Topics in Quantitative Sociology

Fall 2020 ENSAE


Controlled experiments can be adapted and uniquely useful to test classic sociological concepts. We focus on a field experiment to examine its application to issues of job discrimination.

Case-study for reading and commentary

Pager & al., 2009, ASR, “Discrimination in a low-wage labor market: A field experiment”

Abstract: Decades of racial progress have led some researchers and policymakers to doubt that discrimination remains an important cause of economic inequality. To study contemporary discrimination, we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City, recruiting white, black, and Latino job applicants who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. These applicants were given equivalent résumés and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison. Additional qualitative evidence from our applicants' experiences further illustrates the multiple points at which employment trajectories can be deflected by various forms of racial bias. These results point to the subtle yet systematic forms of discrimination that continue to shape employment opportunities for low-wage workers.
Commentaries: 1, 2, 3.

Case-studies for presentation

Recent high-profile research suggests that social indicators like incarceration influence racial categorization. Yet, this research has largely ignored colorism—intraracial differences in skin tone that matter for stratification outcomes. In two experiments, we address how skin tone interacts with criminal background to produce external racial classification and skin tone attributions. We find no evidence that criminal history affects external racial classification or skin tone attribution. However, we find that skin tone is a strong and consistent predictor of external racial classification and skin tone attribution.
High-status members are incentivized to contribute to a group’s collective endeavors by the deference and influence they receive. But what incentives do groups offer low-status members for their continued participation and deference to high-status others? We develop and test a theoretical account of how the implicit cultural rules for status hierarchies create a modest incentive system for deference to those deemed more valuable to the collective effort. Such deference endorses the group’s shared expectations for what is perceived to be validly better. The group responds by granting the deferrer a modicum of respect: the dignity of being seen as reasonable. This respect reaction acts as an incentive system that tempts the low-status person to stay involved in the group’s endeavor despite being less valued. Three experiments confirm that low-status members anticipate receiving and higher-status members offer such reactions of respect and reasonableness for low-status deference, and these reactions increase low-status members’ commitment to the group. A fourth study with a nationally representative sample supports the robustness of these findings.
The degree to which social constraints promote or undermine trust remains unknown. One classic perspective suggests that trust blossoms in the presence of social constraints, while another influential school of thought proposes that social constraints wither trust. The author integrates both traditions and proposes a model whereby social constraints increase trust, but only to the extent that individuals attribute another’s perceived trustworthiness to the situation. As individuals increasingly attribute another’s perceived trustworthiness to dispositional factors, the positive effect of social constraints on trust declines and approaches zero. The author addresses this debate and tests the model by designing two novel survey experiments of simulated car repair and group project scenarios. Findings from two large crowdsourced samples support the model. Implications for existing theory and future research are discussed.
Social scientists are often interested in understanding how the dynamics of social systems are driven by the behavior of individuals that make up those systems. However, this process is hindered by the difficulty of experimentally studying how individual behavioral tendencies lead to collective social dynamics in large groups of people interacting over time. In this paper we investigate the role of social influence, a process well studied at the individual level, on the puzzling nature of success for cultural products such as books, movies, and music. Using a “multiple-worlds” experimental design we are able to isolate the causal effect of an individual level mechanism on collective social outcomes. We employ this design in a web-based experiment in which 2,930 participants listened to, rated, and download 48 songs by up-and-coming bands. Surprisingly, despite relatively large differences in the demographics, behavior, and preferences of participants, the experimental results at both the individual and collective level were similar to those found in Salganik, Dodds, and Watts (2006). Further, by comparing results from two distinct pools of participants we are able to gain new insights into the role of individual behavior on collective outcomes. We conclude with a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of web-based experiments to address questions of collective social dynamics.