Tag Archives: work

unintended consequences of immigration

Video of the International Workers Day march in MinneapolisThe San Bernadino Sun recently reported on Louisiana State University sociologist Edward Shihadeh’s recently published research on the effect of Latino immigration on black labor market participation:

revisiting the motherhood penalty

1.4.10Women who have kids tend to earn less than women who don’t, a phenomenon known as the “motherhood penalty.” But USA Today reports that  that when a woman has children makes a difference.

Researchers at the University of Maryland in College Park and the University of California at Los Angeles reviewed 35 years of data from some 2,200 women born between 1944 and 1954, and found that women who had kids in the early- to mid-20s or even younger didn’t fare as well economically as those who delayed.

Sociologist Joan Kahn, one of the study’s authors, comments:

“Women who delay childbearing end up as successful economically as women who didn’t have children, and we look at it basically throughout their adult years — well into their 50s,” she says.

The point, she says, is that women who are younger when they have kids and attempt to get back into the workforce later may not have that up-front investment in education and training, which those who have kids later benefit from. They earned equivalent wages and had higher status occupations just like women who were childless.

moms craft for cash

California GirlsMore stay-at-home moms in the U.S. are going into business for themselves, Reuters reports:

The Small Business Administration says the number of self-employed women around the country jumped by 10 percent from 2000 to 2006, to 5.3 million.

For Lewis, an online marketplace called Etsy provided a place to sell her estate-style and faux vintage pieces. The website, www.etsy.com, lets craft makers set up their own virtual shops. It currently has more than 4.2 million users.

“It’s wonderful to be able to call my own shots,” Lewis said. “I can work at night, so if I want to do something with my family, I can.”

Launched in 2005, the Brooklyn, New York-based Etsy now has more than 400,000 sellers, most of whom are women, and posted more than $180 million in sales last year. Nearly 70 percent of sellers are college-educated.

Moms cite balance and flexibility as reasons to start their own online craft shops. A sociologist comments on the trend:

“Women are looking to both work and take care of families, but the traditional workplace doesn’t provide that opportunity, so they are looking for their own ingenious ways (to do that),” said Pamela Stone, a sociology professor at New York City’s Hunter College.

“What women are seeking is flexibility and these companies are providing them with this option,” said Stone, who wrote “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.”

debating diversity training

In a recent Boston Globe story, diversity consultants and social scientists debated the effects of workplace diversity training.  While diversity training programs are a common job requirement these days, they may look very different from one company to the next:

The courses vary widely, in content and duration and method and philosophy: Some are short videos followed by structured discussions, some are multiday retreats, some are informational, teaching participants about their “diversity circle” and the difference between a generalization and a stereotype, others focus on role-playing. But they all promise to help people better navigate the fault lines of race, gender, culture, class, and sexual orientation that can divide co-workers and unsettle offices.

Opinions about the programs are also varied, and good social science evidence for either side of the debate has been scarce:

Such programs have always been controversial, with critics arguing that they’re unnecessary and needlessly politicize the workplace. But despite the growth and prevalence of diversity training, there have been few attempts to systematically study it.

Now a few social scientists are taking a hard look at these programs, and, so far, what they’re finding is that there’s little evidence that diversity training works.

Research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management.

“Even with best practices, you’re not going to get much of an effect,” says Frank Dobbin, a Harvard University sociology professor on the research team. “It doesn’t change what happens at work.”

Diversity consultants are confident in their programs, claiming social science research in this area can’t accurately measure the impact of the training they deliver, generalizes unfairly, and rarely offers solutions to the problems it identifies:

Practitioners and some scholars disagree, arguing that, while there have been some unsubstantiated claims and overhyped “innovations” in diversity training, the field as a whole has begun to figure out what works. The changes that training triggers can often be subtle, defenders argue, and, in a setting as dynamic and stubbornly multivariate as the workplace, it’s all but impossible to come up with the clear, falsifiable evidence social science demands. The poor results that do show up in broad-based studies, they say, are due to companies whose commitment to diversity training programs is merely pro forma, and who see training as just a way to protect themselves from lawsuits.

“My experience is that a lot of these studies make good points, but they tend to fall into one particular trap,” says Howard Ross, a leading diversity consultant. “When we talk about diversity training as a megalith, it’s similar to saying, ‘Are restaurants good places to eat?’ The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ depending on the restaurant.”

Critics, on the other hand, argue that today’s practitioners are unlikely to be converging on a set of best practices, since the field is characterized by divergent, even contradictory approaches to the same set of problems. To critics, the proponents are simply mistaking the fact that people feel better about themselves after training for real results. Just because people think they’re less prejudiced doesn’t mean they are. Indeed, with something as subtle and reflexive as bias, we’re often our own worst judges

Dobbin and his colleagues have designed their research to address the potential alternatives to conventional diversity training programs practitioners often call for:

“We were increasingly frustrated by the fact that we know a lot about what kinds of disparities there are in organizations, and what kind of disadvantages women and minorities faced, but we know almost nothing about how to how to reduce them,” says Alexandra Kalev, a sociologist at the University of Arizona.

Several years ago Kalev, along with Dobbin and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota, set out to see what works. As a measure of program success, they looked at the number of women and minorities in a company’s managerial ranks – a much more concrete metric than the surveys of employee attitudes that many other studies relied on. The researchers drew on 31 years of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data, specifically the annual reports that companies file detailing their racial and gender makeup. The sociologists then surveyed 829 of those companies on what diversity programs they had and when they instituted them. The results were described in a 2006 study, and in another paper that Kalev and Dobbin are currently writing.

The researchers found that while diversity training was by far the most popular approach, it was also the least effective at getting companies to hire and promote women and minorities. Some training programs were more effective than others: Voluntary programs were better than mandatory ones, and those that focused on the threat of bias and harassment lawsuits were worse than those that did not. But even the better programs led only to marginal changes. And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits – the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined – slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they’ve heard.

What worked much better than even the best training, the researchers found, were more structural measures: minority mentoring programs, or designating an executive or a task force with specific responsibility to change promotion practices.

“You can imagine, if you’re in a meeting for two hours once a year to refresh your diversity awareness, what’s the effect of that going to be compared to being a mentor to someone?” says Dobbin.

At least some diversity consultants seem willing to accept that research finding, while still defending the role of training programs in an overall diversity policy:

Diversity trainers concede that there are poorly designed programs out there. There are also, they point out, companies that implement diversity training without much concern for whether it works, which is not a recipe for success. That doesn’t mean that well designed, conscientiously applied programs don’t work.

And diversity consultants bristle at the suggestion that they believe diversity training programs are a panacea. Properly instituting a diversity training program, many of them insist, means combining it with other, more systemic changes, including measures like those that the Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly research found were more effective.

“If you look at just the efficacy of diversity training programs, that’s not how we look at it as a practitioner,” says Rohini Anand, global chief diversity officer at the food services giant Sodexo. “To me diversity training is one small but very necessary piece of what I need to do.”

the benefits of working women in marriage

115.365 - Porn for Women: VacuumingDoes a rise in women’s earning power have benefits to marriage beyond economic stability?  In an attempt to address this question, a recent New York Times article summarized some of the recent social scientific evidence on the rise of working women:

Last week, a report from the Pew Research Center about what it called “the rise of wives” revived the debate. Based on a study of Census data, Pew found that in nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

The article points to demographic and sociological evidence that suggests greater marital stability and egalitarianism when a woman is more economically independent:

While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.

Sociologists and economists say that financially independent women can be more selective in marrying, and they also have more negotiating power within the marriage. But it’s not just women who win. The net result tends to be a marriage that is more fair and equitable to husbands and wives.

The changes are not without their challenges. “With women taking on more earning and men taking on more caring, there’s a lot of shifting and juggling,” said Andrea Doucet, a sociology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her study, the Bread and Roses Project, tracks couples in the United States and Canada in which women are the primary breadwinners. But the dynamic is “not as easy as you’d think it would be,” she said. “You can’t just reverse the genders.”

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.

Highlighting additional sociological evidence:

Kristen W. Springer, a sociologist at Rutgers, has found that among men in their 50s, having a wife who earns more money is associated with poorer health. Among the highest earning couples in her study, a husband who earns less than his wife is 60 percent less likely to be in good health compared with men who earn more than their wives.

And despite the sweeping economic changes in marriage over the last 40 years, all is not equal. Even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework, on average, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households. But men do contribute far more than they used to. Studies show that since the 1960s, men’s contributions to housework have doubled, while the amount of time spent caring for children has tripled.

And the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive effect. Lynn Prince Cooke, a sociology professor at the University of Kent in England, has found that American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce compared with couples where the man is the sole breadwinner.

typecasting academics

Professor outfit 1

The New York Times recently highlighted recent research by sociologists Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse on the tendency for professors to be liberal:

New research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be professors.

In their findings, Gross and Fosse chalk this one up to typecasting:

Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

Jobs can be typecast in different ways, said Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse, who undertook the study. For instance, less than 6 percent of nurses today are men. Discrimination against male candidates may be a factor, but the primary reason for the disparity is that most people consider nursing to be a woman’s career, Mr. Gross said. That means not many men aspire to become nurses in the first place — a point made in the recent Lee Daniels film “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” When John (Lenny Kravitz) asks the 16-year-old Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and her friends whether they’ve ever seen a male nurse before, all answer no amid giddy laughter.

Nursing is what sociologists call “gender typed.” Mr. Gross said that “professors and a number of other fields are politically typed.” Journalism, art, fashion, social work and therapy are dominated by liberals; while law enforcement, farming, dentistry, medicine and the military attract more conservatives.  “These types of occupational reputations affect people’s career aspirations,” [Gross] added.

Gross adds a bit of history to where this typecasting came from:

From the early 1950s William F. Buckley Jr. and other founders of the modern conservative movement railed against academia’s liberal bias. Buckley even published a regular column, “From the Academy,” in the magazine he founded, The National Review.

“Conservatives weren’t just expressing outrage,” Mr. Gross said, “they were also trying to build a conservative identity.” They defined themselves in opposition to the New Deal liberals who occupied the establishment’s precincts. Hence Buckley’s quip in the early 1960s: “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

In the 1960s college campuses, swelled by the large baby-boom generation, became a staging ground for radical leftist social and political movements, further moving the academy away from conservatism.

Gross and Fosse also note that stereotyping is not the only reason for the liberal leanings of the academy:

The characteristics that define one’s political orientation are also at the fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income. 

theft by gift card

Courier LoveThe New York Times reports a rise in employee theft via gift cards:

At the Saks flagship store in Manhattan, a 23-year-old sales clerk was caught recently ringing up $130,000 in false merchandise returns and siphoning the money onto a gift card.

“Gift card fraud is spiking,” said Joshua Bamfield, author of the Global Retail Theft Barometer, an annual international survey of retailers. “To employees, this is like currency. It’s almost as good as the U.S. dollar.”

Gift card fraud is growing portion of overall retail theft:

Employee fraud involving gift cards appears to be growing sharply as retailers struggle to contain overall theft, now estimated at $36 billion a year in the industry, or 1.51 percent of retail sales, according to a leading national study. Even as total sales have been falling, employee theft and shoplifting have been rising across the United States, industry experts say, with occasional arrests making headlines.

Many of the gift card crimes are straightforward, frequently involving young sales clerks and smaller amounts than the Saks theft. Among the variations of such crimes, cashiers often do fake refunds of merchandise and then, with the amount refunded, use their registers to electronically fill gift cards, which they take. Or sometimes when shoppers buy gift cards, cashiers give them blank cards and then divert the shoppers’ money onto cards for themselves.

A criminologist who studies employee theft comments:

“The retail industry has come to the realization that, as the Pogo comic strip said, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us,’ ” said Richard C. Hollinger, the survey’s principal author and a professor of criminology at the University of Florida.

The most common type of employee theft is “sweethearting,” in which cashiers fail to ring up or scan goods that friends or relatives present at the register, Professor Hollinger said. Stealing from the till remains a problem, too. But with gift cards continuing to grow in popularity, they are an increasingly easy target.

And…

Professor Hollinger says the rate of theft is greatest among retailers with high turnover rates and many part-time workers, who may be less loyal and under more financial pressure than full-time workers.

He also found higher theft among younger workers. “Older workers know they have a lot more to lose — promotional opportunities, health insurance, 401(k)’s and pensions,” Professor Hollinger said.

husbands (temporarily) helping out at home

You Shall Go To The Ball ...The San Jose Mercury News reports that unemployed husbands are picking up work around the house.

An estimated 2 million wives are now the sole breadwinners in families across America, since more men than women have been laid off in this recession, according to the Center for American Progress. Experts say that unemployed husbands probably are taking on more of the housework and child care duties — for now. But they don’t expect that temporary change to stick around if men find work again.

A sociologist weighs in on the trend:

“When men make more money, they can buy out of housework in a way women cannot,” says Constance Gager, a sociologist in the Department of Family and Child Studies at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.

Gager, who has studied the division of labor in families, says that while men have taken on more housework and child-rearing over the years, women typically still do two-thirds of it, including diaper-changing, bathing the kids, preparing meals and shuttling children to activities. Men tend to play with children or participate in athletic games.

However…

“I think the complicated question is: Do women want men to take over these burdens? It’s also the case that women feel a kind of propriety relationship to those tasks,” says Katherine Newman, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.

‘retirement boom’ draining economy?

New research indicates many employers foresee big problems on the horizon as baby boomers reach retirement age:

As millions of baby boomers prepare to retire, “the inevitable talent drain threatens to alter the national economy,” said Ithaca College sociologist Stephen Sweet, referring to a recent report he coauthored, released by the  Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. “Cracks have appeared in the foundation of the economy and the workforce is getting older.”

In 2000, baby boomers represented the largest portion of the U.S. labor force at 48 percent. By 2010, they’re projected to shrink to 37 percent of the workforce, leading some economists to predict a shortage of 10-15 million workers in the coming decade, with a disproportionate number of inexperienced workers in the overall dwindling labor pool. The retirement boom affects staffing leadership and training as well as overall continuity and engagement within the workforce.

Those employers who see the change coming and are able to prepare may find the shift gives them an advantage over competitors:

Though long-predicted, the threat of workforce shortages has met with limited planning response from organizations. Realizing that some older workers want to work longer but more on their own terms to fit their changing lifestyles, some organizations created programs to improve employee engagement and productivity, and have a measured way to manage knowledge transfer. Those who heeded the warning and began adapting have a huge potential for a competitive edge.  “Workforce planning makes good business sense,” said Sweet. “Changing age demographics don’t have to disrupt a business — they may present new opportunities or competitive advantages. Employers should take advantage of programs designed to meet the evolving needs of employees nearing retirement, while at the same time meeting business needs by keeping experienced talent longer and ensuring business continuity.”

Read more about the research and additional findings.

gone for good?

Not Hiring SignThe Wall Street Journal reports this week that requests to expunge criminal records are on the rise in this tough economy.

In Michigan, state police estimate they’ll set aside 46% more convictions this year than last. Oregon is on track to set aside 33% more. Florida sealed and expunged nearly 15,000 criminal records in the fiscal year ended June 30, up 43% from the previous year. The courts of Cook County, which includes Chicago and nearby suburbs, received about 7,600 expungement requests in the year’s first three quarters, nearly double the pace from the year before.

The criminological commentary…

The increase comes as unemployment has risen above 10%, allowing potential employers to be choosier than they have been in decades. More Americans have criminal records now, criminologists say, in part because a generation has come of age since the start of the war on drugs.

And…

In 1967, 50% of American men had been arrested. Since then, arrests made in connection with domestic violence and illegal drugs have pushed the number to 60%, estimates Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University. The annual number of arrests for possession of marijuana more than tripled to 1.8 million from 1980 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

But is expungement a cure-all for those with a record? Maybe not, given ease of access to such information via the Internet for would-be employers:

Expungement doesn’t wipe away all traces. Local news Web sites routinely post arrest mug shots, which are nearly impossible to eradicate from the Internet. Search engines can turn up a smattering of decades-old news and police reports, plus caches of newer ones. Arrests that have been legally expunged may remain on databases that data-harvesting companies offer to prospective employers; such background companies are under no legal obligation to erase them.