A new study has discovered that 48% of the nation’s 50 million public school students are in poverty, as measured by whether they qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. In 17 states, the majority of schoolchildren are poor. Poverty rates are led by Mississippi, where 71% of children are in poverty.
While the statistics are the worst for states in the South and the West, the percent increase in poor children was the highest in the Midwest (up 40% since 2001, compared to 33% in the South, 31% in the West, and 21% in the Northeast). All, of course, extraordinary increases.
Sociologists like to say that gender identities are socially constructed. That just means that what it is, and what it means, to be male or female is at least partly the outcome of social interaction between people – visible through the rules, attitudes, media, or ideals in the social world.
And that process sometimes involves constructing people’s bodies physically as well. And in today’s high-intensity parenting, in which gender plays a big part, this includes constructing – or at least tinkering with – the bodies of children.
Today’s example: braces. In my Google image search for “child with braces,” the first 100 images yielded about 75 girls.
Why so many girls braced for beauty? More girls than boys want braces, and more parents of girls want their kids to have them, even though girls’ teeth are no more crooked or misplaced than boys’. This is just one manifestation of the greater tendency to value appearance for girls and women more than for boys and men. But because braces are expensive, this is also tied up with social class, so that richer people are more likely to get their kids’ teeth straightened, and as a result richer girls are more likely to meet (and set) beauty standards.
Hard numbers on how many kids get braces are surprisingly hard to come by. However, the government’s medical expenditure survey shows that 17 percent of children ages 11-17 saw an orthodontist in the last year, which means the number getting braces at some point in their lives is higher than that. The numbers are rising, and girls are wearing most of hardware.
A study of Michigan public school students showed that although boys and girls had equal treatment needs (orthodontists have developed sophisticated tools for measuring this need, which everyone agrees is usually aesthetic), girls’ attitudes about their own teeth were quite different:
Clearly, braces are popular among American kids, with about half in this study saying they want them, but that sentiment is more common among girls, who are twice as likely as boys to say they don’t like their teeth.
The same pattern is found in Germany, where 38 percent of girls versus 30 percent of boys ages 11-14 have braces, and in Britain – both countries where braces are covered by state health insurance if they are needed, but parents can pay for them if they aren’t.
Among American adults, women are also more likely to get braces, leading the way in the adult orthodontic trend. (Google “mother daughter braces” and you get mothers and daughters getting braces together; “father son braces” brings you to orthodontic practices run by father-son teams.)
Teeth and consequences
Caption: The teeth of TV anchors Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien, Robin Roberts, Suzanne Malveaux, Don Lemon, George Stephanopolous, David Gregory, Ashley Banfield, and Diane Sawyer.
Today’s rich and famous people – at least the one whose faces we see a lot – usually have straight white teeth, and most people don’t get that way without some intervention. And lots of people get that.
Girls are held to a higher beauty standard and feel the pressure – from media, peers or parents – to get their teeth straightened. They want braces, and for good reason. Unfortunately, this subjects them to needless medical procedures and reinforces the over-valuing of appearance. However, it also shows one way that parents invest more in their girls, perhaps thinking they need to prepare them for successful careers and relationships by spending more on their looks.
When they’re grown up, of course, women get a lot more cosmetic surgery than men do – 87 percent of all surgical procedures, and 94% of Botox-type procedures – and that gap is growing over time.
As is the case with lots of cosmetic procedures, people from wealthier families generally are less likely to need braces but more likely to get them. But add this to the gender pattern, and what emerges is a system in which richer girls (voluntarily or not) and their parents set the standard for beauty – and then reap the rewards (as well as harms) of reaching it.
I read an article today about whether visible, viable female candidates for elected office make adolescent girls more interested in politics. They do. But what made my jaw drop was the data on adolescents’ interest in politics overall. It’s been falling for decades.
The graph below was included as part of the description of their data. The measure of “political engagement” is a combination of responses to questions about whether they plan to participate in political activities when they get older, imagine they’ll ever write to a public official, think they’d like to work on a political campaign. Remember, they’re just kids, so it’s all prospective.
They’ve been asking this question of about 2,500 kids since 1979. In that year, adolescents scored about 0.75, with possible scores ranging from zero to three. So, the average kid said yes to fewer than one of the questions. The likelihood of adolescents saying yes to even one, however, has been dropping. In 2001, the average score was closer to 0.5. That’s equivalent to every other kid saying yes to just one of the questions.
Click to enlarge:
The drop isn’t as dramatic as it looks because the graph only goes from 0.4 to 0.9, while the scale is from zero to three. The pattern of decreasing interest in politics, however, seems real. I’m outside of my range of expertise here, otherwise I’d be able to offer some hypotheses for why. But I’d love to hear your ideas and any guesses about what’s happened to adolescents’ interest in politics since 2001.
I had the pleasure of being a guest on Take Part Live last week with Sex Nerd Sandra and comedian Will Weldon. We talked about millennials and “modern sexuality.” Will talked technology, Sandra defends the “premeditated hook up,” and I asked host Cara Santa Maria to be my boyfriend. Good times. Here’s a clip!
In this powerful spoken word, poet Clint Smith, who is also a teacher in Washington D.C., tells the stories of some of his students. It puts names and details to the struggles of young people trying to thrive in an urban environment that is all too often indifferent to their survival.
In my lecture about the sex lives of college students, I remind students that they didn’t invent casual sex. This always prompts some snickers. The fact that today’s students have about the same number of sexual partners as their parents did at their age evokes an even stronger response. About 1/5th of college students will be virgins when they graduate college.
In fact, college students aren’t as sexually active as the moralizing makes it seem. And neither, it turns out, are teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 57% of girls and 58% of boys age 15 to 19 have never had penile-vaginal intercourse. Moreover, the percent of teenagers that have had intercourse has been dropping consistently over the last 20 years.
So, despite the fact that young people are more likely than earlier generations to engage in oral sex before initiating penile-vaginal intercourse (especially fellatio), they continue to take intercourse very seriously. This may be, in part, because men are becoming more like women in this regard. Men’s numbers have dropped much more sharply. In addition, for the first time the CDC study found that boys’ #2 reason for not having engaged in intercourse was that they were waiting for the right person. Men cited this reason 29% of the time, compared to 19% for girls. For both boys and girls, the #1 reason is that it’s against their religion (41% of girls and 31% of boys). Concerns about pregnancy come in third.
It turns out, there’s a nice Halloween field experiment. Here’s the setup. On Halloween, a woman answers the door and invites the trick-or-treaters in. She tells them to “take one,” and then leaves the room leaving the bowl of candy and a bowl of nickels and pennies (adjusting for inflation: dimes and quarters, maybe even half-dollars). They did this experiment at 27 houses with a total of 1,300 kids.
Overall, most kids (69%) took one. But conditions mattered.
In one experimental manipulation, the woman either asked the kids who they were and where they lived or she allowed them to be anonymous. Experimenters also noted whether the kids were trick-or-treating alone or in groups. For some groups, the woman designated the smallest kid in the group as being in charge of making sure that kids took only one. All these variables made a difference.
The greatest rate of cheating (80%) occurred when the smallest child was being responsible but everyone was anonymous. Diener reasoned that with responsibility shifted to the smallest link, the other kids would feel freer to break the rule.
Those who did cheat usually took only an additional one to three candies. But, of those who did grab more than what was offered, 20% took both candy and coins. Unfortunately, the Snickers study is not like the marshmallow study, so we don’t know where those greediest kids are now.