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RSF Review

The Asian American Achievement Paradox in the News

August 18, 2015

The Asian American Achievement Paradox, a new RSF book by sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, recently has been cited in the news. In the wake of a renewed conversation in the media on so-called “tiger” parenting and Asian Americans’ sizeable presence at elite universities, co-author Jennifer Lee spoke with several outlets about the findings in the book, including BBC World News, BlogHer, and Inside Higher Education. As Lee explained in an interview with The Gist, while many pundits have claimed that Asian Americans’ high educational attainment reflects unique cultural values, her research with Zhou bridges sociology and social psychology to explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture all interact to foster high educational achievement among certain Asian American groups.

Lee also expanded these points in an August op-ed for CNN, writing, “Zhou and I explain what actually fuels the achievements of some Asian American groups: U.S. immigration law, which favors highly educated, highly skilled immigrant applicants from Asian countries.” These immigrants bring with them a specific “success frame,” which requires earning a degree from an elite university and working in a high-status field. These goals are reinforced in many local Asian communities, which make resources such as college preparation courses and tutoring available to group members, including their low-income members. And, Lee noted in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Because of the hyperselectivity of Asian immigrants, Asian-American students are benefiting from this perception that all Asian-Americans are highly educated and work hard and are high-achieving. Being viewed through the lens of the positive stereotype can enhance the performance of Asian-American students.”

New Report: Five Stories of Accidental Ethnography

August 14, 2015

The August 2015 issue of Qualitative Research journal contains a new report by former Visiting Scholar Lee Ann Fujii (University of Toronto). During her time in residence at the Foundation, Fujii investigated the processes that drive people to join in brutal forms of violence against neighbors in their communities. Using data from intensive interviews and primary documents, Fujii researched public displays of violence in three contexts: the Bosnian War, the Rwandan genocide, and Jim Crow Maryland.

In her new article, Fujii discusses the ethnographic field research she undertook to study group violence, focusing in particular on how "accidental" interactions that took place outside of formal interviews and surveys informed her conclusions. The abstract states:

Observations of daily life are the bread and butter of ethnography but rarely feature as data in other kinds of work. Could non-ethnographic studies also benefit from such observations? If so, how? This article proposes ‘accidental ethnography’ as a method that field researchers can use to gain better understanding of the research context and their own social positioning within that context. Accidental ethnography involves paying systematic attention to the unplanned moments that take place outside an interview, survey, or other structured methods. In these moments the researcher might hear a surprising story or notice an everyday scene she had previously overlooked. The importance of these observations lies not in what they tell us about the particular, but rather what they suggest about the larger political and social world in which they (and the researcher) are embedded. The paper illustrates the argument by presenting five stories from the author’s experiences conducting research on local violence in Rwanda, Bosnia, the US, and elsewhere.

Announcing RSF Visiting Researchers, 2015-16

August 11, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation is pleased to announce that two recipients of Presidential Authority Awards will be in residence at the Foundation this year.

Robert Kuttner will be in residence from September 15, 2015 to January 31, 2016. He is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine and visiting professor of social policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School. He was a founder of the Economic Policy Institute and serves on its board and executive committee. Kuttner is author of ten books, including the 2008 New York Times bestseller, Obama's Challenge: American's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. He is a two-time winner of the Sidney Hillman Journalism Award, the John Hancock Award for Financial Writing, the Jack London Award for Labor Writing, and the Paul Hoffman Award of the United Nations Development Program for his lifetime work on economic efficiency and social justice.

During his time in residence at the Foundation, Kuttner will work on a book that assesses how globalization has complicated the project of managing capitalism and even affected democracy itself. He will investigate the extent to which globalization, technology, cultural shifts, and domestic policies have contributed to growing wealth and income inequality in the U.S. and other countries.

Steven Greenhouse will be in residence from September 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. He is a labor and workplace reporter, formerly for the New York Times (1995 to 2014). He has covered topics including poverty among the nation’s farm workers, labor’s role in politics, the shortcomings of New York State's workers compensation system and the battles to roll back collective bargaining rights for public employees. Greenhouse is a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut (1973), the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (1975) and the New York University School of Law (1982). He is the author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (2008).

RSF President Sheldon Danziger on the Successes of the War on Poverty

August 5, 2015

RSF president Sheldon Danziger recently appeared on Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America—a program on WNET-13, New York public television—to discuss the lasting impact of several of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives. While some politicians and pundits have dismissed the War on Poverty as a failure, Danziger argues that the poverty rate in America would be much higher without programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and food stamps—all of which were established under the War on Poverty.

Danziger is the co-editor with Martha J. Bailey of the 2013 RSF book Legacies of the War on Poverty, which draws from fifty years of empirical evidence to offer an assessment of some of the policy successes of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Prior to joining the Russell Sage Foundation, Danziger was the Henry J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Research Professor at the Population Studies Center, and Director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.

Watch Danziger’s interview with Chasing the Dream below:

RSF Books Win Max Weber Award, Frank Luther Mott Award

August 4, 2015

Several RSF titles have recently received book awards for their distinguished contributions to the social sciences. In June, Unequal Time (2014) by Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel was named the winner of the Max Weber Award for Distinguished Scholarship by the Organizations, Occupations, and Work (OOW) Section of the American Sociological Association. In Unequal Time, Clawson and Gerstel explore the ways in which social inequalities permeate the workplace and show how the schedules of some workers can shape the schedules of others in ways that exemplify and often exacerbate gender and class differences. Focusing on four occupations in the health sector—doctors, nurses, EMTs, and nursing assistants—the authors show how all of these workers experience the effects of schedule uncertainty but do so in very distinct ways for each occupation.

The OOW also awarded an honorable mention to Nancy DiTomaso for her RSF book The American Non-Dilemma (2013). In the book, DiTomaso draws from interviews with working, middle, and upper-class whites to show that while the vast majority of whites profess strong support for civil rights and equal opportunity regardless of race, they continue to pursue their own group-based advantage, especially in the labor market where whites tend to favor other whites in securing jobs protected from market competition. This “opportunity hoarding” leads to substantially improved life outcomes for whites due to their greater access to social resources from family, schools, churches, and other institutions with which they are engaged.

New Report: The Deserving Poor, the Family, and the U.S. Welfare System

July 29, 2015

A new report by RSF grantee Robert A. Moffitt in the most recent issue of Demography journal explores the changes to the welfare system across the last several decades. Moffitt argues that although the system as a whole has expanded, financial support has evolved very differently for different demographic and economic groups, which may reflect long-held societal notions of which of the poor are "deserving" of aid and which are not. The report's abstract states:

Contrary to the popular view that the U.S. welfare system has been in a contractionary phase after the expansions of the welfare state in the 1960s, welfare spending resumed steady growth after a pause in the 1970s. However, although aggregate spending is higher than ever, there have been redistributions away from non-elderly and nondisabled families to families with older adults and to families with recipients of disability programs; from non-elderly, nondisabled single-parent families to married-parent families; and from the poorest families to those with higher incomes. These redistributions likely reflect long-standing, and perhaps increasing, conceptualizations by U.S. society of which poor are deserving and which are not.

New RSF/Pew Report Shows Social Mobility Is Limited in the U.S.

July 23, 2015

New research co-funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts contains sobering new evidence on the lack of social mobility in the United States. In their report, authors David Grusky and Pablo Mitnik (Stanford University) note that approximately half of parental income advantages in the United States are passed on to children, which is among the lowest estimates of economic mobility yet produced.

The study, "Economic Mobility in the United States," provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the intergenerational transmission of economic advantage. The report draws on a new data set from tax returns and other administrative sources to overcome limitations that hampered previous studies. These findings make clear that children raised in families that are far apart on the income ladder can expect markedly different economic futures. As Joe Pinsker writes about the report in the Atlantic, “This means that the amount of money one makes can be roughly predicted by how much money one’s parents made, and that only gets truer as one moves along the earnings spectrum.”

RSF president Sheldon Danziger stated, “The report documents that public policies must do more to level the playing field so that children from low-income families have greater opportunities to compete in the 21st century economy. Over recent decades, the rising income and wealth of affluent parents have allowed them to increase investments in their children, from day care through college. At the same time, wages have stagnated for most workers and low-income families have struggled to pay for routine expenses.”

This report utilizes the intergenerational elasticity (IGE) to measure the share of economic advantage that is passed on to children. The IGE is typically between zero and one, with an IGE of zero implying that children from families of different socioeconomic status have the same expected income as one another, with no inherited income advantage or disadvantage. An IGE of one, on the other hand, implies that parental advantages are fully passed on.

RSF Launches New Visiting Journalist Fellowship Program

July 16, 2015

The Russell Sage Foundation is pleased to announce the establishment of a Visiting Journalist Fellowship for projects related to the Foundation's mission of the "improvement of social and living conditions in the United States." The growth of economic inequality and its consequences, inequities in educational achievement and attainment, the social, political and economic impacts of immigration, and recent racial tensions over urban policing, are all examples of topics addressed by journalists that are central to RSF’s core programs.

Visiting Journalists will have an opportunity to work in residence at the Foundation for a period of 1-3 months and to interact with resident Visiting Scholars who might help inform the development of their projects.

The Foundation is now accepting Visiting Journalist applications for the 2016-17 year, with a deadline of September 1, 2015 at 11:59pm EST.

RSF Author Jennifer Lee Interviewed by U.S. Embassy in New Zealand

July 14, 2015

RSF author and former Visiting Scholar Jennifer Lee (University of California, Irvine) recently visited New Zealand to deliver a keynote address at the Population Association of New Zealand conference. During her time in Wellington, she participated in an interview at the U.S. Embassy and discussed diversity and population trends in America.

The Complex History of Public Education in the U.S.

July 10, 2015

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

During her time in residence at the Foundation, Elizabeth Shermer (Loyola) has worked on a book that examines the origins of the contemporary crisis in public higher education. She argues that contrary to popular belief, state universities have always been subject to market forces. Shermer finds that there was never enough government funding to create a geographically-uniform system of mass higher education, and that as a result, public universities have long been influenced by private sector interests.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Shermer discussed the complex history of the rise of public education in the U.S. and recommended policies for expanding access to higher education for low-income students.

Q. Your current research challenges the popular myth of a "golden era" of public higher education by demonstrating how, from the very beginning, state schools experienced a number of funding problems and relied on different public-private partnerships to grow. Can you briefly flesh out the history of one state school to illustrate how public higher education's growth always required ties to a variety of different businesses and institutions?