Monthly Archives: June 2007

Misinformation about Putnam’s diversity research in Leo’s City Journal story

We’ve reported previously on Putnam’s diversity research on the impact of diversity on social capital (social ties between group and within groups).

John Leo’s article in the City Journal is completely inaccurate on one important point, that political correctness kept us from releasing these results and the data.  We never held back on releasing our findings.

In fact, within weeks of getting the original survey results in early 2001 (six years ago) we issued a national press release describing our preliminary findings in detail.  That press release was covered at the time in many publications, including the LA Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and so on, often quoting me specifically about the diversity-distrust connection.   The SF Chronicle of March 1, 2001, for example, quoted Putnam as follows: “Places that are ethnically diverse and that have large numbers of recent immigrants are places that have greater challenges in building connections because people feel more isolated there,” Putnam said. “And that’s not just along racial lines, [but] generalized social isolation.”

And a few months later in 2001 (just as soon as the data had been cleaned) we made the full, raw data-set publicly available to anyone through the Roper Center data archive.  Over the last six years, those data have become one of the most widely-used data-sets in the social sciences, downloaded and analyzed by hundreds of other researchers. 

Finally, contrary to Leo’s claim, we have not “published only an initial summary” of our findings, but an elaborate 38-page journal article, packed with charts, statistics and methodological details, and as we have said, the raw original data have been publicly available for six years, an invitation to early scrutiny that is almost unprecedented in social science.  In short, our story is the exact opposite of suppressing results which is why Leo’s story is so galling, regardless of whether Leo likes the findings or not.

Powerful photo of inequality: let them eat ‘bolo’

Not that inequality is limited to the developing world… (The U.S. is experiencing record high levels of inequality, whose results are described here and here.)

But Revista (the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard’s  Latin American Review) has a powerful image on their Spring 2007 cover which can be seen here.  (It is a photo taken by Tuca Vieira of luxury buildings and tennis courts in Sao Paulo’s affluent Morumbi neighborhood, check to jowl with the misnamed Paraisopolis (“Paradise City”), one of the city’s favelas.)

New York after-school programs in crisis

Robert Putnam has written about in Bowling Alone, just how critical extra-curriculars are to building social capital.  And impacting youth at a young age reaps lifelong benefits to society.

The NYT comments that “It was just a few years ago that New York got serious about expanding high quality after-school programs that complement classroom learning with academic, arts, sports and other meaningful activities. Participation has risen steadily, and the programs have gotten high marks. Many school officials see a link between these after-school activities and improvements in test scores and attendance, reduced dropout rates and college enrollment.”   [To this we would add that higher social capital of those involved predicts higher lifetime earnings, and better health and happiness.]

The NYT talks about how over 200 such K-12 programs in N.Y. state are now in danger of being closed or drastically cut.  Over 100 of these are in NYC, serving 20,000 children.

In the national and state rush toward school accountability under No Child Left Behind Act, the importance of these after-school programs has been grossly neglected.  The NYT reports that the NY State “Education Department seems to have made commitments based on overly optimistic projections of federal money, and in February, it told after-school providers that grants they had received for four and a half years would not be renewed.”  We hope, as does the NYT, that NY state fulfills its promise, and that other states recognize the value of these programs to building critical social and civic skills and social capital that students will take with them throughout their lives that will be equally valuable to knowing their 3 Rs.

For a discussion of the importance of social capital to youth, see Friend in Need.

Deja Vu All Over Again: The happiness equivalent of marriage

Nattavudh Powdthavee, a social economist at the U.K. university’s Institute of Education. publishing in the Journal of Socio-Economics, tries to quantify how much happiness health and marriage produce relative to what income increases would produce the same.  [Summary of the findings in this newspaper account.]

Freakonomics Blog reports this as though this is news.

Only problem is that Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, reported much the same 7 years ago (2000).  On page 333 he wrote: “Controlling for education, age, gender, marital status, income, and civic engagement, the  marginal ‘effect’ of marriage on life contentment is equivalent to moving roughly seventy percentiles up on the income hierarchy – say, from the fifteenth to the eighty-fifth percentile.  In round numbers, getting married is the ‘happiness equivalent’ of quadrupling your annual income.”

“What about education and contentment?  Education has important indirect links to happiness through increased earning power, but controlling for income (as well as age, gender, and the rest), what is the margainal correlation of education itself with life satisfaction?  In round numbers, the answer is that four additional years of education –a ttending college, for example – is the ‘happiness equivalent’ of roughly doubling your annual income.”  [Putnam goes on to analyze the happiness impact of socializing like volunteering, entertaining at home, attending church and attending club meetings.]

Powdthavee (2007): “Money buys happiness, but not a lot of it.”

Putnam (2000, Bowling Alone p. 333): “So money can buy happiness after all.  But not as much as marriage.”

Doesn’t sound so novel to me 7 years later coming from Powdthavee…

NYT: “Hostile outlook may affect breathing”: social capital responsible?

“Hostile Outlook May Affect Breathing, Research Shows” (NYT Science Times, 6/19/07)

While the NY Times doesn’t label social capital a potential culprit to explain the relationship between more difficult breathing and hostility, alternative research has highlighted the relationship between issues like charitable giving or trust and pleasure sensors in the brain, and substantiated that there is a link between socializing and the reduction in our stress levels.  Makes one wonder whether in the same way that dreams and sleep play a critical role in cementing in learning and recharging our systems, whether things like socializing, giving and trust might also be a resetting and calming tonic for the system that prevent or reduce issues like breathing problems which might come from an accumulation of these stressors.

NYT article here, excerpts and summary follow:

“Having a hostile attitude may affect your breathing, a new study reports.

“Using a sample of 4,629 healthy adults ages 18 to 30, researchers determined hostility using a 50-item questionnaire and then administered breathing tests to record objective measures of breathing efficiency and lung capacity. The study appears in the May issue of Health Psychology.”

[The study controlled for age, height, socioeconomic status, smoking and asthma.]  For reasons not explained the low lung function was consistently found among hostile black men and women and in hostile white women. They didn’t find a statistically significant lung function decline in hostile white men.

The authors speculated that it could be environmental factors or even that low lung performance triggered hostility.

Workers of the World Connect?

Interesting talk by Richard Freeman on how the Internet might influence what unions look like and what such e-unions might play or services that they could provide.  He notes the sharp declines of private sector unions in the United States and the difficulty of getting individuals in U.K. unions to pay dues (approximately free-ride since there are no requirements of being of a union member in companies represented by unions — so they get the benefit of higher wages or services without having to pay dues).

Freeman notes that a majority (53%) in recent Harris polls in the U.S. suggest that they would join a union if there was one in their workplace, but Freeman indicates that unions have in most cases not been able to win out against intransigent employers or it uses up so much in resources that doing this repeatedly with a wide number of firms is not feasible.  It is one reason that Andy Stern (of SEIU) has tried to win union battles at the wholesale level, converting multi-site employers at the corporate level through proxy battles and adverse press.  Nevertheless, Freeman thinks that even Stern’s strategy has not been all that effective.

Freeman is doubtful that the Stalinist work structure of unions can continue, but thinks that many (although probably not all) services that unions provide can be offered more cheaply through Internet-based versions, although he has yet to see any one example that does all things optimally.

He highlighted the Working Family Network) that has 2-3 million e-mails in their network and can often mobilize tens of thousands of members to sign petitions.  They were successful at getting Enron and Worldcom employees to get severance pay when those organizations were in bankruptcy.    A weakness of them is that there is no interaction/feedback with these individuals since the e-mail directories are controlled by individual unions who are not willing to share these with  They have 1.6 million members and signed up hundreds of thousands of members in summer 2004 in 5 political battleground states (OH, FL, MO, WA, and OR) through a large door-to-door canvassing effort.  They are likely to hit 2M members this year.  The members vote online to determine priorities, although at the moment, they only get to choose among 4 priority areas of John Sweeney’s.  They are expanding to new states and have signed up a lot of non-traditional members (Republicans, evangelicals, etc.).  Their weakness is that they are run from DC and they don’t ask who the member’s employer is (since they worry that these members might fear it would get back to their employer).    They asked for $5 in voluntary membership dues but don’t actually collect it since the transaction costs are greater than the benefit. 

The third example was which is something of a UK equivalent of WorkingAmerica.  They provide information on things like childcare provision, rights of privacy, etc.  They have 5000 visitors a month and this number is fairly stable.  Their weakness is that they only provide information.  This site gives associates of prestigious law firms a chance to publicly air if they feel they have been mistreated.  Given the furious competition among law firms for top legal talent coming out of law school, this outlet had the impact of raising associates’ salaries by 20% in the year after the site become well known.  Such publicity can work in an industry with a scarcity of specific kinds of workers.  This is a site that Richard Freeman is working on at Harvard.   It currently has 5000 users who, after filling out a social science survey, get access to a Harvard expert on a range of work topics.  They are in the process of building an artificial intelligence system to answer user questions as a partnership with may bring hundreds of thousands of users.

Finally, Freeman described is a site to connect union reps (who are the frontline providers, usually elected by workers, sometimes paid by firms, who deal with disputes, organizing, training, and are the public face of the union to workers).  Freeman has done repeated cross-sectional surveys with they, monitored e-mail threads, and conducted follow-up surveys.  Their work suggested that this site was effective at disseminating information and demonstrating the wisdom of crowds.  And the site actually helped to build a community of activists:  about 20% of workers suggested that e-mail discussions started online get continued offline to resolve differences or take action on something.  And union reps surveyed confirmed that they had met offline.

Freeman concluded that there is evidence that labor can be successful at doing things online if they can combine individual successes: e.g., like WorkingAmerica’s success at signing up large numbers of individuals, or WorkingFamilies success in getting individuals to act, or’s success in building a learning community that shares expertise.  But Freeman said it was unclear what the financial model will be since these organizations will be financially small since employees will not pay much for an organization that doesn’t do collective bargaining for them.  Moreover, he wondered if these e-unions actually supported minority activists, whether firms would retaliate, which in turn would force such entities to keep the names of their supporters secret.  (He said there is historical precedent for this, with the Knights of Columbus needing to maintain the secrecy of their members.)

And Freeman thinks that in order to gain clout, such e-unions may have to ally regionally.  So even if there were not enough members in one workplace in Boston, you might have all the Boston members in a group threatening to boycott a product unless the offending company changed their policies.  (To the extent that a company sold nationwide or over the Internet, one might be able to mobilize boycotters across the country.)

Some interesting questions:

1) Rosabeth Moss Kanter said that Internet is a disintermediating tool and the unions are prime examples of intermediators.  She thinks the focus should be on achieving change not on whether one can save these organizational by-products of an earlier industrial era.  One example of Internet pushing for such change is www.walmartsucks.comto focus on Walmart’s labor abuses.  She thinks that unions are too top-down, bureaucratic and slow to move and won’t be able to thrive in this new environment.  [Freeman acknowledged that for example, the large unions could never have orchestrated the May 2006 large immigrant rallies in the U.S.]

2) another question pointed out that unlike the typical open source structure that creates a common-based peer production (see Yoachi Benkler) and is bottom up, these initiatives are largely top-down and sometimes spearheaded by the union.  Freeman seemed to agree and pointed out that there may be inherent conflicts that limit the success of these entities through this conflict.

Some observations on this:

a) these Internet-based unions (or e-unions) are largely not going to be successful at the bread and butter of organization — collective bargaining to get better wages and benefits — unless firm conditions are so bad that they are an affront to our standards of justice.  So trying to mobilize the broader community to build support for raising middle class steel workers’ pay is likely to be far less effective than trying to get basic health care for some very poor employees, putting pressure on a company not to fire employees just before they get benefits, or raising pay of janitors from minimum wage to a working wage.

b) these efforts face the challenge that the new e-unions are going to have a hard time raising funds for two reasons beyond the one Freeman mentioned (that workers will not contribute significant funds unless the e-union is providing collective bargaining).  First workers are unlikely to contribute a lot to e-unions that provide services because they get 100% of the benefits if they don’t contribute and in a low social capital era, people are more inclined to free ride.  And second, users have come to expect free content on the Internet and are loathe to pay for other things that they pay for in real space (whether it is magazines or newspapers or communication).

c) It is easy to see that unions still have a lot of resources to invest (7.5% of workers providing check-off dues in America still produces a lot of resources).  And it is easyto see how they might deploy some of these resources through efforts like WorkingAmerica to build a lot of new members.  Through the right structure, they might build a sense of commitment and community among these workers (see that would make them willing to provide funds.  But there is a fundamental conflict between the command-and-control, top-down old line unions and the more decentralized, “power to the people” approach of the new e-unions (that provide some services).  Until the old unions are willing to bend to the new models, change seems unlikely.  And like any larger entities that reap large profits from the status quo, they are reluctant to endorse a new model of doing business that generates more members but at far slimmer revenue margins, and with unsure prospects about how effectively they can collectively bargain for their workers.

Home Alone II: NYT story on Robert Putnam’s diversity and social capital research

I’ve previously written one entry on our research on diversity and social capital research here.  This is a postscript of some interesting coda.

First, there is another interesting story on this research by Erin Hoover Barnett in Oregonian called “More Diversity, Less Trust” (6/18/07).

Second, there are two interesting posts about cognitive overload.  First, this Dartmouth study from 2003 that explains how cognitive overload (mental stress) can be a factor in coping in more diverse environments as people try to censor bias.

And Charles Kadushin, Visiting Research Professor Sociology at Brandeis University, writes in private communication:

Georg Simmel, a Jewish cosmopolite in Berlin in the 1920’s, wrote “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” He asserted that “in a metropolis we are so assaulted by diverse stimuli that we protect ourselves by building an insulating cocoon…. Simmel’s social circle idea in Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations (1922) is also germane. “In a metropolitan area we have a “do-it-yourself” construction of our social circles such that we may be the only intersection point for a circle of mountain climbers, Opera lovers, and Gay Orthodox Jews. Simple large categories of ethnicity don’t capture this. This is why people live in metropolitan areas and once you show them gay Paris you can’t get them back on the farm. As you probably know, I have written about this. The net result of this complex intersection of social circles is that universalism or rampant joining or perhaps even bowling in leagues is sharply inhibited because we can find a finely tuned circle just like the one we want and ignore the others. This is also a corollary of the small world hypothesis. Duncan Watt’s “cave” model of short circuiting which make the small world work which many now think is an unreasonable assumption, is actually a good one because of the Simmel phenomenon. The “caves” of relative dense interaction are social circles, but the metropolitan phenomenon means that a single member of the circle can serve as a bridge to one in which the members are quite unlike the those in the first circle.”

While Putnam’s E Pluribus Unum has already controlled for metropolitanism (by which we mean urbanism, like population density, your commuting time, census tract average community time, etc.), and we find an effect of diversity independent of an effect of urbanism. But Simmel’s argument about overload and assault of the senses may still be the mechanism that we are uncovering that link diversity with lower levels of social capital. So the research finds a similar effect of diversity in Yakima, WA (a small city c. 71k outside any major metro areas) as in L.A or Houston. 

Home Alone in NYT: Harvard’s Prof. Putnam on Immigration, diversity and social cohesion

Erica Goode had an abbreviated account of our research on immigration, diversity and social cohesion called “Home Alone” (New York Times Sunday Magazine, 6/17/07). [Much of here article is reprinted in an Creative Class Group blog post if you are not a Times Select subscriber, although if you read this blog, read the first comment that our work already does control for mobility, at the individual and community level, so the effects we find are for diversity, net of any changes in individual or aggregate mobility.]

There’s a deeper, more thorough account of our research by Madeleine Bunting in “Immigration Is Bad For Society, But Only Until A New Solidarity Is Forged” (Guardian, 6/18/07).

And of course the fullest account of our research can be found in the original article which is quite accessible and interesting. It is called E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the 21st Century. The 2006 Johan Skytte Lecture by Robert D. Putnam and appears in the June 2007 Scandinavian Political Studies Journal.

Donate, then smoke a cigarette?

The Freakonomics blog reports on research of Univ. of Oregon economics professor William Harbaugh and psychology professor Ulrich Mayr that found that “giving to charity can directly stimulate pleasure sensors in the brain.” This parallels some of the research that has come out on the relationship between trust and pleasure sensors as well (oxytocin).

Decline in America’s happiness brought on by social capital drop

Based on General Social Survey (GSS) gold-standard data from 1975-2004, Steven Bartolini and 2 other researchers presenting  a paper at Italy’s Siena University blamed America’s decline in happiness on declines in social capital (our civic and social engagement).

Reuters reports that they “concluded a person with no friends or social relations with neighbours would have to earn $320,000 more each year than someone who did to enjoy the same level of happiness.

“And while the average American paycheck had risen over the past 30 years, its happiness-boosting benefits were more than offset by a drop in the quality of relationships over the period.

“‘The main cause is a decline in the so-called social capital — increased loneliness, increased perception of others as untrustworthy and unfair,’ said Stefano Bartolini, one of the authors of the study.”

For more information on the decline in social capital see Bowling Alone.