Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
In the age-old struggle to “have it all,” many of us try to squeeze extra hours out of each day in order to accommodate all of our work and family responsibilities. In the past this discussion has revolved around female workers, those who juggle full-time work, parental duties, and the domestic chores of the “second shift.” However, as the nature of work changes – becoming more precarious at the same time more demanding – this struggle for work-life balance extends to workers of all genders, ages, and social classes.
In a recent Huffington Post blog, sociologists Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen discuss this very challenge, asserting,
The root problem, of course, isn’t that employees have family or personal commitments. The root problem is the rigid conventions of work that assume work must occur at certain times and places and that mistakenly gauge productivity by the number of hours spent at work.
Kelly and Moen research flexible working policies that can dramatically shift the very nature of work in order for this balance to be more attainable. They have found that the most effective flexible policies are those that are available to all workers, rather than perhaps mothers or specific individuals and that are collectively implemented with both employees and managers sharing control.
To move beyond decades of discussing work-life balance to meaningful change, employers need to shift from one-off accommodations. It’s time to make working efficiently, creatively, sustainably and flexibly the new norm.
These policies, such as remote work and varied hours, benefit organizations as well as employees. With these flexible policies, employees are not only more healthy and less stressed but also are more likely to work hard to keep their jobs.
Photo by Jeff Kubina via flickr.com
With Illinois poised to become the fifteenth state to legalize gay marriage (when Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill into law on November 20), the tide of public opinion about legal rights for same-sex couples seems to be changing at a rapid rate. In a recent NY Times article, Ross Douthat argues that this trend is also evident in other cultural debates, including attitudes toward the legalization of gambling and marijuana.
Since 1990 when casinos were isolated to Nevada and Atlantic City, almost half of states have legalized and developed commercial casinos. Rather than a Hangover-style bachelor weekend in Las Vegas, for many people, casino-going is a much more mundane experience, a regular weekend excursion.
Additionally, the public opinion ratings about marijuana legalization have grown at the same rate as approval for gay marriage. Indeed, in addition to the recreational legalization of pot in Washington and Colorado, twenty other states have already legalized medical marijuana.
Douthat uses late sociologist Robert Bellah’s concept of “expressive individualism” to explain these attitudinal and legislative changes. Expressive individualism refers to the notion of being free to express oneself through rich experiences and feelings without restrictions. For Douthat, expressive individualism highlights “the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.”
However, in the midst of this growing support for individual choice and freedom, Douthat cautions against the social consequences of some of these new policies. He argues,
Previous societies made distinction between liberty and license that we have become loath to draw—because what seems like a harmless pleasure to the comfortable can devastate the poor and weak.
Photo by Kris Mouser-Brown via flickr.com
In a recent article in The American Prospect, Monica Potts examines the mystery of what is killing poor white women. Research on longevity by Jay Olshanky from the University of Illinois in Chicago and a team of collaborators found that white women who dropped out of high school are dying on average five years earlier than the their equivalents in the generation before them. These results have researchers baffled – not since the fall of the Soviet Union, when life expectancy for men dropped by seven years, has there been such a dramatic change in longevity in a single generation.
Most Americans, including high-school dropouts of other races, are gaining life expectancy, just at different speeds. Absent a war, genocide, pandemic, or massive governmental collapse, drops in life expectancy are rare. “If you look at the history of longevity in the United States, there have been no dramatic negative or positive shocks,” Olshansky says. “With the exception of the 1918 influenza pandemic, everything has been relatively steady, slow changes. This is a five-year drop in an 18-year time period. That’s dramatic.”
Numerous researchers are investigating the root causes of this drastic shift. Jennifer Karas Montez from Harvard and Ann Zajacova from the University of Wyoming tested a number of potential factors, including employment, income, and health behaviors like smoking and drinking. White female high school dropouts are less likely than women with a high school education or more to work, and if they do work, it is often low wage, low skill jobs in the service sector. But certainly, many other demographic groups work minimum wage jobs. Indeed, black women who dropped out of high school have seen an increase in their life expectancy over this time.
Although women generally outlive men in the U.S., such a large decline in the average age of death, from almost 79 to a little more than 73, suggests that an increasing number of women are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. “We actually don’t know the exact reasons why it’s happened,” Olshansky says. “I wish we did.”
Best known for her seminal text The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander has examined the injustices and inequality perpetuated through mass incarceration, particularly its effects on black men in the United States. However, her recent article in The Nation, reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, “breaks her silence” on interrelated topics, such as NSA spying, drone warfare, and the detention of immigrants.
In a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., Alexander seeks to “connect the dots” between mass incarceration and broader systems of poverty, racism, militarism, and materialism. Motivated by King’s wider critiques of the Vietnam War abroad and labor exploitation at home, Alexander refuses to keep a narrow view of the inequality of mass incarceration or “stay in her lane,” as she describes it. In the spirit of the March on Washington, she links her own research with the national and international phenomena of the war on terror and the war on drugs, saying,
When we declare war on “things” like terrorism and drugs, it becomes easy to forget that real people—mothers, fathers and children—will be targeted, caged and killed without due process, without consideration of their basic humanity, and without asking the hard questions required of complicated social and global problems that cannot be solved by a simple declaration of war.
Image via MNUnited.com, an organization formed to fight a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage in MN, but repurposed to help make marriage equality the law in the state once the amendment was defeated.
Today marks the first day that gay couples can legally marry in the states of Rhode Island and Minnesota, the eleventh and thirteenth states respectively to legalize gay marriage. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8, many gay and lesbian individuals and allies around the country are celebrating advances in the rights and recognition extended to gay couples on a federal level.
However, in the midst of these celebrations, Rick Settersten points out in a recent LA Times article that same-sex couples, who do not reside in the thirteen states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal, continue to be left out by the law. He states,
For those of us trapped elsewhere in the country—even in places we love—the verdict reinforces the fact that the security of our families and our futures rises or falls depending on where we live.
Highlighting the variation and inconsistency by state in legal rights extended to gay and lesbian partnerships, Settersten describes the reality of gay couples that migrate to states with more legal recognition. Settersten, his partner Dan, and their two children moved from Ohio in 2004 when the state banned recognition of any form of same-sex coupling (marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships). At the time, their new home state of Oregon enabled them to co-adopt children and register as a domestic partnership. Although they have been together for almost thirty years, their domestic partnership in Oregon will not be federally recognized under the DOMA decision, forcing them to move yet again if they want to benefit from federal recognition of their union.
With celebrity baby names like Apple, Blue Ivy, and now-old-fashioned Moon Unit, it is perhaps a little surprising that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian evoked an uproar by naming their child North West. The blogosphere erupted with jokes about the strange moniker, including many twitter users posting pictures of compasses and Northwest Airlines planes as the child’s first photo.
In a recent article in Vogue, sociologist Dalton Conley comes to the parents’ defense. With his own children named E and Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles (which you can sing to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”), Conley argues that North West is just one in a long legacy of eccentric and often gender-neutral names. He also points to the historical rise in unique black names after the Civil Rights Movement, a trend examined by sociologists Stanley Lieberson and Kelly S. Mickelson.
Conley points out that these strange names often turn out to be less gender-neutral than they may first appear. In fact, many respondents in Lieberson and Mickelson’s study correctly guessed the gender of child in possession of the unique name, and Conley writes:
My own experience mirrors this. Nobody mistakes Yo for a girl’s name. Meanwhile, three other Es, who heard about my daughter’s name from my public musings, wrote me. (So much for unique…) Two of them were female, bringing the total percent female to 75. I only wish I had 25 other kids, so I could test the gender of every letter in the alphabet.
Later this year, Conley will be releasing a new book, Parentology: Everything you wanted to know about the science of kids but were too exhausted to ask.
A child is fed in the South African refugee camp De Dooms. Photo by Courtney Brooks via flickr.com.
Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the health of Nelson Mandela, it’s an interesting time to reflect on the legacy of race and inequality in South Africa. Although the work of Mandela and others has extended human rights to black South Africans, a recent Al Jazeera article by Minnesota sociologist Cawo Abdi illustrates the continued violence and racism against Somali immigrants in South Africa, as highlighted by the recent gruesome murder of a young Somali refugee.
Relegated to informal housing settlements, many Somali refugees work as entrepreneurs in the informal economy. They open shops, called spazas, that provide goods and services to neglected, poor black neighborhoods. These neighborhoods themselves are rife with violence, both criminal and vigilante. Abdi writes:
Labeling violence against migrants as simply xenophobic diverts attention from the context of violence, the generalized criminality that is a daily reality for those in informal settlements. The brutality forces us to confront the limited access that many South Africans have to the social, economic, and political rights enshrined in the country’s progressive constitution.
Historically considered an issue of racial equality between black and white South Africans, Abdi demonstrates that issues of economic inequality and anti-immigrant sentiment are just as pervasive in the country.
Photo by David Noah via Flickr.com.
It is old news that many women are postponing childbearing until after they have established their careers. Those of us who have rounded to the other side of thirty have been warned repeatedly, by doctors, mothers, and the general public alike, about the impending, relentless ticking of our biological clocks and our diminished chances of pregnancy. With this demographic trend has come the tired yet all-too-relevant trope of the childless urban professional suddenly obsessed with pregnancy. (See, for reference, half of the characters in Sex and the City and all three female leads on Friends.)
However, men are actually just as baby-crazed, if not moreso, than their female counterparts, according to an article by Katie McDonough at Salon.com. Sociologist Robin Hadley from Keele University surveyed 81 women and 27 men on their feelings about not having children. While men and women both expressed a desire for children at about the same rate, men were more likely to feel depressed, angry, isolated, and jealous about not having children. In fact, 69% of childless men surveyed “had experienced yearning for a child, in comparison to just 11% of women.”
According to Hadley,
This challenges the common idea that women are much more likely to want to have children than men, and that they consistently experience a range of negative emotions more deeply than men if they don’t have children.
A chart from O’Rourke’s paper, via the Boston Globe.
A social problem examined by sociologists for decades, the white-black wealth gap has widened to record highs during the recession, with the median wealth for white households at twenty times that of their black counterparts. On the Boston Globe’s Brainiac blog, Kevin Hartnett shares a recent study by Princeton sociology graduate student Rourke O’Brien. The study quantitatively tests the idea that this wealth discrepancy is due, in part, to giving or loaning money to relatives.
Middle-income blacks are more than twice as likely as middle-income whites to have a poor sibling and more than four times as likely to have parents below the poverty line. And because of these relationships, they’re called upon more often to provide financial assistance.
Whereas investments can be used to generate more wealth, gifts and informal loans to family members are usually spent paying bills or covering immediate financial needs. O’Brien argues that informal financial support networks can account for roughly 27% of the white-black wealth gap.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Occupy Wall Street shifted its efforts to neighborhood-level storm relief. Image via Daniel Latorre via flickr.com.
Like Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters affecting urban areas, Superstorm Sandy reminded many that U.S. cities are unprepared for the effects of climate change. According to sociologist Eric Klinenberg in a recent issue of The New Yorker, the U.S. lags far behind other countries in “climate-proofing,” or investing in infrastructural developments that will protect cities and their inhabitants from increasingly-severe natural disasters and rising water levels.
Beyond investing in physical infrastructure, preparing for and surviving climate change, Klinenberg writes, will involve “recognizing the importance of social infrastructure: the people, places, and institutions that foster cohesion and support.” Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson has emphasized the importance of strong social ties during natural disasters. In their research on the 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed over 700 people, Klinenberg and Sampson found that neighborhoods with a strong sense of community and many churches and civic organizations—neighborhoods where people look out for one another—fare better when disaster strikes.
Although infrastructure investment and development play a major role in mitigating the effects of climate change, it may well prove that “civil society will ultimately determine which people and places will withstand the emerging threats from climate change.”