Tame Teens

best-bogle_kidsgoneDamn kids today. Do we have to do everything for them? I, for one, do not have the time to egg cars and throw basement parties. But if Joel Best and Kathleen Bogle are right, teens are less deviant than ever, no matter how prurient the headlines.

Bogle explains to Salon,

in previous generations they were worried about going steady, they were worried about lipstick, they were worried about miniskirts, they were worried about rock music. It’s not new for parents to worry about kids or that their pop culture interests or their access to the opposite sex is going to lead to trouble. We’ve been worried about that for a long time…

But rainbow parties! But red bracelets! But twerking! (more…)

Pre-Marital Abstinence Programs Leave Men Dissatisfied

Photo by James Prescott.

Notions of masculinity and purity encouraged by abstinence groups make transitioning to married life difficult for many men. Photo by James Prescott.

Religious groups are known for championing an abstinence-only approach to pre-marital life, and groups both national and local have been set up to promote and support this lifestyle. Sociologist Sarah Diefendorf spent a year with one – a small support group for young Christian men – and in a recent interview with the New Republic she explains how the abstinence-only approach did not necessarily make for a healthy sex life after marriage. This was in large part due to the severely gendered environment that Diefendorf encountered in which masculinity was equated with sexual restraint and femininity was equated with sexual disinterest – beliefs that led to long-term struggles even after marriage. Diefendorf told the New Republic:

For these men, to be a good man and a man of God meant saving themselves for the wedding bed. Amy Wilkins, a sociologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, also interviewed men who pledged abstinence before marriage, and she argued that these men are asserting their masculinity in different ways. Rather than saying, “I’m a man because I engage in a variety of sexual activity,” they’re saying, “I’m a man because I can avoid that temptation; I can control these things.”

When it came to abstinence-only support for women, Diefendorf found that there was none. The men she talked to believed that women do not “naturally” have the sexual urges that men do, thus eliminating a need for female support groups in the church. She said:

The church, and the men that I interviewed, don’t believe that women would need a space to talk through these issues. They believe that men are highly sexual beings and they have “natural urges” that need to be controlled, but they don’t believe that women have that natural desire to be sexually active. Women are the providers of sexual activity for their husbands.

These notions of purity and masculinity, however, made for a difficult transition into married life for most of the men. Diefendorf followed up five years later and found that the men from the group who were married were still struggling with sexual urges that they felt were “beastly” and, without a support group to talk through these issues, they often turned inward and stopped talking about, and in many cases enjoying, sex altogether. Diefendorf explains:

When you spend the first twenty-plus years of your life thinking of sex as something beastly that needs to be controlled, it’s very difficult to make that transition to married life and viewing sex as sacred…The idea is that once you’re married, it’s all good— you’re supposed to be enjoying sex with your wife…But as one of the guys said, once you get married, the “beastly” doesn’t disappear. They still struggle with issues like excessive pornography viewing, masturbation. A few of them were worried that they might want to have an affair. They’re still struggling with these things, but they no longer have an outlet to work through them. They didn’t have the tools to engage in a healthy sex life.

For a great read on how abstinence-only groups target women by making abstinence “sexy”, check out this post by Soc Images.

Canada: “Commit Sociology,” Protect Indigenous Women

Cover photo from Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Read the full report here.

Photo from “Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview” by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Read the full report here.

In the wake of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing and a foiled plot to attack a Via Rail train, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told citizens now is not the time to “commit sociology.” Rather than look for the underlying causes of problems like homegrown terrorism, he stressed the power of law enforcement agencies to express the government’s condemnation of violence. While his position was contentious at the time, its efficacy has recently come under fire again, this time from members of Canada’s large Aboriginal community.

After the body of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old indigenous woman, was pulled from the Red River in early August, a vigil was held in Winnipeg in her memory. More than a thousand people gathered at the vigil, renewing calls for a national public inquiry into the cases of nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women and girls who have been reported missing or murdered since 1980. According to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the vigil’s guide, Wab Kinew, directly addressed the Canadian federal government’s refusal to address the alarming pattern. “Is now the time to make that change?” he asked. “Is now the time we say no more stolen sisters? We say that violence against women must stop. And if we go home and do nothing about this it’s a missed opportunity.”

Yet Harper’s response, delivered in a speech at Yukon College, reiterated the stance he took last year on terrorism. He urged Canadians not to understand missing and murdered aboriginal women as a “sociological phenomenon” and instead, to “view it as a crime.”

The problem with this view, explain sociologist Julie Kaye and public policy scholar Daniel Béland in the Toronto Star, is this:

If the prime minister would take the time to consult even the most rudimentary criminology textbook, he would find that crime is a social phenomenon shaped by powerful historical and social forces. Inequality among different populations in society is one of these forces. In Canada, it is a well-established fact that aboriginal peoples, who face much more poverty and unemployment than the national average, are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than other Canadians…

Harper’s downplaying of “the undeniable and well-documented reality that social inequality and violent victimization are closely linked” takes the focus off differences in perception of state power, as Kaye and Béland note. But, they stress, it is necessary for him to “at the very least, consider that aboriginal women do not want their murders to be solved, they want to live.” We must remember,

Violence against aboriginal women is a crime but a crime rooted in a particular social context, a context the prime minister suggests Canadians should disregard. He does so at the expense of the lives and safety of aboriginal women.

 

Unfortunately, Aboriginal Canadians are not the only minority group with a high victimization rate. To learn more about the “homocide divide” in the United States, see this piece. Also, check out this Citings & Sightings article about press coverage of a study with similar findings.

 

 

 

When Countries Develop, Women Get Smarter Faster

Photo by the World Wide Web Foundation.

New research suggests that women may benefit more than men from national development. Photo by the World Wide Web Foundation.

We’ve known for a long time that economic, social, and public health conditions influence learning in ways that affect people’s abilities to perform well on memory and math tests. But until now, the impact that improving these conditions could have on men and women’s cognitive abilities was not well understood. A new study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis provides a surprising insight into this process: As nations develop, women’s cognitive performance improves significantly more than men’s does. David DiSalvo reports their findings in Forbes.

The researchers used data from The European Survey of Health obtained through interviews with 31,000 European men and women from ages 50-84 living in 13 different countries. Each country was given a regional development index (RDI). The measure of RDI included gross domestic product (GDP), life expectancy, education, and infant mortality rates. The researchers plotted changes in RDI across the life of each participant, in an effort to demonstrate the economic and social conditions the participants experienced.

The interviews also evaluated three levels of each subject’s cognitive performance. The results followed the expectations of the researchers according to gender, but that changed when RDI entered the equation.

“…when RDI was factored in, a remarkable and less expected result emerged: improvements in RDI for each country correlated with cognitive performance improvements for both genders—but significantly more so for women.”

Simply put, the researchers are saying that women get smarter faster, but the reasons why may be complicated. One possibility is that women gain more because they simply have more to gain. If women start at a disadvantage due to fewer opportunities to learn and to practice cognitive skills, changes in RDI might represent the leveling of a gendered playing field. This leveling might look like an increase for women, even if it results in something closer to equality.

While more research needs to be done to determine the reasons underlying differences in gains between men and women, this study shows the important role played by social factors in determining cognitive performance.

 

Marriage and the Market: How Economic Inequality and Gender Equality Shape Marriage Trends

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Couples who share housework and have equal levels of education are as likely to stay together as couples following traditional gender roles.

In a recent New York Times oped, Stephanie Coontz cites a plethora of sociologists in her discussion of the tug-of-war between gender equality and economic inequality over current marriage trends in America. In her piece, Coontz argues that families have become more egalitarian and stable due to increased gender equality, with women increasingly gaining equal access to education and employment. However, because of the recent recession and the increased income gap, the inequality between families continues to rise. Both forces, she argues, push and pull on the rates of marriage and divorce in American society. She writes:

Sometimes these trends counteract each other, with women’s work gains partly compensating for men’s losses in low-income families. Sometimes they reinforce each other, since the new trend for high-earning men to marry high-earning women increases the relative advantage of such couples over low-income or single-earner families. For all Americans, these trends have changed the rewards, risks, and rules of marriage.

Citing sociologists Christine Schwartz and Hongyun Han, she details how couples who share housework and have equal levels of education are just as likely to stay together as those who subscribe to more traditional gender roles. Husbands have doubled the time they spend doing housework, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the “male-breadwinner” family arrangement has declined significantly. However, these increases in gender equality are counteracted by growing economic instability among families. She cites research by sociologist Philip N. Cohen, as well as a Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin, to show how, while the more educated are more likely to get married and stay married, the return on a college education continues to decrease, increasing income inequality and marriage instability. Coontz argues:

While the sexes have become more equal, society as a whole has become far less, producing especially deep losses for young men. In 1969, by the time men reached age 25, three-quarters were earning wages that could support a family of four above the poverty line. By 2004, it took until age 30 for the same percentage of men to reach this income level. And while in 1969 only 10 percent of men ages 30-35 were still low earners, by 2004 almost a quarter of men in that age range remained low earners.

Coontz then turns to sociologist Andrew Cherlin’s book Labor’s Love Lost to discuss the implications of these findings. Cherlin’s book details how two important factors have lead to a decrease in marriage rates among younger generations. First, the decrease in blue-collar work that requires only a high school diploma has significantly affected the ability of lower-income males to fulfill the historical role of bread-winner. Second, the increase in gender equality detailed above has made it so females no longer need a breadwinner in the first place, allowing them to wait for a mate with a stable income or to make that income themselves. Coontz summarizes Cherlin:

Women’s expectation of fairness and reciprocity in marriage has been rising even as men’s ability to compensate for deficits in their behavior by being “good providers” has been falling. Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry – even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expense, and even if they have a child – is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

However, our very own Doug Hartmann qualifies findings that indicate a decline in marriage rates in an interview with CBS Minnesota, saying that even though younger cohorts, especially women, are waiting to pay off their student loans and build their careers before marriage, the desire to get married has not declined. Hartmann says, “When you ask people about their attitudes about marriage, their desires to get married, that doesn’t seem to be in decline. It’s just the timing of it and when it’s happening is getting put off.”

Sociologists across the country are invested in understanding the changing trends in marriage and American family life, and their research has detailed important factors contributing to these trends. Coontz ends her article with an important insight, urging us to consider the stability and equality of the marriage landscape Americans are so often nostalgic for.

If women lowered their expectations to match men’s lower economic prospects, perhaps marriage would be more common in low-income communities. But it would most likely be even less stable, and certainly less fair. Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families – at almost all income levels – than turning back the gender revolution.

See more of Coontz, Cohen, and other sociologists of family life, including Coontz’s piece on how religious affiliation affects marriage rates, at the Council of Contemporary Families’ blog Families As They Really Are.

 

Urban Planners in Zaragoza Test the Waters

The aqueducts in Segovia were one solution to Spain's need for water. But they're not the only one. Photo by Paulo Guerra via Flickr.

The aqueducts in Segovia were one solution to Spain’s need for water. But they’re not the only one. Photo by Paulo Guerra via Flickr.

Spain has always gone to great lengths to meet its high demand for water, but when faced with a shortage, the town of Zaragoza took a different approach. When severe droughts in the early 1990s caused reservoirs to dry up, forest fires to rage, and crops to wither, it became clear that the inland city would not be able to meet their high demand. Víctor Viñuales, the director and co-founder of the Spanish NGO Fundación Ecología y Desarrollo (Ecology and Development Foundation), used his understanding of sociology to devise an innovative solution. He tells The Guardian:

“Trained as a sociologist, Viñuales wondered what would happen if municipalities focused less on making sure residents had access to all the water they wanted and more on reducing demand. From that thought began a 15-year experiment in Zaragoza that has revolutionised how many in Spain – from locals to public officials – think about water management.”

Viñuales lead an ambitious project that began with a challenge to the city’s citizens to save 1 billion liters of water in a year. He used a widespread media and social outreach campaign, offered free audits to help find water saving opportunities, gave discounts on water saving products, and even changed the city’s water bills so citizens could track their changes in usage. Zaragoza stepped up to the challenge.

“Today Viñuales rattles off statistic after statistic to show how this city of 700,000 has transformed itself. Between 1997 and 2012, per capita use of water in Zaragoza dropped from 150 litres/day to 99 litres/day. The drop even sustained an increase in population; between 1997 and 2008, the city’s population grew by 12% but daily water use dropped by 27%.”

Viñuales was able to use both social and economic factors to effect the lives of the people of Zaragoza and make a huge stride forward in sustainability. While he acknowledges the success he has seen, he reminds us that “To achieve profound change – whether it be environmental, social or cultural – you have to be prepared to take it on for the long haul. Here in Zaragoza we’ve had that profound change. The population grew, but we use fewer resources than before. It’s really what needs to be achieved on a global level.”

 

 

Stephen Colbert Welcomes Trans-Caucasians

What do you get when you cross University of Minnesota Sociology professor Carolyn Liebler, census data, and issues of identity? This segment on the Colbert Report.

The Colbert Report               The Word – A Darker Shade of Pale

 

In this segment, the Comedy Central satirist pulled a quote from Liebler’s research:

“2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” in 2000…a decade later, told the census they were Hispanic and white.”

Of course, Colbert went on to explain his version of these findings, that Hispanics were voluntarily becoming white. Colbert points out that white people live in the best neighborhoods and get the best jobs, among other things. With that logic, the pundit suggests, why not “choose” to be white?

From a sociological perspective, he might have something there. Issues of identity are fluid and ever-changing in society. Looking at such a large change in the census data provokes questions as to why this variation in identity exists. In an interview with NPR, Liebler drew a parallel to her work studying Native American identity.

 “Between 1960 and 1970, nearly a half-million more Americans identified themselves as Native American — a number that was too large to be explained by mere population growth, she said. Something else had to explain it.”

Liebler says there’s more work to be done to understand these changing numbers. In the meantime, though, sociologist-in-training Stephen Colbert wants everyone to know that anyone is welcome…to identify as white.

The Overblown Myth of the Boomerang Generation

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They don’t come back as often as you think. Photo by Paleontour via Flickr.

Isn’t it ironic that “much of our ‘independence,’ where it exists, is made possible by supports and resources that have been provided by others”? In an interview with the Washington Post, Oregon State’s Richard A. Settersten, Jr. calls attention to one important instance of this irony: the rigid tie between the “independence” of young people and leaving the home. For Settersten, Jr., common (and paranoid) misunderstandings about “permanent” and “alarming” generational trends in living at home are problematic not simply because they are inaccurate, but because they point to a misguided ideal of “independence.”

To clarify how patterns in young adult living arrangements have varied over time, he notes:

This isn’t new. If we look back over the last century, we can see that the rush out of the parental home was a post-World War II phenomenon, and proportions have been growing since 1970…. What’s remarkable about the early adult years today is not that young people live with parents but that they live without a spouse…. Marriage and parenting now culminate the process of becoming adult rather than start it.

Settersten, Jr. also clarifies who chooses to live at home and why. He indicates that men of every age group are more likely to live with parents, mentioning their higher rates of dropping out of school, unemployment, and a higher average age of marriage as possible reasons why. Individuals of disadvantaged groups also tend to live at home at greater rates—possibly because they are more likely to live in high-cost metropolitan areas or because young people in their culture are expected to contribute to family resources. Moreover, according to Settersten, Jr.,

For many families, living at home is a strategic choice that permits young adults to attend or reduce the cost of higher education, take internships, or create a nest egg. (It may also be necessary for paying down student loans.) For them, it’s not about being locked out of the labor market, but about building a more secure economic future.

So before tossing aside the “boomerang generation” as dependent “failures to launch,” consider how peculiar it is “that we expect young people to somehow strive for complete independence when those of us who are no longer young realize that adult life is heavily conditioned by relationships with other people.” Settersten, Jr. has a point.

To learn how this notion of independence is affecting older adults, check out Stacy Torres’s article on Families as They Really Are.

For a different take on the role of the economy in millenials’ living arrangements, see this article by Lisa Wade.

If you’re a teacher, here’s a great lesson by Kia Heise to start a class conversation about living alone as a ‘rite of passage’ into adulthood.

Marriage or the Baby Carriage

Photo by Rob Tom via Flickr.

There are more married mothers among millenial women with college degrees. Photo by rob tom via Flickr.

Differences in education level lead to dramatically different views on when to become a parent, according to new research. John Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin shows that millennial women with college educations are more likely to wait until they are married before they have children than women without a college degree. In an interview with Sarah Kliff of Vox, Cherlin explains:

“We’re seeing the emergence two very different paths to adulthood. Among young adults without college educations, most of their childbearing is in their twenties and the majority of it is outside of marriage. That includes people who have gotten a two-year associate’s degree. The dividing line is the four-year degree. The vast majority of people with that college degree are having children in marriage. We didn’t see this 20 or 30 years ago. We didn’t see these sharp differences between the college graduates and non-graduates.”

This trend concerns Cherlin, as it could lead to a more unstable family life for the children of unmarried parents with a high school education. He sees a lack of middle-skill jobs as the cause of their financial instability. This leads to their higher rate of breaking up and ultimately reinforces economic inequalities between education groups. Parents who have a college education are less likely to get divorced, since they are the couples who are more likely to have two steady incomes.

When asked if we could turn this worrisome trend around, Cherlin posits:

“It depends on if you think we can turn the middle of the job market around, and if we can find productive employment for high school graduates. If that happens, then I think we have a chance of reversing the instability we’re seeing in family lives. I also think that it might be a good idea to promote a message that one should wait to have children until one is in a stable marriage.”

That said, providing an alternative vision of a future where the high-school and college-educated alike can navigate the new economy could lead to greater family stability for their kids.

 

Baby-onic Plague

Photo by maxime delrue via Flickr.

Women may “catch” pregnancy from their friends. Photo by maxime delrue via Flickr.

A study coauthored by Bocconi University’s Nicolleta Balbo and University of Groningen’s Nicola Barban has unearthed a potential new contagion: babies.

The Chicago Tribune reports on the study of women’s friendships and potential child birthing saying,

…After one of the women in each friendship pair had a baby, the likelihood that her friend would also have her first baby went up for about two years, and then declined.

Balbo and Barban focus on high school friends, analyzing 1,170 women in a longitudinal study beginning in the 1990s. During the study, 820 of the participants became parents, having their first child at an average age of 27.

Balbo identifies three mechanisms that might contribute to the seemingly significant amount of influence between friends. First, she discusses social influence. This hinges on the idea that we constantly compare ourselves to people around us, including friends, and may be pressured to conform to their behavior. The second mechanism Balbo proposes is social learning. Watching a friend go through parenthood may arm prospective parents with knowledge and make them more comfortable fulfilling the parent role themselves. The third mechanism focuses on cost-sharing dynamics. Being in a similar life circumstance with friends can help reduce both costs and stress.

The study has been critiqued for not incorporating larger social networks and assuming that friendships can be studied in dyads.  Either way, I’ll think twice the next time I find a baby shower invitation in my mailbox!