Me, saying things

The Class Ceiling in the US

posted Nov 9, 2020, 12:09 PM by Daniel Laurison

This is a work-in-progress with Sam Friedman. I made a powerpoint video for ASA and wanted to share, and soon I'll post the working version of the paper too. It's available to download here.

Video on Regression

posted Mar 28, 2020, 1:20 PM by Daniel Laurison   [ updated Mar 28, 2020, 2:18 PM ]

Kate Mason at Wheaton College got a bunch of folks to volunteer to make introductory sociology methods videos, so I recorded one about regression. Here it is. (This is kind of a wonky way to share, but it's what I can figure out at the moment.)  

On Fights on Scholar-Activism

posted Aug 20, 2019, 3:04 PM by Daniel Laurison   [ updated Aug 20, 2019, 3:05 PM ]


At ASA, I was on a panel about the idea of the “scholar-activist” and some of the debates around it. The panel happened because Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra wrote this blog post & was asked to organize a Presidential Panel on the topic. The blog post happened because of arguments on twitter about Mary Romero’s Presidential candidate statement; those arguments flared again after the theme of this year’s ASA (Social Justice) was announced. One collection of twitter comments about the issue is here. Generally, discussions seem to be framed as about valuing “good science” and “objectivity” vs valuing, well, values.

I don’t think of myself as a “scholar-activist” but I am basically convinced by the arguments of folks who do – including, especially Romero’s Presidential Address (go find it as soon as it’s available – it’ll be here on video eventually, and in ASR in print). However, I’m also pretty much convinced by a lot of the arguments made by the “pro-science” people about what makes for good science. It seems to me that a lot of the problem is that people are talking past each other, and so I’ve been trying to sort out what’s going on. I laid out my (not-fully-formed and definitely not extensively researched) thoughts on that in my short talk at ASA, and this is roughly what I said.

First, it seems weird to have a discussion on this topic without the voices of people who DO think of themselves as scholar-activists, so I asked on twitter if folks would weigh in, and here’s what a few said:

p.s. kehal:  i would like a discussion of why only liberals and left of center folks get marked as scholar activists whereas anyone for no change manage to evade any label, as if their scholarship & professional work wasnt activism of its own type


Simone Kolysh: With so many urgent problems affecting our loved ones, scholarship for scholarships’ sake is irresponsible and irrelevant.

And: I think the boundary between scholarship and activism is a tool of oppression and maintains the legacy of many -isms in Sociology. As prez Romero pointed out in her address, for as long as there was Soc, white men tried to stomp out activism.


L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy (via direct message):  For me, being a scholar-activist is a part of connecting to a deeper and richer black sociological tradition. From WEB Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and Oliver Cromwell Cox on to Patricia Hill Collins, the idea/belief that good research can help lead us to better social actions is at the core. While activisms look different for different scholars, the black sociological tradition rejects the idea that we have the luxury to study phenomena without the necessity to change them. I will say activism doesn't look the same. For Wells, documenting lynchings and advocating for justice in policy and with the support of mass movements is just one form. For Cox, who had a physically disability, his activism looked more like critical scholarship and challenging canons across aisles. For me, being a scholar-activist can be anywhere from challenging methodological orthodoxy to participating in anti-police terrorism actions. All of which are done with an idea that we must understand things deeply and differently and commit our understandings to actions that will reshape how we think and live.


So, I’m open to being wrong, but I think there are a lot of things that are pretty much consensus positions in Sociology, although I’m still pretty new here relatively so I could be wrong.  

§  I think we all agree that sociology should strive for accuracy, for getting the social world right, for a good understanding of how things work, so that’s not what we’re arguing about, I don’t think. We maybe disagree about whether that should be called “objectivity” or how complete/accurate/impartial we can be about the social world, but no one is arguing against aiming for having a true account of some aspect of society or social processes. And I don’t think anyone is arguing that it’s possible to have a completely perspective-free take, either.


§  I think we all roughly agree that our values inform our research in some way, that as humans we can’t entirely escape having our values inform what we study, or how we study it, or how we report on it.


§  I think we all think it’s legitimate for sociologists to use their research in various forms of advocacy. I think we all agree that research and advocacy are not the same thing, nor are facts and values.


§  I think we all want sociology to be taken seriously beyond the discipline, so I don’t think that’s what we’re arguing about, either, exactly.


Based on all that consensus, I don’t see any reason for our field not to have some kind of consensus or widespread value of social justice, if that means everyone should be treated fairly, or everyone should get to have a basically OK life, or something like the universal declaration of human rights. I didn’t say exactly this at ASA, but tweeted it – some of the disagreement then is maybe about what “social justice” actually means. For a lot of us, as was clear in ASA President Mary Romero's talk, it just means values I think everyone (ought to) broadly share. like "liberty and justice for all" or "racism & white supremacy are bad." I also think there’s a worry that if we embrace a “social justice” values too strongly it’ll delegitimize us, and I think that’s an entirely reasonable thing to worry about. But I would point out that the other social sciences with lots of power (relative to sociology) seem to me to have clear values/normative commitments that – poli sci seems to value democracy and democratic-ness; economics seems to value productivity and efficiency for its own sake. Those are values, just like “equality” or “fairness” are.  So I don’t think we actually want or need a norm-free social science, even if that were possible.

So if we’re not arguing, exactly, about whether true objectivity is possible, or whether values have any role in research, or whether at least the broad version of “social justice” is normatively good, I think we must be arguing about something else. And I think that something is about power and status in the discipline, about the legitimate forms of legitimation in the field of sociology, as my pal and yours Pierre Bourdieu  might say (probably did say but I’m not looking up the cite).

And part of that struggle over the legitimation probably needs to be understood by looking at who is making which arguments. This is the part I’m least sure about; I haven’t counted, or done a systematic search, or anything like that, but I think it’s worth raising: to the extent that there are sides/divides on the interwoven issues of scholar activism, values in social science, whether we call our work “objective,” etc., those sides look like they have something to do with race. My impression is that there are more Black (and other POC, but especially Black from what I can see) sociologists emphatically siding with Romero & identifying as scholar-activists, and pretty much only white sociologists (on twitter; Fabio Rojas took a more “let’s be a science” stance at the panel) calling for more objectivity and worrying about the effects of Romero's statement, bemoaning the rise of "scholar-activism" etc. (And lots of folks from every racial group somewhere in the middle, saying, wait, these things don’t seem incompatible at all!)

And I think the science folks are most concerned that sociology be taken seriously by people already in power – that we be more like economics in our influence, or at least political science that has its own Washington Post column. And I think the scholar-activist folks generally have more concern with the communities that tend to get screwed by the current power structure. I personally hope we can be ethical actors with respect to the latter while also having an influence on the former, and I think a lot of us do, but it seems there’s a fair amount of distance along an axis of which one you prioritize (and as Omar Lizardo quipped on twitter, we might all be wrong about what it takes to make sociology a more powerful discipline overall. We do know that as fields get more women, their status generally declines; if our field is more opposed to power, it can lose power.  


That’s basically what I said at ASA, with a little editing. I have one other thought about what’s going on that I want to say here: I think part of what is happening is actually about features of arguing on twitter, in two ways. First, unclear referents – from conversations in DMs with folks on the “science!” side, they’re mostly not thinking of existing sociological research they think is unacceptably tainted with too much social justice value motivation, but they’re worried about us becoming a discipline where the only kind of research that’s valued is work that advances radical social change. But when a lot of folks see people saying “let’s be more a science!” they (understandably) see it as an attack on their in-progress or published work that they know is part of a (possibly radical) social justice project (and that is ALSO good science by pretty much any standard we might come up with). Because people are (understandably) reluctant to publicly point out research they think is bad (I asked, no one bit – well, one person mentioned one book and then deleted the tweet), we don’t know what we’re talking about. Another referent issue is whether we’re talking about research at all, actually – at least one “science!” person told me they think our research journals are mostly publishing good research, but they *are* worried that too much undergraduate teaching is framed as sociology = social justice, and that they are especially concerned that ASA takes normative/political stands that align with members’ values, but aren’t obviously based on sociological knowledge.

I think on that front it’s worth thinking through Matt Desmond’s Evicted. No one, to my knowledge, has denounced his work as unacceptably scholar-activist-y, even though it’s clearly driven by his values (poor people shouldn’t get screwed by their landlords) and is part of what appears to be an active project of working towards greater social justice of the “people should be treated fairly” variety.  

I think the other twitter/social media thing that is happening is about audience. I think the “Science!” folks broadly agree that objectivity is at best a good goal, etc, but they’re worried if we SAY it’s only a goal we’ll be taken less seriously; Phillip Cohen at ASA pointed out though that there’s evidence that what actually convinces people about science is often actually scientists admitting we’re fallible.



I could go on and on about this topic, I find it really fascinating. Among the things I *could* have done in this post, but didn’t:

-       Clearly staked out what I think the sides actually are, whether there are really just two, etc – I’m not sure about this. Omar Lizardo called them “splitter and lumpers” which is pretty good, though.

-       Clearly stated my own approach to the relationship between my values and my research, between how I think about activism or advocacy and their role in sociology, or vice versa. That’s a whole other essay but I will say I teach my students that good research requires not already knowing for sure what you’ll find, and that if you just want to point out things you already know are normatively bad or harmful, I don’t think that’s what sociology is about. I don’t know if any sociologists think that IS what it’s about (see above), but some of my students do, and I try to shift them towards research that asks questions and is open to the answers.

-       So many other things! But I said I would post something by Monday, and it’s now the end of Tuesday, so I am stopping now.


Should you email professors before applying to grad school?

posted Dec 1, 2017, 6:32 AM by Daniel Laurison

Will emailing a professor as part of applying to (Sociology) graduate school help your case? Part 2.

This is a follow up to this post – I made a survey and asked professors whether you should email them, and how their program works.  I’ll make this quick – 13 out of 15 people who responded said their department’s admissions work on either a “pure committee” or a “mostly committee” model – admissions decisions are made by committee, with little or no influence from professors not on that year’s committee. One was a pure pre-match model – people need a relationship with a potential professor before applying, and one was a mix.  Here’s a not very pretty pie chart (note all the response options no one chose) -


One interesting thing is three different professors from NYU responded, and two said they work on a “mostly committee” model and one said “pure committee.”  You can see all responses (but not which professor gave them) here -

I also asked how they feel about students emailing them. Here’s a (nicer) pie chart of the answers:


Nine out of 15 said it’s fine if students email but it’s unlikely to help their case; an additional three said it’s simply an annoyance (again the 3 NYU professors disagreed here, but not in the same way they disagreed about their admissions system).

It’s a bit late for this to be helpful for students this year, but I’d love to have this be a resource for next year’s application system. If your department isn’t represented here yet, please go take 3 minutes to fill out this survey:

Departments included as of December 1st, 2017

Columbia University

Lancaster University (UK)

Michigan State University


SUNY Albany

U of Maryland

UC San Diego

Univ of Illinois at chicago

University of Georgia

University of Michigan

University of Notre Dame

University of Oregon

University of Wisconsin Madison


Should you go to grad school?

posted Aug 23, 2017, 7:03 AM by Daniel Laurison   [ updated Jul 27, 2020, 11:06 AM ]

My first answer is read Tim Burke's essay (where his short answer is “no”).

And then read Tressie McMillan Cottom's essay on what’s wrong with blanket “don’t go to grad school” advice. That will link you to a series of tweets by Sandy Darity on why maybe you should go to grad school.

And then if you want, read this. My short answer is, it depends on who you are and what you want to get out of it. 

First of all, if you’ve never not been in school, I don’t think you should apply for graduate school right now, in the fall of your senior year, or even necessarily the fall after your senior  year. Now I don’t know you, so I could be wrong, but I think going straight to graduate school is a bad idea for most people, for three reasons.  

·         First, the practical: researching and applying to grad schools well is at least as much work as one additional course in the fall of your senior year. Maybe two. That means you’ll be juggling more work than usual, at a time when you maybe should just be enjoying your last year of college, and when (if you do want to get into grad school), the quality of your work now can have a big effect on your chances later. You’ll also have a better shot if you have a completed thesis or other awesome research paper to use as a writing sample, and four years of grades in classes in your major. 

·         Second, unless you’re unusual for an undergraduate, you’ve never had a full-time, year-round job that wasn’t being a student. You don’t know that you don’t want to have work and a life outside of academia, because your whole life up to now has essentially been in school. You may know that you don’t want a job like the ones people in your family have, or like the ones you’ve worked in so far, but that is a very very small sample of the kinds of work that are out there for you once you graduate.

·         Finally, even if you’re 100% sure you want to be an academic (see below), I think you’re better off having at least one year of your whole life where you have a job that’s not primarily about learning or teaching; ideally you can also have a job that has clear duties and start- and end-times, where there are some hours of each day (and weekends!) where there’s nothing you really should be writing or reading, no upcoming academic deadlines hanging over your head.

Now, once you’ve been out of school for a year or more (or if you’re ignoring the above advice) – should you try to get a PhD? Here’s the first thing to know: most if not all of the people who you’re likely asking this question of are the people who lucked out. Among the 15 or so people who started grad school at Berkeley with me in 2004, I think about half of us have tenure-track jobs as sociologists; I’d guess that’s a better success rate (if you’re thinking about getting a PhD in Sociology in order to do anything other than be a professor when you’re done, there are better ways -- see below) than the average. Some of the people who didn’t end up in tenure track jobs made an affirmative decision to leave academia, but many of them wanted what I’ve got and couldn’t get it. These are people who are at least as smart, hard-working and otherwise fully qualified as those of us who landed jobs; the problem is simply that there are far more people with Sociology PhDs than there are tenure-track professor jobs. A lot of people end up working as adjunct professors, which means they get to teach undergraduates, but they usually have little job security, low pay, and little or no time for their own research; others leave academia for other things. I don’t know how many people, for various reasons, end up wishing they hadn’t gone to grad school, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot more than none.

So, to understand the full range of possibilities of what it’s like to try to get a PhD, navigate the academic job market, and work post-PhD, you’d want to talk to all those people who didn’t end up as professors at places they love. In quants-speak, when  you ask your professors about graduate school, you’re sampling on the dependent variable – if your question is “will x lead to good outcomes” you’d want to know the full range of x, not just the people with good outcomes.

That said, I love being an academic.  My full time, all day every day job is mostly about figuring out the answers to my questions about how class and politics work in the US and other places, and reading, writing, talking and teaching about subjects I care about. Not only that, I landed at place near a city I’m very happy to live in (this is really not that common; I know a lot of people living in places they would not have chosen if they had more choices). And I am at a school where the students are generally as excited about figuring stuff out as I am, where the institution broadly works from values I share, and where I am supported and rewarded for both conducting the research I think is important and trying to be as attentive and thoughtful and present in my teaching as I know how to be. None of these things are particularly common outcomes in academia, landing them all in one job is like winning the lottery.

I also loved graduate school itself, which as I understand it is not that common. I had a great time in most of the classes I was in, I really enjoyed my qualifying exams, and I liked doing the research for my dissertation and writing it up. There were parts that weren’t great, of course: I had to learn and adapt to any number of disciplinary norms that didn’t make much sense to me when I started, I had enormous trouble getting my first article published, and I didn’t like how long it took me (9 years), or that I was still a student at ages (through 36) when people who chose other career paths or started earlier/went quicker through the PhD were full-on mid-career adults in their professions. I didn’t like moving three times in 12 years (to Berkeley for grad school, to London for a post-doc, then to Philadelphia), and neither did my partner, or my kids on the last 2 moves; on the other hand I am incredibly lucky to have gotten to live in three really great places, and not to have had additional moves before getting a tenure-track spot. I did like that I had the flexibility to do a substantial portion of the parenting of my two kids who arrived while I was a graduate student, including roughly a semester with each baby where I was the main caregiver and my partner went to work. 

If you want to pursue a few intellectual questions deeply and intensely and in minute detail, develop your ideas and evidence and arguments to the point where they can withstand the often-harrowing (and sometimes capricious) process of peer review and publishing, and also teach graduate students and/or undergraduates, you might be happy in academia too. But there are other, simpler, less time-consuming, and higher success-rate ways to have a career that may be the thing you want, without a sociology PhD.  

I think a lot of people want to be sociologists because they have a pretty good idea about how the world or some portion of it could be better, and they think having a PhD will help them make that argument, or even make it happen. If you already know how things ought to work and just want to push them in that direction, a sociology (or other academic) PhD is a really poor way to accomplish that. In academia, our research often takes years, and then more years to get published, and then unless we’re also skilled publicists and/or very lucky isn’t read by that many people or reported on in newspapers or influential at all. There are all kinds of organizations where people do their research much more quickly, and then work to make sure it has the influence they want it to have. If you want to make a difference outside academia through research, consider getting an MA in public policy, or urban planning, or public health, or a similar field, then working in a policy think tank or a non-profit that advocates for the policies you believe are right.

Or, if you’re really interested just in the influence part and not so much in the research part, you might want to go work in politics or advocacy or organizing directly, and help run campaigns or work for the people you believe will fight for the policies you care about, or work for an organization that tries to get politicians and others with power to do better.

If it’s the teaching you’re interested in, rather than the research, are you sure you want or need to do it at the 4-year college level? PhDs are generally designed to be all about research, with a bit of teaching on the side. That’s a poor way to prepare professors, and an awful lot of work to do if it’s not the research that’s driving you. Could you get an MA and teach at a community college? Or teach high school?

What else makes you think academia is the right path for you? If there’s another way to do the kind of work you think you want to do, and have the kind of career you think you want to have, I’d encourage you to find out about it and see if it’s a good fit. So my general answer to the question of should you go to graduate school is: only if you really, really, want to do deep intensive research as your primary job. If that is what you want to do, then you should absolutely apply.

Update: this is now cross-posted on scatterplot, and if you want to see some other perspectives look at the comments there, the replies to this tweet, and the discussion on this facebook post .  One person in a post that's not public said they think it's malpractice to tell people to go to grad school without emphasizing that they should plan for an alternative (to tenure-track jobs) career and that it's OK to leave. 

Occupation, Education, and Social Mobility (by Omar Jadallah-Karraa)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:13 AM by Daniel Laurison


"well I think it's true for everyone. No matter what you do, if you're a plumber or a [something; maybe business consultant], you can put your all into it and make it meaningful and move up.” - Dentist


The dentist's claim that one’s current occupation doesn’t affect one's chances of social mobility is incorrect. In the United States, one's current occupation heavily impacts their ability to afford the costs of higher education for themselves and for their children, and attainment of higher education greatly increases one’s chances of achieving upward social mobility. Educational credentials confer advantage on an individual in the labor market, increasing opportunity for social mobility. As Hout puts it, “College graduates find better jobs, earn more money, and suffer less unemployment than high school graduates do. They also live more stable family lives, enjoy better health, and live longer. They commit fewer crimes and participate more in civic life” (Hout, 2012; 1). Specifically, "the earnings gulf between those who graduate from high school and those who graduate from college has nearly doubled over the past thirty years. Graduates of four-year colleges and universities typically now make 80 percent more than graduates of high school alone.” (Goldrick-Rab; 5).             

After 150 years of continuously rising wages in the United States, "between 1979 and 2013, the hourly wages of middle-wage workers (median-wage workers who earned more than half the workforce but less than the other half) were stagnant… or in decline", and "the wages of low-wage workers fared even worse, falling 5 percent from 1979 to 2013" (Economic Policy Institute). As for the past 10 years, the economic recovery after the 2008 collapse of the financial market has achieved pre-recession private sector employment rates; however, “mid- and higher-wage industries absorbed significant job losses during the downturn” and “net job growth remains concentrated in lower-wage industries where employment now exceeds prerecession levels by 1.85 million. Today, there are nearly two million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were before the recession took hold” (The Low Wage Recovery). Using mean family income instead of mean individual income, Goldrick-Rab points out that, “While in the 1980s and 1990s, growth in college prices was generally matched by growth in family income… since 2003, the mean family income of all but the very wealthiest 5 percent of Americans fell or stagnated” (Goldrick-Rab; 3).

Meanwhile, the cost of public higher education (community college and public 4 year college or university) has starkly increased. Discussing financial aid and the cost of higher education in the United States, Goldrick-Rab says, “And when it comes to the group that this financial aid system was designed to help the most – those families earning an average of $16,000 per year – the net price of college now amounts to a whopping 84 percent of their income” (Goldrick-Rab; 5). Along with the post-2003 decline in family wages ,“since the year 2,000, community college costs are up by 28 percent, and the cost of attendance at public universities is up by 54 percent” (Goldrick-Rab; 2).

The consequences of rising costs and stagnant or declining wage growth has left an increasing number of families unable or unwilling to commit their resources to higher education. In the U.S., while the percentage of 24-65 year olds who have a “tertiary (higher education) attainment” is 42%, “making it one of the most well-educated countries in the world… a number of countries have now surpassed the U.S. in the percentage of younger adults with a tertiary attainment.” (Education at a Glance). Despite widespread belief in the dominant narrative, which tells us that individuals competing on a “level playing field” can make it on account of their own natural intelligence and hard work, empirical studies show a world rife with inequalities of opportunity. Today, as the prospects for upward social mobility for the majority of Americans are looking more and more gloomy, tropes of “rags to riches” and “the American dream” seem all the more anachronistic and out of touch with reality.




“Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2012: UNITED STATES,” n.d.

Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Paying The Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and The Betrayal of The American Dream, n.d.

Hout, Michael. “Social and Economic Returns to College Education in the United States,” April 23, 2012.

“The Low-Wage Recovery: Industry Employment and Wages Four Years into the Recovery.” National Employment Law Project (NELP), n.d.


Hard Work is Not Enough (by Josh Medel)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:11 AM by Daniel Laurison

            To start off, I do want to state that, just like this dentist, I do value hard work. It is clear that this dentist does place work ethic very highly when it comes to social mobility. And while I do share this sentiment, I do want to push back on the idea that hard work is all someone needs to do to move forward. Unfortunately, there are many issues and barriers that prevents work ethic to being the only variable when it comes to social mobility. For this blog post, I will show examples on how race is a huge factor when it comes to social mobility.

             One of the first readings that I will like to bring up to highlight the effect race has on social mobility is Devah Pager’s The Mark of a Criminal Record. Pager had a research question on whether criminal record and race had any part when it comes to getting a callback from a job. Though for this blog post, I just want to focus on the race aspect so we don’t make things too complicated.

             Pager had four male auditors (two black and two white) that would apply at the same entry-level positions. When they were applying for these jobs, they all had the same objective characteristics (like work experience and educational attainment). This means that the only thing that would have been different is race.

             I would suggest to look at Figure 6 to see the main results of this study. In this graph, it is clear that race has a huge part when it comes to getting a callback from a job. Ignoring the criminal record aspect, the black auditors were half as likely to get a callback than their white counterparts. While only one study, I feel this illuminates that race has a huge part when it comes to getting hired. No matter how hard you work.

             Next, I want share an article written by Laura Shin titled The Racial Wealth Gap: Why A Typical White Household Has 16 Times The Wealth Of A Black One. Both the title and the the first figure shows how there does exist a huge racial wealth gap that prevents social mobility and other opportunities. The author goes on to make a point that the lack of economic security in both a Black and Latino household prevents investment in the younger members of the households.

             Another similar article I want to share is Oliver Shapiro's Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. For this study, Shapiro wanted to look at the difference in income and social mobility between white and black households. Table 4.4 illuminates the vast contrast when it comes to income level between white and black households. Looking at the difference between income, I feel it is safe to say that there is a pattern of racial inequality that exists in society. And while not mentioned on this table, Shapiro also wrote that “For every dollar earned by white households, black households earn sixty two cents.”

With this said, I do want to ask our dentist friend to think on the importance race has when it comes to social mobility in the U.S.

Dentist Retort (by Clarissa Phillips)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:08 AM by Daniel Laurison

As a society founded on the principals of democracy and freedom, we place a lot of value on the choices one makes and thus attribute their success, or lack thereof, to their innate abilities or intelligence. It seems logical that the people who perform the best would achieve the most and thus we justify those with more as better than those with less. However, when we account for the different social and economic environments we all inhabit, this argument collapses as everyone's initial position is different making it impossible to compare one person’s experience to another’s. These inequalities are present throughout the entirety of our existences, even going so far as to infiltrate our education system. A system tasked with bestowing our children with the knowledge necessary to “make something of themselves.”

Not all schools are the same. As noted in articles here and here Schools in areas inhabited by a majority of low income families have less resources than those in wealthy districts. As a result, they are prone to absurdly large class sizes or less experienced teachers, making it hard for students to focus or gain the individualized attention they need. A family’s individual financial restraints can also hinder a student’s ability to participate in extracurricular activities that are integral to gaining beneficial social connections and information for advancement (e.g. available scholarships, honors programs or classes, application deadlines). In comparison, students whose family’s do not suffer from extreme financial constraints are able to use their economic resources to give them a leg up in a multitude of different ways. As pointed out in this article by Michael Godsey, students who attend private schools are not the only one’s who are educationally advantaged, public school students who have outside tutors or are enrolled in outside honors classes or college courses are as well. Similarly, as noted in Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods, children of college educated parent’s are even more advantaged as their parents are more familiar with both the lower and higher education systems and thus can fight for them to be put in harder classes or help them complete their college applications. This ultimately makes some students incredibly disadvantaged in comparison to others whose families who have more resources.

The inequalities do not stop in grade school, however, as lower income students face many disadvantages throughout college. Somewhat shockingly, it is noted that lower income students are disadvantaged by the way they approach the college experience as a whole. While we condition our youth to think that focusing on their studies is the best way to secure a successful job post grad, a huge part of obtaining an elite position is dependent on the types of connections you have. Lower income students tend to focus on their assignments or have to work part time to cover debts, thus skipping parties and other rambunctious social gatherings and in doing so miss out on the opportunity to become good friends with a well connected frat brother or business major whose father is managing partner at a top law firm.

Although it is possible for someone to climb up the social ladder, the difficulty of which one is able to do so varies tremendously on the circumstances they find themselves in. As a result, a person’s social position is not simply a product of their ability because so much of their experience is influenced by environmental circumstances. The flaws in our education system are just one of many phenomenon promoting reproductive class inequalities in our society. These issues as well as others related to the way in which we function as a society heavily disadvantage the poor and advantage the wealthy.


Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the Party. Harvard University Press, 2013. JSTOR. Web. 2 May 2017.

Lareau, Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2nd Edition with an Update a Decade Later. 2 edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Rivera, Lauren A. Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Revised ed. edition. Princeton Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016. Print.

Limits to Social Mobility (by Anonymous Junior)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:05 AM by Daniel Laurison

The Dentist: you know, I've heard it said work is for poor people. The rest of us have careers.

me: um. well, I do like my work a lot, that's true enough for me. 

The Dentist: well I think it's true for everyone. No matter what you do, if you're a plumber or a [something; maybe business consultant], you can put your all into it and make it meaningful and move up. 

            This is a simplification of how mobility works in the United States.  The dentist is ignoring several crucial factors, including those that prevent people from moving up the social ladder.  In the United States many people have unequal opportunities.  For example, many struggle in their day to day life to simply find stable housing, as seen in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted.  This, therefore, prevents one from putting one’s all into it. One is greatly taxed with the simple fact of finding housing, as was exemplified by the single mother that had to make about 90 calls in order to find a possibility for housing.  With such a psychological and time-consuming burden, one is unable to properly try to find a job, assuming there is a “step up” in the social ladder from being unemployed to employed.  Many people do not have to do this, and therefore are freer to use their time and energy.

            Another issue many do not have to worry about is having been incarcerated.  Being jailed leads to slower wage growth than non-jailed people.  There are three theories to why this is; one is the stigma that being incarcerated connotes.  When one is considered to have committed a crime and put in jail, they are regarded as “bad”, regardless of whether or not one committed it.  This carries over to the employer, which is less likely to hire an ex-convict.  Another reason for the slower wage growth is that incarceration is detrimental to one’s employable skills, as one is unable to practice them.  Lastly, social networks are also undermined by time and lack of contact; this is brought upon, as well, by being in jail.  Thus having previously been in jail greatly undermines one’s ability to find a job, and thus climb up the social ladder.

            In addition, the dentist is completely ignoring changing socio-economic environments.  Growing up and applying to the labor force during the Great Depression is entirely different than doing so during the post-war boom –between the 50’s and 70’s—, or even than today.  This is properly described through an intergenerational example in Inequality by Design; on pages 208 through 209, the authors describe how the careers of three different generations of males –the Smiths— varied greatly based off of the different social contexts during which they lived in.

            One can also extrapolate this concept to different geographical locations.  As the authors of Inequality by Design state on page 207, social structure is crucial to one’s development.  Thus, just like if one grows up during a wealthier time period for a whole country, if one attends an “ordered and affluent” school, one is more likely to learn than if one attends an impoverished one.  Thus, this environmental effects can greatly influence one’s success in climbing the social ladder (via getting better grades, attending a more prestigious institution and getting a job). Hence, there are multiple factors in society that help one progress, and everyone has different access to these factors.  Therefore, not everyone can move up the social ladder.

Unawareness of Privilege - by Anonymous Junior

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:03 AM by Daniel Laurison

The Dentist, some more: you know I worked hard, I didn't have all the advantages, I had to start working at 14, my dad made me, I had to pay my way through college, so I made it on my own.
me: so, what does your dad do?
The Dentist: he's a dentist. Here.
me: aha. Well, bye.

            The dentist, in this case, seems to be unaware of his privilege.  This seems to be in accordance to the general narrative that people with privilege are less aware of its existence than people without it.  This is exemplified in Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods, as an upper-middle class child states that he got to where he is in life by working very hard.  At this point he is in college, recruited by the basketball team.  He is unaware of all of his parents’ help: how they signed him up to extracurricular activities, including basketball, how they sent him to a high-quality school, and so on.  This is just like the dentist; both over attribute their successes to themselves instead of recognizing the privilege of having been raised in an upper-middle class environment (of course, I can only assume that the dentist was, seeing as how his father is a dentist).

            Generally, intergenerational mobility in the United States is inelastic.  People born in a social class will probably end up in the same one.  This is greatly because of the environment where people are raised in.  The environment, including one’s parents, generally provide one with cultural capital –such as skills or sets of behaviors— that lead to a reproduction of one’s social class.  This is elucidated in Unequal Childhoods through two different processes: concerted cultivation and the accomplishment of natural growth.  These are each differing parenting methods that are generally used by different social classes.  Higher classes tend to rely on concerted cultivation, where they generally teach their children how to navigate institutions and authority figures, whereas lower classes tend to have their kids undergo the natural growth route, where they learn skills such as independence and self-organization.  Here, however, the higher class children obtain an advantage that can greatly benefit them in a way that is generally taken for granted: more institutional support.  This can be seen through increased teacher help, more personalized educational attention and even through a better understanding of how to get ahead in institutions.  These are advantages that higher class children tend to have that are taken for granted.

            Another way through which parents help their children are via social networks.  These generally help with information, such as for universities.  This is seen in Unequal Childhoods as a mother is able to teach her son about college information that she learned through her friends.  Social networks are also important for securing jobs.  This is seen in the book Social Class, edited by Lareau and Conley.  In a chapter, Conley provides George W. Bush as an example for how his social networks helped him become president.  As his father was the president, he was able to understand what it meant to hold that position, something that for many is hard to even imagine.  He was also able to learn about the procedures and ways in which one must prepare to become the president, and how to navigate the relevant gatekeeping institutions.  This is the same in many jobs, as references can help one get interviews in elite private service firms, according to the book Pedigree.  Thus, the dentist’s father probably also had a role, directly or indirectly, in helping him work where he works.

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