Photo by Shardayyy via flickr.com
October is breast cancer awareness month in the U.S. Pink ribbons, 5k races, and educational events mark the campaign to educate the public about the disease and push for more research to find a cure. We hold fundraisers and portray survivors as heroes and positive role models. A number of sociologists and other academics have analyzed and critiqued the U.S. breast cancer industry, including Gayle Sulik, Sabrina McCormick, and Stefano Puntoni.
In other parts of the world however, breast cancer is silently killing women. For one, the disease still carries a stigma that keeps women from accessing treatment. New York Times blogger Denise Grady discusses this stigma towards the disease in developing nations, particularly African countries, as well as the many additional barriers to treatment. These barriers include scarce resources, shame surrounding the disease, corruption, and the real constraints of economic and family responsibilities, all of which make for a deadly combination. Grady states,
Survival rates vary considerably from country to country and even within countries. In the United States, about 20 percent of women who have breast cancer die from it, compared with 40 to 60 percent in poorer countries. The differences depend heavily on the status of women, their awareness of symptoms, and the availability of timely care.
Although it is not new knowledge that diseases disproportionately affect poorer countries and individuals, cancer treatment and education has been neglected in developing nations. It has been overshadowed by other diseases like malaria and AIDS, and due to a lack of public awareness on both the national and international scales, it has been underfunded by governments and foundations. Research from PRI indicates that “cancer kills more people in low- and middle-income countries than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined.”
Photo by miss_millions via flickr.com
Over the past few years, Oklahoma has locked up its place as the state with the highest rates of female incarceration. In a recent article for The Oklahoman, Andrew Knittle interviewed University of Oklahoma sociologist Susan Sharp about the state’s “mean” laws that lead to this trend.
Sharp explains that Oklahoma has tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines that cause offenders to serve abnormally lengthy terms in prison. Sharp points specifically to overly punitive drug laws for these high incarceration rates. Possession of small amounts of drugs, which in most states would have little to no punishment, can lead to some serious jail time in Oklahoma. Sharp argues against
drug traffickers being forced to serve 85 percent of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a lower cost to the state. “It’s the way we define drug trafficking (in Oklahoma) … if you’re arrested with five grams of crack cocaine, you can be charged with trafficking,” Sharp said.
Sharp also explained that women generally enter into a criminal lifestyle after going through one of three “pathways”:
coming from a poverty-stricken background, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse.
On a side note, the prison mentioned in this article is the same one featured in the documentary, “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo.” Links to the film can be found at the TSP documentary page at http://thesocietypages.org/specials/documentaries/ !
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.”
Dr. Hart was surprised that the subjects in his experiment often chose a $5 reward over a free high. Photo by David Hilowitz via flickr.com
Drugs are a necessary but not sufficient condition for addiction. Social scientists have long been interested in examining the social and environmental aspects of drug addiction.
A recent New York Times article discusses Columbia University Professor Carl Hart’s research on crack cocaine and methamphetamine addiction from his book “High Price.” When he started his research in the 1990s, Dr. Hart believed in the irresistibility of drugs, but findings from his experimental research to find a cure for drug dependency made him reevaluate his stance on addiction as purely a neurological phenomenon.
“Eighty to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted,” said Dr. Hart, an associate professor of psychology. “And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.”
Both popular research and societal conceptions about drug addiction are missing a significant explanation for the cause of drug addiction. Dr. Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, supports Dr. Hart’s results:
Addiction always has a social element, and this is magnified in societies with little in the way of work or other ways to find fulfillment.
This “social element” could help explain why some people fall prey to drug addiction while others inexplicably escape its grasp. The idea of a social or structural element to addiction would cause a significant shift in the rhetoric of many substance abuse programs and wider societal discussions about drug use. The next step is to evaluate how large an effect environmental factors can have on addiction.
The reaction from other scientists has been mixed. No word yet on Dr. Hart’s next experiment, but I’m hoping it involves chocolate.
Does the “wrong” come in creating the secret or telling it? Photo by John Perivolaris via flickr.com. Click for original.
Philosopher Peter Ludlow, a faculty member at Northwestern University, writes in a recent post for “The Stone” blog on NYTimes.com that, instead of undermining systems and generally acting immorally, people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden took real risks to expose what Hannah Arendt famously called “the banality of systemic evil.” In a lengthy dissection, Ludlow looks at the leaks that so many have condemned and, noting that one of Aaron Swartz’s self-professed favorite books was the sociology text Moral Mazes, and finds an emerging extra-institutional morality across the cases. Ludlow concludes:
…if there are psychological motivations for whistleblowing, leaking and hacktivism, there are likewise psychological motivations for closing ranks with the power structure within a system — in this case a system in which corporate media plays an important role. Similarly it is possible that the system itself is sick, even though the actors within the organization are behaving in accord with organizational etiquette and respecting the internal bonds of trust.
Just as Hannah Arendt saw that the combined action of loyal managers can give rise to unspeakable systemic evil, so too generation W has seen that complicity within the surveillance state can give rise to evil as well — not the horrific evil that Eichmann’s bureaucratic efficiency brought us, but still an Orwellian future that must be avoided at all costs.
For more on weighing the costs and benefits of surveillance, be sure to check out “A Social Welfare Critique of Contemporary Crime Control” and pretty much all of the Community Page Cyborgology here on TSP. For more on moral ambiguity, consider Moral Mazes by Robert Jackall (updated and released in paperback by Oxford University Press in 2009) and Teaching TSP’s piece on the “Obedience to Authority” and the Milgram experiments.
Photo by Lena Wood via flickr.com
A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that more dads than ever are staying home full-time with their children. In families consisting of married couples with children where one spouse worked at least 35 hours per week, roughly 3.5% of those households include a stay-at-home dad.
This study, led by University of Illinois sociologist Karen Z. Kramer, attaches solid data to perceived changes in family gender roles over the past few decades. Today, roughly one-third of families consist of a stay-at-home mother, down from one-half during the 1970s, and families where both mom and dad work at least 35 hours a week has increased from 46.1% to 63.2% during that time.
This study provides many openings for further research, such as changes (or lack thereof) in gender equity in the workplace and the home. For example, families with stay-at-home dads earned about $11,000 less than those with stay-at-home moms. How much of this difference is attributable to the gender pay gap? Or do breadwinning mothers differ from breadwinning fathers in areas such as educational attainment and job prestige?
With this study as a point of departure, social scientists interested in such areas as gender, the family, and the life course, as well as many others, will have plenty of material to work with.
Photo by Gideon Tsang via flickr.com
After the recent shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, mass murders have once again occupied the attention of the American news media. From Aurora to Newtown to Washington, DC, one obvious trend among rampage shooters is that they are almost exclusively male. In a recent article for NPR, Linton Weeks asked members of the Homicide Research Working Group why women are so underrepresented among these shooters.
According to Lin Huff-Corzine of the University of Central Florida, women simply don’t kill as much as men. Examining FBI data, she and her colleagues found that:
Between 2001 and 2010, less than 8 percent of mass murder offenders in the U.S. were women, she says, adding that some of the women included in the statistics assisted in a crime but did not pull a trigger.
Candice Batton, the director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha explained that about 90-91% of homicide perpetrators were male. Men are more lethally violent than women in part due to their tendency to externalize blame for their personal problems, leading to “anger and hostility toward others.”
Batton says that women, on the other hand, “are more likely to develop negative attributions of blame that are internal in nature, that is: ‘The cause of my problems is some failing of my own: I didn’t try hard enough, I’m not good enough.’ And this, in turn, tends to translate into feelings of guilt and depression that are targeted toward oneself.”
Photo by mtume_soul via flickr.com
The Millenial Generation is coming of age in an era of low voter turnout, weak and waning labor union influence, and few civil protests compared to previous generations. Though this appears to paint a portrait of overall apathy, the young Millenials are not necessarily disengaged.
Last month, fast food workers, many of them young, in 60 cities and almost 1,000 restaurants across the country walked off their jobs in a demonstration for higher wages. In an article in the NYTimes, the workers involved in the walk-out received publicity for the “audacity of their demand,” a push to increase their hourly wages to $15. Currently, the majority of the 2.3 million fast food workers in America make no more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, well below a living wage. The media depiction of the strikers as naïve and audacious in their demands calls to mind the Occupy Wall Street movement. Once again, corporations are claiming that raising workers’ wages would place a financial burden on consumers and hurt businesses.
But if we’ve learned anything from the backlash against these protests, it’s that the situation is not black and white. Tali Kristal’s recent research, “How the Decline of American Unions Has Boosted Corporate Profits and Reduced Worker Compensation,” argues that the consumer versus poverty-wage worker dichotomy is faulty. Not only has the federal minimum wage failed to rise with the cost of living, but the literal percentage of corporate profits going to the worker is declining—with more of the profits being pocketed by already-wealthy individuals. This is happening as labor unions, which have historically defended workers’ rights, decline in power and influence. Kristal advocates a need for increased collective action in the form of labor unions and a redirected attention to where profits are actually going.
Perhaps the fast food worker walk-out is an example of this much-needed change. University of Washington sociologist Jake Rosenfeld believes that the walk-outs mark a shift in the previous decline of labor unionism and collective action, arguing, “The strikes could elevate the union movement’s standing among younger workers who have grown up in an era when unions have steadily lost membership and power.” In a generation of waning civil engagement, declining labor unions, and an overall aura of apathy, such demonstrations mark a renewed form of collective action.
Image excerpt from the Washington Post, created by Christina Rivero. Click for full image.
When thinking about the typical U.S. family, you might imagine a classic sitcom like The Brady Bunch: stay-at-home mom Carol, architect husband Mike, and six lovely children. At the time the show aired, a “blended” family of remarried adults was a bit of a novelty, sure, but it still stuck to the married mother and father, father is the breadwinner trope. And that’s still how many often picture U.S. families.
The Washington Post reports the findings of Ohio State University’s Department of Sociology on the living arrangements of U.S. children from birth to 17 years old. The researchers found that the children’s living arrangements varied distinctly by race. Asian children were most likely to live with a married mother and father, with only the father working, but that set-up only counted for 24% of living arrangements among Asian children. It turns out that dual-income households are the strong majority among both white and Asian children, and that both are more likely to live in dual-income households than either black or Hispanic children. Higher percentages of black and Hispanic children are living with their grandparents. Another notable statistic among black children is their greater likelihood of living with a single, never-married mother (this is true for nearly a quarter of all black kids).
No word yet on all white, three-boy, three-girl families with maids.
Does loneliness leave us less civically inclined? Photo by Jacques Nyemb via flickr.com.
Election year or not, questions about voting behavior are rarely lacking among political pundits. Face it, they need stuff to talk about. Who will turn out in next year’s mid-term elections? How will the “Obama coalition” break in 2016? Social scientists are also posing questions. For example, why don’t people vote after the death of a spouse?
A study of 5.86 million Californians before and after the 2009-2010 statewide elections showed that “11 percent of people who would have voted if their spouse were alive failed to make it to the polls even a year and a half after the death.” The research found that immediately after the death of a spouse, people were less likely to vote, and while widows and widowers slowly return to the polls over time, they did not vote as often as they did before.
One possible explanation draws upon a central theme of sociology—the interplay of personal and public life. This study suggests that a personal tragedy leads to a withdrawal from public life. As Emma Green writes in The Atlantic, “If that’s at least somewhat true, that public life seems less important when private life collapses, then it’s also worth looking at the inverse: Do strong relationships and stable private lives make people better citizens?”
The important insights on social life that may come out of extensions of this research into wider elections, different geographic areas, socioeconomic effects, and longer-term studies, may well give the pundits and commentators something to talk about until 2016.