Women’s Lifecourse and Health at ASA

Weddings
Photo by Dawn Derbyshire via flickr.com

At the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver, researchers presented their on-going research to colleagues in the field. This week, several news sources have covered sociologists’ findings about how events in the lifecourse (like getting married, divorced, or having kids) are related to health issues.

Medical News Today reports on a study by Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske, finding that moms who work full-time are healthier at age 40 than are other mothers. Particularly concerning is that the least healthy mothers at age 40 are those who are persistently unemployed or in and out of work, not by choice. Consistent work, these findings suggest, may be good for women’s health.

Co-author Adrianne Frech, Assistant Sociology Professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, told the press, work is good for both physical and mental health, for many reasons:

“It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy.”

“They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they’re paid a wage,” she added.

NBC News details research conducted by Michael McFarland, Mark Hayward, and Dustin Brown exploring how marriage is related to biological risk factors, such as high blood pressure. They found that women who were continuously married for longer periods of time had fewer cardiovascular risks, whereas women with experiences of divorce or widowhood had increased risk factors.

For women, the researchers found, the longer the marriage, the fewer cardiovascular risk factors. The effect was significant but modest, McFarland said, with every 10 years of continuous marriage associated with a 13 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk.

But when marriage is disrupted, it can be hard on the health. Women who were continuously married had a 40 percent lower count of metabolic risk factors than women who experienced two episodes or divorce or widowhood, the researchers found.

Finally, Deseret News picked up on research presented by Corinne Reczek, Tetyana Pudroyska, and Debra Umberson (also highlighted on Citings&Sightings). Their research found that being in a long-term marriage was associated with more alcohol consumption for women (compared to divorced or recently widowed women). In an interesting contrast, however, married men drink less than other men.

Our survey results show that continuously divorced and recently widowed women consume fewer drinks that continuously married women,” they wrote. “Our qualitative results suggest this occurs because men introduce and prompt women’s drinking and because divorced women lose the influence of men’s alcohol use” when the marriage fails.

As these studies indicate, it is essential to consider how social factors may be related to health outcomes, and sociologists are well positioned to contribute cutting-edge research on these issues.

 

Women’s Work (Without the ERA)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Image: Lam Thuy Vo

Over at NPR’s Planet Money Blog, reporter Lam Thuy Vo takes a quick look at some of the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor to look at how women’s role in the economy (at least, on the employment side) has changed since 1972—coincidentally, the year the House and Senate both passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have mandated equal pay for equal work, but was not ratified by the states within the federal 10-year deadline.

Despite lacking legal backup in the fight against sex discrimination, women have certainly made strides in workforce participation in these forty years. They’ve gone from just 36.1% of the American workforce in 1972 to almost an even split at 49.3% in 2012. Vo further breaks out the gender division in workers across sectors for an interesting look at changing economies. It’s certainly worth a visit to look at not only how women’s roles in certain job categories have changed, but also how the proportion of those jobs in the American economy as a whole have changed in just four decades.

Barbara Risman on the “Mommy War” Distraction

Maternity Ward Cartoon by Mike Kline, dakinewavamon.blogspot.com

Kudos to University of Illinois sociologist and Council on Contemporary Families head Barbara Risman for putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, more likely) for CNN.com in an insightful commentary about why it is that the so-called Mommy Wars are a distraction—and how they’re keeping us from truly addressing work-life balance in the United States.

In her short piece, Risman points out just four of the many contradictions between society’s values and actions that put the lie to the valorization of care-giving, using research from sociology and beyond to demonstrate that post-war workplaces don’t (and, quite possibly, can’t) serve millenial families. In one particularly telling example, Risman writes:

Sociologist Mirra Komarovsky pointed out these contradictions back in 1953. She argued back then that if society truly believed caretaking was an important and difficult job, nursery school teachers would rate a salary at least equal to the beginning salary of a street cleaner. Not much has changed since then. As Stephanie Coontz, a historian and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, told me: “It’s time for politicians to stop competing over the women’s votes and start competing over who has the best programs to support all parents, whatever their employment status or their gender.”

She concludes with a succinct call to action: “Let’s call a truce on the fictional mommy wars and start a war on workplaces that don’t allow mommies and daddies to live full lives, on the job and at home.”

Multitasking Moms Bearing the Brunt

Photo by Liz Throop via flickr.com

Multitasking is taking a bigger toll on working mothers than on working fathers, confirms a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The authors suggest the key to the difference in stress may lie in which tasks each group is juggling. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the parents all spent nearly equal hours doing paid work, but the women were spending about nine more hours each week multitasking. In addition, that maternal multitasking often involved juggling housework and childcare.

The story for dads was a bit different, the Times wrote:

Multitasking by fathers was far less likely to involve child care, the study found, and unlike moms, dads tended to report they were more focused when in charge of their kids. Researchers said this jibes with much research showing that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage with their children in “interactive activities” that are “more pleasurable than routine child care tasks.” When mothers had child care duties, they were more likely to take the kids along on errands, drive them to activities or supervise their homework, the study found.

“This helps explain why women feel more burdened than men,” lead author Shira Offer, an assistant professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told Time. “It’s related not just to amount but to their experience when they multitask.”

Barbara Schneider, study co-author and a sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, also told the Los Angeles Times article that the families studied were not necessarily “typical American families”:

Participants in the 500 Family Study may not be representative of American families economically, educationally or by ethnicity, Schneider acknowledged. But by focusing on some of the busiest parents, she said, the study underscores the disproportionate emotional toll that multitasking may be taking on women as they shoulder a wider range of responsibilities in the family.

The take-away from the study, according to Time‘s interview with study author Offer:

Dads, pitch in more (without being asked!). Employers and policy-makers, make that possible by understanding that it’s not only mom who should transport the kids to day care and school or stay home with a sick child.

*Photo by Liz Throop, populational.com

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.”