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RSF Review

RSF Authors to Discuss Poverty in the U.S. at Upcoming Conference

June 4, 2014

A June 19 summit on America’s poverty crisis, organized by the Hamilton Project at Brookings, will bring together leading scholars, policymakers, practitioners, and business and labor leaders for a series of discussions on strategies for combating poverty. Former president Bill Clinton will deliver remarks on the opening day of the summit. Included among the featured speakers are several contributors to the Russell Sage Foundation’s Legacies of the War on Poverty, a 2013 release that analyzed the remarkable and enduring policy successes of the War on Poverty.

At the conference, Harry Holzer (Georgetown University) will participate in a roundtable discussion on new approaches to building skills within the U.S. labor force. Holzer’s chapter in Legacies of the War on Poverty examines changing trends in employment and training policy for low-income individuals since the War on Poverty was launched. Bridget Terry Long (Harvard Graduate School of Education), whose contribution to Legacies traces the evolution of higher education policies, will discuss strategies for addressing the academic barriers to higher education.

New Working Paper Explores Low-Income Families’ Use of Social Safety Net Programs During the Great Recession

June 3, 2014

In a new working paper for the Great Recession Initiative, Robert A. Moffitt of Johns Hopkins University explores the extent to which families that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—or food stamps—also receive benefits from other federal aid programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). As he finds, in 2008, 76 percent of families receiving SNAP also participated in at least one other major benefit, excluding Medicaid. However, over half of these only received one other benefit and only a very small fraction received more than two others.

As Moffitt explains, analyzing SNAP families’ participation in additional social safety net programs is crucial for understanding the other needs of SNAP households—such as whether these households tend to include family members with disabilities—or if overall, they simply have such low income that they require additional support for other expenses such as housing and medical care. Noting that policy analysts and scholars have long expressed concerns that the receipt of multiple programs may have negative effects on work incentives, Moffitt also investigates whether multiple-program participation by SNAP families deters household members from seeking employment.

How Genetics Can Enrich the Way We Study Social Inequality

May 22, 2014

This feature is part of a new RSF blog series, Work in Progress, which highlights some of the ongoing research of our current class of Visiting Scholars.

Visiting Scholar Dalton Conley is well acquainted with working across disciplines: He currently holds multiple appointments at NYU, including in the Sociology Department, the School of Medicine, and the Wagner School of Public Service. In his time in residence at the Russell Sage Foundation, he is examining the impact of genetics on socioeconomic attainment. Using genetic markers—genes or DNA sequences that can be used to identify particular inherited characteristics—in nationally representative data sets, Conley will attempt to construct genetic risk scores and use them to deepen our understanding of the relationship between genetic endowment and socioeconomic status.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Conley discussed the history of merging genetics with the social sciences, and offered ways of using new genetics data to enrich the way we form policies to address social inequality.

Q. Your research examines the intersection of biology and the social sciences, and in particular, tries to understand how molecular genetics can help explain social stratification. Due to historical misuses of science to justify social inequality (as with the eugenics movement in the nineteenth century or, more recently, Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve) this has been such a controversial area that many social scientists now steer clear of biological explanations altogether. How do you reconcile this fraught history with your own work, and what's new about your research?

Mass Deportations and Latino Voters

May 20, 2014

With the Foundation’s support, political scientists Alex Street and Chris Zepeda-Millán, in collaboration with Michael Jones-Correa, conducted an online survey of more than 1200 second generation Latinos to test whether socialization experiences are shaped by the responses of parents, children, and other political actors to the unique situation of U.S. citizens with undocumented parents. Among other consequences, they explore the effects of knowledge of deportations among second generation Latinos, especially on the evaluations of Democratic and Republican parties.

They “find that when young Latino citizens become aware of the Obama administration’s deportation policies, they view the Democratic Party as significantly less welcoming. Given that partisan attachments formed by young adulthood tend to persist through voters’ lives, this suggests that current deportation policies have the potential to alienate Latino voters from the Democratic Party for decades.”

Private Equity at Work: New Book Examines Private Equity’s Role in the U.S. Economy & Labor Market

May 15, 2014

As private equity's largest buyout in history enters bankruptcy proceedings and the SEC investigates questionable industry practices, the Russell Sage Foundation announces the publication of Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street. This book is the first comprehensive examination of the private equity industry and its effect on the U.S. economy. Co-authored by economist Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and professor Rosemary Batt of Cornell University, Private Equity at Work explores the history, economic performance, and positive and negative consequences of private equity leveraged buyouts.

The book offers a new, original analysis of how private equity firms are affecting jobs and the sustainability of companies in a slow economic recovery. It also draws on extensive research to explain how the private equity business model creates incentives for excessive use of debt, putting healthy companies and their workers at risk. While demonstrating the constructive effects that some private equity firms have had, the book's research debunks commonly held myths about the industry and provides a nuanced analysis of private equity's contribution to economic inequality and unemployment. It also offers critical insights into policies that improve transparency, increase accountability and curb the negative effects of private equity.

Fairness and Punishment Across Human Societies

May 6, 2014

Experimenting with Social Norms, edited by Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich, compiles and synthesizes a rich combination of experimental and ethnographic findings from an international team of anthropologists and economists aimed at investigating the tensions between cooperation and self-interest across diverse human societies. How do societies manage to solve problems collectively, enticing individuals to forego their own narrow short-term economic interests in a way that benefits the whole group, and fosters mutually beneficial exchange? And furthermore, how does the decision to subordinate one’s self-interests for the larger group—or what Ensminger and Henrich call prosocial behavior—vary among different societies based on locally acquired social norms and motivations?

Using experimental economics games, this team examined levels of fairness, cooperation, and norms for punishing those who violate expectations of equality across a diverse swath of societies, from hunter-gatherers in Tanzania to a small town in rural Missouri. The researchers employed the following games to assess each group’s level of prosociality:

Dictator Game
Two players from the same community, interacting anonymously, are given a sum of money equivalent to one day’s wages to split. Player 1, assigned to be the “dictator,” decides how to allocate the money between the two players. Both players receive the actual amounts of money that Player 1 “dictates.” In Europe and the U.S. a fifty-fifty split is considered a “fair” outcome.

Ultimatum Game
This version of the dictator game adds an ultimatum: Though Player 1 decides how to allocate the money, Player 2 may reject the offer—in which case, neither party receives anything. The behavior of Player 1 in this scenario has elements of both fairness and strategy, while the behavior of Player 2 in this game captures the price that people are willing to pay to punish Player 1 for what they perceive to be an unfair offer. The willingness to punish an anonymous partner for unfairness, at a personal monetary cost, can be interpreted as prosocial behavior because this punishment may alter Player 1’s future interactions with other group members.

Third-Party Punishment Game
In this experiment, two people play the Dictator Game with the addition of a third anonymous player— endowed with an amount of money equivalent to half the amount given to the first two players—who has the option of using any part of his or her money to punish Player 1 for making an unfair offer to Player 2. Unlike the Ultimatum Game, in the Third-Party Punishment Game, the person paying a price to do the punishing is not the injured party.

RSF Scholar Robert Solow Reviews Thomas Piketty

May 2, 2014

The recent swell of media attention around French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has propelled it to the New York Times’ bestseller list and the #1 spot on Amazon. An ambitious examination of income inequality, Piketty’s work illuminates the mechanisms that allow wealth to concentrate in the top 1% of society. He argues that when the rate of return on existing capital exceeds the rate of economic growth, the wealth of the rich will accumulate faster than that of the rest of society, exacerbating inequality and heralding in a new Gilded Age.

Though Piketty’s book has been the subject of a robust discussion between journalists and pundits, how does it stack up before a Nobel Prize winning economist? In his review of the book for The New Republic, Robert Solow—the 1987 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and the Russell Sage Foundation’s Robert S. Merton Scholar—says that Piketty’s theory on inequality is right. Calling Piketty’s paradigm the “rich-get-richer dynamic,” Solow describes the book as a “new and powerful contribution to an old topic.” Piketty’s theory, Solow further notes, also portends that not only will the rich get richer across the board, but inherited wealth in society will increase faster than that of recently earned (and therefore more merit-based) fortunes.

RSF Trustees Kathryn Edin and Lawrence Katz Elected to National Academy of Sciences

May 1, 2014

On Tuesday, April 29, the National Academy of Sciences announced the election of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Diversity, Admissions, and Merit in the Ivy League and Oxbridge

April 25, 2014

This feature is part of a new RSF blog series, Work in Progress, which highlights some of the ongoing research of our current class of Visiting Scholars.

On Tuesday, April 22, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 to allow states to ban affirmative action, or the use of race as a factor in admissions to state universities. The ruling, which upheld Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning affirmative action, came on the heels of last June’s controversial Fisher v. University of Texas case, in which a white applicant rejected for admission to the University of Texas sought to challenge the school’s race-conscious admissions policy.

Natasha Warikoo, a current RSF Visiting Scholar and Assistant Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is examining student perspectives on admissions policies at elite institutions in the U.S. and the U.K. Drawing from 144 in-depth interviews with undergraduates at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford, Warikoo’s research focuses on how students’ conceptions of diversity and merit, along with institutional supports for inter-cultural contact, inform campus experiences, especially related to race.

In a new interview with the Foundation, she discussed her ongoing comparative research, including the ways in which the different admissions policies across two regions can significantly influence how students view themselves and their fellow classmates.

Q. Your research here at RSF investigates the way undergraduate students at elite universities in the U.S. (Harvard and Brown) and the U.K. (Oxford and Cambridge) understand the relationship between meritocracy and admissions. Could you give a brief summary of the main differences between universities' admissions considerations in these two regions, and explain how the admission process subsequently shapes students' conceptions of merit?

Disaster Recovery and the Vietnamese Community in New Orleans

April 22, 2014

This feature is part of a new RSF blog series, Work in Progress, which highlights some of the ongoing research of our current class of Visiting Scholars.

The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina unevenly impacted the residents of New Orleans along racial and class lines. While many scholars and politicians have focused on the lack of federal aid to low-income black neighborhoods in the wake of the disaster, Visiting Scholar Mark VanLandingham’s research examines a lesser known community—that of the Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in New Orleans in the 1970s. In his time in residence at the Foundation, VanLandingham is investigating the sources and limits of resilience within the Vietnamese American community in New Orleans, with a special focus on the community’s recovery during the post-Katrina era.

In a new interview with the Foundation, VanLandingham discussed the impact of the hurricane on this community, looking in particular at the combination of cultural and material advantages that may have aided the disaster recovery of the Vietnamese.

Q. Your research examines the Vietnamese immigrant community, which was largely overlooked in the post-disaster coverage of Hurricane Katrina. You found that overall this group fared better than other groups in the recovery. How do we measure “recovery” and what did the Vietnamese community’s post-disaster recovery look like in comparison to other groups in New Orleans?