• Janet Vertesi (Associate Professor of Sociology at Princeton University) wrote an article for The Conversation discussing how NASA’s robotics can provide an example of an ethical future for AI. Vertesi notes three aspects of “strong human-robot teams”: technology that augments or extends human capabilities instead of replacing human work, respectful data harvesting and use, and a sense of care for the technology.
  • Matthew Desmond (Professor of Sociology at Princeton University) appeared on the ACLU’s At Liberty podcast. In conversation with Sandra Park (Senior Staff Attorney of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project), Desmond discussed the complexities of American poverty. “There’s a lot of propaganda out there about poverty, and […] it organizes us. It shapes our conversation, right, or kills the conversation. […] And so I think that means for me, shifting the aperture away from-from poor families and poor communities to us, to a lot of us who are living our lives, often unwittingly, in a way that contributes to poverty in our midst.”
  • Juliet Schor (Professor of Sociology at Boston College and lead researcher on the 4 Day Week Global trial studies) appeared on NPR’s TED Radio Hour to discuss the four-day workweek. Schor described how a four-day workweek can have positive well-being and climate outcomes without lowering worker productivity. 
  • Neil Gross (Professor of Sociology at Colby College) wrote an article for Time, arguing that three “myths” about police reform are limiting productive conversation and policymaking: 1) the police can’t prevent crime; 2) police reform compromises public safety; and 3) because of policing’s racist origins, there is nothing we can do to improve it. Gross discusses how policing in combination with poverty reduction efforts can reduce crime, the complex connections between police defunding and crime, and his belief that “institutions can evolve beyond their origins.”
  • In Philadelphia, a former police officer is facing trial for over 200 sex crimes. While on the force, the officer was the subject of 12 citizen complaints. Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve (Associate Professor of Sociology at Brown University), commented on the difficulty of creating accountability for police officers: “This officer, while he looks like ‘one bad apple’, a whole lot of players had to participate in emboldening such an egregious criminal activity that went on for years. That shows the flagrant nature. He knew there were no levers of accountability.” This story was covered by WHYY.

Photo of a large crowd of people, with no space in between.
Photo by James Cridland, Flickr CC

For most of human history, the world population has been much smaller than it currently is — the population has grown substantially only in the last two centuries, as technological and medicinal advances increased life expectancy. Social scientists now say that this growth will end within this century, according to a recent article in The Atlantic. By 2100, when the world population will be approximately 11 billion, growth rates and death rates will be relatively equal; while the population will continue to grow in some parts of the world, other regions will bear aging, smaller populations. Thus, though the numbers seem to equalize, human demographics could look quite different than they do now. Based on these population considerations, the 2100 world could witness many social, political, and cultural shifts, both on a local as well as a global level.

To begin, shifting populations could shape family structures and cultural production.

  • Traditional family structures may change in places where most people currently have large, extended families. Sociologist Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue explains that some of these places will experience smaller fertility rates, leading to smaller families. This could change traditional family structures in some countries as large, extended families give way to smaller, nuclear families. The family reunion may be less lively, but it’s not all bad; as families get smaller, parents can invest more time and resources into their children, whether it’s being able to afford better schools or giving the kids their own room.
  • Art, music, theater, and other forms of culture are often clustered around larger, urban environments with youthful populations. As demographics change and certain parts of the world become relatively younger than others, we could see a shift in dominant produces or culture and entertainment. For example, marketing and producing sports has already changed as certain parts of the world have grown while others have shrunk. For several parts of the world that have been often overlooked in global culture and entertainment, this could be their big break; break a leg!

At the same time, the population plateau of 2100 could spark tensions and challenges, particularly for economics, political interests, and social policy. 

  • The world population will be collectively older than it is now, and a much larger proportion of people will be of retirement age. This could cause political and policy shifts in many countries, particularly those with social spending programs that support the retired and elderly. Often, these are paid for by the employed persons in the labor force, a group that will be comparatively younger and smaller in the future; this will likely cause shifts in how social services operate and receive funding. Furthermore, since such programs are often key political issues, changing populations could spark shifts in the political arena based on different interests and agendas across age groups. 
  • By 2100, the global environment and climate could look much different than it does now, and the population is estimated to plateau just below 11 billion people. Climate change affects different parts of the world in a variety of ways. Across the world, some populations will shrink and age in comparison to others. Thus, different countries’ social and political responses to environmental issues will likely reflect considerations of their different population needs. 

Of course, these population predictions are just predictions, but they are informed by complex tools and methods in demography; such analyses are built on hard data regarding the world population and trends in fertility and birth. Thus, even if there are some fluctuations in the numbers, the general trend towards an aging population in some regions and a younger population in others will remain. Overall, this could lead to many social, cultural, and political changes.

The world may stop growing, but the population plateau could still cause many shifts and shake-ups; change really is the only constant.

Photo of two men sticking their tongue out for a selfie
Photo by Andy Rickman, Flickr CC

A growing number of couples are meeting through online dating, while for much of history couples met through friends and family. According to new research by sociologist Michael Rosenfeld and colleagues — cited in a recent article in The Atlantic — online dating shows no evidence of slowing down. As online dating grows, individuals shoulder more of the burden of finding a mate. Sociologist Jessica Carbino points out that expectations of potential partners are also shifting, sometimes toward “unrealistic.”

Rosenfeld doesn’t see this state of affairs as a major cause for concern:

“I don’t see anything to worry about…For people who want partners, they really, really want partners, and online dating seems to be serving that need adequately.”

In addition, online-dating has been helpful for minority communities, including LGBTQ people. Rosenfeld points out that in the past, even families who were supportive of their queer children were unlikely to know other queer people to introduce them to, whereas online dating sites certainly do. Rosenfeld and colleagues’ research supports this: the proportion of gay couples who have met online has risen greatly in recent years.

Online dating can feel daunting and overly critical at times, but clearly there are good things to swipe right about.

Photo by Elicus, Flickr CC

It seems like everyone has a side-hustle these days. Yet, according to a recent article on CNBC, research shows that these side gigs may not be all they’re cracked up to be. Sociologists, Arne Kalleberg and Alexandrea Ravenelle explain there are caveats to consider before you invest time and energy into a side hustle.

Side hustles seem like easy and fun ways to make a quick buck. According to Kalleberg:

“Side hustles always sound like they’re going to be this cool, entrepreneurial activity…That’s part of the PR and the lure of these platform companies — that you can work and make money whenever you want and be flexible. But that’s not always the case.”

Research shows that side hustles require lots of time, energy, and money up-front, and it can be a while before your side hustle turns into a profitable endeavor. Turning your hobbies and passions into cash may sound like fun, but it actually make your favorite pastimes into tedious, energy-sapping hours on the job. As Ravenelle reminds us,

“Every hour that you spend working is an hour that has to come from somewhere else in your life, whether that’s sleep, leisure time or your time with family and friends.”

Finally, but importantly, it’s not as easy as you’d think to keep your side-job and full-time job separate; sometimes, you find yourself managing your side-gig during work hours. Though there’s a lot of pressure to have a side-job these days, it just might not be worth it.

Photo by Inti Martínez Alemán, Flickr CC

Since the 2009 removal of left-wing president Manuel Zelaya, Honduras has seen allegations of violating human rights of journalists, LGBT individuals, and environmental activists. Those who defend their land against corporate interests are often killed; other murders go unaddressed for a lack of police investigations or judicial prosecutions. A recent article in The Progressive by sociologist Meghan Krausch documents how — in a vacuum of state protection — corporate and elite interests can prevail over ordinary Honduran plights for security and justice.

Krausch details the case of a Honduran father and his son who rallied against a logging business to protect their group’s Indigenous lands, a scenario that ended in their double-murder. The victims are not alone; a number of others have been killed in recent years while defending their community and the forest against logging industries — businesses that are funded in part by the Honduran government.

Instead of answers, community members receive little attention from the police and prosecutors for these murders. In turn, those defending their communities and forests look inwards to their own spirituality for protection.

As Krausch states, community members come together to mourn and “make a commitment to make this struggle beautiful and to reclaim happiness.”

Unfortunately, violence has become chillingly routine and this struggle in Honduras will likely remain unresolved. As one person once told Krausch, “We don’t have the chance to leave one funeral before walking into another.”

Photo by Sascha Kohlmann, Flickr CC

Headphones are not just for listening to music. They can also help avoid harassment. In a recent article in The Atlantic, sociologist Laura Loganexplains that many women leave their headphones in as a strategic move to avoid street harassment.

Logan, who studies street harassment, discusses how this use of headphones and AirPods is only one way women try to protect themselves against harassment in public spaces. Acknowledging street harassment gives the assaulter attention and power, but sometimes, when a street harasser thinks they’re being ignored or challenged, they lash out with even more derogatory comments — including racist or violent statements. Thus, for many women, it is easier to pretend that the noise in their headphones masked a street harasser’s nasty comments than it is to challenge such comments. Logan says,

“When women wear headphones, or read books, or do other things that mean they don’t have to acknowledge this is happening in some way, they’re managing that dilemma.

Women still deal with sexism and misogyny in their daily lives. Leaving headphones in is just one way women attempt to drown it out.

Photo by André Zehetbauer, Flickr CC

Last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled against Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion from South Africa who challenged rules prohibiting women with naturally high levels of testosterone from competing  The court’s ruling declares that female track athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone must reduce these hormones before they can participate in certain races at major competitions.

Madeleine Pape, a former Australian Olympian who has raced against Semenya and a Ph.D. candidate in sociology, told The New York Times that athletes should be allowed to compete based on their preferred gender:

I’m not saying it’s a solution, but I think it’s a start…I think it’s hard to draw a biological line around the female athlete category.”

She believes the court ruling is based primarily on

“People’s fears and misconceptions about trans women competing…I want to make sure people understand the complexities [of gender categories] and relate to these women as real people.”

While there have been broader shifts in cultural acceptance of transgender people and deconstructing gender categories, sports organizations tend to draw hard lines between men and women. According to law professor Doriane Lambelet Coleman:

“The gender studies folks have spent the last 20 years deconstructing sex and all of a sudden they’re facing an institution with an entirely opposite story…We have to ask, ‘Is respecting gender identity more important or is seeing female bodies on the podium more important?’”

Photo of a romantic couple's backs as they sit on a bench. One has a hand in the other's hair.
Photo by Jeffrey, Flickr CC

Do younger generations cheat on their spouses more than older generations? According to an article in The Atlantic, it’s too early to tell.

Sociologist Wendy Manning explains there is no evidence that young adults are more likely to be faithful than young adults in the past. While a recent analysis of the General Social Survey (GSS) suggests that people age 18 to 55 may be less likely to have extramarital affairs than those older than 55, Manning argues this simply reflects that people over 55 have been married longer and thus have had more opportunities to cheat.

A broader look at marriage trends shows that the divorce rate has decreased significantly and marriage has become more selective in recent decades among more educated persons, according to sociologist Andrew Cherlin. Manning notes that that millennials may be purposely setting themselves up for more stable marriages than their parents:

“The specter of divorce looms large. And it seems like it’s a big reason why a lot of young adults want to live with someone first. They want to divorce-proof their marriage.”

While younger generations may be more selective about the marriages they do enter, we won’t know if they stay faithful for many years.

Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

As the weather heats up and the school year draws to a close, many parents ponder the best ways to keep their kids occupied during the summer months, given their own resources and obligations. Electronic devices are always a popular option, but how much screen time to permit young children can be a tough decision to make, and one that parents themselves are often judged for.

To help parents devise a plan for their kids’ devices, a team of international experts shared their latest recommendations in a recent World Health Organization press release regarding children’s sedentary behavior, physical activity, and sleep. The report concluded that for preschool-aged children, sedentary screen time should be limited to an hour, and the less the better. They also recommended that kids be physically active for at least three hours a day; more is preferable. This implies that parents should replace children’s reduced screen time with time spent actively engaging in physical activity and interactive play so as to further motor skills and cognitive development.

Indiana University sociologist Jessica Calarco points out in The Atlantic, however, that such guidelines make a number of assumptions that may not be true for all families:

“If parents are letting their kids watch TV, or keeping them cooped up inside, or keeping them strapped in a car seat for an hour or more, it’s not because they think it’s good for their kids. Parents make those decisions because they don’t have any other choice. Or, at least, because the alternatives require more money or more space or more energy or more patience than those parents have on any given day.”

Some parents may have access to paid childcare, extracurriculars, safe outdoor spaces, or libraries with high-quality children’s programming, but these constructive alternatives are out-of-reach for many families. In fact, less-privileged parents often turn to screen time because it’s a safer or more educational choice than other options. On Twitter, Calarco concludes that strict screen-time guidelines are problematic because they treat screen time as a choice, rather than a necessity. This framing, in turn, heightens the already intense scrutiny faced by disadvantaged parents.

Photo of a black woman holding a black child on her shoulders.
Photo from Max Pixel CC

Black women have faced decades of public scrutiny for their mothering practices. From their reproductive health decisions to their selection of romantic partnerships, Black women are often deemed responsible for disrupting the traditional (patriarchal) Black family. In a recent essay in The Nation, writer Dani McClain argues that these cultural wars against Black mothers have led to the politicization of Black motherhood, where Black mothers socialize their Black children to resist tropes around Black criminality, laziness, and undeservingness. In fact, according to research cited in the article,

“out of 17,000 families with kindergartners, parents of color are about three times more likely to discuss race than their white counterparts. Seventy-five percent of the white parents in the study never or almost never talked about race.”

McClain further draws from Black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins to illustrate how Black mothering resists white expectations of the traditional middle class nuclear family. For example, politicians and policymakers alike have used higher rates of non-marital births in Black communities to suggest the real social problem is Black women’s lack of marital commitment to Black men. Yet, Collins argues that Black mothers instead rely on “other-mothering” as a form of social support. “Other-mothering” involves “a system of care through which black mothers are accountable to and work on behalf of all black children in a particular community.”

The intergenerational message among Black women, then, is one of patriarchal rejection, where social welfare policies such as improved work conditions and quality healthcare (rather than heterosexual marriage) become the strategies to counter the effects of poverty. On this point, Collins writes,

“Since Black mothers have a distinctive relationship to white patriarchy, they may be less likely to socialize their daughters into their proscribed roles as subordinates.”