social security in the case-deaton era

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There is something about the Thanksgiving season that drives me to post things that are a bit random and more or less out of my wheelhouse. Maybe it’s anticipation of the turkey coma to come.

Anyhow, in that spirit, there’s something about the Case-Deaton paper on how middle-aged white people are dying at increasing rates that has been niggling at the back of my mind all month.

The paper, of course, got a lot of attention in the media and blogosphere (including a nice catch by Philip Cohen on how much of the finding is accounted for by changing age composition of 45–54-year-olds). But it’s really the less-educated  whose mortality is increasing, not the whole white population.* And the general finding that inequality in life expectancy between rich and poor is increasing in the U.S. is not particularly new, although the finding of actual declines in life span for some groups is relatively recent.

Obviously, the fact that people in the top income quintile are now expected to get a dozen or so more years of life than those in the bottom — a gap that was a third of that three decades ago — has all sorts of policy implications. But it made me think about Social Security in particular.

Social Security is, on the one hand, a political success because it’s a (near-) universal entitlement program. On the other, there have long been complaints the Social Security is itself regressive, since no Social Security tax is paid on income over $118,500. Of course, Social Security also replaces a larger portion of pre-retirement income for lower-income Americans than it does for higher-income Americans. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to figure out whether, on balance, it’s progressive or not.

What is clear, though, is that if low-income folks are losing years of life while high-income folks are gaining them, the system is losing progressivity (or gaining regressivity). I thought I’d play around with some basic numbers to try to examine this question. But it turns out I don’t need to. The National Academies of Science came out with a big study looking at this only a couple of months ago — a study which, so far as I can tell, got nothing like the media coverage that the much simpler Case-Deaton study received.

So what’s the scoop?

Well, as usual with social policy, a lot depends on the assumptions you make. But making some fairly reasonable assumptions, the NAS report finds that yes, the growing mortality gap is also increasing the gap in Social Security benefits received between low- and high-income groups. Lifetime benefits to the lowest income quintile remain about the same for men born in 1960 as for those born in 1930, and for women they decrease nearly 20%. For the top quintile, though, they increase: about 13% for women, and nearly 30% for men, a huge jump.


FIGURE 4-5 Average lifetime Social Security benefits for males (in thousands of dollars).


FIGURE 4-6 Average lifetime Social Security benefits for females (in thousands of dollars).

So what does this mean? Well, if you see this decrease in progressivity as a problem, it suggests you pay attention to the distributional consequences of various proposed Social Security reforms — which are often not taken into account in discussions of their effects. And it’s not always obvious which reforms will have which effects on progressivity. Raising the early retirement age from 62 to 64 makes the system less progressive, which makes sense. But raising the normal retirement age to 70, though it reduces benefits overall, actually (and unexpectedly) makes things more progressive. And reducing Social Security payouts to those with higher incomes accomplishes this even more directly.

More generally, though, this is a reminder that the growing impact of inequality — an impact that results not only in differential material well-being, but in large gaps in actual years to live — has implications far beyond the obvious ones. The growing gap between rich and poor has the potential to undermine the intent of public policies in a whole variety of ways. We ignore this at our peril.

* Caveat: Just as the population of 45–54-year-olds is not the same in 2013 as 1999, neither is the population of adults with a high school degree or less, the population Case and Deaton identify as having the big mortality increase; this group has become smaller over time and relatively more disadvantaged compared to the population as a whole.

Written by epopp

November 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm

traveling with task segregation

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Now that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, Americans are girding themselves to visit family and friends. For some, this will mean getting screened by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). Just in time for this, check out Curtis K. Chan and Michel Anteby‘s forthcoming ASQ article “Task Segregation as a Mechanism for Within-Job Inequality: Women and Men of the Transportation Security Administration.” (Bonus: ungated/free PDF!)

Here’s the abstract:


In this article, we examine a case of task segregation—when a group of workers is disproportionately allocated, relative to other groups, to spend more time on specific tasks in a given job—and argue that such segregation is a potential mechanism for generating within-job inequality in the quality of a job. When performing those tasks is undesirable, this allocation has unfavorable implications for that group’s experienced job quality. We articulate the processes by which task segregation can lead to workplace inequality in job quality through an inductive, interview-based case study of airport security-screening workers in a unit of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at a large urban airport. Female workers were disproportionately allocated to the pat-down task, the manual screening of travelers for prohibited items. Our findings suggest that this segregation led to overall poorer job quality outcomes for women. Task segregation overexposed female workers to processes of physical exertion, emotional labor, and relational strain, giving rise to work intensity, emotional exhaustion, and lack of coping resources. Task segregation also seemed to disproportionately expose female workers to managerial sanctions for taking recuperative time off and a narrowing of their skill set that may have contributed to worse promotion chances, pay, satisfaction, and turnover rates for women. We conclude with a theoretical model of how task segregation can act as a mechanism for generating within-job inequality in job quality.

Chan and Anteby reveal how because of understaffing, female TSA officers are more frequently assigned to the physically and emotionally-intensive tasks of physically patting down female passengers, whereas male TSA officiers are more evenly assigned to a mixture of tasks (i.e., x-ray screening and exit monitoring) that are less physically and emotionally-demanding.

Here’s a snippet of TSA officers’ (TSOs) thoughts on undertaking work that some airline passengers view as illegitimate and invasive:

Because female TSOs spent a disproportionate amount of time doing patdowns, women were disproportionately exposed to the emotional labor of this task. One female TSO said, ‘‘I think a lot of people take their anger out on us directly because we’re the person they see. We’re in the uniform. . . . So we get a lot of that confrontation for [doing pat-downs] probably’’ (108_TSO-F). Likewise, a male TSO recognized the difficulty that female TSOs face due to the emotional challenges of the pat-down task: ‘‘Females are in very short supply because the work they do is very difficult, embarrassing, demeaning . . . ‘Okay, now you’re going to go up to the lady and feel every private part of her body, and then, you know, smile’’’ (226_TSO-M).

A source of potential support, fellow co-workers, erodes under the strain of understaffing:

Female TSOs reported that being segregated to the pat-down task made them resent male coworkers who appeared to be doing comparatively less work. One woman captured this frequent relational strain: ‘‘At a small checkpoint with twelve people to run it, and there’s only one female. What are you [female TSOs] doing all day? You’re patting down females. . . . We [female TSOs] feel it a lot more, because there’s twelve of them [male TSOs]. They’re not doing
anything . . . so we’re doing everything. That’s how it feels (109_TSO-F). A quote from another female TSO supports this notion. After describing her physical exhaustion of ‘‘running around’’ doing pat-downs, she said, ‘‘And the guys are just standing there, like twiddling their fingers, making jokes, doing nothing’’ (310_TSO-F).

Those of us who are in the academy will recognize how these workers’ experiences mirror concerns over the quality of life and advancement of women and underrepresented minorities. Chan and Anteby explain how their concept translates to such settings, but they do not mention how fellow faculty could (1) help push back on particularistic service demands or (2) help with other forms of service that run the department/program/university:

Task segregation also has the potential for naturalistic generalization, in which readers might see affinities between the concept and their own or others’ experiences (Stake, 1995: 85). Evidence suggests, for example, that female faculty advance more slowly, are paid less, and are tenured at lower rates than men, across a variety of fields (Valian, 1999). One mechanism that could explain some of these differences would be task segregation of female academics to committee service (Menges and Exum, 1983). Such an example illustrates how a theory of task segregation might be useful and how our modeled processes and conditions may be used as ‘‘sensitizing concepts’’ (Blumer, 1969) to elucidate what may be happening in other cases.

Applying our theorized conditions of task segregation as sensitizing concepts, we see committee service as discrete from other tasks like conducting research or teaching. The urgings of administrators may disproportionately allocate female faculty to, say, diversity committees. Administrators might draw on a rationalized justification for such a disproportionate allocation. They might argue that female faculty are uniquely qualified to serve on diversity committees and should be matched to them. Administrators might also further point to the insufficient number of women in the department and thus the need for a given female faculty member to be allocated to the task of committee service.

If female faculty are indeed task-segregated in this regard, our theory might also provide sensitizing concepts for processes through which they are disadvantaged. Serving on diversity committees may not be physically exhausting in the same way that pat-downs are, but knowledge work can be surprisingly draining (Michel, 2011). Also, emotional labor may result from feeling torn between personally held principles and pragmatic needs to concede over potentially sensitive issues of diversity. Cohesion with coworkers could become strained if committee members experience resentment of other faculty unburdened by this duty. Furthermore, task-segregated faculty members might find their skill set narrowed, as their time spent on committees gives them less time to hone research skills. Ultimately, task segregation might then help explain adverse distal outcomes of promotion, pay, satisfaction, and turnover for women. Although these hypotheses ought to be empirically tested, our model provides sensitizing concepts for future inquiry of contexts like academia, and we encourage scholars to consider other settings in which our model might have naturalistic generality.

To be more specific – certain committees, especially hiring committees, may require diversity to be documented by completing a form that includes information about which racial/ethnic groups and genders are represented among themselves. If a hiring committee is not deemed diverse enough by administrators, the committee may be “recalled” and a job search suspended until the committee can be reconstituted and approved. While having a diverse committee may tamp down the tendency towards what Kanter calls homophily (when people hire or support those who are like themselves), this may also mean that an individual faculty member, particularly in smaller or more homogeneous departments, will be called to serve on such committees more often than others.

Happy and safe travels, folks!

Bonus tip for traveling families: Recommended reading for flying with babies.

Written by katherinechen

November 22, 2015 at 11:45 pm

discussion about tenure in academia

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cwctp poster tenure nov20 v2 400

During my blogcation, I will be visiting Boulder to participate in this discussion of tenure. If you are in Boulder, please drop by!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street


Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2015 at 4:15 am

Posted in uncategorized

usa today supports syrian refugees

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I am very much behind on a number of issues, so I will be on a short blogcation till after Thanksgiving, when we will do our institutional theory review. For now, I direct you toward this op-ed by the Editorial Board of USA Today which comes out in favor of allowing refugees come to the US:

… governors and presidential candidates, the men and women Americans look to for leadership in turbulent times, should have the sense to do some research before leaping to the microphone.

Unlike overwhelmed European countries forced to vet migrants only after they’ve arrived, the U.S. won’t let refugees in until they’ve gone through lengthy checks. At least four agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, check credentials and backgrounds and conduct multiple interviews of applicants, rejecting them if their stories don’t check out or reveal inconsistencies.

There is no appeal, and the process typically takes from one to two years. If ISIL wanted to strike the U.S., this would be among the slowest and most difficult ways.

The process works. Since 9/11, the U.S. has admitted 784,000 refugees, of whom three — three — have been arrested for plotting terrorist attacks, according toKathleen Newland, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. Only one was plotting an attack in the USA, plans for which were not credible.

I would prefer that we make it easier to come, but I still applaud USA Today for making the sensible point that *hundreds of thousands* of refugees have come to the US without problem. Let many more come to pass through this golden portal!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2015 at 4:10 am

Posted in uncategorized

born to be blue w/jo canion, flip nunes, john heard, & vince lateano

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

next week is institutionalism week

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I am knee deep in institutionalism. I intend to write a few posts next week laying out where I think we are:

  • The split between the institutional work/inhabited institutions crew and institutional logics.
  • What was lost in the transition to organizational institutionalism in org studies.
  • What “other fields” (e.g., movement research or race) do when they interact with institutionalism.
  • Comparison of field theories. Mainly McAdam/Fligstein/Bourdieu vs. John Levi Martin.

As a bonus round, we’re “going full Ermakoff” on Friday.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 13, 2015 at 12:01 am

understanding how protest works: mizzou edition

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There is a lot of writing on the resignations at Mizzou. Much has to do with race, others with college sports. In this post, I want to briefly touch on what social movement theory has to say about the effectiveness of the Concerned Student 1950 protest, which culminated when the Mizzou football team boycotted their game.

  • Leverage: A lot of college protest is ineffective because it does not impose any real costs on administrators. For example, there were many Occupy Wall Street camps at colleges a few years back. My opinion is that the movement did not succeed for a number of reasons, one being that OWS did not actually force any real costs on their target. In contrast, strategically chosen boycotts can be highly effective. It has been reported that Mizzou gives up about a million dollars per forfeited game.
  • Broad social support: The protest was the not the strategy of a single person, but of a wide range of people on campus. For example, the football players were able to recruit both black and white players. That does a lot to undermine the target of protest.
  • Authority erosion: College protest often works when student activists successfully erode the authority of the leadership by challenging their ability to have others recognize their authority. While many made fun of the safe space at Mizzou’s campus, it is an effective disruption of the leadership’s ability to direct others on campus.

Bottom line: There is a lot to be learned about the mechanics of protest from the Mizzou boycott. Social movement scholars should use college protest as an opportunity to study how movements succeed and fail.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 12, 2015 at 12:01 am


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