The political liberalism of professors -— an important occupational group and anomaly according to traditional theories of class politics —- has long puzzled sociologists. To shed new light on the subject, we review research on professorial politics over the past half-century, identifying the main hypotheses that have been proposed to account for professorial liberalism. Using regression decomposition, we examine hypothesized predictors of the political gap between professors and other Americans using General Social Survey data pooled from 1974-2008. Results indicate that professors are more liberal than other Americans because a higher proportion possess advanced educational credentials, exhibit a disparity between their levels of education and income, identify as Jewish, non-religious, or non-theologically conservative Protestant, and express greater tolerance for controversial ideas. Together, the variables linked to our hypotheses account for about 43 percent of the political gap between professors and other Americans. We conclude by outlining a new theory of professorial politics that integrates these findings, moves beyond existing approaches, and sets an agenda for future research.
You can bet that their 'new theory of professorial politics' will attract a lot of attention and commentary in the coming weeks. Here's a quick summary of this theory from Scott Jaschik's piece in Inside Higher Ed:
Gross and Fosse cite research by others about how some professions become "sex typed" such that they are associated with gender. Even if some men and women defy these patterns and there is nothing inherently gender-related to these patterns, these types have an impact on the aspirations of young men and women.
"We argue that the professoriate, along with a number of other knowledge work fields, has been 'politically typed' as appropriate and welcoming of people with broadly liberal sensibilities, and as inappropriate for conservatives," they write. "This reputation leads many more liberal than conservative students to aspire for the advanced educational credentials that make entry into knowledge work fields possible, and to put in the work necessary to translate those aspirations into reality."
See also: NYTimes story by Patricia Cohen.