Happily Never After? The Challenges of “Marrying Up”

Image via alicexc.deviantart.com
Image via alicexc.deviantart.com

 

Princess Jasmine fell for Aladdin, even after his Prince Ali façade failed. Lady Sybil Crawley married the family chauffeur Tom Branson, despite his socialist views and Irish, working-class origins. Richard Gere scaled a fire escape to retrieve his “Pretty Woman.” Typically, sociologists say, marrying across class differences happens much less frequently in real life than in popular culture. Jessi Streib, however, wrote a whole book about these uncommon couples. She tells New York Magazine’s Science of Us the findings in her The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages.

Streib’s interviews revealed benefits and challenges to class difference in marriage. Partners may recognize in each other qualities they felt lacking in their own class background. Thus, working-class individuals may value the confidence and sense of stability of middle-class individuals, while middle-class partners may gravitate toward the intimacy and expressiveness they perceive in working-class families. Middle-class individuals often communicate in a “managerial” style, which, according to Streib, means “They manage their emotions, so before you want to express something, you think about it first, you figure out what you really feel, you think about how to express it in a way that will make the other person most comfortable, and then you kind of quietly and very calmly state how you feel and make sure there’s a good rationale behind it.” Working-class individuals, on the other hand, have a more laissez-faire way of expressing emotions. They are more likely to state their honest feelings directly, even if they’re not particularly nice or polite.

While differences in communication styles provide opportunities for understanding, they also pose challenges. Trying to change the other person, Streib says, is not going to make a partnership work.

The couples who it went really well for were the ones who appreciated each other’s differences. So they would say things like, “You know, it’s not how I do it, but I can understand why that other way makes total sense,” or could actually use their partner’s differences to help them solve a problem at times. So keeping in perspective that difference isn’t necessarily bad, and that they love their partner despite or because of all these differences, could help a lot.

As in any relationship, cooperation and communication are keys to success. Cross-class marriages may not be incredibly common, but at least one sociologist is convinced Tom and Sybil could have made a life of it—save a few plot twists.

Orphaned by Incarceration

A screenshot from a Sesame Street clip about parents in prison.
A screenshot from a Sesame Street clip about parents in prison.

If you happen to be watching Sesame Street, you may notice a new Muppet named Alex. The child’s father is in prison. Many viewers may consider Alex’s incarcerated parent an unusual, heavy topic for the program that has taught generations of kids their ABC’s and 123’s. But children across the country, particularly African-American children, are in Alex’s position.

The Nation consulted sociologists Christopher Wildeman, Sara Wakefield, Kristin Turney, and John Hagan about the effects of parental incarceration on children. They found that children with incarcerated parents had significantly higher rates of aggression, mental-health issues, behavioral problems, and risk of homelessness than peers whose parents had never been to prison. However, although they have identified a key link between parent imprisonment and children’s mental health, researchers like Turney are still figuring out how and why this connection exists. “Is it stigma, attachments, income loss, parents breaking up and relationships not surviving? We don’t know,” Turney reports.

More than a decade ago, Hagan stated that effects on children might be “the least understood and most consequential” results of incarceration. According to Wildeman, 1 in 30 white children and 1 in 4 black children born in 1990 experienced a parent going to prison before turning 14. The surge in incarceration rates disproportionately affects African-American children. Even if their fathers have a college degree, these kids are twice as likely as white children with parents who didn’t finish high school to have a parent in prison. And regardless of whether incarceration rates decline in the next few years, the effects of current imprisonment rates will last for several generations. That means that optimism about any decline in mass incarceration “must therefore be set against the backdrop of the children of the prison boom—a lost generation now coming of age,” according to Wildeman and Wakefield.

Cheap Gas Has Pricey Consequences

Uh-oh. This might not be good... Photo by Edward Conde via Flickr CC.
Uh-oh. This might not be good… Photo by Edward Conde via Flickr CC.

“Wow, it’s only $2.20 a gallon over here!”

“Remember when it was $3.20 a few months ago?”

From the late 2000s until recently, gas prices were consistently on the rise. A more recent downward slide may have some consequences: though cheap gas prices might be lighter on the wallet, individuals might be at greater risk for car accidents.

In an article from MN-based Star Tribune, Tim Harlow discusses research conducted by Guangqing Chi of the South Dakota State University’s Department of Sociology and Rural Studies. A professor and demographer whose specialties include the sociology of transportation, Chi had studied data on gas prices and overall traffic safety in Minnesota from 1998 to 2007. His team found that “a 20-cent drop in gas prices resulted in 15 more fatalities a year. Conversely, he found that a 20-cent increase would bring a decrease of 15 deaths annually.”

Using similar methodology with study data from Alabama and Mississippi, Chi has found that teens are more impacted by high gas prices, driving less frequently when prices go up. Their road reticence when costs are high, Chi’s study asserts, may lead to safer streets. Beyond driving less often, Chi says, when gas prices rise, “we suspect people drive more carefully.” For now, go ahead and put the pedal to the metal—just, you know, don’t throw all caution to the wind.

God and Good Citizens

Courtesy the Boston Public Library.
Courtesy the Boston Public Library.

Sociologist Penny Edgell discussed the changing landscape of religion in public life over the past decade with Houston Matters. Since 2003, issues of religion in public life have shifted less than was previously expected. However, around three-quarters of the population worries that religion is divisive presence, and not just between religious and growing non-religious groups. People who embrace non-mainstream, mainly non-Christian religious beliefs in the US feel left out of discussions around key issues in public life, Edgell explained. Even generic references to “god” usually refer to the Christian God. Still, there is increasing support for religious pluralism and for teaching religious diversity in public schools. Edgell says that Americans generally have a broad sense of unease with religion in public life, but value freedom of religious expression and an understanding of the tenets of other faiths.

Aside from being a civil liberty, religious expression acts a marker of morality in public life. This, Edgell explains, can mean trouble for the estimated one-third of Americans who don’t claim a religious identity. About half of Americans believe that being religious is important for being a good citizen, and they are more likely to trust religious people because they assume they share the same values. Edgell found that 27% of Americans agree that “atheists don’t share my moral values.”

Self-Segregation in San Francisco Schools

Photo by WoodleyWonderworks, Flickr.com.
Photo by WoodleyWonderworks, Flickr.com.

School segregation has been the topic of social science research and public debate for decades. Still, the average person may think than in the post-Civil Rights era, when the law explicitly forbids racial discrimination, school segregation is an issue of the past. In fact, sociologists of education point to changes in demographics, living arrangements, and school funding that have lead to unforeseen issues increases in school segregation. One city in particular, San Francisco, is seeing a resurgence; the number of schools considered “racially isolated,” or over-representative of one race, has climbed there in the last few years.

A recent article in the San Francisco Public Press describes new practices that determine where students get placed and how such mechanisms can undermine diversity. Parents can apply for placement across San Francisco’s public schools, meaning that many students don’t go to school in the area they live. This enrollment fluidity may seem helpful for increasing diversity, but the ability to make informed and effective choices within school system application is nuanced and heavily influenced by who you know, what you know, and what matters to you. Parent choices, especially within particular racial or ethnic groups, can exacerbate school segregation.

The article quotes Prudence Carter, a Stanford sociologist who studies inequality and education and was involved in creating the San Francisco school-choice system (implemented in 2010). Carter uses Asian families as a case in point: “there’s a lot of pride in the Chinese community in having created educational enclaves.” For example, a Chinese family is more likely to send their children to a school with a certain reputation; replicated across a community, it can lead to a school with a disproportionate number of Chinese students. Similarly, disproportionate concentration of students from certain income backgrounds can lead to a racially segregated student body.

If parents want to be part of segregation solution, Carter advises, “You have to think grander, and beyond your own self-interest… So long as we live in an individualistic and self-interested country, we’re going to probably continue to have this problem.” In her view, policy makers will have to adapt legislation to account for the sociology of parent choice when trying to increase diversity in education.

Working for the Long Weekend

The Preiser Project, Flickr CC.
The Preiser Project, Flickr CC.

Who doesn’t love a four (or five!) day weekend? An extra day or two away from the desk means more time for leisure activities and to disengage from work. But Scott Schieman, sociology professor at University of Toronto, warns that consistently short work weeks may not help work-life balance in the long run. In an interview on CBC’s Daybreak South, Schieman said,

I think what we have to really look at are the nature or the demands of the job—and how those demands can either be compressed in particular time periods, or whether they actually need to be spread out, and that’s when you get to some of the cons.

When the same amount of work needs to be done in three days instead of five, it means longer hours. It’s like cramming for a college exam, when it’s physically tiring and harder to process information. Even if three days of intense work seems like a good trade for four days at home, it’s still unlikely that “days off” mean not working, Schieman points out: “What if there’s a deadline, what if there’s an ongoing project? Can you really break from that fully?” Additionally, people with families may find the long hours associated with shorter work weeks incompatible with obligations like carpool, and non-stop work is unlikely to happen in a house with a demanding toddler. Savoring the occasional holiday might provide a better balance, aligning with kids’ school days and taken-for-granted “business hours,” while adding in a “bonus” day of leisure intermittently.

Workplaces May Create Inequalities at Home

Image by Photophilde via Flickr CC
Image by Photophilde via Flickr CC

A new study finds that men and women increasingly desire egalitarian relationships, yet household labor often remains gendered and imbalanced. So what’s the holdup? Study co-author, sociologist Sarah Thébaud, explains to USA Today that workplace policies surrounding paid leave, flexible scheduling, and child care are making it harder for couples to balance household work:

“There is a lot of research showing that, in today’s economy, it is tremendously challenging for couples to strike an egalitarian division between work and family responsibilities. … Women who ‘opt out’ of full-time careers often report doing so not because it was their ideal preference, but because the inflexibility of their work hours or the high costs of childcare left them with few options. This limited set of options ends up reinforcing gender inequality, despite the fact that people are increasingly endorsing more gender-egalitarian attitudes and beliefs.”

Co-author David Pedulla adds that women, especially, need supportive workplace policies:

“[If] supportive policies are in place, women are much more likely to prefer egalitarian relationships and much less likely to prefer neo-traditional relationships.”

The study is based on a 2012 survey of a representative group of 18 to 32-year-old unmarried, childless men and women in the United States.

Cheats in Cleats

Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr CC
Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr CC

Seven years after the New England Patriots were caught cheating by video taping other NFL teams’ game signals, football fans are wondering if the team intentionally deflated the footballs in the AFC championship game that qualified them for the Super Bowl they went on to win. The controversy brings into question a long-held idea that sports foster teambuilding, hard work, and integrity.

Sociologist Eric Carter tells the Huffington Post that, although sports teach characteristics valued in American society to youth across the country, as the stakes become higher, players are more likely to exhibit unethical behavior. The desire to win at all costs can stem from arrogance or self-importance, but cheating often has less to do with players’ self-perceptions and more to do with the behaviors of others. For instance, when players think other teams cheat, they are more likely to break rules to “stay competitive.” Additionally, coaches who frequently reward star players and emphasize winning over technique and skill create an environment that may push athletes to bend or break the rules.

“The NFL has a great responsibility to check itself,” Carter said. “It’s one of the most powerful entities in American society.” Because millions look to professional football players, NFL stars become role models for young athletes, he explains. If officials turn a blind eye to cheating in the big leagues, high school and college athletes may internalize a culture of dishonesty that runs contrary to the ideals Americans value and believe are built in sports.

The Anti-Vaxxer Vote

Image via US Army Corps of Engineers.
Image via US Army Corps of Engineers.

California’s measles outbreak  has refueled heated debates about mandated childhood vaccinations. With little known about the political leanings of anti-vaxxers, many politicians are carefully toeing the line to avoid alienating potential voters. In a recent Star Tribune article, though, sociologist Kent Schwirian said:

There is a long history to the fight against vaccination, and it does seem to break down along liberal versus conservative lines.

Schwirian argues that political conservatives are more likely to be anti-vaxxers than their liberal peers. The Ohio State University professor bases his claim on his own 2009 study of the swine flu scare, in which he found that conservatives who distrusted government were more likely to oppose vaccinations than were others with higher levels of trust or more progressive politics.

For more, see “There’s Research on That!

Could Porn Lead to Sex Trafficking?

Photo via Flickr CC, Slavesalicious. Click for original.
Photo via Flickr CC, Slavesalicious. Click for original.

Early in 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed twelve bills aimed at combating sex trafficking. These bills compliment laws signed last year to protect victims of trafficking, particularly children. Thus far, however, legislation has overlooked the causes of trafficking, namely, male perpetrators who engage in sexual violence and abuse and whose patronage makes the crimes profitable.

In a recent Huffington Post article, sociologist Gail Dines offers insight into the “demand side” of sex crimes, citing pornography as an influence:

The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.

Dines argues that porn teaches men to behave in sexually violent and abusive ways:

We know that trafficking is increasing—which means demand is increasing. This means that men are increasingly willing to have sex with women who are being controlled and abused by pimps and traffickers. There are only two conclusions here: That men are naturally willing to do this to women—biology—or that they are being socialized by the culture to lose all empathy for women. I refuse to accept that men are born rapists, porn users, or johns.

Dine’s controversial topic of study—and its results—casts important questions on a growing, if often “unseen” crime.