Sociology by the Numbers
Release Date: 04-21-2010
Quantitative research conducted by Dan Krymkowski, associate professor of sociology, has shed light on why certain groups of people have had trouble moving out of the social class they were born into. (Photo: Sally McCay)
Dan Krymkowski has a simple way of describing the complicated research he's conducted for more than two decades on social stratification. "I study who gets ahead," he says. The mathematical formulas he uses to draw conclusions about why some people get ahead while others never attain social advantages like education, money and social status are a little more complicated.
Krymkowski, associate professor of sociology who was named associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in February of 2010, is a mathematical sociologist who prefers quantitative research to qualitative. He has teamed with a number of colleagues around UVM to produce cutting edge research in a variety of subject areas.
The effectiveness of Krymkowski's methods are most evident in his research with Beth Mintz, professor of sociology and expert on power structures and glass ceilings in the workplace. The pair has produced some eye opening discoveries in their examination of race, ethnicity and gender in the workplace, resulting in the exposure of a variety of power-related gaps that were thought to have closed with the attainment of more attractive jobs by women and minorities in so-called authority positions.
"The fact that there really hasn't been much improvement in the gender gap in workplace authority is a stunning finding," says Krymkowski, who uses governmental and other survey data in his research. "It's so surprising because some women and racial groups have moved into jobs as doctors, lawyers, managers and politicians, yet an authority gap remains. We wanted to know how this happened and why?"
The reason for this gap, according to Krymkowski is due in part to the types of leadership positions women are gaining access to within organizations. The leadership category women have been gaining the most access to is lower management. Although some women and African Americans have moved into the highest levels of management as CEOs, most are in positions that have less authority such as human resource or personnel managers that are often task-oriented. "We found segregation within these management positions," says Krymkowski. "There's been some progress, but it was really surprising not to have found even more."
In their paper titled "What types of occupations are women entering? Determinants of changes in female representation: 1970-2000" in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility Krymkowski and Mintz say their findings suggest "the presence of a ceiling effect: it is easier for women to break into male-dominated occupations initially than to sustain growth."
In the same study, Krymkowski and Mintz found that women tend to enter occupations that already have a lot of women in them, which is partially shaped by their childhood aspirations and could negatively affect movement into traditionally male-dominated professions. Altering patterns like these can take a dramatic social change -- like the evolution of the computer or a historical event such as World War II when women were encouraged to go into factory jobs previously held by men.
Applying the scientific method to other areas of research
There are few areas Krymkowski isn't willing to apply his rigorous version of the scientific method. Once, in a paper that appeared in the Journal of Mathematical Sociology, Krymkowski developed a measure of opportunity as it relates to inequality. It's his belief that a quantitative approach gives more scope and precision to research.
"We're studying American society as a whole, and that would be hard to do qualitatively," says Krymkowski. "With statistics you can summarize large populations based on nationally representative samples. And a statistical model allows you to write down how you think the world works in a very precise way. Qualitative data can be effective in explaining information and telling you where the statistics might lead, but without quantifying your findings it's not as powerful."
Although a number of his colleagues tend to fall into the qualitative research camp, including Eleanor Miller, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Krymkowksi has teamed up with some of them to produce high quality research that includes both methods of inquiry. "At the same time that he is a valued colleague in the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Office, he is also a fellow sociologist," she says. "His research methods are quite different from mine, but that doesn't at all color my opinion of him as a researcher. He's first rate."
Robert Manning, professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, has worked with Krymkowski on multiple research projects including a current paper titled "From Partnerships to Networks: New Approaches for Measuring U.S. National Heritage Area Effectiveness." Manning is one of a number of professors who send their undergraduate and graduate students to Krymkowski, who teaches a research methods course, to learn how to conduct quantitative research.
"He really gives an important empirical dimension to subjects that may seem qualitative," says Manning. "I've sent a number of students to Dan's research methods course who have really benefitted from his expertise. He's provided a great service for us. We've worked together on a number of projects. It's a good example of interdisciplinary work across campus."
The importance of intersectionality
As Krymkowski and Mintz's research evolved from looking primarily at gender, the focus extended to race and ethnicity. Krymkowski says intersectionality, an examination of how socially and culturally constructed categories of discrimination interact on simultaneous levels contributing to systematic social inequality, was necessary to understand why certain trends were affecting some groups but not others.
In their most recent paper titled, "College as an Investment: The Role of Graduation Rates in Changing Occupational Inequality by Ethnicity, Gender, and Race," Krymkowski and Mintz examine the extent to which increasing college attainment affects job outcomes. They found a modest decrease in both gender and racial inequality in access to desirable occupations and an increase in inequality between Hispanics and members of other groups. Furthermore, they found that educational attainment accounts for the progress made by white women and for the declines of Hispanic men, but does not explain changes for African-Americans, either between men and women or when compared to whites.
"Inequality of opportunity is a real issue for many people," says Krymkowski. "Unfortunately, your class, ethnic, and racial backgrounds can profoundly affect your opportunities in life. But it doesn't have to be that way if certain obstacles are removed. As our research has showed, however, they can be tough to move."