Current Projects

Jump to: American Lawyers, Legal Demography, Other Professions, Divorce, Conflict and Help-Seeking in China, Chinese Lawyers, Mental Illness Stigma in China, Famine Mortality


Using longitudinal AJD and NSCG data (see US Data), I am applying event history analysis techniques to the study the careers of JD-holders, with a particular focus on gender and race/ethnicity. With respect to gender, I am engaging debates about “opting out” by scrutinizing the timing of and reasons for exits from law firms, transitions from full-time to part-time work, and exits from the labor force. Women are more likely than men to be childless, have fewer children than men, and delay their fertility relative to men. Much of these differences can be explained by men’s greater likelihood to have stay-at-home spouses. Women are more likely than men to transition to part-time status, leave their jobs, and leave the labor force before—and therefore likely in anticipation of—having children. These findings reveal an important motherhood penalty that is largely invisible in cross-sectional data. With respect to race and ethnicity, Vitor Dias and I have found that, among lawyers with otherwise seemingly identical characteristics, black lawyers have the highest greater risk of getting fired from law firms (contract terminations, layoffs, etc.). This pattern does not extend to other practice settings. Finally, I am using NSCG data to assess debates about the employment outcomes of law school graduates, particularly in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.

(click here to go back to the top)

Using various sources of census data (see US Data), together with Anne Groggel, I am extending the concept of “acute shortage areas” in research on access to healthcare to assess the changing geographical distribution of American lawyers over the past several decades. We find not only that access to legal services has gone from bad to worse in smaller cities and rural areas, but that, much like the national shortage of primary care physicians, the US is facing a looming overall shortage of lawyers. These findings call into question the received wisdom about the “overlawyered” character of this country and a permanent decline in the job market prospects of law school graduates.

Vitor Dias and I are taking this project global by analyzing the geographical distribution of lawyers within over 70 countries around the world over the past 50 years. Not surprisingly, a concentration of lawyers in large cities (national capitals and commercial hubs) is universal. However, we find enormous variation in both the extent of concentration and the intensification of concentration. China stands out as an extreme outlier in both respects—the magnitude and intensification of lawyer concentration in major cities in general and in Beijing in particular. Meanwhile, in global comparative perspective, lawyers are more evenly distributed in Latin American contexts.

Vitor Dias and I are also using international census data to study lawyer fertility around the world and over time. Our dual aim is (1) to assess the extent to which the pattern in the US bar of relatively low levels of fertility and delayed fertility among women extends to other parts of the world and (2) to explain global variation in these gender differences.

Together with Eric Wright and Brandon Finlay, I am using US census data to assess the extent to which tort reform has influenced the movement of American lawyers out of states hostile to plaintiffs and into more plaintiff-friendly states.

(click here to go back to the top)


Together with Dong Eun Shin I am extending my research on gender and racial inequality in the careers of JD-holders to the careers of PhD-holders, with a particular focus on academic careers.

In my research on the employment outcomes of law school graduates, I compare JD-holders with MBA-holders and graduates of terminal MA programs in computer science, statistics, and economics.

(click here to go back to the top)


Results of my analysis of almost 150,000 court divorce rulings in Henan Province and Zhejiang Province (see China Data) show that, while women are much more likely than men to initiate divorce, men have much better outcomes. Among otherwise similar cases, female plaintiffs are more likely than male plaintiffs to withdraw their petitions, to have their divorce requests denied, and to lose child custody. Despite legal provisions allowing courts to grant divorces on the basis of violence, courts almost always privilege the “breakdown of mutual affection” standard and deny divorce requests even when female plaintiffs provide evidence of physical abuse. These findings bring into high relief limits to the global diffusion of legal norms.

The article version, published in the American Journal of Sociology, is titled, “Decoupling: Marital Violence and the Struggle to Divorce in China.”

Almost every source of Chinese survey data shows a puzzling underrepresentation of ever-divorced women in rural areas and an overrepresentation of ever-divorced women in the population of rural migrant workers in urban areas (and an even gender representation in the ever-divorce population of urban residents). Underrepresentation among villagers is far greater than overrepresentation among migrant workers, meaning the one does not account for the other; they cannot be reconciled. In short, divorce appears to be a significant source of statistically missing rural women in China. The implications of statistically missing women are important for those of us who study help-seeking experiences and perceptions of official justice. Insofar as divorce is the biggest point of entry for villagers into China’s legal system (supported by my research), divorce, more than any other reason, shapes villagers’ experiences with law. Meanwhile, insofar as women’s divorce outcomes in court are worse than men’s (also supported by my research), a systematic underrepresentation of rural divorced women in survey samples will lead to biased estimates of the quality of villagers’ experiences with law. This is a collaborative project with Ke Li.

(click here to go back to the top)


Ben Read and I have published a series of papers on rural help-seeking with a particular focus on village mediation and the gap between experience-based assessments and general perceptions of legal institutions (courts and police in particular). Findings showing upbeat general perceptions and downbeat experience-based assessments underscore the methodological dangers of the standard practice of using data on general perceptions as a proxy for institutional performance. Together with Ke Li, I have extended this research by showing strong spillover effects of help-seeking experiences: experience-based assessments of legal institutions exert a large and significant influence on trust in government more broadly. In so doing we engage the literature on “performance-based legitimacy.”

Data from my 2002 and 2010 Rural Law and Community Surveys are consistent with one of the most replicated empirical research findings in the field of contemporary Chinese politics and society, namely a sizable public trust gap between central and local governments (high levels of trust in the center, low levels of trust in the local state). Together with Alisha Kirchoff, I am exploring the extent to which this pattern extends globally. Results from our analysis of data from various waves of the World Values Survey show that this pattern indeed does extend to other parts of the authoritarian and post-authoritarian world. These empirical patterns shed light on an important defining feature and a potential supporting condition of “rule by law” (or authoritarian/socialist legality).

Data from my 2002 and 2010 Rural Law and Community Surveys also support ongoing research on the changing landscape of conflict in rural China; the social determinants of petitioning and legal mobilization; family planning policy enforcement; and the relationship between economic conditions and legal institutional performance.

(click here to go back to the top)


I am currently using my various surveys of Chinese lawyers to write a paper on the extent and character, as well as the limits and possibilities, of political activism in the Chinese bar.

(click here to go back to the top)


With the support of a R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Bernice Pescosolido, Jack Martin, and I added China to the Stigma in Global Context Mental Health Study. Kara Snawder and I are taking the lead on an effort to assess the extent to which popular understandings of mental illness are shaped by official political discourse.

(click here to go back to the top)


Together with Hui Chen and Pui Yin Cheung, I am building on efforts to improve methods of estimating excess mortality associated with the 1959-61 Great Leap Famine.

(click here to go back to the top)