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Beth Redbird

Assistant Professor of Sociology

PhD, Sociology, Stanford University, 2016

As a sociologist, Beth Redbird's primary research interests are stratification and inequality, occupations and work, social class, and survey methodology. In particular, she studies labor market rent, with a special focus on how it and other forms of “closure”—or one group’s efforts to consolidate scarce resources for its sole benefit—affect Native American inequality.

Redbird's research is connected by the proposition that boundaries both create inequality by generating rent and alter the relationships within and between bounded groups. Just as occupational licensing alters an occupation’s structure, Native boundaries, including industry closure resulting from gaming and energy projects, alter the relationship between tribe and state, which geographic isolation then amplifies. The study of both generic, rent-generating processes, like licensure—as well as highly-specific and tailored closure forms, such as those at work in the Native context—reveals these are not simple economic devices, but fundamental institutional forces.

Current Research

The New Closed Shop. Scholars have typically believed that occupational licenses, such as medical licensing for doctors, reduced the number of people who could get into the occupation and increased wages for the workers that made it in. However, Redbird finds that occupational licenses actually facilitate entry and increase access, particularly for women and racial minorities, while simultaneously increasing inequality within the occupation. Following the decline of unions, this new “free market” of labor has created a new institutional form of closure that affects who gets which jobs and what they do at work. Closure boundaries act more, therefore, than as a simple mechanism to create monopoly rents: The process of drawing these boundaries fundamentally alters the structure of work, relations between occupations, and labor market outcomes. 

Seventh Generation. Native American reservations experience economic closure through monopolies on tasks and tribal land use. Tribes also have political closure through the tribal enrollment process. Redbird is examining how the interaction of political and economic closure resulted in the development of economic and institutional forms, as well as how these forms affect Native well-being. Her dissertation work indicates that erecting closure boundaries might have a substantial impact on a tribe’s political and economic structure and its relationship to the broader economy and the state. Redbird plans to continue her work on political closure by examining how tribes shift their enrollment requirements as they develop economically or create new rent-generating opportunities. 

Loneliness of Affluence. One American’s typical Saturday might have involved spending 20 minutes with a neighbor and a couple of hours shopping with a friend. But what happened during the rest of the time? People interact with others through “micro-acts” that range from paying for an espresso at the neighborhood coffee shop to nodding at another parent during a child’s soccer game, but sociologists know virtually nothing about the collective mass of these interactions or how they shape a person’s perception of the world. Social network analysis was supposed to provide revolutionary insight into the cause and consequences of such interactions, but fell short because of massive data requirements. This project is the first large-scale, nationally representative measurement of micro-interactions and their structure.  Early results suggest that high wage earners experience the most class segregation in exchanges. Redbird seeks to determine how much inequality drives this segregation and how these micro-exchanges structure Americans’ views and understanding of the economic world. 

Selected Publications

Redbird, B. Under review. Borders within borders: The impact of occupational licensing on immigrant incorporation. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

Redbird, B. 2017. The new closed shop: Economic and structural effects of occupational licensureAmerican Sociological Review 82(3): 600–24.

Redbird, B., and D. Grusky. 2016. The effects of the Great Recession: Income inequality and labor marketAnnual Review of Sociology 42(1): 185–215.

Redbird, B., and D. Grusky. 2015. Rent, rent-seeking, and social inequality. In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, ed. R. Scott and S. Kosslyn (15 pp). Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons.

Chavez, K., and B. Redbird. 2015. Occupational licensure and changing barriers to immigrant workforce incorporation. In How Global Migration Changes the Workforce Diversity Equation, ed. M. Pilati, H. Sheikh, F. Sperotti, and C. Tilly, 294–319. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, U.K.: Cambridge Scholar Publications.

Redbird, B., N. Rodriguez, C. Wimer, and D. Grusky. 2013. How much protection does a college degree afford? The impact of the recession on recent college graduates. Washington, D.C.: Pew Charitable Trusts, Economic Mobility Project.