Coworker Interactions

Sociable Interactions and Social Fit at Work

Social interactions vary across workplaces, in part because workers and managers treat informal social interactions as a facet of workplace cultures, encouraging it in some instances and suppressing it in others. Equally, such interactions are consequential for social capital, and may  be a dimension of cultural fit. Thus processes of status attainment and resource allocation may vary across workplaces in concert with their sociability. Using a new measure of time spent with coworkers, constructed using the American Time Use Survey, this paper shows that work explains a great deal more variation in sociability between coworkers than individual characteristics. The extent of shared workplace identities, influenced by occupational competition levels and union membership, and incentives to socialize are two important mechanisms in this process. Moreover, norms and expectations of appropriate behavior in the workplace accompany occupational differences in sociability, and matching these expectations is consequential for workers' earnings.

Sociability Closure and Gender Inequalities in Earnings, Tenure, and Promotions

This paper asks if the sociability of work contributes to gendered labor market inequalities. Socializing with coworkers is a way to cultivate social capital and is an increasingly prominent aspect of corporate culture. Access to social interactions thus provides access to organizational resources, and is a potential mechanism of social closure in workplaces. Dominant groups, such as men in male-dominated workplaces, can limit access to social interactions by controlling the timing, context, and content of social interactions to exclude subordinate groups. This study combines data from the American Time Use Survey and National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979, to study the role of sociability in explaining gender inequalities in job tenure, promotions, and earnings. In all three cases, sociability is associated with greater gender inequalities when men predominate in workplaces. In the most sociable jobs, when workplaces are 80% male, women earn $4000 per annum less than men. Worker-level activity patterns confirm that while women are more sociable than men in non-work contexts, in male-dominated workplaces, women socialize with their coworkers far less frequently than their male colleagues.

COVID-19 and Inequality

Gender Differences in Telecommuting and Implications for Inequality at Home and Work

With Emma Zang and Kelly Musick.

The global pandemic has led to an unprecedented shift to remote work that will likely persist to some degree into the future. Telecommuting’s impact on flexibility and work family conflict is a critical question for researchers and policy-makers. Our study addresses this question with data collected before and during the COVID-19 crisis: the 2003-2018 American Time Use Survey (ATUS, N = 19,179) and the April and May 2020 COVID Impact Survey (N = 784). Comparing mothers and fathers who work exclusively at the workplace, exclusively from home, and part-day from home, we describe differences in time spent on housework, childcare, and leisure; the nature of time worked at home; and the subjective experiences of telecommuting. In addition to a broad descriptive portrait, we take advantage of a quasi-experimental design in the ATUS leave supplements to examine time working at home among those who report ever telecommuting, providing estimates of telecommuting’s effect on other uses of time that better approximate causal relationships than prior studies. We find that gender gaps in housework are larger for telecommuters, and, among telecommuters, larger on telecommuting days. Conversely, telecommuting may shrink the gender gap in childcare, particularly among couples with two full time earners, although childcare more frequently impinges upon mothers’ work time. Survey data collected following the March COVID19 stay-at-home orders show that telecommuting mothers more frequently report feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression than telecommuting fathers. Early estimates of responses to the COVID19 pandemic offer insights into future implications of telecommuting for gender equality at work.

Sickness-related Absences During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of Occupations

With Emma Zang

During the pandemic, work is exposing many workers to extensive health risks, with workplace infections a major source of COVID-19 outbreaks. The experience of work is substantially different by occupation, and “essential” occupations consist of disproportionately low-SES and non-White workers. Documenting occupational health disparities during the pandemic is therefore crucial for understanding COVID-19 health inequalities in the United States. This study uses the Current Population Survey microdata combined with occupational data from multiple sources to estimate occupational differences in sickness-related absences from work in March – June 2020 and their contribution to income, educational, and racial/ethnic differences in health inequalities. We find that there has been an unprecedented rise in absences compared to previous years, highly concentrated in transportation, food-related, and personal-care and service occupations. In areas with a major COVID-19 outbreak, these occupations saw rates of absence 6 times higher than all non-healthcare professional occupations. Occupations with the greatest increase in absences are those that are unsuitable for remote work, require workers to work in close proximity to others, pay low wages and rarely provide health insurance. These occupations are, on average, disproportionately non-White, immigrant, low-SES, and have workers in worse than average health. We show that occupation contributes 41% of the total of Black/White differences in absences, 40% of high-low income differences, and 54% of differences between college graduates and those with at most a high school diploma.

Work, Coworkers, and Health

Workplace Social Context, Work Characteristics, and Smoking in Early Adulthood

With Professor Vida Maralani.

Occupations influence workers’ health behaviors and health inequalities via multiple mechanisms, including work characteristics and social context. Workers spend a substantial part of their lives at work, yet researchers have paid less attention to work as a social context for health than peers or family. Using two datasets, we analyze how different aspects of work, including work demands, coworker demographics, and coworker behaviors and opinions inform smoking intensity and quitting. Aspects of work related to stress and working with college graduates are associated with smoking, and we find evidence that coworker smoking and norms are mechanisms linking workplace social contexts to smoking.

The Social Context of Adolescent Jobs

With Professor Vida Maralani.

Most teens work, and teen work has been linked to both substance use and educational outcomes. Previous research has focused on work intensity, but there is considerable variation in the jobs teens do. At the same time, teens are susceptible to peer influences, as prior research on school peers and friendship groups has shown. This paper examines how the social context of workplaces influences teen smoking, dropping out of high school, and college enrollment. Using NLSY-97, we find that the proportion of smokers in teens’ workplaces (proxied by detailed occupation-industry category) is positively associated with smoking, and the proportion of young workers enrolled in education in teens’ workplaces is associated with college enrollment. We further examine mechanism of social influence and find that for smoking, coworkers influence teens through workplace smoking norms.  

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