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Our first blog post for 2018-2019 academic year is by Professor Lei Lei who recently came to Rutgers as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. In her post, Professor Lei answers questions about her intellectual background, the state of affairs in her fields and her current research (posted August 30, 2018).


Can you tell us your intellectual background?

I started working as an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Rutgers in fall 2018. I received a Ph.D. degree in sociology from SUNY-Albany in 2016. In graduate school, I specialized in demography, urban sociology, and family. Much of my work focuses on family behaviors in different societies, the relationship between neighborhood and health, and labor migration and the impact on family members. While pursuing my Ph.D. degree in sociology, I obtained a master’s degree in Biostatistics. The advanced statistical techniques that I learned in the Biostatics courses become useful tools for me to explore sociological issues.

How did you get into your field?

While studying at Zhejiang University in China, I was attracted to sociology after taking the Introduction to Sociology as a freshman in college. I enjoyed reading classical social theories, especially the works of Max Weber. Reading his explanations of the rise of capitalism and modernity opened up a new world for me. This made me to choose sociology as my major. Later, I became interested in labor relations and studied the labor rights of migrant workers and unions in China for my undergraduate thesis. After graduating from Zhejiang University, I went to the Netherlands to pursue a master’s degree in Human Resource Studies. Although I enjoyed learning HR management, corporate culture, and business strategies, I was more fascinated by the fundamental organization theories developed by social scientists, rather than how to apply these theories to increase the profit of companies. Then, I decided to return to the field of sociology and pursue an academic career.

What are you working on right now?

One of my current research projects examines the impact of male out-migration on the health of wives and children left behind in India. The labor migration in India is dominated by males and sending a migrant is a common strategy adopted by families to diversify income sources. Sending a migrant is believed to improve the economic condition of the families, but the social and psychological consequences for family members are unclear. In my research, I use nation-wide survey data to explore how the absence of males influence the health of left-behind wives and children and whether the impact varies by the level of remittances, the duration of migration, and the frequency of home visit. For children's outcomes, I would also like to examine how the potential adverse effects of the father’s absence can be compensated by the support from grandparents and the resources in the community.

Another line of my research focuses on the influence of residential communities on individual health and well-being in China. My previous papers have examined how neighborhood socioeconomic status affects children's health and academic achievement in both urban and rural China. Currently, I am investigating how living in different types of neighborhoods in China leads to different health consequences for adults in urban China. This study examines various kinds of urban neighborhoods in China, including traditional communities in old districts, work-unit compounds, commercial-housing communities, and migrant enclaves, which were formed in dramatically different ways during different historical periods. I am particularly curious about whether the newly-developed commercial-housing communities provide a healthier residential environment than the traditional forms of neighborhoods.  

What is the status of sociological research on the Chinese society? What do you see as the major trends in your field?

Sociological research in mainland China has been thriving in the past two decades. There has emerged a wealth of literature on families, education, population (fertility, mortality, health, and migration), aging, work and occupation, and social stratification in China. Many large-scale social surveys have been carried out since the early 2000s, and several national-scale longitudinal surveys have been launched sometime around the year of 2010, aiming to collect rich data about individuals, families, and communities, in many aspects of social life. These data allow researchers to understand contemporary China better and to trace the changes in the characteristics of these social entities. These data collection efforts create lots of opportunities for social scientists and researchers who are interested in China. 

Along with the increasing availability of data, researchers in my area also become more capable of utilizing innovative quantitative skills to analyze data and to answer various research questions. The topics that Chinese sociological researchers are concerned with become broader and also evolve as new social problems arise. For example, scholars of social stratification in China have a long tradition in studying the causes and consequences of inequalities in education, employment, income, and housing. However, although the space in Chinese cities become more diverse and unequal, not much attention has been paid to “spatial inequality.” Nowadays, researchers, including myself, start to consider how severe the spatial stratification or segregation is in China and how the place of residence matters for people’s socioeconomic attainment and well-being.