Author Archives: Lisa Wade, PhD

Just for Fun: Muggle Studies

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By Stacy, who blogs at maraglen.tumblr.com.

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.

Map of the Week: 57% of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

The map below is an interactive available at the World Atlas of Language Structures.  It represents an extensive, but not quite comprehensive collection of world languages. Each dot represents one. White dots are languages that do not include gendered pronouns. No “he” or “she.” Just a gender neutral word that means person.

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The colored dots refer to languages with gendered pronouns, but there are more than one kind, as indicated by the Values key. The number on the right, further, indicates how many languages fit into each group. Notice that the majority of languages represented here (57%) DO NOT have gendered pronouns.

3The map at the site is interactive. Go there to click on those dots and explore.

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.

The No. 1 Cause of Traffic Fatalities? It’s Not Texting, It’s Driving

I don’t yet have a copy of Matt Richtel’s new book, A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention. Based on his Pulitzer-prize winning reporting for the New York Times, however, I’m afraid it’s unlikely to do justice to the complexity of the relationship between mobile phones and motor vehicle accidents. Worse, I fear it distracts attention from the most important cause of traffic fatalities: driving.

A bad sign

The other day Richtel tweeted a link to this old news article that claims texting causes more fatal accidents for teens than alcohol. The article says some researcher estimates “more than 3,000 annual teen deaths from texting,” but there is no reference to a study or any source for the data used to make the estimate. As I previously noted, that’s not plausible.

In fact, only 2,823 teens teens died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012 (only 2,228 of whom were vehicle occupants). So, I get 7.7 teens per day dying in motor vehicle accidents, regardless of the cause. I’m no Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, but I reckon that makes this giant factoid on Richtel’s website wrong, which doesn’t bode well for the book:

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In fact, I suspect the 11-per-day meme comes from Mother Jones (or someone they got it from) doing the math wrong on that Newsdaynumber of 3,000 per year and calling it “nearly a dozen” (3,000 is 8.2 per day). And if you Google around looking for this 11-per day statistic, you find sites like textinganddrivingsafety.com, which, like Richtel does in his website video, attributes the statistic to the “Institute for Highway Safety.” I think they mean the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is the source I used for the 2,823 number above. (The fact that he gets the name wrong suggests he got the statistic second-hand.) IIHS has an extensive page of facts on distracted driving, which doesn’t have any fact like this (they actually express skepticism about inflated claims of cellphone effects).

After I contacted him to complain about that 11-teens-per-day statistic, Richtel pointed out that the page I linked to is run by his publisher, not him, and that he had asked them to “deal with that stat.” I now see that the page includes a footnote that says, “Statistic taken from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Fatality Facts.” I don’t think that’s true, however, since the “Fatality Facts” page for teenagers still shows 2,228 teens (passengers and drivers) killed in 2012. Richtel added in his email to me:

As I’ve written in previous writings, the cell phone industry also takes your position that fatality rates have fallen. It’s a fair question. Many safety advocates point to air bags, anti-lock brakes and wider roads — billions spent on safety — driving down accident rates (although accidents per miles driven is more complex). These advocates say that accidents would’ve fallen far faster without mobile phones and texting. And they point out that rates have fallen far faster in other countries (deaths per 100,000 drivers) that have tougher laws. In fact, the U.S. rates, they say, have fallen less far than most other countries. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary on this. I think it’s a worthy issue for conversation.

I appreciate his response. Now I’ll read the book before complaining about him any more.

The shocking truth

I generally oppose scare-mongering manipulations of data that take advantage of common ignorance. The people selling mobile-phone panic don’t dwell on the fact that the roads are getting safer and safer, and just let you go on assuming they’re getting more and more dangerous. I reviewed all that here, showing the increase in mobile phone subscriptions relative to the decline in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.

That doesn’t mean texting and driving isn’t dangerous. I’m sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn’t seem right — how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on makeup; or if some people drive more cautiously while they’re using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)

Beyond the general complaint about misleading people and abusing our ignorance, however, the texting scare distracts us (I know, it’s ironic) from the giant problem staring us in the face: our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).

To illustrate this, I went through all the trouble of getting data on mobile phone subscriptions by state, to compare with state traffic fatality rates, only to find this: nothing:

cellphones traffic deaths with NEJM.xlsx

What does predict deaths? Driving. This isn’t a joke. Sometimes the obvious answer is obvious because it’s the answer:

cellphones traffic deaths with NEJM.xlsx

If you’re interested, I also put both of these variables in a regression, along with age and sex composition of the states, and the percentage of employed people who drive to work. Only the miles and drive-to-work rates were correlated with vehicle deaths. Mobile phone subscriptions had no effect at all.

Also, pickups?

Failing to find a demographic predictor that accounts for any of the variation after that explained by miles driven, I tried one more thing. I calculated each state’s deviation from the line predicted by miles driven (for example Alaska, where they only drive 6.3 thousand miles per person, is predicted to have 4.5 deaths per 100,000 but they actually have 8.1, putting that state 3.6 points above the line). Taking those numbers and pouring them into the Google correlate tool, I asked what people in those states with higher-than-expected death rates are searching for. And the leading answer is large, American pickup trucks. Among the 100 searches most correlated with this variable, 10 were about Chevy, Dodge, or Ford pickup trucks, like “2008 chevy colorado” (r = .68), shown here:

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I could think of several reasons why places where people are into pickup trucks have more than their predicted share of fatal accidents.

So, to sum up: texting while driving is dangerous and getting more common as driving is getting safer, but driving still kills thousands of Americans every year, making it the umbrella social problem under which texting may be one contributing factor.

I used this analogy before, and the parallel isn’t perfect, but the texting panic reminds me of the 1970s “Crying Indian” ad I used to see when I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. The ad famously pivoted from industrial pollution to littering in the climactic final seconds:

Conclusion: Keep your eye on the ball.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

How the Bird Hat Craze Almost Killed the Dinosaurs

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At the turn of the 19th century in the U.S. and Europe, it became wildly popular — and that’s an understatement — for ladies to wear feathers and whole taxidermied birds on their hats. One ornithologist reported taking two walks in Manhattan in 1886 and counting 700 hats; 525 of which were topped by feathers or birds. Buzzfeed has a collection of vintage hats featuring birds; here are some of the ones that were most stunning to me:

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At the time, not many people thought much of killing the birds. Europeans and their American cousins “didn’t believe they could put a dent in an animal’s population.” Birds seemed to be an “abundant, even inexhaustible” natural resource.  So take they did.  Millions of birds all over the world were harvested for hat makers for years. The Fashioning Feathers blog offers this example:

A single 1892 order of feathers by a London dealer… included 6,000 bird of paradise, 40,000 hummingbird and 360,000 various East Indian bird feathers. In 1902 an auction in London sold 1,608 30 ounce packages of heron… plumes. Each ounce of plume required the use of four herons, therefore each package used the plumes of 120 herons, for a grand total of 192, 960 herons killed.

Ornithologists started to sit up and take notice. One estimated that 67 types of birds — often including all of their sub-species — were at risk for extinction.  Not only were birds killed for their feathers, they were killed when their feathers were at their most resplendent. This meant killing them during mating season, interrupting their reproductive cycle and often leaving baby birds orphaned.

A campaign to end the practice began. In Europe the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds targeted women. They launched a sexist campaign accusing women of supporting the heartless slaughter of birds. Fashioning Feathers includes this image from a pamphlet titled “Feathered Women” in which the president of the Society calls them a “bird-enemy.”

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Virginia Woolf went for the jugular, pointing out that — even though the image shows a woman swooping down to kill a bird — it was largely men who did the dirty work of murder and they were also the ones profiting from the industry.

Ironically, middle class women were at the forefront of the bird preservation movement. They were the rank and file and, thanks in part to their work, in the U.S. the movement led to the formation of the first Audubon societies.  The Massachusetts Audubon Society organized a feather boycott, angering hat makers who called them “extremists” and “sentimentalists.” Politicians worried out loud about the loss of jobs. Missouri Senator James Reed complained:

Why there should be any sympathy or sentiment about a long-legged, long-beaked, long-necked bird that lives in swamps and eats tadpoles.

Ultimately the Massachusetts Audubon Society succeeded in pushing through the first federal-level conservation legislation in the U.S., the Lacey Act of 1900.

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: “Are You the Opposite Sex, or Am I?”

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Snapshots, by Jason Love.

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.

Chart of the Week: White High School Dropouts Do Better than College Grads of Color

Here’s a doozy in the theme of the racial wealth gap: households headed by white people who dropped out of high school have greater assets than those headed by blacks and Latinos with college degrees.

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At Demos, where Matt Bruenig posted this graph, he writes:

The median white family with an education level below high school has a net worth of $51.3k, while the median black and hispanic family with a college degree has a net worth of $25.9k and $41k respectively.

You’re better off being a white high school dropout than a black or Latino college grad. Ouch.

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 Asian American Parents Don’t Spank Their Kids

Football fans like me have undoubtedly heard about the indictment of Adrian Peterson on child abuse charges for striking his 4-year-old son with a thin tree branch. Pictures revealing multiple lacerations on the child’s thigh have surfaced, and exchanges regarding another of his children show Peterson has used physical discipline more than once. The case has further ignited intense debates about the use of corporal punishment. While many of us may recoil at pictures and wonder how an adult could inflict physical harm on a child, views of corporal punishment are not uniform. They have changed over time and vary by racial group.

Take American attitudes about spanking over the past 50 years. In 1968, 94% of American adults approved of spanking a child, but by 2012, the figure dropped to 70%. While the majority of American parents still spank their children, some are more likely to spank than others. According a recent study of 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, black parents are the most likely to spank their children (89%) and Asian parents, least likely (73%). White and Hispanic parents fell in between, at 79% and 80%, respectively.

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That Asian parents are less likely to use corporal punishment has led to speculation that there must be something unique about East Asian culture that promotes discipline without relying on physical force.

If this were the case, we would expect to see corporal punishment banned in East Asian countries, since national bans on corporal punishment reflect cultural norms and are associated with a decline in its support and reported use. Currently, 24 countries have banned corporal punishment; nineteen are in Europe. There are no national bans in Asia.

That no Asian country has banned the use of corporal punishment and that it remains an accepted form of discipline reveal that differences in the use of corporal punishment cannot be attributed to culture alone.

So how do we explain the differences across racial groups? Parental education and socioeconomic status are stronger drivers of parenting strategies than differences in race or culture. Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents. Asian Americans are, on average, more highly educated than other Americans, including whites.

This is a result of the hyper-selectivity of Asian immigration from countries like India, China, and Korea, in which immigrants from these countries are not only more highly educated than their counterparts who did not immigrate, but are also more highly educated than the general U.S. population. Hence, Asian immigrants are not a random sample of all Asians. Rather, they represent a highly educated subgroup, which explains why they are the least likely to use physical force to discipline their children.

In my research with Min Zhou, we interviewed the adult children of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants in Los Angeles about their experiences of growing up American. As expected, those with more highly educated parents were more likely to have been disciplined with socioemotional strategies. Rather than use physical force, their parents would verbally express their disappointment or give a stern facial cue that signaled their disapproval.

Moreover, these parents praised the positive behavior of other children, both in front of their children and in front of other parents and children. By lauding positive behavior privately and publicly, these parents indirectly reinforced their expectations and provided concrete role models for their children to emulate. This dual socioemotional strategy of internal disapproval and external praise provided their children with a clear-cut portrait of model behavior, in spite intergenerational and linguistic differences between immigrant parents and their U.S.-born children. While the second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese admitted that the constant comparisons were “irritating,” they acknowledged that their parents provided a clear signal of what behavior to follow.

Still, some of our interviewees admitted experiencing physical abuse that would rival that experienced by Adrian Peterson’s young son. In fact, some told us the abuse continued into their teenage years and stemmed from severe intergenerational conflicts that exploded over which college a child should attend or what career trajectory he or she should follow.

A third group of parents took socioemotional strategies to an extreme, telling their children that they were so disappointed that they could not face other parents. They were just that embarrassed about their child’s behavior or lack of accomplishments. So, the use of socioemotional strategies may help reinforce certain positive behaviors, but used carelessly or as a manipulation, it can leave children feeling just as powerless and despondent as any physical punishment.

Jennifer Lee, PhD, is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine. Her book, The Diversity Paradox, examines patterns of intermarriage and multiracial identification among Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.  

Cross-posted at The Society Pages Specials.

From the Archives: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer-Themed Pink Sexy Leopard-ish Costume Blows Our Mind » Sociological ImagesSocial Psychology

Inequality and Breast Cancer Care

Pinkwashing

Sexual Objectification in Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast Cancer and the Social Construction of Gender

Simply Absurd

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.