Photo by The Great 8, Flickr CC.
Photo by The Great 8, Flickr CC.

Income inequality is a hot topic this election, and the Panama Papers have added fuel to the fire. Indeed, it seems that there’s no end to the data that shows the discrepancy between the 1% and the rest of us. What will it to start seeking solutions to extreme income disparities?

New research by TSP contributor Kevin Leicht of Urbana Champaign (available in an article in The Sociological Quarterly) points us in the right direction. As he explains in an interview with The Atlantic’s Gillian B. White, the way social scientists and others conceptualize inequality is too tied to trying to increase diversity at the top rather than studying the economy as a whole. Furthermore, while we’ve been very interested in inequality by race, we don’t do enough to consider gender inequalities, particularly as they exist within racial groups. The popular narrative is that hard work can jettison anyone to the top, but research like Leicht’s shows how outdated this notion is.

To read more of Leicht’s work, see his TSP papers, “Has Borrowing Replaced Earning?”, “Economic Decline and the American Dream,” and “Old Narratives and New Realities,” or check out our volume on the new sociology of debt, Owned.

When it comes to love, we needn't fear tech advances. Jimmy McIntyre, Flickr CC.
When it comes to love, we needn’t fear tech advances. Jimmy McIntyre, Flickr CC.

Between the increased screen-time, decreased personal contact, and evaluating strangers through profile pages, is online dating bad for society? Rest assured, everyone; these ideas are founded on exaggerated fictional fears rather than actual facts, as described by a Washington Post article with help from Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld.

As Rosenfeld describes through his analysis of a massive dataset regarding online dating activity, there are a lot of myths about online dating. People who meet online don’t break up as frequently as you may have been told, and online dating does not promote hookup culture over long-term relationships (as in the real world, you can find whichever you’d like). Overall, online dating seems to be working for people; Rosenfeld says societies have always been fearful of new technologies but generally come around. Can’t you feel the love?

In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana and her parents can only dream of opening a restaurant.
In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana and her parents can only dream of opening a restaurant.

Disney movies get a lot of flack for promoting unrealistic gender expectations, especially for young girls. But kids are getting messages about more than just gender. A recent article in New York Magazine featured a study helmed by sociologist Jessi Streib that revealed that successful G-rated movies, including many Disney films, communicate unrealistic depictions of social class.

In over half of the 32 films they studied, the main characters were upper- or the upper middle-class, clearly misrepresenting the distribution of wealth both in the U.S. and the world. In addition, many downplayed or even romanticized the hardships of lower-class status. For instance, in Aladdin, wealth and poverty are depicted as two sides of the same coin with each equally constraining individuals’ lives. Unlike in adult films where working class characters tend to be portrayed as irresponsible, in G-rated films, working-class characters are shown as warm members of a tight-knit community. In fact, in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, it is the lower-class characters who teach their upper-class characters about humanity, empathy, and love:

The key takeaway, from the authors’ point of view, is that these films legitimize and reinforce class structures. Middle-class and poor people are de-emphasized, as are the difficulties associated with not having enough money. Moreover, climbing the class ladder isn’t presented as particularly difficult.

 

The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.
The 2015 Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

The U.S. presidential election is beginning to take on issues of poverty and class. Such conversations often look at “the poor” from a careful remove, but work by Thomas Hirschl of Cornell and Mark Rank of Washington University says that outsider angle is a comfortable farce. As explained by an article in Salon, the unpleasant fact is that over fifty percent of Americans will experience poverty during our lifetimes. Impoverishment and “the poor”—and the politics and policies that affect them—are actually very close to home.

Of course, demographic factors are a big part of predicting one’s likelihood of experiencing poverty. (If you’re interested in calculating your own odds, check out Hirschl and Rank’s poverty calculator!) Education is one big factor, as is race: white people are half as likely as non-white people to fall into poverty. And married people are less likely to become poor than singles. Still, as candidates and voters debate nature of class and poverty in America, we would do well to remember that they affect us all. To pretend like anyone’s above poverty would be a poor show.

pushout coverOver the last year, bystanders have recorded numerous instances of confrontation between police and black students, from one officer pointing his gun at an unarmed black youth during a pool party in Texas to another officer flipping over a black girl still seated in her desk in a South Carolina high school. Media reports often blame black girls for defying authority figures while excusing the behaviors of school officials and law enforcement officers. Recent reports including Kimberlé Crenshaw’s, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” contextualizes the serious effects of harsh punishment as black girls disproportionately enter the school-to-prison pipeline.

Monique Morris sheds additional light on the topic in her new book, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” Morris interviewed several young black girls in group homes, foster care, and juvenile detention centers in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Boston. She discovered that several girls experienced various forms of physical and sexual violence. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, praised the book, calling it “A powerful indictment of the cultural beliefs, policies, and practices that criminalize and dehumanize Black girls in America,” while activist Gloria Steinhem wrote that Morris “tells us exactly how schools are crushing the spirit and talent that this country needs.”

Turin's Olympic Village in 2005, before the athletes arrived. Marco Scala, Flickr CC. https://flic.kr/p/aiymh
Turin’s Olympic Village in 2005, before the athletes arrived. Marco Scala, Flickr CC.

Ever wonder what happens to Olympic villages once the athletes and spectators leave? Some thrive, and some end up as ghost towns.

Turin, Italy’s village has taken an interesting turn. The city tried to make an international name for itself with the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Sociologist Sergio Scamuzzi, a member of an academic Games-monitoring group called the Olympics and Mega Events Research Observatory, told the Guardian that the Olympics “gave an opportunity to the inhabitants to be proud of the city, of its capacity for innovation, its capacity to organise such a big event.” Soon after the games ended, however, the area was almost abandoned.

Today, Turin’s Olympic village hosts more than 1,000 refugees from over 30 countries. Many of these occupiers were migrant workers from African countries who found themselves out on the streets in 2013, when Italy’s Emergency North African program ended abruptly, and some still survive on seasonal labor farm jobs. The village now features a weekly pop-up medical clinic, common spaces for office and legal advice drop-ins, language classes, barber shops, restaurants, and stores. However, many of the buildings are overcrowded and falling apart. Plans to redevelop the area have been made, and eviction orders have been issued by the government.

The actual eviction of so many seems almost impossible, and residents continue their daily lives despite the threat. According to a resident formerly from Senegal, “For now it’s just words, no one knows what will happen.” In the meantime, an international community lives on in the dormitories and cafeterias that once hosted international athletics’ elite.

The poster for "global warning" film "An Inconvenient Truth."
The poster for “global warning” film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Beliefs about climate change are not so much about social demographics, but about what else you believe in–your values, worldviews, and political affiliations. The Washington Post recently featured a new analysis reviewing all existing literature on climate change beliefs. They found that people who vote for more liberal political parties are more likely to believe in climate change. In addition, those who are more concerned with the environment–measured by something called the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP)–were also more likely to believe in global warming. Finally, the trustworthiness of scientists was also a strong predictor in individuals’ beliefs in climate change.

Beliefs, though, do not always translate into action. The researchers found that even those who believe in climate change sometimes do not support policies to remedy it. This occurs more as the policies asked about get more specific. According to sociologist Aaron McCright, this disconnect may simply reflect how people feels about those policies regardless of how they help the environment. He says, “even people who are pretty environmental don’t like taxes still.”

So how do these findings help fight climate change? Sociologist Riley Dunlap suggests that since it may not be possible to change people’s minds, activists should focus their resources on mobilizing voter support for politicians who recognize the importance of climate change. Additionally, McCright suggests that conservative leaders who believe in climate change should be more outspoken about their positions. Psychology professor Matthew Hornsey add that the key, to his mind, is making messages about climate change fit with the worldviews of people who generally do not support climate change. Painting environmentalism as patriotic, for instance, may spur support for mitigation policies.

A recent comic and sociological exploration of heterosexual norms in the U.S. today.
A recent comic and sociological exploration of heterosexual norms in the U.S. today.

In one of the most iconic scenes in sitcom television history, Friends’ character Monica bends down on one knee and proposes to her long-time boyfriend, Chandler, in a romantic, candlelit, rose-filled apartment. Over fifteen years later, scholars suggest the reality of heterosexual marriage proposals is far less progressive. A recent article in The New York Times discusses why men remain more likely to propose marriage and why this tradition will likely not change in the near future.

Even as the traditional image of marriage has changed and the number of working and college-educated women continues to rise (studies show that men and women tend to marry spouses from comparable educational backgrounds), according to Amanda Miller, “Though women have more power to move the relationship closer to marriage, they still want the man to ask. That’s considered his job.”

Bradford Wilcox concurs, noting that women may also view their partner’s proposal as reassurance that he truly wants to get married (indeed, men often view their formal proposals as demonstrations of love and commitment to their future wives). A woman who proposes may face social consequences, though: Beth Montemurro adds that such women may be viewed as more masculine (and men who are proposed to may be viewed as more feminine). To avoid stigma, male-female couples generally stick to the script: men propose marriage.

Image via Flickr CC, David Trawin.
Image via Flickr CC, David Trawin. Please, oh please, click through for the description.

There’s a new generation of parents on block. They’re not the “cool” moms and dads who let their kids run wild, nor are they disciplinarians who shut down any mention of sex, drugs, or alcohol with a morality tale of dire consequences. Instead, these parents are simply trying to communicate.

According to an article by Maclean’s, “rather than telling their kids not to drink or do drugs or have sex, many of today’s parents, it seems, are choosing to educate them in how to drink, do drugs or have sex more safely.” For some parents this simply means not freaking out when their kids tell them about their experiences partying or having sex. One mother in the piece puts out a bowl of condoms for her 13-year-old son, and another buys her son pot candies so he won’t smoke the drug. As sociologist Frank Furedi told the Guardian of a British finding that a third of parents were unconcerned about their kids trying marijuana, “the old-fashioned parent is fast becoming a cultural minority.”

Research by sociologist Amy Schalet shows how parents in the Netherlands communicate with their children about sex by talking about using caution as well as contraceptives and staying true to their own sense of “readiness.” Many Dutch parents told Schalet they allow teenagers to have sleepovers with intimate partners to avoid secrecy.

As some lament the loss of old-fashioned parenting or believe new, more communicative parenting is irresponsible—a free pass creating out-of-control kids—it seems many believe shutting down the conversation is the worst thing any parent can do. Plus, as we learned in a previous “Clipping” on the research of Joel Best and Kathleen Bogle, kids these days are hardly as deviant as their parents were.

Photo by brandbook.de, cropped. Flickr CC.
Photo by brandbook.de, cropped. Flickr CC.

In many fields—especially those that require more degrees or a longer resume—diversity remains a lofty goal. Claire Jean Miller writes in the New York Times that some unconventional thinking may help make that goal a reality, suggesting the practice of “blind hiring,” wherein those who review employment criteria are unable to see prospects’ race, gender, or similar factors.

Miller looks to research from sociologists Maya A. Beasley (University of Connecticut) and Lauren Rivera (Northwestern University). One of the more common reasons cited for companies’ lack of diversity is that there are not enough minorities and women in the “pipeline” who have sufficient skills or qualifications. Beasley’s research shows, however, a greater amount of people with those qualifications are minorities or women. Rather than overt discrimination in the hiring process, Rivera sees companies stressing “fit” and, in this way, contemporary employment is more like finding a romantic partner. A match between leisure activities and hobbies is a strong predictor of who gets hired where; because those factors are inherently raced and gendered, organizations that are disproportionately white and/or male are likely to stay that way.

“Blind hiring” means shifting early hiring processes to consider skill first. For example, after facing litigation for its historically disproportionately white male ensemble, the Boston Symphony orchestra moved to blind auditions, putting aspiring orchestra members behind a screen while they played. The new procedure led to a demonstrably more diverse orchestra. In tech, blind hiring might mean critiquing applicants’ code or software before examining their resume. Though this idea clearly can’t be applied to all fields with equal ease, blind hiring might let us see workplace diversity.