Author Archives: Lisa Wade, PhD

Chart of the Week: Rich Kids More Likely to be Working for Dad

A new paper by Martha Stinson and Christopher Wignall found that 9.6% of working-age men were working for their dad in 2010. The likelihood of nepotistic opportunism was related to class, generally climbing with the father’s income.

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This is just a “snapshot,” writes Matt O’Brien for The Washington Post. It’s just one year. If we consider whether men have ever worked for their dads, the numbers get much higher. More than a quarter of men spend at least some time working for the same company as their fathers before their 30th birthday. O’Brien also cites a study by economist Miles Corak revealing that 70% of sons of the 1% in Canada have worked at the same place as their dad.

As O’Brien says: “The easiest way to get your foot in the door is for your dad to hold it open for you.”

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Excluding Blacks From The National Collective

Flashback Friday.

In a great book, The Averaged American, sociologist Sarah Igo uses case studies to tell the intellectual history of statistics, polling, and sampling. The premise is fascinating:  Today we’re bombarded with statistics about the U.S. population, but this is a new development.  Before the science developed, the concept was elusive and the knowledge was impossible. In other words, before statistics, there was no “average American.”

There are lots of fascinating insights in her book, but a post by Byron York brought one in particular to mind.  Here’s a screenshot of his opening lines (emphasis added by Jay Livingston):

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The implication here is, of course, that Black Americans aren’t “real” Americans and that including them in opinion poll data is literally skewing the results.

Scientists designed the famous Middletown study with exactly this mentality.  Trying to determine who the average American was, scientists excluded Black Americans out of hand.  Of course, that was in the 1920s and ’30s.  How wild to see the same mentality in the 2000s.

Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

In her provocative book, The Technology of Orgasm, Rachel Maines discusses a classic medical treatment for the historical diagnosis of “hysteria”: orgasm administered by a physician.

Maines explains that manual stimulation of the clitoris was, for some time, a matter-of-fact part of medical treatment and a routine source of revenue for doctors. By the 19th century, people understood that it was an orgasm, but they argued that it was “nothing sexual.” It couldn’t “be anything sexual,” Maines explains, “because there’s no penetration and, so, no sex.”

So, what ended this practice? Maines argues that it was the appearance of the vibrator in early pornographic movies in the 1920s.  At which point, she says, doctors “drop it like a hot rock.” Meanwhile, vibrators become household appliances, allowing women to treat their “hysteria” at home. It wasn’t dropped from diagnostic manuals until 1957.

Listen to it straight from Maines in the following 7 minutes from Big Think:

Bonus: Freud was bad at this treatment, so he had to come up with some other cause of hysteria. After all, she says, “this was the guy who didn’t know what women wanted.” No surprise there, she jokes.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Theories of the First Topsy-Turvy Doll

Lisa Hix has written a really nice story, “Why Black Dolls Matter,” for Collectors Weekly. The history of the topsy-turvy doll really caught my interest. The one below is characteristic. Believed to be from the 1870s, it is the head and torso of a black and a white doll, sewed together in the middle with a long skirt. The doll can be flipped from one side to the other.

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The general consensus seems to be that these dolls were primarily for enslaved children, but the purpose of the dolls isn’t clearly understood.

Hix quotes one of the founders of the National Black Doll Museum, Debra Britt, who says that the dolls enabled enslave children to have something forbidden: a doll that looked like them. “When the slave master was gone,” she explained, “the kids would have the black side, but when the slave master was around, they would have the white side.”

At wikipedia, though, the entry for the dolls cites the author of American Folk Dolls, who makes the opposite claim.

It has recently been suggested that these dolls were often made for Black children who desired a forbidden white doll (a baby like the ones their mothers cared for); they would flip the doll to the black side when an overseer passed them at play.

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, author of Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory, suggests that the dolls might not have been disallowed at all. Since enslaved black women often cared for their own children and the children of their white captors, perhaps the doll was designed to socialize young enslaved girls into their future roles as mothers to children of both races. According to Historical Folk Toys, the black doll sometimes was dressed in a headscarf and the white doll in antebellum-style dress, supporting Wallace-Sanders’ theory that the idea was to socialize girls into their role.

And, of course, we have even less of an idea of how the children themselves thought of these dolls or where their imagination led them.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy Birthday, Zygmunt Bauman!

Zygmunt Bauman (1925- ) is a Polish sociologist. Although his work on postmodern capitalism has been very influential, he is arguably most famous for his analysis of modernity and the Holocaust. Rather than a return to barbarism, Bauman argued the Holocaust was not possible without modernity. By modernity he meant the modern concern with ordering, cataloging, creating and following rules, and the division of labor.

Sociological Cinema

1Art by David Moore. H/t Sociological Cinema.

That Catcalling Video: Research Methods Edition

First, there were the accolades. More than 100 instances of street harassment in a two minute video, testifying powerfully to the routine invasion of women’s lives by male strangers.

Then, there was the criticism. How is it, people asked, that the majority of the men are black? They argued: this video isn’t an indictment of men, it’s an indictment of black men.

Now, we’ve reached the third stage: lessons for research methods classes.

Our instructor is sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, writing at The Message. Our competing hypotheses are three:

1. Black men really do catcall more than other kinds of men.

2. The people who made this video are unconsciously or consciously racist, editing out men of other races.

3. The study was badly designed.

As Tufekci points out, any one of these could account for why so many of the catcallers were black. Likewise, all three could be at play at once.

Enter, the data wrangler: Chris Moore at Mass Appeal.

Moore and his colleagues looked for landmarks in the video in order to place every instance of harassment on the map of New York City. According to their analysis, over half of the harassment occurs on just one street — 125th — in Harlem.

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Did the time the producers spent in Harlem involve denser rates of harassment, supporting hypothesis #1. Did they spend an extra amount of time in Harlem because they have something against black men? That’d be hypothesis #2. Or is it hypothesis #3: they were thoughtless about their decisions as to where they would do their filming.

Honestly, it’s hard to say without more data, such as knowing how much time they spent in each neighborhood and in neighborhoods not represented in the video. But if it’s true that they failed to sample the streets of New York City in any meaningful way – and I suspect it is – then hypothesis #3 explains at least some of why black men are over-represented.

And that fact should motivate us all to do our methods right. If we don’t, we may end up offering accidental and fallacious support to ideas that we loathe.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

What Sociologists Can Tell Us About Serial Killing

In 1897, sociologist Émile Durkheim published research arguing that suicide – something previously believed to be decidedly unsociological – could be understood as a social phenomenon. He pointed out that suicide rates are not evenly distributed in or across societies; that cultural or structural factors might influence individuals’ risk of suicide, regardless of their individual psychologies; and that those factors might explain the variation.

Recently another set of sociologists borrowed Durkheim’s approach, substituting serial killing for suicide. James DeFronzo and three of his colleagues asked whether cultural and structural variables might predict state variation in the rate of male serial killer activity. This, it turns out, varies quite widely, as DeFronzo et al. write:

[U]sing a method that assigns a male serial killer to the state where he perpetrated his largest number of homicides, from 1970 to 1992 California had a rate of 18.6 male serial killers per 10 million residents, whereas Florida had a rate of 10.3, Texas had a rate of 7, New York had a rate of 6.3, Illinois had a rate of 6.1, Ohio had a rate of 3.7, and Pennsylvania had a rate of 3.4.

To do the study, the authors drew on existing literature, positing seven factors that might increase the rate of serial killing in a state.

Their structural factors included population density (large, urban, dense cities allow for greater anonymity and offer more potential victims) and variables that increased individuals’ vulnerability (being divorced, living alone, and being unemployed).

For the cultural factors, the authors considered variables that might indicate a high tolerance for or presence of violence. They argue:

Norms prescribing or tolerant of violent behavior contribute to shaping the fantasies of the developing serial killer, help to objectify and dehumanize potential victims, and consequently provide a necessary link in converting sexually sadistic urges in the violent behavior.

As measures of this, they include the overall homicide rate in the state, whether the state is in the South (see the “culture of honor” thesis), and the use of capital punishment.

They figured that the structural variables might predict the states in which killers killed because they measured opportunity. Whereas the cultural variables might incite young serial killers, thus they’d be related to the states in which serial killers grew up.

Here are the results. All of the relationships are positive – as the rate of divorce goes up, for example, so does the rate of serial killing – and about half of the relationships are statistically significant.

Model 1 (the first column of numbers) shows the relationship between our independent variables and the state where serial killers committed their largest number of murders. Model 1 offers good evidence that social structural variables influence whether serial killers actually kill. Vulnerable individuals living in high density environments may enable these crimes.

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Model 2 (the column on the far right) shows the relationship between the independent variables and where offenders were socialized as children. DeFronzo and his colleagues don’t theorize a relationship between their structural variables and the production of a young serial killer, so the significance of these relationships are a mystery. It might be, they argue, just an artifact of the fact that most serial killers killed in the same states in which they were raised.

One cultural variable was significant for this model: Southern region. Being exposed to violence as a child can trigger a genetic potential for violence that would otherwise remain unexpressed. Or, Southerners may simply grew up with greater tolerance for and approval of violence.

Like Durkheim, DeFronzo and his colleagues show us that even phenomenon we think are explained by other disciplines can benefit from sociological analysis. Thanks to their research, we now better understand the factors that increase the risk of being a victim of serial homicide. This is a great example of how we need all of the sciences to put together a complete picture of the world we live in.

Photo of John Wayne Gacy borrowed from The Guardian.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Just for Fun: Academic Q&A Tricks for Tricky Questions

If you’ve ever given an academic job talk or lecture, you’ve been this kid…

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Via Next Scientist.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.