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Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011

IU researchers discuss wage gap, violence, public assistance and more at ASA meeting

Editors: Below is a sampling of Indiana University research that was discussed at the American Sociological Association's 2011 Annual Meeting on Aug. 20-23 in Las Vegas.

Aug. 22, 2011

The research discusses the following topics:

Gender wage gap: New job trends reproducing old forms of gender inequality
Violence, alcohol and community organization
Poor women and welfare reform: working without a net
How "No Child Left Behind" came to mean the opposite
Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens and their friends

New job trends reproducing old forms of gender inequality. Jobs that come with large paychecks but long work hours are slowing the gains women have made since the late 70s in narrowing the gender wage gap. A study by sociologists from Indiana University and Cornell University finds that the growing trend of overworking -- working 50 hours a week or more -- is partly responsible for the slowdown Americans have experienced since the mid-1990s in the convergence of the gender gap in pay. The gap between the percentage of women working full-time compared to men has shrunk during the past 30 years but the gender gap involving long working hours has changed little and remains large. "Women, even when employed fulltime, typically have more family obligations than men," said IU sociologist Youngjoo Cha, who specializes in gender, labor markets and social inequality. "This limits their availability for the 'greedy occupations,' that require long work hours, such as high-level managers, lawyers and doctors. In these occupations, workers are often evaluated based on their face time." The study, using data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, finds the relative hourly wage of overworkers compared to full-time workers has increased substantially over the past three decades. Because a greater percentage of male workers are overworking, this change benefited men more than women. "Gender gaps in overwork, when coupled with rising returns to overwork, exacerbate the gender gap in wages," Cha said. "New ways of organizing work are reproducing old forms of inequality."

More about the study:

  • In 1979, 15 percent of men and 3 percent of women worked 50 hours or more per week. These percentages peaked in the late 1990s at 19 percent of men and 7 percent of women. The percentage for men decreased slightly during the 2000s, possibly due to the effects of the recession on occupations overrepresented by men, and has remained stagnant for women.
  • The real wages of men who worked 50 hours or more per week increased 54 percent between 1979 and 2009. The wages of women who worked the same hours increased, too, by 94 percent. The wages of standard full-time workers (35 or more hours, but less than 50 hours) increased 13 percent for men and 46 percent for women between the same years.
  • The rising price of overwork slowed the decrease in the gender wage gap by 9.2 percent between 1979 and 2007. The effect is large enough to offset the gains achieved by narrowing the education gap.
  • The increase in overwork was most prominent in professional and managerial occupations, as was the increase in wages paid to overworkers. In these occupations, the rising price of overwork had the greatest impact on the gender gap in wages -- in managerial occupations, for example, the gender gap in wages would be 34 percent smaller if prices for overwork had remained constant.
  • Overwork compensation can be compared to standard full-time wages by breaking them down into an hourly wage. In 1979, men who overworked earned 14 percent less than men who worked fulltime once their pay was spread over the longer hours, and women saw a 19 percent penalty. Pay for overwork has increased so rapidly over the years that now men and women both earn a six percent premium in this hourly wage comparison.

Most of the decline in the gender gap in wages occurred in the 1980s. Women now earn an estimated 81 percent of what men earn.

Cha will discuss her findings on Sunday, Aug. 21, during a 2:30-4:10 p.m. session on Organizations, Occupations and Work at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. The co-author of the study is Kim Weeden, Cornell University.

To speak with Cha, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 and Top

William Pridemore

William Pridemore

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Violence, alcohol and community organization. The density of businesses that sell alcohol in a community has been tied to local levels of violence, but new research has found that the influence depends on the nature of the community. More stable communities can see little to no influence but more disorganized communities are not so fortunate. Communities with greater levels of disorganization, marked by higher percentages of people living in poverty and in women-headed households with children and more renters, were hit the hardest by the presence of the liquor establishments. "Common values and stronger social cohesion found in more organized communities usually results in a greater ability to regulate the behavior of local retailers and those who patronize the local alcohol outlets," said William Alex Pridemore, professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University Bloomington. "These communities are more likely to have greater social capital, effective informal surveillance, and even friends who work at city hall. They're more likely to get the attention of police or authorities who license liquor establishments." The study results have policy implications. Changing local and state alcohol policies can be daunting because of its complex political and commercial context but Pridemore said changing alcohol policy, such as restricting the number of outlets that can operate in disorganized neighborhoods, might be easier to achieve than changing neighborhood characteristics like poverty or social disorganization. Citywide policies that establish density thresholds for businesses that sell alcohol might not be necessary, he said, but instead such policies could be targeted to protect the most fragile neighborhoods.

More about the study:

  • The co-author of the study is Tony Grubesic, associate professor in the College of Information Science and Technology at Drexel University. In earlier research, Pridemore and Grubesic found that adding one off-premise alcohol sales site per square mile would create 2.3 more simple assaults and 0.6 more aggravated assaults per square mile. Increases in violence associated with restaurants and bars were smaller but still statistically significant.
  • Their latest findings demonstrate that this relationship between assaults and the number of alcohol outlets weakened as the social organization of a community increased. The association became stronger, with the number of assaults increasing, as the level of disorganization increased.
  • Pridemore said greater organization, which can include neighborhood associations and neighborhood watches, likely weakens the association for the following reasons: These communities can informally influence the behavior of patrons who visit local liquor establishments; residents are more likely to demand more responsible business practices from the owners and managers of alcohol sales sites; residents also are more likely to tap their social connections or otherwise get the attention of police and other authorities when problems arise.
  • The researchers created their models using geocoded police data on assaults and geocoded data on the location of alcohol outlets in 298 block groups in Cincinnati.
  • Pridemore and Grubesic's research is among the first to apply theories and research techniques used by sociologists and geographers to the long-studied relationship between violence and community organization, typically the domain of epidemiologists and public health experts.

Pridemore will discuss the findings on Monday, Aug. 22, during the 2:30-4:10 p.m. session on Crime, Law and Deviance. The research was partially supported by IU's Faculty Research Support Program, administered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. The Department of Criminal Justice is part of the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington.

Pridemore can be reached at 812-856-2220 and Top

Kristin Seefeldt

Kristin Seefeldt

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Working without a net. Welfare and Unemployment Insurance, considered important parts of Americans' safety net during difficult financial times, have provided little to no help for many low-wage earners who have the shortest distance to fall. Poor women in a study by Indiana University sociologist Kristin Seefeldt grew to expect this. "For the lowest income citizens in the U.S., they have very, very limited expectations about what government could or should do for them even though they are being hit so hard by the recession," said Seefeldt, assistant professor in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. The women in her study also saw the support they received from private safety nets, such as family members, diminish as the recession worsened. The women struggled with a variety of issues, such as not qualifying for public benefits despite their dire situations, red tape that appeared overly cumbersome or interfered with their jobs, and discouraging interactions with case workers. National data, Seefeldt said, has shown that cash welfare caseloads have not increased much since the recession began. "Women have been left with nowhere else to turn but themselves," Seefeldt said. "This renders them very poor. I've found that these women often carry enormous amounts of debt, get behind on bills."

About the study:

  • From 2006-2010 Seefeldt conducted five rounds of in-depth interviews with 39 low-income women to document the extent to which they sought out public benefits and assistance from their private networks. The women ranged in age from 19 to 61 and had on average two children at home. They were married, divorced, single and widowed. At any given time 50-60 percent of the women worked, getting paid between $8-$13 an hour. Some experienced significant pay cuts during the recession. Some worked informally as babysitters and hair-stylists but saw demand for their services drop off as the economy worsened. Almost all of the women reported having worked since they were 18 or younger. Seefeldt said the economic downturn and recession has provided the first test of the U.S. work-based welfare reforms enacted in 1996 with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act. Poor women with children can receive cash benefits if they meet work requirements, such as working or searching for work. These work requirements have remained in place during the recession, even though jobs are scarce.

Seefeldt said these women also have trouble benefiting from the Unemployment Insurance program for a variety of reasons, such as holding seasonal jobs, not having earned enough to receive benefits, or working for employers who contest their application for benefits. "The Unemployment Insurance system is really set up with the assumption that people work full-time year round in the same job for long periods of time and then get laid off," she said. "Unemployment Insurance hasn't kept up with the realities of the labor market where people do move around a lot."

Seefeldt has an adjunct faculty appointment in the Department of Sociology in IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on low income families, particularly single mothers in the U.S. She will discuss her study on Saturday, Aug. 20, in the 2:30-4:10 p.m. session about welfare reform.

To speak with Seefeldt, contact Steve Hinnefeld, University Communications, at 812-856-3488 and Top

Hallett image

Photo by Chris Meyer

Tim Hallett

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Changing the meaning of "No Child Left Behind." How did the "No Child Left Behind" law come to be seen as "leaving children behind"? Indiana University researchers Tim Hallett and Emily Meanwell address the question through the lens of sociology. They say that education accountability policies, such as those in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, are not an abstract set of mandates but an "inhabited institution," where interactions matter. "When we think about accountability policy, people tend to think about it as some kind of abstract thing that's 'out there,'" Hallett said. "We want to show that accountability is an institution that's inhabited by people doing things together, interacting in congressional hearings. It's through these interactions that the meaning of No Child Left Behind is being challenged." Hallett, an associate professor in the IU Bloomington Department of Sociology, and Meanwell, a doctoral student, will present their research findings during the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas. Their presentation comes as Congress is again deadlocked over reauthorizing the federal education law. Some states have rebelled against NCLB's requirement that all students meet proficiency requirements by 2014. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has proposed waivers for states that adopt policies aimed at improving teacher effectiveness and turning around low-performing schools.

About the study

  • Hallett and Meanwell focus on a previous failed attempt to reauthorize the education law in 2007. They coded and analyzed 700 pages of testimony from congressional hearings in five states and Washington, D.C., in which educational stakeholders contested the meaning of No Child Left Behind. "Practitioners said that because of its requirements, the law leaves children behind," Hallett said. "This is key: How can you be against No Child Left Behind? To be against it, it has to change in meaning. We argue that the change in meaning is important because it becomes an opportunity to question whether accountability policies are appropriate and necessary." Witnesses in the congressional hearings argued that the law's focus on accountability for schools and for groups of children meant that individual children were left behind. They said the emphasis on passing state tests forced educators to focus on students who were "on the bubble," to the exclusion of low-achieving and high-achieving students.

The critiques of the law that teachers had been making with each other gained new weight when they were presented in the formal setting of congressional hearings. The result was a surprising change in meaning for a law that had passed with Republican and Democratic support just five years earlier. "No Child Left Behind had a lot of bipartisan support," Hallett said. "For all that bipartisan support to disappear, it's kind of shocking." Hallett says the research helps fill a gap in the sociology of education, which has tended to focus on factors that determine student success, not on institutions and policies. "Somewhat surprisingly," he says, "education policies have remained largely outside the focus of sociological research, generally addressed neither by sociologists of education nor sociologists focusing on social policies." Top

To speak with Hallett, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 and Top

Eric Wright

Eric Wright

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens and their friends. A research paper that looks at whether the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) teens is impacted by having some friends who knew about their sexual orientation and others who didn't was presented on Monday at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Las Vegas. The paper concludes that having one network of friends who knew and another network of friends who didn't know about the teens' sexual orientation does not have a strong relationship to mental health, said Eric Wright, one of four authors of a paper on the study who presented their findings at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 22.

About the study

  • Wright is director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a partner with the IU School of Medicine Department of Public Health. He is also the Division Director for Health Policy and Management in the Department of Public Health. He holds adjunct appointments in the IU School of Medicine and in the Department of Sociology, IU School of Liberal Arts. The analysis uses data collected from GLB youth who were becoming members of a community organization in Indiana between 1994 and 1998. While the data was collected more than a decade ago, it is the most comprehensive network inventory about gay, lesbian and bisexual youth ever gathered. Although prior research has demonstrated that network segregation operates in many dimensions such as race and gender, sexual orientation has received little attention.

A key question has been what helps and hinders kids in developing sexual orientation and managing their mental health, Wright said. "One of the hypotheses is whether kids are at greater risk for mental health problems when they keep their sexual identity separate from one network of friends and share it with another network." What this paper tests is the degree to which networks of people who knew or didn't know are separate. While the data isn't as clean as the researchers would have liked, it suggests kids are keeping networks separate, Wright said. However, the study found that segmentation of networks of friends -- between those who knew and those who did not know about the sexual orientation of the teens -- did not seem to be that important in determining their mental health. "Which sort of says kids may not be leading these double lives as much as we thought," Wright said. The takeaway is that if the social structure of their networks of friends doesn't matter than what may matter more in terms of the mental health of these teens is the particular emotional quality of the people they do have in their networks, including those who know and those who don't know, Wright said.

Wright can be reached at 317-274-3161 and Top