Norton Sociology recently posted an image that illustrate differences in rates of imprisonment in a number of countries. Imprisonment rates are influenced by a number of factors — what is made illegal, how intense law enforcement efforts are, preference for prison time over other options, etc. The U.S. does not compare favorably, with 74.3 per 100,000 10,000 of our population behind bars (click here for a version you can zoom in on, and sorry for the earlier typo!):
Here’s a close-up of the breakdown of the U.S. prison population:
The declining birth rate in Latin America, depicted in this graph, is a nice example of the way that both cultural and social change affects individual choices. Brazil is highlighted as an extreme case. It’s birthrate has fallen from over six children/woman in 1960 to under 1.9 today.
The accompanying Washington Postarticle, sent in by Mae C., explains that the decrease in the birthrate since the 1960s is related to migration to cities. In rural areas children are useful. They can help with crops and animals. In crowded and expensive cities, however, they cost money and take up space. Economic change, then, changed the context of individual choices.
This transition — from a largely rural country with high birthrates to an industrialized one with lower birthrates — has been observed across countries again and again. It’s no surprise to demographers (social scientists who study changes in human population). But Brazil did surprise demographers in one way:
…Brazil’s fertility rate fell almost uniformly from cosmopolitan Sao Paulo, with its tiny apartments and go-go economy, to Amazonian villages and the vast central farming belt.
The decline in birthrate, in other words, has occurred across the urban/rural divide. Demographers attribute this to cultural factors. The idea of “an appealing, affluent, highflying world, whose distinguishing features include the small family” has been widely portrayed on popular soap operas, while Brazilian women in the real world have made strong strides into high-status, well-paid, but time-intensive occupations. They mention, in particular, Brazil’s widely-admired first female president, Dilma Rousseff, who has one child.
Ultimately, then, the dramatic drop in the birthrate is due to a combination of both economic and cultural change.
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.
Photographer James Mollison has embarked on a similar project, Where Children Sleep, sent in by Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University, Yvette M., Amanda B., Dmitriy T.M., and my sister, Keely. Mollison has documented children and their bedrooms around the world. It’s heartbreaking to see how much some children have, and how little others do.
Ilysse W. sent in a link to a story about a recent response to homophobia at a men’s volleyball match in Brazil, which she thought was particularly interesting given L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s recent homophobic outburst at a game and the conversations it has sparked about homophobia in sports. Bryant has been in the news for apparently calling a referee a “fucking faggot” (video at TMZ). The NBA has fined him $100,000, though Bryant says he will appeal the fine and that his words shouldn’t be “taken literally” (via ESPN):
The concern that I have is for those that follow what I say and are inspired by how I play or look to me as a role model or whatever it is, for them not to take what is said as a message of hate or a license to degrade or embarrass or tease. That’s something I don’t want to see happen. It’s important for me to talk about that issue because it’s OK to be who you are, and I don’t want this issue to be a part of something or to magnify something that shouldn’t be.
Emory University has a very detailed database about the Atlantic slave trade, titled Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which I don’t believe we’ve posted before (my apologies if we have). It includes nine maps providing information on major points of departure and destination ports for the trans-Atlantic trade; here’s a general overview:
Initially the vast majority of slave voyages were organized by firms or individuals in Spain and Portugal; however, over time the slave trade was dominated by groups from northern Europe. Great Britain eventually played a major role, and over 1/3 of documented slave voyages were organized there.The description of Map 6 explains, “vessels from the largest seven ports, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Liverpool, London, Nantes, Bristol, and Pernambuco carried off almost three-quarters of all captives removed from Africa via the Atlantic Ocean.”
This map shows where voyages were organized, and the % of all documented African slaves that voyages from that country/area transported:
In the U.S., students generally learn about slavery in relation to cotton plantations and, to a lesser extent, tobacco. However, overall those two crops played a relatively minor role in the growth of the global slave trade. It was the growing taste for sugar, and the creation of sugar plantations, particularly in the Caribbean and South American coastal areas, that produced such an enormous demand for African slaves in the Americas. According to the Voyages website, less than 4% of all Africans captured were sold in North America.
The website also has a database of thousands of documented trips in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, including everything from point of origin, destination, number of slaves, % who died during voyage, length of trip, and so on. Some include many more details than others, as you’d expect. You can also create tables to display the variables you’re interested in. Here’s the table showing the slave trade, broken into 25-year intervals and by destination. We can clearly see that the slave trade made one big jump in the late 1500s (going from 4,287 in the 1551-1575 interval to 73,865 between 1576 and the end of the century) and another huge jump in the late 1600s, with the height of the slave trade occuring in the 1700s through the mid-1800s:
You can also create various graphs and charts. Here is a graph of the % of slaves who died during the trip, by year:
I presume the extremely high numbers in the 1550s must be skewed by some ships that sank or met some other disaster that led to the death of everyone aboard.
Over time, ships carried larger numbers of individuals per trip:
The individuals taken as part of the slave trade were predominantly male:
Documented types of resistance from captives or from Africans trying to free them:
You can spend quite a bit of time on this, I warn you — creating timelines, graphs, and so on. It’s taken me an hour to write this post because I keep getting distracted creating charts and tables. Overall, the site is a fantastic resource for both specific information and for helping illuminate the enormity of the Atlantic slave trade. Thanks to Shamus Khan for the tip.
Katrin drew our attention to the Christmas character of the Christkind, found in regions as diverse as Austria, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Rebublic, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and, according to Wikipedia, “…parts of Hispanic America, in certain areas of southern Brazil and in the Acadiana region of Louisiana.”
The Christkind was introduced by the German Protestant priest Martin Luther (1483-1546). At the time, tradition held that gifts were given by St. Nicholas. Protestants, however, didn’t acknowledge saints, so they needed an alternative mythological gift giver. The Christkind was originally depicted as baby Jesus, but in many places today is instead an angelic blond child or adult woman.
In Nuremberg, Germany, a Christkind is chosen every two years in a pageant reminiscent of American beauty pageants (source). This year the Christkind is Rebekka Volland (source):
As a member of a cattle-raising family, I hear a pretty steady stream of complaints about people eating less beef, which is variously attributed to a conspiracy against the American rancher (possibly by terrorists), the result of stupid city people who get all terrified over every little health concern (Mad Cow Disease is a myth! Unless it’s a terrorist plot to ruin ranching), environmentalists, animal rights activists, and me (I’ve been a vegetarian since 1996 and thus single-handedly nearly destroyed the beef industry).
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is similarly concerned about reduced beef consumption. And given that we frequently hear about the connections between red meat consumption and health concerns such as heart disease, and are advised to substitute white meat for red meat (to the point that the pork industry began branding pork as “the other white meat”), you’d probably expect to see a dramatic decline in consumption of beef.
And we do see a decline, but not as much as you might expect, as this graph from the Freakonomics blog, sent in by Dmitriy T.M. and Bryce M. (a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), illustrates:
Clearly beef consumption has declined since its peak in the late 1970s, when people in the U.S. ate nearly 90 pounds of beef each per year, to closer to 60 lbs. each today. On the other hand, all those health warnings, disease scares, and environmentalist-vegetarian terrorist plots haven’t yet knocked beef out of its position as the most-eaten meat in the U.S. Clearly, chicken seems poised to take over that position, but beef doesn’t exactly appear to be falling off the charts.
So how do we compare to other countries in terms of overall meat consumption? In a 2003 article in the Journal of Nutrition, Andrew Speedy provided data on global meat consumption (defined as “beef and buffalo, sheep and goat, pig meat and poultry”) — note it’s in kilograms, not pounds, and the legend should be read across, not down (so the first bar is for the U.S., the second is for France, and so on):
So insofar as there has been a decrease in beef consumption in the U.S., and more dramatic increase in chicken consumption: what’s going on? The Freakonomics article presents an explanation:
A study by the agricultural economists James Mintert, Glynn Tonsor, and Ted Schroeder found that for every 1 percent increase in female employment, beef consumption sank by .6 percent while chicken consumption rose by .6 percent. Why? Probably because beef takes longer than chicken to prepare, and because poultry producers did a good job marketing cheap and ready-to-cook chicken products. Furthermore, all those working women meant more household income, which meant more families eating in restaurants — where meals are less likely to contain beef than meals at home.
Health concerns do play a part; the authors found that negative media coverage of beef (either recalls due to contamination or general links to heart disease, etc.) reduced consumption, while positive coverage that linked eating meat to getting iron, zinc, and other minerals increased it. But they found that health effects were small compared to the effects of changing family dynamics — that is, women working outside the home and families eating fewer meals at home.
It’s a nice example of how the factors driving social changes are often much more complex than we’d expect. Common sense explanations of changes in beef consumption would, I think, a) overestimate how much less beef Americans eat than in the past and b) assume the major driving factors to be health-related concerns, whether about chronic disease or recalls. Yet it turns out a major aspect of the story is a structural change that doesn’t seem clearly connected at all.
I guess if I were a health advocate hoping people in the U.S. were starting to listen to messages about healthy eating, that might depress me. But I guess I can tell my grandma that the terrorists’ evil plans to infect U.S. cattle herds with Mad Cow or some other disease might not be as catastrophic as they might imagine.
UPDATE: As a couple of readers point out, the increase in chicken consumption can’t be explained just as a result of people eating chicken when they otherwise would have eaten beef; the drop in beef consumption is way overshadowed by the increase in how much chicken people eat. The total amount of all meat eaten each year has increased dramatically.
I don’t know what is driving all of that change, but I suspect a lot of it is marketing campaigns — not just directly to consumers, but efforts by industry groups and the USDA to get more meat into a wide variety of items at grocery stores and on restaurant menus, as they have done with cheese.
Different countries formalize different racial categories. Below are examples of the “race” questions on the Censuses of 9 different countries. They illustrate just how diverse ideas about race are and challenge the notion that there is one “correct” question or set of questions.
The categories in the drop down menu include:
The categories in the drop down menu include:
Black, African Am., or Negro
American Indian or Alaska Native
Guamanian or Chamorro
Other Pacific Islander
Some other race