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RSF Review

RSF Review

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?

New York Times’ Andrea Elliott to Join Russell Sage Foundation as Visiting Journalist

April 3, 2014

New York Times investigative reporter Andrea Elliott will join the Russell Sage Foundation as a visiting journalist in residence for the period from April 7 through August 15, 2014.

In December 2013, the New York Times published Elliott’s groundbreaking five-part series, “Invisible Child,” which chronicled the life of an eleven-year-old homeless girl named Dasani, whose family of ten occupied a single room in a decrepit, city-run shelter in Brooklyn. So far this year, her project has received a George Polk award and a Scripps Howard award.

Elliott will be spending her time in residence at RSF writing a book based on these articles. She will examine the family’s story over three generations, illuminating the broader socioeconomic forces and policy dilemmas that shape the experiences of poor children growing up on the margins of a new Gilded Age.

A previous series by Elliott for the Times, “An Imam in America,” was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

New RSF Book Reviews in March Issue of Contemporary Sociology

March 27, 2014

A number of Russell Sage Foundation publications were featured in the March issue of Contemporary Sociology. Below are synopses of the books reviewed.

Family Consequences of Children’s Disabilities
By Dennis Hogan

The first comprehensive account of families of children with disabilities, Hogan’s book examines the financial and emotional costs of raising a child with a disability. Reviewer Gary Albrecht (University of Illinois at Chicago) states, “This volume sets a standard for accessible, contemporary scholarship which will appeal to researchers, students, and the general public alike.” He notes that “like much research with an edge,” Hogan’s work is informed by his own experiences—in this case, growing up with a disabled sibling. Family Consequences of Children’s Disabilities further employs data culled from seven national surveys and interviews with twenty-four mothers of children with disabilities, asking them questions about their family life, social supports, and how other children in the home were faring. As Albrecht concludes, “This is a thought-provoking book that confirms some common sense notions with data but surprises with analyses of the fine texture of family structure and relationships.”

Click here to read more about the book or purchase a copy.

Investigating the Link between Income Inequality and Marriage Rates

March 24, 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.

Current Visiting Scholar Andrew Cherlin’s ongoing research investigates the social consequences of increased polarization in the U.S. labor market over the last few decades. Combining analyses of longitudinal data with qualitative interviews with young men, Cherlin argues that deindustrialization of the American economy is a major factor in the decline of the working-class family.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Cherlin discussed the ways in which the polarization of the labor market has affected marriage rates, and what this means for low-income populations. Click here to read more about his work at the Russell Sage Foundation.

Q. Your research discusses the disappearance of a unified “working class” in the U.S. But at the same time, income inequality is higher than ever, and most job growth has been in the low-wage sector. Do we still have a “working class,” and if so, what does that look like today?

A New Model for Talking About Race at Work

March 14, 2014

Since the 1960s, the dominant model for fostering diversity and inclusion in the United States has been the “color blind” approach, which emphasizes similarity and assimilation and insists that people should be understood as individuals, not as members of racial or cultural groups. This approach is especially prevalent in the workplace, where discussions about race and ethnicity are considered taboo. Yet, as widespread as “color blindness” has become, many studies show that the practice has damaging repercussions, including reinforcing the existing racial hierarchy by ignoring the significance of racism and discrimination.

How might we implement alternative models for addressing the sensitive issue of race in the workplace? In their new RSF book, The Color Bind, authors Erica Foldy and Tamara Buckley offer a theory of “color cognizance” to describe a more effective method of confronting issues related to race and ethnicity. Color cognizance, as they define it, is the practice of recognizing and openly discussing the profound impact of race and ethnicity on life experiences (including acknowledging histories of discrimination) while also affirming the importance of racial diversity for society. Based on an intensive two-and-a-half-year study of employees at a child welfare agency, The Color Bind outlines how color cognizance is successfully deployed in a workplace setting, using three work teams in particular to illustrate the factors that enable color cognizance to flourish.

Upcoming Event with RSF Authors Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane

March 11, 2014

In their landmark 2011 volume, Whither Opportunity?, co-published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, Greg J. Duncan and Richard J. Murnane traced the contours of deepening educational inequality in the U.S. Now, in their recent follow-up volume, Restoring Opportunity, the authors present a thoroughly researched and hopeful education agenda. Co-published by Harvard Education Press and the Russell Sage Foundation, Restoring Opportunity provides extensive information about how to improve schools so that students from poor families can boost their learning and increase their chances of going to college or attaining vocational skills.