Tag Archives: inequality

Maximizing Your Parental Investment: 10 Easy Steps*

Photo by Travis Barfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Travis Barfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

Forbes Magazine recently highlighted some shocking numbers. According to the USDA,

A child born in 2012 will cost his parents $241,080 in 2012 dollars, on average [in the first 17 years of life]… And children of higher-earning families drain the bank account more: Families earning more than $105,000 annually can expect to spend $399,780 per child.

That works out to about $14,000 a year on the low end. Now that, as author Laura Shin points out, is a big investment—especially when kids used to be contributors to the household economy, not drains on it. Today, NYU professor Dalton Conley calls on research from colleague Viviana Zelizer who says “kids are emotionally priceless and economically worthless.” And yet, “We think of them as our most important life project.”

In a hard economy in a country with high inequality, parental investment in children is truly important, Conley goes on. “We know… that investments at home in time, energy and from birth and before are what actually develop kids that are successful in terms of this knowledge economy.” And those successful kids will get into better schools, have better jobs, and maybe even be able to support their parents into old age. But how do can parents get the best return on this investment?

That question, Shin writes, is at least partially answered with Conley’s new book Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know about the Science of Raising Children But Were Too Exhausted to Ask. Along with Conley, she goes on to boil down the how-to for investing in your child to ten easy (well, depending on means, time, and commitment) steps. Be sure to click on over for all the good stuff on number, timing, names, parental work decisions, public v. private school, bribes, ADD, and whether to “stay together for the kids.” In the meantime, Shin concludes, “The most important guideline is to make your actions speak louder than you words.” Parenting the Warren Buffett way!

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*Edited to better contextualize the USDA’s numbers and why parents’ investment might have an ROI at all (someone’s got to foot the bill for all those Golden Years we’ve heard so much about… particularly if we blew all our cash on soccer lessons). Another reader points out that it’s worth looking at all the sociology on how to maximize returns by minimizing investment (that is, not having children at all).

 
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Development and Climate Change

Photo by Nicolas Raymond via flickr.com

Photo by Nicolas Raymond via flickr.com

Is economic development compatible with environmental sustainability? Are “green jobs” the way of the future? Those questions are at the center of sociologist Andrew Jorgenson‘s research on the economic activity and carbon emissions of 106 countries.

Analyzing data from 1970 to 2009, Jorgenson calculated a ratio of carbon emissions to life expectancy at birth, and then compared it with each country’s gross domestic product. The results are not encouraging. Jorgenson found that in all regions of the world except for Africa, development is linked with an increase in carbon emissions. Africa may be the exception that proves the rule. Jorgenson noted that, since 1995, African nations have experienced much more carbon-intensive development in exchange for increasing life expectancies of their populations.

Achieving the three-legged stool of economic growth, reduced harm to the environment, and improved human health will not be easy, and Jorgenson is skeptical that technological advancements alone are likely to accomplish the task. “We need to start seriously thinking differently about solutions to these sustainability challenges and recognizing that hoping for technology and engineering solutions … is probably not the way to go,” Jorgenson said.

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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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4.0 in School Violence

Photo by Alberto G. via flickr.com

Photo by Alberto G. via flickr.com

For many students, school violence, including bullying and physical fighting, is a daily concern and a regular experience. But what effects do these experiences or observations of violence within school have on students’ educational achievement?

Sociologist Julia Burdick-Will’s research on this question has uncovered some surprising and seemingly contradictory answers. She found that school violence had a negative effect on standardized test scores but yielded no changes in GPA. Burdick-Will argues that these findings may not be as oppositional as they first seem and suggests,

Violent crime rates affect the amount of material learned by the entire student body, but not the study skills or effort of individual students. GPAs, she points out, not only reflect learning, but also student behavior and standing within the classroom. Test scores are a more objective measure of content knowledge and performance on a given day.

In an age where school funding is increasingly reliant on standardized test scores rather than GPA, Burdick-Will’s findings suggest that unaddressed violence within schools could continue to have “lasting impacts on individual life chances and national levels of inequality.”



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Pink Ribbons for Africa

Photo by Shardayyy via flickr.com

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.”

Why Are Poor White Women Dying Younger than Their Moms?

Photo by Kris Mouser-Brown via flickr.com

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.”



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A New South Africa?

A child is fed in the South African refugee camp De Dooms. Photo by Courtney Brooks via flickr.com.

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.

Inequality from 15,000 ft.

According to a recent article on treehugger.com, you can spot income inequality from space. Yes, you read that correctly. If you look at the pictures below, you should be able to spot a clear difference between the two neighborhoods.

Piedmont and Oakland, CA (Courtesy Per Square Mile, Public Domain Photos)

Piedmont and Oakland, CA (Courtesy Per Square Mile, Public Domain Photos)

Pictures can say a thousand words, but these can be summed up pretty quickly.  Put simply, more affluent communities can afford more space for trees. They also place more value on growing and maintaining them.

In fact, according to Tim DeChant, Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and creator of Per Square Mile,

for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent… The researchers reason that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees.

These trees also reinforce inequalities by providing shade, improving the air quality, and even improving the mental health of those around. As the article notes, “[I]t all makes a pretty powerful argument in favor of tree-planting initiatives in lower income neighborhoods.”

Parting Ways on “Coming Apart”

Working Class HeroIf you’re familiar with his previous books, Losing Ground and The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, you won’t be surprised to learn that Charles Murray’s new book is ruffling more than a few scholarly feathers. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week outlines the ruckus and a few sociologists weigh in.

The Chronicle summarizes the book:

Mr. Murray’s newest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Forum), makes a pretense of making nice. It bills itself as an attempt to alleviate divisiveness in American society by calling attention to a growing cultural gap between the wealthy and the working class.

Focused on white people in order to set aside considerations of race and ethnicity, it discusses trends, like the growing geographic concentration of the rich and steadily declining churchgoing rates among the poor, that social scientists of all ideological leanings have documented for decades. It espouses the virtues of apple-pie values like commitment to work and family.

But Mr. Murray, a Harvard and MIT-educated political scientist, seems wired like a South Boston bar brawler in his inability to resist the urge to provoke. In the midst of all of his talk about togetherness, he puts out there his belief that the economic problems of America’s working class are largely its own fault, stemming from factors like the presence of a lot of lazy men and morally loose women who have kids out of wedlock. Moreover, he argues, because of Americans’ growing tendency to pair up with the similarly educated, working-class children are increasingly genetically predisposed to be on the dim side.

(This is the point where heads turn, fists clench, and a hush is broken by the sound of liberal commenters muttering, “Oh no he didn’t.”)

Even Murray seems to know that his conclusions and brand of social scientific analysis and commentary may not sit well in academic circles:

“I am sure there are still sociology departments where people would cross themselves if I came into the room,” he said in an interview last week.

While some sociologists, such as Claude S. Fischer, think that Murray’s book will likely not get much play in scholarly circles, Dalton Conley notes that Murray is:

“probably the most influential social-policy thinker in America” thanks to his engaging writing style and his ability to make complex ideas accessible to wide audiences. “He is like the Carl Sagan of social policy,” Mr. Conley said, “but with an ideological slant.”

A flashpoint for many social scientists has long been Murray’s use of social scientific research, methods, and rhetoric. Conley explains how Murray’s use of social science may mislead readers on both theoretical and methodological grounds:

Although his descriptions of societal problems echo a lot of research performed by other scholars, he takes leaps in naming the causes or proposing solutions. Mr. Conley …said the idea that certain values, such as religiosity, lead to financial success “is a big, big assumption that outpaces the evidence,” because social scientists cannot conclusively prove such causal relationships without conducting randomized experiments on humans.

It is entirely possible, he said, that religiosity and financial success go hand in hand not because the former causes the latter, but because the latter causes the former, or both are the product of some other force not being considered.

Katherine Newman also adds:

Most social scientists continue to argue that it is economic hardship that leads to deterioration of working-class social conditions, not the other way around. “I don’t think there is any question that Americans in the working class, and those below the poverty line, have been hammered by the economic transformations that have robbed them of stable employment, and privileged those who are really well educated, giving them access to the only good jobs we have…”

In light of this disconnect, The Chronicle argues:

At the end of the day, the cultural and economic divide most illuminated by Coming Apart might be one found in scholarly publishing. On one side are authors and publishers who produce nuanced books that offer only conclusions stemming from research, and tend to be too esoteric for wide readership. On the other side are authors and publishers who cash in by producing best-selling polemics, in which research is used to buttress foregone conclusions.

Here at TSP, we’re trying to do something to bridge this very divide!

Look Out! There’s a Safety Net Below You

The state of affairs

Photo by Satish Krishnamurthy, satishk.tumblr.com

The U.S. social safety net continues to grab headlines, this week in the New York Times. We’ve noted before the play programs like food stamps are getting in the current presidential campaign. The NY Times article notes that, paradoxically, “Some of the fiercest advocates for spending cuts have drawn public benefits.” Why might this be?

An aging population and a recent, deep recession seem to be at the crux of the issue.

The problem by now is familiar to most. Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt. In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue, according to a New York Times analysis. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue.

The recent recession increased dependence on government, and stronger economic growth would reduce demand for programs like unemployment benefits. But the long-term trend is clear. Over the next 25 years, as the population ages and medical costs climb, the budget office projects that benefits programs will grow faster than any other part of government, driving the federal debt to dangerous heights.

As a result, many Americans have benefited from government safety net programs.

Almost half of all Americans lived in households that received government benefits in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The share climbed from 37.7 percent in 1998 to 44.5 percent in 2006, before the recession, to 48.5 percent in 2010.

Yet many do not realize that it is no longer just programs for the “undeserving poor” that dominate the scene. Rather, it’s programs such as an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and increasing Medicare costs that have stretched safety net resources.

Medicare’s starring role in the nation’s financial problems is not well understood. Only 22 percent of respondents to the New York Times poll correctly identified Medicare as the fastest-growing benefits program. A greater number of respondents, 27 percent, chose programs for the poor.

Why the misperception? Perhaps it’s because, as political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains in her book, The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy, policies in recent decades have turned from more obvious provision of cash benefits to methods such as tax breaks, incentives, and other “hidden” forms of support. As a result, most citizens  have no idea that they rely on the safety net at all.

No doubt politicians, commentators, and scholars will all continue to debate the form and function of the safety net. But everyday Americans aren’t at all sure what’s best to do.

Americans are divided about the way forward. Seventy percent of respondents to a recent New York Times poll said the government should raise taxes. Fifty-six percent supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Forty-four percent favored both.

As one Minnesotan profiled in the NY Times story put it, “I’m glad I’m not a politician…We’re all going to complain no matter what they do. Nobody wants to put a noose around their own neck.”