Archive for the ‘demography’ Category
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.
Jorge Chapa was a sociologist, demographer, and Latino Studies scholar at the University of Illinois. He recently passed on, a result of natural causes. Here, I share a few thoughts about Jorge, who I got to know when he was a professor of Latino Studies at Indiana University. First, Jorge was simply a friendly, open person who welcomed many people, including myself, to his home. He always had time for people and helped many in need. Second, he dearly loved his family and it showed every time I visited his home. Third, even though he was a very open person, he still maintained his integrity as a scholar and teacher. He wrote award winning books on Latino demography, like Apple Pie and Enchiladas, a standard account of the growing Midwest Latino population. He also insisted on trying to make sure that public policy properly took into account all of the populations in the United States. Perhaps his most important contribution on this count was to testify in Texas and California as to the importance of properly measuring Latino and Asian communities.
A few semesters ago, one of my social theory students asked me in class how I racially identified myself. I explained that my father was from South America (Colombia) but could trace (most) of his line back to Spain while my mother was almost certainly some mix of Indian and maybe some Spanish from Costa Rica. When I asked my aunt about this, she was a bit surprised. I asked where my grandmother’s ancestors where from and she said Guanacaste, which according to wiki has a population of people with Chorotega and Spanish background. The wiki also points out that Guanacaste’s population includes people from the African Diaspora. She ceded my point.
So I told my student that I’m “toasty brown.” This was the teachable moment. Racial groups are social things, which means that to be a member of the group you need to (a) consider yourself part of the group and (b) have other people affirm that membership. If we use the standard US classification, then I don’t fit in anywhere. I don’t consider myself white, or Black, and certainly not Asian. On a technical level, one might consider me some sort of European and Indian mix, but it would be very misleading to present myself as a tribal member. So that makes me just “kind of brown.”
On bureaucratic forms, I check off “non-white Hispanic” when possible but that’s not always an option. I don’t think that “mixed race” is appropriate since that seems to indicate a person who has parents from two of the “major” census groups (White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American). But often I am at a loss since the “Hispanic” question assumes that the “Big Four” accounts for nearly everyone in the next question. Ie, all Hispanic self-identifiers are Black, White, Asian or Native American. There seems to be little appreciation that there is a mestizo identity and that is different than White or Black. A recent Pew survey highlights this issues. According to a recent press release, about one third of American Latinos do not consider themselves in the Big Four. Most just prefer “Hispanic” (20%) and others consider themselves to be “mixed race” (13%). The bottom line is that in American culture, mestizaje is still under the radar. It will be interesting to see how that changes as Latinos become a larger portion of the population.
So yesterday I offered some pointers to the neighborhood effects literature, which is relevant to the new research on social mobility that is receiving extensive coverage in the NYT and elsewhere. Commenter Robert Park (it’s good to know that earthly departure does not preclude keeping up with orgtheory) mentioned additional work worth highlighting (links added by me):
On the efficacy of residential mobility programs, I’d note the work of Rosenbaum and Rubinowitz “Crossing the Class and Color Lines” which studies the Gautreaux program, on which MTO was based, and more recently, “Climbing Mt. Laurel” by Doug Massey and colleagues and the work of Stefanie Deluca.
I know I have not mentioned many significant scholars, which I hope will be read not as a slight but as a reflection of how deep and rich this literature is in sociology.
But today I want to add a few comments on the question of why Chetty and Hendren’s work is getting so much attention when related work in sociology has not.
The New York Times posted a big feature yesterday on a couple of new papers by Harvard economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz. The papers, like much of Chetty’s other work, use deidentified individual-level tax data to get at factors affecting income over time. In this case, they are interested in getting at neighborhood effects—in one paper, county-level effects on intergenerational income change, and in the other, the effects of the Moving to Opportunity experiment, which in the 1990s provided housing vouchers through a lottery system, on the same.
The big findings are that moving to a better neighborhood improves children’s income as adults, with the effects being cumulative. The experimental MTO data shows that each additional year of residence in the new neighborhood contributes linearly to an increase in adult income. However, the effects of a move zero out around age 13, after which they may be negative. The quasi-experimental data on non-MTO moves, which cleverly compares different-age siblings to get at length of exposure to the new neighborhood, points to substantial variation in mobility across counties for children at various income levels. The NYT visualization of this latter data, which is personalized by your location, is really terrific.
It’s some impressive work. But sociologists, of course, have been studying neighborhood effects for a long time. And while there is a lot of interest in the study, there is also a not-totally-unjustified sense of annoyance:
Big News: Economists discover a thing sociologists have been studying in detail for about a century. https://t.co/AxVkIfqsyw
— Mervyn Horgan (@simmelian) May 4, 2015
I’m fascinated both by the studies, sociologists’ reaction to them, and how the research is picked up and interpreted by the media. I tried to put all those things into one post, but it was getting way too long. So I’m going to break my reactions into a couple of chunks. Today, I’ll highlight some of the excellent existing work by sociologists in this area. Tomorrow, I’ll comment on why Chetty and Hendren’s work is getting so much more attention than related work in sociology. And later this week I’ll address how this kind of research gets covered in the media and is likely to be translated into policy conversations.
So for starters, some pointers to the sociology literature.
Sociologist and blogger Phil Cohen has an op-ed in the NY Times on gender inequality. Here’s a key clip:
The assumption of continuous progress has become so ingrained that critics now write as if the feminist steamroller has already reached its destination. The journalists Hanna Rosin (“The End of Men”) and Liza Mundy (“The Richer Sex”) proclaimed women’s impending dominance. The conservative authors Kay S. Hymowitz (“Manning Up”) and Christina Hoff Sommers (“The War Against Boys”) worried that feminist progress was undermining masculinity and steering men toward ruin.
But in fact, the movement toward equality stopped. The labor force hit 46 percent female in 1994, and it hasn’t changed much since. Women’s full-time annual earnings were 76 percent of men’s in 2001, and 77 percent in 2011. Although women do earn a majority of academic degrees, their specialties pay less, so that earnings even for women with doctorate degrees working full time are 77 percent of men’s. Attitudinal changes also stalled. In two decades there has been little change in the level of agreement with the statement, “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”
After two steps forward, we were unprepared for the abrupt slowdown on the road to gender equality. We can make sense of the current predicament, however — and gain a better sense of how to resume our forward motion — if we can grasp the forces that drove the change in the first place.
Read the whole thing.
This post is the second in a blog forum about inequality and organizational theory (see part 1). Isabel Fernandez-Mateo of London Business School wrote the post, and Philip Cohen of the University of Maryland and the Family Inequality blog provided commentary.
Thank you Brayden, Bruce and Jerry for inviting me to participate in this conversation on inequality – a topic which I care deeply about. I would like to post a few thoughts about a type of inequality that I think a lot of other people are also concerned with: the scarcity of women in top jobs. The problem is clear, and the list of potential solutions is long – quotas, changes in firms’ performance evaluation systems, family friendly policies, etc. One could thus easily assume that by now we have a very good understanding of why the problem exists in the first place (i.e. how and why we lose women as we go up the hierarchy). I believe, however, that we are not even close. For starters, we may be looking in the wrong places.
For decades, our knowledge of careers and inequality has been closely linked to the study of internal labor markets: how firms allocate people to jobs. As a result, our explanations for why so few women get placed in top positions have mostly focused on the role of organizational practices, which create barriers for women in internal promotion. Roberto Fernandez makes this point in a couple of recent papers, where he reminds us that the metaphor of the “glass ceiling” is alive and well.
And yet we have some pretty good evidence that the traditional career model, in which the best route up is to be promoted within a single firm, is losing its dominance. Read the rest of this entry »