Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann
Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann, Flickr CC

Arlie Russell Hochschild, professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, spent five years in Louisiana to explore why many Americans with lower incomes, in states receiving more government funding than most, embrace politicians pledging to cut that funding. It’s called “the red-state paradox,” and Louisiana is a prime example. It’s one of the poorest states, receives 44% of its funding from the government, and it supported Donald Trump in the primary.

Hochschild recently talked with Wisconsin Public Radio, detailing her findings that, for many Louisiana conservatives, policies bringing the disadvantaged forward often make them feel like they are being pushed back. Hochschild uses a metaphor of waiting in a long line winding up a steep hill, saying,

“You have worked your butt off. And you’re waiting in line for this American dream, and you notice suddenly that somebody is butting in front.”

Those who are suspicious of government policies like affirmative action see minorities, women, immigrants, and refugees as being permitted to cut in line by President Obama himself. For someone in an impoverished state, sending their children to some of the worst schools in the nation, and facing an incredibly low life expectancy, this doesn’t look like progress. The government is not seen as their ally, nor are the folks calling them “uneducated ignorant southerners” when they protest. Listening to their real stories, rather than leaning on such stereotypes, is how Hochschild crosses an “empathy bridge” in order to understand those supporting the controversial candidate.

Photo by John Walker, Flickr CC
Photo by John Walker, Flickr CC

When it comes to evaluating immigrant groups, some groups, such as Hispanics, are often derided or seen unfavorably, while other groups, such as Asian immigrants, are held in high-esteem as the “model minority.” But as described in a new article in LA magazine by sociologist Jennifer Lee, we need to rethink the way that we define “success” for America’s immigrant populations. 

As Lee and co-author Min Zhou describe in their book The Asian American Achievement Paradoxthe advantages that Asian second-generation immigrants often have over other immigrant groups is that many of their parents have college degrees. As other research has established, you are much more likely to graduate from college if your parents have. Lee and Zhou found that the proportion of Chinese second-gen immigrants who went to college is in fact the same proportion for Mexican second-gen immigrants. Lee explains,

“Graduating from college is no easy feat, but it’s far easier when your parents have paved the path before you…Often overlooked is the remarkable progress that the children of Mexican immigrants in L.A. have made. In just one generation they have doubled the high school graduation rates of their parents, doubled the college graduation rates of their fathers, and tripled that of their mothers. Factoring in where they began, the children of Mexican immigrants come out ahead of all immigrant groups.”

Unlike other immigrant groups whose parents are more likely to have college degrees, Mexican second-gen immigrants have experienced the most “success,” overcoming the odds of often being the first person in their family to attend college. 

Photo by DonkeyHotey, Flickr CC
Photo by DonkeyHotey, Flickr CC

It’s no question that the nomination of Donald Trump has caused a highly publicized divide in the Republican Party, but that divide may have taken roots decades ago. A recent Washington Post article by Josh Pacewicz explains that intra-party contention began as a conflict between establishment Republicans and party activists. As far back as the 1970s, Republican Party leaders became increasingly partisan on major issues, with establishment Republicans showing more interest in business than in hot button issues. When the corporate mergers of the 1980s forced businessmen to focus more on economic development, the door was left open for party activists to start exerting their influence on the party.

In his 2006 interviews with Americans living in the Rust Belt, Pacewicz found that the Republican Party was at war with itself: the business community versus the activists. One local businessman and big-time GOP donor interviewed said “the GOP has repositioned itself to a fault. [Those] of us in the middle don’t know what to do; [we’re] so disgusted.” An activist he interviewed, on the other hand, explained that instead of just being a donor, she was willing to go out and knock on doors and make phone calls. As she put it “Why should all the tickets [to political events] go to these Country Club Republicans?” As Pacewicz says,

“A full accounting of Trump’s rise needs historical context. And it was a long-brewing conflict between establishment Republicans and party activists — eventually won by the activists — that laid the groundwork for the current foment within the GOP.”

But we won’t tell The Donald that.

Photo by Kayla Kandzorra, Flickr CC
Photo by Kayla Kandzorra, Flickr CC

Professors of sociology often struggle to introduce sociological concepts in new and thought-provoking ways to their students. According to a recent article in Bowling Green Daily News, Professor Bertena Varney is tackling this issue in an unconventional way and using the Harry Potter series to engage her students with various sociological topics. In her “Inequality in Society” class at Southern Kentucky Community and Technological College, Varney sorts students into the houses of Hogwarts and each day a specific house leads class discussion on social issues. For example, the students apply the Harry Potter terminology of “muggles” and “squibs” to a discussion of the disabled and mentally challenged.

Not only do the students use Harry Potter to understand concepts, but they also engage in community service, tutoring, and social media in order to compete for the house cup, which awards the winning house fifty points of extra credit at the end of the semester. Varney also views this immersion structure as providing students with future skills outside of the classroom, saying:

“Once you get them thinking about other people besides themselves, they take off. It teaches them a lot of social skills and problem solving … [and] it’s easier for students to find out how they can work together to make the world a better place. ”

When professors use magical teaching methods like Varney, students are so entranced by the material that anti-cheating spells are no longer necessary!  

Photo by woodleywonderworks, Flickr CC
Photo by woodleywonderworks, Flickr CC

Social media continues to be a pioneer of new social trends and reshaping society through its ability to connect individuals across cultures and geographies. One of the latest trends involves the process of mourning through social media.

University of Washington recently covered Nina Cesare and Jennifer Branstad‘s new research, presented for the first time at this summer’s annual sociology meetings, that finds that people who use Twitter to mourn a death do so more publicly than compared to other social media sites, like Facebook, where mourning is more private. They explain,

“While posts about death on Facebook, for example, tend to be more personal and involve people who knew the deceased … Twitter users may not know the dead person, tend to tweet both personal and general comments about the deceased, and sometimes tie the death to broader social issues — for example, mental illness or suicide.”

The researchers describe this change as an opening up of the public conversation surrounding death and mourning and an expansion of the “inner circle” that typically mourns the death of a loved one. Cesare explains,

“…I think the ability of Twitter to open the mourning community outside of the intimate sphere is a big contribution, and creating this space where people can come together and talk about death is something new.”

Photo by swong95765, Flickr CC
Photo by swong95765, Flickr CC

The Atlantic recently reported that Oregon has a higher proportion of families on welfare than any other state in the U.S. With high food-stamp consumption, subsidizing, healthcare, and extended time limits, Oregon has dedicated itself to a relatively robust and available social security net. So what explains Oregon’s generosity in the face of safety net rollback in other states?

The Atlantic cites research from social scientists Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Sanford F. Schram who show that democratic control of the legislature, as well as higher state wages relative to welfare benefits, are key predictors of the size of a state’s social welfare net. Soss and colleagues also write how state’s with a higher percentage of minority group members receiving welfare also tend to be more punitive overall. Oregon, who is 86.6 percent white, has a relatively high minimum wage, and a historically blue voting state, fits nicely with Soss and colleagues’ analysis of state-level welfare spending and policy. As described by the article,

“The case of Oregon highlights what can happen when federal programs are turned over to the states: They help some Americans more than others, depending on where people live, and, often, depending on the color of their skin.”

Photo by tableatny, Flickr CC.
Photo by tableatny, Flickr CC.

Competing in sports where “people don’t look at us like women. They don’t look at us as being girly or feminine” can take a toll on many women athletes with larger physiques. Women athletes face additional pressures in the limelight because the public often pays as much – if not more – attention to their dress and body types than their athletic performance on the field. However, in a recent LA Times article, Olympians such as weightlifter Sarah Robles and shot put star Michelle Carter are challenging traditional standards of feminine beauty by encouraging girls of all body types to embrace their physiques. Sociologist Abigail Saguay believes that athletes fighting back against the stigma of larger and muscular body types is a firm step in the right direction toward promoting positive body image. Saguay explains,

“The Olympians are using the podium to promote a positive message. They are making an important point that health comes at all sizes, and we should be embracing diversity of body sizes rather than assume there’s one good body type.”

Though breaking past historical ideals about body ideals is an uphill struggle, these athletes are challenging conventions in a big way.

Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC
Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC

More and more women are becoming the primary income earner for their families. Conservative commentators have been quick to claim that women working and earning more than their male partners has negative effects on marriages, children, and the home. But new research shows that both men and women are happier when the woman is the primary breadwinner.

As described in a Washington Post article, sociologist Christin Munsch found that men who bring in a larger share of household income are more likely to have low psychological and physical well-being scores. However, when women bring in a larger share of household income, both men and women reported higher scores. Though this finding seems to defy conventional wisdom, it is driven by gender norms, as Munch explains.

“Gendered expectations often pull people into making different career decisions … Men are more likely to blindly take on responsibilities with work because they’re associated with more income. Women are more likely to ask: Do I like this? Do I want to do this?”

In other words, women are more likely to take a high-paying job because they’re interested in the work. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to feel that they have to take a stressful, high-income job because that’s their role. These new findings show that changing long-held gendered expectations surrounding work and earnings is in everyone’s best interest.  

Photo by Nuno Luz, Flickr CC
Photo by Nuno Luz, Flickr CC

Summer is wedding season, but according to sociologists Julie Brines and Brian Serafini, late summer may also be divorce season. New York Magazine recently featured new findings that indicate divorce may follow seasonal trends. Brines’ and Serafini’s analysis of several U.S. states, including Washington, Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona, shows that divorce filings were at their highest in March and August. The researchers believe that these trends may reflect a “last-ditch effort” by couples to repair their relationships during holiday seasons. According to a University of Washington press release,

“Troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships and start anew: We’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice camping trip, the thinking goes, and things will be better.”

As a result, divorce rates seem to be highest when the holiday spirit has passed. The approaching school year may also push couples to file for divorce before September, further accounting for the August peak.

Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC
Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC

A lot of things go into making your appearance – fashion, accessories, grooming … and race? As described in an article on Vox, research by Duke sociologist Robert L. Reece shows that black people are seen as more attractive if they tell others that they’re mixed-race. A research team conducted over 3,200 interviews with black people and ranked their attractiveness on a scale of 1-5. Those who said they were mixed-race received a higher score. Reese concluded that these findings are not a result of physical attributes or colorism; rather, they are about perceived racial identity. Vox reports,

“[Reece said] results could be partially explained by the fact that people think ‘being exotic is a compelling idea.’ But, he added, ‘It’s also partially just racism — the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.'”

This is not the first research to address this troubling dynamic; numerous studies have shown that resumes with white names are more likely to receive callbacks than those with black names. Other research has shown similar results for college applicants, those seeking health care, and people looking for mortgages or loans. This new research, however, shows that the effects of race go beyond the above-described settings, and that who’s considered “good-looking” is itself a product of racial hierarchies.