Flashback Friday.

New York Times article broke the story that a preference for boy children is leading to an unlikely preponderance of boy babies among Chinese-Americans and, to a lesser but still notable extent, Korean- and Indian-Americans.

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Explaining the trend, Roberts writes:

In those families, if the first child was a girl, it was more likely that a second child would be a boy, according to recent studies of census data. If the first two children were girls, it was even more likely that a third child would be male.

Demographers say the statistical deviation among Asian-American families is significant, and they believe it reflects not only a preference for male children, but a growing tendency for these families to embrace sex-selection techniques, like in vitro fertilization and sperm sorting, or abortion.

The article explains the preference for boy children as cultural, as if Chinese, Indian, and Korean cultures, alone, expressed a desire to have at least one boy child.  Since white and black American births do not show an unlikely disproportion of boy children, the implication is that a preference for boys is not a cultural trait of the U.S.

Actually, it is.

In 1997 a Gallup poll found that 35% of people preferred a boy and 23% preferred a girl (the remainder had no preference). In 2007 another Gallup poll found that 37% of people preferred a boy, while 28% preferred a girl.

I bring up this data not to trivialize the preference for boys that we see in the U.S. and around the world, but to call into question the easy assumption that the data presented by the New York Times represents something uniquely “Asian.”

Instead of emphasizing the difference between “them” and “us,” it might be interesting to try to think why, given our similarities, we only see such a striking disproportionality in some groups.

Some of the explanation for this might be cultural (e.g., it might be more socially acceptable to take measures to ensure a boy-child among some groups), but some might also be institutional. Only economically privileged groups have the money to take advantage of sex selection technology (or even abortion, as that can be costly, too). Sex selection, the article explains, costs upwards of $15,000 or more. Perhaps not coincidentally, Chinese, Korean, and Indian Asians are among the more economically privileged minority groups in the U.S.

Instead of demonizing Asian people, and without suggesting that all groups have the same level of preference for boys, I propose a more interesting conversation: What enables some groups to act on a preference for boys, and not others?

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.

Compared to other democracies, the U.S. has a strange penchant for passing laws that suppress voting instead of encourage it.  We are one of the few democracies, for example, that requires people to register to vote.  Most elsewhere, writes Eric Black for the Minnesota Post:

[G]overnments know the names, ages and addresses of most of its citizens and… provide the appropriate polling place with a list of those qualified to vote. The voter just has to show up.

We also hold elections on just one day instead of several and that day is an otherwise normal Tuesday instead of a weekend or a holiday.

Those are just two examples of rules and practices that reduce voting. There are many. It’s called voter suppression and it’s totally a thing. The ACLU has collected voter suppression efforts just since 2013, listing 15 states that have passed such measures.

A majority of these efforts to reduce voting are initiated by the political right, as a generic search for such stories quickly reveals. They are aimed specifically at likely democratic voters, like racial minorities and students, adding up to what political scientist David Schultz argues is the Second Great Disenfranchisement in U.S. history after Jim Crow.

Many of these measures are overtly discriminatory and even illegal, but others are more subtle. Making voting more costly in terms of time might be one subtle way of discouraging voting by some types of people. Data collected by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in 2012 suggests that this is, indeed, part of voter suppression, by incompetence or design.

Here is some of their data, as organized by Mother Jones. Nationwide, the average wait time to vote was longer for all non-white groups, especially blacks:

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Florida had the longest delays in 2012 and these delays disproportionately affected Latinos:

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In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest wait times were all in one disproportionately African American county:

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Wait times are partly the result of the number of voting machines divided by the number of registered voters. The long wait times in South Carolina, in other words, were not random. Those 10 precincts in the highly African American county had about half as many voting machines per person as the statewide average:

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They also had significantly fewer poll workers available to help out:

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There are more graphs and more details at Mother Jones.

Voter suppression seriously harms our right to call ourselves a democracy.  Notably, it’s significantly worse today. When the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that required oversight of states with a history of voting discrimination, the ability of the federal government to ensure equal voting rights was seriously damaged. Previously monitored states immediately began passing legislation designed to suppress voting. As I wrote previously:

This is bad.  It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

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.

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.

Eyelid surgery is the third most common cosmetic procedure in the world.  Some are necessary for drooping eyelids that interfere with vision, others are undertaken in order to enable people to look younger, but many people choose these surgeries to make their eyes look more Western or whiter, a characteristic often conflated with attractiveness.

Recently Julie Chen — a TV personality and news anchor — revealed that she had undergone eyelid and other surgeries almost 20 years ago in order to comply with the standards of beauty and “relatability” demanded of her bosses.  She released these photos in tandem with the story:

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Chen said that she was torn about whether to get the surgeries.  Her entire family got involved in the conversation and they split, too, arguing about whether the surgeries represented a rejection of her Chinese ancestry.

Ultimately, though, Chen was under a lot of pressure from her bosses.  One told her “you will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.” He went on:

Let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? ‘On top of that, because of your heritage, because of your Asian eyes, sometimes I’ve noticed when you’re on camera and you’re interviewing someone, you look disinterested, you look bored.

Another man, a “big time agent,” told her: “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look bigger.”

While cosmetic surgeries are often portrayed as vanity projects, Chen’s story reveals that they are also often about looking “right” in a competitive industry. Whether it’s erotic dancers getting breast implants, waitresses getting facelifts, or aspiring news anchors getting eyelid surgery, often economic pressures — mixed with racism and sexism — drive these decisions.

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.

In the late 1800s, male Chinese immigrants were brought to the U.S. to work on the railroads and as agricultural labor on the West Coast; many also specialized in laundry services. Some came willingly, others were basically kidnapped and brought forcibly.

After the transcontinental railroad was completed, it occurred to white Americans that Chinese workers no longer had jobs. They worried that the Chinese  might compete with them for work. In response, a wave of anti-Chinese (and, eventually, anti-Japanese) sentiment swept the U.S.

Chinese men were stereotyped as degenerate heroin addicts whose presence encouraged prostitution, gambling, and other immoral activities.  A number of cities on the West Coast experienced riots in which Whites attacked Asians and destroyed Chinese sections of town. Riots in Seattle in 1886 resulted in practically the entire Chinese population being rounded up and forcibly sent to San Francisco. Similar situations in other towns encouraged Chinese workers scattered throughout the West to relocate, leading to the growth of Chinatowns in a few larger cities on the West Coast.

The anti-Asian movement led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Gentlemen’s Agreement (with Japan) of 1907, both of which severely limited immigration from Asia.  Support was bolstered with propaganda.

Here is a vintage “Yellow Peril” poster. The white female victim at his feet references the fact that most Chinese in the U.S. were male–women were generally not allowed to immigrate–and this poster poses them as a threat to white women and white men’s entitlement to them:

“Why they can live on 40 cents a day…and they can’t,” this poster says, referring to the fact that white men can’t possibly compete with Chinese workers because they need to support their moral families.  The Chinese, of course, usually didn’t have families because there were almost no Chinese women in the U.S. and white women generally would not marry a Chinese man.

The following images were found at the The History Project at the University of California-Davis.

This is the cover for the song sheet “The Heathen Chinese”:

According to the History Project, this next image was accompanied by the following text:

A judge says to Miss Columbia, “You allowed that boy to come into your school, it would be inhuman to throw him out now — it will be sufficient in the future to keep his brothers out.” Note the ironing board and opium pipe carried by the Chinese. An Irish American holds up a slate with the slogan “Kick the Heathen Out; He’s Got No Vote.”

The following counter-propaganda pointed out how immigrants from other countries were now working to keep Chinese immigrants out. The bricks they’re carrying say things like “fear,” “competition,” “jealousy,” and “non-reciprocity.”

During World War II, attitudes toward the Chinese shifted as they became the “good” Asians as opposed to the “bad” Japanese. However, it wasn’t until the drastic change in immigration policy that occurred in 1965, with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, that Asia (and particularly China) re-became a major sending region for immigrants to the U.S.

This post originally appeared in 2008.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Flashback Friday.

Non-white people are increasingly being featured in advertisements and a principled interest in “diversity” is not the only, or likely even the main motivation.

In this series, I share some ideas about why and how people of color are included in advertising aimed primarily at whites.  This post is about the inclusion of people of color in ads to invoke the idea of “color,” “flavor,” or “personality.”

Consider, this ad for Absolute Vodka Peach (“Find Your Flavor”) includes two white and two brown people, plus a set of silhouettes.

Holly F. and Lafin T.J. sent in three Life cereal box covers.  Notice that “regular” Life has white people on the cover, while cinnamon and maple and brown sugar flavors have people of color on their covers:

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In this pro-diversity ad, spice is literally used to represent diversity (via MultiCultClassics).  (Just a bit misguided too: Just a teaspoon or less of color, please.)

This ad for Samba Colore by Swatch also uses a model of color:

“Welcome to the Color Factory.”  These two ads for a color photo printer and a color printer cartridge both use models of color alongside white models in order to express how “colorful” their product is.

Bri sent in these four images (three from Gap and one from United Colors of Benneton).  Each Gap ad is advertising a different product, with an emphasis on how many colors they come in (bottom right corner).  They all, also, feature models of color.  Here’s just one of them:

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And, of course, the United Colors of Benneton is famous for its use of models of color in its ads, blending quite purposefully the idea of clothing colors and skin colors:

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Finally Joshua B. sent in this photo of two french fry holders, one with a black and one with a white woman, reading “never a dull moment, only tasty,” and “Is it wrong to think Arby’s all the time.”  The black woman, then, is presented alongside the ideas of excitement and flavor:

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There is also this Crystal Light ad campaign that compares water to a “pale” white woman and crystal light to a “pumped” black woman and these ads for an Australian bread company that use Blackness to argue that their bread is not bland.

This kind of advertising can easily be explained away as coincidence, but I think it’s a pattern.  Feel free to send in examples and counter examples if you see them.

Next up: Including people of color so as to make the product seem “hip,” “cool,” or “modern.”  Don’t miss the first in the series: Including people of color so as to associate the product with the racial stereotype.

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.

Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck.  Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.

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According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from ” just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week.  The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:

…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.

Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.

What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism.  Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men?  Or, what does masculinity look like?  Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate.  If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal?  Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine?  Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?

Also, is this really about hipsters?  How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends?  To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend?  How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people?  What other forces are at work here?

What can we learn from this about other plastic surgeries that we are more likely to take for granted as the result of natural or universal beauty?  Breast implants for women, breast reductions for men, liposuction, facelifts, labiaplasty, or eyelid surgery?

Lots of interesting conversations to be had.

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 narrative of the American Dream is one of upward mobility, but there are some stories of mobility we prize above others.  Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist? Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees, and who now works as a doctor?

Amy Chua (AKA “Tiger Mom”) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, author of the new book The Triple Package, claim it’s the latter. They argue that certain American groups (including Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians) are more successful and have risen further than others because they share certain cultural traits. Chua and Rubenfeld bolster their argument by comparing these groups’ median household income, test scores, educational attainment, and occupational status to those of the rest of the country.

But what happens if you measure success not just by where people end up — the cars in their garages, the degrees on their walls — but by taking into account where they started? In a study of Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated here, sociologist Min Zhou and I came to a conclusion that flies in the face of Chua and Rubenfeld, and might even surprise the rest of us: Mexicans are L.A.’s most successful immigrant group.

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Like Chua and Rubenfeld, we found that the children of Chinese immigrants exhibit exceptional educational outcomes that exceed those of other groups, including native-born Anglos. In Los Angeles, 64 percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, and of this group 22 percent also attained a graduate degree. By contrast, 46 percent of native-born Anglos in L.A. graduated from college, and of this group, just 14 percent attained graduate degrees. Moreover, none of the Chinese-Americans in the study dropped out of high school.

These figures are impressive but not surprising. Chinese immigrant parents are the most highly educated in our study. In Los Angeles, over 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and over 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

At what seems to be the other end of the spectrum, the children of Mexican immigrants had the lowest levels of educational attainment of any of the groups in our study. Only 86 percent graduated from high school — compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans and 96 percent of native-born Anglos — and only 17 percent of graduated from college. But their high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, only 40 percent of whom earned diplomas. And, the college graduation rate of Mexican immigrants’ children more than doubles that of their fathers (7 percent) and triples that of their mothers (5 percent).

There is no question that, when we measure success as progress from generation to generation, Mexican-Americans come out ahead.

A colleague of mine illustrated this point with a baseball analogy: Most Americans would be more impressed by someone who made it to second base starting from home plate than someone who ended up on third base, when their parents started on third base. But because we tend to focus strictly on outcomes when we talk about success and mobility, we fail to acknowledge that the third base runner didn’t have to run far at all.

This narrow view fuels existing stereotypes that Chua and Rubenfeld play into — that some groups strive harder, have higher expectations of success, and possess a unique set of cultural traits that propels them forward.

For at least a generation, Americans have been measuring the American Dream by the make of your car, the cost of your home, and the prestige of the college degree on your wall. But there’s a more elemental calculation: Whether you achieved more than the generation that came before you. Anyone who thinks the American Dream is about the end rewards is missing the point. It’s always been about the striving.

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 Time and Zocalo Public Square.