Douglas Downey CV
Social stratification, family, and technology.
I’m primarily motivated by questions about inequality—who gets what and why? Inequality in the U.S. is historically high and threatens the legitimacy of our social system. If inequality continues to increase at the rate we’ve observed during the last half century, it is likely to produce considerable political strain on our democratic system. One branch of my research considers schools’ role in all of this. I’m currently writing a book (The Great Distractor) that posits that schools play a more positive role than typically thought and that the core sources of inequality are in our broader policy decisions.
I’m also increasingly interested in how technological change is influencing inequality and our social lives more broadly. In what ways do new technologies facilitate greater inequality? How does technology influence our social relationships and our sense of mattering? How does it shape our way of understanding how the world works, our thinking about what constitutes persuasive evidence, and the kinds of authorities we trust?
In a project motivated by this interest in technology, Ben Gibbs (Brigham Young University) and I consider whether children’s face-to-face social skills are declining. Anecdotal evidence claims that kids these days are great at texting but have no clue how to manage a real social interaction. You might think that there would be lots of good social science evidence supporting this claim, but it is remarkably fuzzy. We are testing whether face-to-face social skills among nationally representative samples of American children have declined over time, and whether children with the greatest exposure to screens exhibit weaker trajectories of social skills development than their counterparts with little exposure.