Beth Redbird College Fellow

Area(s) of Interest:  Social Closure and Rent, American Indian Inequality, Affluence, Social Interaction, and Survey Methodology

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My research focuses on the simple proposition that boundaries both create inequality by generating rent and alter the relationships within and between bounded groups. Just as occupational licensing alters the very structure of an occupation, Native boundaries, including industry closure resulting from gaming and energy projects, alter the relationship between tribe and state, and the change is amplified by simple geographic isolation. In a simple supply-demand framework, we might hypothesize that such projects would increase tribal revenue because tribes hold a monopoly on the activities, but there is little evidence of the effectiveness of such monopolies. As with licensing, it is unclear that this form of closure provides a direct economic advantage, but it does demarcate barriers between tribe and state in a way that can completely restructure relations between the two. The study of both generic rent-generating processes like licensure and highly-specific and tailored closure forms such as those at work in the Native context reveals the startling truth – that these are not simple economic devices, but fundamental institutional forces.

Research Projects:

The New Closed Shop
Traditionally, scholars believed that occupational licenses, such as medical licensing for doctors, reduced the number of people who could get into the occupation. This limit on supply was believed to result in increased wages for the workers that made it in. It makes sense because we might expect serious occupational entry standards, like a bar exam for paralegals or a school requirement for massage therapists, would make it more difficult to enter the occupation, but they actually facilitate entry. Informal barriers, which tend to encourage discrimination and homogeneity, are replaced with formal procedures, which have a greater potential to be color-blind and can be standardized, measured, and publicized.

Thus, I find that the licensing process actually increases access, particularly for women and racial minorities, while simultaneously increasing inequality within the occupation. The new “free market” of labor, following the decline of unions, has given us a new institutional form of closure that has a startling effect on who gets which jobs and what they do at work. This means that closure boundaries are more than simply a mechanism to create monopoly rents, rather the process of drawing these boundaries fundamentally alters the structure of work, relations between occupations, and labor market outcomes.

Seventh Generation
Reservations have economic closure in the form of monopolies on tasks and use of tribal land. [We typically think of monopolies as benefiting the holder, and that might be true for tribes. But it is also possible that closing tribal economies reduces the links Indians have to the jobs, goods, and services of the larger economy. ] Tribes also have political closure through the tribal enrollment process. I examine how the interaction of political and economic closure resulted in the development of economic and institutional forms and how these forms impact Native well-being. From my dissertation work, we might guess that the erection of closure boundaries might have a substantial impact on the political and economic structure of a tribe, as well as its relationship with the broader economy and the state.

I intend to continue my work on political closure and examine how tribes shift their enrollment requirements as they develop economically or create new rent-generating opportunities. All states face the general problem of rethinking entry requirements in the face of an economic boom. The tribal enrollment process is a form of citizenship, and self-determination allows tribes to define and redefine this citizenship. Thus, the definition of which varies between tribes, even tribes that share the same ancestry. [Take the Mississippi Choctaw and Oklahoma Choctaw as an example. Two tribes with a shared biological ancestry but very different paths to enrollment.]

Loneliness of Affluence
From decades of research, sociologists know a lot about human relationships. We know about your friends, your co-workers, and your neighbors. What we do not know is who you see every day or how well you know them. In the course of your Saturday, you might spend twenty minutes with a neighbor and couple of hours shopping with a friend, but what happened during the rest of the time? When you exchanged money at the Starbucks or nodded at another parent at your child's soccer game, you interacted with others, but we know virtually nothing about the collective mass of these interactions or how they shape your perception of the world. Social network analysis was supposed to provide revolutionary insight into the cause and consequences of interactions, but massive data requirements get in the way. This project is the first wide-scale nationally-representative measurement of the structure of micro-interactions. Early results suggest that high wage earners experience the most class segregation in exchanges. I seek to determine how much of this segregation is driven by inequality and how these micro-exchanges structure our view and understanding of the economic world.

Courses Taught

SOCIOL 201: Social Inequality: Race, Class, & Power Syllabus

SOCIOL 345: Class and Culture Syllabus

Recent Publication

2017. Redbird, Beth. “The New Closed Shop: Economic and Structural Effects of Occupational Licensure.” American Sociological Review 82(3):600-624.

2016. Redbird, Beth and David Grusky. “The Effects of the Great Recession: Income Inequality and Labor Market.” Annual Review of Sociology 41.

2015. Redbird, Beth and David Grusky. “Rent, Rent-Seeking, and Social Inequality”. In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, edited by Robert Scott and Stephen Kosslyn. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

2015. Chavez, Koji and Beth Red Bird. “Occupational Licensure and Changing Barriers to Immigrant Workforce Incorporation”. In How Global Migration Changes the Workforce Diversity Equation, edited by Tayo Fashoyin, Michele Tiraboschi, Francesca Sperotti, Chris Tilly, and Pietro Manzella. Cambridge Scholar Publications.

2013. Red Bird, Beth, Natassia Rodriguez, Chris Wimer, and David Grusky. “How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford? The Impact of the Recession on Recent College Graduates.” Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts, Economic Mobility Project.

Media Coverage: Associated Press; BBC; Bloomberg; Chronicle of Higher Education; Diverse Education; Inside Higher Education; NBC Today; New York Times; USA Today.