Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, “A Broken Public? Americans’ Responses to the Great Recession,” American Sociological Review, 2013

The Personal (Finance) is Political

In the wake of the great recession, have voters demand stronger government protections to keep from going under? Not really. Support for government policies trying to reduce economic pain actually dropped from 2008 to 2010. Political scientists tend to think voters are smart about one key issue—their own economic needs—but Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza suspect other social effects may be behind some odd voter behavior.

In their recent American Sociological Review article, the authors use new data from the General Social Survey to argue that it wasn’t economic interests, but partisanship most significantly affected public opinion during the recession. According to the authors:

Attitudes of the U.S. public as a whole moved toward lower levels of government support, but not because all citizens experienced the same trends and reasoned in the same way. Instead, individuals who more strongly identified with the Republican Party moved away from government faster than Democratic Party identifiers moved toward government.

While voters may respond to the current economic situation, they clearly don’t agree on what that reality means. Instead, belonging to political parties has trained them to see the world through different lenses. Those on the left seem to believe government should provide direct help to struggling citizens, while those on the right seem to think less government involvement in the private sector will spur development and improve the economy for anyone with the will to rise to the top.

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Tetyana Pudrovska, “Job Authority and Breast Cancer,” Social Forces, 2013

Cancer and the Corner Office: The Fading Correlation Between Breast Cancer and Women’s Workplace Authority

Both women’s labor force participation and breast cancer incidence have increased substantially since the 1970s. That seems like a coincidence, but for women in positions of authority, recent research by Tetyana Pudrovska links the two.

Pudrovska shows that women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 and had the authority to influence pay and hire and fire employees (“job authority”) in 1975 had a 70% higher risk of a breast cancer diagnosis by 2011 than those without such authority (controlling for a variety of known biological and social breast cancer risk factors). This greatly increased risk was specific and increased among women with job authority who spent a large portion of their time at work dealing with people.  Some of this increased risk may be due to the particularly stressful environment women faced in the 1970s labor force, but Pudrovska observes similarly increased breast cancer risk (through 2011) for women who held such job authority in 1993.

Pudrovska argues that the established health benefits of having a job can be counteracted by unfavorable working conditions—such as the significant stress of being a woman in a position of authority when that violates social norms. To the extent that a woman in charge is less countercultural today than in the ‘70s, job authority may pose a lower health risk to today’s women.



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Susan A. Dumais, Richard J. Kessinger, and Bonny Ghosh, “Concerted Cultivation and Teachers’ Evaluations of Students: Exploring the Intersection of Race and Parents’ Educational Attainment,” Sociological Perspectives, 2012

Concerted Cultivation Can’t Undo Institutional Barriers in Education

In War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everything depends on upbringing.” Parents who agree have devised limitless strategies for optimal child-rearing. To test one strategy, sociologists Susan Dumais, Richard Kessinger, and and Bonny Ghosh investigated whether parents’ involvement at school could provide an advantage on children’s teacher evaluations. They found that it did improve the kids’ scores for language and literacy, approach to learning, and interpersonal skills—but only in all three categories if children also came from white, college-educated families.

This research builds on Annette Lareau’s finding that families’ approaches to parenting differ depending on their economic and educational resources. In contrast to working-class parents, both black and white middle-class parents, she found, tend to parent with “concerted cultivation.” These parents create a highly organized schedule of structured activities for their children, are active in their schools, and train them to interact confidently with adults. Lareau suggests that middle-class children might be able to obtain a more customized education and be viewed as more socially competent by their teachers because of the resulting ability to negotiate.

While exploring how this advantage might work, Dumais, Kessinger, and Ghosh determine that certain parenting practices are more beneficial for children in particular racial or socioeconomic groups. For instance, parental volunteering only benefits all three of the teacher evaluations for white children from college-educated families. On the flip side, white children of high-school educated families receive poorer evaluations if their parents attend conferences, as do African American children of college-educated families when their parents request a specific teacher. The authors interpret these findings as sound rationale for Tolstoy’s lament: “I often think how unfairly life’s good fortune is sometimes distributed. ” Undeniably, each family’s unique racial and educational background still triggers barriers in the educational system.

Timothy A. Ortyl, “Long-Term Heterosexual Cohabiters and Attitudes Toward Marriage,” The Sociological Quarterly, 2013

 

Love and (non)Marriage

In today’s life course, living together is often an obvious prerequisite before tying the knot. Until now, there’s been little research on long-term cohabiters’ perceptions of marriage. In his recent research, the late Timothy Ortyl complicates conventional notions of intimacy in American society by exploring the meanings long-term heterosexual cohabiters (hereafter, “LTHCs”) offer when discussing decisions to postpone or forgo marriage.

Among the many transformations of the meaning of marriage and intimacy is the de-romanticization of heterosexual marriage. Recognizing that heterosexual marriage is no longer compulsory, Ortyl sought to explore the rationales given by LTHCs about decisions to say “We do” or “We don’t.” In conducting 48 in-depth interviews with different-sex couples who lived together (unmarried) for at least 4 years, Ortyl reveals how marital attitudes are rooted in life experiences and social location. Ortyl classifies different groups of LTHCs under 6 themes, including “Risk Aversion” and “American Dreamer.” Results show that attitudinal differences vary mostly by social class and less by race and gender differences. For example, the only group that endorsed marital aspirations was the American Dreamers. Members of this category viewed marriage as a financial investment toward membership in the middle class.

Given that the five other categories of LTHCs expressed reservations about conventional notions of marriage, Ortyl sheds light on why some consider “marriagefree” the way to be. More importantly, Ortyl challenges us to think more critically about the application of concepts that privilege heterosexuality as the norm, rather than understanding the rationales behind alternative relationship decisions. While love and marriage are still pretty compatible, the findings of this innovative research suggest you certainly can—and many do—have one without the other.

Christine L. Williams, “The Glass Escalator, Revisited: Gender Inequality in Neoliberal Times,” Gender & Society, 2013

 

The Precarity of the “Glass Escalator”

Twenty years ago, Christine Williams wrote “The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the ‘Female’ Professions,” examining how gender inequality operates in traditionally sex segregated, predominantly female occupations such as nursing, teaching, librarianship, and social work. She found that men in these occupations were often “fast-tracked” to higher administrative and management positions, and she called this process the “glass escalator.” Williams’s study provided an important complement to analyses of the “glass ceiling”—the invisible threshold in the organizational hierarchy above which women would rarely be promoted.

In the most recent issue of Gender & Society, Williams returns to her earlier work to see what’s changed. She finds that the glass escalator remains for men in female-dominated professions, although it operates differently based on identity and on the current economic climate.

Williams concedes that the glass escalator operates most clearly in relation to white men in stable middle-class jobs. Further, the glass escalator only operates in organizations with stable employment, job hierarchies, and career ladders—all aspects of work that have changed drastically over the past decade. She argues, “We need new metaphors to understand the persistence of male privilege in the flexible, project-based, and flatter neoliberal organization.”

Jennifer Karas Montez and Anna Zajacova, “Explaining the Widening Education Gap in Mortality among U.S. White Women,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2013

Working Against the Clock

Let’s get down to business: unemployment has been linked to increases in debt, poverty, homelessness, crime, depression, and family breakdown. According to a recent article by Montez and Zajacova, unemployment is also partially responsible for the growing difference in mortality rates of low-educated white women compared to their more highly educated peers.

Between 1997 and 2001, low-educated women 45-86 years old were 1.37 times more likely to die than high-educated women. Compared to mortality data from 2002 to 2006, the gap between groups widened by 21%. To find out why, the authors use complex statistical modeling to investigate the influence of socio-psychological, economic, and health factors on the increasing difference in mortality rates. Along with smoking, unemployment is identified as the factor most strongly linked to this change. The authors speculate that the Internet and the “digital divide” may be playing a larger role in the unemployment of low-educated women, and that the information taught in schools may be becoming more relevant to health.

Having identified unemployment as one of the causes of the growing education gap in mortality, Montez and Zajacova call for social-protection policies geared toward helping low-educated women remain in the workforce. They believe that work-family policies allowing more flexible hours and protected leave will contribute to stemming the divergence.  Their hope is that giving women the opportunity to punch the clock will—in the long-run—give them more time to unwind.

David Dietrich, “Avatars of Whiteness: Racial Expression in Video Game Characters,” Sociological Inquiry, 2013

The Whiteness of Warcraft

The ability to create your own avatar in video and online games has become increasingly popular, particularly with the increase in online MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). With the advent of avatars, players are able to pick and choose how they want their gaming character to look, act, and even feel. As expected, players often attempt to replicate themselves in their avatar. But what happens when your characteristics are not available?

Setting out to determine how race is represented in video game characters, David Dietrich found that only 10 of the 65 games he analyzed allowed for a non-white avatar. Dietrich looked at non-white skin color, hair style/color, and facial features, finding that a majority of these games—including World of Warcraft, which boasts over 10 million players as of 2012 and dominates the online gaming world—to be reinforcing “normative whiteness” by assuming that the default color of their players is white.

The consequence, Dietrich argues, is that these all-white worlds force non-white players to “become white” in order to play while implicitly signaling to the non-white player that they do not belong. While the exclusion of non-white avatar options is likely unintentional on the part of the game’s creator, the simple fact that this was overlooked is evidence enough of the “unquestioned standards of whiteness” in American society. What these games are telling us is that you can be a fairy, a dwarf, or the Primordial Thunder King, but you can only be white.




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Ted Mouw and Sergio Chavez, “Occupational Linguistic Niches and the Wage Growth of Latino Immigrants,” Social Forces, 2012

Stepping Stones or Dead Ends?

Considered undesirable by many Americans, “brown collar” jobs are those occupations with an overrepresentation of newly arrived Latino immigrants. With low pay and low status, employment in areas such as construction, hospitality, and textile production has been thought to offer few opportunities to earn better wages and learn English (which can, in turn, lead to higher wages).

Describing these workplaces as “linguistic niches” due to the prevalence of Spanish-speakers, Ted Mouw and Sergio Chavez’s complex and novel data analysis showed that brown collar occupations are not necessarily dead end jobs. Analyzing survey and government data—even bringing in a longitudinal element that’s been missing in other research—the authors found that the niches actually enabled some newly arrived immigrants to learn English while getting a foothold in the U.S. labor market.

Mouw and Chavez found that, although immigrant workers initially “sort” into brown collar jobs upon arrival to the U.S., these jobs are not detrimental to wage growth if they are used as a transition to the mainstream labor market—a feat 20% of workers are able to achieve. It’ll be interesting to find out the secret to their success.

Rachel E. Dwyer, Randy Hodson, and Laura McCloud, “Gender, Debt, and Dropping Out of College,” Gender & Society, 2013

Ladies in the Red

College attendance, access to loans, and higher education are all gendered experiences influenced by inequalities—and so is the significant debt that often accompanies college. In a recent article, Rachel E. Dwyer, Randy Hodson, and Laura McCloud (Gender & Society, February 2013) explore how debt influences dropout rates and how men and women make decisions about each differently.

The authors find that men are less likely to take out student loans and that men drop out of college at lower levels of debt than women. The authors explain these findings by examining the effects of gendered occupational segregation and the gender pay gap. Because women and men face different labor market opportunities, their assessments of whether a college degree is worth the debt also differ.

When it comes to jobs that do not require a college degree, women and men are segregated into different types of work and men make significantly more money than women. For example, female dropouts tend to work in service and clerical jobs, while male dropouts work in higher-paid manufacturing, construction, and transportation positions. The consequences of dropping out of college, then, are greater for women, while it’s a more viable option for men to drop out before acquiring excessive debt.

With a college degree, men and women work more similar jobs and have more similar incomes. Still, even if they stay in college and graduate, women are less able to pay back student loans and get ahead because of the wage gap.

Trevor Hoppe, “Controlling Sex in the Name of ‘Public Health’: Social Control and Michigan HIV Law,” Social Problems, 2013

 

When a Person Becomes a Health Threat

In nearly half of all U.S. states, it is a felony for HIV-positive people to have sex without disclosing their status to their partners. In some places, this law, meant to promote public health, has become a tool of social control. Those who have—or are suspected of having—HIV or AIDS are essentially kept under surveillance and can be criminally sanctioned for various violations.

Trevor Hoppe (Social Problems, February 2013) interviewed 25 health officials responsible for managing “health threat” cases in Michigan, where the laws are particularly strenuous. When new HIV-positive individuals are identified, officials do extensive contact tracing. While surveillance technologies are officially about disease prevention, they are also used to aid law enforcement and to regulate the client’s sexual practices. If an individual is labeled a “health threat,” they may be forced to undergo testing, counseling, treatment, or be quarantined. HIV-positive individuals may not be allowed to have any unprotected sex, even if they have disclosed their status to their partner (and if they test positive for a secondary STI, that is taken as evidence of unprotected sex). The law also treats all types of sex as equally risky, criminalizing even those sexual acts that carry no risk of transmission.

The criminal punishment for non-disclosure also provides impetus for local rumor mills, often setting in motion a “witch hunt.” Community members can call in confidential third party reports accusing individuals they suspect are HIV positive of not disclosing. These accusations often come against already-stigmatized individuals and may be false reports, but they set investigations in motion.

The additional stigma and social costs attached to an HIV diagnosis in states with such legislation may now be reducing people’s willingness to be tested for STIs at all, thus rendering a public health effort bad for public health.