Jennifer M. Silva

Jennifer M. Silva is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. As a sociologist of culture and inequality, she investigates the relationship between systems of inequality – race, social class, and gender – and systems of meaning.  Her recent book, Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty (Oxford, 2013), examines how working-class young men and women navigate the transition to adulthood in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs, shrinking support networks, and fragile families.  Through 100 in-depth interviews, she documents how the erosion of traditional markers of adulthood – marriage, a steady job, a house of one's own – has changed what it means to grow up as part of the post-industrial working class. She finds that working-class men and women are turning inward, rejecting social institutions, and redefining adulthood in terms of personal struggle and redemption.
Jen is currently working with the Saguaro Seminar on a team led by Professor Robert Putnam that is exploring the impact of economic insecurity on social connectedness and civic engagement. As a qualitative researcher on the project, Jen interviewed young adults and their parents from diverse backgrounds across the US about the challenges of growing up today.
Jen earned a PhD in Sociology from the University of Virginia in 2010. From 2010-2012, she was a National Science Foundation and American Sociological Association Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. Her previous work has explored the transition to adulthood for working-class youth (American Sociological Review, 2012), gender negotiation in the military (Social Forces, 2008), and working-class parenting (Sociological Inquiry, 2010). Jen is currently working on a project about college aspirations and enrollment by social class, as well as laying the groundwork for a second book on working-class conservatism.
Jen has written for The New York Times “Great Divide” series, The Chronicle of Higher Education,, and The Boston Review. She has discussed her book, Coming Up Short, on On Point (WBUR), The Leonard Lopate Show (WNYC), Think Dallas (KERA), Radio Smart Talk (WITF), Think Tank (WWL), Specific Gravity with Jeff Schectman (KVON), The Daily Circuit (MPR), and Midday with Dan Rodricks (WYPR). She was recently featured in the Boston Globe (“Jennifer Silva: Working-class youth are ‘privatizing happiness,’” by Ruth Graham, August 11, 2013).
Jen is looking forward to joining the Department of Sociology at Bucknell University in 2014. Her teaching interests include social inequality, gender and family, work, culture, the transition to adulthood, and qualitative methods.