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.

Click to visit Hoaxmap.
Click to visit Hoaxmap.

Over a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, leading many to dub this mass migration a “crisis.” Many are seeking asylum, especially those from countries experiencing considerable violence like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Europeans have reacted to the influx with fear, spreading stories that associate refugees and migrants with crime (something social scientists like to call “crimmigration”). In response, two German women created Hoaxmap to track and dispel rumors about refugees in Germany (a country that has been particularly welcoming to immigrants, per its Chancellor Angela Merkel’s directives). Of the 40 types of rumors tracked on Hoaxmap, most pertain to theft or sexual assault.

The discrepancy between documented and rumored crimes may reflect the way rumors spread and their connections to real events that people believe are plausible. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine, recently featured in an Atlantic article, agrees: “Once you have a plausible story then the criteria for information you need in order to believe [a new story] is much lower, because you would say ‘this is like what happened elsewhere.’” In fact, almost half of the rumors about sexual assault and rape associated with the contemporary immigrants cropped up in the two months following reported New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne. Sociologist Mar Warr concurs that “even a small increase in apparent risk (like a locally reported rape or rapes) can generate substantial and widespread fear.” In reality, most crime in destination locations appears to have been directed at asylum seekers, rather than perpetrated by them.

Ban the Box via PBS

As noted by Harvard sociologist Devah Pager, experimental evidence indicates that the presence of a criminal record reduces one’s application callback likelihood by 50% for whites and 64% for African Americans. To potentially mitigate this employment discrimination, 23 states have adopted “ban the box” policies—the removal of the criminal history question on first-round job applications. However, a pesky question remains in the minds of many employers: do felons make good employees?

National Public Radio’s Planet Money Podcast, hosted by Keith Romer, asked Pager how felons fare if they gain employment. To get at the answer, Pager has been studying felon enlistment in the military (5,000 enlistees between 2002-2009 had felony records). She finds that those with felony records are no more likely to get kicked out before the end of their term than their clean-record counterparts. In fact, those with felony records are not only promoted faster, they are also promoted to higher ranks. Pager contends that “employers are probably missing a lot of talent when they exclude people with criminal records” (notably, with few exceptions, the military is not currently accepting felons). Because it is often so hard for ex-cons to get a job, they seem to work particularly hard to keep that job. Overall, Pager’s evidence appears to show that steps to “ban the box” will bring qualified applicants rather than unwanted mischief to employers.

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.”

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.

A couple in Tehran. Photo by Kamyar Adl, Flickr CC.
A couple in Tehran. Photo by Kamyar Adl, Flickr CC.

Some Iranian officials are increasingly worried about what they call “white marriage” or sometimes “black coupling.” These terms refer to cohabitation between unmarried men and women. Officials deem the trend “worrisome” and “a serious blow to the family,” and some insinuate that women who cohabitate will become prostitutes when they are no longer viewed as beautiful by their partners. The Iranian news outlet Payvand recently featured a sociologist who spoke anonymously to the International Campaign for Human Rights about why cohabitation, despite the disparagement, seems to be on the rise.

One reason to engage in “white marriage” is that it allows couples to avoid the bureaucracy and gender inequalities that come with legal marriage in Iran. The sociologist notes that marriage contracts overwhelmingly favor men. For instance, men can control their wives’ travel, decide where the couple lives, and have more rights in divorce.

An earlier BBC article noted that cohabitation is also a result of the loosening of some traditional morals in Iranian society:

“Of course cohabitation is not accepted by the more religious parts of society,” says sociologist Mehrdad Darvishpour, who is now based in Sweden. “But just like in the rest of the world, the middle class in Iran is starting to prefer this type of life to traditional marriage. Sex before marriage isn’t taboo anymore.”

While it seems progressive, however, the unnamed sociologist in Payvand also highlighted potential negative consequences for a woman in a “white marriage”:

“If a woman is attacked by her male partner, she would have no legal protection,” the sociologist told the Campaign. “Instead she would be asked by the police and judicial authorities about her marital status and if she is not legally married, she will be in a lot of trouble.”

Since most cohabitation is hidden from the woman’s parents, she may lose the support of her family should she experience and try to escape emotional or physical abuse. Couples also risk accusations of adultery—an offense punishable by death—since Iranian Sharia Law requires all marital unions be registered.

For more on cohabitation in the U.S., check out this post from the Council on Contemporary Families.

Trump at a Nevada campaign stop, 2016. Photo by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr.
Trump at a Nevada campaign stop, 2016. Photo by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr.

Tonight, we’ll see the 7th GOP Presidential Debate, but how will the public parse truth from fiction? Recently The Conversation asked four scholars to choose and fact-check one statement from the 6th GOP debate. Stealing the show was tonight’s ostensible no-show, The Donald, conflating refugees with immigrants, and both with crime.

To be fair, nearly all the candidates conflate immigrants and refugees, and, in the 6th Debate, they reduced the topics to one: national security. According to sociologist David Cook Martin, refugees are a legal category defined by United Nations, and they undergo an extensive screening process, while immigrant status is determined by U.S. law. The emphasis on immigrants and refugees as a security threat thus leaves no room for acknowledging the ways  migration has helped the U.S.:

To reduce immigration and refugee policy to a matter of national security overlooks the considerable extent to which the cultural, social and economic success of the United States has been linked to migration, including that of the families of five of [the GOP] debate participants. Immigration policy is a complex weighing of security matters, but also of geopolitical interests, economics and the diversity of people and perspectives that have informed U.S. success.

Trump also claimed that migrants coming to the U.S. are primarily “strong, powerful men,” again drawing on stereotypes of immigrants and refugees as threats (previously, he had notoriously said that Mexican immgirants, in particular, were rapists and drug dealers). Hadar Aviram, professor of law, points out that this is plain old wrong. First, of the 1,682 Syrian refugees entering the U.S. last year, 77% were women. And while immigrants are often associated in the popular imagination with criminality, scholars agree—and sociologist Ruben Rumbaut has shown time and time again—that immigrants actually commit less crime than native-born Americans. Aviram argues that Trump is distracting the public from other issues, like the tax breaks for the wealthy he plans to make and that might actually harm middle-class and working-class Americans, by drawing attention to a “demonized ‘other.’”

VW devil logo, Spatz_2001, Flickr CCC
Spatz_2011, Flickr CC

Investigations into the Volkswagen emissions scandal, wherein the iconic German car maker had installed software in their diesel models to cheat American emissions tests, are ongoing, and the U.S. government is still considering the fines it will levy. But the software, according to VW America CEO Michael Horn in a congressional hearing, was no indication of a company-wide conspiracy. Instead, it was, Horn said, snuck in the design by a couple of rogue engineers. But surely some management or higher-ups had to have known, right?

An article by Paul Kedrosky in the New Yorker uses work by Columbia sociologist Diane Vaughan to delve into how cultures and patterns could actually explain the engineering genesis of Volkswagen’s “defeat device,” without any one person choosing to cheat. The effect of the defeat device was substantial; when tested, a car emitted forty times less nitrogen oxide than during regular use. But with Vaghan’s research, it appears possible that it was not the product of an elaborate scheme—just the result of accumulated fudging. more...

From an antiviolence PSA created for a Zurich women's organization coalition, Frauenzentrale, via Coloribus, an online advertising repository. http://www.coloribus.com/adsarchive/prints/unknownadvertiser-against-domestic-violence-5378305/
From an antiviolence PSA created for a Zurich women’s organization coalition, Frauenzentrale, via Coloribus, an online advertising repository.

Attention to violence against women has improved significantly within the legal system since feminists pushed for recognition of what had once been considered “personal problems”—like violence by an intimate partner—as part of a larger system of gender inequality. Even into the early 1990s, laws discrediting the possibility of rape within marriage remained on the books for some states.

Some discrepancies remain. According to recent study by Myrna Dawson, men who kill their wives, girlfriends, or female family members often face shorter prison terms and fewer first degree murder charges than men who kill female strangers. Dawson calls this an “intimacy discount.” Among many possible explanations for these disparities include that women may still be viewed as men’s property, therefore partner deaths aren’t taken as seriously as other killings. Another possibility is that crimes against intimate partners tend to be easier to solve, prosecute, and bring to a guilty plea, perhaps resulting in a lighter sentence, since the killer took responsibility for his crime.

Read the full article here.

For many, the "American Dream" seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.
For many, the “American Dream” seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.

Immigration is a hot topic, especially with elections coming up. Donald Trump has called immigrants “rapists” and “criminals”, perpetuating anti-immigration rhetoric. Common immigration myths include that immigrants are taking Americans’ jobs, burden the economy, and refuse to speak English. The Washington Post covers a report written by a group of Harvard professors, led by sociologist Mary Waters.

  1. “Immigrants are picking up English just as quickly as their predecessors”
In fact, today’s immigrants are learning English faster than their predecessors. This is partially due to how global English is, which means that immigrants are more likely to have been exposed to it or to have taken English classes already. Additionally, American schools are becoming better at teaching English to immigrant students.
  1. “Immigrants tend to have more education than before”
Historically, immigrants were low skilled workers from southern and eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Recently, however, immigrants are more likely to have four years of education on average. Approximately, 28% of recent immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a 19% increase since 1980.
  1. “Immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes—but they soon learn”
In fact, immigrant neighborhoods are considered to be some of the safest neighborhoods as immigrants are least likely to commit crimes. Native-born men aged 18-39 are 5 times more likely to end up in jail than immigrants. While immigrants are initially fearful of picking up criminal influences, by the second and third generation, they are more likely to engage in criminal behavior.
  1. “Immigrants are more likely to have jobs than the native-born”
Immigrants are determined to find employment, and they are more likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts. Between 2003-2013, 86% immigrants were employed compared to 82-83% native-born Americans. This also holds true for men who have not earned a high-school diploma, where 84% immigrants are employed compared to 58% native-born Americans.

While the report combats common myths about immigration, it does not give a concrete answer as to whether today’s immigrants have the same opportunities as earlier generations of new Americans, despite being educated, staying away from crime, holding jobs, and paying taxes.