A (Private) Room with a View

Many college students are opting for single rooms to avoid dealing with awkward roommates. Photo by Katie Brady via flickr.com

College students opt for single rooms to avoid awkward roommates. Photo by Katie Brady via flickr.com

Rites of passage as a new college student often involve  wandering lost around campus, sampling the mystery meat in the dining hall, and - that first awkward social encounter - meeting your roommate. At least that’s how it used to be. The Atlantic shares a new trend in college life, the single dorm room.

More and more schools are offering single room options, bypassing the awkward roommate relationship navigation that has been one of the hallmarks of college life. One university even converted its double occupancy dorms into “super singles.” Having your own room does ensure privacy, personal space, and avoidance of bad roommates, but students and experts are lamenting the loss of the college roommate.

One student explains potential problems saying:

With a private room, it’s very easy to find yourself cut off from a social life. If you just go back to your room as soon as class is over, you’re never going to meet anyone new or have any experiences beyond those in the classroom.

There is more at stake than an invitation to parties; having a social life includes learning how to interact with people of many cultures and backgrounds. Learning how to navigate the social world is crucial for young adults. Sociologist and social sciences dean at New York University Dalton Conley agrees that the loss of the college roommate could be very detrimental.

“Roommates simply teach us to be tolerant and adapt,” Conley says. “In our increasingly customized, digitized, on-demand world, there are not many experiences that provide this sort of socialization.”

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Want a better marriage? Spend more time with your spouse

Photo by Trace Nietert via flickr.com

Photo by Trace Nietert via flickr.com

Marriage in the U.S. today: the best is better, but the average is worse, according to psychologist Eli J. Finkel in an opinion piece for The New York Times. (Without further clarification, this appears to be a discussion of heterosexual marriage.) Finkel reports that the happiest couples are happier both with their marriages and in general, while the average married person is less satisfied and likelier to divorce than in the past.

That’s because we are sizing up our spouses in the era of the “self-expressive marriage,” Finkel explains, drawing on the ideas of sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin and historian Stephanie Coontz. No longer are we satisfied with our family life as a means to filling our bellies, providing shelter, or even giving us love–many of us now expect marriage to yield “self-discovery, self-esteem, and personal growth.”

Marriages fall short of this ideal, Finkel argues, in part because people aren’t putting in the time with their spouses required for satisfaction. Whether it is working more or parenting more intensively, the average couple is logging hours elsewhere. And the divorce rate is higher for poor, less educated Americans, whose lack of time and energy for sustaining high-quality marriages Finkel attributes to exposure to trends such as “unemployment, juggling multiple jobs, and so on.”

Finkel devotes a quick sentence to government and workplace policy solutions (perhaps discussed in more depth in the forthcoming scientific write-up). As far as what individuals can do, Finkel’s advice boils down to a) spend more time together or b) if more together time isn’t possible, consider looking to marriage for love rather than for self-expression.

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McSenior Center

Photo by Kai Brinker via flickr.com

Photo by Kai Brinker via flickr.com

A recent incident where police officers removed elderly “loiterers” from a McDonald’s in Queens has sparked a debate over the phenomenon of spaces such as McDonald’s and Starbucks being used as impromptu senior centers. In her article for the New York TimesStacy Torres makes excellent use of sociological ideas when defending the use of these spaces for socializing. She argues that the use of these public places as a sort of social club helps these Manhattan seniors avoid isolation and keep much needed social bonds. She turns to sociologists to explain the phenomenon:

Ray Oldenburg, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of West Florida, calls these gathering spots “third places,” in contrast to the institutions of work and family that organize “first” and “second” places. He sees bookstores, cafes, and fast food joints as necessary yet endangered meeting points that foster community, often among diverse people. The Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson likens public settings such as Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia to a “cosmopolitan canopy,” where people act with civility and converse with others to whom they might never otherwise speak.

Torres explains that since many of the neighborhood places such as local bakeries or cafes have disappeared, these seniors are forced to turn to institutions such as these fast food restaurants in order to provide structure and routine to their lives.


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Almost Human

Photo by Jason Toff via flickr.com

Photo by Jason Toff via flickr.com

You don’t have to carry your pet around with you in a purse for the special animal in your life to be like another member of the family. For those of us with pets, it is easy to forget that your furry friend is actually animal, rather than human.

Given our deep attachments to our pets, University of Warwick sociologist Nickie Charles encourages fellow social scientists investigating kinship and community to seriously consider humans’ relationships with their pets. Drawing on 249 qualitative responses regarding pets, she writes, “People turn to animals for companionship and intimacy; pets provide the ontological security which is no longer forthcoming from relations with humans, which are fragile, fluid and contingent.”

Beyond the role that pets play in the lives of their owners, examining these human-animal relationships may lead to a deeper understanding of the ways humans form relationships with one another.

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The Height of Romance

Photo by Emiliano Horcada via flickr.com

Photo by Emiliano Horcada via flickr.com

When it comes to love, it’s what’s inside that counts…assuming you measure up.

Business Standard reports on the findings of Rice University sociology professor Michael Emerson, who found that women really do prefer tall men. Emerson’s study data showed that women preferred tall men for two reasons: feminity and protection.

One woman from the study said she wanted to feel delicate and protected at the same time. Sociologically, the preference for taller men seems to play into stereotypical gender roles and patriarchal society. Men weren’t as concerned with matters of height, but when they did weigh in, they preferred shorter women.

University of North Texas sociology professor George Yancy says, “The masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors. And in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value.”

In that case, instead of peering up into a man’s eyes this Valentine’s Day, I might just stand on a chair.

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Looking for Love in Hookup Culture

Photo by Courtney Carmody via flickr.com

Photo by Courtney Carmody via flickr.com

Many parents worry that college will introduce their kids to a realm of unmediated romps between the sheets, but for all the very public discussions about “hooking up,” the trend of unceremonious sex didn’t start with this generation. Despite common portrayals of unchecked, excessive sexuality on university campuses, the Millennial generation isn’t having more casual sex than the Baby Boomers did in their time. In an online article for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Charlotte Lieberman turns to sociology to explain why modern college romance (or the lack thereof) is “so screwed up.”

Lieberman draws from Michael Kimmel’s Guyland, which argues that our society rewards those who follow the “rules” of masculinity and show “no fears, no doubts, and no vulnerabilities.” This type of emotional detachment has become a common defense mechanism in the dating world, says Lieberman, as women are often applauded for taking on attitudes typical of men.

Most of my peers would say ‘You go, girl’ to a young woman who is career-focused, athletically competitive, or interested in casual sex.

Some feminists have viewed casual sex as an example of women’s liberation, as the freedom to break gender norms and act more masculine. However, according to sociologist Lisa Wade, this “freedom” doesn’t go both ways.

[No one says] “You go, boy!” when a guy feels liberated enough to learn to knit, decide to be a stay-at-home dad, or learn ballet.

According to both Kimmel and Wade, our culture celebrates “thick skin” and emotional detachment in sexuality, rather than the transgression of gender norms. Hookup culture has created a dating field with a “whoever-cares-less-wins” attitude.

With emoticons and emojis replacing emotions, another complication of modern-day dating, according to Lieberman, is modern-day technology. Text messaging has become a main form of communication, and Millennials have developed self-screening skills that model Kimmel’s rules of emotional distance.

[When responding to a guy’s text,] it can’t be 10 minutes on the dot, because then it is obvious you were waiting. It should be longer than 15 minutes to show you’re not desperate but within the 45-minute window if you are trying to lay groundwork for that evening.

What is “screwed up” about dating, according to Lieberman and sociologists, is not that this generation has become emotionally desensitized by casual sex, but that Millennials are looking for love in the midst of a culture that views emotional apathy as empowering and possesses the digital means to censor any emotions they may experience.

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Un-tying the Knot

Photo by mandaloo via flickr.com

Photo by Michael Swan via flickr.com

Contrary to conservatives’ emphasis on family values, sociologist Jennifer Glass at the University of Texas at Austin concludes that “red” states have higher divorce rates than their “blue” counterparts. Although previous studies have argued that socioeconomic factors, such as financial strain, explain this difference, Glass and her team of researchers found that it is actually specific elements of conservative Protestant culture that contributed to this higher divorce rate. Religious conservatives are more likely to emphasize abstinence before marriage and discourage living together without being married. They also marry and start having children younger than other demographic groups. All of these factors, Glass argues, contribute to marriage instability and the higher rates of divorce in states like Alabama and Arkansas than in more liberal states.

Other scholars, including sociologist Phil Cohen, have examined the overall decrease in divorce during the recent economic recession. From 2009-2011, couples seemed to be sticking together through tough financial times. However, as the economy has rebounded, so has the divorce rate. Rather than pulling together to overcome economic hardship, it seems that couples have postponed divorce until they could afford it.

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin, who studies changes in marriage over time, asserts that this is far from a surprising or unique trend, telling the LA Times, “This is exactly what happened in the 1930s. The divorce rate dropped during the Great Depression not because people were happier with their marriages, but because they couldn’t afford to get divorced.”

The Persistence of the Second Shift

Photo by Kristine Lewis via flickr.com

Photo by Kristine Lewis via flickr.com

A survey about how Americans spend their time reports that men and women are finally working similar numbers of hours per week, at the office and in the home. That means the end of women bearing the bulk of the domestic load, right? Wrong.

The Wall Street Journal Online explores the different ways mothers and fathers spend their time in an article adapted from Jennifer Senior’s new book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.” Though men are pitching in more around the house, it seems that women are still doing the more arduous domestic tasks, a phenomenon that sociologist Arlie Hochschild termed “the second shift.”

Senior points out one of the fundamental problems: “Not all work is created equal. An hour spent on one kind of task is not necessarily the equivalent of an hour spent on another.”

For instance, taking care of children is often more stressful and strenuous than other solitary and monotonous domestic tasks, like washing dishes. One woman in Senior’s book describes doing the dishes as an opportunity to sit in the kitchen and let her mind wander. When put that way, it sounds a lot less stressful than wrangling toddlers.

Women also tend to be responsible for time-sensitive tasks. Getting kids ready for school or carting them off to extracurricular activities on time can greatly add to a woman’s stress. This leads women to do more multi-tasking than men. Having to manage time so strictly can cause mothers to worry and feel a constant sense of urgency.

Although it seems we have come a long way with men and women dividing chores on the domestic front, when we break it down to the stress and demand involved with individual tasks, women are still bearing the brunt of household management and childrearing.

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Spirituality? There’s an app for that

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov via flickr.com

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov via flickr.com

University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright has developed SoulPulse, an app that asks research participants twice a day about their activities, thoughts, and feelings.

Wright, working with pastor and author John Ortberg, hopes to enroll 10,000 people in the study over the next three years, to gain a better understanding of how people – believers and atheists and everything in between – define spirituality for themselves.

“Everyone – well, almost everyone – is spiritual or religious.  Now, we have an app to find out, what do they mean when they say that,” Wright said in an interview with the Washington Post.

This study implicitly draws from the late Robert Bellah’s argument that liberal Protestantism has declined even as it’s been successfully incorporated into mainstream spiritual and secular values and discussions. The individual experiences of spirituality reported by the SoulPulse app combined with the appearance of liberal Protestant doctrine across many belief systems makes for an intriguing sociological link between the public and the private in 21st century American spirituality.



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An Unlikely Rap Sheet

Photo by Fora de Eixo via flickr.com

Photo by Fora de Eixo via flickr.com

Hearkening back to Tipper Gore’s contested campaign against violent rap music, using rap lyrics as a conviction tool in criminal investigations is not as uncommon as you might think. Onthemedia.org discussed police work and rap lyrics with Kathleen Horan and the use of rap lyrics as evidence with University of California, Irvine sociologist Charis Kubrin.

Horan asserts that rap lyrics can and are being used to police gangs. Police have been able to locate videos of certain crews taunting other crews in the form of rap music. The lyrics don’t necessarily name a victim or perpetrator but are suggestive of the circumstances of crimes. Horan points to lyrics from one of the Flock crew’s raps, that was posted to YouTube, as an example:

Better take your last breath, yeah.

Next time I see your name comin’

It’s at the [  ? ]

And I didn’t really want to do it

But I had to

Put myself in your shoes

This [ ? ] I’d be mad too…

Horan asserts that, while one rap video isn’t going to be enough to bring down a crew, rap lyrics do and should operate as a component of an investigation.

Sociologist Charis Kubrin tells a different side of the story through the experiences of aspiring rapper Tosin. Tosin was found guilty of making terroristic threats based on the “incriminating evidence” of his rap lyrics. The racial stereotypes surrounding rap music, Kubrin believes, make guilty convictions more likely in these scenarios, and as a result, she argues that rap lyrics are prejudicial and shouldn’t be used in court.

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