Photo by swong95765, Flickr CC
Photo by swong95765, Flickr CC

The Atlantic recently reported that Oregon has a higher proportion of families on welfare than any other state in the U.S. With high food-stamp consumption, subsidizing, healthcare, and extended time limits, Oregon has dedicated itself to a relatively robust and available social security net. So what explains Oregon’s generosity in the face of safety net rollback in other states?

The Atlantic cites research from social scientists Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Sanford F. Schram who show that democratic control of the legislature, as well as higher state wages relative to welfare benefits, are key predictors of the size of a state’s social welfare net. Soss and colleagues also write how state’s with a higher percentage of minority group members receiving welfare also tend to be more punitive overall. Oregon, who is 86.6 percent white, has a relatively high minimum wage, and a historically blue voting state, fits nicely with Soss and colleagues’ analysis of state-level welfare spending and policy. As described by the article,

“The case of Oregon highlights what can happen when federal programs are turned over to the states: They help some Americans more than others, depending on where people live, and, often, depending on the color of their skin.”

Photo by tableatny, Flickr CC.
Photo by tableatny, Flickr CC.

Competing in sports where “people don’t look at us like women. They don’t look at us as being girly or feminine” can take a toll on many women athletes with larger physiques. Women athletes face additional pressures in the limelight because the public often pays as much – if not more – attention to their dress and body types than their athletic performance on the field. However, in a recent LA Times article, Olympians such as weightlifter Sarah Robles and shot put star Michelle Carter are challenging traditional standards of feminine beauty by encouraging girls of all body types to embrace their physiques. Sociologist Abigail Saguay believes that athletes fighting back against the stigma of larger and muscular body types is a firm step in the right direction toward promoting positive body image. Saguay explains,

“The Olympians are using the podium to promote a positive message. They are making an important point that health comes at all sizes, and we should be embracing diversity of body sizes rather than assume there’s one good body type.”

Though breaking past historical ideals about body ideals is an uphill struggle, these athletes are challenging conventions in a big way.

Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC
Photo by miriampastor, Flickr CC

More and more women are becoming the primary income earner for their families. Conservative commentators have been quick to claim that women working and earning more than their male partners has negative effects on marriages, children, and the home. But new research shows that both men and women are happier when the woman is the primary breadwinner.

As described in a Washington Post article, sociologist Christin Munsch found that men who bring in a larger share of household income are more likely to have low psychological and physical well-being scores. However, when women bring in a larger share of household income, both men and women reported higher scores. Though this finding seems to defy conventional wisdom, it is driven by gender norms, as Munch explains.

“Gendered expectations often pull people into making different career decisions … Men are more likely to blindly take on responsibilities with work because they’re associated with more income. Women are more likely to ask: Do I like this? Do I want to do this?”

In other words, women are more likely to take a high-paying job because they’re interested in the work. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to feel that they have to take a stressful, high-income job because that’s their role. These new findings show that changing long-held gendered expectations surrounding work and earnings is in everyone’s best interest.  

Photo by Nuno Luz, Flickr CC
Photo by Nuno Luz, Flickr CC

Summer is wedding season, but according to sociologists Julie Brines and Brian Serafini, late summer may also be divorce season. New York Magazine recently featured new findings that indicate divorce may follow seasonal trends. Brines’ and Serafini’s analysis of several U.S. states, including Washington, Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona, shows that divorce filings were at their highest in March and August. The researchers believe that these trends may reflect a “last-ditch effort” by couples to repair their relationships during holiday seasons. According to a University of Washington press release,

“Troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships and start anew: We’ll have a happy Christmas together as a family or take the kids for a nice camping trip, the thinking goes, and things will be better.”

As a result, divorce rates seem to be highest when the holiday spirit has passed. The approaching school year may also push couples to file for divorce before September, further accounting for the August peak.

Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC
Photo by WOCinTech Chat, Flickr CC

A lot of things go into making your appearance – fashion, accessories, grooming … and race? As described in an article on Vox, research by Duke sociologist Robert L. Reece shows that black people are seen as more attractive if they tell others that they’re mixed-race. A research team conducted over 3,200 interviews with black people and ranked their attractiveness on a scale of 1-5. Those who said they were mixed-race received a higher score. Reese concluded that these findings are not a result of physical attributes or colorism; rather, they are about perceived racial identity. Vox reports,

“[Reece said] results could be partially explained by the fact that people think ‘being exotic is a compelling idea.’ But, he added, ‘It’s also partially just racism — the notion that black people are less attractive, so being partially not-black makes you more attractive.'”

This is not the first research to address this troubling dynamic; numerous studies have shown that resumes with white names are more likely to receive callbacks than those with black names. Other research has shown similar results for college applicants, those seeking health care, and people looking for mortgages or loans. This new research, however, shows that the effects of race go beyond the above-described settings, and that who’s considered “good-looking” is itself a product of racial hierarchies. 

Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC
Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

We tend to think of the world wide web as a place of equal opportunity, granted everyone has access to it. But NYU’s At A Glance recently covered Charlton McIlwain’s new study that reveals how systemic racial inequality forms and operates on the internet. The study looks beyond lone bigots who make racist comments and analyzes how site traffic steers users to certain kinds of pages. People who visit non-racial sites tend to visit other non-racial sites, more than just by chance, while those who browse pages with race-specific content find themselves jumping to other race-specific sites. McIlwain says,

“The evidence suggests a tendency toward racially segregated site navigation. Web producers seem to build pathways providing equitable access to sites, without concern for the racial nature of the site.”

While segregation may not be the intention of site builders, user’s personal preferences and search engines intervene to influence how web surfers get from point A to point B.  

“These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, show how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence, and power that exist within the web environment.”

Photo by Randy Lemoine, Flickr CC
Photo by Randy Lemoine, Flickr CC

Many are sure to remember the historic peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Palestine leader Yasser Arafat in 1993, negotiations which were facilitated by the White House. The iconic pictures of a smiling Rabin, Arafat, and then-president Bill Clinton were facilitated by secret talks in Oslo, Norway, and the story of these negotiations are the subject of the new play Oslo, which is set to appear on Broadway next spring. As described in an article on The Voice of America, the talks were actually set in motion by sociologist Terje Rød-Larsen and his wife Mona Juul, a foreign-service officer. The play captures the unique story of these talks, where Rød-Larsen and Juul facilitated a new kind of negotiation. Rød-Larsen describes below:

“We did it in a way, exactly the opposite way of what it was done in Washington. We did not put proposals on the table. We said we would facilitate, bring the parties together, be go-between, assist them in any way, saying It’s your problem, you have to resolve it yourself. We don’t want to push anything on you.’ And number two, we set up the delegations, should never exceed three persons on each side, because trust is dependent on personal relationships and to build personal relationships. And then we also insisted that they should live in the same house. They should have all meals together; breakfast, lunch and dinner. When there were breaks they could go for walks together, etc. They had to live together.”

The play captures the intertwined nature of the personal and the political, while highlighting the effectiveness of such methods. Of course, the play isn’t some dry paper; the actors have described making the play as a “wild improvisation” and it’s being called a great thriller. Playwright J.T Rogers’ Oslo has sold out at the Lincoln Center, and is sure to be a hit on Broadway, meaning the story of this little sociological experiment is far from curtains.

Photo by Henry Burrows, Flickr CC
Photo by Henry Burrows, Flickr CC

A masked figure enters the bank, pulls out a gun and screams, “Everyone on the ground!” The tellers frantically scoop cash into a sack as the robber holds them at gunpoint, roaring instructions through a black ski mask while sirens blare in the distance. This is a scene most of us know well, as it is depicted in almost every cheesy heist flick ever made.

Now, here’s a question: as you played out this scene in your head, was the bank robber a man or a woman?

Chances are, you were thinking of a male bank robber. But this popular stereotype might be changing. An article in The Orlando Sentinel reports that the latest FBI Statistics show a surge in bank robberies committed by females. In 2005, about 6% of bank robberies were committed by women, but by 2015 that number had risen to 7.5%, representing a quarter increase in the number of female bank robbers. In the article, sociologists Darrell Steffensmeier and Rosemary Erickson explain how changes in strategy and motivation might contribute to the increased participation of women in bank robberies. 

Today’s bank robbers don’t always run in and cause a spectacle; they often blend in with other customers at the bank, standing in line or filing paperwork. The infamous “gun-slinger” bank robbery is becoming less common, and instead of using a firearm, more and more bank robbers quietly pass a note to a teller with their demands. Erickson explains this shift in strategy is in large part to the increased number of women committing these crimes, as women are less likely to commit violent crimes than are men.

Steffensmeier and Erickson point to the “feminization of poverty” as a major driver of this gender shift in bank robberies. Women have come to represent a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor, and combined with a rise in single motherhood and homelessness among women, women have started to resort to crimes that were once committed mostly by men as they struggle to make ends meet. If the pattern observed in the data becomes a trend, we might be seeing more women taking charge of robberies and other crimes—and you can take that to the bank.

Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC
Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC

Online dating has grown substantially in both acceptability and use in the past few years. But because it is still relatively new, Tinder sociologist Jessica Carbino says the norms regarding online dating interactions are “very much still being negotiated.” What’s at the top of the list for women? Calling out the harassment they experience from many of their male suitors. 

Women are starting to speak out about their experiences of harassment from men on online dating sites. To combat these uncomfortable advances, some women are coming together to publicly shame men who harass them. Fast Company recently featured an article showcasing women’s attempts. One woman created an Instagram account called Bye Felipe; she compiled screenshots of online chats that captured uncomfortable messages women receive from men online. Many of the conversations include unwarranted aggression from men, especially after women ignore or reject their advances. Bye Felipe and similar blogs are not the only responses either. Another response is the creation of woman-friendly dating sites. Whitney Wolfe, former executive at Tinder, co-founded Bumble, which specifically lets women make the first move.

So why do men act this way on online dating? Carbino suggests that men’s aggressive advances and behavior may be connected to broader socializing patterns. “We do know that when individuals are removed from interactions where they’re in the presence of others, they may act differently — sometimes more boldly given the relative lack of social accountability,” says Carbino. However, as she’s quick to point out, the same has always been true in the offline world. Apps like Tinder, she notes, provide people with a way to “have a larger degree of contact” with that world.

See other ways women are calling out online dating harassment here.

Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via flickr.com
Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via flickr.com

Over the course of the primary season and the beginnings of the general election, there has been a lot of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding Islam in America, mostly propelled by politicians on the political Right such as Donald Trump. Such shifts in political discussion can often have a ripple effect, and as described in an article by Vox, even the narratives and language used by politicians on the left begin moving in this direction. With help from sociology professors of Erik Love of Dickinson College, Charles Kurzman of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Neda Maghbouleh of University of Toronto, we get an inside look at how discussion surrounding American Muslims takes on problematic features.

As Islamophobic arguments move through the airways, it changes the dominant ideas about judging the “line” in political discussions. For example, alongside more extreme comments made by politicians like Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton’s discussion of “peace-loving Muslims” becomes a more acceptable norm. However, these narratives still function at the core by suggesting that Muslim and American identity are incompatible, or that American Muslims are unduly obligated to earn their right to respect and safety. Consider research described in the article below:

“[F]ocus groups with Muslim American communities show that Clinton’s comments also “resonate poorly,” Charles Kurzman, a University of North Carolina sociology professor, said.

“When [Clinton] frames the choices this way, it means that for Muslims to be ‘good’ and worthy cultural and political citizens of America, they have to pledge fealty to the same law enforcement, media, and politicians that have been surveilling, jailing, and abusing them based on their names, their faith, and their physical appearances.”

The Vox article is quick to point out that Hillary Clinton hasn’t always made problematic statements regarding Islam, nor is this shift in rhetoric limited to her or to this presidential race. Rather, it seems likely that as inflammatory rhetoric targeted at Muslims continues, it simply normalizes problematic, unfair characterizations and opens the door to exclusionary attitudes.