Tag Archives: work

what’s at stake in wisconsin

Protesting Scott Walker
In an op-ed published in the Raleigh-based paper, the Newsobserver, sociology Ph.D student Amanda Gengler provides insight into what is at stake in the current political struggle in Wisconsin. To do so Gengler draws upon her experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned her master’s degree.

As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 10 years ago, every month a few dollars of my stipend went to pay dues to the TAA; a unique union that represents and protects graduate employees working in the UW-System. In return, I worked under a contract that ensured full health care benefits and basic dental care (with no out-of-pocket premiums), and tuition remission (without which my education would not have been possible) as well as other fair labor protections.

Now, even after each subsequent renegotiation of the rights for Wisconsin’s graduate employees has resulted in more and more concessions, current Gov. Scott Walker is proposing to remove the TAA’s collective bargaining rights altogether. This would make it impossible to fight for any of these protections, all of which could be immediately revoked.

Graduate students are not alone in seeing this as an attack on the education system.

Under the rallying cry “Hands off our Teachers,” undergraduates have taken to the streets in recent days alongside their graduate student instructors.

Gengler cautions us to not see this as an isolated threat directed at the University system.

Wisconsin’s 3,000 graduate student workers are but one of the many constituencies that will be directly harmed by the state government’s attack on unions and workers’ rights. As Wisconsin’s unions offer up economic concessions in terms of pay and premiums, only to be completely rebuffed by state lawmakers, it is clear that this issue is not about the budget: it is about ending workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The op-ed serves as a call for all workers and unions to pay close attention to what is occurring in Wisconsin. While the situation appears bleak, Gengler leaves us with a statement of resolve:

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have those rights know what they are worth, and the thousands who continue to flood Madison’s streets make it clear that the right to fight is one thing they will not concede.


fleshing out the flesh trade

male's eye  (mental masturbation)In February’s issue of Wired (now available online), Columbia sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh helps us understand the life of a prostitute in New York City and how the trade has been transformed by advances in technology.

While Venkatesh’s initial goal was to examine how the gentrification of Times Square and other areas of New York City would impact the sex trade, he quickly found himself documenting the rise of a new type of sex worker.

The economies of big cities have been reshaped by a demand for high-end entertainment, cuisine, and “wellness” goods. In the process, “dating,” “massage,” “escort,” and “dancing” have replaced hustling and streetwalking. A luxury brand has been born.

The shift has resulted in an increase in both the price of, and level of respect for, prostitutes. Technology has played a large part in this as it allows clients to find companionship without resorting to driving the streets.

The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue.

Most exciting about this short piece was the amount of information conveyed in about ½ a page of writing through the use of a wide array of supplemental graphics. A map is used to show the movement of sex workers to trendier, more upscale districts in Manhattan. And a compilation of images, statistics, and well-chosen quotes demonstrate the divide between types of sex work, as well as the infusion of technology into the escort services. For instance, Facebook is quickly becoming a medium for advertising adult-services and a BlackBerry phone has come to symbolize a professional (and disease-free) status.

The Mancession

domino sugarIn a recent article in the New York Times, economics professor Nancy Folbre helps us understand why men have not only experienced greater job loss during the current recession but have also continued to suffer during the economic recovery.

As Folbre explains, the higher job loss does not come without historical precedence.

The Great Recession has sometimes been dubbed the Mancession because it drove unemployment among men higher than unemployment among women. Because men tend to work in more cyclical industries than women, they have historically lost more jobs on the downturn and gained more on the upturn.

However, the current upturn, has not followed this trend due to the decline in the jobs that men usually fill.

For example, men constitute more than 71 percent of the work force in manufacturing but less than 25 percent of the workers in health and education services…These two employment categories were similar in size in 2000, but manufacturing employment has failed to rise, even in non-recession years. Employment in health and education, in contrast, has risen slowly, but steadily.

The question than becomes, why aren’t more men moving to jobs traditionally occupied by women? Holbre turns to Stanford sociologists Maria Charles and David B. Grusky’s book Occupational Ghettos who illustrate how “gender segregation is a remarkably persistent and complex phenomenon shaped by deep cultural beliefs.” Or to put it more simply, men don’t want the jobs that are thought of as being ‘for women’.

With nursing and home health being projected to grow the most rapidly between now and 2018 and manufacturing jobs continuing to be outsourced to overseas locations, it appears it might be time for men to trade in the work boots for  some tasteful loafers.

Crime and Community

After the recent shock of a federal indictment of 29 Somali and Somali American individuals on sex trafficking charges, the New York Times reports on the Minnesota Somali community’s attempts to deal with the situation.

The allegations of organized trafficking, unsealed this month, were a deep shock for the tens of thousands of Somalis in the Minneapolis area, who fled civil war and famine to build new lives in the United States and now wonder how some of their youths could have strayed so far. Last week, in quiet murmurings over tea and in an emergency public meeting, parents and elders expressed bewilderment and sometimes outrage — anger with the authorities for not acting sooner to stop the criminals, and with themselves for not saving their young.

The indictment was the latest in a series of jolting revelations starting around 2007, when a spate of deadly shootings in the Twin Cities made it impossible to ignore the emergence of Somali gangs. Then came the discovery that more than 20 men had returned to Somalia to fight for Islamic extremists, bringing what many Somalis feel has been harsh and unfair scrutiny from law enforcement and the news media.

A sociologist weighs in on why this pattern of problems seems to be continuing:

Cawo Abdi, a Somali sociologist at the University of Minnesota, said that past surges in concern about troubled youths had not been followed up with money and programs to help them. “This is viewed as such a huge scandal and outrage,” she said of the new charges, “that it has to lead to some kind of action.”

Read the rest of the article for discussion of some of the challenges facing Somali people in the Twin Cities.

Out of Soap

Bathroom SinkThe recent ending of several long-running daytime soap operas has social scientists discussing the reasons for this TV genre’s decline and its legacy. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

Soap operas, that staple of the daytime television schedule, have taken it on the chin lately. Two titans of the genre – “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns,” ended impressive runs in the past year. “World,” which went dark Sept. 17, wrapped 54 years of fictional history for the folks of Oakdale, Ill. And “Light,” which began as a radio show in the 1930s, spanned nearly three-quarters of a century by the time it was dropped a year ago. These departures leave only six daytime “soaps” on the three broadcast TV networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), down from nearly two dozen at the height of demand for the daily serials.

One factor could be the move of more women into work outside the home.

The daily, quick serialized story, born and sponsored on radio by soap companies primarily to sell laundry products to housewives at home during the day, has evolved in lock step with the changing lives of that target female audience, says sociologist Lee Harrington from Miami University. “Serialized storytelling has been around for thousands of years but this particular, endless world of people, who could almost be your real neighbors they feel so temporal and all present, is disappearing,” she says, as women have moved into the workplace and out of the home during the day.

Adds a professor in communication studies:

These prime-time shows have incorporated the focus on character and emotion that endeared the soap operas to women, says Villanova University’s Susan Mackey-Kallis. But, she adds, just as women’s interests have expanded beyond the home to incorporate careers and public lives, “their taste in entertainment has expanded to include more interweaving of character with traditional plot-driven stories.”

But other experts are quick to acknowledge the debt owed to daytime soaps by other forms of television entertainment.

The handwriting began appearing on the wall as prime-time storytellers began to adapt the techniques of the daily soap to weekly evening dramas, which were predominantly episodic and plot-driven, says media expert Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. Seminal shows from “Hill Street Blues” through “The Sopranos” owe a debt to the character-heavy, serialized storytelling techniques of the soap opera genre, he adds.

“The daytime soaps really gave birth to the great narrative elements we now see in the highly developed prime-time dramas,” he points out.

“Welcome, fellow non-breeders!”

NaptimeA recent story in the Star Tribune explores the recently documented trend of women delaying the birth of their first child or choosing to not have children altogether.

More than ever before, women are deciding to forgo childbearing in favor of other life-fulfilling experiences, a trend that has been steadily on the rise for decades. Census data says that nationally, the number of women 40 to 44 who did not have children jumped 10 percentage points from 1983 to 2006.

As University of Minnesota sociologist Ross Macmillan explains, the childless trend is not limited to the United States.

The number of children born is dropping “like a stone in pretty much every country we
can find,” he said, and the United States has seen a 50-year rise in the number of  childless women.

There are also a large number of women choosing to delay childbirth. State Demographic Center research analyst Martha McMurry points out that while there has been a decline in births among women in their 20s, the number of women having children in their 30s and 40s is increasing.

This delay is in part attributed to the high cost of having and raising a child, estimated at $250,000 by some studies,  as well as the potential negative repercussions in the workplace.

“Actually, while it is true that women can have it all, it is also true that women who have children suffer from some penalties in the workplace,” said University of Minnesota associate professor Ann Meier.

She was referencing Stanford sociologist Shelley Correll’s research that shows that mothers looking for work are less likely to be hired, are offered lower pay (5 percent less per child) and that the pay gap between mothers and childless women under 35 is
actually bigger than the pay gap between women and men.

As the numbers of women choosing not to have children has risen, groups organized around the decision have sprung up.

In the Twin Cities, a one-year-old Childfree by Choice group’s numbers are growing
weekly. On Meetup.com, the site through which it is organized, other such groups are
cropping up nationwide, with such names as No Kidding and Not a Mom.

For many of these women children are simply not seen as the key ingredient to living a good life.

Aleja Santos, 44, a medical ethics researcher who started the Twin Cities Childfree by
Choice group a year ago (greeting members on the site with “Welcome, fellow non-
breeders!”), said she never wanted to have kids. “There were always other things I
wanted to do.”

july effect

IMG_8196
USA Today reports on a recent study  that provides evidence for a “July effect” when it comes to medical mistakes.

The so-called July effect has long been suspected. It’s based on the fact that new U.S. doctors start their residencies (in-hospital training) each July 1 in thousands of “teaching hospitals” nationwide. But until recently, the idea that hospitals are especially dangerous in July was little studied.

Other studies have found no such effect when it comes to major surgical mistakes, but this new study hones in on another area of concern:

“It looks like medication error is the place to worry” about a July effect, says David Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California-San Diego. He reviewed 62 million deaths between 1979 and 2006 and focused on 244,388 fatal drug errors. The study found no spike in such deaths outside of hospitals or in counties without teaching hospitals.

And, Phillips says, he found no sign such deaths were decreasing amid rising concerns about patient safety and residents’ long work hours (which were cut in 2003). More study is needed, he says, to see if non-fatal drug errors also rise in July.

Phillips was also interviewed on NPR and discussed some potential contributors to the July effect. In addition to being inexperienced and overtired, medical residents may make more mistakes because they tend to work alone. Phillips contrasts this with surgical residents who, although also tired and inexperienced, tend to work in teams.  This factor may help prevent a similar spike in surgical errors during July.

reluctant to leave the nest

The New York Times explores social science research about a new stage of life: emerging adulthood.

[A] growing body of research shows that the real Peter Pans are not the boomers, but the generations that have followed. For many, by choice or circumstance, independence no longer begins at 21.

Young people in the U.S., it seems, are taking their time reaching the traditional milestones of adulthood:

People between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent, said Frank F. Furstenberg, who leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a team of scholars who have been studying this transformation.

“A new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults,” Mr. Furstenberg said.

National surveys reveal that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including younger adults, agree that between 20 and 22, people should be finished with school, working and living on their own. But in practice many people in their 20s and early 30s have not yet reached these traditional milestones.

Marriage and parenthood — once seen as prerequisites for adulthood — are now viewed more as lifestyle choices, according to a new report released by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

One component of this shift is that young people are relying on their parents longer than previous generations. While parents used to invest most in their kids during the teen years, parental support now continues into the 20s.

In the late 1990s, however, parents’ spending patterns began to shift so that the flow of money was greatest when their children were either very young or in their mid-20s.”

More people in their 20s are also living with their parents. About one-fourth of 25-year-old white men lived at home in 2007 — before the latest recession — compared with one-fifth in 2000 and less than one-eighth in 1970.

The sizable contribution from parents not only strains already stressed middle-class and poor families, researchers argue, but could also affect institutions that have traditionally supported young adults in this period, like nonresidential and community colleges and national service programs.

Some young people are not just delaying milestones, but are redefining what it means to be an adult:

For many, marriage has disappeared as a definition of traditional adulthood, as more and more younger people live together. Today 40 percent of births are to unmarried mothers, an increase from 28 percent in 1990.

At the same time, more women are remaining childless, either by choice or circumstance. Twenty percent of women in their 40s do not have children, Mr. Furstenberg said, pointing out that “not having children would have been considered bizarre or tragic in the ’50s; now it’s a lifestyle choice.”

mommy’s – and daddy’s – time out

Swedish Dads, Skansen

The New York Times features an in-depth look at paternity leave in Sweden:

From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.

In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.

“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” …“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

Of course, these policies are not without controversy and do come at a price. Sociologists, along with several other social scientists, weigh in:

The least enthusiastic [about paternity leave], in fact, are often mothers. In a 2003 survey by the Social Insurance Agency, the most commonly cited reason for not taking more paternity leave, after finances, was mother’s preference, said Ann-Zofie Duvander, a sociologist at Stockholm University who worked at the agency at the time.

Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Yet Sweden looks well balanced: at 2.1 percent and 40 percent of G.D.P., respectively, public deficit and debt levels are a fraction of those in most developed economies these days, testimony perhaps to fiscal management born of a banking crisis and recession in the 1990s. High productivity and political consensus keep the system going.

“There are remarkably few complaints,” said Linda Haas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University currently at the University of Goteborg. With full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month, “people feel that they are getting their money’s worth.”

Despite the challenges that Sweden’s extended parental leave may present for some employers, the trend doesn’t shows signs of slowing:

But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.

Check out the rest of the article.

blurring the black-white binary

IMG_0204ImmokaleeBillRichardsonLOWScienceBlog recently reported on a new study that finds that darker-skin Latinos earn less money on average than light-skin Latinos.  While some wish to be accepted as “white,” many experience  discrimination based on skin color:

The results suggest that the rapid influx of Latino immigrants will shift the boundaries of race in the United States, but will not end skin-color-based discrimination.

“It is likely we will see change in our racial categories, but there will not be one uniform racial boundary around all Latinos,” said Reanne Frank, co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

“Some Latinos will be successful in the bid to be accepted as ‘white’ — usually those with lighter skin. But for those with darker skin and those who are more integrated into U.S. society, we believe there will be a new Latino racial boundary forming around them.”

In filling out surveys, separate questions about race and ethnicity have become increasingly challenging for Latinos to answer:

Under the current census form, Hispanics and Latinos have been set apart as an ethnic group and are instructed to choose the race that best fits them. The 2000 Census had six categories, and the 2010 Census has 15 categories, but “Latino or Hispanic” is not one of the options.

“We are hearing stories from Census takers that many Latinos say the race question does not fit them. They are confused by why they can’t label their race as ‘Hispanic or Latino,’” Frank said.

In the 2000 Census, about 50 percent of those who marked “Hispanic or Latino” as their ethnicity chose “some other race” as their racial category. That has been interpreted by many researchers as them attempting to assert an alternative Latino racial identity, she said.

Thus, Frank suggests the emergence of Latino as a new racial classification in the U.S. as opposed to an ethnic identity:

“We believe the more-integrated immigrants have faced discrimination in the country, and realize that ‘white’ is not an identity that is open to them. They may be trying to develop a new alternative Latino racial category,” Frank said.

“It appears that some with lighter skin will be able to pass as white, but others with darker skin will not and will continue to face discrimination.”

Frank said it is not possible at this time to tell what proportion of Latino immigrants will be accepted as white, and how many will be forced into a new racial category.