American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
January-March 2017

Sociology in the News

A March 17 article in the New York Times, “What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?,“ has many readers taking notice. Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for the Times made the argument that sociology deserves a similar status in policymaking that the economics field has long enjoyed. Irwin used unemployment as an example.

“Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work,” Irwin writes. “And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.”

ASA president Michèle Lamont was quoted in the article in which she made the case that sociology can provide a fuller picture of the challenges facing policymakers. The article references the work of a number of sociologists including: Ofer Sharone, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who found that unemployed white-collar workers viewed their ability to land a job as a personal reflection of their self-worth rather than only a financial challenge; Jennifer Silva, Bucknell University, who studied young working-class adults and found a  sense of economic insecurity in which the traditional markers of reaching adulthood feel out of reach; and Matthew Desmond, Harvard University, for his book on how the ever-present risk of eviction for the poor breeds insecurity and despondency.

“Wages are very important because of course they help people live and provide for their families,” noted Herbert Gans, an emeritus professor of sociology at Columbia. “But what social values can do is say that unemployment isn’t just losing wages, it’s losing dignity and self-respect and a feeling of usefulness and all the things that make human beings happy and able to function.”

Read the full article at