American Sociological Association

URM Scholars in Sociology and Economics

Science of Broadening Participation: Stratification in Academic Career Trajectories
(NSF Award # 1421090)

Principal Investigator: 

Roberta Spalter-Roth, American Sociological Association and George Mason University

Co-Principal Investigators

Jean H. Shin, American Sociological Association
Marie T. Mora, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley
Darrick Hamilton, New School for Social Research

Description of the Project

Higher education is not a meritocracy; it creates and recreates different classes and replicates a “color line” reproducing the status quo. It is a stratification process that works to enforce a non-Hispanic white male set of rules and processes, according to researchers such as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David Embrick. The current NSF-funded research from the SBE directorate (and the Science of Broadening Participation initiative) seeks to theorize and understand the experiences of underrepresented minority (URM) scholars as they vary by gender in sociology and economics

The study uses a mixed-methods approach to measure trajectories of PhD scholars from both disciplines, including unobtrusive measures and an on-line survey. It is conducted by an interdisciplinary multiracial, multiethnic, and multi-gender team at several universities including HBCUs and HSIs. The creation of interdisciplinary analysis is an important part of the proposed study, given the overlapping interests of the fields and their effects in shaping policy. 

We ask the following: Do URM scholars succeed in higher education careers? How important are publications and other forms of human capital? Does participating in URM networks and activities help along the way? How does participation or marginality in department relationships and networks help or hinder academic success?  

The theoretical concepts to be tested and made operational are:
1) Human and social capital
2) Existence of “two worlds” and a “color line” for racial and ethnic minorities
3) Intersectionality by race, ethnicity, and gender
4) Professional networks and marginality to those networks


Using a panel of experts, Black and Latino/a scholars from the 1995-2006 PhD cohorts in both disciplines were identified and selected. These cohorts were chosen because all have had enough time by standard definitions to become Associate Professors and some have had time to become Full Professors. In order to build theory and evidence to broaden participation and success of URMs in academic careers, we use multiple measures to analyze the outcomes, experiences, perceptions, and factors that are associated with three measures of career success. These are: 1) obtaining employment at a Research I university; 2) achieving tenure and associate professorship within eight years of obtaining a PhD; (3) achieving tenure and associate professorship at a Research I institution, and (4) attaining the rank of full professor. 

Given the major purpose of the study is to measure specific aspects of the stratification processes and outcomes that may create or re-create inequalities in URM academic career trajectories, we have identified a series of explanatory variables. These include whether a scholar is an academic or not; if academic, the type of institution; participation in sections emphasizing minority participation; and demographic characteristics. We have collected these data from curriculum vitae, department web pages, Google, Google Scholar, the ProQuest Theses and Dissertations database, and other unobtrusive searches.

Gathering the Universe of Scholars

For sociology: Using the American Sociological Association’s Guide to Graduate Departments, we selected all the individuals who were listed as obtaining their PhDs in the years 1995 through 2006. Based on a combination of selection by the project’s advisory committee members and websites, we have created a file of Black and Latino/a PhDs, 80 percent of which currently hold academic positions. We have also developed intersectional codes including Black men, Black women, Latino men and Latina women.

For economics: Using previous lists built by Gregory N. Price and also past and current membership information from the American Society of Hispanic Economists, National Education Association, and the American Economic Association Mentoring Program, we have a comparable database in terms of faculty in academic positions (approximately 50 percent of the universe). Here again, we have also developed intersectional codes including Black men, Black women, Latino men and Latina women.

How Will URM Scholars and the Sociology and Economics Disciplines Benefit from the Study?

A major goal of this study is to better understand the stratification processes, outcomes, and the possibility of overcoming them. A final goal is to test and understand processes of exclusion and marginality within academic departments and disciplines. As a result of this effort, we develop two databases that can be used as a baseline for “evidence-based” evaluations as well as a model for data collection and analysis that should benefit the workforce in other science disciplines beyond sociology and economics. The findings can inform/suggest policies and strategies to broaden the groups’ successful participation and increase the likelihood of their successful career trajectories, as well as adding to theory in the science of broadening participation. Finally, the project can shed light on the largely unexamined processes that lead to struggles, successes, and satisfaction with departments. And by looking at intersectionality, we can better see differences between men and women in different racial and ethnic groups.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

ASA's Research Department obtained the necessary IRB approval from the Western Institutional Research Board (WIRB) to conduct this study for both sociology and economics.  

IRB Approval

Project Advisory Committee

In sociology, the Project Advisory Committee currently consists of Willie Pearson, Jr., Georgia Institute of Technology; Cheryl B. Leggon, Georgia Institute of Technology; and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Duke University. In economics, the Advisory Committee consists of William “Sandy” Darity, Duke University, Gregory N. Price, Morehouse College; Alberto Davila, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley; and Patrick Mason, Florida State University.

Presentations of Study Findings

2015 Association of Black Sociologists Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL

2016 Southern Sociological Society Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA

2016 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA

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