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Latest Inequality & Social Policy In the News

Confiscated guns

America's Obsession with Powerful Handguns is Giving Criminals Deadlier Tools

December 5, 2016

The Trace | Cites David Hureau (Ph.D. '16), Assistant Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at SUNY Albany and an affiliate of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Hureau, whose research focuses on the relationship between violent crime and social inequality, has studied the market for illegal guns.

Impact 2016: Building Broad Prosperity

Impact 2016: Building Broad Prosperity

December 2, 2016

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities | Matthew Desmond talked housing policy with William Julius Wilson as the closing plenary speaker at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities State Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The three-day conference brought together policy experts, state leaders, and advocates to discuss policies to promote equity and prosperity.

House lawmakers passed the biggest health reform bill since the Affordable Care Act

House lawmakers passed the biggest health reform bill since the Affordable Care Act

December 1, 2016

Vox | Cites Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government: "Carpenter, who wrote a history of the FDA, has called the bill the "19th Century Frauds Act." He continued: "The clauses on using purely observational data for drug approval and what amounts to anecdotal evidence for devices are deeply anti-scientific and would undermine the credibility of the American market for drugs and medical devices...This act would seriously undermine that credibility, and by extension the market as a whole."

Retail Investors Often Get Biased Financial Advice, Study Finds

Retail Investors Often Get Biased Financial Advice, Study Finds

December 1, 2016

Institutional Investor | "A trio of finance and economics professors [Antoinette Scholar (MIT), Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard), and Markus Noeth (University of Hamburg)] concluded in a paper published in 2012 that retail investors really do need fiduciaries to shield them from poor financial advice. They finally got some protection in the Department of Labor’s so-called fiduciary rule, set to take effect in April 2017 — but the future of that rule now hangs in the balance, just as these researchers have produced fresh findings reinforcing their original conclusions."

The potential downside of automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans

The potential downside of automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans

December 1, 2016

Investment News | The practice boosts employees' savings rates, but it may also be financed in some cases by increases in consumer debt, according to new research in a forthcoming report by John Beshears (Harvard Business School), David Laibson (Dept of Economics), Brigitte Madrian (Harvard Kennedy School).

Donald Trump has every reason to keep white people thinking about race

Donald Trump has every reason to keep white people thinking about race

November 30, 2016

Vox | "There’s a growing body of research in political science and political psychology suggesting that even very mild messages or cues that touch on race can alter political opinions." Highlights work by Ryan D. Enos, Associate Professor of Government, who "sent pairs of native Spanish-speaking Latino men to ride commuter trains in Boston, surveyed their fellow riders' political views both before and after, and also surveyed riders on trains not used in the experiment as a control.

"'The results were clear,' Enos wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. 'After coming into contact, for just minutes each day, with two more Latinos than they would otherwise see or interact with, the riders, who were mostly white and liberal, were sharply more opposed to allowing more immigrants into the country and favored returning the children of illegal immigrants to their parents’ home country. It was a stark shift from their pre-experiment interviews, during which they expressed more neutral attitudes.'

"Dwell on that. Merely being in the presence of Latino people changed liberal voters’ attitudes on immigration. That’s among the most subtle cues imaginable. And this is a study conducted in the field, among real people, not in a lab."
View the research 

Likely Policies Under Trump

Likely Policies Under Trump

November 30, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Faculty from Harvard's Government Department—including Danielle Allen, Jennifer Hochschild, Claudine Gay—gathered for a post-election panel, "Trump's America: What's Next?," which explored what a Trump administration portends for voting rights, foreign policy, economics, and American democracy.

Stop Treating HUD Like a Second-Tier Department

Stop Treating HUD Like a Second-Tier Department

November 30, 2016

FiveThirtyEight | Four reasons why HUD and housing policy matter—for poverty, homeownership and affordability, and in fighting discrimination and segregation. Cites research by Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, and notes that Desmond's work was instrumental in getting eviction-related questions added to the 2017 American Housing Survey. 

Hard Time Gets Hard Look

Hard Time Gets Hard Look

November 29, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology and Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy, Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow with the Malcolm Wiener Center's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Judge Nancy Gertner, Senior Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, relate their experience with criminal justice policy in a seminar aimed at reducing the country's bloated prison population. 

A Conversation with Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy

A Conversation with Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy

November 28, 2016

The JFK Jr Forum  | Vivek H. Murthy, United States Surgeon General, joined Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, at the JFK Jr. Forum for a conversation on America's healthcare issues relating to opioid addiction, gun violence, and changes to healthcare laws under the new administration. Co-sponsored by the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Watch video ▶

The Hidden Costs of Immigration

The Hidden Costs of Immigration

November 22, 2016

Claremont Review of Books | Review of George J. Borjas's We Wanted Workers, by Christopher Caldwell. Borjas is the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The Costs of Being Poor

The Costs of Being Poor

November 21, 2016

The American Prospect | Two new books explore how difficult the housing market and criminal justice system make it to climb out of poverty. Adam D. Reich of Columbia University reviews Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciencest at Harvard, and A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor, by Alexis Harris, University of Washington.

Donald Trump's infrastructure plan wouldn't actually fix America's infrastructure problems

Donald Trump's infrastructure plan wouldn't actually fix America's infrastructure problems

November 18, 2016

Vox | Quotes Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics: "This is unlikely to do much for road and bridge maintenance...And [economists] have long believed that the highest returns are for fixing existing infrastructure.”

“If [we] only built projects that could cover their costs with user charges, we would have far fewer white elephant projects,” says Harvard’s Glaeser. “However, we would also miss good projects as well. In particular, we would miss projects that mainly serve the less advantaged. Asking buses to pay for themselves would be a mistake.”

America's Surprising Views on Income Inequality

America's Surprising Views on Income Inequality

November 17, 2016

The New Yorker | Cites research by psychologists Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, which found that people "routinely underestimated existing wealth inequality."  Also quotes economist Justin Wolfers (Ph.D. '01), Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan.
View Norton and Ariely study

'Desperate but not hopeless times'

'Desperate but not hopeless times'

November 16, 2016

Harvard Gazette | Coverage of the the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies’ annual Summit on the Future of Europe. 

"Peter A. Hall, Harvard’s Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies, warned that in addition to its debt, banking, and growth crises, Europe faces a political one, with declining levels of trust in government and a shift away from mainstream politics. Hall argued that EU leaders worsened or caused the problem by seeking a “fuller fiscal or political union” in response to the Eurozone crisis, an approach that he said deprives national electorates of the sense that their governments are accountable."
View the conference agenda
... Read more about 'Desperate but not hopeless times'

Latest awards

'Our Kids' selected for Books of the Year 2015

'Our Kids' selected for Books of the Year 2015

December 3, 2015

The Economist | Robert Putnam's, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, described as "thoughtful and persuasive", has been selected by The Economist as one of the best books of 2015.  Also making the list, Inequality: What Can Be Done?, by Anthony Atkinson (University of Oxford).

ISA Medal of Science

ISA Medal of Science

October 6, 2015

Awardee | Robert D. Putnam to receive the Institute for Advanced Studies' (University of Bologna) highest honor for scientific excellence and international acclaim.

Dan Zuberi named to the Royal Society of Canada's College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists

Dan Zuberi named to the Royal Society of Canada's College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists

September 25, 2015

Awardee | Dan Zuberi (Ph.D. '04) has been named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) College, which represents "the emerging generation of scholarly, scientific and artistic leadership in Canada." Zuberi, now RBC chair and Associate Professor of Social Policy at the University of Toronto's School of Public Policy and Governance, was recognized for his "innovative social policy research" on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in Canada and the U.S.  (Read the full citation)

Viridiana Rios will be a visiting fellow at Wilson Center

Viridiana Rios will be a visiting fellow at Wilson Center

September 18, 2015

Awardee | Viridiana Rios (Ph.D. '13) will be a visiting fellow this fall at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, where she will be working on a project titled, "Economic Policy for Crime Deterrence in Mexico."

Robert Putnam named to The Politico 50

Robert Putnam named to The Politico 50

September 10, 2015

Politico Magazine | Robert Putnam recognized as one of fifty "thinkers, doers, and visionaries transforming American politics in 2015."

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

Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence

Beginning in the mid-1990s, American cities experienced an astonishing drop in violent crime. By 2014, the United States was safer than it had been in sixty years. Sociologist Patrick Sharkey gathered data from across the country to understand why this happened, and how it changed the nature of urban inequality. He shows that the decline of violence is one of the most important public health breakthroughs of the past several decades, that it has made schools safer places to learn and increased the chances of poor children rising into the middle class. Yet there have been costs, in the abuses and high incarceration rates generated by aggressive policing.

Sharkey puts forth an entirely new approach to confronting violence and urban poverty. At a time when inequality, complacency, and conflict all threaten a new rise in violent crime, and the old methods of policing are unacceptable, the ideas in this book are indispensable.

The Other Side of Assimilation: How Immigrants are Changing American Life
Jiménez, Tomás R. 2017. The Other Side of Assimilation: How Immigrants are Changing American Life. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 296. Abstract

The immigration patterns of the last three decades have profoundly changed nearly every aspect of life in the United States. What do those changes mean for the most established Americans—those whose families have been in the country for multiple generations?
 
The Other Side of Assimilation shows that assimilation is not a one-way street. Jiménez explains how established Americans undergo their own assimilation in response to profound immigration-driven ethnic, racial, political, economic, and cultural shifts. Drawing on interviews with a race and class spectrum of established Americans in three different Silicon Valley cities, The Other Side of Assimilation illuminates how established Americans make sense of their experiences in immigrant-rich environments, in work, school, public interactions, romantic life, and leisure activities. With lucid prose, Jiménez reveals how immigration not only changes the American cityscape but also reshapes the United States by altering the outlooks and identities of its most established citizens. 

 

(Re)Generating Inclusive Cities: Poverty and Planning in Urban North America
Zuberi, Dan, and Ariel Judith Taylor. 2017. (Re)Generating Inclusive Cities: Poverty and Planning in Urban North America. Routledge, 144. Abstract

As suburban expansion declines, cities have become essential economic, cultural and social hubs of global connectivity. This book is about urban revitalization across North America, in cities including San Francisco, Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, New York and Seattle. Infrastructure projects including the High Line and Big Dig are explored alongside urban neighborhood creation and regeneration projects such as Hunters Point in San Francisco and Regent Park in Toronto. Today, these urban regeneration projects have evolved in the context of unprecedented neoliberal public policy and soaring real estate prices. Consequently, they make a complex contribution to urban inequality and poverty trends in many of these cities, including the suburbanization of immigrant settlement and rising inequality. 

(Re)Generating Inclusive Cities wrestles with challenging but important questions of urban planning, including who benefits and who loses with these urban regeneration schemes, and what policy tools can be used to mitigate harm? We propose a new way forward for understanding and promoting better urban design practices in order to build more socially just and inclusive cities and to ultimately improve the quality of urban life for all.

Someone To Talk To
Small, Mario Luis. 2017. Someone To Talk To. Oxford University Press, 288. Abstract

When people are facing difficulties, they often feel the need for a confidant-a person to vent to or a sympathetic ear with whom to talk things through. How do they decide on whom to rely? In theory, the answer seems obvious: if the matter is personal, they will turn to a spouse, a family member, or someone close. In practice, what people actually do often belies these expectations. 

In Someone To Talk To, Mario L. Small follows a group of graduate students as they cope with stress, overwork, self-doubt, failure, relationships, children, health care, and poverty. He unravels how they decide whom to turn to for support. And he then confirms his findings based on representative national data on adult Americans. 

Small shows that rather than consistently rely on their "strong ties," Americans often take pains to avoid close friends and family, as these relationships are both complex and fraught with expectations. In contrast, they often confide in "weak ties," as the need for understanding or empathy trumps their fear of misplaced trust. In fact, people may find themselves confiding in acquaintances and even strangers unexpectedly, without having reflected on the consequences. 

Someone To Talk To reveals the often counter-intuitive nature of social support, helping us understand questions as varied as why a doctor may hide her depression from friends, how a teacher may come out of the closet unintentionally, why people may willingly share with others their struggle to pay the rent, and why even competitors can be among a person's best confidants.

Amid a growing wave of big data and large-scale network analysis, Small returns to the basic questions of who we connect with, how, and why, upending decades of conventional wisdom on how we should think about and analyze social networks.

Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes
Williamson, Vanessa S. 2017. Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 304. Abstract

Conventional wisdom holds that Americans hate taxes. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. Bringing together national survey data with in-depth interviews, Read My Lips presents a surprising picture of tax attitudes in the United States. Vanessa Williamson demonstrates that Americans view taxpaying as a civic responsibility and a moral obligation. But they worry that others are shirking their duties, in part because the experience of taxpaying misleads Americans about who pays taxes and how much. Perceived "loopholes" convince many income tax filers that a flat tax might actually raise taxes on the rich, and the relative invisibility of the sales and payroll taxes encourages many to underestimate the sizable tax contributions made by poor and working people.

Americans see being a taxpayer as a role worthy of pride and respect, a sign that one is a contributing member of the community and the nation. For this reason, the belief that many Americans are not paying their share is deeply corrosive to the social fabric. The widespread misperception that immigrants, the poor, and working-class families pay little or no taxes substantially reduces public support for progressive spending programs and undercuts the political standing of low-income people. At the same time, the belief that the wealthy pay less than their share diminishes confidence that the political process represents most people.

Upending the idea of Americans as knee-jerk opponents of taxes, Read My Lips examines American taxpaying as an act of political faith. Ironically, the depth of the American civic commitment to taxpaying makes the failures of the tax system, perceived and real, especially potent frustrations.

 

Latest academic articles — By doctoral fellows

Asymmetric Interest Group Mobilization and Party Coalitions in U.S. Tax Politics
Hertel-Fernandez, Alexander, and Theda Skocpol. 2015. “Asymmetric Interest Group Mobilization and Party Coalitions in U.S. Tax Politics.” Studies in American Political Development 29 (2): 235-249. Abstract

Arguments about national tax policy have taken center stage in U.S. politics in recent times, creating acute dilemmas for Democrats. With Republicans locked into antitax agendas for some time, Democrats have recently begun to push back, arguing for maintaining or even increasing taxes on the very wealthy in the name of deficit reduction and the need to sustain funding for public programs. But the Democratic Party as a whole has not been able to find a consistent voice on tax issues. It experienced key defections when large, upward-tilting tax cuts were enacted under President George W. Bush, and the Democratic Party could not control the agenda on debates over continuing those tax cuts even when it enjoyed unified control in Washington, DC, in 2009 and 2010. To explain these cleavages among Democrats, we examine growing pressures from small business owners, a key antitax constituency. We show that organizations claiming to speak for small business have become more active in tax politics in recent decades, and we track the ways in which constituency pressures have been enhanced by feedbacks from federal tax rules that encourage individuals to pass high incomes through legal preferences for the self-employed. Comparing debates over the inception and renewal of the Bush tax cuts, we show how small business organizations and constituencies have divided Democrats on tax issues. Our findings pinpoint the mechanisms that have propelled tax resistance in contemporary U.S. politics, and our analysis contributes to theoretical understandings of the ways in which political parties are influenced by policy feedbacks and by coalitions of policy-driven organized economic interests.

How Legislators Respond to Localized Economic Shocks: Evidence from Chinese Import Competition
Feigenbaum, James J., and Andrew B. Hall. 2015. “How Legislators Respond to Localized Economic Shocks: Evidence from Chinese Import Competition.” Journal of Politics 77 (4): 1012-1030. Abstract

We explore the effects of localized economic shocks from trade on roll-call behavior and electoral outcomes in the US House, 1990–2010. We demonstrate that economic shocks from Chinese import competition—first studied by Autor, Dorn, and Hanson—cause legislators to vote in a more protectionist direction on trade bills but cause no change in their voting on all other bills. At the same time, these shocks have no effect on the reelection rates of incumbents, the probability an incumbent faces a primary challenge, or the partisan control of the district. Though changes in economic conditions are likely to cause electoral turnover in many cases, incumbents exposed to negative economic shocks from trade appear able to fend off these effects in equilibrium by taking strategic positions on foreign-trade bills. In line with this view, we find that the effect on roll-call voting is strongest in districts where incumbents are most threatened electorally. Taken together, these results paint a picture of responsive incumbents who tailor their roll-call positions on trade bills to the economic conditions in their districts.

Forced Relocation and Residential Instability among Urban Renters
Desmond, Matthew, Carl Gershenson, and Barbara Kiviat. 2015. “Forced Relocation and Residential Instability among Urban Renters.” Social Service Review 89. The University of Chicago Press: pp. 227-262. Abstract

Abstract Residential instability often brings about other forms of instability in families, schools, and communities that compromise the life chances of adults and children. Social scientists have found that low-income families move frequently without fully understanding why. Drawing on novel data of more than 1,000 Milwaukee renters, this article explores the relationship between forced relocation and residential instability. It finds that low incomes are associated with higher rates of mobility due to poorer renters’ greater exposure to forced displacement. Not only do higher rates of formal and informal eviction, landlord foreclosure, and building condemnation directly increase the mobility of poorer renters, but forced displacement also increases subsequent unforced mobility. A forced move often compels renters to accept substandard housing, which drives them to soon move again. This article reveals mechanisms of residential mobility among low-income renters, identifies previously undocumented consequences of forced displacement, and develops a more comprehensive model of residential instability and urban inequality.

This study draws upon cognitive maps and interviews with 56 residents living in a gentrifying area to examine how residents socially construct neighborhoods. Most minority respondents, regardless of socioeconomic status and years of residency, defined their neighborhood as a large and inclusive spatial area, using a single name and conventional boundaries, invoking the area’s black cultural history, and often directly responding to the alternative way residents defined their neighborhoods. Both longterm and newer white respondents defined their neighborhood as smaller spatial areas and used a variety of names and unconventional boundaries that excluded areas that they perceived to have lower socioeconomic status and more crime. The large and inclusive socially constructed neighborhood was eventually displaced. These findings shed light on how the internal narratives of neighborhood identity and boundaries are meaningfully tied to a broader structure of inequality and shape how neighborhood identities and boundaries change or remain.

Racial and Spatial Targeting: Segregation and Subprime Lending within and across Metropolitan Areas
Hwang, Jackelyn, Michael Hankinson, and Kreg Steven Brown. 2015. “Racial and Spatial Targeting: Segregation and Subprime Lending within and across Metropolitan Areas.” Social Forces 93 (3): 1081-1108. Abstract

Recent studies find that high levels of black-white segregation increased rates of foreclosures and subprime lending across US metropolitan areas during the housing crisis. These studies speculate that segregation created distinct geographic markets that enabled subprime lenders and brokers to leverage the spatial proximity of minorities to disproportionately target minority neighborhoods. Yet, the studies do not explicitly test whether the concentration of subprime loans in minority neighborhoods varied by segregation levels. We address this shortcoming by integrating neighborhood-level data and spatial measures of segregation to examine the relationship between segregation and subprime lending across the 100 largest US metropolitan areas. Controlling for alternative explanations of the housing crisis, we find that segregation is strongly associated with higher concentrations of subprime loans in clusters of minority census tracts but find no evidence of unequal lending patterns when we examine minority census tracts in an aspatial way. Moreover, residents of minority census tracts in segregated metropolitan areas had higher likelihoods of receiving subprime loans than their counterparts in less segregated metropolitan areas. Our findings demonstrate that segregation played a pivotal role in the housing crisis by creating relatively larger areas of concentrated minorities into which subprime loans could be efficiently and effectively channeled. These results are consistent with existing but untested theories on the relationship between segregation and the housing crisis in metropolitan areas.

Faller, Julie, Noah Nathan, and Ariel White. 2015. “What Do I Need to Vote? Bureaucratic Discretion and Discrimination by Local Election Officials.” American Political Science Review. Publisher's Version Abstract

Do street-level bureaucrats discriminate in the services they provide to constituents? We use a field experiment to measure differential information provision about voting by local election administrators in the United States. We contact over 7,000 election officials in 48 states who are responsible for providing information to voters and implementing voter ID laws. We find that officials provide different information to potential voters of different putative ethnicities. Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of services by local bureaucrats more generally. 

Complex Tax Incentives
Abeler, Johannes, and Simon Jäger. 2015. “Complex Tax Incentives.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 7 (3): 1-28. Author's version Abstract

How does tax complexity affect people’s reaction to tax changes? To answer this question, we conduct an experiment in which subjects work for a piece rate and face taxes. One treatment features a simple, the other a complex tax system. The payoff-maximizing output level and the incentives around this optimum are, however, identical across treatments. We introduce the same sequence of additional taxes in both treatments. Subjects in the complex treatment underreact to new taxes; some ignore new taxes entirely. The underreaction is stronger for subjects with lower cognitive ability. Contrary to predictions from models of rational inattention, subjects are equally likely to ignore large or small incentive changes. 

Cutler, David M, Wei Huang, and Adriana Lleras-Muney. 2015. “When Does Education Matter? The Protective Effect of Education for Cohorts Graduating in Bad Times.” Social Science & Medicine 127: 63-73. Publisher's Version Abstract

Using Eurobarometer data, we document large variation across European countries in education gradients in income, self-reported health, life satisfaction, obesity, smoking and drinking. While this variation has been documented previously, the reasons why the effect of education on income, health and health behaviors varies is not well understood. We build on previous literature documenting that cohorts graduating in bad times have lower wages and poorer health for many years after graduation, compared to those graduating in good times. We investigate whether more educated individuals suffer smaller income and health losses as a result of poor labor market conditions upon labor market entry. We confirm that a higher unemployment rate at graduation is associated with lower income, lower life satisfaction, greater obesity, more smoking and drinking later in life. Further, education plays a protective role for these outcomes, especially when unemployment rates are high: the losses associated with poor labor market outcomes are substantially lower for more educated individuals. Variation in unemployment rates upon graduation can potentially explain a large fraction of the variance in gradients across different countries.

Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-authorship within the US
Freeman, Richard B., and Wei Huang. 2015. “Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-authorship within the US.” Journal of Labor Economics 33 (S1): S289-S318. Abstract

By examining the ethnic identity of authors in over 2.5 million scientific papers written by US-based authors from 1985 to 2008, we find that persons of similar ethnicity coauthor together more frequently than predicted by their proportion among authors. The greater homophily is associated with publication in lower-impact journals and with fewer citations. Meanwhile, papers with authors in more locations and with longer reference lists get published in higher-impact journals and receive more citations. These findings suggest that diversity in inputs by author ethnicity, location, and references leads to greater contributions to science as measured by impact factors and citations.

Huang, Wei. 2015. “Do ABCs Get More Citations Than XYZs?” Economic Inquiry 53: 773-789. Publisher's Version Abstract

Using a sample of US-based scientific journal articles, I examine the relationship between author surname initials and paper citations, finding that the papers with first authors whose surname initials appear earlier in the alphabet get more citations, and that this effect does not exist for non-first authors. Further analysis shows that the alphabetical order effect is stronger in those fields with longer reference lists, and that such alphabetical bias exists among citations by others and not for self-citations. In addition, estimates also reveal that the alphabetical order effect is stronger when the length of reference lists in citing papers is longer. These findings suggest that the order in reference lists plays an important role in the alphabetical bias.

Asad, Asad L. 2015. “Contexts of Reception, Post-Disaster Migration, and Socioeconomic Mobility.” Population and Environment 36 (3): 279-310. Publisher's Version Abstract

Current theories conceptualize return migration to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as an individual-level assessment of costs and benefits. Since relocation is cost prohibitive, return migration is thought to be unlikely for vulnerable populations. However, recent analyses of longitudinal survey data suggest that these individuals are likely to return to New Orleans over time despite achieving socioeconomic gains in the post-disaster location. I extend the “context of reception” approach from the sociology of immigration and draw on longitudinal data from the Resilience in the Survivors of Katrina Project to demonstrate how institutional, labor market, and social contexts influence the decision to return. Specifically, I show how subjective comparisons of the three contexts between origin and destination, perceived experiences of discrimination within each context, and changing contexts over time explain my sample’s divergent migration and mobility outcomes. I conclude with implications for future research on, and policy responses to, natural disasters.

Winner of 2014 Marvin E. Olsen Student Paper Award, Section on Environment and Technology, American Sociological Association.

Tach, Laura, Kathryn Edin, Hope Harvey, and Brielle Bryan. 2014. “The Family-Go-Round: Family Complexity and Father Involvement from a Father's Perspective.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social SciencesAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 654 (1): 169-184. Abstract

Men who have children with several partners are often assumed to be “deadbeats” who eschew their responsibilities to their children. Using data from the nationally representative National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort (NLSY-97), we show that most men in complex families intensively parent the children of one mother while being less involved, or not involved at all, with children by others. Repeated qualitative interviews with 110 low-income noncustodial fathers reveal that men in complex families often engage with and provide, at least to some degree, for all of the biological and stepchildren who live in one mother’s household. These activities often exceed those extended to biological children living elsewhere. Interviews also show that by devoting most or all of their resources to the children of just one mother, men in complex families feel successful as fathers even if they are not intensively involved with their other biological children.

Moynihan, Donald, Pamela Herd, and Hope Harvey. 2014. “Administrative Burden: Learning, Psychological, and Compliance Costs in Citizen-State Interactions.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Abstract

This article offers two theoretical contributions. First, we develop the concept of administrative burden as an important variable in understanding how citizens experience the state. Administrative burden is conceptualized as a function of learning, psychological, and compliance costs that citizens experience in their interactions with government. Second, we argue that administrative burden is a venue of politics, that is, the level of administrative burden placed on an individual, as well as the distribution of burden between the state and the individual, will often be a function of deliberate political choice rather than simply a product of historical accident or neglect. The opaque nature of administrative burdens may facilitate their use as forms of “hidden politics,” where significant policy changes occur without broad political consideration. We illustrate this argument via an analysis of the evolution of Medicaid policies in the state of Wisconsin. Across three Governorships, the level of burden evolved in ways consistent with the differing political philosophies of each Governor, with federal actors playing a secondary but important role in shaping burden in this intergovernmental program. We conclude by sketching a research agenda centered on administrative burden.

Hwang, Jackelyn, and Robert J Sampson. 2014. “Divergent Pathways of Gentrification: Racial Inequality and the Social Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods.” American Sociological Review 79. Abstract

Gentrification has inspired considerable debate, but direct examination of its uneven evolution across time and space is rare. We address this gap by developing a conceptual framework on the social pathways of gentrification and introducing a method of systematic social observation using Google Street View to detect visible cues of neighborhood change. We argue that a durable racial hierarchy governs residential selection and, in turn, gentrifying neighborhoods. Integrating census data, police records, prior street-level observations, community surveys, proximity to amenities, and city budget data on capital investments, we find that the pace of gentrification in Chicago from 2007 to 2009 was negatively associated with the concentration of blacks and Latinos in neighborhoods that either showed signs of gentrification or were adjacent and still disinvested in 1995. Racial composition has a threshold effect, however, attenuating gentrification when the share of blacks in a neighborhood is greater than 40 percent. Consistent with theories of neighborhood stigma, we also find that collective perceptions of disorder, which are higher in poor minority neighborhoods, deter gentrification, while observed disorder does not. These results help explain the reproduction of neighborhood racial inequality amid urban transformation. 

Asad, Asad L, and Monica C Bell. 2014. “Winning to Learn, Learning to Win: Evaluative Frames and Practices in Urban Debate.” Qualitative Sociology 37: 1-26. Abstract

Sociologists of (e)valuation have devoted considerable attention to understanding differences in evaluative practices across a number of fields. Yet, little is understood about how individuals learn about and navigate multivalent valid group styles within a single setting. As a social phenomenon, many accept how central processes of evaluation are to everyday life. Accordingly, scholars have attempted to link research on evaluation to processes of inequality. Nevertheless, the sociology of evaluation only has tenuous, often implicit connections to literature on inequality and disadvantage. This article addresses these two gaps. Drawing on over two hundred hours of ethnographic fieldwork in an urban high school debate league (“League”), twenty-seven semi-structured interviews with League judges, and archival data, we illustrate how high school policy debate judges employ evaluative frames and link them to the implementation of evaluative practices in a disadvantaged setting. We show that the cultural meanings that emerge within the evaluation process—in this case, urban uplift and competition—stem from the conflicted context in which evaluation is occurring. We also make a first step toward applying the conceptual tools within the sociology of evaluation to a disadvantaged setting, and more broadly, suggest that micro-processes of evaluation are important to the study of urban inequality.

Jack, Anthony Abraham. 2014. “Culture Shock Revisited: The Social and Cultural Contingencies to Class Marginality.” Sociological Forum 29: 453-475. Abstract

Existing explanations of class marginality predict similar social experiences for all lower-income undergraduates. This paper extends this literature by presenting data highlighting the cultural and social contingencies that account for differences in experiences of class marginality. The degree of cultural and social dissimilarity between one’s life before and during college helps explain variation in experiences. I contrast the experiences of two groups of lower-income, black undergraduates—the Doubly Disadvantaged and Privileged Poor. Although from comparable disadvantaged households and neighborhoods, they travel along divergent paths to college. Unlike the Doubly Disadvantaged, whose precollege experiences are localized, the Privileged Poor cross social boundaries for school. In college, the Doubly Disadvantaged report negative interactions with peers and professors and adopt isolationist strategies, while the Privileged Poor generally report positive interactions and adopt integrationist strategies. In addition to extending present conceptualizations of class marginality, this study advances our understanding of how and when class and culture matter in stratification processes in college.

"Culture Shock Revisited" won the 2014 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award from the ASA Section on Children and Youth and honorable mention for the 2014 David Lee Stevenson Award for Best Graduate Student Paper from the ASA Section on Sociology of Education

Asad, Asad L, Michel Anteby, and Filiz Garip. 2014. “Who Donates Their Bodies to Science? The Combined Role of Gender and Migration Status among California Whole-Body Donors.” Social Science & Medicine 106: 53-58. Publisher's Version Abstract

The number of human cadavers available for medical research and training, as well as organ transplantation, is limited. Researchers disagree about how to increase the number of whole-body bequeathals, citing a shortage of donations from the one group perceived as most likely to donate from attitudinal survey data - educated white males over 65. This focus on survey data, however, suffers from two main limitations: First, it reveals little about individuals’ actual registration or donation behavior. Second, past studies’ reliance on average survey measures may have concealed variation within the donor population. To address these shortcomings, we employ cluster analysis on all whole-body donors’ data from the Universities of California at Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Two donor groups emerge from the analyses: One is made of slightly younger, educated, married individuals, an overwhelming portion of whom are U.S.-born and have U.S.-born parents, while the second includes mostly older, separated women with some college education, a relatively higher share of whom are foreign-born and have foreign-born parents. Our results demonstrate the presence of additional donor groups within and beyond the group of educated and elderly white males previously assumed to be most likely to donate. More broadly, our results suggest how the intersectional nature of donors’ demographics - in particular, gender and migration status - shapes the configuration of the donor pool, signaling new ways to possibly increase donations.

Asad, Asad L, and Tamara Kay. 2014. “Theorizing the Relationship between NGOs and the State in Medical Humanitarian Development Projects.” Social Science & Medicine 120: 325-333. Publisher's Version Abstract

Social scientists have fiercely debated the relationship between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the state in NGO-led development projects. However, this research often carries an implicit, and often explicit, anti-state bias, suggesting that when NGOs collaborate with states, they cease to be a progressive force. This literature thus fails to recognize the state as a complex, heterogeneous, and fragmented entity. In particular, the unique political context within which an NGO operates is likely to influence how it carries out its work. In this article, we ask: how do NGOs work and build relationships with different types of states and – of particular relevance to practitioners – what kinds of relationship building lead to more successful development outcomes on the ground? Drawing on 29 in-depth interviews with members of Partners in Health and Oxfam America conducted between September 2010 and February 2014, we argue that NGOs and their medical humanitarian projects are more likely to succeed when they adjust how they interact with different types of states through processes of interest harmonization and negotiation. We offer a theoretical model for understanding how these processes occur across organizational fields. Specifically, we utilize field overlap theory to illuminate how successful outcomes depend on NGOs’ ability to leverage resources – alliances and networks; political, financial, and cultural resources; and frames – across state and non-state fields. By identifying how NGOs can increase the likelihood of project success, our research should be of interest to activists, practitioners, and scholars.

Waters, Mary C, Philip Kasinitz, and Asad L Asad. 2014. “Immigrants and African Americans.” Annual Review of Sociology 40: 369-390. Publisher's Version Abstract

We examine how recent immigration to the United States has affected African Americans. We first review the research on the growing diversity within the black population, driven largely by the presence of black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. As their children and grandchildren come of age, relations between immigrants and African Americans are complicated by the fact that a growing portion of the African American community has origins in both groups. We then review literature on both new destinations and established gateway cities to illustrate the patterns of cooperation, competition, and avoidance between immigrants of diverse races and African Americans in neighborhoods, the labor market, and politics. We explore the implications of the population’s increasing racial diversity owing to immigration for policies that aim to promote racial equality but that are framed in terms of diversity. We conclude with suggestions for new areas of research.

Marshall, John, and Stephen D Fisher. 2014. “Compensation or Constraint? How Different Dimensions of Economic Globalization Affect Government Spending and Electoral Turnout.” British Journal of Political Science FirstView: 1–37. Publisher's Version Abstract
ABSTRACT This article extends theoretical arguments regarding the impact of economic globalization on policy making to electoral turnout and considers how distinct dimensions of globalization may produce different effects. It theorizes that constraints on government policy that reduce incentives to vote are more likely to be induced by foreign ownership of capital, while compensation through increased government spending is more likely (if at all) to be the product of structural shifts in production associated with international trade. Using data from twenty-three OECD countries from 1970–2007, the study finds strong support for the ownership-constraint hypothesis in which foreign ownership reduces turnout, both directly and – in strict opposition to the compensation hypothesis – indirectly by reducing government spending (and thus the importance of politics). The results suggest that increased foreign ownership, especially the most mobile capital flows, can explain up to two-thirds of the large declines in turnout over recent decades.
Aghion, Philippe, and Alexandra Roulet. 2014. “Growth and the Smart State.” Annual Review of Economics 6: 913-926. Publisher's Version Abstract
As countries develop, the main driver of economic growth shifts from imitation to innovation. These two sources of growth require different policies and institutions. In particular, in this article we argue that the transition from an imitation-based to an innovation-based economy calls the old welfare state model into question. It is not so much the size of the state that is at stake but rather its governance. What we need to foster economic growth in developed economies is not a reduced state but a strategic state, which acts as a catalyst using selective and properly governed support to the market-driven innovation process. This idea of a strategic state that targets its investments to maximize growth in the face of hard budget constraints departs both from the Keynesian view of a state sustaining growth through demand-driven policies and from the neoliberal view of a minimal state confined to its regalian functions.

ABSTRACT Which policymakers are most likely to enact legislation drafted by organized business interests? Departing from the business power scholarship that emphasizes structural, electoral, or financial mechanisms for corporate influence, I argue that lawmakers are likely to rely on businesses' proposals when they lack the time and resources to develop legislation on their own, especially when they also hold an ideological affinity for business. Using two new datasets of “model bills” developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a policy group that promotes pro-business legislation across the states, I find strong support for this theory. These results indicate that ALEC provides private policy capacity to state legislators who would otherwise lack such support, and relatedly, that low state policy capacity may favor certain organized interests over others—namely the business interests affiliated with ALEC. My findings have implications for the study of business influence in policymaking, as well as for state politics.

Herd, Pamela, Thomas DeLeire, Hope Harvey, and Donald P Moynihan. 2013. “Shifting Administrative Burden to the State: The Case of Medicaid Take‐Up.” Public Administration Review 73 (s1): S69-S81. Abstract
Administrative burden is an individual's experience of policy implementation as onerous. Such burdens may be created because of a desire to limit payments to ineligible claimants, but they also serve to limit take-up of benefits by eligible claimants. For citizens, this burden may occur through learning about a program; complying with rules and discretionary bureaucratic behavior to participate; and the psychological costs of participating in an unpopular program. Using a mixed-method approach, the authors explain process changes that reduced individual burden and demonstrate how this resulted in increased take-up in Medicaid in the state of Wisconsin. The findings inform the planned expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A key design principle for Medicaid and other means-tested programs is that it is possible to increase program take-up while maintaining program integrity by shifting administrative burdens from the citizen to the state.

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.