july effect

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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.

unintended consequences of immigration

Video of the International Workers Day march in MinneapolisThe San Bernadino Sun recently reported on Louisiana State University sociologist Edward Shihadeh’s recently published research on the effect of Latino immigration on black labor market participation:

revisiting the motherhood penalty

1.4.10Women who have kids tend to earn less than women who don’t, a phenomenon known as the “motherhood penalty.” But USA Today reports that  that when a woman has children makes a difference.

Researchers at the University of Maryland in College Park and the University of California at Los Angeles reviewed 35 years of data from some 2,200 women born between 1944 and 1954, and found that women who had kids in the early- to mid-20s or even younger didn’t fare as well economically as those who delayed.

Sociologist Joan Kahn, one of the study’s authors, comments:

“Women who delay childbearing end up as successful economically as women who didn’t have children, and we look at it basically throughout their adult years — well into their 50s,” she says.

The point, she says, is that women who are younger when they have kids and attempt to get back into the workforce later may not have that up-front investment in education and training, which those who have kids later benefit from. They earned equivalent wages and had higher status occupations just like women who were childless.

moms craft for cash

California GirlsMore stay-at-home moms in the U.S. are going into business for themselves, Reuters reports:

The Small Business Administration says the number of self-employed women around the country jumped by 10 percent from 2000 to 2006, to 5.3 million.

For Lewis, an online marketplace called Etsy provided a place to sell her estate-style and faux vintage pieces. The website, www.etsy.com, lets craft makers set up their own virtual shops. It currently has more than 4.2 million users.

“It’s wonderful to be able to call my own shots,” Lewis said. “I can work at night, so if I want to do something with my family, I can.”

Launched in 2005, the Brooklyn, New York-based Etsy now has more than 400,000 sellers, most of whom are women, and posted more than $180 million in sales last year. Nearly 70 percent of sellers are college-educated.

Moms cite balance and flexibility as reasons to start their own online craft shops. A sociologist comments on the trend:

“Women are looking to both work and take care of families, but the traditional workplace doesn’t provide that opportunity, so they are looking for their own ingenious ways (to do that),” said Pamela Stone, a sociology professor at New York City’s Hunter College.

“What women are seeking is flexibility and these companies are providing them with this option,” said Stone, who wrote “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.”

debating diversity training

In a recent Boston Globe story, diversity consultants and social scientists debated the effects of workplace diversity training.  While diversity training programs are a common job requirement these days, they may look very different from one company to the next:

The courses vary widely, in content and duration and method and philosophy: Some are short videos followed by structured discussions, some are multiday retreats, some are informational, teaching participants about their “diversity circle” and the difference between a generalization and a stereotype, others focus on role-playing. But they all promise to help people better navigate the fault lines of race, gender, culture, class, and sexual orientation that can divide co-workers and unsettle offices.

Opinions about the programs are also varied, and good social science evidence for either side of the debate has been scarce:

Such programs have always been controversial, with critics arguing that they’re unnecessary and needlessly politicize the workplace. But despite the growth and prevalence of diversity training, there have been few attempts to systematically study it.

Now a few social scientists are taking a hard look at these programs, and, so far, what they’re finding is that there’s little evidence that diversity training works.

Research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management.

“Even with best practices, you’re not going to get much of an effect,” says Frank Dobbin, a Harvard University sociology professor on the research team. “It doesn’t change what happens at work.”

Diversity consultants are confident in their programs, claiming social science research in this area can’t accurately measure the impact of the training they deliver, generalizes unfairly, and rarely offers solutions to the problems it identifies:

Practitioners and some scholars disagree, arguing that, while there have been some unsubstantiated claims and overhyped “innovations” in diversity training, the field as a whole has begun to figure out what works. The changes that training triggers can often be subtle, defenders argue, and, in a setting as dynamic and stubbornly multivariate as the workplace, it’s all but impossible to come up with the clear, falsifiable evidence social science demands. The poor results that do show up in broad-based studies, they say, are due to companies whose commitment to diversity training programs is merely pro forma, and who see training as just a way to protect themselves from lawsuits.

“My experience is that a lot of these studies make good points, but they tend to fall into one particular trap,” says Howard Ross, a leading diversity consultant. “When we talk about diversity training as a megalith, it’s similar to saying, ‘Are restaurants good places to eat?’ The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ depending on the restaurant.”

Critics, on the other hand, argue that today’s practitioners are unlikely to be converging on a set of best practices, since the field is characterized by divergent, even contradictory approaches to the same set of problems. To critics, the proponents are simply mistaking the fact that people feel better about themselves after training for real results. Just because people think they’re less prejudiced doesn’t mean they are. Indeed, with something as subtle and reflexive as bias, we’re often our own worst judges

Dobbin and his colleagues have designed their research to address the potential alternatives to conventional diversity training programs practitioners often call for:

“We were increasingly frustrated by the fact that we know a lot about what kinds of disparities there are in organizations, and what kind of disadvantages women and minorities faced, but we know almost nothing about how to how to reduce them,” says Alexandra Kalev, a sociologist at the University of Arizona.

Several years ago Kalev, along with Dobbin and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota, set out to see what works. As a measure of program success, they looked at the number of women and minorities in a company’s managerial ranks – a much more concrete metric than the surveys of employee attitudes that many other studies relied on. The researchers drew on 31 years of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data, specifically the annual reports that companies file detailing their racial and gender makeup. The sociologists then surveyed 829 of those companies on what diversity programs they had and when they instituted them. The results were described in a 2006 study, and in another paper that Kalev and Dobbin are currently writing.

The researchers found that while diversity training was by far the most popular approach, it was also the least effective at getting companies to hire and promote women and minorities. Some training programs were more effective than others: Voluntary programs were better than mandatory ones, and those that focused on the threat of bias and harassment lawsuits were worse than those that did not. But even the better programs led only to marginal changes. And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits – the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined – slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they’ve heard.

What worked much better than even the best training, the researchers found, were more structural measures: minority mentoring programs, or designating an executive or a task force with specific responsibility to change promotion practices.

“You can imagine, if you’re in a meeting for two hours once a year to refresh your diversity awareness, what’s the effect of that going to be compared to being a mentor to someone?” says Dobbin.

At least some diversity consultants seem willing to accept that research finding, while still defending the role of training programs in an overall diversity policy:

Diversity trainers concede that there are poorly designed programs out there. There are also, they point out, companies that implement diversity training without much concern for whether it works, which is not a recipe for success. That doesn’t mean that well designed, conscientiously applied programs don’t work.

And diversity consultants bristle at the suggestion that they believe diversity training programs are a panacea. Properly instituting a diversity training program, many of them insist, means combining it with other, more systemic changes, including measures like those that the Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly research found were more effective.

“If you look at just the efficacy of diversity training programs, that’s not how we look at it as a practitioner,” says Rohini Anand, global chief diversity officer at the food services giant Sodexo. “To me diversity training is one small but very necessary piece of what I need to do.”

the benefits of working women in marriage

115.365 - Porn for Women: VacuumingDoes a rise in women’s earning power have benefits to marriage beyond economic stability?  In an attempt to address this question, a recent New York Times article summarized some of the recent social scientific evidence on the rise of working women:

Last week, a report from the Pew Research Center about what it called “the rise of wives” revived the debate. Based on a study of Census data, Pew found that in nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

The article points to demographic and sociological evidence that suggests greater marital stability and egalitarianism when a woman is more economically independent:

While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.

Sociologists and economists say that financially independent women can be more selective in marrying, and they also have more negotiating power within the marriage. But it’s not just women who win. The net result tends to be a marriage that is more fair and equitable to husbands and wives.

The changes are not without their challenges. “With women taking on more earning and men taking on more caring, there’s a lot of shifting and juggling,” said Andrea Doucet, a sociology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her study, the Bread and Roses Project, tracks couples in the United States and Canada in which women are the primary breadwinners. But the dynamic is “not as easy as you’d think it would be,” she said. “You can’t just reverse the genders.”

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.

Highlighting additional sociological evidence:

Kristen W. Springer, a sociologist at Rutgers, has found that among men in their 50s, having a wife who earns more money is associated with poorer health. Among the highest earning couples in her study, a husband who earns less than his wife is 60 percent less likely to be in good health compared with men who earn more than their wives.

And despite the sweeping economic changes in marriage over the last 40 years, all is not equal. Even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework, on average, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households. But men do contribute far more than they used to. Studies show that since the 1960s, men’s contributions to housework have doubled, while the amount of time spent caring for children has tripled.

And the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive effect. Lynn Prince Cooke, a sociology professor at the University of Kent in England, has found that American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce compared with couples where the man is the sole breadwinner.

typecasting academics

Professor outfit 1

The New York Times recently highlighted recent research by sociologists Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse on the tendency for professors to be liberal:

New research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be professors.

In their findings, Gross and Fosse chalk this one up to typecasting:

Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

Jobs can be typecast in different ways, said Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse, who undertook the study. For instance, less than 6 percent of nurses today are men. Discrimination against male candidates may be a factor, but the primary reason for the disparity is that most people consider nursing to be a woman’s career, Mr. Gross said. That means not many men aspire to become nurses in the first place — a point made in the recent Lee Daniels film “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” When John (Lenny Kravitz) asks the 16-year-old Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and her friends whether they’ve ever seen a male nurse before, all answer no amid giddy laughter.

Nursing is what sociologists call “gender typed.” Mr. Gross said that “professors and a number of other fields are politically typed.” Journalism, art, fashion, social work and therapy are dominated by liberals; while law enforcement, farming, dentistry, medicine and the military attract more conservatives.  “These types of occupational reputations affect people’s career aspirations,” [Gross] added.

Gross adds a bit of history to where this typecasting came from:

From the early 1950s William F. Buckley Jr. and other founders of the modern conservative movement railed against academia’s liberal bias. Buckley even published a regular column, “From the Academy,” in the magazine he founded, The National Review.

“Conservatives weren’t just expressing outrage,” Mr. Gross said, “they were also trying to build a conservative identity.” They defined themselves in opposition to the New Deal liberals who occupied the establishment’s precincts. Hence Buckley’s quip in the early 1960s: “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

In the 1960s college campuses, swelled by the large baby-boom generation, became a staging ground for radical leftist social and political movements, further moving the academy away from conservatism.

Gross and Fosse also note that stereotyping is not the only reason for the liberal leanings of the academy:

The characteristics that define one’s political orientation are also at the fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.