Category Archives: Me @ work

The changing household age range, U.S. 1900-2017

One way to understand daily interaction, and intergenerational resource exchange, is just to look at the structure of households. This doesn’t tell you everything that goes on in households, but it gives some strong clues. And we can measure it going back more than a century, thanks to’s collection of Census microdata.

In 1900, the most common situation for an American was to live in a household where the age difference between the oldest and youngest person was about 38 years. Now the most common situation is an age range of 0 — either living alone, or with someone of the exact same age. And there are a lot more people living in households with only similar-aged adults, with age ranges of less than 10.

In between 1900 and 2017, life expectancy increased, the age at first birth increased, and the tendency to live in multigenerational households fell and then rose again. So the household structure story is complicated, and this is just one perspective.

But it’s one indicator of how life has changed. Line up your household from youngest to oldest, look to your left and look to your right — how far can you see?

household age range


Data and Stata code (for all decades 1900-2000, then individual years to 2017) are available on the Open Science Framework, here.

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White children are 2.7-times more likely than Black children to live with a parent who has a PhD

For a reflection Amy Harmon was working on, a followup to her article on the experience of Black mathematicians in American academia, I took a shot at the question: How many children have parents with PhDs?

The result was the highlighted passage (17 words and a link!) in her piece:

[all the racial biases that contribute to Black underrepresentation include] the well-documented racial disparities in public-school resources, the selection of students for gifted programs — and the fact that having a parent with a Ph.D. is helpful to getting one in math, while black children are less than half as likely as white children to live with such a parent.

To get there: I used data from the U.S. Census Bureau via The 1990 5% Public Use Microdata Sample (decennial census); and the 2000, 2010, and 2017 American Community Surveys.

I coded race/ethnicity into four mutually-exclusive categories: Single-race White, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander (API); and Hispanic (including those of any race). I dropped from the analysis non-Hispanic children with multiple races reported, and American Indian / Alaska Natives (for whom about 0.5 percent lived with a PhD parent in 2017).

IPUMS made a tool that attaches values of parents’ variables to children with whom they share a household. I used that to calculate the highest level of education of each child’s coresident parents. In the Census data, children may have up to two parents present (which may be of the same sex in 2010 and 2017). Children living with no parent in the household were not included.

This let me calculate the percentage of children living (at the moment of the survey) with one or more parents who had a PhD. For each of the four groups the percentage of children living with a parent who has a PhD roughly doubled between 1990 and 2017. API children had the highest chance of living with a PhD parent, reaching 6.8 percent in 2017. The percentages for the other groups were: Whites, 2.7 percent; Blacks, 1.0 percent; and Hispanics, 0.7 percent:


The 2.7% for White children, versus, 1.0% for Black children, is the basis for her statement above.

Details (including the whole parents’ education distribution), data, codebook, and code, are available on the Open Science Framework at: under CC-BY 4.0 license.

Math bias

Both of Amy’s pieces are important reading for academics in many disciplines, including sociology, to reflect on the experience of Black colleagues in the environments we inherit and reproduce.

With regard to math, Amy points out that Black exclusion is not just about denying economic opportunity, it’s also about denying the public the benefits of all the lost Black math talents — and about denying Black potential mathematicians the joy and satisfaction of a passion for math realized.

As Daniel Zaharopol, the director of a program for mathematically talented low-income middle-school students, put it when I interviewed him for a 2017 article: “Math is beautiful, and being a part of that should not be limited to just some people.”

And Amy makes a good case that math bias and its outcomes contribute directly to racism much more broadly:

Some misguided people claim that there are not many black research mathematicians because African-Americans are not as intelligent as other races. These people, whom I have reported on for other stories in recent months, almost invariably use mathematical accomplishment as their yardstick for intelligence. They note that no individuals of African descent have won the Fields Medal, math’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. They lack any genetic evidence to explain the gap in average I.Q. scores between white and black Americans that they cite as the basis of their belief, or reason to think that a genetic trait would be impervious to social or educational intervention, or that high I.Q. is key to math ability, which Timothy Gowers, a 1998 Fields medalist, has attributed largely to “the capacity to become obsessed with a math problem.”

But I have been reporting on these topics for several years, and I am acutely aware that math prowess factors heavily into the popular conception of intelligence. There’s a vicious cycle at work: The lack of African-American representation in math can end up feeding pernicious biases, which in turn add to the many obstacles mathematically talented minorities face. Which was one more reason it seemed especially important to hold up to the light all the racial biases that contribute to that underrepresentation.

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I spent my semester as an MIT / CREOS Visiting Scholar and it was excellent

PNC in Cambridge in the fall.

Cambridge in the fall.

As a faculty sociologist who works in the area of family demography and inequality, my interest in open scholarship falls into the category of “service” among my academic obligations, essentially unrecognized and unremunerated by my employer, and competing with research and teaching responsibilities for my time. In that capacity I founded SocArXiv in 2016 (supported by several small grants) and serve as its director, organized two conferences at the University of Maryland under the title O3S: Open Scholarship for the Social Sciences, and I was elected to the Committee on Publications of the American Sociological Association. While continuing that work during a sabbatical leave, I was extremely fortunate to land a half-time position as visiting scholar at the MIT Libraries in the fall 2018, which helped me integrate that service agenda with an emerging research agenda around scholarly communication.

The position was sponsored by a group of libraries organized by the Association of Research Libraries — MIT, UCLA, the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, and the University of Pittsburgh — and hosted by the new Center for Research on Equitable and Open Scholarship (CREOS) at MIT. My principal collaborator has been Micah Altman, the director of research at CREOS.

The semester was framed by the MIT Grand Challenges Summit in the spring, which I attended, and the report that emerged from that meeting: A Grand Challenges-Based Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication and Information Science, on which I was a collaborator. The report, published in December, describes a vision for a more inclusive, open, equitable, and sustainable future for scholarship; it also characterizes the barriers to this future, and identifies the research needed to bring it to fruition.

Sociology and SocArXiv

Furthering my commitments to sociology and SocArXiv, I continued to work on the service. SocArXiv is growing, with increased participation in sociology and other social sciences. In the fall the Center for Open Science, our host, opened discussions with its paper serving communities about weaning the system off its core foundation financial support and using contributions from each service to make it sustainable (thus far have not paid COS for its develop and hosting). This was an expected challenge, which will require some creative and difficult work in the coming months.

Finally, at the start of the semester I noted that most sociologists — even those interested in open access issues — were not familiar with current patterns, trends, and debates in the scholarly communications ecosystem. This has hampered our efforts to build SocArXiv, as well as our ability to press our associations and institutions for policy changes in the direction of openness, equity, and sustainability. In response to this need, especially among graduate students and junior scholars, I drafted a scholarly communication primer for sociology, which reviews major scholarly communication media, policies, economic actors, and recent innovations. I posted a long draft (~13,000 words) for comment in January, and received a very positive response. It appears that a number of programs will incorporate the revised primer into their training, and many individuals are already reading and sharing it with their networks.

Peer review

One of the chief barriers identified in the Grand Challenges report is the lack of systematic theory and empirical evidence to design and guide legal, economic, policy and organizational interventions in scholarly publishing and in the knowledge ecosystem generally. As social scientists, Micah and I drew on this insight, and used the case of peer-review in sociology as an entry point. We presented our formative analysis of this case in the CREOS Research Talk, “Can Fix Peer Review.” Here is the summary of this talk:

Contemporary journal peer review is beset by a range of problems. These include (a) long delay times to publication, during which time research is inaccessible; (b) weak incentives to conduct reviews, resulting in high refusal rates as the pace of journal publication increases; (c) quality control problems that produce both errors of commission (accepting erroneous work) and omission (passing over important work, especially null findings); (d) unknown levels of bias, affecting both who is asked to perform peer review and how reviewers treat authors, and; (e) opacity in the process that impedes error correction and more systematic learning, and enables conflicts of interest to pass undetected. Proposed alternative practices attempt to address these concerns — especially open peer review, and post-publication peer review. However, systemic solutions will require revisiting the functions of peer review in its institutional context.

The full slides, with embedded video of the talk (minus the first few minutes) is embedded below:

Research design and intervention

Mapping out the various interventions and proposed alternatives in the peer review space raised a number of questions about how to design and evaluate interventions in a complex system with interdependent parts and actors embedded in different institutional logics — for example, university researchers (some working under state policy), research libraries, for-profit publishers, and academic societies. Working with Jessica Polka, Director of ASAPbio, we are expanding this analysis to consider a range of innovations open science. This analysis highlights the need for systematic research design that can guide the design of initiatives aimed at altering the scholarly knowledge ecosystem.

Applying the ecosystem approach in the Grand Challenges report, we consider large-scale interventions in public health and safety, and their unintended consequences, to build a model for designing projects with the intention of identifying and assessing such consequences across the system. Addressing problems at scale may have such unintended effects as leading vulnerable populations to adapt to new technology in harmful ways (mosquito nets used for fishing); providing new opportunities for harmful competitors (the pesticide treadmill); the displacement of private actors by public goods (dentists driven away by public water fluoridation); and risk compensation by those who receive public protection (anti-lock brakes and riskier driving, vaccinations). Our forthcoming white paper will address such risks in light of recent open science interventions: PLOS One, bioRxiv and preprints generally, and open peer review, among others. We combine research design methods for field experiments in social science, outcomes identified in the grand challenge report, and the ecosystem theory based on an open science lifecycle model.

ARL/SSRC meeting and Next Steps

Coming out of discussions at the first O3S meeting, in December the Association of Research Libraries and the Social Science Research Council convened a meeting on open scholarship in the social sciences, which included leaders from scholarly societies, university libraries, researchers advocating for open science, funders, and staff from ARL, SSRC, and the Coalition for Networked Information. I was fortunate to participate on the planning committee for the meeting, and in that capacity I conducted a series of short video interviews with individual stakeholders from the participating organizations to help expose us all to the range of values, objectives, and concerns we bring to the questions we collectively face in the movement toward open scholarship.

For our own work on peer review, which we presented at the meeting, I was especially drawn to the interviewees’ comments on transparency, incentives, and open infrastructure. In particular, MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg challenged social scientists to recognize what their own research implies for the peer review system:

Brian Nosek, director of the Center for Open Science, stressed to the need to consider incentives for openness in our interventions:

And Kathleen Fitzpatrick, project director for Humanities Commons, described the necessity of open infrastructure that is flexibly interoperable, allowing parallel use by actors on diverse platforms:

These insights about intervention principles for an open scholarly ecosystem helped Micah and me develop a proposal for discussion at the meeting. Our proposed program, IOTA (I Owe The Academy) aims to solve the supply-and-demand problem for quality peer review in open science interventions (the name is likely to change). We understand that most academics are willing to do peer review when it contributes to a better system of scholarship. At the same time, new peer review projects need (good) reviewers in order to launch successfully. And the community needs (good) empirical research on the peer review process itself. The solution is to match reviewers with initiatives that promote better scholarship using a virtual token system, whereby reviewers pledge review effort units, which are distributed to open peer review projects — while collecting data for use in evaluation and assessment. After receiving positive feedback at the meeting, we will develop this proposal further.

Our presentation is embedded in full below:

A report on the ARL/SSRC meeting describes the shared interests, challenges to openness, and conditions for successful action discussed by participants. And it includes five specific projects they agreed to pursue — one of which is peer review on the SocArXiv and PsyArXiv paper platforms.

What’s next…

In the coming several months we expect to produce a white paper on research design, a proposal for IOTA, and a presentation for the Coalition for Networked Information meeting in April, to spark a discussion about the ways libraries can jointly support additional targeted work to promote, inspire, and support evidence-based research. And a revised version of the scholarly communication primer for sociology is on the way.

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Family Demography seminar syllabus

Sabbatical over

Syllabuses done

Welcome all students

Come many come one


Shanghai Museum, Summer 2017 (photo PNC, Flickr CC)

Here is my revised syllabus for a graduate seminar in family demography. Comments and suggestions always welcome. This is just the reading list, but the bureaucratic parts are available in the PDF version. A lot of the papers are paywalled, but you can get most by pasting the DOIs into the sci-hub pirate site search box (if it’s not blocked where you are.)

Week 1

Theoretical perspectives in demography

Week 2

Demographic transition

Week 3

Fertility in poor countries

Week 4

Second demographic transition

Week 5

U.S. History

Week 6

Marriage and social class

  • Cherlin, Andrew J. 2014. Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Cohen, Philip N. 2014. The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Chapter 8, “Marriage and cohabitation.”

Week 7


Week 8

Transition to adulthood

Week 9

Women and families in Asia and Africa

  • Yeung, Wei-Jun Jean, Sonalde Desai, and Gavin W. Jones. 2018. “Families in Southeast and South Asia.” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (1): 469–95.
  • Desai, Sonalde, and Lester Andrist. 2010. “Gender Scripts and Age at Marriage in India.” Demography 47 (3): 667–87.
  • Clark, Shelley, Sangeetha Madhavan, Cassandra Cotton, Donatien Beguy, and Caroline Kabiru. 2017. “Who Helps Single Mothers in Nairobi? The Role of Kin Support.” Journal of Marriage and Family 79 (4): 1186–1204.

Week 10

U.S. economic conditions and family outcomes

Week 11

Policy, race, and nonmarital births

Week 12

More U.S. inequality issues

  • Brady, David, Ryan M. Finnigan, and Sabine Hübgen. 2017. “Rethinking the Risks of Poverty: A Framework for Analyzing Prevalences and Penalties.” American Journal of Sociology 123 (3): 740–86.
  • Western, Bruce, and Christopher Wildeman. 2009. “The Black Family and Mass Incarceration.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (1): 221–242.
  • Two selections from Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality (2015) edited by Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, Susan M. McHale, and Jennifer Van Hook, 3–23. National Symposium on Family Issues 5. Springer International Publishing.
    • McLanahan, Sara, and Wade Jacobsen. “Diverging Destinies Revisited.”
    • Cohen, Philip N. 2015. “Divergent Responses to Family Inequality.”

Week 13

Family structure and child wellbeing

Week 14

Maternal mortality

 Week 15

Immigrant families

  • Menjívar, Cecilia, Leisy J. Abrego, and Leah C. Schmalzbauer. 2016. Immigrant Families. John Wiley & Sons.


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How about using half the Bezos fortune to stop US child poverty for one year?


With everyone arguing about how much money MacKenzie Bezos should get in her divorce from Jeff Bezos, CNN asked me to write an op-ed. In it I argued that they are too rich and we could make divorce easier for everyone if we taxed away more of their money. I wrote:

There is a serious fairness issue here, but it doesn’t have to do with whether MacKenzie ends up with $1 billion or $68 billion. It’s that too many people can’t realistically exercise the same individual freedom that the Bezoses have — to choose to leave a failing or abusive marriage without facing crushing economic stress or hardship.

I called it, “There is a fairness issue with in the Bezos divorce (and it’s not about how much money MacKenzie Bezos will end up with),” which they changed to “The divorce issue that Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos don’t have to worry about.”

I agreed not to post the full text here. You can read it at CNN.


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Fox News took my quotes out of context and added wrong information

Following up on Part 1, discussed here, Parts 2 and 3 of the Fox News series on demography and social change also featured quotes from me. Part 2 used a reasonable quote in a reasonable way, but Part 3 did not.

Part 2 is a good teaching lesson in sky-is-fallingism, a Fox News signature. As they’ve done before, they literally start with a 1950s TV show as if it were historical footage, and then proceed to the chaotic now.

“If Tommy suddenly woke up today, he’d be an aging Baby Boomer, receiving benefits from a Social Security trust fund that is more than 2 trillion dollars in debt. He might be tending to his aches and pains with medical marijuana, now legal in 33 states. He might see his childhood friends are legally married [showing gay male weddings] while almost half the mommies in the U.S. are not.”

Cut to racial minority students in UCLA gear. Etc. The most extreme cut is between the Heritage Foundation person saying, of Democrats, “We’re the party of government, and that way if we have voters attached to government programs they’re going to stick with us,” before, literally, cutting to archival Mao and Stalin footage, with the voice-over:

“That, while the hard lessons of socialism — 70 million dead in China, 20 million dead in the Soviet Union — that happened during Communism, are often neglected in colleges, now focused on social justice curricula.”

Great stuff, good for teaching. Anyway, my quote in the piece is just saying young people nowadays don’t like to be lectured about traditional values. They just frame it like that’s a bad thing. Here it is:

Part 3 is where they misused my quotes, in two places. The episode is about how low fertility leads to immigration, which creates chaos and causes populism. Plenty wrong in here, but I’m just focusing on my beefs. First, on immigration, they say:

“Europe’s accommodation of refugees fleeing ISIS and the civil war in Syria, has proved a bridge too far.”

Philip Cohen: “Immigration poses challenges to the dominant culture. It’s obviously politically fraught.”

Cut to rioting footage. Narrator: “From Greece to Italy, Germany, France, and the Nordic countries, clashes have erupted. Nationalist politicians are forcing a reckoning with multiculturalism.”

According to my own recording of the interview, however, what I said immediate after, “It’s obviously politically fraught,” was this:

“On the other hand, there’s a great pent-up demand for immigration. There are plenty of people who want to come here. The immigrants who come here tend to be the better off, more highly skilled and educated people from the countries that they’re coming from, contrary to some stereotypes, so they end up strengthening the U.S. economy even as they improve their own wellbeing. So if you can get over all the challenges and conflict that sometimes comes along with rapid immigration, what you end up with is an answer to the population [problem].”

Lesson learned. Not surprising they didn’t use my pro-immigration other hand. I should have anticipated that better and made the other hand the only hand in my comment. However, they had invited me to discuss Millennials and marriage, so I wasn’t prepared for immigration.

The piece has distracted tangents into robots in Japan and the one-child policy in China. I also wasn’t prepared for the one-child policy on that day, but I always have a take ready on that. Here’s what I said, according to my recording:

“One thing to know about China is the birthrate had fallen a lot before the one-child policy. So even if you like the idea … [they interrupted to say they had bumped the focus, so I should start my answer again] …One thing that’s important to realize about China is that population growth had already slowed a lot before the one-child policy started, so they really didn’t need the one-child policy to slow down population growth. And it was quite draconian. It went against what most people wanted for their families. The implementation of it was very repressive. It included forced sterilization, and abortion, and very harsh penalties for people who had extra children. So it was really a human rights disaster.”

In the piece, however, they used the part about forced sterilization and the human rights disaster, but didn’t use where I said, “they really didn’t need the one-child policy to slow down population growth” — and replaced it with voice-over that said, “overpopulation compelled the Communist government to force a one-child policy on the populous.” So they took out something true and added something false.

To see how wrong that it, here is the trend in total fertility rate (births per woman) from 1960 to 2016. This shows how much birth rates had come down in China under policies that promoted smaller families along with women’s healthcare, education, and employment, by the time China implemented the one-child policy in 1980:


I put India and Nigeria on the chart to show how successful China already was relative to other large, poor countries with high fertility in the 1960s. There was no demographic justification for the one-child policy, and the fact that it became draconian and repressive is a clue to how out of step it was with the family lives of the Chinese people.

The reason this matters is not particularly important for the Fox News piece, but it’s very important to understand that progress on reducing fertility is better achieved through empowerment and development than through command and repression. Now that we’re seeing countries interested in increasing fertility, this is important historical context. (Here’s a good review article by Wang Feng, Baochang Gu, and Yong Cai [paywalled | bootlegged])

Anyway, regardless of the implications, it just goes against accuracy and honesty to remove true information for false information.

Anyway anyway, here’s Part 3:



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