At least it's not a favorite *kid*! Vintage ad via JBCurio,
At least it’s not a favorite *kid*! Vintage ad via JBCurio,

A new study from Purdue University lends weight to the idea that, emotionally, children do not always grow up in the “same” home. Research by Professor Jill Suitor and graduate student Megan Gilligan builds on this with a bit of sibling rivalry: siblings are likely to be more bothered by perceived favoritism from fathers than from mothers.

Other work has shown moms who picked “favorites” had caused sibling tension, but studying the influence of both parents was a novel approach. Revisiting 2008 interviews (from the Within-Family Difference Study) with “Baby Boomers” whose parents were still alive, the authors spotted the difference. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who has worked with Suitor and Gilligan on this data previously, commented in a HealthCanal article:

We often think of the family as a single unit, and this reminds us that individual parent and child relationships differ and each family is very complex. Favoritism from the father could mean something different than favoritism from the mother. We suggest that clinicians who work with families on later-life issues be aware of this complexity and look for such types of individual relationhsips as they advise families on care giving, legal, and financial issues.

Suitor also offered an explanation:

Mothers are often more open and affectionate with their children, whereas fathers have sometimes been found to be more critical, leading offspring to be more concerned when fathers favor some children over others.

From families to gender, culture, and the lifecourse, scholars are sure to take up this new angle on household dynamics.

Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via
Photo by Fotologic/Jon Nicholls via

…The more they stay the same. That is one conclusion University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson draws from the results of the 2012 American Time Use Survey. Despite the global economic downturn in 2008 and subsequent elevated levels of unemployment in the U.S., the breakdown of how Americans spend their time has changed little over the past five years.

In 2007, Americans reported working an average of 7.6 hours per day. Five years later, in 2012, employed people worked for 7.7 hours each day, while dedicating two hours to chores and five to six hours to leisure (approximately half of that leisure time is spent watching television).

Robinson explained the similar time use as social inertia:

We went through the biggest recession in history, we went through the most economic turmoil. And yet we see very little decline in the time that people spend working.

Other notable statistics include the growing parity in how much time men and women spend more equal amounts of time working, doing housework, and taking part in the leisure activities than they did 50 years ago. Additionally, U.S. citizens are found to be increasingly sedentary. Between leisure time spent in front of the television and sedentary work environments, Americans use little of their time in physical activity.

And that's just the Ivy League library graffiti. "I Hate School" photo by Quinn Dombrowski via
And that’s just the Ivy League library graffiti. “I Hate School” photo by Quinn Dombrowski via

The “achievement gap” typically refers to the disparities in high school completion between white and non-white students. In the Los Angeles Times, though, Columbia’s Thomas A. DiPrete and Ohio State’s Claudia Buchmann write about another educational achievement gap—the growing gulf between women and men in post-secondary education.

DiPrete and Buchmann’s research shows that women earn 58% of bachelor’s degrees and 62% of postsecondary occupational certificates. Men are less likely to enroll in colleges and universities, and those who do enroll are less likely than their female counterparts to obtain degrees or certificates.

The authors identify a number of reasons for men lagging behind, including a view of educational achievement as “unmasculine,” poorer grades in middle and high school, and prioritizing work in the short-term over education in the long-term.

More broadly, young men seem to have trouble navigating educational institutions. DiPrete and Buchmann write:

[Boys and young men] want better jobs than their fathers have, but their attitudes toward school and work are misaligned with the opportunities and requirements in today’s labor market. Many boys seem to think they will be successful—career-wise and financially—without having any idea about how they’ll achieve that success.

The authors mention the German model—tight linkages between companies and schools that lead to 350 specific occupational certificates—as a system that better aligns hopes, expectations, and realities, concluding:

Clearer pathways from courses to credentials and from credentials to careers would further enhance the rates of success for men as well as women and make for a more competitive America.

All eyes have been on LeBron James. Despite some predictions, he hasn't---yet---disappointed.
All eyes have been on LeBron James. Despite some predictions, he hasn’t—yet—disappointed.

When ESPN began broadcasting LeBron James’ high school games to a national audience some years ago, basketball fans asked, “Is he the next Michael Jordan?” Last week, James capped off the 2012-2013 NBA season with his fourth MVP award, leading the Miami Heat to a second consecutive championship (he really did “take his talents to South Beach”). It only cause more people to wonder if James could equal—or surpass—Jordan’s legacy.

Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist at Georgetown University, made a guest appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” to offer his perspective on the similarities and differences between the two basketball greats, both on and off the court.

As Dyson explained, social movements and commercialization combined when Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. The Civil Rights Movement had passed; communication technology which could carry photos, highlights, and live games around the planet was improving; and the NBA’s new commissioner, David Stern, was intent on expanding the league’s global footprint. In Michael Jordan, Stern had found a charismatic ambassador for basketball. Dyson notes, “Jordan comes along at a time when people began to celebrate a tall, dark, handsome, physically lethal specimen who also has the ability to commodify… So when you have the marketplace joining the morality of social advance, that’s something that’s incomparable.”

While “King James” follows in Jordan’s footsteps commercially, Dyson argues that they’re different types of players on the court. Jordan was known for his legendary competitive drive and “killer instinct,” while LeBron, particularly since teaming up with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, has earned a reputation as a facilitator who works to involve his teammates as much as possible, perhaps even to a fault.

Like MJ before him, LeBron James is now the global face of the NBA—some love him, some hate him, and most basketball fans are fascinated by him. The marketing of and commentary about the two men’s talents, bodies, and identities provide a rich source of study for social scientists interested in race, media, sport, and culture over time.

Photo by mahalie stackpole via
Photo by mahalie stackpole via

“Pomp and Circumstance” is no longer ringing in the rafters at college arenas across the country, and many members of the Class of 2013 are searching for their first post-graduation jobs. One wrinkle: though more than half of those graduates are female, according to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), men working full-time one year after graduation will receive salaries that are 18% higher.

The study pushes back against notions that women’s wages are lower because of decisions now made later in the life course (such as leaving the corporate ladder to have children, for example). Researches found that approximately two-thirds of the pay gap just one year after graduation can be explained by field of study, grades, hours worked, and occupation, but the remaining portion is unexplained—that is, the only commonality is that the people getting the lower salaries are women.

The fact that so much of this pay gap escapes explanation poses a problem for rectifying the situation. Christianne Corbett, a senior researcher with the AAUW and one of the study’s authors, explains:

The pay gap cannot be solved by individual women alone. The bulk of the work has to be done by employers because it’s a systemic problem.

Learning is good, but doing will be better.

NBP Gold by Giorgio Monteforti via flickr
NBP Gold by Giorgio Monteforti via

Much of Switzerland’s wealth is built upon its powerful and secretive financial sector.  While it has long been a safe haven for wealthy individuals seeking to stash their cash, sociologist Jean Ziegler (no relation) argues that it is time for the famously neutral nation to reform its banking sector. In an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, he asserts that the country has enriched itself through stolen goods:

Money comes to Switzerland through three illegal sources: tax evasion in other developed countries, the blood money of dictators and other rulers in the Third World and organized crime.

Ziegler, who served on the Swiss National Council for 18 years and also acted as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for another 8, is lukewarm about the prospects for change. On the one hand, he sees popular pressure from neighboring Germany and data leaks that could reveal the origins of deposits in his country’s banks.  That said, he notes that much inertia must be overcome before real change can happen.

The structure of the Swiss ruling class is rock-hard, and unchanged since the time of Napoleon. They sit on their mountains and lecture the world on democracy.

Photo by Chris Butterworth via
Photo by Chris Butterworth via

When Tanya Marie Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist, studies religion, she’s not asking whether God is real. Rather, she wants to know how believing in a higher power affects the lifecourse. Writing in The New York Times, Luhrmann argues that the positive effects of church attendance go beyond simply increasing social capital through community interaction—it can be a psychiatric boon:

What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier—at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.

Luhrmann’s work centers around “the way that ideas held in the mind come to seem externally real to people,” and she notes that belief in God is not always beneficial (for instance, some may feel only despair when they search for religious guidance). To that end, Luhrmann uses her essay to encourage more research into the relationships between mental illness and religion. Like many topics that interest social scientists, the challenge here is to move beyond, “Is this good or bad?” to explore, “When and for whom is this good or bad?”

Paxson's new book, available from UCPress.
Paxson’s new book, available from UCPress.

American cheeses—not just the individually-wrapped slices—are making a comeback, as documented by MIT’s Heather Paxson, who recently published The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America. The anthropological work details her research into the people and processes behind artisan cheeses in the U.S. Looking over the last 50 years, Paxson indentifies a host of factors behind the re-emergence of American artisanal cheese: environmentalism, feminism, markets (both local and international), and 9/11, among others. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she commented:

Like most social movements, it only looks like a movement in retrospect… Cheesemaking appealed to people the way that some start-up dot-coms did. It was the rural counterpart to that.

Paxson, who studies “how people craft a sense of themselves as moral beings through everyday practices, especially those activities having to do with family and food,” became curious about artisanal cheese after eating a sample of Hooligan, a Connecticut cheese, and asking the questions that are the genesis of so much social science research: Who? How? Why?

Working from home photo by Victor1558 via
Working from home photo by Victor1558 via

Best Buy has ended its Result Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, which famously allowed employees to telecommute, working in the office on a set schedule, or have the flexibility to do both. Evaluations were based solely on job performance, with no consideration of attendance. Best Buy’s policy change follows a similar change at Yahoo, where CEO Marissa Meyer no longer allows staff to work from home.

Executives at both companies cite a need to improve competitiveness, and they argue that requiring employees to come to the office will enhance collaboration and innovation. Erin Kelly, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, is skeptical. She argues that ROWE is not to blame for the companies’ struggles:

“I’m concerned that these flexibility initiatives and telework initiatives are getting blamed for what may be other problems those organizations are facing in the broader market,” Kelly told the Star Tribune.

Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas, similarly disputes research claims that required attendance improves innovation among employees.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Glass writes:

[M]uch of this “research” simply shows that workers who collaborate with others in loose networks generate better ideas. It doesn’t suggest that the best way to create new products and services is by isolating your employees in the silo of a single location.

Best Buy and Yahoo are calling for all hands on deck, but do all hands need to be on deck at the same time?

Step One in the system.

Despite being a word (and act) that’s tricky to time, perhaps love can be deciphered by an algorithm. Increasingly, online dating sites are using the results from user surveys to try to do just that. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers who advises, uses a questionnaire to identify people as Negotiators, Directors, Builders, or Explorers. Directors, for example, tend to match well with Negotiators.

And whether the sites are actually helping people find “the one,” their personality tests and post-date reviews are providing a treasure trove of data for social scientists. In an interview with BuzzfeedMichael Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford, raises methodological questions about the value of the data—for example, people who create profiles on data sites are not a random sample of the population.

Still, sampling aside, Rosenfeld points out the cultural implications of the rise of online dating, noting:

The Internet has increased the decline of family but also of friends and coworkers and school, because [it’s] an efficient marketplace, especially if you are looking for something particular.

If people continue to turn to the online marketplace, larger sample sizes and more feedback may make matchmaking websites more efficient and give researchers more insights into the science of attraction (including people’s attraction to such sites).