Media Abstracts for the American Sociological Review

Abstracts for August 2007 ASR

Diversity, Opportunity, and the Shifting Meritocracy in Higher Education − Sigal Alon, Tel Aviv University and Marta Tienda, Princeton University
Ignoring SAT Scores Increases College Diversity

Is there a tension between strictly merit-based admissions to universities and achieving a racially diverse campus? Society has been debating this question for decades, and recent Supreme Court decisions show that this is still a controversial question. Traditionally, the question has been framed as whether or not diversity should sometimes trump merit for certain groups or individuals. In their analysis of college enrollment, however, sociologists Sigal Alon and Marta Tienda show that this doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Instead, universities can achieve a diverse campus by using different measures to define “merit.” Relying on SAT scores as the main measure of merit, as is the current norm, does not achieve the desired diversity. But, if universities use class rank as the measure of merit, they achieve the goal of enrolling a diverse student body while maintaining graduation rates. The authors find that class rank is “highly compatible with achieving institutional diversity and does not lower graduation rates.” In examining Texas’s “top 10 percent” law, in which public universities in Texas ignore test scores for the top decile of each graduating class, the authors show that by ignoring SAT scores, elite institutions can broaden access to selective institutions comparable to what affirmative action policies would achieve. With profound implications for the debate over access to higher education, the authors find that the “seemingly inevitable tension between merit and diversity exists only when merit is narrowly defined by SAT scores.”

Class and Status: The Conceptual Distinction and its Empirical Relevance − Tak Wing Chan and John H. Goldthorpe, University of Oxford
Status and Class Operate with Distinction

For some time, analyses of social stratification have focused on social class as a primary factor in inequality. This, however, has not always been the case. Previous research based on the work of Max Weber distinguishes social class from status. Tak Wing Chan and John H. Goldthorpe return to this differentiation and provide empirical evidence that status and class have distinct consequences depending on what aspect of society is under analysis. Class, for example, has a profound influence in economic outcomes, such as long-term unemployment, while status does not. On the other hand, class plays little or no role in cultural consumption, while status has significance in explanations of variations in cultural consumption. This distinction extends to politics as well. In their analysis, class rather than status predicts voting and political attitudes, while status rather than class predicts political values.

Not by Productivity Alone: How Visibility and Specialization Contribute to Earnings − Erin Leahey, University of Arizona
Visibility and Research Specialization Provide Clues to Academics’ Earnings Inequality

In the last few decades, universities and colleges have experienced a significant shift in the demographic composition of their faculty. Women have entered the academy at a dramatic rate, yet earnings inequality remains a problem with women earning about 80 percent of their male counterparts. Previous research has explored this problem by focusing on productivity, or the amount of articles and books that scholars publish. Using unique data and sophisticated statistical analyses, Erin Leahey, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona, explores the role that the visibility of publications and the extent of research specialization contribute to men’s earning advantage. She shows that the adage “publish or perish” only provides a partial explanation. Summarizing how visibility, specialization, and productivity affect income disparity in academics, she writes, “Lower levels of specialization hinder productivity, productivity enhances visibility, and visibility has a direct, positive, and significant effect on salary.”

Workers of the Less Developed World Unite? A Multilevel Analysis of Unionization in Less Developed Countries -- Nathan D. Martin and David Brady, Duke University
IMF Involvement in Less Developed Nations Weakens Organized Labor

The recent spate of protests in Europe and South America has brought renewed attention to the controversy over globalization and its impacts on workers in the less developed world. While many claim that unionization has the potential to improve the well being of workers in less developed nations (LDNs), little research has examined the impact of globalization on the organization of labor in these countries. A recent study by Duke University sociologists, Nathan D. Martin and David Brady, fills this void by specifically examining patterns of union membership in 39 LDNs around the world. They find that the massive economic reforms that were implemented throughout the less developed world as a result of the debt crises that swept these countries in the 1980s have tilted the balance of power against workers and in favor of foreign businesses. More specifically, agreements signed between LDNs and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as part of the economic reform have significantly weakened unionization in these countries.

Labor Unions and Good Governance: A Cross-National, Comparative Analysis -- Cheol-Sung Lee, University of Utah
Active, Socially-Connected Labor Unions Improve Government Functioning

American labor activists often lament the fact that labor unions in the United States are relatively weak when compared to their European counterparts. A recent study by sociologist Cheol-Sung Lee from the University of Utah suggests, however, that the size and strength of labor unions may not be as important as the labor movement’s relationship with other social movements for bringing about social change. Lee’s study of labor movements in Sweden, the United States, South Korea, Argentina, and Russia, shows that when unions are connected to other social movements, such as those advocating for peace, environmental protections, or women’s rights, they are more successful in bringing about effective and democratic forms of government. In light of these findings and because globalization has increased the importance of unions in advocating for working-class people, Lee suggests that labor movements across the globe pursue their goals through alliances with other community action organizations.

Who Survives on Death Row? An Individual and Contextual Analysis -- David Jacobs, The Ohio State University, Zhenchao Qian, The Ohio State University, Jason T. Carmichael, McGill University, Stephanie L. Kent, Cleveland State University
Minority Death Row Inmates Convicted of Killing Whites More Likely to Face Execution

Less than 10 percent of all offenders sentenced to death are actually executed. Are there patterns as to who falls into this 10 percent? Are some offenders on death row more likely to have their sentences carried out? Or is the death penalty administered impartially? In a recent study published in the American Sociological Review, a team of sociologists from The Ohio State University, McGill University, and Cleveland State University attempt to answer these questions. They find that African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics who are convicted of killing whites are significantly more likely to be executed on death row than other offenders. Yet, African Americans convicted of killing nonwhites are less likely to be executed. Their findings also demonstrate that states’ political and social climates influence the ultimate fate of inmates on death row. States with higher percentages of African American and Hispanic residents produce higher execution probabilities, suggesting that capital punishment is more likely where the perceived threat of victimization by minorities is higher. Execution probabilities are also higher in states where citizens show greater support for Republican presidential candidates and where there is less support for liberal values. Interestingly, jurisdictions with the most residents born in-state are the least likely to carry out a death sentence—this might reflect both a hostility to strangers and a reluctance to use this punishment against “neighbors.”

Religious Persecution in Cross-National Context: Clashing Civilizations or Regulated Religious Economies – Brian J. Grim, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Pennsylvania State University; Roger Finke, Pennsylvania State University
Government Regulation of Religion Leads to Religious Persecution

More than 200 million people have been killed because of their religious affiliation during the last 2,000 years. As religiously motivated violence escalates in Iraq, as well as in Russia, Afghanistan, and Indonesia, sociologists Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke from Pennsylvania State University have set out to reveal the factors that motivate religious persecution around the world. Contrary to some scholars, Grim and Finke contend that it is not fundamental religious differences that lead to conflict, but rather the regulation of religion by the state that triggers unrest. Their study, in the August edition of the American Sociological Review, examines the presence or absence of religious persecution in 143 nations with populations over 2 million and finds that government regulation of religion is the strongest predictor of religious persecution. While religious persecution is evident in every region of the globe, it is far greater in the Middle East and South Asia. And although religious persecution is present regardless of a country’s predominant religion, as the percentage of Muslims in a country increases, so does social regulation of religion—which leads to increased government regulation of religion, which then triggers increased persecution. The authors contend that this downward spiral of conflict—social pressures from competing religions within a nation lead to government regulation of some faiths, which leads to increased persecution of those faiths, which leads persecuted religions to call for more government regulation, and so on—is behind the current conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq.