Archive for the ‘family’ Category

if you can buy a gun, you can get a divorce: comments on a recent talk by amy wax

Last week, I was invited to attend a talk by University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and present comments. You can view Professor Wax’s entire talk, with my response, at this link. The essence of Professor Wax’s comments are as follows. First, the traditional bourgeois family – as articulated in the mid-20th century – is a good thing. Intact families, rare divorce, and reduced number of romantic partners are good things, not just for parents, but for children as well. Second, the traditional bourgeois family has declined but is still retained by more educated people, especially educated Whites and Asians. In her popular writings, such as this Philadelphia Inquirer piece, Professor Wax also links the demise of the traditional bourgeois family to crime rates and other social trends.

My response was delivered in a few sections. First, I start with broad points of agreement. Yes, I do believe that Professor Wax has identified an important theme in the sociological literature on the family. Intact families are generally a good thing and it’s probably not just a selection effect. I also give to her for being part of a larger call to identify and retain the positive aspects of Western culture. Like Diedre McCloskey, who identifies the positive economic effects of bourgeois culture, Wax depicts the traditional family as having positive personal effects for people. That’s a good message.

Now, let me turn to more modest disagreements. A big one is rhetoric. In her popular writing, Wax links changes in the family to rap music, homicide rates and the fact that *some* Latinos are anti-assimilation. In her more scholarly talks, she links the traditional family to Western civilization in broad strokes. Given the importance of the topic, I think it is valuable to roll back the rhetoric a little. Also, I think Wax slips into a rhetorical mode that may not be sustainable. For decades, perhaps longer, social commentators have given us narratives of decline – the death of community, the lonely crowd, bowling alone. Her account one of a long string of warnings of decline, many of which don’t pan out.

I have more substantive disagreements. One is the libertarian response to Wax’s comments. Yes, it is true that as society experienced a moral deregulation in the 1960s, we had some bad side effects. And they are quite serious. At the same time, a liberal and free society allows people to make bad choices. In other words, if you can own a gun, or smoke cigarettes, you can certainly get a divorce. A second disagreement has to do with the size of the problem. Yes, studies of families often show a negative effect of family instability on children. But at the same time, the effects are often of middle range – maybe a third of a standard deviation. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I would say that we are right to be concerned and we should think about how to strengthen families. But I wouldn’t use the evidence to argue for an overall decline of American society.

I’ll end on policy and solutions. First, I think it is generally difficult to argue for a reversal of the “moral deregulation” of the 1960s. Why? There are institutions that provide traditional families but they are very expensive and their appeal is limited. For example, the Church of Later Day Saints is an institution known for promoting traditional families, but the cost in terms of time and financial resources is very high. This is not a criticism or endorsement of the LDS, but I merely note that creating a modern institution that really nudges people toward bourgeois families is very hard.

Finally, Professor Wax often alluded to the decline in birthrates and eroding pro-marriage norms. If that is an urgent concern, then why not consider immigration as one solution? The US can, and has, absorbed millions of Latin American immigrants who have larger families and tend to be more socially conservative than the average native born American. It’s worth thinking about.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2018 at 5:01 am

Posted in fabio, family, sociology

amy wax v. fabio

Tomorrow at noon, I will be a guest at the Ostrom Workshop and the Jack Miller Center, where I will respond to University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax. Her talk is called “What is Happening to the Family and Why?” I will then offer some comments in response to the talk. If you are in Bloomington, please come by and say hello!

Event details: Noon to 1pm at the Tocqueville Room of the Ostrom Workshop, 513 N. Park Street, Bloomington, Indiana.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 5, 2018 at 7:15 pm

Posted in fabio, family, uncategorized

regnerus’ three mistakes

I was having a conversation a little while ago about scandals in sociology and the topic of of Regnerus’s article came up. That was the article in 2012 that claimed that children of same sex parents had bad life outcomes. My conversation partner suggested that Regnerus’ mistake was in asking the question. I don’t think so.  Asking if there are differences by family type is legitimate and we should be ready to accept less than flattering answers. I also don’t think it is inherently wrong to have biases in research. If he has a favorite answer, then so be it. Long as he doesn’t tinker with the data to get his favorite answer. Nor is problematic to have research sponsors. People with political goals are not barred from research.

What were Regnerus’ mistakes, in my view? He made three:

  1. Making big claims with delicate data. Instead of investing the time to properly locate same sex families and make a good sample, he instead relied on what respondents remembered about family life. Furthermore, scholars who have analyzed the Regnerus data have found that the results may be due to mis-coding cases and data handling errors. In other words, family structures are hard to measure and code properly. And with a small number of cases, small errors can have big effects on the final. This is not the kind of data on which you make big, bold claims.
  2. Politically, Regnerus missed the wave. The big story in American politics is that LBGT equality is arriving.  Polling shows that support for legal same-sex marriage has surpassed 60%. If you’re fighting the new mainstream, you had better be prepared.
  3. Tactically, by rushing the paper through peer review with a friendly editor, it has the appearance of being a hack job. If the paper had been vetted at conferences and undergone a more traditional peer review, then it would have improved.

The issue is that Regnerus was doing something rather ambitious. He was trying to overturn an established research finding, and one with major policy implications. While I don’t agree with his politics, he certainly has a right to do this. At the same time, you don’t take on such a task without seriously thinking things all the way through. That is probably the most basic lesson of all. You should strive toward virtue in your research, especially if you are swimming against the tide.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 29, 2017 at 4:30 am

putting limits on the academic workday

Today, among the various administrative tasks of scheduling meetings with students and other responsibilities, I decided to RSVP yes for an upcoming evening talk.  I didn’t make this decision lightly, as it involved coordinating schedules with another party (i.e., fellow dual career parent).

With the use of technology such as email, increasing job precarity, and belief in facetime as signalling productivity and commitment, the workday in the US has elongated, blurring boundaries to the point that work can crowd out other responsibilities to family, community, hobbies, and self-care.  However, one Ivy  institution is exhorting its members to rethink making evening events and meetings the norm.

In this nuanced statement issued to department chairs, Brown University’s provost outlines the stakes and consequences of an elongated workday:

This burden [of juggling work and family commitments] may disproportionately affect female faculty members. Although data on Brown’s faculty is not available, national statistics indicate that male faculty members (of every rank) are more likely than female faculty members (of every rank) to have a spouse or partner whose comparably flexible work schedule allows that spouse or partner to handle the bulk of evening-time household responsibilities. Put differently, male faculty members are more likely than female faculty members to have the household support to attend campus events after 5:30. We must be attuned to issues of gender equity when we think about program scheduling. We must also take into consideration the particular challenges faced by single parents on the faculty when required to attend events outside the regular hours of childcare.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

September 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

article discussion: the suffocation model by finkel et al.

This month’s topic for discussion is an article called “The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage is Becoming an All or Nothing Institution” by Eli J. Finkel, Elaine O. Cheung, Lydia F. Emery, Kathleen L. Carswell, and Grace M. Larson. It’s a short article and is more of a summary of a research program than a self-contained argument.

Basically, it goes something like this. As societies get wealthier, marriages fundamentally change from being institutions for physical survival to institutions for personal fulfillment. Another article by Finkel and collaborators call it “climbing Mount Maslow,” to suggest the contemporary people don’t have the resources to make the current version of marriage work. The main point made by these researchers is that modern people are investing less time at home so it makes it harder for modern marriages to succeed in being satisfying.

I am not a sociologist of the family, so I tread lightly here because I know there is a huge literature that deals with these issues. I won’t evaluate the evidence because this article is a summary of other work and thus doesn’t present much.For example, how do we know that earlier marriages were more “satisfying?” Maybe people just stuck with them because divorce was insanely expensive. I.e., if a women left her marriage, it might be nearly impossible to find employment that would provide a desirable level of income and material comfort. This argument is presented without a systematic discussion of opportunity costs nor do we have a discussion of how certain ideas (e.g., “fulfillment”) are measured over the centuries. Like I said, this could all be answered in the related literature, but it is not presented in this brief article.

So I’ll offer this as a discussion point: Let’s take Finkel at al.’s argument as essentially correct. Maybe modern marriage is a contradiction. It’s about fulfillment, but that is made possible by a wealthier society that draws people away from marriage. But so what? Why is that suffocating or bad? Aren’t institutions allowed to evolve? Another discussion point: can technology help us resolve that tension? For example, could working remotely allow people to have more time in the home? Or allow people to allocate time more efficiently so that are more “at home?”

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Written by fabiorojas

July 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, family, uncategorized

class and life chances

To help my students understand the impact of race and class upon life chances, I show excerpts from the People Like Us documentary.  Of the clips that I usually show, the one that has grabbed my students’ attention the most is the story of Tammy Crabtree and her two sons living in Ohio.  Viewers of the documentary may remember that Tammy walked several miles to reach her workplace, a minimum wage job at Burger King, and that her teenage son Matt voiced both shame about his family’s trailer-home poverty and his high hopes about his future.

Today, when answering an email inquiry by a school teacher about how to teach difficult issues to his students, I stumbled upon a recent update to Tammy and her family’s story.  Tammy is still working at Burger King, although she has a shorter commute than before – a 20 minute walk from her house.  Matt did not finish high school or attend college, contrary to what he had envisioned for himself, so that he could work to support his own child.  Now, he exhibits greater compassion about his mother’s circumstances, showing a degree of introspection that most may not realize until very late in life.  Both he and his brother emphasize family as a priority, as does Tammy.

Have a look at the family back in the late 1990s and now:



Written by katherinechen

February 12, 2016 at 8:29 pm

victor tan chen’s “all hollowed out” in the atlantic

How to disseminate research, so that it reaches a wider audience, is one stage of research that receives less attention.* In a past post, I wrote about what researchers can do to engage potential audiences.

Orgtheory guest blogger Victor Tan Chen has an exemplar article drawing on his research, published in the Atlantic, no less!  Have a look at his article “All Hollowed Out: The lonely poverty of America’s white working class.”  Here’s a teaser excerpt:

In Stayin’ Alive, his powerful history of the “last days” of the working class, the historian Jefferson Cowie describes how the proud blue-collar identity of previous generations disintegrated during the ’70s. “Liberty has largely been reduced to an ideology that promises economic and cultural refuge from the long arm of the state,” he writes, “while seemingly lost to history is the logic that culminated under the New Deal: that genuine freedom could only happen within a context of economic security.” As working-class solidarity receded, an identity built on racial tribalism often swept in.

With that in mind, it’s interesting that Americans tout the importance of getting an education—an inherently individualistic strategy—as the pathway to success. This view was the ideological backbone of the Clinton administration policies put forth in the ’90s, with their individual training accounts and lifetime-learning credits. To this day, the supreme value of education remains one of the few things that Americans of all persuasions (presidential candidates included) can agree on. But this sort of zeal can lead to the view that those who have less education—the working class—are truly to blame for their dire straits. While many of them will go on to obtain more education, many others will not—because they can’t afford it, aren’t good students, or just (as some of my workers said) prefer working with their hands. But if they don’t collect the educational degrees needed for today’s good jobs, they are made to feel that they have failed in a fundamental way.

* Exceptions exist, of course; see  epopp’s recent post on the media’s circulation of questionable studies.  In a related vein, check out these past posts by fabio on public sociology: maybe public sociology was better in the 50s and did research grants kill public sociology?


Written by katherinechen

January 18, 2016 at 7:51 pm

why do women who do more housework sometimes think it’s fair? an answer from mito akiyoshi

Former guest blogger Mito Akiyoshi has a new article in PLoS One about perceptions of fairness in the family. From the abstract:

Married women often undertake a larger share of housework in many countries and yet they do not always perceive the inequitable division of household labor to be “unfair.” Several theories have been proposed to explain the pervasive perception of fairness that is incongruent with the observed inequity in household tasks. These theories include 1) economic resource theory, 2) time constraint theory, 3) gender value theory, and 4) relative deprivation theory. This paper re-examines these theories with newly available data collected on Japanese married women in 2014 in order to achieve a new understanding of the gendered nature of housework. It finds that social comparison with others is a key mechanism that explains women’s perception of fairness. The finding is compatible with relative deprivation theory. In addition to confirming the validity of the theory of relative deprivation, it further uncovers that a woman’s reference groups tend to be people with similar life circumstances rather than non-specific others. The perceived fairness is also found to contribute to the sense of overall happiness. The significant contribution of this paper is to explicate how this seeming contradiction of inequity in the division of housework and the perception of fairness endures.

Nice application of reference group theory. Once again, more evidence that happiness and grievance don’t always reflect material conditions.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

all your cousins, thrice-removed, explained

kinThis will be on the quiz. From the Washington Post.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, family

ka-ching kitty!

Psych experiments show that we tend to overvalue objects that we possess – according to a coffee mug experiment, we would be willing to sell one that we have at a certain price, but others would not be willing to pay that same price.   What happens when the object is a non-human family member?

When negotiating the sale of their home, one Australian family was willing to give up their cat Tiffany to the new homeowners for $140,000 (about $120K in US dollars). Some readers of the article announcing this exchange felt their pets were priceless, while others pointed out that cats are territorial and may not tolerate moves.

The real estate agent is especially happy about his commission, presumably

The real estate agent is especially happy about his commission, presumably

Don’t expect some cats to reciprocate your affectionate feelings – according to one medical examiner, cats will consume your lips and other edibles should you expire in your home. Sweet dreams, kitty owners.

Written by katherinechen

October 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

new book on work and family: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

When I visiting another university to give a talk a few years back, I met two faculty members for lunch.  One was wincing visibly in pain.  When I asked what was wrong, my colleague explained that he was suffering a migraine but that he would still teach class.  When I suggested cancelling class that day to recuperate, he felt he couldn’t.  He explained that he needed to save his vacation days for helping his ailing father, who was aging in place in another state.  Moments like these made me realize that for workers of all ages, attending to family matters is not easy or well-supported in the US.

Such policy issues are addressed in a new book by sociologist Ruth Milkman and economist Eileen Appelbaum: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy (2013, ILR/Cornell University Press).

Here is a description of Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy provided by the authors:

This book documents the history of California’s decade-old paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which offers wage replacement for up to six weeks for all private-sector workers when they need time off from their jobs to bond with a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. Based on original fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, it analyzes the impact of paid family leave on employers and workers in the state, and explores the implications for crafting future work-family policy for the nation.

The book makes three key arguments. The first concerns the politics of paid leave. In contrast to most government-sponsored social programs, which are under attack and often have little popular support, paid family leave (and indeed work-family policy more generally) is a crossover issue politically. Conservatives see it as an expression of “family values,” whereas for progressives it is a much-needed element of the safety net for working families. As a result it has strong support across the political spectrum. Business routinely opposes any and all legislative initiatives in this area, which is a major obstacle to passing laws like the one that created the California program. But because the population generally is so highly supportive of paid leave, that opposition can be overcome by means of coalition organizing, as the passage of California’s landmark 2002 law – documented here in detail – illustrates.

The second argument is that contrary to the claims of the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists, paid family leave and other programs like it do not impose any major burdens on employers. This book presents survey data that show that in California, employers themselves concluded that the impact of the new state program on their productivity, profitability and performance was minimal and often positive. In addition, paid leave often reduced turnover and improved workers morale, at little or no cost to employers. The tax supporting the program is paid for entirely by workers, and many employers enjoyed cost savings as a result of the program’s creation, because they could coordinate their own wage replacement benefits with now offered by the state.

The third argument is more disturbing. This book shows that although workers who use California’s paid leave program and their family members have benefitted greatly, and although the program is well-managed and easy to access, awareness of its existence remains low. Moreover, those who are in most need of the program’s benefits – low wage workers, young workers, immigrants and disadvantaged minorities – all of whom have little or no access to employer-provided wage replacement benefits when they need to take time off to care for a new baby or a seriously ill relative – are least likely to know about it. As a result, the program’s potential to act as a social leveler, making paid leave available not only to managers and professionals, who are much more likely than lower-level workers to have access to paid time off in any form, but to all private-sector workers, has not yet been achieved. Instead the longstanding pattern of inequality in access to paid leave has remained largely intact. And even workers who are aware of the new state program are often reluctant to take advantage of it because they fear repercussions on the job.

Here’s the front and back of the book cover:

Milkman-Pprbk, Proof#1 copy

Check out the book – the 2014 ESS annual meeting in Baltimore will feature this book (and others) as an author-meets-critics session.

Written by katherinechen

October 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm

mothers in male dominated, overworked fields

From my colleague, Youngjoo Cha, a new paper in Gender and Society on the the tendency of mothers to not stay in overworked male dominated fields:

This study investigates whether the increasingly common trend of working long hours (“overwork”) perpetuates gender segregation in occupations. While overwork is an expected norm in many male-dominated occupations, women, especially mothers, are structurally less able to meet this expectation because their time is subject to family demands more than is men’s time. This study investigates whether the conflicting time demands of work and family increase attrition rates of mothers in male-dominated occupations, thereby reinforcing occupational segregation. Using longitudinal data drawn from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, I show that mothers are more likely to leave male-dominated occupations when they work 50 hours or more per week, but the same effect is not found for men or childless women. Results also show that overworking mothers are more likely to exit the labor force entirely, and this pattern is specific to male-dominated occupations. These findings demonstrate that the norm of overwork in male-dominated workplaces and the gender beliefs operating in the family combine to reinforce gender segregation of the labor market.

Good stuff.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 26, 2013 at 12:18 am

Posted in fabio, family, sociology

regnerus follow up

Think Progress has been digging further into the back story behind the Regnerus/gay parents paper. The news site got one of the study’s funders to admit that the conclusion was predetermined:

Tellez confirmed to The American Independent that he was referring to same-sex marriage cases. In April 2011 — a year before the study was complete — Tellez wrote in a letter that “we are confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study as long as it is done honestly and well.” He also suggested that no prior study had properly compared children raised by a mother and father and those “headed by gay and lesbian couples, but of course the Regnerus study doesn’t even do that.

The study was submitted for publication in February 2012 before Regnerus had even completed all of the data collection and accepted just six weeks later, while many other articles published in the same issue took a year between submission and acceptance. Peer review was similarly hurried, with one social demographer admitting that he only had two weeks to review the study and offer a commentary — without even having access to all the data.

Previous Regnerus discussion on orgtheory.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 30, 2013 at 12:42 am

calls for proposed sessions and mini-conferences at ess in Boston, March 21-24, 2013

Looking for a friendly venue to present papers?  Consider the Eastern Sociological Society, or ESS.  ESS meets in March 21-24, 2013 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers.  The full call for papers is here.   Full disclosure: I am currently serving as the ESS secretary (it seems that my ability to take excruciating, in-depth meeting notes led to my nomination).

Here are some calls that recently went out on the ESS list that may be of interest to some of our orgheads:

1.  “Rosanna Hertz is organizing a session on “Productive Rule Breakers and Innovators” and would like to identify potential presenters. The panel will focus on the turning points (power, resistance and resilience against institutions and governments) that have shaped women and men’s success in becoming successful change agents in their chosen fields from NGOs to the public sector and private sectors. If you are interesting in submitting an abstract for this session or would like more information about the proposed session, please email her at rosannahertz1      [at]”

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Written by katherinechen

September 10, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Posted in academia, culture, family, sociology

Tagged with

“organizing creativity” and other articles on organizations and work available in sociology compass journal

Need an overview of research on conditions that enhance or constrain creativity in organizations?  Check out my just published Sociology Compass article “Organizing Creativity: Enabling Creative Output, Process, and Organizing Practices,” which pulls together findings from organizational sociology, cultural sociology, psychology, and organizational studies.

Orgheads may also be interested in other Sociology Compass articles on a variety of topics in organizations and work.  These articles are ideal for undergraduates and practitioners as they quickly and comprehensively introduce classic and current research. In addition, graduate students and thesis writers may find these helpful for exploring possible topics to research.  Also, seasoned researchers can keep up with the latest research under specific topics of interest.

Here are several examples from the past two years:

–       David Shulman’s (2011) “Deception in the Workplace: Recent Research and Promising New Directions

–       Amy Hanser’s (2012) “Class and the Service Encounter: New Approaches to Inequality in the Service Workplace

–       Amy S. Wharton’s (2012) “Work and Family in the 21st Century: Four Research Domains

–       Christine Williams and Patti Giuffre‘s (2011) “From Organizational Sexuality to Queer Organizations: Research on Homosexuality and the Workplace

Have any recommendations for your own or your colleagues’ articles on organizations or work that are useful for updating syllabi or catching up on the field?  Please post them in the comments.

Written by katherinechen

July 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

hey, kids – turkey racing!

Written by fabiorojas

November 24, 2011 at 12:03 am

don’t regret your life

A little while back, Andrew Sullivan posted on some of the most important research one can imagine. Bronnie Ware, a palliative care provider, interviewed terminal patients. She asked people what they regret. The most common answers:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Very wise. A few comments: Ware notes that all men wanted to work less. People wonder why I keep a goofy schedule, teaching once a week all day. Simple answer: more time for baby! I can always write another grant or article, but once my baby grows up – poof!

Some commenters had problems with #5 – how could you not let yourself be happy? I think people build up emotions that prevent happiness. For example, when I was in graduate school, I often obsessed about work even when I was on vacation. But over the years, I learned to do what I want with whom I want and not to care about what people think. Not caring about what other people think is an important life skill. Just relax as much as you can and enjoy life.

Written by fabiorojas

September 20, 2011 at 12:50 am

conservatives and keynesians and chemists – oh my!

We’ve often discussed the sources of professors’ political beliefs. I’ve argued multiple times that the evidence points to a story of self-selection. Political scientist Steve Teles wrote me the following note, which he has given me permission to cite:

What about selection due to anticipation of discrimination? That is, I would like to be a social scientist, but I believe that the field has pervasive discrimination, either directly (“we don’t like conservatives”) or indirectly (“we think those topics are not the kinds of things that elite members of our discipline look at”). If that belief came to be common among conservatives, it would be very powerful in leading to the ideological reproduction of a discipline–even if the belief was factually incorrect. I would note that conservatives only deepen that belief by saying there is a lot of discrimination (just as their statements that litigation is out of control lead to overcompliance with regulation by firms–see epp’s excellent making rights real, which you must

Good point.

There are at least three plausible theories of political beliefs in the academy. (a) Discrimination – liberal professors refuse to admit/hire/promote/cooperate with conservatives. (b) Self-selection – people who are conservative do not try to go into academia for financial or personal reasons (e.g., lower pay). Steve raises: (c) Conservatives anticipate discrimination so the self-select.

When I judge these theories, I think they should be able to account for the following facts:

  1. Overall, the median professor is liberal.
  2. The median professor is liberal even in areas that are a-political, like math or chemistry.
  3. Conservatives have done very well in some disciplines, like business, economics, and the law.

(a)-(c) all explain #1. However, they do not equally explain#2 or #3. For example, the standard discrimination hypotheses does not explain #3. The economics profession, for a long time – from the 1930s to the 1970s or so – was strongly dominated by Keynesians. Even today, the median economist is a liberal Democrat. Yet, economics has notable free market proponents who teach at leading schools. Same for law – many of the leading conservative jurists have had teaching positions at top law schools. These empirical observations are strong evidence against the basic discrimination hypothesis. Anticipated discrimination also explains #1, but fails at #2. For example, are we to believe that young math students avoid research mathematics because liberal professors can spot their politics?

To be fair, we should approach this as a decomposition of variance issue. Self-selection, I believe, probably accounts for the lion’s share of the variance. Anticipatory discrimination probably has some explanatory power in some social sciences and humanities. Between self-selection and anticipation, there probably isn’t a whole lot of room left for outright anti-conservative discrimination.

Written by fabiorojas

July 18, 2011 at 12:58 am

the charisma theory of war

The NATO intervention in Libya has made people ask: Why now? Of all the crazy, genocidal tyrants, why bother with Gadaffi? Here’s my answer: some countries are just annoying. They cultivate a particularly aggravating stance in the global community that just invites retaliation. They are the mosquito in the ears of the powerful and they get swatted.

Of course, this is not a complete account of war. Nations fights wars for all kinds of reasons – genuine security threats, national pride, humanitarian missions, or just grabbing more territory. But a nation’s charisma is also an important factor. Some nations keep doing things that rile the public. In Gaddafi’s case, he engaged in terrorism, allied himself with Hugo Chavez, and tried to usurp Western nations as a patron in Africa.

Like I said, this is by no means a complete account of war making. Other theories, I think, account for more. But charisma does pop up from time to time and it should not be ignored. For example, charisma is definitely a factor in the Iraq War. Saddam Hussein’s anti-Western stance and terrorism overseas eroded what support he had from the US in the 1980s. By 1990, conservative  think tanks already had Baathist Iraq in their sights.

Similarly, Iran is frequently targeted. The Iranian regime is clearly evil, but there are all kinds of crazy governments that pose threats.  The reason that some Western policy intellectuals focus on Iran is because the regime engages in nasty public displays anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism.

Bottom line: If you are a murderous dictator, we’re more likely to leave you alone if you just keep your mouth shut.

Written by fabiorojas

April 13, 2011 at 12:23 am

americans colleges: good at grading, bad at teaching

Here’s a puzzle: Why are American college degrees so valuable if the teaching is bad and the grades so inflated? My answer: we, the colleges, are good at evaluating people though we’re horrible at teaching. Little effort to see if we transmit the information, but we can tell if you got it.

You may think that’s a loony answer because of grade inflation, but there are still many non-trivial forms of evaluation in universities:

  • Where you went to college. That’s essentially a “grade” reflecting your high school GPA and standardized tests plus personal ambition and family resources.
  • College major choice. People sort according to interest, but they also sort according to ability as well.
  • Completion – many people drop out of higher education. Completing college is a huge signal for most of the population.
  • Admission to graduate education, we don’t take everyone.

In other words, mean grades have increased, but learning is indicated by things other than report card grades. These differences are generated by our own judgments as professors that are conveyed through grades and other mechanisms.

The model I have is that higher education sorts people into bins – colleges, majors, graduate programs. Within each of these bins, grades are compressed. Life is often, but not always, relatively easy within the bin. Do the work and you’ll likely pass. But moving into a better bin is actually hard and usually requires some non-trivial demonstration of ability. This may be simply relative performance (showing you were in the top X% GPA of your class) or absolute (a minimum raw GRE). It may even be interactional, such as the ability  to persuade a star professor to write you a letter of recommendation.

Thus, you get a more accurate “grade” by using relative performance, standardized tests, and elite endorsement. Despite our laziness in keeping the overall GPA under control, college professors, as a group, do manage to send out a lot of important information about students. Tell me the student’s major, GPA, and colleges, and I can give you a good sense of how they stack up.

Written by fabiorojas

February 18, 2011 at 4:31 am

Posted in education, family

political science exports?

Question: What theories or research methods have been exported by political science to other social sciences? Poli sci has been a big importer. They sucked up rational choice and identification from econ, and now they are importing social network analysis from sociology. Do they have a trade imbalance?

Written by fabiorojas

March 4, 2010 at 6:49 pm

hey! it’s summer

Written by fabiorojas

June 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Posted in fabio, family, fun

northeast to northwestern


It’s been a while since Fabio raised the question, “Which PhD programs are good places for getting training in organization theory?” Forget my previous answer. I can now confidently assert that there is a best place: Northwestern! I’m shifting my loyalty to Evanston as I’ve recently accepted a position in the Kellogg School of Management. I’ll join the department of Management and Organizations in May.

BYU has been a wonderful place to start my career and I’ll be sad to leave my friends and family in the area, but I am thrilled to become a part of the Northwestern community and a faculty member of the Kellogg School. My family and I love the area and the school (we visited Chicago as a family recently and the kids think downtown Chicago is the coolest thing they’ve ever seen!), and we’re eagerly anticipating the move.

And even though I’m far from being a Cubs fan (go Giants!), I have to say that I’ll be ecstatic to live in a city with not just one but two professional baseball teams.

Written by brayden king

February 21, 2008 at 5:53 am

Posted in academia, brayden, family

happy new year


Happy New Year orgheads.  Following Jeremy’s example in using blogs as a place to publicly commit to one’s goals, I thought I’d share my New Year’s resolution.  This year I’m going to write something academically productive everyday, even if it means I’m scribbling down thoughts at 11:30 pm.  I started this morning by writing an email to myself listing several theoretical propositions relating to how social movements might affect shifts in corporate attention to social issues.  Tomorrow I’ll be more ambitious.  Most of today will be spent playing with my kids, reading, and watching college football.  Good day all around.

For those of you not sharing my college football passion, you may want to spend your time today catching up on the blog reading.  I’m sure that’s one of your resolutions.  Check out Sudhir Venkatesh’s first post as a guest blogger on the Freakonomics blog.  You may also want to peruse our book seminar on Venkatesh’s excellent book on the underground economy of the urban poor.

Written by brayden king

January 1, 2008 at 4:01 pm

the coming anomie


via Megan McArdle I saw this Nicholas Eberstadt essay on Chinese demography and the one child policy. The two most remarked consequences are the abortion and infanticide of many millions of girls and the pending catastrophic dependency ratio of a society where retirees outnumber able-bodied young people by a decent ratio. The thing that most interested McArdle was that it is rapidly creating a system where a child has parents and grandparents but no siblings (and for that matter only a few second and third cousins). In the near future, the only intra-generational tie a Chinese man is likely to have is marriage (and that only if he’s lucky, given the 1.3 sex ratio). But this marriage will not link him to any brother- or sister-in-laws and is a dead-end as far as the intra-generational kin network goes. So in the very near future, within any given generation, familial ties among the Chinese will consist entirely of isolates and dyads. You see a phase transition to much larger network components when mean degrees per node is greater than 1 and with only marriage to tie them to their own generation (and marriage not being universal), the Chinese are below 1, therefore falling well below this threshold. This implies that a historically family-oriented society will soon have no families.

While neither McArdle nor Eberstadt mentioned it, low fertility is also an issue for every rich society, ranging from near-replacement for the United States, France, and Scandinavia to deathbed levels for Russia, Japan, and Southern Europe. So does this imply that everything I said for China applies to Spain as well? Kind of. First, many low fertility countries have equally small numbers of boys and girls (probably because they have public pensions) so they’ll probably avoid the crime wave that the Chinese have coming. Second, the unique thing about China is that it has low mean and variance for fertility, with a theoretical range of 0 to 1 (though in fact 3 baby families are not uncommon in rural China). In contrast, most other low fertility countries have low mean and high variance, so households with no babies and with two babies are more common than they are in China. Spaniards may have even fewer babies that the Chinese, but paradoxically a Spanish baby is more likely to have a sibling than is a Chinese baby. The upshot is that while intra-generational family ties are going to disappear in China, they will only weaken (a lot) in Europe. More technically, I’m making a confident prediction that in 30 years mean component size for kin networks will be appreciably higher in Spain or Italy than in China.

Well, so what? Who needs brothers, sisters, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, and cousins? It’s not as if we can’t substitute non-familial friends. There are two problems with this. First, family ties are unique in that they can’t be replaced (you can stop talking to your brother, but you can’t recruit a new brother to replace him) and this makes them very important in low trust societies. It could be that a lack of relatives could drive people to trust strangers of necessity and you’ll have a decline in corruption, or it could be that they just won’t trust anyone, transaction costs will go way up, and nothing will get done. Second, in the United States non-kin strong ties are rapidly disappearing as people are basically discussing serious issues only with their spouses and parents. While I’ve seen no evidence that this change is also occurring in low fertility countries, if it is then the “mass society” nightmare scenario of atomized individuals wasn’t wrong, just ahead of its time.

Written by GR

October 17, 2007 at 6:11 am

new additions


Congratulations go to Kieran, who is now the father of two children!

Written by brayden king

May 19, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Posted in family