Dalton Conley

Dalton Conley is university professor and dean for the social sciences at New York University. He is author of Elsewhere U.S.A.: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety.

Recent Articles

The New Together

When is a creature deemed alive enough for people to experience an ethical dilemma if it is distressed?

The original virtual pet Tamagotch (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara)
One important role of a professional sociologist is to be the skeptic who grumbles, "Wait a minute, here. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose ." For example, it took Berkeley sociologist Claude Fischer to point out that families' geographic mobility in the United States has been steadily declining over the last 100 years, contrary to the nearly universal belief that Americans now move about more than ever. Every so often, however, we sociologists do get to stand on a soapbox and shout out, "Look here! There is something new under the sun!" Fertility rates that have decreased so much as to cause population decline in many rich countries, if not for immigration, are one such soapbox moment. Women surpassing men in education levels (and reaching parity in formal employment numbers) qualifies as another such sociological landmark. And, of course, the rapid and almost complete penetration of mobile telecommunications and other microprocessing technology across the globe amounts to a...

Don't Blame the Billionaires

It's time for liberals to worry less about inequality.

When I was growing up, my mother used to sing me the old adage, "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer," before hastening to add, "And it's all Ronald Reagan's fault." Because I had campaigned for Jimmy Carter as a wide-eyed 11-year-old, this was one of the few maternal claims that I did not dispute in my adolescence. In decrying the rising inequality of the 1980s, my mother was speaking from a long tradition, extending back at least a century, of progressives shaking their fists at economic disparities. During the 1970s, just as the midcentury compression of economic difference was ending, philosophers and social scientists were becoming concerned with the issue. In 1971, philosopher John Rawls penned A Theory of Justice , his magnum opus arguing that social policy should be based on the imperative to narrow the difference between the welfare of the most and the least well-off in society. The following year, sociologist Christopher Jencks and his colleagues authored a book...

Behind Fortune's Smile

Malcolm Gladwell's latest mixes some insights from social science with some compelling anecdotes. Unfortunately, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data."

Outliers: The Story of Success By Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, 309 pages, $27.99 Three and a half decades ago, in their book Inequality , the sociologist Christopher Jencks and his co-authors claimed that where we end up in life is largely a function of luck or chance. At best, they wrote, statistical models predict about half of the variation in schooling and probably less in income. Further, Jencks and colleagues argued, we suffer from attribution bias in that we ascribe successes to personal qualities and failures to bad luck or outside forces, especially when those successes and failures are our own. In his new book, Outliers , Malcolm Gladwell gives us a peek into the black box of all that so-called "luck." Gladwell maintains that culture and social structure matter a lot more as determinants of success than we care to think they do. In fact, a better title for his book might have been Hidden Bias , since it's not at all about outliers -- statistical oddities that...

Dream On

American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare By Jason DeParle • Viking • PAGES • $25.95 Remarkably little has been heard about the poor from the Bush administration during the past four years. The administration has focused more on rewarding its base -- "the haves and the have-mores" -- than on demonstrating that there was real substance behind the president's "compassionate conservatism." But that's only half the explanation for the inattention to poverty. The other half is that Republicans -- and many Democrats -- believe that the welfare-reform legislation passed by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 settled the big public-policy questions regarding the poor. That legislation promised to end welfare as we knew it, and, to a considerable extent, it has. Jason DeParle enjoyed a front-row seat as the public drama of welfare reform unfolded. As the national poverty reporter for The New York Times , he had access to the players in Washington who...