Black Panther actress Lupita Nyong’o at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con International. Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC

It’s no surprise that Hollywood could do better in terms of diversity. But it might be surprising that diversity in all aspects of filmmaking pays off, literally. A recent article from NPR discusses Darnell Hunt‘s annual Hollywood Diversity ReportThe report finds a “mixed bag” for people of color attaining key roles in the industry. People of color are incredibly underrepresented in positions like talent scouts, directors, and lead roles.  This underrepresentation is especially disconcerting when nearly half of the U.S. population is comprised of people of color, and yet the industry remains predominantly White and male.

Hunt and his team also found that diverse films and TV did extremely well in 2016, and that people of color were the top consumers of ticket sales for many major films that year. In other words, more diversity may mean more monetary payoff. Hunt points to Black Panther as a groundbreaking example in the industry.

“[Black Panthersmashed all of the Hollywood myths that you can’t have a black lead, that you can’t have a predominantly black cast and [have] the film do well. It’s an example of what can be done if the industry is true to the nature of the market. But it’s too early to tell if Black Panther will change business practices or it’s an outlier. We argue it demonstrates what’s possible beyond standard Hollywood practices.”

In short, the success of diverse films should not be underestimated, and it seems to be in Hollywood’s best interest to increase diversity both on screen and behind the camera.

Photo by Jes, Flickr CC

Many of us are familiar with the “white flight” of the 1950s, as droves of White families moved from major cities to the surrounding suburbs. While we might like to believe that white flight is a relic of the past, a recent article in the Pacific Standard highlights recent research by sociologist Samuel Kye showing that white flight remains a reality in many American neighborhoods. Using Census data, Kye found evidence of white flight — losing at least 25% of its White population — in more than 10% of suburban neighborhoods between 2000 and 2010.

While this demographic shift could reflect property values and economic concerns, Kye’s findings suggest that class is not driving these trends. When compared to poorer communities, middle class neighborhoods are actually more likely to experience white flight. As Kye outlines,

“Race not only remains salient in middle-class neighborhoods…but motivates white flight to an even greater degree relative to those same effects in poorer neighborhoods… White flight eventually becomes more likely in middle-class neighborhoods when the presence of Hispanics and Asians exceeds 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Middle-class neighborhoods appear to be less reliable routes for the residential integration of Hispanics and Asians.”

Kye’s research demonstrates that despite growing diversity in many rural and urban communities across the United States, white flight will remain a persistent challenge to racial and ethnic integration within neighborhoods — and overall racial and ethnic equality. Kye concludes,

“…racially integrated neighborhoods represent key sites where sustained exposure and contact may continue to erode longstanding divisions, and improve levels of intergroup cooperation and trust.”

Photo by Scott Lewis, Flickr CC

Much of the media’s coverage of the Me Too movement focuses on high-profile cases of sexual harassment, as well as gender inequality in white-collar workplaces. Sexual Harassment and other forms of gender inequality are also problems — perhaps even more so — for male-dominated, blue-collar workplaces. A recent article in The New York Times highlights gendered discrimination in workplaces like mines, car factories, and construction sites. 

Sociologist Abigail Saguy argues that men often perceive less-feminine or lesbian women as “not fully women” and therefore as less threatening. On the other hand, men tend to harass more-feminine women more. And women who play along with sexist banter, still face negative labels, like “slut.” Saguy elaborates,

“Sexual harassment is often a way in which the men reaffirm women’s femininity, and [put them] back in their place…. At the same time, women will play up their femininity and flirt a little bit and play along with some of the stereotypes… to be accepted.”

For men in low-paying and dangerous jobs, these affirmations to their masculinity become key rewards, and challenges to their masculinity may heighten discrimination towards women.

“Even if they have to tolerate bad working conditions, the compensation is they were real men… then women were moving into these occupations, so what does that mean? If women can do the job, maybe it’s not so masculine after all.”

Photo by Agnes Scott College, Flickr CC

We know that a college degree can often help ensure employment, creating pathways to better opportunities and resources in someone’s career and even one’s personal health. A recent article in The Washington Post shows that the health benefits of higher education are more nuanced than scholars originally believed. Drawing from the work of sociologists Andrew J. Cherlin and Jennifer Karas Montez, the article demonstrates that location, race and ethnicity, and even expectations all shape the relationship between a college degree and health.

College degree attainment is related to many health benefits, including longevity. In recent years, White Americans without college degrees faced increasing mortality rates, while Black and Hispanic Americans showed overall advancements in their longevity, even among those without a degree. Andrew Cherlin argues that expectations are particularly important for understanding why there are clear racial differences in the link between degrees and health benefits. As the article outlines,

“It wasn’t long ago that white working-class Americans could count on leading a comfortable life with just a high-school degree. Middle-aged men and women, the very group falling ill and dying, are the first generation without that guarantee. They compare themselves with their parents and find their lives falling short. For black and Hispanic Americans, if you haven’t got as much to hope for, you might just have less to lose.”

Geography and economic differences add more complexity to unpacking the causes of health disparities. Living without a degree in areas that are heavily impacted by economic shifts and with inadequate medical resources like the rural United States can further exacerbate health problems. As Jennifer Karas Montez suggests, tackling these issues on a large scale is even more difficult given that public policies are created at state and local levels. In short, the relationship between health and college attainment is complex. Having a college degree does not directly translate into health benefits and vice versa — those without a college degree are not fated to poor health. 

Photo by Adrian V. Floyd, Flickr CC

In the United States, the media often portrays marginalized groups through tropes and stereotypes, but these depictions rarely represent the diversity inherent in any group.  A recent article in Slate demonstrates that queer parents are no exception. The author draws on sociological work to examine how the gay-parenting community may reinforce this uniform image of gay parents in their social circles.  

Sociologist Suzanna Walters argues that the gay community has limited its own image, members, and freedom in exchange for social acceptance. In her book, she explains,

“Media evinces a form of homophobia…focusing on acceptance of gay parents as heterosexual clones,” — in particular, the “ideal heterosexual”(white, upper-middle class, etc.). Parents who didn’t fit a certain mold were sidelined to present a comforting image to straight society.”

Megan Carroll noticed a similar pattern after attending gay parent groups in Texas, California, and Utah. Carroll noticed that fathers of color were severely underrepresented in these groups, and many parents of color told Carroll they felt “isolated” and without a space to “help their children connect to their race as well as their father’s sexuality.”  

Gay dads with kids from previous heterosexual marriages faced a similar feeling of “otherness.” Gay dads by divorce were perceived as “relics of a bygone era,” while adoption or surrogacy were viewed as modern forms of parenting. Even groups that advertised themselves as being inclusive often fell short, including a group in Texas. Carroll remembers,

“when you showed up in person, the community was very insular towards adoption and surrogacy dads.”

Parenting groups and resources are an important tool for any caregiver, and as Carroll’s work outlines, parenting communities need to consider how to make these spaces more inclusive for all types of parents. She concludes,

“Segregation of gay fathers by pathway to parenthood is not an accident…It’s very much rooted in these networks fostered within the gay parenting community. If we’re not creating resources specifically for gay fathers from different backgrounds…it’s very unlikely they’re going to benefit from the resources already in place.”

Research on poverty often focuses on economic differences between married and nonmarried people, especially mothers. However, in a recent New York Times op-ed, David Brady, Ryan M. Finnigan and Sabine Hübgen push back against common cultural arguments, like criticism about having children outside of marriage, that blame single mothers for poverty. Instead, the authors ask why the United States responds to economic struggle with stigmatization and punishment rather than assistance.

Photo Credit: Taymaz Valley, Flickr CC

The op-ed follows their recent American Journal of Sociology article, which used data from the Luxemborg Income Study to find that single motherhood is both more rare and less consequential for the poverty rate than would be expected based on the popular imagination. The op-ed reads,  

“If single motherhood in the United States were in the middle of the pack among rich democracies instead of the third highest, poverty among working-age households would be less than 1 percentage point lower — 15.4 percent instead of 16.1 percent. If we returned to the 1970 share of single motherhood, poverty would decline a tiny amount — from 16.1 percent to 15.98. If, magically, there were no single mothers in the United States, the poverty rate would still be 14.8 percent.”

Instead of single motherhood as a factor that increases poverty, Brady, Finnigan, and Hubgen claim that political choices in the United States punish single motherhood — as well as the other poverty risk factors of unemployment, low levels of education and forming households at young ages — more than other rich democracies.

“The reality is we have unusually high poverty because we have unusually high penalties for all four of these risk factors. For example, if you lack a high school degree in the United States, it increases the probability of your being in poverty by 16.4 percent. In the 28 other rich democracies, a lack of education increases the probability of poverty by less than 5 percent on average. No other country penalizes the less educated nearly as much as we do.”

Photo by Ben Sutherland, Flickr CC

From the Super Bowl to March Madness, sporting celebrations raise questions about rioting every year. After their Super Bowl victory in February, Eagles fans took to the streets, looting and toppling light poles. A recent article in the Washington Post delves into the sociological and psychological explanations for why fans are often violent and destructive after a massive victory.

Sociologist Jerry M. Lewis has studied fan violence for decades, looking at the statistics on sport fan riots since the 1960s . He notes that fan violence in the United States usually consists of people destroying inanimate objects, while in other countries, and especially Europe, violence is directed toward opposing fan bases. Lewis explains that the sports rioting in the US almost always happens after a major victory rather than a loss, as a form of identification with the victorious team.

In the US, sports rioters tend to be young, white males. These passionate fans react excitedly to their favorite teams, reveling in victory and adrenaline which, in this case, results in destruction of city property. Lewis expands,

“They can’t throw a football 60 yards like the quarterback can, but they can throw a rock through the window or pull down a light pole. To them, it becomes their feat of strength and skill.”

Lewis provides an interesting contrast in the public perceptions of sports rioters compared to those who protest or riot because of social upheaval. Media and public understandings of riots seem to depend on who participates, and what is often described as a riot is defined along racial lines. Because of this, sports fans can celebrate while they cause destruction, but protesters often reap the disadvantages.

Racial Dot Map for Los Angeles based on 2010 Census. Photo by Eric Fischer, Flickr CC

The United States Census is a trusted source for population data. But, like all large-scale survey projects, the census must make decisions about how to define and analyze elements for categorizing data, like racial group.  In a recent article in The Washington Post, sociologist Richard Alba argues that the census over-estimates counts of racial and ethnic minorities, a move that can seriously affect politics and policies in the United States.  

Alba particularly has a problem with how the census counts mixed-race youth. For young people from a mixed Hispanic and White background, the census only counts them as Hispanic, not as both White and Hispanic — similar to the age-old idea of the “one-drop rule” instituted for Black people in the United States. This way of counting leads to an over-estimate of Hispanics in the United States, and this may fuel White fears about becoming a minority in the near future.

Alba points out that, “distorted census data can result in inaccurate statements of ‘fact’ and misleading projections for the future.” Take, for example, President Trump’s desire to limit immigration from African countries and encourage immigration from European countries like Norway. Alba argues that the lack of fundamental changes to the 2020 census will only continue to fuel misperceptions about racial and ethnic change in the United States:

“Census statistics will continue to roil the public discussion of diversity, by exaggerating white decline and the imminence of a majority-minority United States. Political figures and pundits who oppose immigration and diversity could exploit that, peddling an alarmist narrative that doesn’t fit with the long-standing reality of mixing between immigrant and established Americans.”

Photo by Rob Kall, Flickr CC

Since the 2016 presidential election, the gulf between the political left and right has become increasingly dramatic. Issues of gender equality often take center stage in these political debates. In a recent New York Times article, sociologists looked at how the #MeToo movement — focused on sexual harassment and assault — may affect that divide in future elections.

 Many researchers believe the movement will increase contentions between the two sides. Some think it could push less-active voting groups, like young women, to the left and ensure more votes for the Democratic party. However, other sociologists like Musa al-Gharbi believe ideological separation will do more harm than good. He says,

“Progressives have done a great job framing racial inequality, feminism and LGBTQ rights as part of the same basic struggle. However, this association works both ways. Accusations of misogyny, for instance, are often heard in the context of a fundamentally anti-white, anti-Christian culture war — a zero-sum campaign waged against ordinary hard-working Americans by condescending and politically-correct liberal elites.”

In other words, organizing political campaigns around the movement likely will alienate some voters. Research from Joanna Pepin and David Cotter finds evidence of a backlash against the #MeToo movement in recent survey data. Cotter writes,

“We can already see the beginnings of a backlash against #MeToo. There’s a large reservoir of gender traditionalism and misogyny as shown in the Trending towards Traditionalism paper — and it persists among youths so may be part of our social fabric for some time.”

Using gender inequality and sexual harassment as a motive for political organizing could prove successful. The #MeToo movement provides personal, relatable, and moving stories that could spur political change. However, views on gender are also deeply rooted in partisan identities, so support may not come as certainly as the Democrats hope. In order to be effective enough for a political victory, these tactics also need to appear inviting to new members, rather than divisive and polarizing.  

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine meeting with local officials to discuss criminal justice reform. Photo by Senator Tim Kaine, Flickr CC

According to a new report, rates of felony conviction are on the rise in the United States. In response, policy influencers in many states are seeking strategies to combat this increase. However, solutions often unveil further challenges. A recent article from PBS discusses a new study on the rise of felony punishments on a state-by-state basis, as well as the barriers to policy reform.

From 1980 to 2010, felony convictions increased in every state. Sociologist Michelle Phelps discusses the context behind these high rates: 

“When crime rates rose in the 1980s and early 1990s, local and state leaders hired more police and they made more arrests, including felony arrests… In addition, many states elevated nonviolent crimes like drug possession to felony status, and many district attorneys adopted a get-tough strategy, seeking felony charges whenever possible. Police focused drug enforcement on high-crime neighborhoods, which were often predominantly African-American…As a result, felony convictions rose much faster among blacks than among whites.”

In an effort to combat high incarceration rates, states like Georgia have tried replacing prison sentences with probation. But as Phelps points out, probation can be just as damaging as serving a prison term since, in addition to having a criminal record, individuals on probation must also abide by additional rules and requirements:

“Though it’s frequently dismissed as a slap on the wrist, probation can entail onerous requirements…For instance, probation can require a job and good housing as a condition for staying out of prison, but the felony conviction itself can make it hard or impossible to get that job.”

In sum, policymakers searching for new ways to bring felony numbers down must consider unintended consequences of reforms — especially when reforms have the potential to reinforce or worsen deeply structural racial inequalities.