This photograph is of a Creole home right off the Mississippi river in Louisiana. It served as the home of two families who ran a sugar cane plantation, starting in 1805. I visited the home as a part of a tour of Laura Plantation and I found one architectural detail particularly interesting. The tour guide described the two sets of double doors immediately behind the staircase as the “brise” (French for breeze, as the Creole would have spoken French). These doors were not for use by people. They were only to let the breeze in. They were essentially air ducts, said the tour guide and, to Creole folks, using those doors would have been as odd as entering the house through a window. Instead, according to Creole tradition, visitors were to enter through one of the doors on the far right or left of the house. These delivered guests to the men’s and women’s quarters: one room with a bedroom, a dresser, and a desk.
All this, of course, was very bizarre to the new Americans of British descent who came to Louisiana to do business. The front doors of their homes were in the middle of the house and they led to an entryway or reception area. To them, it would have been very odd indeed to enter the house at one end and even more strange to enter someone’s bedroom. Moreover, since Laura Plantation was run by women for many years, this meant doing business in a woman boudoir. How scandalous.
This is a great example of the social construction of space. Where is the proper place for a front door? What kind of activities take place in the same room? What rooms/furniture are appropriate for strangers to see? Non-Creoles had to learn how to do business in a new way — perhaps accidentally bungling their entry by knocking at the window — and, ultimately, Laura and the other female presidents of the plantation would have to negotiate their expectations, by separating the bed and office for example. Something as simple as a front door, then, turns out to be a really neat example of social construction and social change.
by Lisa Wade PhD and Gwen Sharp PhD, May 20, 2014, at 09:00 am
Happy Graduation, Seniors! Congratulations! What’s next? Below is some sociologically-inspired, out-of-the-box advice on work, love, family, friendship, and the meaning of life. For new grads from the two of us!
1. Don’t Worry About Making Your Dreams Come True
College graduates are often told: “follow your passion,” do “what you love,” what you were “meant to do,” or “make your dreams come true.” Two-thirds think they’re going find a job that allows them to change the world, half within five years. Yikes.
This sets young people up to fail. The truth is that the vast majority of us will not be employed in a job that is both our lifelong passion and a world-changer; that’s just not the way our global economy is. So it’s ok to set your sights just a tad below occupational ecstasy. Just find a job that you like. Use that job to help you have a full life with lots of good things and pleasure and helping others and stuff. A great life is pretty good, even if it’s not perfect.
2. Make Friends
Americans put a lot of emphasis on finding Mr. or Ms. Right and getting married. We think this will bring us happiness. In fact, however, both psychological well-being and health are more strongly related to friendship. If you have good friends, you’ll be less likely to get the common cold, less likely to die from cancer, recover better from the loss of a spouse, and keep your mental acuity as you age. You’ll also feel more capable of facing life’s challenges, be less likely to feed depressed or commit suicide, and be happier in old age. Having happy friends increases your chance of being happy as much as an extra $145,500 a year does. So, make friends!
This might be you. Research shows that young people’s expectations about their marital status (e.g., the desire to be married by 30 and have kids by 32) have little or no relationship to what actually happens to people. So, go with the flow.
And, if you’re single, you’re in good company. Single people spend more time with friends, volunteer more, and are more involved in their communities than married people. Never-married and divorced women are happier, on average, than married women. So, don’t buy into the myth of the miserable singleton.
4. Don’t Take Your Ideas about Gender and Marriage Too Seriously
If you do get married, be both principled and flexible. Relationship satisfaction, financial security, and happy kids are more strongly related to the ability to adapt in the face of life’s challenges than any particular way of organizing families. The most functional families are ones that can bend. So partnering with someone who thinks that one partner should support their families and the other should take responsibility for the house and children is a recipe for disaster. So is being equally rigid about non-traditional divisions of labor. It’s okay to have ideas about how to organize your family – and, for the love of god, please talk about both your ideals and fallback positions on this – but your best bet for happiness is to be flexible.
5. Think Hard About Whether to Buy a House
Our current image of the American Dream revolves around homeownership, and buying a home is often taken for granted as a stage on the path to full-fledge adulthood. But the ideal of universal home ownership was born in the 1950s. It’s a rather new idea.
With such a short history, it’s funny that people often insist that buying a house is a fool-proof investment and the best way to secure retirement. In fact, buying a house may not be the best choice for you. The mortgage may be less than rent, but there are also taxes, insurance, and the increasingly common Home Owners Association (HOA) fees. You may someday sell the house for more than you bought it but, if you paid interest on a mortgage, you also paid far more than the sale price. You have freedom from a landlord, but may discover your HOA is just as controlling, or worse. And then there’s the headache: renting relieves you from the stress of being responsible for repairs. It also offers a freedom of movement that you might cherish.
So, think carefully about whether buying or renting is a better fit for your finances, lifestyle, and future goals. This New York Timesrent vs. buy calculator is a good start.
6. Think Even Harder about Having Kids
One father had this to say about children: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.” In fact, having children correlates with both an increased sense of purpose in life and a long-lasting decrease in individual and marital happiness. Having kids means spending a lot of your short life and limited income on one source of joy. It’s not a bad decision. But it’s also not the only good decision you can make. We want to think we can “have it all” but, in fact, it’s a zero sum game. You have only so much time and money and there are lots of ways to find satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning in this life. Consider all your options.
Last week the internet chuckled at the visual below. It shows that, since Godzilla made his first movie appearance in 1954, he has tripled in size.
Kris Holt, at PolicyMic, suggests that his enlargement is in response to growing skylines. She writes:
As time has passed, buildings have grown ever taller too. If Godzilla had stayed the same height throughout its entire existence, it would be much less imposing on a modern cityscape.
This seems plausible. Buildings have gotten taller and so, to preserve the original feel, Godzilla would have to grow too.
But rising buildings can’t be the only explanation. According to this graphic, the tallest building at the time of Gozilla’s debut was the Empire State Building, rising to 381 meters. The tallest building in the world today is (still) the Burj Khalifa. At 828 meters, it’s more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building, but it’s far from three times as tall, or 1,143 meters.
Is there an alternate explanation? Here’s one hypothesis.
In 1971, the average American was exposed to about 500 advertisements per day. Today, because of the internet, they are exposed to over 5,000. Every. Day.
Media critic Sut Jhally argues that the flood of advertising has forced marketers to shift strategies. Specifically, he says
So overwhelming has the commercial takeover of culture become, that it has now become a problem for advertisers who now worry about clutter and noise. That is, how do you make your ads stand out from the commercial impressions that people are exposed to.
One strategy has been to ratchet up shock value. “You need to get eyeballs. You need to be loud,” said Kevin Kay, Spike’s programming chief.
So, to increase shock value, everything is being made more extreme. Compared to the early ’90s, before the internet was a fixture in most homes and businesses, advertising — and I’m guessing media in general — has gotten more extreme in lots of ways. Things are sexier, more violent, more gorgeous, more satirical, and weirder.
Do Millennials really carry more debt than their parents and grandparents did at their age? Yes, according to a new study by sociologist Jason Houle. “In order to participate in society and gain economic independence,” he writes, “many young adults today must take a massive financial risk.” Or, as he puts it, “out of the nest and into the red.”
The graph below compares the amount of debt held by three generations in young adulthood (adjusted for inflation and controlled for other variables). Notice that the median debt load has grown, but the average debt load has grown much faster. This means that, while debt has grown over all, averages are also pulled up by a small number of young people that have really high levels.
Some evidence suggests that high debt individuals may be coming from lower income families. They take on debt as young people because the adults in their lives have already maxed out. They can’t count on their parents, for example, to take out a second mortgage on the house in order to pay for their college education. So, if they want to go to college, they have to take on the debt themselves.
Houle’s analysis, however, also shows that the kind of debt has changed across the three generations. The pie charts below reveal that the proportion of debt accounted for by home or car loans has shrunk, while the proportion accounted for by education loans and unsecured debt, like credit cards, has risen.
Moreover, Houle argues that this profile of generation Y’s debt is class specific:
The more advantaged are able to take on debt that helps them pursue a middle class lifestyle and build their wealth, while the less advantaged must take on debt to pay their bills and keep their heads above water.
So, is massive financial risk the new recipe for success?
For some, the answer may be yes. But for many, the gamble does not pay off. Students that take out college loans, for example, are more likely to drop out of college than those who have a parent that can pay. The combination of school loans and minimum-wage jobs can add up to a lifetime of economic insecurity. But, without other resources, not risking at all almost guarantees failure in this economy. For this reason, Houle argues, the availability of credit and acquisition of debt may be just another driver of income and wealth inequality. It’s a disturbing story that you can read in more depth here.
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.
Officially our most recent recession began December 2007 and ended June 2009. The following chart provides an important perspective on the recovery period.
Stocks and profits have enjoyed a remarkable recovery. While income is slightly up over the period, it is critical to remember that this is average income and the increase largely reflects gains for those at the very top of the income distribution. Jobs and housing have yet to recover.
So, with returns to capital booming, it is easy to understand why business leaders are relatively content with current policies and, by extension, political leaders are reluctant to rock the boat.
Unfortunately, current policies are unlikely to do much to improve the job prospects or income of most workers. In fact, the rise in business profits owes much to our depressed labor conditions. Unless something dramatic happens, we can expect the next few years to look very much like the past few years.
Part of what makes professional basketball appealing, for kids who love to play as well as fans, is the idea that a person can come from humble beginnings and become a star. The players on the court, the narrative goes, are ones who rose to fame as a result of incredible dedication and extraordinary talent. Basketball, then, is a way out of poverty, a true equal opportunity sport that affirms what we think America is all about.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz crunched the numbers to find out if the equal opportunity story was true. Analyzing the economic background of NBA players, he found that growing up in a wealthy neighborhood (the top 40% of household incomes) is a “major, positive predictor” for success in professional basketball. Black players are also less likely than the general black male population to have been born to a young or single mother. So, class privilege is an advantage for pro ball players, just like it is elsewhere in our economy.
The richest Black men, then, are most likely to end up in the NBA, followed by those in the bottom 20% of neighborhoods by income. Middle class black men may, like many middle class white men, see college as a more secure route to a successful future. Research shows that poor black men often see sports as a more realistic route out of poverty than college (and they may not be wrong). This also helps explain why Jews dominated professional basketball in the first half of the 1900s.
LeBron James was right, then, when he said, “I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I am not even supposed to be here.” The final phrase disrupts our mythology about professional basketball: that being poor isn’t an obstacle if one has talent and drive. But, as Stephens-Davidowitz reminds us, “[a]nyone from a difficult environment, no matter his athletic prowess, has the odds stacked against him.”
Kids growing up in dense, urban environments often turn to basketball as their sport of choice. This is partly because it fits, in a physical sense. All things being equal, a basketball court takes up a lot less room than a football or soccer field. For the economically disadvantaged, it’s also relatively cheap to play. If you have a court available, you only need a pair of shoes and a ball. For this reason, whatever population finds itself in this type of environment tends to take up basketball.
That’s why the sport was dominated by Jews in the first half of the 1900s. Just like many African-Americans today, at that time many immigrant Jewish families found themselves isolated in inner cities. Basketball seemed like a way out. “It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” explained retired ball player Dave Dabrow. Basketball scholarships were one of the few ways low income urban Jews could afford college.
Today we refer to stereotypes about Black men to explain why they dominate basketball, but this is an after-the-fact justification. At the time, very different characteristics — stereotypes associated with Jews — were used to explain why they dominated professional teams. Paul Gallico, sports editor of the NY Daily News in the 1930s, explained that “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.” All stereotypes about Jews. Moreover, he argued, Jews were rather short and so had “God-given better balance and speed.” Yep. There was a time when we thought being short was an advantage in the sport of basketball.
Never underestimate the power of institutions and how much things can change.