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Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing

Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing

February 10, 2017

The New York Times | "Suppose there were a way to pump up the economy, reduce inequality, and put an end to destructive housing bubbles like the one that contributed to the Great Recession." Discusses recent paper by economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Joe Gyourko at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which reviews the basic economics and functioning of the U.S. housing market "to better understand the impacts on home prices, household wealth, and the spatial distribution of people across markets."

Also cites research by Daniel Shoag (Ph.D. '11), Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, and Peter Ganong of the University of Chicago, on the role of housing prices in limiting the ability of low-income workers to migrate to higher-wage areas, thereby contributing income inequality.

JPAL North America

Government leaders gather at J-PAL North America to advance evidence-based policymaking

February 9, 2017

MIT News | Lawrence Katz, Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics at Harvard and co-scientific director of JPAL-North America, spoke on leveraging housing vouchers as a ladder to economic mobility for low-income families. 

The conference, held at MIT, brought together state and local policymakers with leading researchers to discuss "how governments and researchers have partnered to use evidence from randomized evaluations to reduce crime and violence, improve maternal and child health, and promote housing mobility."

Dani Rodrik

Balance of Trade

February 9, 2017

Harvard Kennedy School Magazine
By Robert Kuttner
There are economists who teach the well-known postulate that free trade improves global well-being. There are other social scientists and popular critics who contend that laissez-faire trade can be bad for equality, for social stability, and even for economic efficiency, just as pure laissez-faire is not optimal at home.

And then there is Dani Rodrik.

Rodrik, the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at the Kennedy School, is close to a unique specimen in the field of economics. He is a respectful critic of some of the most cherished suppositions of his profession, notably in his books and articles expressing qualms about globalization. But Rodrik does it as a superb technical economist, with humility, precision, wit, intellectual curiosity, and an astonishing range of reading across disciplines. Continue reading»

kids

The most important skill for the workplace isn’t being taught in American schools

February 9, 2017

Quartz | Discusses research by David Deming (Ph.D. '10), a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Graduate School of Education, who finds that the labor market  in recent decades "increasingly rewards social skills", with "employment and wage growth particularly strong for jobs requiring high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill." Also cites a recent brief from The Hamilton Project, "Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills from Education to the Labor Market," which draws on Deming's work.
View the research

School integration

Integration Works: Can It Survive the Trump Era?

February 9, 2017

The New York Times | Thomas B. Edsall reviews an extensive body of social science evidence, including the work of Raj Chetty of Stanford University and Harvard's Nathaniel Hendren, Assistant Professor of Economics.

Skyscrapers

HKS Footprint: Cities

February 9, 2017

Harvard Kennedy School Magazine | At Harvard Kennedy School, cities are a focus for research and an opportunity to experiment with new and better ways of governing. Features the work of Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy and director of the Government Peformance Lab, and of Quinton Mayne, Associate Professor of Public Policy, whose research "has found that where local governments can shape welfare policies, such as in education or social services, citizens are much less likely to be politically disaffected."

Radcliffe Day 2017

Judy Woodruff and the late Gwen Ifill named Radcliffe medalists

February 7, 2017

Harvard Gazette | Radcliffe Day 2017, on May 26, will honor PBS journalists Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. Harvard's Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor, will participate in the morning panel, "(Un)truths and Their Consequences," joined by A’Lelia Bundles '74, E. J. Dionne ’73, and Peggy Noonan. For more information about the day's events, which will be webcast live, see Radcliffe Day 2017.

Tea Party

The Tea Party's Revival as the Party of Trump

February 7, 2017

OZY | Quoted: Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology. 

“[The Tea Party] was never about small government; it was about small government for the elites who latched on,” says Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor and co-author of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. “For the grassroots back then, it was about making sure the government didn’t spend on the wrong people. Rarely did anyone criticize Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits — the big-ticket items.” The biggest common theme, she says: “cracking down on immigration.”

women's march

A Harvard study identified the precise reason protests are an effective way to cause political change

February 3, 2017

Quartz | Political protests in the first days of the Trump administration generate new interest in a study by Daniel Shoag (Ph.D.'11), Associate Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, and colleagues Andreas Madestam (Stockholm University), Stan Veuger (American Enterprise Institute), and David Yanagizawa-Drott (University of Zurich). The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in November 2013, seeks to determine whether protests actually cause political change, or whether they are "merely symptoms of underlying shifts in policy preferences."
View the research

Also cited: Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson's book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (Oxford University Press, 2012). Theda Skocpol is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Governmant and Sociology at Harvard. Vanessa S. Williamson (Ph.D. '15) is  a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Workers' Declining Share: Are 'Superstar' Firms Partially Responsible?

Workers' Declining Share: Are 'Superstar' Firms Partially Responsible?

February 3, 2017

Bloomberg | Discusses new study by David Autor (MIT), David Dorn (University of Zurich), Lawrence Katz (Harvard), Christina Patterson (MIT), and John Van Reenen (MIT), which examines the relationship between market concentration and labor's falling share in GDP. This work is forthcoming in American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings.
View the research

Ivy League gender pay-gap

The Ivy League's Gender Pay-Gap Problem

February 2, 2017

The Atlantic | Features insights of Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee  Professor of Economics. Cites her research, joint with Marianne Bertrand (University of Chicago) and Lawerence Katz (Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics), published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (2010), which examined the dynamics of the gender gap for young professionals in the financial and corporate sectors. Also cites Goldin and Katz study, "The Cost of Workplace Flexibility for High-Powered Professionals," published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2011).

Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future?

Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future?

February 1, 2017

The New York Times | Cites research from a coming book by Ryan Enos, Associate Professor of Government at Harvard. Also cites Daniel Hopkins (Ph.D. '07), Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and Robert Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard. 

Enos provides the details of his analysis in a short research note, "Changes in Hispanic Population and Voting in the 2016 Presidential Election."
View research note

factory

Declining Labor Share: The 'Superstar' Firm Explanation

February 1, 2017

The Atlantic | Discusses new study by David Autor (MIT), David Dorn (University of Zurich), Lawrence Katz (Harvard), Christina Patterson (MIT), and John Van Reenen (MIT), which examines the relationship between market concentration and labor's falling share in GDP. This work is forthcoming in American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings.
View the research

crime scene

Testing strategies for preventing violence and crime

January 31, 2017

MIT News | J-PAL North America, a research center at MIT, has announced that it has awarded grants to fund randomized evaluations focused on employing behavioral science insights to prevent crime and violence. One of the two grants, awarded to Anuj Shah, Associate Professor of Behavioral Science at Chicago Booth, and Aurélie Ouss (Ph.D. '13), a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, "will evaluate whether an app designed to lead at-risk youth to participate in safe activities can help them avoid dangerous default situations and behaviors."

Boston Trump protest

Trials for a global university

January 30, 2017

Harvard Gazette | With travel to U.S. banned from some nations, Harvard moves to support members of its international community. President Drew Faust's letter to the Harvard community and responses from across the University, including that of Dean Douglas Elmendorf of the Harvard Kennedy School.

Sorry, Working From Home Isn't the Future of Job Flexibility

Sorry, Working From Home Isn't the Future of Job Flexibility

January 30, 2017

Bloomberg | Highlights new study by Harvard economist Amanda Pallais and Alexandre Mas of Princeton, "Valuing Alternative Work Arrangements." Also discusses work of Claudia Goldin, Henry Lee Professor of Economics, on jobs that may allow greater flexibility in hours without sacrificing pay.

The academy and the marketplace: The effects of foreign competition on professors of mathematics

The academy and the marketplace: The effects of foreign competition on professors of mathematics

January 28, 2017

The Economist | Delves into new study by George J. Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and coauthors Kirk Doran and Ying Shen of the University of Notre Dame, which examines the productivity of American mathemeticians following the influx of Chinese graduate students from China's liberalization in 1978. The study is forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources.
​​​​​​​View the research

Blame Monopolies for Short-Changing U.S. Workers

Blame Monopolies for Short-Changing U.S. Workers

January 26, 2017

Bloomberg View | Highlights new work by David Autor (MIT), David Dorn (University of Zurich), Lawrence Katz (Harvard), Christina Patterson (MIT), and John Van Reenen (MIT) exploring the relationship between market concentration and labor's falling share of GDP. The paper is forthcoming in American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings.
View the research

Latest awards

Nathaniel Hendren awarded Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Nathaniel Hendren awarded Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

July 2, 2019
Awardee | Nathaniel Hendren, Professor of Economics and a founding Co-Director of Opportunity Insights, has been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to outstanding early-career scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Hendren was nominated for the award by the National Science Foundation. 
Jal Mehta

Jal Mehta Promoted to Professor of Education

June 10, 2019

Harvard Graduate School of Education | Jal Mehta PhD 2006 has been promoted to full professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The author most recently of In Search of Deeper Learning (Harvard University Press, 2019), Mehta focuses on the professionalization of teaching and what it would take to create high-quality schooling at scale.

Alexandra Killewald to receive William Julius Wilson Early Career Award

Alexandra Killewald to receive William Julius Wilson Early Career Award

May 30, 2019

Awardee | Harvard's Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology, is the 2019 recipient of the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award from the American Sociological Association's Section on Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility. The award recognizes a scholar who has made major contributions within 10 years of receiving the degree and will be conferred in August at the ASA Annual Meeting in New York City.

Stefanie Stantcheva

Stefanie Stantcheva wins 2019 Best Young Economist Award by Le Cercle des Économistes and Le Monde

May 16, 2019

Harvard Economics | Stefanie Stantcheva, Professor of Economics, is the 20th anniversary recipient of the The Best Young Economist Award by Le Monde and Le Cercle des Économistes, which recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of French economists under the age of 41. Among scholars to whom this prize has been awarded in the past are Thomas Piketty, Esther Duflo, Emmanuel Saez, and Harvard colleagues Xavier Gabaix and Emmanuel Farhi.

Ellora Derenoncourt

Ellora Derenoncourt selected for Restud Tour 2019

May 10, 2019

The Review of Economic Studies 
Ellora Derenoncourt, PhD '19 in Economics, gave seminar presentations at the London School of Economics, KU Leuven, and Sciences Po as part of the 2019 Restud Tour, May 10-17, 2019. Sponsored by The Review of Economic Studies, each year the tour selects some of the most promising graduating doctoral students in economics and finance to present their research to audiences in Europe. 

Derenoncourt will be a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University in 2019-2020, and Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Policy at UC Berkeley beginning in 2020. View the paper she presented: "Can you move to opportunity? Evidence from the Great Migration."

... View the paper ►

Meredith Dost

Meredith Dost: Star Family Prize for Excellence in Advising

May 10, 2019

Harvard Gazette | Meredith Dost, PhD candidate in Government and Social Policy and a Stone PhD Research Scholar, is one of 12 advisers throughout the University to receive the prestigious Star Family Prize for Excellence in Advising. The Star Prizes were established by James A. Star ’83 to recognize and reward individuals who contribute to the College through their exemplary intellectual and personal guidance of undergraduate students.

Angie Bautista-Chavez

Angie Bautista-Chavez named a Radcliffe Institute Graduate Student Fellow for 2019–2020

May 9, 2019

Harvard Magazine | Angie Bautista-Chavez, PhD candidate in Government, is one of three graduate student fellows who join the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study's 2019-2020 cohort of fellows. Bautista-Chavez's title will be the Edna Newman Shapiro, Class of 1936, and Robert Newman Shapiro, Class of 1972, Graduate Student Fellow. Her dissertation project: Exporting Borders: The Domestic and International Politics of Migration Control.

Brendan Saloner

Brendan Saloner: AcademyHealth Alice S. Hersh Emerging Leader Award

May 9, 2019

Awardee | Brendan Saloner PhD 2012 has been selected the 2019 recipient of AcademyHealth's Alice S. Hersh Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes scholars early in their careers as health services researchers who show exceptional promise for future contributions to the field. Saloner received his PhD in Health Policy from Harvard and is now Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Adam Travis named a JCHS John R. Meyer Dissertation Fellow

Adam Travis named a JCHS John R. Meyer Dissertation Fellow

May 7, 2019

Awardee | Adam Travis, PhD candidate in Sociology & Social Policy, has been named a 2019 John R. Meyer Dissertation Fellow by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. He is exploring how different coastal real estate markets are responding to global climate change, with a particular focus on the relationship between flood hazards and home prices.

Jared Schachner

Jared Schachner named a JCHS John R. Meyer Dissertation Fellow

May 7, 2019

Awardee | Jared Schachner, PhD candidate in Sociology & Social Policy, has been named a 2019 John R. Meyer Dissertation Fellow by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Schachner is using Los Angeles County to examine how parents make choices about neighborhoods and schools in an era of liberalized, choice-oriented urban policies, and how those choices affect educational outcomes for children. 

Latest commentary and analysis

Anthony Abraham Jack

I Was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren't the Hard Part.

September 10, 2019

The New York Times Magazine
By Anthony Abraham Jack PhD 2016. Schools must learn that when you come from poverty, you need more than  financial aid to succeed.

Anthony Abraham Jack is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students (Harvard University Press, 2019). He received his PhD in Sociology from Harvard in 2016.

Project Syndicate

Whither Central Banking?

August 23, 2019

Project Syndicate | By Lawrence H. Summers and Anna Stanwbury. Anna Stansbury is a PhD candidate in Economics and a Stone PhD Scholar in Inequality and Wealth Concentration.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad

The Barbaric History of Sugar in America

August 14, 2019

The New York Times | By Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. This essay is part of the 1619 Project examining the legacy of slavery in America.

trumpmonkeycage

Is President Trump’s rhetoric racist? It depends on whom you ask.

August 12, 2019

Washington Post | By Meredith Dost, Ryan D. Enos, and Jennifer L. Hochschild. The authors' research suggests a deep moral and perceptual divide among Americans on what is and isn't racism. Stone research scholar Meredith Dost is a PhD candidate in Government & Social Policy and a Stone PhD Research Fellow. Ryan Enos and Jennifer Hochschild are professors in the Harvard Government Department.

Lawrence Katz

Lawrence Katz on researching housing and economic mobility to create moves to opportunity

August 7, 2019

JPAL | A new paper summarizing preliminary findings from the Creating Moves to Opportunity (CMTO) study was just released. Results demonstrate that helping low-income families overcome barriers to moving to higher-opportunity areas may be a promising strategy for reducing residential segregation and promoting economic mobility. We sat down with Lawrence Katz—Co-Scientific Director of J-PAL North America and one of the authors on the CMTO study—to collect his reflections on the preliminary results, how this study builds upon his previous research, and how these and future results may inform housing policy moving forward. 

Scientific American

Do Prisons Make Us Safer?

June 21, 2019

Scientific American | By David J. Harding (PhD 2005). How much safety does the high rate of U.S. imprisonment buy us? Very little, according to a recent by the author published in Nature. Harding received his PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard and is now Prodessor of Sociology and Director of the Social Science D-Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.

View the research ►

The dilemmas for Democrats in three past visions for the party

The dilemmas for Democrats in three past visions for the party

June 13, 2019

Vox | By Sam Rosenfeld and Daniel Schlozman PhD 2011. Daniel Schlozman received his PhD in Government and Social Policy from Harvard and is now the Joseph and Bertha Bernstein Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Brookings panel on the racial wealth gap

Racial wealth inequality: Social problems and solutions

June 3, 2019

Brookings Institution
Harvard's Alexandra Killewald, Professor of Sociology, joined an expert panel with Rashawn Ray, Thomas Shapiro, Tonia Wellons, and moderator Camille Busette on the racial wealth gap. Co-sponsored by Contexts Magaine. [Video + transcript]

Christopher Wimer

What States Can Do to Drastically Reduce Child Poverty

May 6, 2019

Governing | By Meg Wiehe and Christopher Wimer PhD 2007. Building on the federal Child Tax Credit would yield dramatic results, Wiehe and Wimer argue. Christopher Wimer received his PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard and is now Co-Director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.

Anthony Abraham Jack at TEDxCambridge

Anthony Abraham Jack delivers TEDxCambridge talk

May 3, 2019

TedxCambridge | Anthony Abraham Jack, PhD '16, delivered a TEDxCambridge talk at the Boston Opera House [video available soon]. Jack is a Junior Fellow with the Harvard Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds the Shutzer Assistant Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students (Harvard University Press, 2019).

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

Can States Take Over and Turn Around School Districts? Evidence From Lawrence, Massachusetts
Beth E. Schueler,, Joshua S. Goodman, and David J. Deming. 2017. “Can States Take Over and Turn Around School Districts? Evidence From Lawrence, Massachusetts.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (2): 311-332. Abstract

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify and turn around struggling schools, with federal school improvement money required to fund evidence-based policies. Most research on turnarounds has focused on individual schools, whereas studies of district-wide turnarounds have come from relatively exceptional settings and interventions. We study a district-wide turnaround of a type that may become more common under ESSA, an accountability-driven state takeover of Massachusetts’s Lawrence Public Schools (LPS). A differences-in-differences framework comparing LPS to demographically similar districts not subject to state takeover shows that the turnaround’s first 2 years produced sizable achievement gains in math and modest gains in reading. We also find no evidence that the turnaround resulted in slippage on nontest score outcomes and suggestive evidence of positive effects on grade progression among high school students. Intensive small-group instruction over vacation breaks may have led to particularly large achievement gains for participating students.

Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements
Hopkins, Daniel J., Marc Meredith, Michael Morse, Sarah Smith, and Jesse Yonder. 2017. “Voting But For the Law: Evidence from Virginia on Photo Identification Requirements.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 14 (1): 79-128. Abstract

One contentious question in contemporary election administration is the impact of voter identification requirements. We study a Virginia law which allows us to isolate the impact of requiring voters to show photo identification. Using novel, precinct-level data, we find that the percentage of registered voters without a driver's license and over age 85 are both positively associated with the number of provisional ballots cast due to lacking a photo ID. To examine the law's impact on turnout, we associate precinct-level demographics with the change in turnout between the 2013 gubernatorial and 2014 midterm elections. All else equal, turnout was higher in places where more active registered voters lacked a driver's license. This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected.

Surprising Ripple Effects: How Changing the SAT Score-Sending Policy for Low-Income Students Impacts College Access and Success
Hurwitz, Michael, Preeya P. Mbekeani, Margaret M. Nipson, and Lindsay C. Page. 2017. “Surprising Ripple Effects: How Changing the SAT Score-Sending Policy for Low-Income Students Impacts College Access and Success.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (1): 77-103. Abstract

Subtle policy adjustments can induce relatively large “ripple effects.” We evaluate a College Board initiative that increased the number of free SAT score reports available to low-income students and changed the time horizon for using these score reports. Using a difference-in-differences analytic strategy, we estimate that targeted students were roughly 10 percentage points more likely to send eight or more reports. The policy improved on-time college attendance and 6-year bachelor’s completion by about 2 percentage points. Impacts were realized primarily by students who were competitive candidates for 4-year college admission. The bachelor’s completion impacts are larger than would be expected based on the number of students driven by the policy change to enroll in college and to shift into more selective colleges. The unexplained portion of the completion effects may result from improvements in nonacademic fit between students and the postsecondary institutions in which they enroll.

Cities as Lobbyists
Goldstein, Rebecca, and Hye Young You. 2017. “Cities as Lobbyists.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (4): 864-876. Abstract

Individual cities are active interest groups in lobbying the federal government, and yet the dynamics of this intergovernmental lobbying are poorly understood. We argue that preference incongruence between city and its parent state government leads to under-provision of public goods, and cities need to appeal to the federal government for additional resources. We provide evidence for this theory using a dataset of over 13,800 lobbying disclosures filed by cities with populations over 25,000 between 1999 and 2012. Income inequality and ethnic fragmentation are also highly related to federal lobbying activities. Using an instrumental variables analysis of earmark and Recovery Act grant data, we show that each dollar a city spends on lobbying generates substantial returns.

Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment
Lynch, Kathleen, and James S. Kim. 2017. “Effects of a Summer Mathematics Intervention for Low-Income Children: A Randomized Experiment.” Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis 39 (1): 31-53. Abstract

Prior research suggests that summer learning loss among low-income children contributes to income-based gaps in achievement and educational attainment. We present results from a randomized experiment of a summer mathematics program conducted in a large, high-poverty urban public school district. Children in the third to ninth grade (N = 263) were randomly assigned to an offer of an online summer mathematics program, the same program plus a free laptop computer, or the control group. Being randomly assigned to the program plus laptop condition caused children to experience significantly higher reported levels of summer home mathematics engagement relative to their peers in the control group. Treatment and control children performed similarly on distal measures of academic achievement. We discuss implications for future research.

Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City
Perkins, Kristin L., Michael J. Lear, and Elyzabeth Gaumer. 2017. “Concentrated Foreclosure Activity and Distressed Properties in New York City.” Urban Affairs Review 53 (5): 868-897. Abstract

Recent research suggests that foreclosures have negative effects on homeowners and neighborhoods. We examine the association between concentrated foreclosure activity and the risk of a property with a foreclosure filing being scheduled for foreclosure auction in New York City. Controlling for individual property and sociodemographic characteristics of the neighborhood, being located in a tract with a high number of auctions following the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a significantly higher probability of scheduled foreclosure auction for the subject property. Concentration of foreclosure filings prior to the subject property’s own foreclosure filing is associated with a lower probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. Concentrated foreclosure auctions in the tract prior to a subject property’s own filing is not significantly associated with the probability of scheduled foreclosure auction. The implications for geographic targeting of foreclosure policy interventions are discussed.

Does Your Home Make You Wealthy?
Killewald, Alexandra, and Brielle Bryan. 2016. “Does Your Home Make You Wealthy?” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 2 (6): 110–128 . Abstract

Estimating the lifetime wealth consequences of homeownership is complicated by ongoing events, such as divorce or inheritance, that may shape both homeownership decisions and later-life wealth. We argue that prior research that has not accounted for these dynamic selection processes has overstated the causal effect of homeownership on wealth. Using NLSY79 data and marginal structural models, we find that each additional year of homeownership increases midlife wealth in 2008 by about $6,800, more than 25 percent less than estimates from models that do not account for dynamic selection. Hispanic and African American wealth benefits from each homeownership year are 62 percent and 48 percent as large as those of whites, respectively. Homeownership remains wealth-enhancing in 2012, but shows smaller returns. Our results confirm homeownership’s role in wealth accumulation and that variation in both homeownership rates and the wealth benefits of homeownership contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in midlife wealth holdings.

Greenberg, Claire, Marc Meredith, and Michael Morse. 2016. “The Growing and Broad Nature of Legal Financial Obligations: Evidence from Court Records in Alabama.” Connecticut Law Review 48 (4): 1079-1120. Abstract

In 2010, Harriet Cleveland was imprisoned in Montgomery, Alabama for failing to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees stemming from routine traffic violations. More than thirty years after a series of Supreme Court rulings outlawed debtor's prisons, Ms. Cleveland's case brought national attention to both the sheer amount of lega lfinancial obligations (LFOs) that could be accrued, even in cases without a criminal conviction, and the potential consequences of non-payment. But it has been nearly impossible to know how common Ms. Cleveland's experience is because of a general lack of individual-level data on the incidence and payback of LFOs, particularly for non-felonies. 

In this vein, we gather about two hundred thousand court records from Alabama over the last two decades to perform the most comprehensive exploration of the assessments and payback of LFOs to date across an entire state. Consistent with conventional wisdom, we demonstrate that the median LFOs attached to a case with a felony conviction nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, after which it has remained roughly steady. But a felony-centric view of criminal justice underestimates the extent of increasing LFOs in the United States. Our systematic comparison of LFOs in felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases across Alabama demonstrates how the signficant debt Ms. Cleveland accumulated for a series of minor traffic offenses is not such an aberration. We show that only a minority of LFOs are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most LFOs are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, or even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all. These case records also reveal substantial heterogeneity in the assessment of LFOs-both within and across local judicial districts-even in cases in which defendants were convicted on exactly the same charge.

 

Predicting Freshman Grade Point Average From College Admissions Test Scores and State High School Test Scores
Koretz, Daniel, Carol Yu, Preeya P. Mbekeani, Meredith Langi, Tasmin Dhaliwal, and David Braslow. 2016. “Predicting Freshman Grade Point Average From College Admissions Test Scores and State High School Test Scores.” AERA Open 2 (4). SAGE Publications: 1-13. Abstract

The current focus on assessing “college and career readiness” raises an empirical question: How do high school tests compare with college admissions tests in predicting performance in college? We explored this using data from the City University of New York and public colleges in Kentucky. These two systems differ in the choice of college admissions test, the stakes for students on the high school test, and demographics. We predicted freshman grade point average (FGPA) from high school GPA and both college admissions and high school tests in mathematics and English. In both systems, the choice of tests had only trivial effects on the aggregate prediction of FGPA. Adding either test to an equation that included the other had only trivial effects on prediction. Although the findings suggest that the choice of test might advantage or disadvantage different students, it had no substantial effect on the over- and underprediction of FGPA for students classified by race-ethnicity or poverty.

Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing
Aghion, Philippe, Ufuk Akcigit, Angus Deaton, and Alexandra Roulet. 2016. “Creative Destruction and Subjective Wellbeing.” American Economic Review 106 (12): 3869-97. Abstract

In this paper we analyze the relationship between turnover-driven growth and subjective wellbeing. Our model of innovation-led growth and unemployment predicts that: (i) the effect of creative destruction on expected individual welfare should be unambiguously positive if we control for unemployment, less so if we do not; (ii) job creation has a positive and job destruction has a negative impact on wellbeing; (iii) job destruction has a less negative impact in US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) within states with more generous unemployment insurance policies; (iv) job creation has a more positive effect on individuals that are more forward-looking. The empirical analysis using cross-sectional MSA-level and individual-level data provide empirical support to these predictions. 

The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013
Sampson, Robert J., and Alix S. Winter. 2016. “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.” Du Bois Review 13 (2): 1-23. Abstract

This paper examines the racial ecology of lead exposure as a form of environmental inequity, one with both historical and contemporary significance. Drawing on comprehensive data from over one million blood tests administered to Chicago children from 1995-2013 and matched to over 2300 geographic block groups, we address two major questions: (1) What is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and variability in children’s elevated lead prevalence levels? And (2) what is the nature of the relationship between neighborhood-level racial composition and rates of change in children’s prevalence levels over time within neighborhoods? We further assess an array of structural explanations for observed racial disparities, including socioeconomic status, type and age of housing, proximity to freeways and smelting plants, and systematic observations of housing decay and neighborhood disorder. Overall, our theoretical framework posits lead toxicity as a major environmental pathway through which racial segregation has contributed to the legacy of Black disadvantage in the United States. Our findings support this hypothesis and show alarming racial disparities in toxic exposure, even after accounting for possible structural explanations. At the same time, however, our longitudinal results show the power of public health policies to reduce racial inequities.

The base rate principle and the fairness principle in social judgment
Cao, Jack, and Mahzarin R. Banaji. 2016. “The base rate principle and the fairness principle in social judgment.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (27). Abstract

Meet Jonathan and Elizabeth. One person is a doctor and the other is a nurse. Who is the doctor? When nothing else is known, the base rate principle favors Jonathan to be the doctor and the fairness principle favors both individuals equally. However, when individuating facts reveal who is actually the doctor, base rates and fairness become irrelevant, as the facts make the correct answer clear. In three experiments, explicit and implicit beliefs were measured before and after individuating facts were learned. These facts were either stereotypic (e.g., Jonathan is the doctor, Elizabeth is the nurse) or counterstereotypic (e.g., Elizabeth is the doctor, Jonathan is the nurse). Results showed that before individuating facts were learned, explicit beliefs followed the fairness principle, whereas implicit beliefs followed the base rate principle. After individuating facts were learned, explicit beliefs correctly aligned with stereotypic and counterstereotypic facts. Implicit beliefs, however, were immune to counterstereotypic facts and continued to follow the base rate principle. Having established the robustness and generality of these results, a fourth experiment verified that gender stereotypes played a causal role: when both individuals were male, explicit and implicit beliefs alike correctly converged with individuating facts. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate that explicit beliefs uphold fairness and incorporate obvious and relevant facts, but implicit beliefs uphold base rates and appear relatively impervious to counterstereotypic facts.

Are Landlords Overcharging Housing Voucher Holders?
Desmond, Matthew, and Kristin L. Perkins. 2016. “Are Landlords Overcharging Housing Voucher Holders?” City and Community 15 (2): 137-162. Abstract

The structure of rental markets coupled with the design of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), the largest federal housing subsidy for low-income families in the United States, provides the opportunity to overcharge voucher holders. Applying hedonic regression models to a unique data set of Milwaukee renters combined with administrative records, we find that vouchered households are charged between $51 and $68 more in monthly rent than unassisted renters in comparable units and neighborhoods. Overcharging voucher holders costs taxpayers an estimated $3.8 million each year in Milwaukee alone, the equivalent of supplying 620 additional families in that city with housing assistance. These findings suggest that the HCVP could be made more cost-effective—and therefore more expansive—if overcharging were prevented.

Putting America to Work, Where? The Limits of Infrastructure Construction as a Locally-Targeted Employment Policy

Is infrastructure construction an effective way to boost employment in distressed local labor markets? I use new geographically-detailed data on highway construction funded by the American Recovery and Recovery Act to study the relationship between construction work and local employment growth. I show that the method for allocating funds across space facilitates a plausible selection-on-observables strategy. However, I find a precisely-estimated zero effect of spending on road construction employment–or other employment–in the locale of the construction site. Reported data on vendors reveal this is because the majority of contractors–selected by competitive bidding–commute from other local labor markets. I also find no robust effect in the locales of the contractors’ offices, but argue that this source of variation does not capture an economically meaningful local demand shock. I conclude that infrastructure construction is not effective as a way to stimulate local labor markets in the short-run so long as projects are allocated by competitive bidding.

Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism
Bell, Monica C. 2016. “Situational Trust: How Disadvantaged Mothers Reconceive Legal Cynicism.” Law and Society Review 50 (2): 314-347. Abstract

Research has shown that legal cynicism is pervasive among residents of poor, black neighborhoods. However, controlling for crime rates, these residents call police at higher rates than whites and residents of middle-class neighborhoods, and ethnographic research suggests that mothers in particular sometimes exact social control over partners and children through police notification. Given these findings, how might researchers better understand how legal cynicism and occasional reliance on police fit together? Drawing on interviews with poor African-American mothers in Washington, DC, this article develops an alternative conception of cultural orientations about law: situational trust. This concept emphasizes micro-level dynamism in cultural conceptions of the police, expanding the literature on police trust by emphasizing situational contingency. Mothers deploy at least four alternative strategies that produce moments of trust: officer exceptionalism, domain specificity, therapeutic consequences, and institutional navigation. These strategies shed light on the contextual meanings of safety and legitimacy.

Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, and Paul Secunda. 2016. “Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United.” UCLA Law Review 64 (2). Abstract

This Essay examines the growing threat of workplace political coercion, such as when employers attempt to threaten or coerce their workers into supporting firm-favored issues, policies, or political candidates. We describe, for the first time, the prevalence of such coercion, and propose a relatively straightforward legislative fix that would protect private-sector workers from the risk of political intimidation from their employers.

This Essay responds to an earlier piece published by Professor Secunda in the YLJ Forum that described how the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FECopened up the possibility for employers to hold mandatory “captive audience” meetings for workers, in which managers could endorse candidates for elected office. Managers, Secunda noted, could discipline workers who refused to participate in such firm-sponsored partisan activities. Accordingly, Secunda recommended federal legislation that would ban the use of mandatory political meetings in the private sector.

At the time that Secunda’s Essay was published, however, we lacked any systematic evidence of the prevalence or characteristics of employer political coercion in the American workforce, and so his recommendations could not be tailored to the specifics of employer political recruitment. New survey research from an ongoing academic project from Mr. Hertel-Fernandez, however, has provided precisely that information, documenting the extent to which workers have experienced political coercion from their employers. Our present Essay summarizes that survey evidence, using the empirical data to craft a bipartisan policy proposal that would address employer political coercion in the private sector by adding political opinions and beliefs to the list of protected classes in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lastly, we draw on survey research to describe why this proposal could attract bipartisan political support.

Network Effects in Mexico—U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms
Garip, Filiz, and Asad L. Asad. 2016. “Network Effects in Mexico—U.S. Migration: Disentangling the Underlying Social Mechanisms.” American Behavioral Scientist 60 (10): 1168-1193. Abstract

Scholars have long noted how migration streams, once initiated, obtain a self-feeding character. Studies have connected this phenomenon, called the cumulative causation of migration, to expanding social networks that link migrants in destination to individuals in origin. While extant research has established a positive association between individuals’ ties to prior migrants and their migration propensities, seldom have researchers interrogated how multiple social mechanisms—as well as exposure to common environmental factors—might account for these interdependencies. This article uses a mixed-methods strategy to identify the social mechanisms underlying the network effects in Mexico–U.S. migration. Three types of social mechanisms are identified, which all lead to network effects: (a) social facilitation, which is at work when network peers such as family or community members provide useful information or help that reduces the costs or increases the benefits of migration; (b) normative influence, which operates when network peers offer social rewards or impose sanctions to encourage or discourage migration; and (c) network externalities, which are at work when prior migrants generate a pool of common resources that increase the value or reduce the costs of migration for potential migrants. The authors first use large-sample survey data from the Mexican Migration Project to establish the presence of network effects and then rely on 138 in-depth interviews with migrants and their family members in Mexico to identify the social mechanisms underlying these network effects. The authors thus provide a deeper understanding of migration as a social process, which they argue is crucial for anticipating and responding to future flows.

Explaining Durable Business Coalitions in U.S. Politics: Conservatives and Corporate Interests across America's Statehouses
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander. 2016. “Explaining Durable Business Coalitions in U.S. Politics: Conservatives and Corporate Interests across America's Statehouses.” Studies in American Political Development 30 (1): 1-18. Abstract

Scholars of business mobilization emphasize that national, cross-sector employer associations are difficult to create and maintain in decentralized pluralist polities like the United States. This article considers an unusual case of a U.S. business group—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—that has succeeded in creating a durable coalition of diverse firms and conservative political activists. This group has emerged since the 1970s as an important infrastructure for facilitating corporate involvement in the policymaking process across states. Assessing variation within this group over time through both its successes and missteps, I show the importance of organizational strategies for cementing political coalitions between otherwise fractious political activists and corporate executives from diverse industries. A shadow comparison between ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce further serves to reinforce the importance of organizational structure for business association management. My findings engage with literatures in both American business history and comparative political economy, underscoring the difficulties of forming business coalitions in liberal political economies while also showing how savvy political entrepreneurs can still successfully unite otherwise fragmented corporate interests. These conclusions, in turn, have implications for our understanding of business mobilization and corporate influence in politics.

How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System
Clair, Matthew, and Alix S. Winter. 2016. “How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System.” Criminology 54 (2): 332-359. Abstract

Researchers have theorized how judges’ decision-making may result in the disproportionate presence of Blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system. Yet, we have little evidence about how judges make sense of these disparities and what, if anything, they do to address them. By drawing on 59 interviews with state judges in a Northeastern state, we describe, and trace the implications of, judges’ understandings of racial disparities at arraignment, plea hearings, jury selection, and sentencing. Most judges in our sample attribute disparities, in part, to differential treatment by themselves and/or other criminal justice officials, whereas some judges attribute disparities only to the disparate impact of poverty and differences in offending rates. To address disparities, judges report employing two categories of strategies: noninterventionist and interventionist. Noninterventionist strategies concern only a judge's own differential treatment, whereas interventionist strategies concern other actors’ possible differential treatment, as well as the disparate impact of poverty and facially neutral laws. We reveal how the use of noninterventionist strategies by most judges unintentionally reproduces disparities. Through our examination of judges’ understandings of racial disparities throughout the court process, we enhance understandings of American racial inequality and theorize a situational approach to decision-making in organizational contexts.

Getting 'What Works' working: Building blocks for the integration of experimental and improvement science
Peterson, Amelia. 2016. “Getting 'What Works' working: Building blocks for the integration of experimental and improvement science.” International Journal of Research and Method in Education 39 (3): 299-313. Abstract

As a systemic approach to improving educational practice through research, ‘What Works’ has come under repeated challenge from alternative approaches, most recently that of improvement science. While ‘What Works’ remains a dominant paradigm for centralized knowledge-building efforts, there is need to understand why this alternative has gained support, and what it can contribute. I set out how the core elements of experimental and improvement science can be combined into a strategy to raise educational achievement with the support of evidence from randomized experiments. Central to this combined effort is a focus on identifying and testing mechanisms for improving teaching and learning, as applications of principles from the learning sciences. This article builds on current efforts to strengthen approaches to evidence-based practice and policy in a range of international contexts. It provides a foundation for those who aim to avoid another paradigm war and to accelerate international discussions on the design of systemic education research infrastructure and funding.

Intergroup Behavioral Strategies as Contextually Determined: Experimental Evidence from Israel

Why are the negative effects of social diversity more pronounced in some places than in others? What are the mechanisms underlying the relationship between diversity and discriminatory behaviors and why do they vary in prevalence and strength across locations? Experimental research has made advances in examining these questions by testing for differences in behavior when interacting with individuals from different groups. At the same time, research in American and comparative politics has demonstrated that attitudes toward other groups are a function of context. Uniting these two lines of research, we show that discriminatory behaviors are strongly conditioned by the ways in which groups are organized in space. We examine this claim in the context of intra-Jewish conflict in Israel, using original data compiled through multi-site lab-in-the-field experiments and survey responses collected across 20 locations.

The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Rhetoric, 1952-1996
Bonikowski, Bart, and Noam Gidron. 2016. “The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Rhetoric, 1952-1996.” Social Forces 94 (4): 1593-1621. Abstract

This paper examines populist claims-making in US presidential elections. We define populism as a discursive strategy that juxtaposes the virtuous populace with a corrupt elite and views the former as the sole legitimate source of political power. In contrast to past research, we argue that populism is best operationalized as an attribute of political claims rather than a stable ideological property of political actors. This analytical strategy allows us to systematically measure how the use of populism is affected by a variety of contextual factors. Our empirical case consists of 2,406 speeches given by American presidential candidates between 1952 and 1996, which we code using automated text analysis. Populism is shown to be a common feature of presidential politics among both Democrats and Republicans, but its prevalence varies with candidates' relative positions in the political field. In particular, we demonstrate that the probability of a candidate's reliance on populist claims is directly proportional to his distance from the center of power (in this case, the presidency). This suggests that populism is primarily a strategic tool of political challengers, and particularly those who have legitimate claims to outsider status. By examining temporal changes in populist claims-making on the political left and right, its variation across geographic regions and field positions, and the changing content of populist frames, our paper contributes to the debate on populism in modern democracies, while integrating field theory with the study of institutional politics.

(No) Harm in Asking: Class, Acquired Cultural Capital, and Academic Engagement at an Elite University
Jack, Anthony Abraham. 2016. “(No) Harm in Asking: Class, Acquired Cultural Capital, and Academic Engagement at an Elite University.” Sociology of Education 89 (1): 1-15. Abstract

How do undergraduates engage authority figures in college? Existing explanations predict class-based engagement strategies. Using in-depth interviews with 89 undergraduates at an elite university, I show how undergraduates with disparate precollege experiences differ in their orientations toward and strategies for engaging authority figures in college. Middle-class undergraduates report being at ease in interacting with authority figures and are proactive in doing so. Lower-income undergraduates, however, are split. The privileged poor—lower-income undergraduates who attended boarding, day, and preparatory high schools—enter college primed to engage professors and are proactive in doing so. By contrast, the doubly disadvantaged—lower-income undergraduates who remained tied to their home communities and attended local, typically distressed high schools—are more resistant to engaging authority figures in college and tend to withdraw from them. Through documenting the heterogeneity among lower-income undergraduates, I show how static understandings of individuals’ cultural endowments derived solely from family background homogenize the experiences of lower-income undergraduates. In so doing, I shed new light on the cultural underpinnings of education processes in higher education and extend previous analyses of how informal university practices exacerbate class differences among undergraduates.

Parties, Brokers and Voter Mobilization: How Turnout Buying Depends Upon the Party's Capacity to Monitor Brokers
Larreguy, Horacio, John Marshall, and Pablo Querubin. 2016. “Parties, Brokers and Voter Mobilization: How Turnout Buying Depends Upon the Party's Capacity to Monitor Brokers.” American Political Science Review 110 (01): 160-179. Abstract

Despite its prevalence, little is known about when parties buy turnout. We emphasize the problem of parties monitoring local brokers with incentives to shirk. Our model suggests that parties extract greater turnout buying effort from their brokers where they can better monitor broker performance and where favorable voters would not otherwise turn out. Exploiting exogenous variation in the number of polling stations—and thus electoral information about broker performance—in Mexican electoral precincts, we find that greater monitoring capacity increases turnout and votes for the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Consistent with our theoretical predictions, the effect of monitoring capacity on PRI votes varies nonlinearly with the distance of voters to the polling station: it first increases because rural voters—facing larger costs of voting—generally favor the PRI, before declining as the cost of incentivizing brokers increases. This nonlinearity is not present for the PAN, who stand to gain less from mobilizing rural voters.

Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Increased Public School Funding
Schueler, Beth, and Martin R West. 2016. “Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Increased Public School Funding.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80 (1): 90-113. Abstract

This study examines the role of information in shaping public opinion in the context of support for education spending. While there is broad public support for increasing government funding for public schools, Americans tend to underestimate what is currently spent. We embed a series of experiments in a nationally representative survey administered in 2012 (n= 2,993) to examine whether informing citizens about current levels of education spending alters public opinion about whether funding should increase. Providing information on per-pupil spending in a respondent’s local school district reduces the probability that he or she will express support for increasing spending by 22 percentage points on average. Informing respondents about state-average teacher salaries similarly depresses support for salary increases. These effects are larger among respondents who underestimate per-pupil spending and teacher salaries by a greater amount, consistent with the idea that the observed changes in opinion are driven, at least in part, by informational effects, as opposed to priming alone.

Teaching to the Student: Charter School Effectiveness in Spite of Perverse Incentives

Recent work has shown that Boston charter schools raise standardized test scores more than their traditional school counterparts. Critics of charter schools argue that charter schools create those achievement gains by focusing exclusively on test preparation, at the expense of deeper learning. In this paper, I test that critique by estimating the impact of charter school attendance on subscales of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and examining them for evidence of score inflation. If charter schools are teaching to the test to a greater extent than their counterparts, one would expect to see higher scores on commonly tested standards, higher-stakes subjects, and frequently tested topics. Despite incentives to reallocate effort away from less frequently tested content to highly tested content, and to coach to item type, I find no evidence of this type of test preparation. Boston charter middle schools perform consistently across all standardized test subscales.

Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston’s Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice
Angrist, Joshua D., Sarah R. Cohodes, Susan M. Dynarski, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters. 2016. “Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston’s Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice.” Journal of Labor Economics 34 (2). NBER Working Paper 19275. Abstract

We use admissions lotteries to estimate effects of attendance at Boston's charter high schools on college preparation and enrollment. Charter schools increase pass rates on Massachusetts' high-stakes exit exam, with large effects on the likelihood of qualifying for a state-sponsored scholarship. Charter attendance boosts SAT scores sharply, and also increases the likelihood of taking an Advanced Placement (AP) exam, the number of AP exams taken, and AP scores. Charters induce a substantial shift from two- to four-year institutions, though the effect on overall college enrollment is modest. Charter effects on college-related outcomes are strongly correlated with gains on earlier tests.

Unhappy Cities
Glaeser, Edward L., Joshua D. Gottlieb, and Oren Ziv. 2016. “Unhappy Cities.” Journal of Labor Economics 34 (S2). Abstract

There are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across US metropolitan areas, and residents of declining cities appear less happy than others. Yet some people continue to move to these areas, and newer residents appear to be as unhappy as longer-term residents. While historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past. These facts support the view that individuals do not maximize happiness alone but include it in the utility function along with other arguments. People may trade off happiness against other competing objectives.

Compounded Deprivation in the Transition to Adulthood: The Intersection of Racial and Economic Inequality Among Chicagoans, 1995–2013

This paper investigates acute, compounded, and persistent deprivation in a representative sample of Chicago adolescents transitioning to young adulthood. Our investigation, based on four waves of longitudinal data from 1995 to 2013, is motivated by three goals. First, we document the prevalence of individual and neighborhood poverty over time, especially among whites, blacks, and Latinos. Second, we explore compounded deprivation, describing the extent to which study participants are simultaneously exposed to individual and contextual forms of deprivation—including material deprivation (such as poverty) and social-organizational deprivation (for example, low collective efficacy)—for multiple phases of the life course from adolescence up to age thirty-two. Third, we isolate the characteristics that predict transitions out of compounded and persistent poverty. The results provide new evidence on the crosscutting adversities that were exacerbated by the Great Recession and on the deep connection of race to persistent and compounded deprivation in the transition to adulthood.

Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions
Asad, Asad L., and Tamara Kay. 2015. “Toward a Multidimensional Understanding of Culture for Health Interventions.” Social Science & Medicine 144: 79-87. Publisher's Version Abstract

Although a substantial literature examines the relationship between culture and health in myriad individual contexts, a lack of comparative data across settings has resulted in disparate and imprecise conceptualizations of the concept for scholars and practitioners alike. This article examines scholars and practitioners’ understandings of culture in relation to health interventions. Drawing on 169 interviews with officials from three different nongovernmental organizations working on health issues in multiple countries—Partners in Health, Oxfam America, and Sesame Workshop—we examine how these respondents’ interpretations of culture converge or diverge with recent developments in the study of the concept, as well as how these understandings influence health interventions at three different stages—design, implementation, and evaluation—of a project. Based on these analyses, a tripartite definition of culture is built—as knowledge, practice, and change—and these distinct conceptualizations are linked to the success or failure of a project at each stage of an intervention. In so doing, the study provides a descriptive and analytical starting point for scholars interested in understanding the theoretical and empirical relevance of culture for health interventions, and sets forth concrete recommendations for practitioners working to achieve robust improvements in health outcomes.

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.