Our “On the Market” series is back, featuring UT-Austin graduate students who are on the job market! This series provides sociology graduate students a space to share their research and exchange advice and insights about the job search process.
This installment features Robert W. Ressler, a doctoral candidate and Population Research Center Trainee:
Robert reflects on his previous experiences on the market and discusses the insights that he has gained. When asked about his advice for graduate students going on the academic job market, he writes:
Keep up the hard work, and go easy on yourselves. Honestly, looking back over the last two years I can acknowledge that things have not necessarily gone “according to plan,” but also that plans and priorities change. Just like everything else, the tenure-track system is rigged in favor of those with the most resources (social, cultural, and economic), so I’ve felt like it’s important to remember to pursue opportunities that reflect the reasons that I went to graduate school to begin with: to make a meaningful impact in the communities to which I belong. I moved away from Texas during my last year of graduate school for my husband to pursue a job opportunity, finished my dissertation from afar because it was a requirement for a fellowship from the department, graduated (!!), learned a lot, and began working in new places that I would never have predicted. While I’m still applying for jobs in search of what feels like an ever elusive tenure-track position, I’m also teaching adjunct at Gonzaga University, continuing my research projects in partnership with working groups at UT, contracting for an educational nonprofit in the midst of a program evaluation, and will be picking up teaching an online course at Washington State University next spring, too. All of these opportunities came about not because of my applications, but because of personal and professional connections to communities that had a need that I could fill. During these past two years I’ve also started singing in a community choir, explored a new city, and made some wonderful new friends.
I still feel like a sociologist, and still see myself as an academic researcher and teacher, and plan to continue pursuing this career. In that endeavor I’m maintaining my participation in professional organizations, and I’m still publishing new work (a recent article in Social Science Research on Latina/o enrollment in early childhood education, for example, can be found here). That one took nearly five years from running the first models to publication! Last cycle I had a few on campus interviews that I received very positive feedback over, and my C.V. is constantly improving, so I am trying to remain optimistic for this year. I’ve expanded my application pool this year, and have currently applied to 24 positions and counting in Sociology, Public Policy and Administration, and Human Development and Family Sciences. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right?
Some practical advice that’s gotten me even this far would be to consider all the opportunities that are available to you, try not to hold yourselves to someone else’s metric of success (but do try to get a sole-authored publication ASAP), find and maintain positive working and professional relationships with your advisers (mine have been a life-line; don’t settle for anything less), and remember that each of us is on our own unique journey.
UT Austin sociology doctoral candidate Katherine Hill has written about her dissertation research findings for Work in Progress on the experiences of people with disabilities who work in the gig economy.
During the recent government shutdown, approximately 800,000 workers went without pay. Some government workers turned to gig work to make ends meet: Twitter is filled with stories of workers who began driving for Uber or Lyft during the shutdown as a stopgap measure.
Government workers are not alone in turning to gig work to make ends meet. The government shutdown is one example of systemic failures that leave many Americans without a safety net. In an ongoing study, I find that people with a disability also turn to gig work to get by. People with disabilities do gig work because they need a flexible job that allows them to stop working when they can no longer work that day, and to take breaks as needed. […]
Many gig workers experience income volatility, not knowing how much they will earn in a given week and unable to meet their expenses as a result. Additionally, gig workers are not given benefits like paid sick leave, and they are only paid for the time spent completing a task. For example: rideshare drivers are not paid to drive to the passenger when picking them up or to wait for the passenger if they are running late. […]
Despite financial hardships and health issues, many of the people I interviewed said that they will continue to do gig work, for one main reason: for most, there is no other option. Even Jonathan, recovering from multiple heart surgeries, said, “I figured if I can sit in front of the TV, then I can sit in the car and drive. It hurts my chest a lot to drive. But I still do it because there’s nothing else.”
Katherine Hill is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is also a Population Research Center trainee and Urban Ethnography Lab Fellow. Her research examines issues of inequality at the intersection of work and organizations, race and identity, and health and healthcare. Katherine’s dissertation uses mixed methods to examine the material and cultural characteristics of the gig economy that contribute to inequality.
Caitlyn Collins, a UT Austin sociology PhD and now Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, is making waves with her brand-new book, Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving. This cross-cultural analysis is based on her dissertation research and explores the interconnectedness of motherhood, work, and the state across four countries: Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United States.
Caitlyn’s recent New York Times op-ed, “The Real Mommy War is Against the State”, details more about the book:
“In the course of my interviews, I discovered that American working mothers generally blame themselves for how hard their lives are. They take personal responsibility for problems that European mothers recognize as having external causes. The lesson here isn’t for overwhelmed American parents to look longingly across the Atlantic; it’s to emulate the Swedes, Germans and Italians by harboring the reasonable expectation that the state will help ….
‘Balance’ is a term that came up relentlessly in my conversations with women in the United States. But framing work-family conflict as a problem of imbalance is merely an individualized way to justify a nation of mothers engulfed in stress. It fails to recognize how institutions contribute to this anxiety.
The stress that American parents feel is an urgent political issue, so the solution must be political as well. We have a social responsibility to solve work-family conflict. Let’s start with paid paternal leave and high-quality, affordable child care as national priorities.”
Caitlyn’s call for us to use the sociological imagination and shift our focus from the individual to the institutional when it comes to parenting, gender, and labor is crucial in this current political moment. The stakes for paid parental leave are higher for communities of color since they already face systematic marginalization in the workforce, and state-funded social programs and services seem to occupy a more precarious space than ever in the weeks following the reopening of the U.S. government.
Caitlyn will be visiting the department on April 25th to discuss the book and will hold a workshop for graduate students in the Urban Ethnography Lab from 10-11:30am on how to conduct international ethnographic research. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to RSVP for the workshop!
Jamie O’Quinn is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and the manager of the Urban Ethnography Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research investigates state and institutional efforts to regulate young people’s sexualities. You can follow her on Twitter at @JamieOQuinn1.
Our “On the Market” series is back, featuring UT-Austin graduate students who are on the job market! This series provides sociology graduate students a space to share their research and exchange advice and insights about the job search process.
This installment features Robert W. Ressler, a 5th-year doctoral candidate and Population Research Center Trainee:
Tell us about your research. What are you working on?
My mixed-methods research focuses on the intersection of community organizations and educational inequalities. With an attention to race/ethnicity and immigration, I investigate questions that ask how nonprofit organizations influence community dynamics and educational opportunities. One project I’m working on uses Twitter data to evaluate the nonprofit sector impact on community well-being.
How did you prepare for the process of going on the market (preparing materials, selecting the right job openings, sending out applications, etc.)?
The department supports a job market group. Each week over the summer professors volunteered their time to meet with ABDs about the different parts of the job market process. It was sort of a demystification process that answered questions like “What is a good research statement,” helped us to write our materials in a timely manner, and to get feedback on things before using them.
How do you stay organized when it comes to the job market?
For me this was not a huge deal. I structure my productivity around a normal work day, so that requires keeping up with deadlines, meetings, and concerted times of productivity. I just substituted the amount of time for about one project and dedicated it to the job market. Practically this means that I work on market stuff as much as I need to on Mondays to prep to apply to a few jobs a day throughout the week leading up to major deadlines (September 15th, September 30th, October 15th, etc.). I also have a spreadsheet with job requirements for myself and information that my letter writers requested. I’ve been updating this frequently along the same deadline schedule, and because new jobs are posted throughout the fall.
What is it like being on the market at ASA? What are the keys to success?
The job market is one of the only times in my life I find myself openly saying something like this, but it’s a miserable experience. Especially at ASA. You can get so bogged down by the anxiety and tension that is palpable every time you’re in a situation to talk about your research. So, the best thing to do is to practice your elevator pitch (something we did in the workgroup and Mary Rose helped us with—thanks Mary!), and just remember to breathe. When you tell people you’re on the market they will genuinely listen to what you have to say, showing a level of interest in your work that you might not have experienced from people before. Everybody in my experience was very encouraging and that sustained my enthusiasm for pursuing a career in this discipline.
What is the highlight experience of your research during your time at UT?
My mentors have been phenomenal. I have been lucky to work with both Rob Crosnoe and Pam Paxton and that has led to innumerable learning experiences. In terms of actual research, just the other week a woman I was recruiting into my dissertation study looked me in the eyes and sincerely thanked me for the work I was doing because it was important to her; that was pretty great.
What is the highlight experience of your teaching during your time at UT?
I’ve really enjoyed all of the opportunities the college provides for learning about the teaching process. I TA’d for one semester so I have great memories of those classes, but the highlight would have to be things like the “difficult dialogues” symposium I attended. Not only can these things spruce up the teaching experience section of your C.V., but they provide real opportunities to develop your teaching skills, and ways to talk about those skills.
How are you practicing self-care?
I go to the gym, schedule a mental health visit once a year as a check-in, ride my bike into work, eat a vegetarian diet, sleep in when I’m tired, attend events in the department, and try not to work on the weekends. We really do not make enough money over these five to eight years of graduate school to overwork ourselves. You have to be productive, but you’re going to have to be productive through tenure, and even later on when you’re busy with the added pressure of departmental business, so it’s okay to purposefully keep some “you” time in your schedule.
What is your biggest piece(s) of advice for those going on the market next year or in the next few years?
Seriously evaluate where you are in your timeline and make a decision based on what you think you could be successful doing. Take a look at your C.V.: do you have a first authored publication? A co-authored one? It’s pretty much a requirement to have something published. The next thing is to think about whether you have articles under review or articles that have an R&R. These demonstrate the ability to remain productive for the near future. You also should consider how far along you are on your dissertation. Can you finish it in a year? You won’t have a lot of time to work on it, because you’ll be busy, so make sure you’re confident in your ability to finish it if you get a job. If you think you’re competitive, go for it! It’s just another part of the game. Once you’ve made the decision, take on major hurdles as they arrive, and try not to spend too much time (or emotional energy) dedicated to job market stuff.
New research from UT-Austin Sociology professor, Dr. Ken-Hou Lin and graduate student Paige Gabriel (with Wharton School professor, Dr. J. Adam Cobb) is featured over at the Harvard Business Review. The article discusses the shift of the pay gap between small companies (those with less than 25 employees) and large companies, focusing on changes in the firm-size premium. The authors note that the gap between smaller and larger firms has shrunk, it has not closed equally as mid- and low-wage workers have a smaller benefit when working at a larger firm compared to their counterparts at smaller firms.
These findings challenge reports released from the White House under the Obama administration that suggested that big companies can get away with paying lower wages solely due to a lack of competition:
The researchers estimate that this decline in how much more big firms pay explains 32% of the rise in inequality between the 90th and 10th percentiles of income distribution. In other words, if big companies today paid as generously as they did in the past, incomes would be substantially less unequal.
…The theory here is that the big-firm pay premium was partly a consequence of having lots of different kinds of workers at the same company. For example, if a big firm had some cafeteria workers on payroll, it felt at least some pressure not to let their wages fall too far, because inequality was bad for morale. But when corporate catering companies came along, two things happened. First, the catering companies hired employees at the going market rate, without any wage premium. Second, the big companies that still had cafeteria staff started comparing how much it paid those workers to the alternative of contracting with the caterer. As firms restructured around one or a few competencies or occupations, the thinking goes, wages converged toward the market rate.
Read more from the original research article here.
Recently, I was looking for inspiration to better understand how nonprofit organizations, a focus of some of my research, might be capable of engendering social change. As organizations that operate within the capitalist system but are different from typical business ventures because of the non-distribution clause that forbids the sharing of “profits” outside of the organization, the tax-exempt status of nonprofit organizations and the fact that many of them are driven by a “mission” to change the social landscape makes nonprofits appeal to me as a rich field for investigations using the sociological imagination. A natural place to start, in my mind, was a look back at Max Weber’s discussions on the rise of capitalism through the Protestant work ethic and the entrenchment of the accumulation of wealth in modern society.
Imagine my surprise when what I ended up coming across, while still relevant for my research, was an article that resonated more with the current political climate of the United States of America. No doubt R. Bruce Douglass, the author of “‘Shell as Hard as Steel’ (Or, ‘Iron Cage’): What Exactly Did That Imagery Mean for Weber?” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, was thinking of the recent election when he penned the following in regards to Weber’s writings on democracy:
“Even if (democracy) did enable some of the (social) movements in question to acquire power, therefore, it would hardly be appropriate to interpret such a development as a means by which the masses could actually take control of their lives. And he believed it was almost certain that the consequences of the conquest of power by any such movement would prove that to be the case. It would not be the masses who would end up running things, but their leaders. And in its own way the rule of such people was likely to be just as autocratic (if not more so) as the one it replaced, even toward its own supporters,” (p. 513).
Not only does this quote illuminate some of the processes that people in the U.S. witnessed leading up to the election and the executive orders of the new administration, I think it is particularly relevant in light of the mass protests that have happened in Washington, other state capitals, other world cities, and airports across the country. Weber, as Douglass points out, was very critical of the sort of “herd-mentality” that democratic politics create. My question, then, is what makes us, the individuals participating in the Women’s March and other demonstrations, more able to ensure that any democratic victories are victories for the masses and not just our leaders?
Last week, Dr. Rashawn Ray visited UT to discuss racism and the criminal justice system, but also took some time to share the results from, and media coverage of, a survey he helped to conduct of Women’s March participants. Two main conclusions were particularly interesting that might help to point the way towards distinguishing an active citizenry from a herd of cows: that the marches drew many first time protestors, and that the issues represented were multi-faceted and intersectional. A quick glimpse at the best protest posters from around the country helps to qualitatively verify these points. These facts, in addition to the global nature of the protests, suggest that a social movement can be based on more than just the election of certain leaders over others and instead focus its efforts on the promotion of certain ideals such as fairness, equality, and inclusion.
I don’t think Weber’s writings anticipated this shift in the focus of the reasons for social mobilization, moving beyond certain groups merely electing individuals who will then pass laws that are in line with their own political views. Instead, the Women’s March and similar demonstrations, broadens to include activism to create a vision of society in which basic human dignity and worth are fundamentally incorporated into laws and into institutions. This perspective opens the possibility that individuals interested in facilitating the realization of a more just and responsible society may succeed in escaping the sort of political serfdom that Weber pessimistically predicts. I’ll close with a quote from the well-known French political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville, from his work Democracy in America: “The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express.”
Robert Wayne Ressler is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology. His research interests concern how nonproft organizations provide opportunities to reduce inequalities with a special interest in educational stratification and inequality.
How is culture embedded within institutions? This central question drives the research of Ann Swidler, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. The interplay between culture and institutions has taken her from investigating how middle-class Americans talk about love to studying the international AIDS effort in sub-Saharan Africa.
In November, Power, History, and Society brought Swidler to present her current research in a talk titled “A Fraught Embrace: The Romance and Reality of AIDS Altruism in Africa.” Through this timely study, Swidler sought to understand how two institutional orders—that of the international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and of the local village—meet on the ground. She asked: How do NGOs focus their efforts? And how are these efforts implemented in a local cultural and institutional context?
To answer these questions, Swidler, her colleague Susan Cotts Watkins, and a team of 60 post-doctorates, graduate students, and undergraduate students undertook a massive data collection project. From 2004-2016, the team conducted a “Motel Ethnography,” surveying 4,000 Malawian villages, interviewing 2,000 villagers and 200 donors and brokers, and recording 1,200 ethnographic journal entries.
The researchers found that the primary efforts of NGOs focused on trainings. Topics covered everything from “Training for Home-Based Care” to “Youth Peer Education Training” to “Business Management.” These training programs were desirable to NGOs and villagers alike, because they were perceived as sustainable, cost-effective, and empowering. Attendance included a meal and a small amount of compensation. The programs also provided opportunities to employ villagers.
However, the efficacy of trainings came into question in the case of one woman who, despite completing stigma awareness training and attending support groups, failed to acquire practical information on the antiretroviral drugs available to her. Not all training programs, according to Swidler, were equally effective in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS.
This and other shortcomings in the NGOs efforts, Swidler found, arose when the priorities of foreign volunteers were disconnected from local needs. Many volunteers had an idealized fantasy of helping the Other, which Swidler called the “romance of AIDS altruism.” As volunteers encountered difficulties, they became disillusioned and often gave up, citing “misunderstandings” with local intermediaries who were necessary in implementing the NGO programs. Swidler identified how these “misunderstandings” had to do with clashes between the volunteers’ expectations and reality. It had disastrous consequences: When an NGO terminates its programs, the flow of aid throughout the supply chain ceases.
Among the more long-lasting programs, Swidler found that the extent to which NGO efforts were subverted or indigenized depended on the NGO’s relationships with local intermediaries. According to Swidler, when the cultural expectations of an institution are transposed to a new setting, the practices and expectations of the local network “colonize” the imported institutional logics. It is a dialectical rather than one-sided process.
As the result of this dynamic, Swidler found that certain training programs were perceived as more effective by both the NGOs and the villagers. For example, trainings designed to eliminate stigma were well-received because they aligned with local cultural beliefs in a shared obligation to care for the sick and suffering. The programs most effective in changing sexual practice, according to Swidler and her team, framed contraceptives and self-protection as a radical act.
Swidler’s research on the efforts of NGOs in the fight against AIDS in Malawi sheds much-needed light on why transnational health programs do or do not work. In this case, the most effective NGOs worked with local intermediaries to understand the cultural and institutional context of the people they served. The Malawi case demonstrates how culture and institutions must be understood as deeply intertwined in order to make meaningful health interventions.
Ann Swidler also held a workshop with graduate students at different stages of their studies. Swidler is widely known for her work on modern love, culture, and the “cultural tool kit” people use to adapt to rapid cultural changes. Her book, Talk of Love is read in many graduate level contemporary theory seminars in sociology. She advised students to strive to become known for one topic, issue, or theory and to avoid changing fields by working on the same idea throughout their graduate studies.
One of Swidler’s biggest pieces of advice to those in the early stages of their research was to use comparisons of at least two cases when starting out. Comparisons do not have to become integrated into the final dissertation but are useful since they force you to figure out why you are comparing A and B. She explained that the dimension one uses for their comparison will force them to figure out the analytical focus of their research.
On methods, theory, and data, Swidler encouraged flexibility. She recommended students go back and forth between big theory and empirical evidence in order to frame their research. She argued that one must take a look at their data and decide what to do with the information they gathered on the ground. On interviewing, Swidler urged students to engage people during interviews. She warned against sticking to a script of interview questions. “Ask about their biography! Push or question statements that are interesting to you,” she said. She said interviewing was the most appropriate method to really understand a subject’s identity and illicit real views.
Finally, on writing, she urged students to “find their muse.” The muse can be another sociologist whose writing style or research interests the students. “Be that type of Sociologist,” she added. The type whose writing becomes an extension of themselves. She said this could be accomplished by looking for the type and mode of workflow that works for each person individually. Ultimately, she said that one must confront their fears and join writing groups.
Listen to the audio of Professor Swidler’s talk on UT Box.
Megan Tobias Neely is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, graduate fellow in the Urban Ethnography Lab, and the editorial committee chairperson for the Working Paper Series at the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice. Her research interests are in gender, race, and class inequality in the workplace, financial sector, and political systems, as well as how these issues relate to the recent growth in widening economic inequality.
Maro Youssef is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and graduate fellow in the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include gender, political sociology, culture, social movements, organizations, and North Africa and the Middle East.
Professor Christine Williams shares some thoughts on college students (and others) who work minimum wage jobs to make ends meet as we enter Labor Day weekend:
It’s true that incomes have not kept up with inflation, so one could argue that virtually all workers deserve a raise. I agree. But we must focus specially on students. Some low-wage employers justify the current low minimum wage by contending that their workers don’t really “need” the money because they are students who are not dependent on their jobs for their livelihoods. But in today’s world, students do need the money. And if we are going to treat fast-food jobs as a stepping stone to better jobs, then wages must be high enough to cover the cost of decent housing and the cost of education to prepare workers for better jobs.
Fast-food workers need a raise. The labor conditions that may have made sense for my baby boomer generation are completely out of touch with the needs of the millennial generation. On this Labor Day, let’s remember that all workers deserve a wage that covers the rising costs of education and housing.
by Chelsea Smith, Robert Crosnoe, and Shih-Yi Chao
This blog post is based on “Family Background and Changes in Young Adults’ School-Work Transitions and Family Formation in the United States,” available online and forthcoming in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. This blog post was originally posted onWork in Progress, a public sociology blog of the American Sociological Association.
A hallmark of the late teens through the 20s is attainment of social roles that signify the balance of independence, interdependence, responsibility, and productivity widely considered to define adulthood in Western societies. Completing education, taking on full-time work, and starting a family are social signals that someone has left adolescence to become a “real” adult.
This process of becoming an adult, however, looks different for today’s young people than it did 20 years ago. Over the last several decades, the transition into adulthood has become delayed and elongated for two reasons. First, the decline of the manufacturing sector and growth of the information/service sector have massively reshaped the economy into an hourglass labor market with little middle ground between the security afforded by professional careers and the insecurity of low-wage work. Second, that economic restructuring has affected culturalviews about when young people “should” form families—after securing economic independence, which is increasingly difficult.
The transition into adulthood also looks different based on youth’s social class and family background. The different resources that families provide can shape whether transitions into adult roles are launch pads into a successful adulthood or a time of stagnation that limits future opportunities. Parents’ own college education influences the knowledge, status, and money they can pass along to youth, and family structure influences the time and money that parents have to invest in youth.
In an article forthcoming in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, we compared two age cohorts of youth as they aged from 16 years old to 32 years old in terms of family background disparities in how long they took to complete schooling and commit to the labor market as well as family formation transitions (marrying, becoming a parent) closely tied to such socioeconomic attainment. We found young people today are indeed delaying transitions into a number of adult roles. Those delays, however, look different depending on youth’s family backgrounds.
Delayed transitions into adult roles
Compared to the older age cohort of young people coming of age in the 1980s, the more recent cohort of young adults in the early 2000s was, on average, slightly younger when they completed their schooling and had their first child and slightly older when they entered the labor force and got married for the first time. More of those young adults had college-educated parents but fewer lived with both biological parents when they were teenagers.
All things being equal, the most recent age cohort was less likely to have completed schooling, fully entered the labor force, married, or become parents by their 30s than those in the older cohort. The descriptive figure above shows the divergence of when cohorts moved into adult roles, with each graph depicting the proportion of young adults that had not yet transitioned into the role at each age. Labor force entry, for example, occurred earlier and at a sharper rate for the older age cohort in blue compared to the more recent cohort in red.
Having college-educated parents also made young people less likely to complete those transitions. Living with both parents as a teenager made school completion and having a baby less likely but labor force entry and getting married more likely.
Different transitions based on family background
As described above, there were overall differences in the transition into adulthood by cohort, and there was also variation in those patterns by family background. Essentially, the general delays in the transition into adulthood looked different based on young people’s parental education and family structure.
The cross-cohort drop in school completion was more pronounced among young people from more disadvantaged family backgrounds (i.e., neither parent college-educated, non-partnered parents). Compared to their more advantaged peers, youth from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to have completed their schooling, but that gap in school completion was larger for the older cohort than it was for the more recent cohort.
The drop in labor force entry was more pronounced among those from more advantaged backgrounds (i.e., at least one college-educated parent, partnered parents as a teenager). In the older cohort, youth from advantaged backgrounds were more likely to enter the labor force compared to youth from disadvantaged family backgrounds. In the more recent cohort, however, advantaged youth were less likely to fully enter the labor force.
Although the drop in marriage did not differ by family background, the drop in having children was more pronounced among those from more advantaged backgrounds. In both cohorts, youth from advantaged family backgrounds were less likely to have their first child in a given year during the 16-32 years old window, compared to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. That gap in the probability of childbearing was more pronounced, though, in the more recent cohort.
Our findings confirm that young people today are delaying transitions into adult roles, which reflect large-scale economic structures and cultural norms. Contemporary young adults finish school, fully commit to the labor force, get married, and become parents significantly later than their counterparts did 20 years ago. Fewer of today’s young adults have achieved the roles that lead society to deem them “real” adults by the beginning of their 30s.
Notably, youth’s family backgrounds accounted for some of those cross-cohort differences in markers of the transition into adulthood. The delay we found in school completion among youth from disadvantaged backgrounds was likely the result of taking more time to obtain a degree with breaks in enrollment as opposed to the pursuit of advanced degrees. Youth from more advantaged backgrounds, on the other hand, may have been delaying fully entering the labor force in favor of professionalization opportunities such as internships with little or no pay but that broadened their professional networks and gave them the work experience now required for entry-level jobs.
Knowing the sources and outcomes of differences in socioeconomic attainment during the transition into adulthood is especially important for current and future generations as today’s young adults take longer to achieve adult economic roles yet delay family formation to a much smaller extent. The lack of movement in childbearing patterns among young adults from more disadvantaged backgrounds has implications for their own socioeconomic prospects and those of their children.
Our study presents a broad overview of changes in the transition into adulthood and then considers whether those changes were specific to young people from different family backgrounds. This investigation of delays in the transition into adulthood as they relate to past inequality in family background and unequal future prospects is an important first step. Future research should build off of this framework to consider geographic differences, such as local labor markets dictating job opportunities, regional norms about the appropriate age for marriage and childbearing, and cross-national comparisons including non-Western countries.
Chelsea Smith is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on family formation during young adulthood as well as how family complexity matters for children.
Robert Crosnoe is the C.B. Smith, Sr. Centennial Chair #4 and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He studies child, adolescent, and youth development in relation to families, schools, and immigration.
Shih-Yi Chao is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is interested in family and work, labor markets, and poverty.
Christine Williams is among those interviewed by Kaleigh Rogers for Motherboard about Sexual Harassment in STEM fields:
“There’s no evidence that the incidences of harassment and discrimination are increasing. In fact, some of the senior women scientists I’ve interviewed insist that sexism was much more entrenched and blatant 20 years ago than it is today,” Christine Williams, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who researches workplace sexual harassment, told me via email. “However, what is increasing is public acknowledgment of these problems—more people are aware of these issues.”