Professor of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle
Expertise & Civic Involvements
Pettit conducts research on the effects of incarceration on inequality. Her most recent research investigates how excluding inmates from household-based surveys biases estimates of black progress.
SSN Key Findings, October 2012
Co-Authored with Bruce Western, SSN Key Findings, March 2012
Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress (Russell Sage Foundation, 2012). Observes that our national data systems are based on assumptions which systematically exclude inmates and itinerant former inmates. Because inmates differ in systematic ways from individuals living in households, data gathered through household-based surveys offer a biased glimpse of the economic, political, demographic, and health experiences of the American population and the factors thought to produce them.
"Incarceration and Social Inequality" (with ). Daedalus 139, no. 3 (2010): 8-19. Argues that unions helped institutionalize norms of equity and reduced inequality of wages in both union and nonunion wages. Finds that the decline in private sector union membership from 1973 to 2007 explains a fifth to a third of the growth in wage inequality over that period.
Gendered Tradeoffs: Family, Social Policy, and Economic Inequality in 21 Countries (with ) (Russell Sage Foundation, 2009). Argues that there are tradeoffs between different aspects of gender inequality in the economy. Through the analysis of empirical data, we endeavor to explain how those tradeoffs are shaped by individuals, markets, and states. We show the contours of inequality across and within countries are shaped by individual characteristics and specific aspects of social policy that either relieve or concentrate the demands of caregiving within households – usually in the hands of women – and at the same time shape workplace expectations.
"Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration" (with ). American Sociological Review 69, no. 2 (2004): 151-169. Shows how the increase in imprisonment rates in the United States has been heavily concentrated among African Americans without college education; prison time has become commonplace among young black men who have dropped out of school.
- Guest to discuss the growth of black male incarceration over the last fifty years on PBS' The March @ 50: Episode 4, September 16, 2013.
- Becky Pettit's research on prison as a means of keeping families in poverty (with Bruce Western) discussed in , "Prison and the Poverty Trap," New York Times, February 18, 2013.
- "The Plight of Young, Black Men is Worse than You Think," Interview with Peter Coy, Businessweek, September 28, 2012.
- Becky Pettit's research on how the mass incarceration of black men has skewed demographic study findings (as reported in her new book, "Invisible Men") cited in "Why Surveys Should Pay Attention to Prisoners," The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2012.
Guest to discuss Mass Incarceration on Podcast: AAAS Science Update with Bob Hirschon, March 20, 2012. Effectively, many of the most disadvantaged members of the American population are missing. Our estimates of the black high school drop-out rate are 40% lower than they would be if we included inmates who are disproportionately male, black and low skill.
Guest to discuss race and incarceration on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, January 17, 2011. African–Americans are seven times more likely to be in prison or jail than whites, and one in eight African–American men who drop out of high school end up in prison or jail. Why? We'll talk to the author of a new study that looks at incarceration rates and their link to social inequality, and hear from Washington state's corrections secretary, Eldon Vail.
- Interview on financial status of formerly incarcerated individuals, National Public Radio, October 18, 2010.
- Becky Pettit's research on her book, Gendered Tradeoffs discussed in , "Laws Fail to Remedy Workplace Inequality among Women," Washington Post, April 26, 2010.
Talks and Briefings
- "Unemployed Nation," Public Hearings on the Unemployed Nation, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, March 30, 2012.
- "Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress," Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, January 18, 2012.