Photo via Joe Loong via Flickr.
Photo via Joe Loong via Flickr.

In a recent excerpt from her book The Tumbleweed Society: Work and Caring in an Age of Insecurity featured in Salon, sociologist Allison Pugh discusses how the insecure economy has made employees feel wary of their employers but also like they must rush to their defense. Employees often bend over backward to identify with their bosses and meet their needs, but employers are much less likely to reciprocate. What do employers and employees owe each other?

The move away from the old social contract, in which employees traded loyalty and effort for job security, has resulted in real and perceived job insecurity among may adults for whom full-time work is a central piece of identity. Pugh says the result of the opposing trends of increased job insecurity and increased cultural importance of full-time employment is lots of anxiety for employees and a “one-way honor system.” Employees still feel obligated to uphold their end of the social contract by demonstrating loyalty and hard work, they don’t expect the same commitment from their employers. Even those with the lowest-skill and lowest-paying jobs empathize with the employers’ needs for good workers and expect little beyond dignity, respect, and a paycheck.

Part of the reason for the one-way honor system is the perception that intense work commitment is an integral part of being an honorable, moral person:

Survey researchers report, for example, that about the same percentage of women as men—70 percent of full-time working women (both white-collar and blue-collar workers)—say they would continue to work if they suddenly had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives, known as the “lottery question” (and used by researchers as a rough proxy for a work ethic). A strong work ethic was part of good character, part of being fully human, no matter your gender, people maintained.

In other words, it’s not the job itself that’s the source of dignity, it’s the work ethic. So as jobs get more precarious, many people work longer and harder instead of slacking off, partially because they fear those who don’t work hard enough or produce enough will be the first ones to lose those coveted jobs.

Photo by Mark Morgan, Flickr CC.
Photo by Mark Morgan, Flickr CC.

In the literary world, New York Times Bestseller is a coveted and sought-after label. When that gold sticker is slapped on the cover of a book, authors and publishers alike are likely to be happy campers, and there are few surefire ways to create buzz about a particular work than Bestseller status.

Brandeis sociology professor Laura Miller weighs in on a piece in Hopes&Fears where the stickiness of the New York Times Bestseller label is discussed. Miller states “People assume that if everyone else is reading a book then it ought to be good.”

Indeed, this peer-pressure style marketing is what makes the Bestseller label so desired. It’s basically an endorsement from a huge number of everyday people—but the formula isn’t that simple. As explained in the article, the New York Times Bestseller label was created in 1931, when editors would take random samples of book sales from undisclosed vendors to gauge the popularity of particular manuscripts. In the modern era, the process has become murkier. Discussing the process in determining Bestseller status today, Miller explains:

Once you got online bookselling, anyone and everyone was selling a book… you can’t have millions of retail establishments giving data to the Times. That means they have to ask for a sample of the different kinds of places that are selling books… While the actual reporting of sales from those particular places might be more accurate than in the past, the ability to get an accurate sample is actually more difficult.

In the past, while the accuracy of the data from book vendors was imperfect, gathering a representative sample of book market transactions was easier—there were fewer potential vendors. Today, though, selection process of specific vendors for Bestseller sampling purposes is tightly controlled, so that publishers and authors can’t artificially inflate their book sales at particular stores or retailers in order to boost their likelihood of Bestseller status. Whatever the process, however, it will have to further contend with new forms of book purchases, such as e-book and Kindle sales. Either way, authors and publishers will still wait with bated breath: Is it a Bestseller?

The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.
The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

For those of us fueling ourselves with the late-night pizza and discount wine that a graduate stipend affords us, the idea of spending at least a year or two on poverty-level incomes may not feel shocking. It may, however, be more common than we once thought.

A new study by sociologists Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank finds that nearly 60% of Americans will spend at least one year living off of poverty-level incomes. These rates are heavily concentrated among those under the age of 30, with 42% of those young adults experiencing at least one year of poverty (20th percentile of income), and 23% experiencing extreme poverty (10th percentile of income). And for those without savings or parental help to fall back on, these low incomes can lead to homelessness and long-term financial struggle. According to their findings, 12% of Americans spend nearly a decade or more in poverty.

“There’s a great deal of fluidity in the income distribution,” Hirschl told Pacific Standard Magazine. “Economic insecurity—this is not a small effect. We have a tough road ahead of us.”

Do declining government jobs chip away at the stamps' promise?
Do declining government jobs chip away at the stamps’ promise?

That’s likely true for a lot of reasons, but one is just coming to light: For many African-Americans, working for the government has provided a gateway to the middle class. “Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities,” sociologist Jennifer Laird tells The New York Times. The civil service, delivering mail, teaching, operating public transportation, and processing criminal justice have historically provided steady income and opportunities to climb the economic ladder—often without an expensive college degree.

The recession’s recovery has not brought back employment at the local, state, and federal levels, though, and it’s causing struggle in black communities in particular. Population growth has also meant higher competition for ever scarcer public sector jobs. African-Americans once benefitted most from government employment, so cutbacks and layoffs hit them the hardest. Laird describes black government workers’ situation as a “double-disadvantage”:

They are concentrated in a shrinking sector of the economy, and they are substantially more likely than other public sector workers to be without work.

Photo by Amodiovalerio Verde via Flickr.
Photo by Amodiovalerio Verde via Flickr.

 

A recent New York Times/CBS News poll finds that nearly 60% of Americans are concerned with income inequality. The overall results may be surprising, given steady economic growth over the past few years. However, sociologist Leslie McCall has an explanation for this post-recession in the New York Times:

People think the returns to economic growth should be going to people like them as much as they should be going to people at the top.

The article highlights McCall’s research on public opinion about income inequality, specifically her analysis of the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey conducted every two years by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. She finds that public concern about inequality rises after recession periods, peaking several years after initial economic growth.

Everyone likes a slice of wedding cake, but our opportunities to munch on the delicious dessert might be shrinking. According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, new research shows millennials aren’t getting married. Even though millennials are a large generation (by some accounts, bigger than the Baby Boom cohort) and are at prime marriage ages, rates of marriage are dropping across the U.S. Some projections suggest it could drop to 6.7 in 1,000 in 2016—a historic low. Why are heterosexual millennials delaying or forgoing marriage?

University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen’s research shows that the proportion of people getting married for the first time at older ages has risen in America, as economic and educational pressures encourage people to wait to wed. In addition, the U.S. has become less religious and more comfortable with unwed parents and cohabitation. W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist, adds, however, that there are some upticks in marriage trends, such as a rise in the proportion of educated persons who wed and an influx of Hispanic immigrants that could have positive impacts on American marriage rates, if not in the immediate future.

There was a time when Coors was the contraband. Nowadays, Bandit'll be hauling some Surly Furious.
There was a time when Coors was the contraband. Nowadays, Bandit and the Snowman probably haul Surly Furious.

 

Here in Minneapolis, the frozen but lively home of the University of Minnesota and TSP, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a microbrewery. That’s true for most of the northern U.S., but as discussed in the Atlantic, “the nine states with the fewest breweries are all in the South.” What’s the difference? One sociologist says it’s religion.

Across the country, big beer companies contribute to candidates who aren’t likely to support policies that enable local breweries to get a foothold. That investment helps curtail competition. In the South, Baptists form an important voting bloc with strong cohesion around social and moral issues, as do Methodists. Together, says Boston University sociologist Nancy Ammerman, “they account for a very large proportion of the population in the South.” Since alcohol is one of the hot-button issues, candidates who keep small breweries from operating gain an extra boost at the ballot box.

Interestingly, Ammerman points out that, in old Methodists and Baptists communities, payment in whiskey was fairly common. This might explain why independent whiskey distilleries are not as frowned upon as small breweries (and large whiskey companies are less invested in preventing boutique distilleries). Either way, if you’re hoping for a microbrew in Mississippi, you’ll want to road-trip it (humming “Eastbound and Down” along the way).

Purple Sherbet Photography via Creative Commons
Purple Sherbet Photography via Creative Commons

 

Sociologists are quite familiar with the combination of marginalized identities that can lead to oppression, inequalities, and “double disadvantages.” But can negative stereotypes actually have positive consequences?

Financial Juneteenth recently highlighted a study showing that gay black men may have better odds of landing a job and higher salaries than their straight, black, male colleagues. Led by sociologist David Pedulla, the study sent resumes and a job description to 231 white employers nationwide, asking them to suggest starting salaries for the position. Resumes included typically raced names (“Brad Miller” for white applicants and “Darnell Jackson”) and listed participation in “Gay Student Advisory Council” to imply the applicant’s sexuality. Pedulla found that gay Black men were more likely to receive the same starting salaries as straight white men, whereas gay white men and straight black men were offered lowered salaries.

Pedulla’s findings have sparked a conversation among scholars and journalists about the complexity of stereotypes surrounding black masculinities and sexualities. Organizational behavior researcher and Huffington Post contributor Jon Fitzgerald Gates also weighed in on the findings, arguing that the effeminate stereotypes of homosexuality may be counteracting the traditional stereotypes of a dangerous and threatening black heterosexual masculinity.

Read Pedulla’s entire study, published in Social Psychology Quarterly, here: The Positive Consequences of Negative Stereotypes: Race, Sexual Orientation, and the Job Application Process.

Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons.

In years following the 2008 recession, many Americans are still scrambling to find enough work hours to make ends meet. One emerging trend is “clopening,” when an employee works the closing shift, then opens the same business a few hours later. Piled on top of commuting, trying to get some sleep, and attending to family duties, the few remaining precious hours between shifts are overbooked. That can have negative consequences on health. Sociologist Gerhard Bosch tells the New York Times about the European Union’s required 11-hour rest period between shifts: ““If a retail shop closes at midnight, the night-shift employees are not allowed to start before 11 o’clock the next morning.”

Even though some unions in the United States have negotiated similar required “between shifts” time, there is not yet a national labor law. However, several states have taken steps toward Right to Work laws some hope will alleviate the long, inconsistent hours many employees face.

Some business owners claim that some employees prefer “clopening” to working 9 to 5, pointing, for example, to students with busy daytime class schedules. However, one student worker told the Times that working on the clopening schedule meant quitting his pursuit of a master’s degree—he’d lost focus and developed chronic exhaustion.

Uh-oh. This might not be good... Photo by Edward Conde via Flickr CC.
Uh-oh. This might not be good… Photo by Edward Conde via Flickr CC.

“Wow, it’s only $2.20 a gallon over here!”

“Remember when it was $3.20 a few months ago?”

From the late 2000s until recently, gas prices were consistently on the rise. A more recent downward slide may have some consequences: though cheap gas prices might be lighter on the wallet, individuals might be at greater risk for car accidents.

In an article from MN-based Star Tribune, Tim Harlow discusses research conducted by Guangqing Chi of the South Dakota State University’s Department of Sociology and Rural Studies. A professor and demographer whose specialties include the sociology of transportation, Chi had studied data on gas prices and overall traffic safety in Minnesota from 1998 to 2007. His team found that “a 20-cent drop in gas prices resulted in 15 more fatalities a year. Conversely, he found that a 20-cent increase would bring a decrease of 15 deaths annually.”

Using similar methodology with study data from Alabama and Mississippi, Chi has found that teens are more impacted by high gas prices, driving less frequently when prices go up. Their road reticence when costs are high, Chi’s study asserts, may lead to safer streets. Beyond driving less often, Chi says, when gas prices rise, “we suspect people drive more carefully.” For now, go ahead and put the pedal to the metal—just, you know, don’t throw all caution to the wind.