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RSF Review

Political Participation and the Cost of Abstention

February 3, 2015

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

During her time in residence at the Russell Sage Foundation, Susan Stokes (Yale) is writing a book investigating why people choose to participate in elections and demonstrations. She argues that the cost of abstention—or how much a person feels he or she will lose by not voting—can explain why people turn out at higher rates when the office to be filled is elevated. Stokes is also exploring how the cost of abstention may shed new insight on why low-income populations vote at lower rates than more affluent populations.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Stokes discussed how this theory complements prior models of political participation. She also detailed how the cost of abstention can help us understand what drives people to vote and to take part in political demonstrations—including, surprisingly, when violent police repression occurs.

Q. Much of the research on political participation has focused on the cost of participation. By contrast, your current research offers a model of the cost of abstention, which includes factors like the guilt or discomfort that may result from not voting. How does this complement the classic Riker and Ordeshook theory of the calculus of voting? Can we think of the costs of abstention as being similar to feeling a sense of duty when it comes to political participation?

RSF Research Backs Obama’s “Middle-Class Economics”

January 30, 2015

In his State of the Union address on January 20, President Obama introduced the idea of “middle-class economics.” Recounting the story of the Erlers, a Minneapolis family struggling to pay off student loans and recover from a stint of unemployment, Obama stressed the need to “restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.” Middle-class economics would entail more aid for working families such as a higher minimum wage, quality child care, access to higher education, and paid sick leave. These policies, he concluded, would support “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

A new article in the New York Times confirms that America’s middle class has, indeed, been floundering. Though most Americans continue to identify as middle class—and 60% of those believe that it is still possible for them to become rich—incomes have stagnated, leaving more and more families struggling to get by. The Times article cites RSF trustee Lawrence Katz, who observed that while those at the top of the income ladder have benefited from the economy’s slow recovery from the Great Recession, most middle-class workers have seen few economic gains. He noted, “You’ve got an iPhone now and a better TV, but your median income hasn’t changed. What’s really changed is the penthouse has become supernice.”

Racial Passing in the U.S. and Mexico in the Early Twentieth Century

January 22, 2015

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

During his time in residence at the Russell Sage Foundation, Visiting Scholar Karl Jacoby (Columbia University) is completing a book that examines the changing race relations along the U.S.–Mexico border at the dawn of the twentieth century. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and the unique biographical details of one individual in particular, his book will analyze the distinct systems of racial classification found in the two countries despite their geographical proximity, and show how the border shapes race relations in both countries.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Jacoby discussed the growing field of “microhistory,” and detailed his current research on the elusive figure of Guillermo Eliseo (also known as William Ellis), an African American who was able to “pass” as an upper-class Mexican in the United States, and whose life’s story sheds critical insight on the racial regimes of both Mexico and the U.S. during the Gilded Age.

Q. Your current research fits into a practice that some have called “microhistory”. What is microhistory? How do we connect these highly detailed narratives to larger social issues of a given era?

Dina Okamoto on the Construction of Panethnicity

January 20, 2015

The category “Asian American” currently encompasses more than forty-five Asian-origin groups, from countries ranging from Bangladesh to Vietnam to South Korea. How did one label come to include such a wide range of ethnicities, national origins, and languages, and represent individuals across vastly different social and economic standings? In Redefining Race, a new book from the Russell Sage Foundation, sociologist Dina G. Okamoto traces the complex evolution of “Asian American” as a cohesive identity, emphasizing how it has been a deliberate social achievement negotiated by group members, rather than an organic and inevitable process.

As Okamoto explains, a combination of broad social conditions in the post-Civil Rights era created an environment for Asian American panethnicity to develop. While the expansion of immigration policies in the 1960s allowed greater numbers of Asian immigrants into the U.S., these new immigrant groups were subsequently subject to racial discrimination by the state and larger society. At the same time, movements led by African Americans, women, and students provided Asian groups with models for political organizing and sparked the push for greater political representation among minorities. These conditions laid the groundwork for a collective identity among Asian immigrants of different ethnicities:

The Role of Chinatown Bus Lines and Employment Agencies for New Immigrants

January 7, 2015

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

As an affordable mode of transportation up and down the East Coast, the Chinatown bus lines operating out of New York City have become an increasingly popular service even for those outside of the Chinese immigrant community. Yet, a series of high-profile traffic accidents involving these buses over the last few years have raised concerns about their safety, and in 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration began a crackdown on many of the Chinatown buses.

While the closure of such bus lines may present an inconvenience for those looking for cheap vacation transportation, these shutdowns, if continued, could have a far more serious impact on newly arrived Chinese immigrants. Zai Liang (SUNY Albany), who is currently writing a book on the patterns of employment and settlement among recent low-skilled Chinese immigrants, identifies the Chinatown bus lines as a vital component of the job networks for new immigrants. His current research examines the role of both these bus lines and Chinatown’s employment agencies in facilitating immigrant settlement in destinations outside of New York City.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Liang explained how the bus lines and employment agencies help new immigrants find jobs, support their families, and even begin their own businesses outside of New York.

Q. Your current research examines the settlement patterns of recent Chinese immigrants in the US, focusing in particular on the role of New York City Chinatown employment agencies and the Chinatown bus lines. How do these two institutions work together to influence or accommodate the movements of Chinese immigrants?

Andrew McAfee Joins the Russell Sage Foundation as Visiting Scholar

January 5, 2015

Andrew McAfee, co-founder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, will join the Russell Sage Foundation as a Visiting Scholar for the spring term, starting in January 2015.

McAfee, who was previously a professor at Harvard Business School and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, is currently a principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is the author of the 2009 book Enterprise 2.0, and co-author of the 2014 the book The Second Machine Age. McAfee’s current research focuses on the influence of information technology (IT) on business and how IT changes the way companies perform, organize themselves, and compete.

During his time in residence at the Foundation, McAfee will work on a book about the economic and social implications of recent rapid progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). His study will trace the ways in which artificial intelligence is evolving, and analyze how these changes may impact jobs and wages, income inequality, and the health of individuals and communities.

Call for Papers in Behavioral Economics

December 17, 2014

On July 8-9, 2015, the Russell Sage Foundation will sponsor a Conference for Early-Career Behavioral Economists in Chicago. The goals of this conference are to allow early-career researchers to present research and receive feedback and to help develop a community of junior behavioral economists.

Any early-career behavioral economist can apply. This includes graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and assistant professors who received their Ph.D. after Spring 2010. We expect to select about 20 presenters. Please submit an abstract of about 1000 words of the proposed paper and an abbreviated CV (5 pages maximum) by January 31, 2015, to If financial assistance is needed in order for you to participate, please provide details in a cover letter, including whether your university may provide funding to cover some of your expenses.

Political Party Identification Among Latino Immigrants

December 15, 2014

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

In his time in residence at the Russell Sage Foundation, Visiting Scholar James McCann (Purdue University) is writing a book on the effects of political campaigns in fostering partisan identification among Latino immigrants. Though other research on this topic has shown immigrants to be generally estranged from party politics, McCann finds considerable “potential” partisanship among immigrants.

In October, McCann responded to a claim in the Washington Post that suggested that lighter-skinned Latinos were more likely than darker-skinned Latinos to identify as Republican. He rejected this notion, offering a breakdown of the data used to track the correlation between skin color and partisanship, and concluding, “Is there in fact such a relationship? The 2012 American National Election Study offers scant evidence of this.”

In an interview with the Foundation, McCann provided some further remarks on party identification among Latinos, and discussed his research on the political incorporation of new immigrants to the United States.

Andrew Cherlin on Income Inequality and the Marriage Gap

December 12, 2014

A new RSF book by Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin, Labor’s Love Lost, provides an in-depth historical assessment of the rise and fall of working-class families in America. While industrial occupations were once plentiful and sustained middle-class families, they have all but vanished over the past forty years. As Cherlin shows, in their absence, ever-growing numbers of young adults now hold precarious, low-paid jobs with few fringe benefits. Facing such insecure economic prospects, less-educated young adults are increasingly forgoing marriage and are having children within unstable cohabiting relationships. This has created a large marriage gap between them and their more affluent, college-educated peers.

In a review of Labor’s Love Lost for TIME, Belinda Luscombe notes, “What Cherlin finds that this is not the first time that there has been a wide disparity between the marital fortunes of the rich and the poor: the situation looked similar during the last Gilded Age. Inequality in bank accounts and in marital status go hand in hand.” As the graph below shows, marriage disparities widen in times of significant income inequality:

Source: New York Times

Fall 2014 Presidential Authority Awards in Social Inequality and the Future of Work

December 5, 2014

The Russell Sage Foundation has recently approved the following Presidential Authority awards in two key programs, Social Inequality and the Future of Work. Click the titles below to read more about each award.