College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Sociology

Social Inequalities


Sociology is centrally concerned with the causes and consequences of social inequality. The WSU Sociology department has a particular strength in this area, with a majority of our faculty studying diverse aspects of inequality. Inequality is a core topic of the discipline and of the department, and cross-cuts many subfields. WSU faculty investigate core issues of social stratification by gender, race/ethnicity, class, immigration status, and age. Their work theorizes and analyzes a variety of topics, including: school attainment, wage inequality, workplace diversity, social mobility, migration, poverty, environmental hazard exposure, marriage, racial profiling, crime, and political mobilization. In short, faculty research addresses prominent social problems that are central to public debates. These are of particular significance in the current climate of increasing income inequality, global and national economic restructuring, and recognition of subtle and blatant forms of inequality by race/ethnicity, gender, and immigration status. 


Faculty in this area conduct research on a broad range of topics:

Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson's research examines the dynamics of social inequality as they play out in schools and jobs during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. She is primarily concerned with what young people desire and plan for their lives, how that is shaped by social structure and experience over the life course, and how inequalities are reproduced or interrupted in these processes.

  • Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick and Stefanie Mollborn. 2009. “Growing Up Faster, Feeling Older: Hardship in Childhood and Adolescence.” Social Psychology Quarterly 72:39-60.
  • Bohon, Stephanie A., Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson, and Bridget K. Gorman. 2006. “College Expectations and Aspirations among Latino Adolescents in the United States.” Social Problems 53:207-225.
  • Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick, Robert Crosnoe, and Lyssa Thaden. 2006. “Gendered Patterns in Adolescents’ School Attachment.” Social Psychology Quarterly 69:284-95.


Julie Kmec’s research centers mainly on race and gender inequality in work outcomes and on the practices of work organizations that shape this inequality. She is interested in understanding, among other things, what brings about sex and race segregation in work organizations.

  • Kmec, Julie A. and Elizabeth Gorman. Forthcoming. "Gender and Discretionary Work Effort: Evidence from the United States and Britain." Work and Occupations.
  • Kmec, Julie A. and Lindsey B. Trimble. 2009. "Does it Pay to Have a Network Contact? Social Network Ties, Workplace Racial Context, and Pay Outcomes." Social Science Research 38: 266-78.
  • Kmec, Julie A. 2008. "The Process of Sex Segregation in a Gender-Typed Field: The Case of Male Nurses." Sociological Perspectives 51:259-280.


Alair MacLean's research examines the ways in which social inequality shapes and is shaped by the military and war. She has explored the extent to which military rank affect health and socioeconomic outcomes. She is currently exploring the historical and social causes and consequences of combat exposure.

  • Alair MacLean (2008). “The Privileges of Rank: The Peacetime Draft and Later Life Attainment.” Armed Forces & Society, 34: 682-713.
  • Alair MacLean and Glen H. Elder, Jr. (2007). “Military Service in the Life Course.” Annual Review of Sociology, 33: 175-96.
  • Alair MacLean (2006). “Age Stratification at Work: Trends in Occupational Age Segregation in the United States, 1950-2000.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 24: 299-310.


Clayton Mosher's research addresses broad issue of social inequality, with a more specific focus on racial inequality in the criminal justice system. He also examines how laws and their application contribute to social inequality, racial profiling by law enforcement, and racial and social class differences in criminal sentencing.

Jennifer Schwartz’s research focuses on understanding how inequality relates to differences across place and changes over time in the level of crime committed and the amount of social control exerted. In particular, she seeks to understand how community-level inequalities interact with community demographics to engender varying rates of crime across communities, social groups, and historical periods. Additionally, Schwartz’ research explores how current social control practices might exacerbate existing (gender) inequalities.

Jennifer Sherman’s research looks at the ways in which job loss and poverty affect families, primarily in rural U.S. communities. Her aim is to understand how economic and labor market struggles affect family life, cultural discourses, and gender norms.
o Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. Those Who Work, Those Who Don't: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America. Minneapolis, MN: University Of Minnesota Press.

  • Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. “Bend to Avoid Breaking: Job Loss, Gender Norms, and Family Stability in Rural America.” Social Problems 56:599-620.
  • Sherman, Jennifer. 2006. “Coping with Rural Poverty: Economic Survival and Moral Capital in Rural America.” Social Forces 85:891-913.


Amy Wharton studies social inequality in the context of the workplace. She has published papers on sex segregation in the labor market and the effects of the sex composition of work groups on male and female workers’ perceptions of their job. She is particularly interested in the consequences of “being different” for workers’ experiences and rewards on the job. Dr. Wharton has recently begun to examine the effects of motherhood on patterns of social inequality at work.

  • Blair-Loy, Mary and Amy S. Wharton. 2004. “Mothers in Finance: Surviving and Thriving”. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 596.
  • Blair-Loy, Mary and Amy S. Wharton. 2002. “The Paradox of the Family-Friendly Workplace: Employees’ Use of Family-Responsive Policies and the Social Context of Work”. Social Forces 80: 1-30.





Departmental Honors

The WSU sociology department was the 2005-2008 editorial home of Social Problems, one of the top general interest journals in the discipline.

We are the first department ever awarded the prestigious Dubois-Johnson-Frazier Award of the American Sociological Association (2004), in recognition of our long history of mentoring and graduating minority Ph.Ds.






Sociology Department, PO Box 644020, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4020, Ph: 509-335-4595, Fax: 509-335-6419, Contact Us