Tag Archives: academia

Quote that sociologist, 124 in the Times edition

Nicholas Kristof’s infamous takedown of professors for marginalizing themselves included this dismissive description of sociology’s dismal record of dismissal:

Many academic disciplines also reduce their influence by neglecting political diversity. Sociology, for example, should be central to so many national issues, but it is so dominated by the left that it is instinctively dismissed by the right.

There is a nice roundup of responses to Kristof by Jessie Daniels here. I have just two small things to add. First, “instinctively” is clearly the wrong word here. I might say “reflexively,” but really it’s “conveniently,” and that convenience partly results from stereotypes like this.

Second, much of what sociologists do to bring their expertise to the public (besides, of course, teach) is not part of such an explicit left-right debate in which rational policymakers and economists casually dismiss hysterical leftist sociologists. Rather, it’s part of the general work of bringing research results and interpretation to the public, largely through the media, including, occasionally, the New York Times.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t instinctively dismiss sociologists.

Many of us in our own corners of the discipline feel that the NYT and the other big media always quotes the same small set of experts in our areas: (e.g., Andrew Cherlin on family trends). So I was surprised to see that my Lexis-Nexis search for “sociology or sociologist” within 10 words of “professor” in the NYT in 2013 turned up 124 sociology professors quoted in news articles, reviews, or op-eds (I excluded letter writers and the subjects of wedding announcements and obituaries).

These are them:

Yasin Aktay
Khalid al-Dakhil
Elizabeth Armstrong
Robert Aronowitz
Jacob Avery
Jere Behrman
Andrew Beveridge
Roberto Biorcio
Vern Bullough
Deborah Carr
Hector Carrillo
Camille Charles
Andrew Cherlin
Margaret Chin
Philip Cohen
Dalton Conley
Thomas Cushman
Sarah Damaske
Michele Dauber
Nikos Demertzis
Justin Denney
Fiona Devine
Larry Diamond
Gail Dines
Mitch Duneier
Riley Dunlap
Nina Eliasoph
Irma Elo
Paula England
Thomas Espenshade
Yang Fenggang
Sujatha Fernandes
Nancy Foner
Menachem Friedman
David Gartman
Kathleen Gerson
Todd Gitlin
Nathan Glazer
Jeff Goodwin
Ross Haenfler
Jack Halberstam
David Halle
Laura Hamilton
Roger Hammer
Melissa Hardy
Samuel Heilman
William Helmreich
Darnell Hunt
Margaret Hunter
Richard Ingersoll
Hahm In-hee
Michael Jacobson
Colin Jerolmack
Arne Kalleberg
John Kattakayam
James Kelly
Shamus Khan
Michael Kimmel
Stephen Klineberg
Eric Klinenberg
Hans-Peter Kohler
Jerome Krase
Jack Levin
Harry Levine
Robert Lilly
Douglas Masey
Leslie McCall
David Meyer
Richard Miech
Ruth Milkman
Joya Misra
Phyllis Moen
John Mollenkopf
Ann Morning
Katherine Newman
Andrew Noymer
Aaron Pallas
Wes Perkins
Julie Phillips
Janet Poppendieck
Gerard Postiglione
Samuel Preston
Gretchen Purser
Jill Quadagno
Sean Reardon
Mark Regnerus
Jonathan Rieder
Jake Rosenfeld
Michael Rosenfeld
Preston Rudy
Robert Sampson
Nandini Sardesai
Mike Savage
Rachel Schurman
Morrie Schwartz
Greg Scott
David Segal
Markus Shafer
Mimi Sheller
Elizabeth Shove
Theda Skocpol
Sanjay Srivastava
Kevin Stainback
Pamela Stone
Kregg Strehorn
David Stuckler
Shruti Tambe
Pelin Tan
Thomas Tierney
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey
Zeynep Tufekci
Shiv Visvanathan
Alex Vitale
Jane Waldfogel
Oliver Wang
Mary Waters
Frederick Weil
Saundra Westervelt
JeffriAnne Wilder
William Julius Wilson
James Witte
Linda Woodhead
Brian Wynne
Cristobal Young

Without doing a whole content analysis, it looks to me that most (or at least a lot) of these stories were not quoting sociologists as part of an ideological debate, but rather as experts describing developments in their subject areas.

In addition, the Times published op-eds by at least 15 sociology professors in 2013:

Rene Almeling
Andrew Cherlin
Philip Cohen
Matthew Desmond
Jennifer Glass
Jeff Goodwin
Erin Hatton
Shamus Khan
Michael Kimmel
Monica Prasad
Sean Reardon
Jonathan Rieder
Scott Schieman
Juliet Schor
Patrick Sharkey
Wang Feng

I’m sure there are better ways to do this more accurately, but you can consider this a conservative estimate, since it omits those sociologists who go by another identification (like Brad “intact, biological marriage is still the gold standard” Wilcox, who sells himself as Director of the National Marriage Project), those randomly described as sociologists (such as Charles Murray), people who are said to “teach sociology,” and graduate students. These are just people specifically described as professors.

You don’t have to be an economist to know that economists are quoted more. But is this a lot of representation? I don’t know.


Filed under In the news

Who likes public intellectuals?

One simple answer to a big question, in one chart.

Using the method of gathering demographic data described by Neal Caren, I asked Facebook for the “audience size” of an ad targeting people who “like” some famous academics, and then specified men or women to get the gender composition of the (U.S.) audience.

I started with Camille Paglia, after this old quote of hers surfaced: “Masculinity is aggressive, combustible, unstable. It is also the most creative cultural force in history.” I thought it was dumb as well as offensive, and wondered how many women like that stuff. Her Facebook “like” audience is quite small at 7,600, and it turns out 45% of them are female.

From there I tried comparing her to some feminists, and then some people to compare feminists with. Next thing I knew I had 15 scholars, 5 of them largely known for feminism (if you don’t count Paglia, the least popular person on the list). They are living people who interest me, who have academic jobs and didn’t become famous with major media jobs (like Paul Krugman) or political jobs (like Robert Reich). I seem to have forgotten about historians. And I accidentally included Barbara Ehrenreich, who doesn’t have an academic job.

Here are the results:

who likes public intellectuals

Note that some people don’t report a gender to Facebook. People with observable numbers of gender-abstainers (the numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand) include: bell hooks 7%, Judith Butler 6%, Cornell West 5%, E. O. Wilson 4%, Angela Davis 3%, Henry Louis Gates 3%, Barbara Ehrenreich 2%, Noam Chomsky 2%, and Jared Diamond 1%.

Lots of interesting people — like, sociologists — didn’t turn out to have enough likes to register. Feel free to add others in the comments.


Filed under In the news

Academic puffery watch: ‘Utilizing’ edition

If you split hairs, you can argue there is a use for utilize that differentiates it from use. In the Oxford English Dictionary it’s all pretty circular:

  • Utilise: To make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account.
  • Use: To put to practical use; esp. to make use of in accomplishing a task.

You could get into variants, inflections, and origins. But it’s not worth it. In academic writing I don’t think people do that. I think they use utilize when they are committing puffery (“The action or practice of ‘puffing’ someone or something; extravagant or undeserved praise, esp. for advertising or promotional purposes; writing, etc., intended to have this effect.”)

So it is with heavy heart that I report what could be a comeback for utilize, or at least a stall in the course of its demise. I have this from two sources. First, from the JSTOR academic database:


And second, from the general corpus of published material (mostly books) that is in Google Books, using the American English collection for a longer period:utilize-coming-back.

Both show a rise of utilize from obscurity to a peak in the 1970s. Note the peak in academia is about twice as high as the peak in the general collection, at 10.7% compared with 5.3%. But both showed very promising declines until the early 2000s. In retrospect, we see the decline was slowing already in the 1990s. We should have been more vigilant.

Maybe this is just a reversal of progress toward pretending we are above excessive puffery. Which I think is a shame.

This all has something to do with this passage from the chapter titled, “Is a Disinterested Act Possible?” in Practical Reason by Pierre Bourdieu (including the length of the sentence itself):



Filed under Me @ work

Sociology citing Becker

Which comes first, the Nobel prize or the citations in sociology journals?

Neal Caren produced a list of the 52 works most cited in sociology journals in 2013, which included two Nobel prize winning economists:

  • Heckman, James J. “Sample selection bias as a specification error.” Econometrica: Journal of the econometric society (1979): 153-161.
  • Gary S. Becker. A Treatise on the Family. Harvard university press, 1981.

I assume those Heckman citations are the result of sadistic journal reviewers or dissertation committee members impressive their colleagues by requiring people to add selection corrections to their regressions.

The Becker citations were applauded by economists. I assumed they were usually cursory mentions in the literature review, representing neoclassical economics in the study of families. And that is basically right. In the 10 most recent citations to Treatise in top-three sociology journals, the book is always mentioned only once. See for yourself. Here are the passages out of context (citations at the end):

  1. A great deal of work in sociological theory addresses the determinants of marriage and the bases of divorce. Some of this work posits marriage as a form of social exchange, whereby internal benefits (sex) and costs (time) are calculated and weighed relative to external costs (money) and benefits (social approval) (Becker 1991).

  2. According to the negotiation framework known as intra-household bargaining (Agarwal 1997), rather than households behaving as cohesive units (Becker 1991), household members’ bargaining and decision making over the allocation of resources (e.g., income, health, education, time use) are conditioned by gender-based power differentials.

  3. In the classic economic and game theoretic models of partner matching and mate selection (Becker 1991; Gale and Shapley 1962), the relative value of every potential mate is assumed to be already known or can easily be determined (Todd and Miller 1999).

  4. Generally used to explain behavior during the waking hours, the time availability perspective suggests that because men spend more time in paid work, they have less time to do caregiving; the related specialization hypothesis suggests that women have the time and incentive to specialize in caregiving and unpaid work (Becker 1991[1981]).

  5. A second means by which household wealth is accrued is by means of family transfers. Economic assets, whether financial or real, are transferred from family members to others, both within and across generations (Becker 1991; Mulligan 1997; Wahl 2002).

  6. The compensating differentials argument suggests that mothers are more willing than non-mothers to trade wages for family-friendly employment. For example, Becker (1991) suggests that mothers may choose jobs that require less energy or that have parent-friendly characteristics, such as flexible hours, few demands for travel or nonstandard shifts, or on-site daycare.

  7. Differences in life course patterns between men and women may reflect the influences of traditional gender roles in the family and corresponding intermittent labor force attachment among women relative to men, particularly during childbearing years (Becker 1991; Bianchi 1995; Mincer and Polachek 1974).

  8. One of the primary ways in which education leads to lower fertility is by changing the calculation of the costs and benefits of childbearing and rearing (Becker 1991).

  9. As has long been recognized in both economics and sociology, an adequate explanation of gender inequality in the labor force therefore requires the researcher to go beyond discrimination and productivity-related attributes (i.e., human capital) and to consider the role of the family (Becker 1973, 1974, 1991; Mincer and Polachek 1974; many others). … First, it is assumed that economic resources are a family-level utility that is shared equally between the spouses (Becker 1973, 1974, 1991; Lundberg and Pollak 1993; Mincer and Polachek 1974).

  10. Fathers’ economic contributions are an important resource for children in all types of families (Becker 1991; Coleman 1988).

I noticed, incidentally, that we may have hit Peak Becker. The Web of Science citation count for his work in journals coded as Sociology peaked in 2011. Maybe the 2012 data just aren’t complete yet.


Out of curiosity, I also checked the citations in major economics journals to the most highly-cited sociology article on the household division of labor known for a theoretical argument, Julie Brines’s 1994 article in the American Journal of Sociology. Just kidding; there aren’t any.

No, that’s not true. The article has been cited once in the top 40 economics journals, in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice:

The higher wage earner enjoys a superior bargaining position, and thus can use that power to demand less household responsibility – a proposition that has been the focus of substantial empirical research among sociologists (Heer, 1963, Brines, 1994, Greenstein, 2000, Bittman et al., 2003, Parkman, 2004 and Gupta, 2007).


  1. Rose McDermott. and James H. Fowler. and Nicholas A. Christakis. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else Is Doing It Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample.” Social Forces 92.2 (2013): 491-519.
  2. Greta Friedemann-Sánchez. and Rodrigo Lovatón. “Intimate Partner Violence in Colombia: Who Is at Risk?” Social Forces 91.2 (2012): 663-688
  3. Michael J. Rosenfeld and Reuben J. Thomas. 2012. Searching for a Mate: The Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary. American Sociological Review August 2012 77: 523-547. doi:10.1177/0003122412448050
  4. Sarah A. Burgard. “The Needs of Others: Gender and Sleep Interruptions for Caregivers.” Social Forces 89.4 (2011): 1189-1215.
  5. Moshe Semyonov. and Noah Lewin-Epstein. “Wealth Inequality: Ethnic Disparities in Israeli Society.” Social Forces 89.3 (2011): 935-959.
  6. Michelle J. Budig and Melissa J. Hodges. 2010. Differences in Disadvantage: Variation in the Motherhood Penalty across White Women’s Earnings Distribution. American Sociological Review October 2010 75: 705-728, doi:10.1177/0003122410381593.
  7. Jennie E. Brand and Yu Xie. 2010. Who Benefits Most from College?: Evidence for Negative Selection in Heterogeneous Economic Returns to Higher Education. American Sociological Review April 2010 75: 273-302, doi:10.1177/0003122410363567.
  8. Brienna Perelli-Harris. “Family Formation in Post-Soviet Ukraine: Changing Effects of Education in a Period of Rapid Social Change.” Social Forces 87.2 (2008): 767-794.
  9. Emily Greenman. and Yu Xie. “Double Jeopardy?: The Interaction of Gender and Race on Earnings in the United States.” Social Forces 86.3 (2008): 1217-1244.
  10. Daniel N. Hawkins, Paul R. Amato, and Valarie King. 2007. Nonresident Father Involvement and Adolescent Well-Being: Father Effects or Child Effects? American Sociological Review December 72: 990-1010, doi:10.1177/000312240707200607.
  11. Sirui Liu, Pamela Murray-Tuite, Lisa Schweitzer. 2012. Analysis of child pick-up during daily routines and for daytime no-notice evacuations, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 46, Issue 1, Pages 48-67.


Filed under Research reports

How many Black scholars does it take to have any Black scholars?

I had a very nice time at the 21st Annual Symposium on Family Issues at Penn State University, where I presented remarks in response to a paper by Sara McLanahan and Wade Jacobsen. The theme of the symposium was “Diverging Destinies,” or the growing differences in family experiences by social class in the US. The event has lots of time for discussion and debate, and much of that focused on poor people and their families, around contested terms such as choices, parenting, behavior, attitudes, orientation, and so on. I had plenty to agree and disagree with, there were lots of good talks, and it was a good conversation.

The scenic Nittany Lion Inn (photo by me)

The scenic Nittany Lion Inn (photo by me)

Here are two observations.

The first was a moment when Ron Haskins from the Brookings Institution, a long-time member of the welfare policy establishment (his bio describes him as “instrumental in the 1996 overhaul of national welfare policy”), responded to Harvard professor Kathryn Edin’s response to his presentation. She had spent most of her time talking about her new book, Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City. For the book, Edin undertook years of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, and emerged with a very sympathetic yet sobering description of the poor young men she studied, men who want more than anything to be good fathers — according to the contemporary ideals of both economic provision and emotional togetherness — but for many reasons usually can’t meet their own goals.

When they were both on the dais, Haskins said she was “too optimistic” about her subjects, in describing them as eager to do the right thing for their children. “I know these guys!” he said, before describing some anecdotal experiences from his (apparently distant) personal past. It struck me because it seemed profoundly disrespectful of not only her work, but of her kind of research. Of course ethnographers can do bad studies or misinterpret their data. But I would only discount a serious work of ethnography based on my personal experience if that experience were pretty deep. I suspect Haskins wouldn’t have struck that note if her work had been a quantitative demography, but I could be wrong. (Earlier, I had pointed out that welfare reform failed at its stated goal of making poor single mothers get married, and he countered that it had been successful at getting them to work, so “behavior modification does work” — and we should use that program as a model for future work-mandating reforms.)

Who's on that dais?

Who’s on that dais?

Anyway, the second observation was about the composition of the speakers. None of our 16 speakers this year was Black. When I grumbled about that on Facebook, someone said he felt the same way last year. That got me to check the previous programs. (Each year the organizers of the symposium produce a book from the papers — you can see previous editions here, where the contributors are all listed.) I had to go back to 2008 to find an African American speaker, according to my reading of their photos and bios (which is not the best way to identify race/ethnicity, obviously, so I maybe wrong). Overall, of the last 114 speakers going back to 2007, I think only one was Black.

I don’t know who decides on the topics or the invitations, or how the event has unfolded over time, so I can’t comment on the process or motivations of those involved. But I think this is not good. The symposium is a substantial endeavor, with grant money from various sources. An invitation to speak there is a line on your CV, it comes with a small honorarium and travel expenses, and it’s a chance to network with other family researchers, grant-makers, and policy people. There also are a lot of students attending the talks. So whatever the reasons, it’s a shame more Black scholars haven’t been there.


Filed under Me @ work

Beyond Regnerus

At the American Sociological Association meetings just concluded, Tey Meadow spoke on a panel entitled “When the Professional Becomes Political: Responding to the New Family Structures Survey.” The text of her remarks, “Queer Numbers: Social Science as Cultural Heterosexism,” is now online at the Social (In)Queery blog.

As someone who has, in Meadow’s phrase, “taken the bait” (with limited regrets), I recommend it. She writes:

This “difference versus no difference” debate is itself a conservative political ploy, aimed at a mass media landscape. It’s not a value-neutral empirical question. By posing that very question political conservatives frame the issue as one of social desireability rather than basic human rights.


If what we want is better child outcomes, and more solid and enduring connections between parents and children, our energies would be better spent studying different questions, questions like: How can we ensure that children receive the social supports they need to thrive? How can we, as a culture, nurture people through difficult life transitions, like divorce, so they can keep their relationships to their children intact? How can we mitigate the forces of social intolerance on the fragile emotional lives of vulnerable youth?

And finally,

We are called upon to respond, reply, critique and engage Regnerus and his colleagues, and in so doing, to accept the terms of the debate his research sets forth. The publication of this study and the subsequent efforts to debate its mandates are instances of the ways social science itself can become a dangerous instrument of cultural homophobia.


Filed under In the news

Intersectionality interrupted

When I was in college a lot of people were reading Black Feminist Thought, by the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, which came out in 1990 (it’s now pushing 11,000 citations in Google Scholar, and Prof. Collins is a colleague in my department). That book helped popularize intersectionality, from the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar.

Thinking about and acting on intersecting inequalities was a big issue in the 1990s. It motivated me to do my only research on social movements (the women’s suffrage movement), as well as my dissertation, which included an article on the intersection of race, class and gender in U.S. labor markets (related to work my advisor Reeve Vanneman and colleagues were doing back then).



Anyways, long story short: I was interested to see that the latest edition of the journal Signs (paywalled) is devoted to intersectionality, or the critical analysis of how different kinds of inequality and identity occur simultaneously. I haven’t kept up with the theoretical side of this work, which has drifted away from the statistical modeling vein we were mining.

First I read the essay by Catharine MacKinnon, whose work I’ve been teaching for years in courses on gender, theory, and inequality. Since I last paid attention, she did a lot of work on women and international law, and in the essay here she discusses rape and genocide in the Balkan wars. Just as she once asked some feminists (paraphrasing), “if rape is about violence and not sex, why doesn’t he just hit her?”, she now asks (paraphrasing), “if genocide is about wiping people out, why do they commit mass rape against women instead of just killing them?” Thanks in part to her legal and theoretical work, the idea of genocide as a national, racial or ethnic crime is linked to sex-based atrocities such as forced prostitution and impregnation.

Although it’s hard to read, I am a sucker for MacKinnon’s wordplay (and always hear her phrase, “Man fucks woman; subject verb object,” when I talk about subjects and objects). So I was drawn in by her introduction to intersectionality as a method, which included, “Talking about thinking about the way one thinks is complicated, in that one is doing what one is talking about doing at the same time one is talking about doing it.”

For example, as we think about how we think, she wants us to avoid confusing the products of inequality for their causes. She writes,

No question about it, categories and stereotypes and classifications are authentic instruments of inequality. And they are static and hard to move. But they are the ossified outcomes of the dynamic intersection of multiple hierarchies, not the dynamic that creates them. They are there, but they are not the reason they are there.

Anyway, I recommend the essay, which, in addition to rape and genocide, also discusses the conundrums of intersecting inequality in U.S. law, where race and gender discrimination each are illegal, but discrimination by race-and-gender simultaneously is somehow sometimes left out.

That last point draws heavily off the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, who, along with Sumi Cho and Leslie McCall, guest-edited the special issue.


And here, after recommending the issue and praising its authors, I offer a criticism: intersectionality has a writing situation. Everyone in academia has their jargon. But in this area there is a common aesthetic preference for extra words and clauses — including long words and clauses — that is a real barrier to entry for those who don’t spend a lot of their time reading it.

Here is the opening paragraph of the introductory essay, by the guest editors:

As intersectionality has emerged in a number of discursive spaces, the projects and debates that have accompanied its travel have converged into a burgeoning field of intersectional studies. This field can be usefully framed as representing three loosely defined sets of engagements: the first consisting of applications of an intersectional framework or investigations of intersectional dynamics, the second consisting of discursive debates about the scope and content of intersectionality as a theoretical and methodological paradigm, and the third consisting of political interventions employing an intersectional lens.

That’s 86 words. I think not much would be lost cutting it down to 42 words, like this:

In the growing field of intersectional studies, we identify three categories of work. First, there are applications of the intersectional framework and studies of intersecting inequalities. Second, there are debates about intersectionality itself as a paradigm. And third, there are intersectional politics.

That’s just an example chosen for convenience — there are worse and better passages in the various essays, and I don’t want to belabor it. I suspect that to many outsiders this problem seems obvious, but I don’t know how these writers see it. I think academics should try to say what they want to say as clearly and directly as possible. If this principle were directly weighed against the loss of nuance — and aesthetic satisfaction — it might entail, I hope the balance would tip in the direction of readability.


Filed under Me @ work, Research reports

200 researchers respond to Regnerus paper

This is a letter signed by 200 researchers, including me. The effort was organized by Gary Gates, a scholar (acting in an individual, not institutional capacity) at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.

Letter to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research

As researchers and scholars, many of whom with extensive experience in quantitative and qualitative research in family structures and child outcomes, we write to raise serious concerns about the most recent issue of Social Science Research and the set of papers focused on parenting by lesbians and gay men. In this regard, we have particular concern about Mark Regnerus’ paper entitled “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.”

LGBT parenting is a highly politicized topic. While the presence of a vibrant and controversial public debate should in no way censor scholarship, it should compel the academy to hold scholarship around that topic to our most rigorous standards. We are very concerned that these standards were not upheld in this issue or with this paper, given the apparently expedited process of publication and the decision to publish commentaries on the paper by scholars who were directly involved with the study and have limited experience in LGBT parenting research. We also have serious concerns about the scholarly merit of this paper

In this letter, we detail the specific concerns that lead us to request that you publicly disclose the reasons for both the expedited peer review process of this clearly controversial paper and the choice of commentators invited to submit critiques. We further request that you invite scholars with specific expertise in LGBT parenting issues to submit a detailed critique of the paper and accompanying commentaries for publication in the next issue of the journal.

We question the process by which this paper was submitted, reviewed, and accepted for publication. The paper was received by the journal on February 1, 2012. A revision was received on February 29, and the paper was accepted on March 12. This suggests that the peer review process and substantive revisions occurred within a period of just five weeks. According to the peer review policy of the Social Science Research website hosted by Elsevier, the first step of the review process is an initial manuscript evaluation by the editor. Once deemed to meet minimum criteria, at least 2 experts are secured for a peer review. The website states that, “Typically manuscripts are reviewed within 2-3 months of submission but substantially longer review times are not uncommon” and that “Revised manuscripts are usually returned to the initial referees upon receipt.” Clearly, Dr. Regnerus’ paper was returned to him very quickly, because he had time to revise the manuscript and get it back to the journal by February 29th. Further, it appears that a second substantive peer review may not have occurred as the paper was accepted just two weeks after the revision was submitted.

The five-week submission to acceptance length was much shorter than all of the other articles published in the July 2012 issue. The average period of review for papers published in this issue was more than a year and the median review time was more than ten months. As we note below, there are substantial concerns about the merits of this paper, and these concerns should have been identified through a thorough and rigorous peer review process.

We further question the selection of commenters for the Regnerus paper. While Cynthia Osborne and Paul Amato are certainly well-respected scholars, they are also both active participants in the Regnerus study. According to her curriculum vitae, Dr. Osborne is a Co-Principal Investigator of the New Family Structure Survey. Dr. Amato served as a paid consultant on the advisory group convened to provide insights into study design and methods. Perhaps more importantly, neither Osborne nor Amato have ever published work that considers LGBT family or parenting issues. A cursory examination of this body of literature would reveal a wide range of scholars who are much more qualified to evaluate the merits of this study and were neither directly involved in the study design nor compensated for that involvement.

We have substantial concerns about the merits of this paper and question whether it actually uses methods and instruments that answer the research questions posed in the paper. The author claims that the purpose of the analysis is to begin to address the question, “Do the children of gay and lesbian parents look comparable to those of their heterosexual counterparts?” (p. 755). He creates several categories of “family type”, including “lesbian mother” and “gay father” as well as “divorced late,” “stepfamily,” and “single-parent.” But, as the author notes, for those respondents who indicated that a parent had a “same-sex relationship,” these categories were collapsed to boost sample size:

That is, a small minority of respondents might fit more than one group. I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes. For example, a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in Group 5 or Group 7, but in this case my analytical interest is in maximizing the sample size of Groups 2 and 3 so the respondent would be placed in Group 2 (LMs). Since Group 3 (GFs) is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population, its composition trumped that of others, even LMs. (There were 12 cases of respondents who reported both a mother and a father having a same-sex relationship; all are analyzed here as GFs, after ancillary analyses revealed comparable exposure to both their mother and father).

By doing this, the author is unable to distinguish between the impact of having a parent who has had a continuous same-sex relationship from the impact of having same-sex parents who broke-up from the impact of living in a same-sex stepfamily from the impact of living with a single parent who may have dated a same-sex partner; each of these groups are included in a single “lesbian mother” or “gay father” group depending on the gender of the parent who had a same-sex relationship. Specifically, this paper fails to distinguish family structure and family instability. Thus, it fails to distinguish, for children whose parents ever had a same-sex relationship experience, the associations due to family structure from the associations due to family stability. However, he does attempt to distinguish family structure from family instability for the children of different-sex parents by identifying children who lived in an intact biological family. To make a group equivalent to the group he labels as having “lesbian” or “gay” parents, the author should have grouped all other respondents together and included those who lived in an intact biological family with those who ever experienced divorce, or whose parents ever had a different-sex romantic relationship. That seems absurd to family structure researchers, yet that type of grouping is exactly what he did with his “lesbian mother” and “gay father” groups.

It should be noted that the analyses also fail to distinguish family structure from family stability for single mothers; this group included both continuously single mothers and those single mothers who had previously experienced a divorce.

The paper employs an unusual method to measure the sexual orientation of the respondents’ parents. Even if the analyses had distinguished family stability from family structure, this paper and its accompanying study could not actually directly examine the impact of having a gay or lesbian parent on child outcomes because the interpretation of the measurement of parental sexual orientation is unclear. The author acknowledges as much when he states:

It is, however, very possible that the same-sex romantic relationships about which the respondents report were not framed by those respondents as indicating their own (or their parent’s own) understanding of their parent as gay or lesbian or bisexual in sexual orientation. Indeed, this is more a study of the children of parents who have had (and in some cases, are still in) same-sex relationships than it is one of children whose parents have self-identified or are ‘‘out’’ as gay or lesbian or bisexual.

Respondents were asked whether their parents had ever had a same-sex relationship. The author then identifies mothers and fathers as “lesbian” or “gay” without any substantiation of parental sexual orientation either by respondents or their parents. Given the author’s stated caveats, it is both inappropriate and factually incorrect for him to refer to these parents as “gay” or “lesbian” throughout the paper.

We are very concerned about the academic integrity of the peer review process for this paper as well as its intellectual merit. We question the decision of Social Science Research to publish the paper, and particularly, to publish it without an extensive, rigorous peer review process and commentary from scholars with explicit expertise on LGBT family research. The methodologies used in this paper and the interpretation of the findings are inappropriate. The publication of this paper and the accompanying commentary calls the editorial process at Social Science Research, a well-regarded, highly cited social science journal (ranking in the top 15% of Sociology journals by ISI), into serious question. We urge you to publicly disclose the reasons for both the expedited peer review process of this clearly controversial paper and the choice of commentators invited to submit critiques. We further request that you invite scholars with specific expertise in LGBT parenting issues to submit a detailed critique of the paper and accompanying commentaries for publication in the next issue of the journal.


Sociology and family studies: Silke Aisenbrey, Katherine R. Allen, Eric Anderson, Nielan Barnes, Amanda K. Baumle, Debbie Becher, Mary Bernstein, Natalie Boero, H.M.W Bos, Lisa D Brush, Neal Caren, Mary Ann Clawson, Dan Clawson, Philip N. Cohen, D’Lane Compton, Shelley J. Correll, David H. Demo, Catherine Donovan, Sinikka Elliott, Louis Edgar Esparza, Laurie Essig, Myra Marx Ferree, Tina Fetner, Jessica Fields, Melissa M. Forbis, Gary J. Gates, Naomi Gerstel, Katherine Giuffre, Gloria González-López, Theodore Greenstein, Jessica Halliday Hardie, Mark D. Hayward, Melanie Heath, Amie Hess, Melanie M. Hughes, Shamus Rahman Khan, Michael Kimmel, Sherryl Kleinman, Charles Q. Lau, Jennifer Lee, Jean Lynch, Gill McCann, Tey Meadow, Sarah O. Meadows, Eleanor M. Miller, Debra Minkoff, Beth Mintz, Dawne Moon, Mignon R. Moore, Chandra Muller, Nancy A. Naples, Peter M. Nardi, Alondra Nelson, Jodi O’Brien, Katherine O’Donnell, Ramona Faith Oswald, Joseph M. Palacios, C.J. Pascoe, Dudley L. Poston Jr., Nicole C. Raeburn, Kimberly Richman, Barbara J. Risman, Sharmila Rudrappa, Stephen T. Russel, Virginia Rutter, Natalia Sarkisian, Saskia Sassen, Liana C. Sayer, Michael Schwalbe, Michael Schwartz, Christine R. Schwartz, Pepper Schwartz, Denise Benoit Scott, Richard Sennett, Eve Shapiro, Eran Shor, Wendy Simonds, Sarah Sobieraj, Judith Stacey, Arlene Stein, Verta Taylor, Debra J Umberson, Suzanna Danuta Walters, Jacqueline S. Weinstock, Amy C. Wilkins, Cai Wilkinson, Kristi Williams, Kerry Woodward. Psychology: Nancy Lynn Baker, Meg Barker, Joel Becker, Steven Botticelli, Petra M Boynton, Mark Brennan-Ing, Alice S. Carter, Carol A. Carver, Armand R. Cerbone, Kirstyn Y.S. Chun, Victoria Clarke, Gilbert W. Cole, M. Lynne Cooper, Howard H. Covitz, Dennis Debiak, Rachel H. Farr, Herb Gingold, Abbie E. Goldberg, Carla Golden, Robert-Jay Green, Beverly Greene, Harold D. Grotevant, Sarah A. Hayes-Skelton, Stacy S. Horn, Sharon G. Horne, Harm J. Hospers, Steven E. James, Darren Langdridge, Chet Lesniak, Heidi Levitt, William D. Lubart, Carien Lubbe-De Beer, Tasim Martin-Berg, James P. Maurino, Ximena E. Mejia, Roger Mills-Koonce, Lin S. Myers, Jo Oppenheimer, Susan M. Orsillo, David Pantalone, Jeffrey T. Parsons, Maureen Perry-Jenkins, Madelyn Petrow-Cohen, Todd R. Poch, Scott D. Pytluk, Damien W. Riggs, Lizabeth Roemer, Ritch C. Savin-Williams, J. Greg Serpa, Louise Bordeaux Silverstein, Bonnie R. Strickland, Karen Suyemoto, Lance P. Swenson, Fiona Tasker, Marcus C. Tye, Richard G. Wight. Other scholars: Paula Amato, Ellen Ann Andersen, Mary Barber, Judith Bradford, Robert P Cabaj, Ryan M. Combs, Christopher Conti, Russel W. Dalton, John D’Emilio, Anne Douglass, Jack Drescher, Oliva M. Espin, Nanette Gartrell, Patti Geier, Alan Gilbert, Ann P. Haas, Ellen Haller, Nicole Heilbron, Tonda Hughes, Daniel Hurewitz, Jesse Joad, Debra Kaysen, Sang Hea Kil, Martha Kirkpatrick, Holning Lau, Arlene Istar Lev, Lisa W. Loutzenheiser, Michael F. Lovenheim, Catherine A. Lugg, Gerald P. Mallon, Laura Mamo, Sean G. Massey, Kenneth J. Meier, Stephen O. Murray, Douglas NeJaime, Henry Ng, Julie Novkov, Loren A. Olson, Donald L. Opitz, Katherine Parkin, Jessica Peet, Victoria Pollock, Jesus Ramirez-Valles, Nancy J. Ramsay, Paul J. Rinaldi, Barbara Rothberg, Esther Rothblum, Ralph Roughton, Leila J. Rupp, Shawn Schulenberg, Ken Sherrill, Vincent M. B. Silenzio, Stephen V. Sprinkle, William J. Spurlin, Carole S. Vance, Angelia R. Wilson.


Filed under Me @ work

One case of very similar publications, with some implications and suggestions

This post deals with problems in academic research publishing. It’s off the usual topic of the blog, although the publications in question do concern families and inequality. I decided to publish it here rather than try to place it somewhere else because I thought it might be controversial, and I want to take personal responsibility for it. I welcome discussion of these questions here in the comments, or in other forums where these issues are pertinent — you are welcome to repost this, with attribution.

The case here is a pair of articles by John R. Hipp, an associate professor of Criminology, Law and Society at U.C. Irvine. The two articles are:

Little of substance is learned from one that could not be learned from the other, they contain many nearly-identical passages, and they both claim to make the same major original contributions. This isn’t the most extreme case like this ever published, but it’s the most obvious one I’ve noticed that involves a major sociology journal. Without attributing any cause or motivation, we can call these two “very similar publications.”

The practice of publishing VSPs:

  • Wastes the time of editors, reviewers, and future researchers.
  • Takes up valuable space in journals, space for which other researchers are competing for their publications and to enhance their careers.
  • Misleads reviewers and administrators who are evaluating and comparing publication records.
  • Misleads the research community by creating a false impression of the weight of original research on the topic (e.g., “many studies show”).
It is also just one symptom of a pretty broken publication and promotion system in academia, which I will return to later. I don’t know anything about the history of these papers, or the author’s situation or motives, so I limit myself to discussing the content of the papers. After discussing the case, I have a few suggestions. I’m sorry this is so long.

The case

Here are the two abstracts. I don’t know an elegant way to show these side beside except a screen grab (click for higher resolution); I numbered the sentences in the abstracts.

I highlighted the major difference between the two articles: the Criminology article analyzes perceptions of crime in “microneighborhoods,” while the Social Problems piece analyzes reported violent crime rates in Census tracts (and adds a measure of short-term crime rate change). This is a substantive difference, and it involves using different versions of the American Housing Survey. But the abstracts are not written as a sequence of incremental discoveries; they claim to make a number of the same innovations and discoveries. Substantively, the difference could have been handled with one additional table, or even a hefty footnote. (The first paper reports that the violent crime rate and residents’ perceptions are correlated at about .70). In any event, the difference is not a significant part of the motivation for either article, as the abstracts make clear.

Here are the outlines of the articles, with Hipp’s headings. As you can see, the Social Problems article includes a measure of short-term crime rate change, and the Criminology article includes a section on sensitivity analyses. They are not identical (the first paper also includes a methodological appendix).

The second paper, from Social Problems, does acknowledge the existence of the first, but not in a way that would truly communicate the relationship between them. It notes (p. 411):

Recent scholarship has suggested that … residents’ perceptions of crime in the microneighborhood can differentially affect in-mobility and out-mobility for different racial/ethnic groups (Hipp 2010b). We extend this literature by using official violent crime rates within the broader neighborhood as measured by the census tract.

Later (p. 414), the Social Problems paper minimizes the findings of the Criminology paper:

One study provided suggestive evidence of disproportionate out-mobility using information on the perceptions of crime among residents living within a micro-neighborhood of the nearest 11 housing units (Hipp 2010b). Whereas white households perceiving more crime were more likely to move within four years, black and Latino households showed no such tendency (Hipp 2010b). Furthermore, whites living in microneighborhoods with a general perception of more crime were also more likely to leave the unit, whereas Latino and black households again showed no such tendency. This evidence of the importance of perceptions of crime within a small micro-environment is important, but it cannot assess whether such perceptions accurately capture the crime environment of the micro-area, nor whether the crime environment of the broader neighborhood is also important. The present study addresses these limitations.

The Criminology paper was published online in August 2010, and the Social Problems paper is dated August 2011, so I can’t tell if the reviewers for the Social Problems paper had access to a published copy of the first at the time of their review.

If the second paper constitutes a genuine additional contribution, it would be reasonable to publish it separately, making clear that it represents a methodological variation of findings already known. But instead the second paper announces the same contributions as the first. In fact, as the text from the sections titled “summary” in the introduction of both articles show, two out of three of the “important contributions to the literature” are identical:

The third contribution differs. However, by the publication of the second paper, the first two “important contributions” are no longer original (the generally understood meaning of “contribution”).

Later, in the conclusions, the assertions of originality (the “key/crucial implication” and “important takeaway”) are nearly identical. Here are some excepts from the conclusions:

The genuine relationship between the two papers is not revealed.

There is no substitute for reading the text with human eyes. However, there also are tools for displaying and analyzing similarity in documents. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity provides a reference to the Plagiarism Resource Center (once) at the University of Virginia, which distributes a program called WCopyfind, an open-source Windows-based document comparison tool.

After converting these two articles to text documents, and removing the tables, references, methodological appendix, and extraneous page numbers and other fragments, I subjected them to the WCopyfind comparison. These are the parameters I used, which were recommended for cases in which minor editing is presumed.

Shortest Phrase to Match: 6
Ignore Punctuation: No
Ignore Outer Punctuation: Yes
Ignore Letter Case: Yes
Skip Long Words: No
Most Imperfections to Allow: 0

The analysis found 2,235 words that were in duplicate 6-word strings, accounting for 20% of each article’s text. For example, here are two passages, with the strings that the algorithm flagged in red:

The present study provides an important corrective to the large volume of prior research finding a positive relationship between the size of racial/ethnic minority groups in a neighborhood and the rate of crime at one point in time and assuming that the causal direction runs from the presence of such minorities to higher rates of crime.

Prior research frequently has found a relationship between the presence of racial/ethnic minorities in a neighborhood and the rate of crime at one point in time. Although they sometimes posit different mechanisms, these studies almost always conclude that the causal direction runs from the presence of such minorities to higher rates of crime.

On the one hand, we can see that the passages are more similar than the red text implies, but on the other hand there are times when the algorithm appears to just catch phrases that occur in this line of research, such as “are more likely to move into.” If you set the shortest phrase to 5 words, the program flags 23% of the text; at 10 words it flags 12%.

The nice thing about the program is it creates a side-by-side comparison of the entire documents, with the common text strings linked, so you can click on the text in one article and see where it appears in the other, in context. I have put this side-by-side file here for your perusal. The full articles (behind paywalls) are linked above.

(Odd aside: the Criminology paper is in the first person singular, while the Social Problems paper is written in the first person plural, although both have only one author.)

What is this?

This is not a duplicate paper, although it includes a large amount of copied text, which would normally be called “self-plagiarism,” defined by Miguel Roig like this:

Whereas plagiarism involves the presentation of others’ ideas, text, data, images, etc., as the products of our own creation, self-plagiarism, occurs when we decide to reuse in whole or in part our own previously disseminated ideas, text, data, etc without any indication of their prior dissemination. Perhaps the most commonly-known form of self-plagiarism is duplicate publication, but other forms exist and include redundant publication, augmented publication, also known as meat extender, and segmented publication, also known as salami, piecemeal, or fragmented publication. The key feature in all forms of self-plagiarism is the presence of significant overlap between publications and, most importantly, the absence of a clear indication as to the relationship between the various duplicates or related papers.

Thinly-sliced “salami” articles do not necessarily include any duplication, but rather just tiny increments of scientific progress. There is some of that here, as well as elements of a “meat extender” case, in which small amounts of additional data or analysis are added — without a transparent disclaimer and rationale. However, regardless of the differences in analysis, the texts — especially the framing and concluding bread around the salami — are too similar to be justified.

That last distinction in Roig’s definition, the “key feature,” is what’s important here. Using a little boilerplate theoretical language in related work, or a very similar equation or description of variables when using the same datasets, doesn’t undermine the value of the work, as long as the original source is attributed. This distinction appears in a Nature news story:

…although the repetition of the methods section of a paper is not necessarily considered inappropriate by the scientific community, “we would expect that results, discussion and the abstract present novel results”, says Harold Garner, a bioinformatician at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg.

There are in fact some “novel results” in the second paper, but the novelty is not as important as the basic findings, which are described nearly identically — as original in both cases.

In the normal course of pursuing a research agenda across multiple article-length publications, some repetition is justifiable and even helpful. But without a “a clear indication as to the relationship between the various duplicates or related papers,” in Roig’s words, the sandwich is not kosher.

Consider an alternative example, in an economics paper, “Booms, Busts, and Divorce,” by Judith Hellerstein and Melinda Morrill, which I wrote about recently. Their main contribution is the finding that divorce was pro-cyclical from 1976 to 2009 – that is, there was more divorce when the economy grew. The “main analysis” is this:

we combine data on state-by-year unemployment rates with state-by-year vital statistics data across the United States over the period 1976 to 2009. We assess the impact of local macroeconomic conditions on state-level divorce rates, controlling for year fixed effects, state-specific time trends, and state-specific time-invariant determinants of divorce rates.

But they then add this:

Our basic finding of pro-cyclical divorce is robust to alternative empirical specifications and is found when we allow the effect of unemployment rates on divorce to vary by the fraction of the population that is Catholic … the census region, and by time period. We also show that this finding is robust to extending our unemployment series back to 1970 … Finally, we replace the unemployment rate at the state-by-year level as our measure of macroeconomic conditions with two alternative measures: state-by-year per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and state-by-year per capita income.

Each of those different steps is a way of extending and corroborating the “main analysis,” and each required adding data from a different source and conducting a new statistical analysis. But they did not make the main finding a new discovery warranting an additional publication with the same motivation and conclusions as the first.

Look at me

To head off an inevitable question, you are welcome to look at my own publication record. There are two specific cases in which my co-author Matt Huffman and I wrote pairs of articles addressing similar questions. They were: whether variation in gender segregation across labor markets affected patterns of gender wage devaluation (here and here); and whether the presence of female managers is associated with lower levels of gender inequality (here and here).

In each case the later paper acknowledged the earlier (or, they acknowledged each other, in the first pair), and explained the differences in approach — they involved different kinds of data and statistical methods in each case as well. The results were consistent in each pair, and thus the conclusions were strengthened, the pattern corroborated. Maybe we could have combined each pair into one very dense article, but that might very well have been rejected as too long or complicated for the journals we used, and they weren’t ready at the same time. (For what it’s worth, I also checked the WCopyfind comparison between the latter pair of our articles, and found 37 words in matched strings of 6 words or more.)

What to do

There is considerable research on the problem of duplicate publication in the medical literature, as Nature reports about 0.4% of articles in MedLine are probable duplicates. I don’t know how widespread the various kinds of duplication are in the social sciences. I can’t say this is a rampant problem, or that this case is an extreme one — I don’t know.

However, based on what I have read and shown above, I’m satisfied this case is a problem the likes of which we should try to avoid.

First, however, we should consider this kind of problem in the context of the “cycle of publication overproduction,” in which the Academy finds itself. That’s the phrase from a report by Diane Harley and Sophia Krzys Acord, “Peer review in academic promotion and publishing: its meaning, locus, and future,” published by Center for Studies in Higher Education at Berkeley. They write:

…the problems we face in scholarly communication are not about publishing, per se, or the process of peer review in that system. Instead, the problems lie with the current advancement system in a multitude of higher education sectors globally that increasingly demand unrealistic publication requirements of their members in lieu of conducting thorough and context-appropriate institutional peer review, at the center of which should be a close reading and evaluation of a scholar’s overall contributions to a field in the context of each institution’s primary mission.

And one of their first recommendations is: “Encourage scholars to publish peer-reviewed work less frequently and more meaningfully.”

While we’re working on that, I have more immediate suggestions for four stages of the publication process.
  • Journal peer review. A large survey of peer reviewers found that, in the social sciences, about 88% believe ensuring acknowledgement of previous work should be one of the purposes of peer review, but only 59% believe the system is current able to do so. The editors and associations in this case – Criminology (the American Society of Criminology) and Social Problems (the Society for the Study of Social Problems) — or others have an incentive to prevent this waste of their resources. Editors and reviewers must be told when highly similar work exists, obviously, and the current ethics statement for American Sociological Review states that “Significant findings or contributions that have already appeared (or will appear) elsewhere must be clearly identified.” But in one concrete step to strengthen that, we could require that referenced work that has not been published — in press, under review, forthcoming, etc. — be accompanied by access to the papers, so the editors can look for redundancy. As it is, these papers are not available to reviewers or editors for verification.
  • Promotion committees and administrators. Counting up articles, and weighting them according to journal prestige or impact factor, is widely practiced in promotion decisions. Really reading the work is much better, but it requires more time, and more specialized skill. The Harley and Acord report has some great systemic recommendations. But in the meantime one thing I might start doing when reviewing cases is to ask myself, “Could any of these articles have been shaved into multiple salami slices?” If they could, but weren’t, let’s give credit for that decision (even if the work wasn’t in a top journal).
  • Ethics guidelines. The American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics prohibits publishing “data or findings that they have previously published elsewhere.” However, the plagiarism provision only mentions “another person’s” work. The “self-plagiarism” (or duplication) aspect of this should be beefed up.
  • Shorter articles. Thin slices of salami are not so distasteful when eaten without a full load of bread and condiments. Sociology journals tend to have long articles compared with some other social sciences (psychology, economics, public health). If one of the two articles in this case could have been published as a brief report, with a few references and a clear emphasis on what was new, that might be reasonable. In many cases, the copying is in the theory, literature review, and methods. I know I just said we publish too much as it is, but sometimes shorter articles would help with this problem.
Addendum: Why?

Why would I write this and make it public? I certainly have nothing personal against John Hipp, whom I hardly know. But part of the privilege of having tenure protection is that the fear of offending people shouldn’t prevent me from speaking up on issues I think are important, and I am worked up about this issue. Academia has the unrivaled privilege of policing itself, and we have built a system that runs on trust, believe it or not.

I have done a few promotion reviews since I’ve been tenured, and reviewed many journal articles (more than 70 in the past 7 years). I have evaluated hundreds of job candidates and thousands of graduate student applications. Maybe it’s too much to hope that academia will abandon its addiction to bean-counting in the evaluation of productivity and merit any time soon. But we can increase our sensitivity to the flaws of that approach, and promote the honesty and transparency that are prerequisites for its functioning.

These are some other interesting sites and pages on these issues:


Filed under Me @ work, Research reports

Harriet Presser

Harriet Presser has died. In this post I include the death notice from the Washington Post, as well as some remarks I prepared for the award ceremony at which the Family Section of the American Sociological Association honored her with the Distinguished Career award in 2009. And then a few personal comments.

Harriet Presser in a 2004 photo from the Harvard University Gazette, as she delivered a lecture there.

This death notice appeared in the Washington Post on May 6.

On May 1, 2012, Harriet B. Presser passed away with her daughter, Sheryl, and Harriet’s partner of 32 years, Phil Corfman, by her side. Harriet was a distinguished University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her work helped transform the field of demography by bringing a gender perspective to bear on the study of fertility and family processes. She was elected President of the Population Association of America for 1989. The Association named an award in her honor in 2008, to be given to recognize career contributions to the study of gender in demography. In 2010 she was awarded the American Sociological Association’s Jessie Bernard Award for work that “enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society”. At Maryland, she had founded the Center for Population, Gender and Social Inequality, and was awarded the Dean’s Medal for meritorious service to the college. A service was held in New York on Friday, May 4, 2012 at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel. In early summer, Sheryl and Phil will hold a service in celebration of Harriet’s life in Rockville. In lieu of flowers, you may donate to the graduate student Fellowship Fund that Harriet had established. Checks should be made out to the University of Maryland College Park Foundation with Harriet B. Presser Fellowship Fund, Account #: 21-40452 in the memo line, and sent to: University of Maryland College Park Foundation Inc., Office of Gift Acceptance Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center, College Park, MD 20742

In my 2009 remarks, I focused on Harriet’s contributions to family sociology. This is what I prepared, with some links added:

On behalf of my colleagues on the Family Section’s Distinguished Career Award Committee – Bill Marsiglio, Karin Brewster, Michelle Budig, and Michael Rosenfeld – it is my distinct privilege and high honor to announce that Harriet Presser is the winner of the 2009 Distinguished Career Award from the Family Section of the American Sociological Association.

Harriet Presser is one of the preeminent researchers in the area of sociology now known as Gender, Work and Family. But it was in fact her work that helped to define that area, to shape that research agenda from the 1970s to the present day. As David Maume wrote in Contemporary Sociology, she “examined the poor fit between work and family obligations long before the idea of work-family conflict entered academic and public discourse.”

Harriet received a Masters degree from UNC Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. from Berkeley. Her first faculty appointment was in Public Health at Columbia, and her early work concerned fertility and family planning, birth control and sterilization, which was the subject of her dissertation on Puerto Rico. A review of her many published articles shows a path from teen motherhood and pregnancy to work and family, focusing on welfare, work and family formation. She also studied child care challenges for working women and families. Her institutional contributions include an instrumental role in the early Census Bureau data collection on child care, in the 1977 Current Population Survey – and in the Census Bureau’s decision to drop the concept of “head of household” from its surveys (which is itself a great story of life at the intersection of feminism, bureaucracy and demography in the 1970s).

In 1983 she had the rare distinction among sociologists of publishing an article in the journal Science – on the issue of shift work among dual-earner couples. The high rates of shift work among spouses with children had gone largely unnoticed as women’s labor force participation increased. The nurses, waitresses, sales workers and telephone operators of the 1970s and 80s were on the leading edge of the nascent 24-hour economy that would reshape modern family life. For example, these were the first families in which large proportions of men were the primary caretakers for their young children. In fact, viewing career trajectories and strategies from a couple perspective was one of the many research innovations for which we have, in part, Harriet to thank. With a clearness of thought and a prescient view of social trends, with which her work is riddled, at the end of that article in Science she sketched out a research agenda that read in part, “what are the motivations for shift work among couples with children? What is the quality of child care in shift work households? … what are the quality and stability of marriages among shiftwork couples compared with others? What is the distinctive effect of shift work on the division of labor within the home and nonmarital power? Is the effect of female shiftwork on family life different from the effect of male shiftwork?” In fact, each of these questions has become the subject of important research as we attempt to come to terms with the simultaneous effects of the growing service economy, dual earner couple employment, cultural trends in parenting and, always, struggles for gender equality at work and at home.

The subject matter of Harriet’s research was influenced by her own experience going to college at night while trading off child-care shifts with her then husband, in the 1950s. Her feminist orientation drew from her experience as well, including a run-in with my own department, which was not uniformly supportive – shall we say – of a divorced young mother’s academic ambitions.

In the subsequent years Harriet built a career for herself at the University of Maryland, serving as the founding director of its Center on Population, Gender, and Social Inequality in 1988, now the Maryland Population Research Center. She became a Distinguished University Professor. She was the 7th woman out of 53 presidents of the Population Association of America, in 1989, and was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Last year, an award was established in her name by the PAA, to honor scholars with distinguished careers in research on gender and demographic issues.

This is a small sampling of her many research activities, leaving aside her countless contributions to the universities, professional associations, advisory boards, study panels and journals that make possible so much of our work. And the students whom she has advised along the way. In recognition of the use contributions and achievements, we are delighted to name Harriet the winner of the Distinguished Career Award.

[Some of the information here comes from a 1989 interview conducted by Jean van der Tak, then historian of the Population Association of America, available as part of an archive at San Diego State University.]

* * *

Yesterday I led the last meeting in the Gender, Work and Family course at Maryland, a seminar that I took with her in 1996, when I was a graduate student in sociology here. Looking back over the papers I kept from that year, I remember how supportive of my efforts in that seminar she was. My paper for her led to the publication of an article in Gender & Society which has become my most cited sole-authored piece. (She didn’t believe the article should be published because it pushed the data too far — so I was lucky to have her as a teacher instead of a reviewer. In fact it is more influential for the issues it raises than for the answers it provides, which is a testament to what I learned in the seminar.)

Anyway, I came across this snippet, which reminded me of her, and her influence on me: I don’t want to write phrases that would draw an “ugh!” from her even now.

Instead, I wish I could have one more of these:

Addendum: There is now a page for Harriet on Wikipedia.

Leave a comment

Filed under In the news, Me @ work