Photo by Michael_swan via flickr.com CC
Photo by Michael_swan via flickr.com CC

The “traditional family,” many would have us believe, is imperiled by everything from women in the workplace and same-sex couples in the bedroom. What these “traditionalists” fail to name among the various threats is income inequality. As described in research published in the American Sociological Review and discussed on Fortune.com, observed increases in the rate of couples having children before marriage can be explained by changing social landscapes.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the middle-class is shrinking or that finding a job can be a tough gig. Andrew Cherlin, David C. Ribar, and Suzumi Yasutake’s research shows people are more likely to postpone marriage, but not parenting, if they can’t get a job. So, with a distinct shortage of available living-wage jobs and growing income inequality, more and more American families are comprised of unmarried couples with children. As the class system becomes even more polarized, it seems marriage boosters might want to consider a different means to their favored end: reducing inequality.

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

Some believe Asian-Americans face a “gentler” sort of racism than other minority groups—that they are even treated with admiration as a “model minority” group. That said, the “model minority” stereotype doesn’t have negative consequences. In an Atlantic article, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses the multiple ways Asian identities are subject to subtle but impactful experiences in everyday life.

For example, consider the “model minority” stereotype, especially as it pertains to how Asians are supposed to excel at school. What this can mean, however, is that Asian-American high school students can feel deterred from seeking help when they need it, which can lead to peer isolation, among other problems, as in research by UW Madison’s Stacy Lee. Furthermore, Asian Americans are more likely to downplay racism that they face due to the implicit understanding that Asians are stereotyped in “good ways”, as descried by the Georgia State University sociologist Rosalind Chou.

That second dynamic is a part of The Racial Middle by Eileen O’Brien of Saint Leo University, a book that tackles some arguments that non-white, non-black racial identities will be subsumed into black and white, though these groups, like Latinos and Asians, are made up of sub-groups with unique histories and challenges. Consider that Asian Americans do not have a long history of organized struggle or civic action, which may reinforce the caricature of Asian groups as passive and well behaved. Collective action may raise racial consciousness in more ways than one.

To read more about Asian Americans and the Model Minority myth, see Jennifer Lee’s TSP special features “From Unassimilable to Exceptional” and “Asian American Exceptionalism and “Stereotype Promise.‘”

tinder-app-logo

Every “single” person in the world enjoys traveling to exotic locations, eating at new restaurants, and generally trying new things according to Tinder. The dating app shows users a dating profile that takes seconds to view and is mostly photographs. However, Tinder analyst and sociologist Jessica Carbino explains that there’s a lot more nuance involved in Tinder swiping.

The app has a simple premise: it shows the user a photograph and short biography of a potential partner. The user can swipe right or swipe left. If both the user and the person whose profile is shown swipe right, a match is made and the users have a chance to exchange messages.

While the app is streamlined, the behavior of the users is quite complex. Los Angeles Magazine interviewed the UCLA PhD about her role as a sociologist for Tinder and her role in deciphering what leads to matches between users. Carbino explains “I think Tinder is far more complex than simply physical attractiveness… With photos, people are not simply looking at whether someone has a nice smile or a nice face per se.”

Through coding Tinder profiles, running focus groups, and creating surveys for people who do and do not use Tinder, Carbino has found a lot of sociology imbedded in the process. She proposes that many sociological factors, like socioeconomic status, contribute to a successful match. Simply dividing users as ‘hot and not hot’ is too simplistic and does not provide a useful or nuanced definition of what other users are looking for. Whether or not users are consciously making these distinctions Carbino notes that men with softer jawlines are perceived as kinder, women wearing make up get more matches, and that a group photo is never a good choice for a user’s first picture.

Another interesting find of Carbino’s is what users are trying to get out of the app. She found that about 80% of Tinder users are looking for long-term relationships. Given the speed of the first step of the dating process on Tinder, this high percentage seems surprising on the surface. However, finding the reasons why is precisely what Carbino is trying to figure out by casting a sociological lens over Tinder data. With a glance at a smart phone and a swipe of the thumb, the 21st century relationship is just getting started.

Click to visit Hoaxmap.
Click to visit Hoaxmap.

Over a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, leading many to dub this mass migration a “crisis.” Many are seeking asylum, especially those from countries experiencing considerable violence like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Europeans have reacted to the influx with fear, spreading stories that associate refugees and migrants with crime (something social scientists like to call “crimmigration”). In response, two German women created Hoaxmap to track and dispel rumors about refugees in Germany (a country that has been particularly welcoming to immigrants, per its Chancellor Angela Merkel’s directives). Of the 40 types of rumors tracked on Hoaxmap, most pertain to theft or sexual assault.

The discrepancy between documented and rumored crimes may reflect the way rumors spread and their connections to real events that people believe are plausible. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine, recently featured in an Atlantic article, agrees: “Once you have a plausible story then the criteria for information you need in order to believe [a new story] is much lower, because you would say ‘this is like what happened elsewhere.’” In fact, almost half of the rumors about sexual assault and rape associated with the contemporary immigrants cropped up in the two months following reported New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne. Sociologist Mar Warr concurs that “even a small increase in apparent risk (like a locally reported rape or rapes) can generate substantial and widespread fear.” In reality, most crime in destination locations appears to have been directed at asylum seekers, rather than perpetrated by them.

Frank and Claire Underwood House of Cards Promo

Spoiler alert! This season the popular Netflix series “House of Cards” got a bit more radical. Main characters and power couple Claire and Frank Underwood are unapologetically, consensually non-monogamous. In fact, sociologist Mimi Schippers says the show portrays “one of the best television representations of an open/poly relationship I’ve seen.” In the fourth season, Claire, married to the President of the United States, becomes sexually involved with Thomas Yates, a writer. While many shows depict “extramarital affairs” as inherently negative, “House of Cards” Frank affirms that Tom can “give” Claire things he can’t.

In a blog post for NYU Press, Schippers argues that the Underwoods go “beyond” marriage, monogamy, and dominant gender norms. According to research she conducted for her upcoming book, men in polyamorous relationships tend to shift their understanding of masculinity because they must forgo jealousy and control over the women in their lives. The openly non-monogamous relationships on “House of Cards” thus challenge more than just ideas about what relationships should look like. It confronts gendered expectations for men to be competitive and possessive and grants women sexual autonomy, independent of men.

[T]he Underwoods distinguish themselves from society’s ideas of the “perfect couple” by being both child-free and consensually non-monogamous. They are something else–something beyond “perfect”, beyond marriage, and beyond traditional gender arrangements. Rather than representing bad character or immorality, Claire’s increasingly intimate relationship with Tom and Frank’s enthusiastic acceptance of it (the very definition of polyamory) punctuates and solidifies the strength of their marriage as one between equals.

Virtual reality still sees sexism. Photo by Nan Palmero, Flickr CC.
Virtual reality still sees sexism. Photo by Nan Palmero, Flickr CC.

Star Wars conventions: one place where everyone is equal (if they hate Jar-Jar Binks). Or maybe not. As it turns out, even Star Wars has become a controversial area for discussing the place of feminism and powerful women in society. Work by sociologists CJ Pascoe and Tristan Bridges sheds more light on how sexism has infiltrated nerd culture. Following their recent book release, Pascoe and Bridges were interviewed by Broadly to help explain sexism in an unlikely arena.

Pascoe explains that “nerds” are consistently emasculated in society because they don’t participate in the same types of gendered dominance displays expected of young men. That might make it seem they exist away from expected dichotomies of gender roles. Bridges adds, however, that nerdy activities have become more mainstream due to popular television and media, so now the traditional nerd versus jock relationship is more nuanced.

Bridges said,

Nerds are, as a cultural “type,” emasculated… But it’s also true that there is a lot of toxic masculine behavior in nerd cultures. Think about it: #GamerGate happened among the nerds, not the jocks.

Pascoe agreed, explaining that fandom cultures create a space for men to be dominant even if they do not follow mainstream masculine pressures. The presence of women in these spaces might constitute a threat to the men within them. Still, Pascoe concludes that feminism is still a benefit for nerd culture overall. She says hopefully,

Increasing including and visibility of women, trans folk, and LGBQ folk in fandom communities will result in less damaging gender socialization for everyone—men included—and will help to change the way in which nerds themselves are placed on the bottom rung of some masculinity hierarchy.

Ban the Box via PBS

As noted by Harvard sociologist Devah Pager, experimental evidence indicates that the presence of a criminal record reduces one’s application callback likelihood by 50% for whites and 64% for African Americans. To potentially mitigate this employment discrimination, 23 states have adopted “ban the box” policies—the removal of the criminal history question on first-round job applications. However, a pesky question remains in the minds of many employers: do felons make good employees?

National Public Radio’s Planet Money Podcast, hosted by Keith Romer, asked Pager how felons fare if they gain employment. To get at the answer, Pager has been studying felon enlistment in the military (5,000 enlistees between 2002-2009 had felony records). She finds that those with felony records are no more likely to get kicked out before the end of their term than their clean-record counterparts. In fact, those with felony records are not only promoted faster, they are also promoted to higher ranks. Pager contends that “employers are probably missing a lot of talent when they exclude people with criminal records” (notably, with few exceptions, the military is not currently accepting felons). Because it is often so hard for ex-cons to get a job, they seem to work particularly hard to keep that job. Overall, Pager’s evidence appears to show that steps to “ban the box” will bring qualified applicants rather than unwanted mischief to employers.

Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC
Integrated kids become integrated adults. Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Beverly Daniel Tatum released her groundbreaking book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race. In it, she examines how and why black youth often segregate themselves in middle and high school, arguing that engagement in meaningful conversations about race can help deconstruct such racial barriers. While many may have lost hope in the Civil Rights-era dream of school integration, today, new sociological research demonstrates the importance of integration and the positive long-term effects it provides for working adults. A recent article in The Atlantic reveals that students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to work in diverse employment settings.

Adam Gamoran, Sarah Barfels, and Ana Cristina Collares tracked over 10,000 black and white high school students during the 1980s and 1990s, then recorded the racial make-up of their current work environment. White and black students who attended predominantly white schools were more likely to work in predominantly white work settings. Regardless of the various methods behind the integration (including busing and neighborhood development), the students from racially diverse high schools were more likely to work today with a diverse group of coworkers. The authors suggest that “Interactions with a diverse student body may mean that individuals are more likely to live in communities that are more diverse, or [are] more willing and comfortable in racially diverse settings later in life.” While they are reluctant to conclude that attending a diverse high school or working with diverse coworkers will eradicate the economic and social disparities of life in the U.S., it is safe to say that both provide a strong step in the right direction.

Equal Pay Day is marked around the world as the day on which women have officially made as much as their male peers did in the previous year. This year's was April 12, 2016 in the U.S. Photo by metropolica.org, flickr.com
Equal Pay Day is marked around the world. It shows how far into the next year women must work to make as much as their male peers did in the previous calendar year. This year’s was April 12, 2016 in the U.S. Photo by metropolico.org, flickr.com

Recently, I reviewed research showing that women in leadership roles may contribute to decreasing gender segregation at lower positions in the same firm. I also noted that gender segregation is a large contributor to the wage gap between men and women. Unfortunately, while a small number of women moving into top positions may help those below, when large numbers of women enter traditionally male-dominated fields, the results are not so rosy. Why? Women’s work simply isn’t valued as highly as men’s.

The Washington Post recently featured a study by sociologists Paula England and Asaf Levanon demonstrating this trend. When occupations employing mostly men shifted to employing most women, these jobs started to pay employees considerably less, even when the researchers took employees’ education, work experience, skills, race, and geography into account. For instance, wages for a ticket agent dropped 43 percentage points after the position shifted from mainly male to female. Stereotypically “female” jobs that involve caregiving pay less, regardless of whether men or women hold those jobs:

[T]here was substantial evidence that employers placed a lower value on work done by women. “It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” Ms. England said. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”

Taller men get the taller stacks. TaxCredits.net.
Taller men get the taller stacks. TaxCredits.net.

According to British researchers, tall men and thin women are most likely to make the big bucks. Meanwhile, they found evidence to suggest overweight workers, especially women, are likely to get paid less. Still, sociologist Amy Blackstone says companies probably aren’t intentionally penalizing employees based on height and weight.  

In an interview with Broadly, Blackstone points to gender biases that extend beyond the workplace. Culturally, Americans associate thinness with beauty and self-discipline in women and tallness with authority for men. “For women, being thin means taking up less space, something that is expected of women both literally and symbolically,” Blackstone says. Thus, it’s no surprise that pay reflects societal views about gender, power, and the body. Nor is it a surprise that other gender inequalities make their way into work spaces, like limitations on contraception coverage in employer provided health care and a lack of paid maternity leave. As contributing editor Diana Tourjee points out, “paying certain men and women less in relation to the way they look is obviously disturbing, but worse is the realization that this data is part of a broader system of oppression that structures the lived experiences of us all.”