Sociological Science: Recent Research

The Community College Effect Revisited: The Importance of Attending to Heterogeneity and Complex Counterfactuals

Jennie E. Brand, Fabian T. Pfeffer, Sara Goldrick-Rab

Sociological Science, October 27, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a25

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Community colleges are controversial educational institutions, often said to simultaneously expand college opportunities and diminish baccalaureate attainment. We assess the seemingly contradictory functions of community colleges by attending to effect heterogeneity and alternative counterfactual conditions. Using data on postsecondary outcomes of high school graduates of Chicago Public Schools, we find that enrolling at a community college penalizes more advantaged students who otherwise would have attended four-year colleges, particularly highly selective schools; however, these students represent a relatively small portion of the community college population, and these estimates are almost certainly biased. On the other hand, enrolling at a community college has a modest positive effect on bachelor’s degree completion for disadvantaged students who otherwise would not have attended college; these students represent the majority of community college-goers. We conclude that discussions among scholars, policymakers, and practitioners should move beyond considering the pros and cons of community college attendance for students in general to attending to the implications of community college attendance for targeted groups of students.
Jennie E. Brand: University of California – Los Angeles. E-mail: [email protected]

Fabian T. Pfeffer: University of Michigan. E-mail: [email protected]

Sara Goldrick-Rab: University of Wisconsin – Madison. Email: [email protected] 

  • Citation: Brand, Jennie E., Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Sara Goldrick-Rab 2014. “The Community College Effect Revisited: The Importance of Attending to Heterogeneity and Complex Counterfactuals.” Sociological Science 1: 448-465.
  • Received: August 22, 2014
  • Accepted: September 16, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen,  Stephen L. Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a25

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Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987-2012

Michael Hout, Claude S. Fischer

Sociological Science, October 13, 2014         DOI 10.15195/v1.a24

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Twenty percent of American adults claimed no religious preference in 2012, compared to 7 percent twenty-five years earlier. Previous research identified a political backlash against the religious right and generational change as major factors in explaining the trend. That research found that religious beliefs had not changed, ruling out secularization as a cause. In this paper we employ new data and more powerful analytical tools to: (1) update the time series, (2) present further evidence of correlations between political backlash, generational succession, and religious identification, (3) show how valuing personal autonomy generally and autonomy in the sphere of sex and drugs specifically explain generational differences, and (4) use GSS panel data to show that the causal direction in the rise of the “Nones” likely runs from political identity as a liberal or conservative to religious identity, reversing a long-standing convention in social science research. Our new analysis joins the threads of earlier explanations into a general account of how political conflict over cultural issues spurred an increase in non-affiliation.
Michael Hout: New York University.  E-mail: [email protected]

Claude S. Fischer: University of California, Berkeley. E-mail: [email protected]

  • Citation: Hout, Michael, and Claude S. Fischer. 2014. “Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987–2012.” Sociological Science 1: 423-447.
  • Received: July 8, 2014
  • Accepted: July 16, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a24

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Mexican Ancestry, Immigrant Generation, and Educational Attainment in the United States

Stephen L. Morgan, Dafna Gelbgiser

Sociological Science, September 29, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a23

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After introducing alternative perspectives on assimilation and acculturation, we use the 2002-2012 waves of the Education Longitudinal Study to model differences in educational attainment for students sampled as high school sophomores in 2002.  We focus on patterns observed for the growing Mexican immigrant population, analyzing separately the trajectories of 1st, 1.5th, 2nd, and 3rd+ generation Mexican immigrant students, in comparison to 3rd+ generation students who self-identify as non-Hispanic whites and students who self-identify as non-Hispanic blacks or African Americans.  The results suggest that the dissonant acculturation mechanism associated with the segmented assimilation perspective is mostly unhelpful for explaining patterns of educational attainment, especially for the crucial groups of 1.5th and 2nd generation Mexican immigrant students.  Instead, standard measures of family background can account for large portions of group differences in bachelor’s degree attainment, with or without additional adjustments for behavioral commitment to schooling, occupational plans, and educational expectations.  The broad structure of inequality in the United States, as well as the rising costs of bachelor’s degrees, should be the primary source of concern when considering the prospects for the incorporation of the children of recent Mexican immigrants into the mainstream.

Stephen L. Morgan: Johns Hopkins University and Cornell University.  E-mail: [email protected]

Dafna Gelbgiser: Cornell University. Email: dg[email protected]


  • Citation: Morgan, Stephen L. and Dafna Gelbgiser 2014. “Mexican Ancestry, Immigrant Generation, and Educational Attainment in the United States.”Sociological Science 1: 397-422
  • Received: June 19, 2014
  • Accepted: July 14, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a23

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The Handover in Hong Kong: Impact on Business Formation

Glenn R. Carroll, Mi Feng, Jeroen G. Kuilman

Sociological Science, September 15, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a22

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Although the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China was a major political transformation, its impact on new business formation has not been fully scrutinized. Theory suggests contradictory forces may operate before, during, and after such a transformation: either a decline due to uncertainty or an increase due to opportunities created. To determine which force dominated, we first decomposed the analysis by the size of major affected social groups, then analyzed the expected impact. This led us to predict an aggregate depression of business formation, although this effect likely showed great variation and attenuated over time. Our empirical assessment relied on detailed monthly records of business registrations from 1975 to 2013, using GARCH time series modeling to analyze total registrations as well as the proportions for local and non-local businesses. Controlling for macro socioeconomic conditions, we find the registration rate dropped significantly throughout the post-handover era, implying a dominance of uncertainty. Further, new registrations displayed higher volatility following the 1984 announcement of the handover, reflecting shifting public sentiment in the interim about Hong Kong’s economic prospects. We also find a post-handover preference for forming non-local firms with higher asset mobility; this preference diminishes with time.

Glenn Carroll: Stanford University. E-mail: [email protected]

Mi Feng: Peking University. Email: [email protected]

Jereon G. Kuilman: Tilburg University. Email: [email protected]


  • Citation: Carroll, Glenn R., Mi Feng, and Jeroen G. Kuilman 2014. “The Handover in Hong Kong: Impact on Business Formation.” Sociological Science 1: 366-396.
  • Received: January 13, 2014
  • Accepted: May 2, 2014
  • Editors: Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a22

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Age Trajectories of Poverty During Childhood and High School Graduation

Dohoon Lee

Sociological Science, September 1, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a21

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This article examines distinct trajectories of childhood exposure to poverty and provides estimates of their effect on high school graduation. The analysis incorporates three key insights from the life course and human capital formation literatures: (1) the temporal dimensions of exposure to poverty, that is, timing, duration, stability, and sequencing, are confounded with one another; (2) age-varying exposure to poverty not only affects, but also is affected by, other factors that vary with age; and (3) the effect of poverty trajectories is heterogeneous across racial and ethnic groups. Results from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth show that any extended exposures to poverty substantially lower children’s odds of graduating from high school. Persistent, early, and middle-to-late childhood exposures to poverty reduce the odds of high school graduation by 77 percent, 55 percent, and 58 percent, respectively, compared to no childhood exposure to poverty. The findings thus suggest that the impact of poverty trajectories is insensitive to observed age-varying confounders. These impacts are more pronounced for white children than for black and Hispanic children.

Dohoon Lee:New York University. E-mail: [email protected]

  • Citation: Lee, Dohoon. 2014. “Age trajectories of poverty during childhood and high school graduation.” Sociological Science 1: 344-365.
  • Received: May 22, 2014
  • Accepted: June 12, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Stephen L. Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a21

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An Ecology of Social Categories

Elizabeth G. Pontikes, Michael T. Hannan

Sociological Science, August 18, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a20

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This article proposes that meaningful social classification emerges from an ecological dynamic that operates in two planes: feature space and label space. It takes a dynamic view of classification, allowing objects’ movements in both spaces to change the meaning of social categories. The first part of the theory argues that agents assign labels to objects based on perceptions of their similarities to existing members of a category. The second part of the theory shows that an object’s perceived similarity to members of other categories reduces its typicality in a focal category. This means that for categories with a high degree of overlap with other categories in label space (lenient categories), the link between feature-based similarities and labeling weakens. The findings suggest that social classification will likely evolve to contain both constraining and lenient categories. The theory implies that this process is self-reinforcing, so that constraining categories become more constraining, whereas lenient categories become more lenient.

Elizabeth G. Pontikes: University of Chicago. E-mail: [email protected]

Michael T. Hannan: Stanford University. Email: [email protected]

  • Citation: Pontkes, Elizabeth G. and Michael T. Hannan. 2014. “An Ecology of Social Categories.” Sociological Science 1: 311-343.
  • Received: April 15, 2014
  • Accepted: May 28, 2014
  • Editors: Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a20

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