social movements can not only beget institutional change, but also long‐run, attitudinal change. Using the case of the U.S. civil rights movement, I develop a theory in which protests can shift attitudes and these attitudes can persist. Data from over 150,000 survey respondents provide evidence consistent with the theory. Whites from counties that experienced historical civil rights protests are more likely to identify as Democrats and support affirmative action, and less likely to harbor racial resentment against blacks. These individual‐level results are politically meaningful—counties that experienced civil rights protests are associated with greater Democratic Party vote shares even today. This study highlights how social movements can have persistent impacts on a nation's politics.
Political Consequences of Survival Strategies among the Urban Poor
Desmond, Matthew, and Adam Travis. 2018. “Political Consequences of Survival Strategies among the Urban Poor.” American Sociological Review 83 (5): 869–896. Abstract
Combining ethnographic and statistical methods, this study identifies interlocking mechanisms that help explain how disadvantaged neighborhoods influence their residents’ political capacity. Support systems that arise in low-income neighborhoods promote social interaction that helps people make ends meet, but these systems also expose residents to heavy doses of adversity, which dampens perceptions of collective political capacity. For the poorest residents of these neighborhoods in particular, the expected positive effect of informal social support is suppressed by the negative effect of perceived trauma. These findings present a micro-level account of poverty, social interaction, and political capacity, one that holds implications for scholarship and public policy on participatory inequality.
Income Inequality and the Persistence of Racial Economic Disparities
Manduca, Robert. 2018. “Income Inequality and the Persistence of Racial Economic Disparities.” Sociological Science 5 (8): 182-205. Abstract
More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, black–white family income disparities in the United States remain almost exactly the same as what they were in 1968. This article argues that a key and underappreciated driver of the racial income gap has been the national trend of rising income inequality. From 1968 to 2016, black–white disparities in family income rank narrowed by almost one-third. But this relative gain was negated by changes to the national income distribution that resulted in rapid income growth for the richest—and most disproportionately white—few percentiles of the country combined with income stagnation for the poor and middle class. But for the rise in income inequality, the median black–white family income gap would have decreased by about 30 percent. Conversely, without the partial closing of the rank gap, growing inequality alone would have increased the racial income gap by 30 percent.
Is Running Enough? Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom about Women Candidates
BucchianerI, Peter. 2018. “Is Running Enough? Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom about Women Candidates.” Political Behavior 40 (2): 435-466. Abstract
The conventional wisdom in the literature on women candidates holds that “when women run, they win as often as men.” This has led to a strong focus in the literature on the barriers to entry for women candidates and significant evidence that these barriers hinder representation. Yet, a growing body of research suggests that some disadvantages persist for Republican women even after they choose to run for office. In this paper, I investigate the aggregate consequences of these disadvantages for general election outcomes. Using a regression discontinuity design, I show that Republican women who win close House primaries lose at higher rates in the general election than Republican men. This nomination effect holds throughout the 1990s despite a surge in Republican voting starting in 1994. I find no such effect for Democratic women and provide evidence that a gap in elite support explains part of the cross-party difference.
Racialized legal status as a social determinant of health
Asad, Asad L., and Matthew Clair. 2018. “Racialized legal status as a social determinant of health.” Social Science & Medicine 199: 19-28. Abstract

This article advances the concept of racialized legal status (RLS) as an overlooked dimension of social stratification with implications for racial/ethnic health disparities. We define RLS as a social position based on an ostensibly race-neutral legal classification that becomes colored through its disparate impact on racial/ethnic minorities. To illustrate the implications of RLS for health and health disparities in the United States, we spotlight existing research on two cases: criminal status and immigration status. We offer a conceptual framework that outlines how RLS shapes disparities through (1) direct effects on those who hold a legal status and (2) spillover effects on racial/ethnic in-group members, regardless of these individuals' own legal status. Direct effects of RLS operate by marking an individual for material and symbolic exclusion. Spillover effects result from the vicarious experiences of those with social proximity to marked individuals, as well as the discredited meanings that RLS constructs around racial/ethnic group members. We conclude by suggesting multiple avenues for future research that considers RLS as a mechanism of social inequality with fundamental effects on health.

Jurors' Subjective Experiences of Deliberations in Criminal Cases
Winter, Alix S., and Matthew Clair. 2018. “Jurors' Subjective Experiences of Deliberations in Criminal Cases.” Law & Social Inquiry 43 (4): 1458-1490. Abstract

Research on jury deliberations has largely focused on the implications of deliberations for criminal defendants' outcomes. In contrast, this article considers jurors' outcomes by integrating subjective experience into the study of deliberations. We examine whether jurors' feelings that they had enough time to express themselves vary by jurors' gender, race, or education. Drawing on status characteristics theory and a survey of more than 3,000 real-world jurors, we find that the majority of jurors feel that they had enough time to express themselves. However, blacks and Hispanics, and especially blacks and Hispanics with less education, are less likely to feel so. Jurors' verdict preferences do not account for these findings. Our findings have implications for status characteristics theory and for legal cynicism among members of lower-status social groups.

Discretionary Disenfranchisement: The Case of Legal Financial Obligations
Meredith, Marc, and Michael Morse. 2017. “Discretionary Disenfranchisement: The Case of Legal Financial Obligations.” Journal of Legal Studies 46 (2). Abstract
Conditioning voting rights on the payment of legal financial obligations (LFOs) may be unconstitutional if there are no exceptions for indigency. Appellate courts, though, generally have upheld felon-disenfranchisement laws that withhold voting rights until all fees, fines, and restitution are paid in full. These decisions, however, have been made with limited evidence available about the type, burden, and disparate impact of criminal debt. We address this by detailing who owes LFOs, how much they owe, and for what purpose using representative statewide samples in Alabama. The median amount of LFOs assessed to discharged felons across all of their criminal convictions is $3,956, more than half of which stems from court fees. As a result, most ex-felons remain disenfranchised after completing their sentences. People who are disproportionately indigent—blacks and those utilizing a public defender—are even less likely to be eligible to restore their voting rights.
Measuring the natural rate of interest: International trends and determinants
Holston, Kathryn, Thomas Lobach, and John C. Williams. 2017. “Measuring the natural rate of interest: International trends and determinants.” Journal of International Economics 108 (1): S59-S75. Abstract

U.S. estimates of the natural rate of interest – the real short-term interest rate that would prevail absent transitory disturbances – have declined dramatically since the start of the global financial crisis. For example, estimates using the Laubach–Williams (2003) model indicate the natural rate in the United States fell to close to zero during the crisis and has remained there into 2016. Explanations for this decline include shifts in demographics, a slowdown in trend productivity growth, and global factors affecting real interest rates. This paper applies the Laubach–Williams methodology to the United States and three other advanced economies – Canada, the Euro Area, and the United Kingdom. We find that large declines in trend GDP growth and natural rates of interest have occurred over the past 25 years in all four economies. These country-by-country estimates are found to display a substantial amount of comovement over time, suggesting an important role for global factors in shaping trend growth and natural rates of interest.

 

Awarded the Bhagwati Prize for 2017-2018, given every two years for the best article published in the Journal of International Economics during the previous two years.
The fading American dream: Trends in absolute income mobility since 1940
Chetty, Raj, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, and Jimmy Narang. 2017. “The fading American dream: Trends in absolute income mobility since 1940.” Science 356 (6336): 398-406. Abstract
We estimated rates of “absolute income mobility”—the fraction of children who earn more than their parents—by combining data from U.S. Census and Current Population Survey cross sections with panel data from de-identified tax records. We found that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. Increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. However, distributing current GDP growth more equally across income groups as in the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is shared more broadly across the income distribution.
Does Consumer Demand Reproduce Inequality? High-Income Consumers, Vertical Differentiation, and the Wage Structure

This article considers the effects on the wage structure of the U.S. economy’s growing reliance on demand from high-income consumers. Relative to the mass consumers that defined the post–World War II U.S. economy, high-income consumers are willing to pay for high-quality and high-status products. These spending patterns split producers into up-market and down-market segments and stoke winner-take-all dynamics among up-market producers. Economic dependence on high-income consumers could thus lead to a new form of industrial segmentation, based on vertical differentiation by product quality or status. To test these predictions, data from consumer expenditure and wage surveys are linked using input-output tables and used to fit variance function regressions. Results show that industries more dependent on high-income consumers have greater wage inequality. This analysis identifies a new structural source of wage inequality not considered in previous research: the increasingly unequal composition of consumer demand reproduces wage inequality.

Police Reform and the Dismantling of Legal Estrangement
Bell, Monica C. 2017. “Police Reform and the Dismantling of Legal Estrangement.” Yale Law Journal 126 (7): 2054-2150. Abstract

In police reform circles, many scholars and policymakers diagnose the frayed relationship between police forces and the communities they serve as a problem of illegitimacy, or the idea that people lack confidence in the police and thus are unlikely to comply or cooperate with them. The core proposal emanating from this illegitimacy diagnosis is procedural justice, a concept that emphasizes police officers’ obligation to treat people with dignity and respect, behave in a neutral, nonbiased way, exhibit an intention to help, and give them voice to express themselves and their needs, largely in the context of police stops. This Essay argues that legitimacy theory offers an incomplete diagnosis of the policing crisis, and thus de-emphasizes deeper structural, group-centered approaches to the problem of policing. The existing police regulatory regime encourages large swaths of American society to see themselves as existing within the law’s aegis but outside its protection. This Essay critiques the reliance of police decision makers on a simplified version of legitimacy and procedural justice theory. It aims to expand the predominant understanding of police mistrust among African Americans and the poor, proposing that legal estrangement offers a better lens through which scholars and policymakers can understand and respond to the current problems of policing. Legal estrangement is a theory of detachment and eventual alienation from the law’s enforcers, and it reflects the intuition among many people in poor communities of color that the law operates to exclude them from society. Building on the concepts of legal cynicism and anomie in sociology, the concept of legal estrangement provides a way of understanding the deep concerns that motivate today’s police reform movement and points toward structural approaches to reforming policing. 

Wealth Inequality and Accumulation
Killewald, Alexandra, Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Jared N. Schachner. 2017. “Wealth Inequality and Accumulation.” Annual Review of Sociology 43 (1). Abstract
Research on wealth inequality and accumulation and the data upon which it relies have expanded substantially in the twenty-first century. Although the field has experienced rapid growth, conceptual and methodological challenges remain. We begin by discussing two major unresolved methodological concerns facing wealth research: how to address challenges to causal inference posed by wealth’s cumulative nature and how to operationalize net worth, given its highly skewed distribution. Next, we provide an overview of data sources available for wealth research. To underscore the need for continued empirical attention to net worth, we review trends in wealth levels and inequality and evaluate wealth’s distinctiveness as an indicator of social stratification. We then review recent empirical evidence on the effects of wealth on other social outcomes, as well as research on the determinants of wealth. We close with a list of promising avenues for future research on wealth, its causes, and its consequences.
Autocracies and the international sources of cooperation
Mazumder, Soumyajit. 2017. “Autocracies and the international sources of cooperation.” Journal of Peace Research 54 (3): 412-426. Publisher's Version Abstract
Under what conditions do autocracies peacefully settle disputes? Existing studies tend to focus on the domestic factors that shape conflict initiation. In this article, I show how domestic institutions interact with international institutions to produce more cooperative outcomes. Particularly, this study argues that as autocracies become more central in the network of liberal institutions such as preferential trade agreements (PTAs), they are less likely to initiate a militarized interstate dispute (MID). As a state becomes more democratic, the effect of centrality within the PTA network on the peaceful dispute settlement dissipates. This is because greater embeddedness in the PTA regime is associated with enhanced transparency for autocracies, which allows autocracies to mitigate ex ante informational problems in dispute resolution. Using a dataset of MID initiation from 1965 to 1999, this study finds robust empirical support for the aforementioned hypothesis. Moreover, the results are substantively significant. Further analysis into the causal mechanisms at work provides evidence in favor of the information mechanism. Autocrats who are more embedded in the PTA network tend to have higher levels of economic transparency and economic transparency itself is associated with lower rates of conflict initiation. The results suggest that an autocrat’s structural position within the international system can help to peacefully settle its disputes.
One Egalitarianism or Several? Two Decades of Gender-Role Attitude Change in Europe
Knight, Carly R., and Mary C. Brinton. 2017. “One Egalitarianism or Several? Two Decades of Gender-Role Attitude Change in Europe.” American Journal of Sociology 122 (5): 1485-1532. Abstract
This article challenges the implicit assumption of many cross-national studies that gender-role attitudes fall along a single continuum between traditional and egalitarian. The authors argue that this approach obscures theoretically important distinctions in attitudes and renders analyses of change over time incomplete. Using latent class analysis, they investigate the multidimensional nature of gender-role attitudes in 17 postindustrial European countries. They identify three distinct varieties of egalitarianism that they designate as liberal egalitarianism, egalitarian familism, and flexible egalitarianism. They show that while traditional gender-role attitudes have precipitously and uniformly declined in accordance with the “rising tide” narrative toward greater egalitarianism, the relative prevalence of different egalitarianisms varies markedly across countries. Furthermore, they find that European nations are not converging toward one dominant egalitarian model but rather, remain differentiated by varieties of egalitarianism.
Urban Income Inequality and the Great Recession in Sunbelt Form: Disentangling Individual and Neighborhood-Level Change in Los Angeles
Sampson, Robert J., Jared N. Schachner, and Robert L. Mare. 2017. “Urban Income Inequality and the Great Recession in Sunbelt Form: Disentangling Individual and Neighborhood-Level Change in Los Angeles.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 3 (2): 102-128. Abstract

New social transformations within and beyond the cities of classic urban studies challenge prevailing accounts of spatial inequality. This paper pivots from the Rust Belt to the Sunbelt accordingly, disentangling persistence and change in neighborhood median income and concentrated income extremes in Los Angeles County. We first examine patterns of change over two decades starting in 1990 for all Los Angeles neighborhoods. We then analyze an original longitudinal study of approximately six hundred Angelenos from 2000 to 2013, assessing the degree to which contextual changes in neighborhood income arise from neighborhood-level mobility or individual residential mobility. Overall we find deep and persistent inequality among both neighborhoods and individuals. Contrary to prior research, we also find that residential mobility does not materially alter neighborhood economic conditions for most race, ethnic, and income groups. Our analyses lay the groundwork for a multilevel theoretical framework capable of explaining spatial inequality across cities and historical eras.

Labor Unions as Activist Organizations: A Union Power Approach to Estimating Union Wage Effects

Amid the long decline of US unions, research on union wage effects has struggled with selection problems and inadequate theory. I draw on the sociology of labor to argue that unions use non-market sources of power to pressure companies into raising wages. This theory of union power implies a new test of union wage effects: does union activism have an effect on wages that is not reducible to workers’ market position? Two institutional determinants of union activity are used to empirically isolate the wage effect of union activism from labor market conditions: increased union revenue from investment shocks and increased union activity leading up to union officer elections. Instrumental variable analysis of panel data from the Department of Labor shows that a 1 percent increase in union spending increases a proxy for union members’ wages between 0.15 percent and 0.30 percent. These wage effects are larger in years of active collective bargaining, and when unions increase spending in ways that could pressure companies. The results indicate that non-market sources of union power can affect workers’ wages and that even in a period of labor weakness unions still play a role in setting wages for their members.

Latest policy, research briefs, and expert testimony

Michael Luca

Lessons from Yelp's Empirical Approach to Diversity

September 20, 2017
Harvard Business Review | By Rachel Williams, Gauri Subramani, Michael Luca, and Geoff Donaker. Michael Luca is the Lee J. Styslinger III Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods

The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods

September 5, 2017
Boston Area Research Initiative | In a recent paper, BARI Co-Directors Dan O’Brien and Chris Winship demonstrated the presence and persistence of ‘‘problem properties’’ with elevated levels of crime and disorder in Boston. Importantly, they find that this additional geographic detail offers a wealth of information beyond the traditional focus on at-risk neighborhoods, and even the more recent attention to hotspot street segments. (Continue reading)

Chris Winship is the Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School. The paper was published in a special issue of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology on the Law of Concentration of Crime. 
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Jeff Liebman

Using Data to Make More Rapid Progress in Addressing U.S. Social Problems

August 30, 2017
By Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy.

From the Government Performance Lab at Harvard Kennedy School:  In a new piece forthcoming in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Jan 2018), Professor Jeffrey Liebman describes how high frequency use of data can move agencies from static evaluation of programs to real-time improvement in outcomes and to solutions to challenging social problems.... Read more about Using Data to Make More Rapid Progress in Addressing U.S. Social Problems
How the government can help simplify personal financial decision-making

How the government can help simplify personal financial decision-making

August 29, 2017

Harvard Kennedy School | "Low incomes, limited financial literacy, fraud, and deception are just a few of the many intractable economic and social factors that contribute to the financial difficulties that households face today...But poor financial outcomes also result from systematic psychological tendencies," some of which may be countered with government interventions that are both low-cost and scalable," Harvard Kennedy School Professor Brigitte Madrian and co-authors write in the latest issue of Behavioral Science & Policy. Their article outlines a set of interventions that the federal government "could feasibly test or implement to improve household nancial outcomes in a variety of domains: retirement, short-term savings, debt management, the take-up of government benefits, and tax optimization." 
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Carola Frydman

Why Has CEO Pay Grown So Much Faster Than the Average Worker’s?

August 3, 2017

Kellogg Insight | Based on the research of Carola Frydman (PhD 2006) and Dimitris Papanikolaou. Carola Frydman is Associate Professor of Finance in the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. View the research: “In Search of Ideas: Technological Innovation and Executive Pay Inequality.” Journal of Financial Economics (Oct 2018).

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Education Next

2017 EdNext Poll on School Reform released

August 1, 2017
Education Next | By Martin R. West, Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, and Samuel Barrows. This article appears in print in the Winter 2018 issue of Education Next.
Scientific American

Natural Disasters by Location: Rich Leave and Poor Get Poorer

July 2, 2017
Scientific American | Each big catastrophe like a hurricane increases a U.S. county's poverty by 1 percent,  90 years of data show. By Leah Platt Boustan (PhD '06), Maria Lucia Yanguas, Matthew Kahn, and Paul W. Rhode, based on the authors' research. Leah Platt Boustan is a Professor of Economics at Princeton University.
Carlos Lastra-Anadon

Technological Change, Inequality, and the Collapse of the Liberal Order

June 17, 2017

G20 Insights | Carlos Lastra-Anadón, PhD candidate in Government & Social Policy, has co-authored a policy brief that has been selected to appear in "20 Solution Proposals for the G20" to be circulated to summit participants at the G20 Hamburg summit, July 7-8, 2017. Theirs is one of 20 policy recommendations "chosen for their novelty, implementability, and relevance to the G20 during the German presidency."

The brief is co-authored by Manuel Muñiz (Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University), Karl Kaiser (Harvard University), Henning Meyer (London School of Economics), and Manuel Torres (Accenture).

Microeconomic insights

A most egalitarian profession: pharmacy and the evolution of a family-friendly occupation

June 8, 2017

Microeconomic Insights | By Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz. "How much of the earnings gap between men and women is because the latter choose jobs and occupations that enable flexibility in their work, predictability in their hours and bounds on their work schedule?," ask Harvard economics professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. Here they summarize their recent article by the same title, pubilshed in 2016 in the Journal of Labor Economics.
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How “the community” undermines the goals of participatory democracy

How “the community” undermines the goals of participatory democracy

June 5, 2017
Work in Progress | By Jeremy R. Levine (PhD '16), Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies, University of Michigan. Discusses the findings of his academic research, "The Paradox of Community Power: Cultural Processes and Elite Authority in Participatory Governance, published earlier this spring in Social Forces. 'Work in Progress' is a public blog of the American Sociological Association (ASA) for 'short-form sociology' on the economy, work, and inequality.
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How tax rates influence the migration of superstar inventors

How tax rates influence the migration of superstar inventors

May 24, 2017
Microeconomic Insights | By Ufak Akcigit (University of Chicago), Salome Baslandze (Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance), and Stefanie Stantcheva (Harvard University). The authors summarize the findings from their recent American Economic Review article, "Taxation and the International Mobility of Inventors." Stantcheva is Associate Professor of Economics (effective 7/1) at Harvard.
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International Ladies Garment Workers Union

Does union activism increase workers’ wages?

May 22, 2017
Work in Progress | By Nathan Wilmers, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. Research findings from his recently-published article in Social Forces. Work in Progress is the American Sociological Association's blog for 'short-form sociology' on the economy, work, and inequality. 
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Annual Review of Sociology

Wealth Inequality and Accumulation

May 12, 2017

Annual Review of Sociology | By Alexandra Killewald, Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Jared Schachner. Alexandra Killewald is Professor of Sociology at Harvard. Jared Schachner is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Social Policy.