Sunday, February 19, 2006

two points for my manifesto

1. There is no such thing as a "direct effect" of education on a later-life outcome, and thinking that way only leads to confusion. As far as I can tell, all coherent narratives of the effect of education on a later-life outcome can be expressed in terms of the above diagram.* The way people talk about education "effects" would be clearer if people were forced to express what they think they mean in terms of this diagram.

(Note that the diagram does not have an arrow that goes directly from education to the outcome; that's a big part of the point. The diagram may seem obvious or banal, but I can point to about 1000 confused papers that I've read that would have benefited by being forced to be clear of what they are claiming in exactly the terms above.)

2. As a general thing, people overestimate the extent to which education "effects" result from processes carried along the yellow arrow. They underestimate the spurious relationship borne along the blue arrows, and the true causal effects of education that proceed through the red arrows. The spurious relationship borne by the green arrows, I think, variously and weirdly ends up being both overestimated and underestimated.

* Adding the proviso that any instances of two arrows entering a node allow for the possibility of 'interaction effects' and where person-situation casuation both earlier and later in life can be more 'dynamic' than what is strictly depicted in this diagram.


Anonymous said...

two words, jeremy.

survivor guilt

jeremy said...

What does that even mean?

Anonymous said...

slick looking graphic. very simple.

Tom Volscho said...

Part of the effect may be due to educational homogamy right? The sorting of people who are the same with respect to education into similar social settings (workplace, neighborhood, churches, schools, tax brackets, bookstores, bars, etc.). So that as they go through their life course there are non-educational factors impacting life outcome X that cluster around people with the same amoun of education?

I can't see the yellow line (as per my slight color deficiency) is the "green" one?

jeremy said...

Tom: educational homogamy is an education to situation effect.

The yellow arrow is the one running from education to person; namely, the idea is that people overestimate the effect that educational experiences themselves have on individual psychology (beliefs, preferences, personalities, etc.).

sarahliz said...

I think I understand what anon means by survivor guilt. And if I do understand it, it's the sort of concept that would apply to me. But yet I think it's one of the last things I would think of to explain my own experience with leaving rural Wisconsin to obtain education.

As for the diagram, lately I would argue that there should be two differently colored arrows where the green arrows are. Situation at T1 affects situation at T2, but my instinct is that the effect there is actually a very different effect than the effect that T1 situation has on education. Which is to say that lately I've been thinking a lot about educational access (more from a personal perspective than a broad sociological one) and am starting to feel like it's a really important issue that isn't really being addressed in a way that picks up what access actually means to individuals making educational choices. Then again my perspective is colored by the fact that I don't suffer from survivor guilt; I suffer from survivor anger.

Tom Volscho said...

Jeremy: Thank you, I have a better understanding of the diagram now.

Sarahliz: There is another related concept called the "imposter syndrome" where when you come from a working-class family and start hanging around with six-figure sociologists with high levels of cultural capital it kinda makes you feel like a fraud (will they find me out?--i'm not supposed to be here) and the "survivor guilt" is like when you go home for the holidays every year and realize you have less and less in common with your family and neighborhood than you did in the year before that and before that...and you feel guilty because some of your relatives are doing productive labor (like fixing cars, child care, construction, factory work, farming) but you are pushing papers off to journals that only a handful of people (including the reviewers) are going to read and getting paid a lot more, gaining a lot more respect, and job security via tenure. Unfortunately, the scholars of "social mobility" probably never experienced it and were not able to adjust for "survivor guilt" in their status attainment models.

This woman wrote a great essay on discovering her class when thrusted into Simmons college:

Oddly enough, who knows if Jeremy's diagram was even motivated by any of these concerns?! :-)

A+ said...

Wow, Tom. That's like my life in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

Why single out education?

I'm also wondering what "situation" is supposed to mean here.

brady said...

For a while I lived in fear of people at UW finding out that I came from a very comfortably middle class (small child), even upper middle class (teenage/college), and (by now) lower upper class family.

Then I realized that Shamus's folks were wayyyyy more loaded than mine.

Anonymous said...

"two words, jeremy.

survivor guilt
Anonymous, at 5:09 PM

What does that even mean?
jeremy, at 5:50 PM"

Different Anon:

We love you Jeremy!