Archive for the ‘life course’ Category

the law and social inequality

A simple question was asked of me: In what ways does the law increase or decrease social inequality? The answer, I think, depends a great deal on which dimensions of the law one looks at. I’ll stick to the US, since that is what I know, but I think the lessons may apply to other industrialized countries.

Decreasing inequality: There are probably three major areas in which the law aims at decreasing difference and, to some degree, succeeds: taxation, social services, and affirmative action/anti-discrimination statutes. Taxation is fairly clear. In the US, as in most places, we have progressive taxation, which means wealthy people pay most of the taxes and the poor pay little tax. These funds are often used to fund social services, such as schools, which also aim to reduce inequality. Finally, some domains of the law have inequality as their stated target, such as anti-discrimination statutes like the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Increasing inequality: At the same time, the US has many legal institutions that seem designed to increase inequality. Perhaps the most famous example is immigration law. The US literally bans millions of people from moving to a wealthier and safer economy simply because some natives are uncomfortable with outsiders. Another example is the prohibition of narcotics, which has contributed to mass incarceration of minorities. A less noted aspect of the American legal system is that it contains endless fines, which disproportionately affect the poor. I am have little knowledge of criminal procedure, but I suspect, like many people, that it favors those who can afford attorneys. I’d welcome people knowledgeable in this area to discuss.

The balance? My sense is that many of the egalitarian benefits of the first category of law (e.g., required schooling) are cancelled out by the second (e.g., having a conviction on your record can mitigate the positive effects of schooling).

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Written by fabiorojas

January 29, 2018 at 5:01 am

book spotlight: the end game – how inequality shapes our final years by corey abramson


You don’t see a lot of books linking cultural sociology and gerontology. An ethnographic study of elderly people in four neighbrohoods, The End Game is a study of the coping strategies that people use and how those are related to race and social class. For example, there are those who try to preserve their health so as not to be a burden on others, while others “use up” their health while enjoying themselves (e.g., by drinking). Abramson also pays close attention to the processes that normally occupy stratification scholars, such as how wealth affects how people access food, healthcare, and social support.

What I found most compelling about this book is the careful attention paid to the combination of class based resources and “toolkits” that are driven by culture or simply variations in personality. For example, health isn’t simply a matter of who can pay for a doctor. Health is also affected by the view that medical intervention is constantly needed to maintain a deteriorating body. One thing that I wish had received more attention is the link to outcomes – there should be more discussion of exactly which traits might be conducive to longer live, healthier life, or happier life.

Near the end, Abramson discusses a mildly disturbing encounter with a sociologist who asked why we should care about the elderly. The answer is that old age is a growing feature of human life after industrialization. It can also be a long stage of life. A 90 year old person has 25 post-retirement years! Thus, we should care about what is an extremely common experience and we want people to live well. Abramson’s text is an important contribution to that vital research task. Recommended!!!!

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Written by fabiorojas

July 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

the importance of family for the entire life course

Today, we’ll continue discussing George Vaillant’s The Triumphs of Experience, the 70 year long life course study. One of the major findings of the study is the importance of early childhood family conditions. The initial phases of the study asked participants to describe their childhood environment. Were their parents open and warm? Cold and removed? Divorced or still married? Also, the Grant study investigators had the opportunity to interview parents and other family members on occasions. Did the interviewer think the mother was involved or removed?

Using these data, the Grant Study investigators coded a number of variables reflecting family environment. The recorded stratification variables (employed v. unemployed, working class v. upper class), structure (divorced v. married) and emotional content (warm parents vs. cold parents). Then, they looked at the associations with a number of key life course variables.Two answers:

  • First, having a warm father was associated with almost every positive life course outcome – flourishing in late age, not getting divorced, income. In some cases, the association is striking. In retirement, having a warm parent is associated with tens of thousands of dollars in additional income. That is amazing once you consider that this is an insanely biased sample of male Harvard grads. To push your income even higher in a batch of  doctors, executives, and attorneys is stunning.
  • Second, stratification variables don’t matter much. In other words, in this sample, having wealthy parents isn’t much of an asset.
  • Third, divorce of parents does not seem to matter either once you account for having warm parents and having positive coping strategies.

Bottom line: Social networks seem to be very crucial for the life course. Not for their direct instrumental features (aka social capital), but mainly for allowing people to maintain an emotional composure that allows them to solve problems and thrive.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 6, 2015 at 12:01 am