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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

how to live a good life, the social science answer

This week, I will spend quite a bit of time discussing a book called The Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant. I’ve written briefly about the book before, but I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the book until I assigned it for a class. Roughly speaking, the book follows a cohort of college men from the 1940s to the mid 2000s. Thus, the book tracks people from young adulthood to old age. It’s a powerful book in that it uses enormously rich data to analyze the life course and identify factors that contribute to our well being. You won’t find many other books that have such deep data to address one of life’s most important questions – What makes us happy? What is the good life?

In this first post, I want to briefly summarize the book and then note a few drawbacks. Later this week, I want to delve into two topics in more detail: alcoholism and parental bonds. To start: the Grant Study of Human development randomly selected a few hundred male Harvard undergrads for a long term study on health and the life course. It’s a biased sample, but it’s well suited for studying long life and work (remember, many women became home makers in that era) while controlling for educational attainment. The strength of this book is an ability to mine rich qualitative data on the life course and then mapping the associations over decades. The data is rich enough that the authors can actually consider alternative hypotheses and build multi-cause explanations.

A few drawbacks: Rhetorically, I thought the book was a bit wordier and longer than it needed to be. Also, I wish that the book had a glossary or appendix where one can look up definitions. More importantly, this book will note be convincing to folks who are obsessed with identification. It is very “1960s” in that they collect a lot of data and then channel their energies into looking at cross-group differences. But still, considering that doing RCT with your family is not possible and the importance of the data, I’m willing to forgive. Wednesday: The importance of your family.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 4, 2015 at 6:03 pm

police abuses, mass incarceration, and the racial wage

For me, one of the most insightful writings of DuBois comes from his history of the Reconstruction. In that work, he introduces the idea of the “racial wage”: low income Whites are placated with their domination over Blacks. In other words, poor southern Whites post-Reconstruction received psychological benefits from harassing and intimidating Blacks, which distracted them from their own poverty.

I’d like to make a connection to modern America. Usually, when we think of protests such as those in Baltimore and Ferguson, we think of police departments that are out of control, which is clearly true. We also tend to think of racism. Laws are passed that will have, intentionally or unintentionally, disproportionate effects on Blacks. What is missing, I think, from this conversation is a discussion of a possible racial wage in law enforcement.

When there are charges of police brutality and police shootings, we also see some reporting about the racial attitudes of police officers. For example, the press has reported that police in Ferguson wrote racist emails. See this Huffington Post article for details. The press also reports on police message boards that sometimes fill with racist comments (see this business insider article). Describing these behaviors as racist underplays the issue. Yes, some police do have racist attitudes.  Might it be the case that police are extracting a racial wage from their work? Police work, even in the best of times, can be very difficult. Is it possible that part of the compensation comes from incarcerating people from other ethnic groups? More broadly, does seeing minorities jailed and deported provide a modern racial wage?

If it’s true, then it suggests that reform is much harder than we might suspect. If part of the culture of policing, and mass incarceration in general, is enjoying the punishment of minorities, then you have to do more than simply point out the injustice of police brutality and mass incarceration. Nor will it end as a result of the courts or legislatures who are often dependent on public opinion. Instead, there has to be a mass cultural movement where by a large portion of the population must assert that it is immoral to enjoy the suffering of others and insist that our police and penal system reflect those values.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

social movements conference at notre dame

If you are in the Chicago/Michigan/Northern Indiana area, then you should probably go to this weekend’s social movement conference at Notre Dame. Friday will be sessions by young scholars and Saturday will be a lecture by Sidney Tarrow, who will receive a lifetime achievement award. Check it out!

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 30, 2015 at 12:01 am

the risky sex game paper – impact on current research

Yesterday, I described a paper written by Kirby Schroeder and my self on infection networks. Yesterday’s post addresses the professional lessons I learned. Today, I want to talk about the impact of the paper on current work. For a long time, the paper, literally, got zero citations in peer reviewed journals. Then, the citations increased around 2010, with people in economics, health, and biology discussing the paper.

Economics: The main commentary among economists is that this is a model of interaction, which can then be used to assess the impact of policy. For example, a paper in the American Law and Economics Review notes that the paper models risky behavior but does not model the law. Other economists are attracted to our prediction about infection knowledge and epidemic plateaus (once the disease becomes common knowledge, people shift behavior and transmission stalls).

Health: The Archives of Sexual Behavior has an article that discusses our article in the context of trying to expand models of disease transmission. For example, we critique the health belief model for ignoring interaction. We criticize sexual scripting theory for ignoring risk and strategic action.

Biology: Perhaps the most interesting impact of the paper is the impact on mathematical biology. In The Journal of Theoretical Biology, a team of mathematicians use the model to address group formation. In a model derived from our Risky Sex Game model, they show that the population, under certain conditions, will separate into specific groups based on HIV status.

Bottom line: People sure hated the paper when I wrote it, but its children are a joy to behold.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 29, 2015 at 12:01 am

the risky sex game paper – professional lessons

My first ever journal publication was an article called “A Game Theoretic Model of Sexually Transmitted Disease Epidemics.” It appeared in the journal Rationality and Society in 2002. As the title suggests, the goal of the paper is to model network diffusion using agents that play games with each other. Specifically, let’s assume people want to have sex with each other. The catch is that some people have HIV (or another disease) and some don’t. Further, let’s assume that people will estimate the probability that the partner has HIV based on the type of sex they offer and the current disease prevalence. In other words, offering unprotected sex in a world without STD’s is interpreted way differently than the same offer in a world where lots of people have infections. In this post, I want to briefly discuss what I learned by writing this paper. Tomorrow, I will talk about the small, but interesting, literature in biology and health economics that has referenced this paper.

Lesson #1: Interdisciplinary work doesn’t have to be garbage. The paper uses ideas from at least three different scholarly areas – game theory/economics; social networks/sociology; and probability theory/epidemiology. Orgtheory readers will be familiar with game theory and networks. But the paper uses a cool idea from probability theory called “pairs at a party model” – to model diffusion, you draw people from a pool and match them. I added these ideas: people can only be paired with people they know (the network) and then to decide if they have intercourse, they play a signalling game (game theory).

Lesson #2: Working with your buddies is amazing. My co-author on the project was Kirby Schroeder, who now works in the private sector. We developed the idea by thinking about his personal experience. Gay men often encounter the signaling problem – say you meet a partner and he offers unprotected sex. What does that suggest? We then joined forces to write the paper. Great experience.

Lesson #3: People can get angry at your research. During conferences and peer review, we experienced great hostility because we relied on the literature showing that sometimes, people don’t tell partners about STD’s and thus put them at risk. One woman, who claimed to be a researcher from Massachusetts General Hospital, literally yelled at me during an ASA session. The paper got rejected from Journal of Sex Research, after an R&R, because one reviewer got very upset and claimed that were defaming gay people and that “you don’t know what love means.” Do any of us, really?

Lesson #4: Long term matters. The paper was published in Rationality and Society and then quickly disappeared. But it had an interesting after life. It got an ASA grad student paper award from the Math Soc section. During the first couple of years on the job, it was the only journal publication on the CV, which saved me from complete embarrassment. In one review of my work, it was the *only* paper that the committee actually liked. Later, a member of the RWJ selection committee said that the paper was the only reason that they invited me for an interview, because it showed a genuine commitment to health research. Even better, starting around 2010, researchers rediscovered the paper and now it is part of a larger literature on sexual risk spanning biology, economics, and health. So even though it didn’t have an immediate impact, a well written paper can pay off in ways you might not expect.

Tomorrow: What people get from the Risky Sex Game paper.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 28, 2015 at 12:01 am

gay identities and occupational segregation

Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan, an emeritus guest blogger, have written an article in Slate about the clustering of LBGT workers into specific occupations. In other words, is there any truth to the view that LBGT people tend to go into specific professions like cosmetology? Fisman and Sullivan use an ASQ paper to discuss the issue. The idea is simple – LBGT people probably are attracted to jobs that either (a) require subtle interactional skills, which they have cultivated because they live in a hostile environment or (b) they seek jobs where they can work by themselves so they don’t have to deal with hostility or constantly trying to stay submerged. From Fisman and Sullivan’s analysis:

The central thesis of Tilcsik, Anteby, and Knight’s paper is that gays and lesbians will tend to be employed at high rates in occupations that require social perceptiveness, allow for task independence, or both. They test their theory using data from the American Community Survey—a gargantuan study of nearly 5 million Americans conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau—and the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), an ongoing study that has followed the same group of Americans since 1994. All Add Health respondents were in middle or high school in the mid-1990s, so they were just beginning to settle into their careers around 2008, the year the study uses for its analyses. Both data sets include questions that can be used to infer sexual orientation, as well as information on respondents’ occupations.

The authors connected these data to assessments of the extent to which particular jobs require social perceptiveness and whether they allow for task independence, which come from ratings from the Occupational Information Network, a survey of employees on what they see as their job requirements and attributes. The survey seems particularly well-suited to the researchers’ task. One question asks the extent to which workers “depend on themselves rather than on coworkers and supervisors to get things done” (task independence), while another asks whether “being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do is essential to the job” (social perceptiveness).

The link between these attributes and sexual orientation is immediately apparent from browsing the list of the top 15 occupations with the highest proportions of gay and lesbian workers. Every single one scores relatively high on either social perceptiveness or task independence, and most vocations score high on both. According to the authors’ calculations, the proportion of gays and lesbians in an occupation is more than 1.5 times higher when the job both has high task independence and requires social perceptiveness.

Clever paper! The paper is also an excellent contribution to studies of occupational segregation that go beyond stories of human capital. Recommended!

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 24, 2015 at 12:01 am

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