Skip to Navigation

RSF Review

RSF Review

Developing a Racial Mobility Perspective for the Social Sciences

March 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.

We tend to think of race as a part of one’s identity that stays fixed throughout their lifetime—unlike socioeconomic status, which has the potential to change. But new research by current Visiting Scholar Aliya Saperstein (Stanford) offers a provocative new perspective on the mutability of race today.

During her time in residence at the Russell Sage Foundation, Saperstein is completing a book that examines the ways in which an individual’s racial status can shift based on changes to their social status. Her research focuses on the fluidity of racial perceptions, including how people self-identify racially, how they are classified by others, and how conceptions of race change both within and across generations.

In a new interview, Saperstein discussed how using a “racial mobility perspective” can help social scientists conceptualize the complex interactions between race and socioeconomic status today.

Q. What is a racial mobility perspective? How does it build upon what social scientists already understand about status attainment and socioeconomic mobility to highlight important features of racial inequality in the US?

New Awards Approved in Future of Work, Social Inequality, and Cultural Contact Programs

March 2, 2015

Seven new research projects were funded at the Foundation’s February 2015 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The Foundation’s Future of Work program examines the causes and consequences of the declining quality of jobs for less- and moderately-educated workers in the U.S. economy and the role of changes in employer practices, the nature of the labor market and public policies on the employment, earnings, and the quality of jobs of American workers. The following project was recently funded under the program:

Minimum Wage Policies and Low-Wage Work: An Assessment of New Methods and Measures
Arindrajit Dube (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Jointly funded with the MacArthur Foundation

Economist Arindrajit Dube, who has been at the forefront of new minimum wage research, will assess the contradictory findings in the recent literature on whether increasing the minimum wage raises labor costs and leads to fewer jobs at the bottom of the labor market.

New Reviews of RSF Books Unequal Time and The Long Shadow

February 25, 2015

Unequal Time, a 2014 RSF book by Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel, was recently reviewed by Matthew M. Piszczek in ILR Review: The Journal of Work and Policy. Piszczek praised the book as “an interesting and much-needed expansion on the conceptualization of work schedules that aptly recognizes the limitations of more typical perspectives.” In Unequal Time, Clawson and Gerstel the ways in which social inequalities permeate the workplace, reverberating through a web of time in which the schedules of one person 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, largely shaped by the intersection of gender and class.

As Piszcek points out in his review, the book deftly demonstrates how workplace scheduling is a collective, rather than individual, affair. He concludes, “I recommend this book for anyone interested in the broad area of gender and class in the workplace, but especially for those interested in moving forward the work schedule and working-time research domains.”

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz Joins RSF as Visiting Researcher

February 23, 2015

Google Data Scientist and New York Times op-ed contributor Seth Stephens-Davidowitz will join the Russell Sage Foundation as a Visiting Researcher for the spring term, starting in February 2015.

Stephens-Davidowitz received a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard in 2013. His work focuses on using big-data sources to uncover previously hidden behaviors and attitudes. During his time in residence at the Foundation, Stephens-Davidowitz will work on a book tentatively titled Needles and Haystacks: The Smart Way to Use New Data, to be published by Harper Collins. Based primarily on Stephens-Davidowitz’s original research, the book will be a popular introduction to new big-data sets, including studies on how much racism cost Obama in elections, whether bad weather causes depression, how a bad economy affects crime, and whether advertising works, among other topics.

Quantal Response Equilibrium and the Limitations of Game Theory

February 18, 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, Thomas Palfrey (California Institute of Technology) is writing a book on Quantal Response Equilibrium (QRE) and its applications to the social sciences. Developed by Palfrey and Richard McKelvey, QRE is a game theory concept that is now one of the leading approaches to modeling bounded rationality—the idea that individuals’ rationality is limited by the information they have—in games.

In a new interview with the Foundation, Palfrey explained some of the basic applications of game theory to public policy, and the limitations of those approaches.

Q. What is Nash Equilibrium? How has it been applied to public policy, and what are its limitations?

New Report: Power, Change, and ‘The Culture of Psychiatry’

February 12, 2015

A new article by RSF grantee Sadeq Rahimi, who also contributed to the 2011 RSF publication Shattering Culture, has been published in Anthropology & Medicine. The abstract states:

It is not uncommon to encounter ‘the culture of psychiatry’ used as a descriptive or even explanatory concept in discussions of psychiatric practices and services, specifically in research addressing cultural aspects of psychiatry. Drawing on data from research on the role of culture in psychiatric services in the Boston area, this paper critically examines the attribution of a ‘culture’ to psychiatry, which is prevalent not simply in mainstream psychiatric literature, but also in certain lines of cultural psychiatry, specifically those dedicated to political and anti-racist activism. It is argued that the use of such terminology could be misleading as it implicitly attributes a sense of coherence and agency to what may best be described as a set of related discourses and sociopolitical practices. It is further suggested that, given the implications of using such terminology as ‘culture’ in our discussions of psychiatry as a social institution, a scientific discourse, or a clinical practice, it would be more fruitful to address the analytic concepts of power, meaning, and the sociopolitical functions of psychiatry instead.

New Spring 2015 Books from RSF

February 5, 2015

Below is a first look at new and forthcoming books from the Foundation for Spring 2015. The list includes Beyond Obamacare, a major new analysis of how to reorient the broken health care system in the U.S.; The Asian American Achievement Paradox, an investigation of the “model minority” stereotype and why certain immigrant groups succeed; Too Many Children Left Behind, a comparative study across four countries of the socioeconomic achievement gap among grade-school children; and Gender and International Migration, a historical evaluation of the changes in gendered migration patterns over several centuries.

To request a printed copy of our Spring 2015 catalog, please contact Bruce Thongsack at, or view the complete list of RSF books on our publications page.

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?