Jonathan Marc Bearak

As a Senior Research Scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, I collaborate with my colleagues to advance sexual and reproductive health worldwide through research, policy analysis and public education. I will receive my Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University on May 20, 2015.

My research addresses interdisciplinary topics in class and gender inequality. I focus on sex, fertility, education and earnings. In addition, I pursue innovations in quantitative methods. My research has emphasized how different aspects of relationship formation affect fertility, health and earnings inequality throughout the course of life.

I have published articles in Social Forces, Demographic Research, American Sociological Review, and Educational Researcher. Below, I describe selected recent, ongoing, and collaborative projects.

Selected Recent Projects

Men’s Earnings Distribution & Marriage: An extensive quantitative literature emphasizes marriage’s potential effects on average male earnings, while a growing qualitative literature discusses economic thresholds for marriage among disadvantaged men. One strand of my work seeks to integrate these literatures. I show that marriage is associated with elevated earnings of men at the bottom of the male earnings distribution much more than those at the top. This could suggest that increasing marriage rates and preventing separations would reduce earnings inequality because more high-earners are married and marriage affects them less. However, I also show that low-earning men marry at a time in their lives when they do particularly well; their earnings rise before they marry, peak and then decline. The evidence that selection into marriage rather than effects of marriage explain men’s marriage premium pertains not to all but a subset of men – those in the bottom half of the earnings distribution – a group of men who, coincidentally, are less likely to marry and remain married. Marriage, in sum, may have a causal effect on male earnings – just not necessarily on the earnings of those on who social scientists and policymakers have focused the most.

Casual Contraception in Casual Sex: In a paper forthcoming in Social Forces, I describe a rapid normalization of unprotected sex in college hookups. The probability of unprotected casual sex increases from 7% to 16% per hookup as the odds of intercourse double and the odds of condom use halve between freshman and senior years. Undergraduates with less-educated mothers come to use condoms less as they adapt to a high-education culture, adopting the same behaviors exhibited by students with highly-educated mothers at the onset of college. This research also highlights an oft-overlooked issue in sexual research: the probability of intercourse within the normative contexts in which adolescents and young adults sexually interact contributes to cumulative risks over and above their contraceptive practices.

Social Scientific Software: I have a special interest in the teaching of quantitative methods and find it ripe for innovation. To this end, I have designed software to make complex analyses more approachable. Key to an apparatus I have developed is the insight that what we need most is not stand-alone analyses, but ways to automate the entire set of descriptive and regression runs needed for a project. This is solvable by software which interprets a hierarchical description of an analysis in which elements are combinable, interchangeable and mutable. I designed this with pedagogical and advanced analytical aims, for teaching graduate or undergraduate students and for advancing complex research. I plan a book on research design and quantitative methods with accompanying software intended to help undergraduates, graduate students and advanced researchers focus on the social without feeling limited by the computational science.

Collaborative Projects

Unintended Consequences of School Accountability Systems: In a paper conditionally accepted at Educational Researcher, Jennifer Jennings and I document how test predictability – repeatedly assessing the same concepts on the high-stakes administered to students during the No Child Left Behind era – distorts scores in reading and math tests in multiple states. In a follow-up study nearing completion, we show that these same distortions explain why New York’s accountability tests suggest sharp declines in race and class inequality but the National Assessment of Educational Progress reveals no declines in inequality in the same population over the same period.

School Quality and Teenage Motherhood: In another project, Jennings and I investigate how school quality affects teenage motherhood, linking panel data on Massachusetts students to the birth records from the health department. We find that poor white, black and Hispanic students in the best schools are more likely to become teenage parents than non-poor white students in the worst schools. At the same time, there exists substantial between-school variation in adolescent fertility; race and class are powerful but far from the sole determinants of students’ behaviors.

Motherhood and Earnings Inequality: In a comment published earlier this year in American Sociological Review, Alexandra Killewald and I respond to an article that argues that low-wage women pay the highest motherhood penalties. We show that while this is true when wages are measured relative to covariate scores, this is not true when comparing women whose wages are high or low in absolute terms. In a follow-up study with Paula England, Michelle Hodges and Melissa Budig, we show that white women with high cognitive skills who work in high-wage jobs have the highest proportionate motherhood penalties. They exhibit higher returns to experience than workers with low wages, low skills or both; consequentially, their wages decline the most when they have children and reduce their labor force participation.