This cluster promotes research on the unequal distribution of major social outcomes in a society and its interplay with population dynamics and social changes, with a special emphasis on the Greater China region. Outcomes of focal interest include education and skills, earnings/wealth, status, and power. Dimensions of inequality include family origin, region (including urban-rural), and gender. Population dynamics and social changes include intergenerational influences, urbanization, technological change, economic reform, modernization, educational expansion, demographic transition, and extreme fertility decline. The cluster regularly invites external speakers to CPR to talk about their latest research and hosts the Inequality Research Seminar for students and staff to present and discuss works in progress.
Quality of Life and Well-being
PI: Prof. Tony TAM (GRF-14604920, 2020/11-2023/10)
A review of the voluminous literature on social mobility shows that sociological mobility research does not connect well with the concept of the American Dream that emphasizes not only intergenerational status mobility but also the extent to which mobility is responsive to an individual’s effort through a meritocratic achievement process. However, the technical mobility literature hardly gives any serious attention to specifying the status rewards to effort in the stratification process, let alone carefully defining the extent to which this process is meritocratic. This surprising underdevelopment of concept and measurement has severely limited researchers’ ability to define a mobility regime and conduct informative comparison across societies.
The main purpose of the proposed study is to fill these fundamental gaps. The starting point is a new conceptual framework that brings effort back into the classical conceptual framework for all social mobility research. A companion innovation is to develop a new measure of an individual’s effort and validate its role in the status attainment process. The new framework is capable of revealing significant variations in seemingly similar meritocratic mobility regimes. One of the main project objectives is to compare China to two sets of other societies: 3 Confucian miracle economies in East Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) and 5 post-Communist societies (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine).
By providing a richer approach to discuss and compare meritocratic mobility regimes, this study aspires to bring social impacts that may be analogous to those of Piketty and Saez for the study of rising economic inequality. Specifically, their innovative method of measuring the evolution of economic inequality based on the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent of the income distribution has radically transformed the terms of debate about economic inequality among academics, general public, policy makers, and electoral candidates worldwide. Indeed, one of the main study objectives is to promote activities that would facilitate the diffusion of social impacts in the short, medium, and long terms.
PI: PI: Prof. Ling ZHU (CUHK Start-up Grant #4930984)
Description: Regarding the preservation of communist political order in contemporary China, there are two critical yet rarely explored puzzles. First, how can the Party’s political control remain largely intact despite the state sector’s massive privatization and rapid shrinkage since the early 2000s. Second, why do the estimated income returns to Party membership (namely, Party premiums) seem to have vanished since the 2000s despite the continuing political control of the Party. The author proposes a model of dual rewards to ability and political loyalty to comprehend both puzzles. Drawing on twelve waves of national survey data between 1988 and 2015, our empirical findings are highly consistent with all hypotheses and strongly support this model’s propositions. First, state rewards to loyalty and ability have risen simultaneously during this period. Second, the rising dual rewards lead to an increasing ability-loyalty tradeoff among state-selective positions, which results in the spurious trend of vanishing conditional Party premiums. Third, the ability-loyalty tradeoff indicates a dilemma of dual rewards – it would be hard to ensure the loyalty of the selected elites. To address this dilemma, loyalty rewards are selective by ability strata. Party premiums are more salient and have increased among lower-educated groups but remain tiny for college workers. Such rewarding scheme ensures the mass support of the Party and contributes to the preservation of political order.
PI: Prof. Ling ZHU (CUHK Direct Grant for Research #4052267)
Abstract: The market reform in China since 1978 has triggered rapid and long-lasting economic growth over the past four decades. Accordingly, economic inequality in post-reform China becomes an increasingly significant topic that has elicited heated discussions in both the academic and the public arena. It is well-recognized that both income and wealth inequality are rising in China during this period. While there is a large literature about the social determinants of income inequality in post-reform China, it is still at an early stage regarding the exploration of wealth inequality mechanisms. In this project, I explain the inequality in private housing assets among Chinese households, which is a major source of wealth inequality after the massive housing commodification in urban China since the 1990s. Particularly, I draw on two theoretical perspectives to understand housing inequality in post-reform China. The first is the power persistence theory of social stratification amid marketization, which emphasizes the persistent advantage of political elites in obtaining material rewards during and after the market reform. The second is the intergenerational reproduction theory of wealth inequality, which emphasizes the influence of parental characteristics on children’s economic well-being. While prior studies have firmly established that (1) political capital contributes to the attainment of high housing status both before and after the housing reform (the power persistence perspective), and (2) young people have increasingly relied on parental support to access private housing units (the intergenerational reproduction perspective), few have attempted to bring together these two perspectives to comprehend the contemporary housing inequality in China. I propose that these two perspectives jointly provide a more comprehensive picture of the status quo of Chinese housing stratification. Specifically, I hypothesize that political elites’ housing advantage before and during the housing reform is not limited to their own generation but has an enduring impact on their offspring’s housing status after housing privatization. Parental political capital will contribute to children’s private housing assets in post-reform China, regardless of children’s own socio-economic status. I draw on a nationally representative survey data to provide empirical evidence for the proposition and the related hypotheses.
PI: Prof. Lei JIN and Francisco OLIVOS (GRF-14618618, 2019/1-2020/12)
Abstract: An emerging strand of research emphasizes the role of the macro institutional context in shaping the social distribution of well-being. This article examines how the rule of law shapes the relationship between individuals’ perceived positions in the power hierarchy and their life satisfaction. We use a unique dataset of 30,491 individuals from 27 countries with diverse social and political characteristics. We first confirmed the relationship between individuals’ perceptions of their positions in the power hierarchy and their overall satisfaction with their lives using models with country-level fixed effects. Moreover, this relationship significantly varies across countries, and the Rule of Law Index explains part of the variation, as indicated by random-effects models. In societies with well-defined, universally applicable, and fair laws, the effect of one’s position of power on subjective well-being is reduced. Our study illustrates that institutions of better quality and functioning may equalize access to well-being.
PI: Prof. Ling ZHU (with Prof. David Grusky of Stanford) (CUHK Startup Grant #4930984)
Abstract: Prior studies have found decreasing occupational gender segregation in the United State since the 1960s. Regarding this trend, economists (England 2005), functionalists (Parsons 1970), neo-institutionalists (Meyer 2001) and feminists (Huber 1988) offered explanations from different perspectives. However, they all emphasize that the decreasing occupational gender segregation results from the decreasing gender discrimination in the workplace. While the labor market stories are persuasive, in this study we explain the occupational gender desegregation from another perspective – the inter-generational occupational reproduction perspective. Specifically, we propose that the trends of intergenerational occupation reproduction affects gender segregation via three mechanisms: dual reproduction, gendered class reproduction, and gender-typing reproduction. We use the general social survey from 1972 to 2018 to demonstrate our propositions.
Regular Cluster Activities
A research workshop is held every other week. This bi-weekly group meeting is a combination of a journal club and a conventional workshop cell. All participants, faculty members and students alike, take turns to present in these regular group meetings. The presentations can be one of the following subjects:
(1) published papers / research methods that you think will benefit other members in the cluster
(2) on-going research projects or job talks that you think other members can help you to improve
In other words, although we may not always have on-going projects to share, we can always share some inspiring works on elite journals that could also benefit other researchers in this area. The requirements of presentation and participation would ensure that this workshop is a valuable platform through which (1) members can keep updated of inequality research and state-of-the-art methodological development, and (2) members can get timely feedback from peers for their on-going projects.
Core faculty members in the inequality cluster host this bi-weekly group meetings on a rotational basis. Graduate students enrolled in this research workshop are expected to participate regularly in these meetings as participants would do in a graduate research seminar.
We welcome faculty and students from all departments to enroll in this workshop. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to indicate your intention to register in the workshop and join our mailing list.
Talks, Seminars, and Conferences
Invited Talk: David B. Grusky, Stanford University
Speaker: David B. Grusky is Edward Ames Edmonds Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Faculty Fellow at the Center for Population Health Sciences, Director of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, coeditor of Pathways Magazine, and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research addresses such topics as the future of extreme inequality in the United States, recent trends in social mobility, new approaches to reducing poverty and increasing mobility, and new ways to uncover “poverty crises” in the making before it’s too late.
Topic: Why has the Decline in Gender Segregation Stalled Out? The “Problematic Father” Hypothesis
Abstract: During the last decades of the 20th century, the United States underwent a quite encompassing gender revolution, perhaps most notably in the form of a spectacular decline in occupational segregation. But this decline suddenly stalled out in the 21st century. We show that a resurgence in segregation-inducing forms of intergenerational transmission lies behind this development. Far from serving as “impartial conduits,” fathers are disproportionately conveying their male-typed occupations to their sons, a segregative development that accounts for a sizable share of the stalling-out in the trend. This result demonstrates the potential of melding two types of models – segregation and mobility models – that have surprisingly developed quite independently of one another.
Registration: You may register for the webinar at https://cloud.itsc.cuhk.edu.hk/webform/view.php?id=13043475. The Zoom Link will besent after finished the registration.
Invited Talk: Xiang Zhou, Harvard University
Xiang Zhou is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. He is also a faculty affiliate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. His research broadly concerns inequality, education, causal inference, and computational methods. His work has appeared in American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Journal of Political Economy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other peer-reviewed journals. Before coming to Harvard, Zhou worked as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. He received a PhD in Sociology and Statistics from the University of Michigan in 2015.
Attendance, Completion, and Heterogeneous Returns to College
Higher education can be a double-edged sword in shaping inequality. It may serve as a “great equalizer,” if socioeconomically disadvantaged youth can benefit more from the experience of attending college and from obtaining a bachelor’s degree than do their more advantaged peers. It may also reinforce preexisting inequalities, given that disadvantaged college-goers are less likely to graduate from college relative to those from more privileged backgrounds. In this paper, I propose a potential outcomes approach to conceptualizing, evaluating, and unpacking the causal effects of college on earnings. By decomposing the total effect of attending a four-year college into several direct and indirect components, this approach not only clarifies the mechanisms through which college attendance boosts earnings, but also illuminates and quantifies the equalizing and disequalizing effects of college. The total effect of college attendance, its direct and indirect components, and their heterogeneity by socioeconomic background are all nonparametrically identified under the assumption of sequential ignorability. I introduce a debiased machine learning (DML) approach to estimate all quantities of interest, along with a set of bias formulas for sensitivity analysis. I illustrate the proposed framework and methodology using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort.
Invited Talk: Fei Wu, Fudan University
復旦大學社會學係副教授。2015年12月於香港中文大學社會學畢業，獲博士學位。她的研究興趣涉及主觀幸福感、健康不平等以及社會地位與流動對幸福感和健康的影響。相關研究成果發表在Social Science & Medicine, Social Indicators Research, Annals of Epidemiology, Chinese Sociological Review, 『社會』 等雜誌上，2019年出版了著作：『幸福感三問：來自中國的經驗發現與機制解釋』。她最近的研究項目包括：（1）探索代內流動的軌跡、邊界與速度對人們心理健康的影響，利用全國性的長期追蹤數據和動態模型，分析社會流動的後果；（2）理解出身農家的大學生的社會流動背景、預期及心態，基於3所不同層級大學的訪談資料，深描“農-專”這一上向流動群體；（3）考察肥胖與社會經濟地位的雙向因果關係，特別著眼於性別異質性的面向。
Social Mobility Trajectories and Psychological Well-being in Transitional China: A Dynamic Analysis
How does social mobility affect individuals’ psychological well-being? Sociologists have long been interested in the consequences of changes of social status (Sorokin, 1927; Blau, 1956), while the answer is still inconclusive. Applying the commonly accepted “gold standard” method for mobility effects research—Diagonal Reference Model (Sobal 1981,1985)—past investigations have found either nil or contradictory effects of social mobility on people’s psychological outcomes (e.g., Dhoore et al., 2011; Goldthorpe,1980; Houle,2011; Marshall and Firth,1999; Zhao et al., 2017; Zang and De Graaf, 2016). The current research aims to bridge the divergence between existing theory and empirical findings with following extensions: (1) use dynamic modeling strategy to identify latent trajectories of intra-generational mobility for groups with different family background, to replace the current two-timepoints mobility measures; (2) examine two types of psychological well-being: depressive syndrome and life satisfaction, to distinguish the “social stress” and “social comparison” mechanisms; (3) focus on mainland China- a transitional society with rapid socioeconomic change. Using 5 waves of data of Chinese Family Panel Studies (CFPS) ranging from 2010 to 2018 and group-based trajectory models, the current research has identified quite different social mobility trajectories for children of farmers and children of non-farmers. In addition, we demonstrate that individuals who have experienced varying mobility trajectories differs in their levels of depression and life satisfaction, as predicted by “social stress” and “social comparison” hypotheses separately.
Social Media of Inequality Cluster
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