The “traditional family,” many would have us believe, is imperiled by everything from women in the workplace and same-sex couples in the bedroom. What these “traditionalists” fail to name among the various threats is income inequality. As described in research published in the American Sociological Review and discussed on Fortune.com, observed increases in the rate of couples having children before marriage can be explained by changing social landscapes.
It’s no surprise to anyone that the middle-class is shrinking or that finding a job can be a tough gig. Andrew Cherlin, David C. Ribar, and Suzumi Yasutake’s research shows people are more likely to postpone marriage, but not parenting, if they can’t get a job. So, with a distinct shortage of available living-wage jobs and growing income inequality, more and more American families are comprised of unmarried couples with children. As the class system becomes even more polarized, it seems marriage boosters might want to consider a different means to their favored end: reducing inequality.
According to British researchers, tall men and thin women are most likely to make the big bucks. Meanwhile, they found evidence to suggest overweight workers, especially women, are likely to get paid less. Still, sociologist Amy Blackstone says companies probably aren’t intentionally penalizing employees based on height and weight.
In an interview with Broadly, Blackstone points to gender biases that extend beyond the workplace. Culturally, Americans associate thinness with beauty and self-discipline in women and tallness with authority for men. “For women, being thin means taking up less space, something that is expected of women both literally and symbolically,” Blackstone says. Thus, it’s no surprise that pay reflects societal views about gender, power, and the body. Nor is it a surprise that other gender inequalities make their way into work spaces, like limitations on contraception coverage in employer provided health care and a lack of paid maternity leave. As contributing editor Diana Tourjee points out, “paying certain men and women less in relation to the way they look is obviously disturbing, but worse is the realization that this data is part of a broader system of oppression that structures the lived experiences of us all.”
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.
Parenting is hard, whether you’re an academic or not. But when you’re a professor, there is one surefire way to help stay in the field, get tenure, and even score a pay bump. Be a man.
The message is clear: women with children in academia are at a disadvantage compared to both men with children and women without them. A recent article in Jezebel compiled findings from several studies to demonstrate this. According to sociologist Michelle Budig, high-income men get the biggest pay bump from having children in any job category, and low-income women lose the most.
A US Newsarticle, likewise reports that male professors with young children are more than three times as likely as women with young children to get tenure-track positions. Notably, women without children come in a close second: they are just under three times as likely as women with children to get tenure.
Along the same lines, women who have a baby as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow are more than twice as likely as men who have children during this time to leave academic research. When it comes to having children in academia, women pay a harsh “baby penalty.”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
In a recent excerpt from her book The Tumbleweed Society: Work and Caring in an Age of Insecurity featured in Salon, sociologist Allison Pugh discusses how the insecure economy has made employees feel wary of their employers but also like they must rush to their defense. Employees often bend over backward to identify with their bosses and meet their needs, but employers are much less likely to reciprocate. What do employers and employees owe each other?
The move away from the old social contract, in which employees traded loyalty and effort for job security, has resulted in real and perceived job insecurity among may adults for whom full-time work is a central piece of identity. Pugh says the result of the opposing trends of increased job insecurity and increased cultural importance of full-time employment is lots of anxiety for employees and a “one-way honor system.” Employees still feel obligated to uphold their end of the social contract by demonstrating loyalty and hard work, they don’t expect the same commitment from their employers. Even those with the lowest-skill and lowest-paying jobs empathize with the employers’ needs for good workers and expect little beyond dignity, respect, and a paycheck.
Part of the reason for the one-way honor system is the perception that intense work commitment is an integral part of being an honorable, moral person:
Survey researchers report, for example, that about the same percentage of women as men—70 percent of full-time working women (both white-collar and blue-collar workers)—say they would continue to work if they suddenly had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives, known as the “lottery question” (and used by researchers as a rough proxy for a work ethic). A strong work ethic was part of good character, part of being fully human, no matter your gender, people maintained.
In other words, it’s not the job itself that’s the source of dignity, it’s the work ethic. So as jobs get more precarious, many people work longer and harder instead of slacking off, partially because they fear those who don’t work hard enough or produce enough will be the first ones to lose those coveted jobs.
In the literary world, New York Times Bestseller is a coveted and sought-after label. When that gold sticker is slapped on the cover of a book, authors and publishers alike are likely to be happy campers, and there are few surefire ways to create buzz about a particular work than Bestseller status.
Brandeis sociology professor Laura Miller weighs in on a piece in Hopes&Fears where the stickiness of the New York Times Bestseller label is discussed. Miller states “People assume that if everyone else is reading a book then it ought to be good.”
Indeed, this peer-pressure style marketing is what makes the Bestseller label so desired. It’s basically an endorsement from a huge number of everyday people—but the formula isn’t that simple. As explained in the article, the New York Times Bestseller label was created in 1931, when editors would take random samples of book sales from undisclosed vendors to gauge the popularity of particular manuscripts. In the modern era, the process has become murkier. Discussing the process in determining Bestseller status today, Miller explains:
Once you got online bookselling, anyone and everyone was selling a book… you can’t have millions of retail establishments giving data to the Times. That means they have to ask for a sample of the different kinds of places that are selling books… While the actual reporting of sales from those particular places might be more accurate than in the past, the ability to get an accurate sample is actually more difficult.
In the past, while the accuracy of the data from book vendors was imperfect, gathering a representative sample of book market transactions was easier—there were fewer potential vendors. Today, though, selection process of specific vendors for Bestseller sampling purposes is tightly controlled, so that publishers and authors can’t artificially inflate their book sales at particular stores or retailers in order to boost their likelihood of Bestseller status. Whatever the process, however, it will have to further contend with new forms of book purchases, such as e-book and Kindle sales. Either way, authors and publishers will still wait with bated breath: Is it a Bestseller?
For those of us fueling ourselves with the late-night pizza and discount wine that a graduate stipend affords us, the idea of spending at least a year or two on poverty-level incomes may not feel shocking. It may, however, be more common than we once thought.
A new study by sociologists Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank finds that nearly 60% of Americans will spend at least one year living off of poverty-level incomes. These rates are heavily concentrated among those under the age of 30, with 42% of those young adults experiencing at least one year of poverty (20th percentile of income), and 23% experiencing extreme poverty (10th percentile of income). And for those without savings or parental help to fall back on, these low incomes can lead to homelessness and long-term financial struggle. According to their findings, 12% of Americans spend nearly a decade or more in poverty.
“There’s a great deal of fluidity in the income distribution,” Hirschl told Pacific Standard Magazine. “Economic insecurity—this is not a small effect. We have a tough road ahead of us.”
That’s likely true for a lot of reasons, but one is just coming to light: For many African-Americans, working for the government has provided a gateway to the middle class. “Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities,” sociologist Jennifer Laird tells The New York Times. The civil service, delivering mail, teaching, operating public transportation, and processing criminal justice have historically provided steady income and opportunities to climb the economic ladder—often without an expensive college degree.
The recession’s recovery has not brought back employment at the local, state, and federal levels, though, and it’s causing struggle in black communities in particular. Population growth has also meant higher competition for ever scarcer public sector jobs. African-Americans once benefitted most from government employment, so cutbacks and layoffs hit them the hardest. Laird describes black government workers’ situation as a “double-disadvantage”:
They are concentrated in a shrinking sector of the economy, and they are substantially more likely than other public sector workers to be without work.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll finds that nearly 60% of Americans are concerned with income inequality. The overall results may be surprising, given steady economic growth over the past few years. However, sociologist Leslie McCall has an explanation for this post-recession in the New York Times:
People think the returns to economic growth should be going to people like them as much as they should be going to people at the top.
The article highlights McCall’s research on public opinion about income inequality, specifically her analysis of the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey conducted every two years by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. She finds that public concern about inequality rises after recession periods, peaking several years after initial economic growth.
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