Downward Mobility in an Age of Affluence
Rarely has a group been so protected from downward mobility as today’s children of college-educated professionals. Growing up with record resources, the children of college-educated professionals have the resources they need to remain in their social class. And, yet, downward mobility remains common. This book project explains how downward mobility occurs in an age of affluence. It argues that downward mobility occurs when socialization processes go astray – either through internalizing cultural ideas from the “wrong” parent or activity, internalizing contradictory goals from incompatible sources, rejecting parents’ and institutions’ socialization, or not being exposed to key ideas about how to navigate upper-middle-class spaces.
The College to Work Study
This book project will uncover how the transition from college to work is marked by equality or inequality. First-generation college students (those who do not have a parent who graduated from college) and multiple-generation college students (those who have a parent with a bachelor’s degree) grow up with unequal resources, a gap that four years in college rarely closes. Research drawing upon previous time periods has found that these inequities cease to matter after individuals obtain a college degree; that is, on average, college graduates from all class backgrounds enjoy comparable jobs and earnings. However, increasing family inequality, rising student debt, and a 50% under- and unemployment rate for recent college graduates make it possible that the previous findings do not apply to the present. This study will investigate the strategies students use and the pathways they take when transitioning from college to work. In doing so, it will reveal how inequalities that accumulated before students graduate lead to either equal or unequal paths as they leave. This project is funded by the Spencer Foundation.
The Application Study
Both the public and scholars debate whether a college degree can level the playing field for students from different class backgrounds. Sociologists know that the answer to this question lies not only in the human capital that students develop in college but in the cultural capital that they deploy as well. This study examines if colleges provide all students, regardless of their class background, the cultural capital needed to get their foot in employers' door. It does so by drawing on a unique data set: a random sample of 1124 applications for the same job, stratified by applicants' class, race, and gender, as well as the employer's evaluation of each application. The study will reveal a new mechanism by which colleges do or do not level the playing field for students from unequal class backgrounds.
The Equally Equalizing Study
Higher education has become increasingly stratified. The old question of whether a college degree levels the playing field for students from different class backgrounds must then be replaced with the new question of what kinds of college degrees do and don’t level the playing field. Anna Manzoni and I are exploring what types of institutions and majors are associated with the most equal earnings for students from different class backgrounds.
The Graduate Application Study
This study seeks to understand how college graduates from different social class backgrounds apply to graduate school. The study focuses on six aspects of the graduate application process: (1) the decision to go to graduate school, (2) the process of collecting information about graduate schools, (3) the criteria used to select universities and programs to apply to, (4) the process of applying, (5) deciding which graduate school to attend, (6) and ideas about how to pay for graduate school. The study will determine how students from different social class backgrounds engage in each of these steps. In doing so, it will answer the question of whether a college degree levels the playing field for students from different class backgrounds by providing them with the resources they need to successfully apply to equitable graduate schools.