Dalton Conley

Dalton Conley

Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: Sociology

Competition: US & Canada

Noted sociologist Dalton Conley has spent his career researching what determines economic variances within and among generations, between races, and even among siblings. Currently University Professor and Professor of Sociology, Medicine & Public Policy at New York University as well as a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, among other positions, he is a frequent contributor to the debate on these topics in the public forum as well as the classroom, as a lecturer, as a guest on such television shows as Today, The O’Reilly Factor, The NewsHour, and 20/20, and in both the academic and popular press. A number of his articles have appeared in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times and in periodicals ranging from American Journal of Sociology, New England Journal of Medicine, and Tax Law Review to Salon, Slate, and Fortune.

He is the author of a number of monographs: Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth and Social Policy in America (1999; updated 10th Anniversary Edition with new Afterword, 2009), an expansion of his doctoral thesis that had won the American Sociological Association’s award for best dissertation in the field; Honky (2000), his recounting of his experiences as a white child growing up in an impoverished, predominantly minority community; The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why (2004); and Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms and Economic Anxiety (2009). He is also the editor of several anthologies: Wealth and Poverty in America: A Reader (2002); After the Bell: Family Background and Educational Success, with Karen Albright (2003); and Social Class: How Does it Work?, with Annette Lareau (2008). You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist (2008) quickly became a standard text in sociology classes nationwide; its second edition, released in 2011, incorporated a multimedia component, including interviews with important social scientists.

Mr. Conley was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a bachelor’s degree in humanities in 1990, and at Columbia University, where he studied both public policy (M.P.A. 1992) and sociology (M.Phil., 1994; Ph.D., 1996). He then spent two years as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Scholar at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco before accepting his first academic appointment, as Assistant Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies at Yale University. He left Yale in 2000 to become an Associate Professor of Sociology at NYU and director of its Center for Advanced Social Science Research (2000-06); he also served as chair of the Sociology Department there from 2006 to 2009. He was named University Professor and Professor of Sociology, Medicine & Public Policy in 2005. Since 2003 he has been an Adjunct Professor of Community Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. In addition to these responsibilities, he is Dean for the Social Sciences (2008- ) and Senior Vice Provost (2010-11) at NYU.

As his researches progressed he became increasingly interested in the quite controversial question of the degree to which a person’s genetic makeup impacts one’s economic future and to what extent environment can amplify or counteract the effects of biology. The Starting Gate: Birth Weight and Life Chances (2003), which he coauthored with Kate Strully and Neil G. Bennett, was his first book-length foray into this complicated subject, but he had been publishing his findings on this topic for several years in such articles as “Race and the Inheritance of Low Birth Weight” in Social Biology (2000) and “Birth Weight and Income: Interactions across Generations,” in Journal of Health and Social Behavior (2001), both written with Neil Bennett.

His interest in the relation of biology and sociology led him to delve deeper into the hard sciences: he earned a master of science in biology (2009) and a master of philosophy in biology (2010) from NYU; he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in biology, studying socially regulated genes and phenotypic capacitance at NYU’s Center for Genomic & Systems Biology. One practical application of this training will be in twin studies. Often twins, those raised together and those raised separately, have been used to test theories about the roles of nature and nurture, but Mr. Conley has determined that such findings can be interrogated by misclassification of identical and fraternal twins, which creates a natural experiment of sorts to separate out the more similar environments that identical twins share from their genetic likeness. His training in genomics will help him perform genome-wide studies of social outcomes to better determine the heritability of behaviors, which is one aspect of his Guggenheim Fellowship project.

Among his many honors are the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award for best young researcher in any field of science, math, or engineering, the first sociologist to receive it; an NSF CAREER award; a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award; and selection as one of nine “innovative minds” by SEED Magazine. He has also been a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow and was selected as a German Marshall Fund Fellow and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California.


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