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U.S. census estimates indicate that babies of color are now the majority and that by 2020, the majority of children under 18 will be non-white. Despite this growing diversity, many parts of the United States remain deeply segregated by race. A recent article in the Washington Post draws on U.S. census data and insights from sociologists Michael Bader, Kyle Crowder, and Maria Krysan to visually depict and explain the persistence of residential segregation in the United States.

Bader points out that the persistence of segregation is tied to the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining practices against Black communities. Cities that have large African American populations, like Chicago and Detroit, have entrenched patterns of segregation. However, Krysan and Crowder argue in their book that housing policies and practices do not alone reproduce segregation. Daily routines and connections to others can also result in inequalities. As Krysan describes,

“We don’t have the integrated social networks. We don’t have integrated experiences through the city. It’s baked-in segregation, [Every time someone makes a move they’re] not making a move that breaks out of that cycle, [they’re] making a move that regenerates it.”

On the other hand, diversity in many suburbs has increased over the past decades. The D.C. metro saw a 300 percent increase in Hispanic American and a 200 percent increase in Asian American populations from 1990 to 2016. Bader connects this diversity in the suburbs to policy, arguing that both lower housing costs and the implementation of the Fair Housing Act helped to circumvent segregation,

“A lot of those areas were developed after the Fair Housing Act was implemented…If you’re building housing and you’re subject to the Fair Housing Act, you shouldn’t have, in those particular units, the legacy effects of segregation.”

While policy cannot address all residential segregation, it may lessen its reach.

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Throughout the United States, school years are wrapping up and families are making their summer plans. While at one time students could rely on their school-friends to be playmates for the summer, the prevalence of school choice policies — which allow students to attend schools outside of their neighborhoods — means that this is no longer the case. This spring, CityLab highlighted social science research on the relationship between school choice policies and gentrification. Specifically, two recent studies found that school choice policies may create inequalities in housing even as they seek to alleviate them in education.

Carla Shedd, a sociologist who has written about challenges in urban education, notes,

“What is remarkable in this moment is that schooling and housing are decoupled in a way that hasn’t been the case before.”

In other words, schools and neighborhoods no longer share the same fate. The emergence of school choice policies, such as charter schools and waivers from No Child Left Behind, allow well-off families to buy houses in lower-priced areas while still avoiding schools they perceive as undesirable. Francis Pearman, who published his recent findings with Walker Swain in Sociology of Education, told CityLab,

“As school choice expands, the likelihood that low-income communities of color experience gentrification increases.”

 Research by Stephen Billings, Eric Brunner and Stephen L. Ross also supports this finding. Lottery policies from No Child Left Behind meant that families could move into areas with lower housing prices but send their child to school elsewhere. Since the law gave students in failing schools priority in the lottery, new residents in Charlotte exploited the law by moving into districts with schools deemed to be failing. In both instances, the ability to send a child to a school other than the neighborhood option meant that housing in low-income communities of color were more attractive to well-off White families, spurring gentrification but without improvement to the local schools in the area.

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A recent public focus on workplace discrimination against women has inspired heightened attention to the effects of gender inequality. Previous research shows that sexual harassment at work disrupts women’s employment, causing various economic harms. New research, recently featured in Salon, shows it also makes women sick. Researchers Catherine Harnois and Joao Luiz Bastos studied the relationship between workplace discrimination and health — both physical and mental — and their findings indicate the two are strongly linked for women:

“Among women, perceptions of gender discrimination are significantly associated with worse self-reported mental health. Women who perceived sexual harassment also reported worse physical health. We did not find a significant association between gender discrimination and sexual harassment with health outcomes among men, but this may be a result of the small number of men reporting these forms of mistreatment.”

In this study, women reported an average of 3.6 days of poor mental health compared with men’s 2.8 days, and an average of 2.7 days with poor physical health, compared with men’s 2.2 days. Certain factors increased the risk of negative health:

“Respondents who perceived multiple forms of mistreatment reported significantly worse mental health than those who perceived no mistreatment, or just one form of mistreatment. Among women, the combination of age and gender discrimination was particularly detrimental for mental health. Women who reported experiencing both age and gender discrimination had an average of 9 days of poor mental health in the past 30 days.”

Based on their findings, this health gap could be significantly reduced by decreasing the amount of gender discrimination in the workplace.

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A Texas woman was recently sentenced to five years in prison for voting in 2016 presidential election. Crystal Mason was on probation following a felony conviction for tax fraud, and she was unaware that she had been barred from voting due to her record. Mason’s story represents the many barriers individuals with felony backgrounds face upon reentry into society. A recent article in The New York Times discusses the work of Sarah Shannon and Chris Uggen on state variation in felon disenfranchisement practices.

The scholars’ 2016 report for The Sentencing Project found that 6.1 million Americans are barred from voting due to a felony record. However, these disenfranchisement practices look different from state to state. Some states prohibit people convicted of felonies from voting for life. Others will restore voting rights upon the completion of a full sentence and a tedious application process. On the other end of the spectrum, some states allow those who are still incarcerated to vote. As Uggen summarizes,

“The state disparities are really astounding… It is definitely confusing at election time, and many former felons are risk-averse — they may not vote if they are afraid of getting a felony conviction for illegal voting.”

In recent years, some states have begun to reconsider their felon disenfranchisement laws, specifically due to their impact on communities of color. For example, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that he will implement an executive order to restore voting rights to parolees. Shannon and Uggen’s research demonstrates that felon disenfranchisement laws may perpetuate racial inequalities. Shannon states,

“In terms of inequality, clearly, felony disenfranchisement laws have racially disproportionate effects. Our estimates lay that bare. In addition, because these laws can vary so widely by state, the effects are also spatially disparate, impacting some states’ electorates more than others.”

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While U.S. society often valorizes the nuclear family — two-parent households with children — many families do not fit this model. In honor of Mother’s Day this past weekend, Ms. Magazine highlighted the long history of collective mothering in the United States. Social scientists demonstrate how the individualized, biological model of mothering emphasized in the United States can be a problem:

“Many feminist sociologists have pushed back against narrow understandings of parenting. Sharon Hays argues that pressures for mothers to “do it all” though intensive mothering styles alienates and emotionally depletes women…Sharing care-work can alleviate some demands of what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls the ‘second shift,’ or the household labor usually left to women after the formal workday ends.”

Further, certain groups rely more heavily on collective mothering. For African Americans, collective mothering has been important for survival:

Patricia Hill Collins describes how blood mothers, ‘other mothers,’ grandmothers and community mothers have collectively cared for Black children since slavery, playing integral roles in Black community survival. The mainstream media tends to associate these mothering practices with working-class and poor mothers of color, but Collins points out that Black middle-class mothers also rely on community mothering to protect their children from everyday forms of racism.”

Mothers who immigrate to another country for work also depend on collective parenting — often by family and friends — if their children remain in their country of origin. While many Native American families rely on collective child-raising practices as well, the U.S. government rarely recognizes them as valid forms of parenting. Social workers have taken away thousands of Native American children and placed them into mostly White, nuclear families.

So, when we celebrate Mother’s Day, we must keep more than individual mothering in mind.

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“Boy or Girl?” — It’s one of the most common questions people ask new parents. But some parents are trying to avoid that question altogether by raising their children in a “gender open” or “gender affirmative” environment. A recent article in New York Magazine highlights the decisions made by these parents — including some parents who are sociologists.

Kyl Myers is one of these parents. For Myers, “the point was not to have a genderless child.” Instead, Myers wanted her child to come to their own understanding of gender without viewing toys and activities as “boy” and “girl” things. Myers’ concerns are certainly valid — according to Elizabeth Sweet’s research, toys are more gendered today than they were during all of the 20th century. Myers goes on to explain,

“A part of why we are parenting this way is because intersex people exist, and transgender people exist, and queer people exist, and sex and gender occur on a spectrum, yet our culture loves to think people, all 7 billion of them, can and should be reduced to either/or.”

Andrea — also a sociologist — had a partner that was in the middle of a gender transition at the time, which led them to talk extensively about gender and parenting strategies. Andrea believed her child’s anatomy did not matter for their gender, yet her partner was changing their body to match their gender. Andrea says,

“We know that people often experience gender through their bodies and through the meaning that our society has attached to bodies…In our society, breasts are feminized, so it makes sense for someone like my partner to have their breasts removed. When we say gender is a social construct, I am certainly not arguing that bodies and hormones play no role in people’s gender identification.”

These parents — informed by social science research that shows the importance our society places on a gender binary — are doing their best to break out from this binary to include more opportunities for children to explore their gender identities. As Myers says,

“You have to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to love their children in the way that they know best, and that really looks different for different families. This is how we know to love our child best.”

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Recent mobilization around gun control — epitomized through the recent March for Our Lives protests across the country — is largely associated with youth and liberal political ideologies. But sociologist Dana R. Fisher, who has been studying large-scale protests since Trump’s inauguration, challenges this assumption. In a recent article in the Washington Post, she discusses research she and her team conducted during the March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C. Fisher explains,

“Only about 10 percent of the participants were under 18. The average age of the adults in the crowd was just under 49 years old, which is older than participants at the other marches I’ve surveyed but similar to the age of the average participant at the Million Moms March in 2000, which was also about gun control.”

Further, Fisher found that fewer protesters were driven by politically liberal values than we might think:

“Only 12 percent of the people who were new to protesting reported that they were motivated to join the march because of the gun-control issue…Instead, new protesters reported being motivated by the issues of peace (56 percent) and Trump (42 percent), who has been a galvanizing force for many protests. Protesters were also more likely to identify as ideologically moderate. About 16 percent did so, higher than at any other protest event since the inauguration.”

While the media might have us believe differently, March for Our Lives successfully mobilized a wide crowd — both in age and political ideology. 

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Even with gender-equality movements today, marriage proposals seem to be backtracking — becoming even more spontaneous, elaborate, and sensational. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Ellen Lamont and Judy Chu explain how marriage proposals often perpetuate traditional gender roles and may be a poor foundation for a stable marriage.

Lamont argues that traditional marriage proposals — where a man asks a woman to marry him — are symbolic acts that sustain particular gender norms.

“Now that we expect women to be equal to men, women [and men] are looking for ways to distinguish gender in their lives. Within heterosexual romantic relationships, there is still a strong sense that women and men want different things and, by extension, should behave in different ways. As more women assume traditionally male roles at work, the traits that distinguish men and women in relationships become harder to see. A symbolic act, like a proposal, is a way to reenact those differences.”

For men, Chu suggests that elaborate proposals may actually be a socially acceptable way for men to express profound feelings for their significant other — something that may be difficult in societies that do not value emotional expression from men.

Social media may also add to the need for elaborate proposals. During interviews, Lamont found that most women felt they “needed a story to tell their friends” about their engagement. In other words, elaborate proposals can provide the perfect proposal picture to post to Facebook or Instagram.

Regardless of why marriage proposals have failed to modernize, their consequences include tremendous social pressure and a potentially rocky foundation for a marriage. In Lamont’s study, women admitted they only said “yes” because they feared saying “no” would translate to “saying no to the relationship.” Perhaps moving away from proposals that reify traditional gender norms could be a key first step to healthy marriages.

The 24th Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide. Photo by Ministry of Environment – Rwanda, Flickr CC

Throughout April, a number of commemoration events span the globe. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel comes to a two-minute stand-still in remembrance of those killed in the Holocaust. April also marks the start of Rwanda’s kwibuka period, where events are held throughout the country to remember those killed in the 1994 genocide. In a recent article in The ConversationNancy Berns explains the many ways commemorative events can prove beneficial, while also pointing out that not all historical violence is commemorated equally.

According to Berns, many survivors benefit from simply sharing their experiences, both with others who experienced the violence and with the broader community. While this process may look very different between cultures, commemorative events create a space for individuals to begin healing:

“An essential part of healing rests on the ability to tell one’s story – to have someone listen and acknowledge pain and suffering. Scholars have explained how stories help people make sense of their experience. Stories can provide a release of emotion and help one connect to others when learning to live with loss.”

But commemoration can have impacts far beyond individual healing. Through documentation of history and widespread recognition, commemoration can influence a society’s shared understanding of past violence:

“Research shows that many people develop continuing bonds with individuals who have died. Often people want to keep a deceased loved one’s memory in their lives. Remembrance events can present opportunities and rituals to help in sustaining those connections… A person establishes private bonds with the deceased, through internal conversations, private rituals, or holding on to symbolic objects. Public bonds, on the other hand, require more people to help make connections, such as telling their story to an audience and hearing others’ stories through films, books, speakers or museum exhibits.”

Finally, Berns notes that remembrance events can inspire future activists to speak out against atrocities. While there are organized commemorations for some forms of violence, others — like lynching in the United States — are largely overlooked. For commemoration to enable healing, the first step must include formally recognizing the wrongdoings of the past.

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Gun ownership and the decision to carry a gun in public may seem like an individual choice. However, in a recent Vox podcast, sociologist Jennifer Carlson explains that carrying a gun in public is intertwined with cultural understandings of gender, race, and family. Carlson interviewed dozens of gun carriers and NRA instructors. She even went through the training herself, received her license to carry, and became a certified instructor to understand the culture of individuals who regularly carry guns. 

Regarding race, NRA courses often neglect lessons about the impacts of racial bias in determining who may be a threat, for example. In terms of gender, Carlson finds that men — who carry firearms more often than women– are influenced by feelings of a loss of masculinity, socioeconomic decline, family histories, and ideas around civic responsibility.

“When I talked to [women] I got a very different narrative [than men] about why they are carrying guns… If we [go] back to the Second Amendment debate, it’s often ‘This is my individual right,’ ‘This is about my individual right to self-defense,’ or ‘It’s about self-protection.’  And when I talked to men…oftentimes it was about self-defense but it also was about family protection — family protection was a huge piece of the puzzle. This idea, if I’m working a job at night, and my wife is at home and she’s alone, there needs to be a firearm there so that she can be protected. And that’s a really interesting move because that’s [about an] absent male protector, [whereas] women were individualistic in terms of ‘This is my right to self-defense,’ ‘My life is valuable in and of itself,’ and ‘I can have a gun to protect myself.’  

In other words, both men and women valued owning firearms for protection, but women framed their gun ownership in terms of self-protection, while men viewed gun ownership as a way to protect others.