Gun violence has become a constant in American life. As of October 13th, there have been 10,348 shooting related deaths and 21,012 shooting-related injuries in 2015 already, per the Gun Violence Archive. What happens to the thousands who are shot and injured each year? Jooyoung Lee is a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies the lives of gunshot victims. In a recent interview with The Trace, Lee talked about the different difficulties his subjects—mostly young, working-class black men—have faced navigating their lives and treating their pain since being shot:
Getting shot really changes a person’s social world; it makes them suspicious of other people. You see them going from young and vibrant to reclusive. They go to public settings, see a crowd, and get anxious that someone is affiliated with the person who shot them. The Fourth of July is a very stressful day for gunshot victims. A lot of the young men talk about how the sound of fireworks would give them flashbacks. I had one guy who told me he was out at a bowling alley with friends, the first time he’d been out since he’d been shot, and he was having a great time, and then the sounds of pins crashing caused a flashback. He had the feeling that everyone in the place was potentially the killer. This kind of thing makes it very difficult to resume everyday life.
This year was momentous for trans visibility in the media, with high profile celebs like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner speaking out about their experiences as trans women. Even so, trans folks still face an incredible risk of discrimination and attacks. The recent death of Keisha Jenkins marks at least 20 American trans women murdered in 2015.
But trans people are not equally likely to experience discrimination. A recent study published by Lisa R. Miller and Eric Anthony Grollman showed that trans women were more likely to experience discrimination than trans men, as are trans folks from already disadvantaged groups—like those who are multiracial or low income. In turn, those who experienced more discrimination were more likely to engage in risky health behaviors like smoking cigarettes, abusing drugs and alcohol, and attempting suicide. Miller told US News, “Rather than assuming that all members of the transgender community are equally at risk, we need to investigate the extent to which some members may face disproportionate exposure to discrimination and poor health.”Those who experienced more discrimination were more likely to engage in risky health behaviors like smoking cigarettes, abusing drugs and alcohol, and attempting suicide.
It’s March, and many people’s well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions have long gone out the window. Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but in an interview with Washington Post, sociologist Christine Whelan sheds light on how to make a fresh start.
Her first piece of insight comes straight from sociologists’ time use surveys: consider a new habit as not only adding to your schedule, but also subtracting time from other activities. “If I said ‘I want to go the gym for an hour three times a week,’ the first thing I’d have to figure out is, what am I not going to be doing during those hours. But we don’t tend to think about that,” Whelan points out. Prioritization is key. Weighing the costs and benefits of sacrificing an hour spent sleeping or watching House of Cards for an hour at the gym will help determine if your goal is manageable or needs reworking.
Whelan also stresses the importance of making sure the new goal is something you want to accomplish, rather than something you feel like you should be doing. “You’re much less likely to accomplish a change if you don’t want to do it, and it’s not in keeping with your values.”
Finally, she advises against creating a laundry list of goals in favor of developing one new habit at a time. Specific goals are more likely to become habits because, according to Whelan, distinct aspirations are “SMART”:
There’s a Reward for sticking to it
Progress is Trackable
After 90 days of practice, it’s likely that your concerted lifestyle change will pay off: “The longer you stick with it, the more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that you don’t have to think about. It doesn’t require self control, there’s not a lot of active internal debate. You just do it.”
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.”
Younger Americans die earlier and live in poorer health than their counterparts in other developed countries, with far higher rates of death from guns, car accidents and drug addiction, according to a new analysis of health and longevity in the United States.
Researchers have known for a while that the United States fares poorly when compared against other rich countries. But, most of this research has focused on the health of people of older ages. This new study, conducted by a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, is the first to systematically compare death rates and health measures for people of all ages.
As the NYT article put it, the findings were stark. American men ranked last in life expectancy among the 17 countries in the study, and American women ranked second to last.
Deaths before age 50 accounted for about two-thirds of the difference in life expectancy between males in the United States and their counterparts in 16 other developed countries, and about one-third of the difference for females.
Car accidents, gun violence, and drug overdoses were major contributors to years of life lost by Americans under age 50. According to the study, 69% of all American homicide deaths in 2007 involved firearms, compared to an average of 26% in other countries. Americans also had the highest infant mortality rate, and its young people had the highest rates of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and deaths from car crashes. In addition, Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries in the study.
“The bottom line is that we are not preventing damaging health behaviors,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer and sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was on the panel. “You can blame that on public health officials, or on the health care system. No one understands where responsibility lies.”
To read more of the lengthy coverage of the article, click here.
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.
Just like April’s TSP Media Award for Measured Social Science winner Barbara Risman, there have been quite a few examples lately of sociologists contributing their thoughts and talents to opinion pieces for major news sources. Last week, the New York Times featured op-eds from Arlie Russell Hochschild and Elizabeth Armstrong.
First, Hochschild, a professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote about the expanding presence of the capitalistic marketplace in our personal lives. It may seem like second nature to hire a professional to help with a task or develop a skill we lack. But, according to Hochschild’s piece, the sheer extent of services available for purchase is shocking: dating coaches, rental friends, and professional potty trainers. Hochschild goes on to look at some of the more invasive manners in which the market has seeped into our intimate lives, as well as what this says about our society.
Hochschild brings in the work of Michael Sandel, a professor of government at Harvard, who adds that you can now purchase an upgrade in prison cells in California or buy carpool lane access for solo drivers in Minneapolis (see more, here, with Sandel in recent interview on The Colbert Report about the moral limits of the marketplace).
This increasing tendency to hire professionals to take on personal tasks, Hochschild writes, has some unexpected consequences. She describes our ever-increasing relationship with the free market as a self-perpetuating cycle:
The more anxious, isolated and time-deprived we are, the more likely we are to turn to paid personal services. To finance these extra services, we work longer hours. This leaves less time to spend with family, friends and neighbors; we become less likely to call on them for help, and they on us. And, the more we rely on the market, the more hooked we become on its promises.
In the end, Hochschild sums up, offering a warning about outsourcing our personal lives and emotional attachment:
Focusing attention on the destination, we detach ourselves from the small — potentially meaningful — aspects of experience. Confining our sense of achievement to results, to the moment of purchase, so to speak, we unwittingly lose the pleasure of accomplishment, the joy of connecting to others and possibly, in the process, our faith in ourselves.
Later in the week, the Times featured Princeton professor Elizabeth Armstrong discussing the harmful effects of distributing free baby formula samples to new mothers at hospitals. In her op-ed, Armstrong maintains that breast-feeding offers many health benefits to babies, and hospitals should be encouraging women in the practice (she makes no mention of whether “Macho Mothering” like that featured on the controversial cover of TIME will help or hinder such efforts). When hospitals give away formula samples, reports show women are more likely to give up breast-feeding sooner. According to Armstrong, though, it’s easy to see why the hospitals continue to provide the samples:
In exchange for giving out samples, formula manufacturers provide hospitals’ nurseries and neonatal intensive care units with much needed free supplies like bottles, nipples, pacifiers, sterile water and more formula.
Armstong argues that arrangement like these lead to a hypocritical healthcare system. Doctors and medical organizations can preach about the benefits of breast-feeding but when “hospitals send new mothers home with a commercial product that often bears scientific claims on the label about digestion and brain development, it sends a very different message.” For Armstong, the answer is simple:
[H]ospitals should help women get breast-feeding off to a good start by adapting baby-friendly policies like helping mothers initiate breast-feeding after birth, allowing mothers and babies to stay in the same room and, most important, ensuring that infant-feeding decisions are free of commercial influence.
Each of these pieces is a great example of a sociologist putting their own work out into the world in a way that allows everyone to see the benefits of sociological insight and its application to, well, society. Congrats to both professors for so frequently daring to peek out from the pages of journals.
For more on breast-feeding and public service efforts to encourage it, we recommend Julie Artis’ Contexts article “Breastfeed at your own Risk,” available in full online at Contexts.org.
Marriage may be good for the heart, in more ways than one, claims a new study from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. The study, which was covered by USA Today, found that married adults who underwent heart surgery were over three times more likely to survive the first three months after the operation. And, the likelihood of dying within the first five years was nearly double for single individuals.
The lead author of the study is Ellen Idler, a sociologist at Emory University. Idler and her colleagues interviewed over 500 patients who underwent emergency or elective coronary bypass surgery prior to their surgeries. Then, they analyzed the patients’ responses with survival data from the National Death Index. Overall, marriage boosted survival for both men and women.
“The findings underscore the important role of spouses as caregivers during health crises,” Idler says. The higher long-term death rate for singles was linked to higher smoking rates — but spouses may also play a role in discouraging smoking, the researchers say.
Some experience discrimination throughout their lives, while, for others, it’s simply living long enough that leads to discrimination. According to research from Clemson University sociologist Ye Luo and her team that’s reported in The New York Times‘ New Old Age blog, nearly two thirds of those over age 53 report having been discriminated against—and the leading cause they report isn’t gender, race, or disability. It’s age.
Now, on its own, this statistic isn’t terribly surprising—many studies have turned up high levels of ageism. But Luo told the Times she was shocked that, over the two-year period of their study, everyday discrimination was found to be associated with higher levels of depression and worse self-reported health. The association held true even as the researchers controlled for general stress resulting from financial problems, illness, and traumatic events. As the Times reports:
Interestingly, the discrimination effect was stronger for everyday slights and suspicions (including whether people felt harassed or threatened, or whether they felt others were afraid of them) than for more dramatic evens like being denied a job or promotion or being unfairly detained or questioned by the police. “Awful things happen and it’s a big shock, but people have ways to resist that damage,” Dr. Luo said. “With maturity, people learn coping skills.” Every day discrimination works differently, apparently. “It may be more difficult to avoid or adapt to,” Dr. Luo suggested. “It takes a toll you may not even realize.”
Although trends may shift as more data comes into focus, it’s already clear that the well-being of older adults is being affected when they experience ageism in their social interactions.
…when the researchers matched up the number of chronic conditions each person had with his or her health rating, the gender difference disappeared. Having a higher number of chronic conditions correlated with poorer self-rated health to the same degree in both genders.
For men and women with the same conditions, or the same number of conditions, women were no more likely to claim poorer health.
To put these numbers into some context, reporter Sarah C.P. Williams sought out British sociologist Ellen Annandale, who studies the connections between gender and health. Dr. Annandale confirmed the long-standing notion that women simply communicate better and more often with their doctors, but don’t actually experience worse health outcomes than men—but said this new research upends that idea and offers clues to better medical treatment for people of all genders:
“Gender influences that way that people are treated and diagnosed in health systems,” Annandale said. “It influences the kind of health conditions that men and women suffer from, the way people relate to their own bodies, and what kind of access to health care they have.”
Understanding gender differences in health can help scientists and doctors find ways to better treat patients, she said.
“Women generally live longer than men, but in many countries that gap in life expectancy has been decreasing over time. One of the reasons for that is thought to be that men’s health is improving, but women’s is not.”
Sociology and sociologists in the news. Read more…