Social Research Talk: Q&A with Sociologist Yu Xie

Research is and has always been an essential element in sociology. SAGE Publishing Asia Pacific organized an intimate question-and-answer session with Professor Yu Xie via Zoom to emphasize its importance. He provided insights and suggestions to researchers about social research and how to get their papers published.

Professor Yu Xie is currently a member of the American National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Academia Sinica. He is also Bert G. Kerstetter, ’66 University Professor of Sociology and PIIRS at Princeton University, Chair Professor and Director of the Center for Social Research at Peking University. 

His main areas of interest are social stratification, demography, statistical methods, Chinese studies, and the sociology of science. Professor Yu Xie also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Chinese Journal of Sociology. Below are the key points from the interview with him:

1. Thank you for joining us today, Professor Yu Xie. Can you tell us a bit about your educational background and career growth as a sociologist? 

I was born and raised in China. In 1977, I took the entrance examination at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, where I earned my engineering degree. 

After graduating, it dawned on me that my interest was not in engineering but in human beings, history, and social science. So I took another examination to further my studies abroad. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study the history of science.

During the summer, I took a methodology course offered by the sociology department. I was hooked on this field of study because I suddenly discovered that scientific tools exist to study human behaviors and societies. 

So, I decided to shift my area of study from the history of science to sociology, after which I earned a sociology doctoral degree in 1989 and moved to the University of Michigan (U-M). I worked and stayed there for 26 years, where I did a lot of work in sociological methodology, social stratification, social demography, quantitative methods, and Chinese studies.

2. After almost three decades at U-M, what made you move to another university?

It was mainly to continue my quantitative studies in evidence-based studies. Studies of China are very often opinion-based. Different people have different experiences and emotions. For a complicated, controversial topic like China, evidence-based research is a better approach, and Princeton University offered me a better opportunity to continue this line of research.

3. What impact has Covid-19 had on your research and teaching? 

My lectures are now conducted via Zoom, and I haven’t traveled as much. I believe in in-person relationships, and my inability to be back in China and work with collaborators, students, and fellow researchers is a handicap. 

Data collection has changed. Long interviews are conducted over the phone, leading to a reduced response rate. We lose people because they don’t have the patience to answer phones nowadays. Besides the limited ability to collect data, online classroom meetings, and lack of traveling, life continues. 

4. In one of your and your team’s 2018 publications, “Motherhood Penalties and Living Arrangements in China”, the results show that each additional child lowers the hourly wage earned by the mother by about 12%. Do you think this impact will persist well into 2022 and beyond?

My best guess is that this effect is pretty robust around that range – it could be between 6% and 14%. But the 10%-12% has been consistently found in many societies, including the US and China. So, for the most part, I think the average motherhood penalty should be around this number. However, someone else should repeat the study and see whether the result changes with more recent data.

5. What are some of the pieces of advice you could give to early career researchers who are interested in submitting articles to the Chinese Journal of Sociology?

A piece of general advice I could impart to academic students or young scholars is to love the article you’re writing. It’s your child; your product – and thus, you should be passionate about it. 

Academic life is not for everyone. As for me, I enjoy being an academic and a sociologist. I enjoy writing papers; even if there are no financial or material rewards, I still work on many articles each year because I love them. An excellent first step to approaching it is to think of research writing as enjoyment rather than punishment or a delightful endeavor rather than a painful one.

Furthermore, ensure that your article has the essential elements or the “checked off” items. Your paper’s argument, for example, should be interesting and persuasive, backed by evidence and methodology to support it. 

Chinese Journal of Sociology is an English publication, so you must write well in that language. Writing English well is an essential skill. You can learn it by writing and rewriting, so practice it as much as possible.

6. Are research methods necessary for young researchers to develop social science research? If so, any suggestions or resources you recommend for young researchers to learn research methods?

Research methods are an essential part of social science research. However, remember that methods are meaningful only if they are used creatively.

To use methods properly and sensibly, you need to know the limitations of all forms and alternative methods and their trade-offs. Never use them blindly. You want extensive exposure to different methods, so exposure to other methods and understanding their benefits and shortcomings will be highly beneficial in your study.

Watch the full version of The Voice of Academics interview with Professor Yu Xie below:

To submit a paper to the Chinese Journal of Sociology, go to

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