Photo by Dean Hochman, Flickr CC

Prospective college students consider a wide variety of factors when deciding on a university. While academics and career opportunities are often high on the list, colleges known as top party schools have a special appeal. Everyone loves a good time, but as Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade describes in her new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, this idea of college as “fun” is a fairly recent trend some troubling consequences.

In a feature with Time Magazine, Dr. Wade explains how American universities changed from predominantly strict, formal institutions to environments known for casual hookups and wild parties. Whereas in colonial America, colleges were highly regulated places, as the student body underwent a shift, so did campus culture. Wade explains,

“They [colonial college students] were generally obedient, but as the eighteenth century came to a close, colleges were increasingly filled with wealthy sons of elite families. These young men weren’t as interested in higher education as they were in a diploma that would ratify their families’ hoarding of wealth and power. Predictably, they had a much lower tolerance for submission.”

This rebellious attitude led to widespread expulsions across many elite universities, as well as the early foundations of Greek life. Fraternities became hubs for parties, alcohol, and casual sex, a legacy that still holds strong on many college campuses across the United States. And while the party scene can be tempting for many, American Hookup highlights how this emphasis on noncommittal and unemotional sex also sets the stage for widespread rape and sexual assault.

“Thanks to the last few hundred years, most colleges now offer a very specific kind of nightlife, controlled in part by the same set of privileged students that brought partying to higher education in the first place, and designed to promote, as much as possible, the ‘big four-year org’ that students both desire and dread.”

Photo by Mike Liu, Flickr CC

Everyone knows that having kids is expensive, and the dollars really start adding up when you consider lost wages or salary which comes with having to be a stay-at-home parent. Furthermore, even if you enroll in a daycare, the best facilities are often quite expensive and highly selective. What are parents to do? Though it rubs against the grain of conventional American wisdom, Germany offers an interesting model. Recently, as described in the Atlantic, a German court ruled that parents can sue for lost wages if they are unable to find a daycare facility for their children.

In the U.S., where families are considered a more private matter, this seems like a big move for the government to make. Remember, however, that Germany is one of many countries where the state is more involved in such matters; in fact, Germany has taken steps to ensure universal, low-cost daycare. Here in the U.S., where families looking for child care providers have to turn to a market with very little regulation, cheaper options are often imperfect solutions. The cheaper option — home daycare — can be risky. Research by sociologists Julia Wrigley and Joanna Dreby shows that the mortality rate for infants is seven times higher in home day cares versus daycare facilities.

Though the German model of daycare as a public interest seems removed from American norms, the day care system in the U.S. seems ripe for renovation.

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.

Originally published March 30, 2016

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.

Photo by Nate Croft, Flickr CC

Photo by Nate Croft, Flickr CC

In the weeks following Trump’s election and the growing visibility of white nationalism, people of color have received a barrage of unsolicited Tweets and emails asking them to weigh in. These inquiries often come from white people who, in their attempts to be good allies, seek people of colors’ perspectives and analyses regarding tough issues. Such action is often well-intentioned, but it can be taxing on those constantly being asked their take, and it can leave some people feeling cornered into playing a “race ambassador role.  In a candid conversation with Slate, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom describes the emotional labor that these interactions demand from people of color. She said,

“Black people have one primary job: to manage white people’s emotions. Their emotions are high right now and we’re being overtaxed with it. And our various levels of individual privilege circumscribe how much we can push back on managing their emotions.”

Many of the inquiries she and other black women receive come from liberal white women reeling in disbelief over the high proportion of white female voters who supported Trump. Being put in this situation by white friends is a common occurrence for many people of color, and for black women especially. As Cottom describes,

“The emails I get from people are epic. It has the extra gendered dynamic of expecting black women to midwife white women in crisis.”

Photo by Antonella B, Flickr CC

Photo by Antonella B, Flickr CC

American beliefs about how much sex women should have are much more liberal than in the past, but do women still face a double standard compared with men?

A recent article from Broadly uses social science research to find the answer. Among others, a study was conducted by sociologists Rachel Allison and Barbara Risman on college students’ attitudes about “hooking up.” They found that 12% of students still believe in the double standard that women should have less sexual partners men, though most students held men and women to the same standards. Interestingly, they also found that about the same percentage — but mostly women — subscribed to a reversed double standard where they judged men more negatively for having multiple sexual partners, but not women.

Psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams notes that “underlying the different double standards, there’s actually just one double standard: ‘It’s OK for me but not for you.'” Even so, in another study by psychologist Daniel Jones, women were more willing to overlook a man’s extensive sexual history. Jones concludes that “this type of sexist discourse makes women, but not men, permanently accountable for past sexual decisions.”

Photo by Ran Allen, Flickr CC

Photo by Ran Allen, Flickr CC

Previous research shows that women experience a “motherhood penalty” at work when they have children, while having children actually helps men’s careers. New research shows that the motherhood penalty may actually be worse for women who make more money. This is because, in terms of dollars and some career paths, taking time off or switching to part-time work is more costly for high-earning women in the long run.

In workplaces that offer little flexibility, women are left with few options. In a recent Bloomberg article by Rachel Greenfield, sociologist Paula England elaborates:

“A lot of women are getting pushed into dropping out entirely for a few years because they can’t get a little leave at the beginning or because they can’t get enough flexibility.”

This results in a higher income loss than women in lower income positions experience. However, Greenfield notes that it is important to keep in mind that low-income women may actually be hit harder because they start out with fewer resources; high earning women simply suffer a disproportionate income loss.

Photo by Phil Whitehouse, Flickr CC

Photo by Phil Whitehouse, Flickr CC

Online dating can be a tricky business … but what if the online persona you fall for isn’t a person, but a meme or character? As described in an article in The Guardian, there is a new trend in Japan called “virtual love,” wherein people who are not interested in an everyday relationship fall for an online entity. With help from Chuo University sociologist Masahiro Yamada, the article explains how this phenomenon can occur and what drives it, namely the culmination of “stranded singles” who have cultural or economic reasons to favor this form of virtual dating. The article describes this subculture below:

“The development of the multimillion-pound virtual romance industry in Japan reflects the existence of a growing number of people who don’t have a real-life partner, said Yamada. There is even a slang term, ‘moe,’ for those who fall in love with fictional computer characters, while dating sims allow users to adjust the mood and character of online partners and are aimed at women as much as men.”

Yamada says that young people are much more likely to wait for traditional marriage in Japan, but also that marriage and even the formation of couples has weakened in modern Japan. For some, these online relationships with a “moe” offer a new way to find companionship and support.

“Yamada said there was now an expectation gap, with many young people giving up hope in the real world and turning to their computer world, where they could control their ‘lives’.”

This trend is studied here within the Japanese context wherein birth rates are falling and less couples are forming, but University of Leeds sociologist Adrian Favell reminds us that this phenomenon should not be interpreted as a problematic or dysfunctional development limited to Japan. As Favell posits,

“Is it unique to Japan for young people to obsess over pop, film stars, and the rest? Or to ‘fall in love’ on the internet? I don’t think so.”

Photo by Rick Flores, Flickr CC

Photo by Rick Flores, Flickr CC

Japan is known for its stressful corporate culture where overwork is very common. At the same time, Japan’s population is on the wane as the birth rate continues to drop. A recent article in Seeker highlights new research by University of Illinois sociology professor Eunmi Mun that may be able to tackle both of these problems at once with an innovative, if straightforward, idea: expanding paternity leave.

As Mun explains, Japanese norms regarding commitment to your job, the division of labor, and gender roles — norms quite similar to those in the United States — are driving factors in the dynamics described above. Mun explains,

“Taking leave is definitely a violation of that work culture and ideology. Another aspect is the very strong gender ideology in Japan. There’s a very clear gender division of labor, so men do not really have a function in the household. Their function is basically the breadwinning function.”

Therefore, Japanese women are more likely to take parental leave when they have a child, and this absence can have negative impacts on their career. If paternity leave is expanded, however, perhaps more families can have children and parental leave can become less of a gendered practice. For Japan and other nations, paternity leave may hold the key to an egalitarian family life.

Photo by sashikag, Flickr CC

Photo by sashikag, Flickr CC

Based on the social media reactions to the final presidential debate, it’s safe to assume that most Americans are ready for this election to end. Yet, as we move towards November 8th, it is important to try to understand how Americans ended up with Donald Trump on the ticket of a major party.

Trump reminds many, such as Trevor Noah, of African authoritarian regimes. His love of authoritarian leaders and military generals echoes those of the late Qaddafi and Idi Amin, and his dislike of immigrants sounds eerily like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. In a recent article in the Pacific Standard, research by Harvard Sociologist Bart Bonikowski and Princeton Sociologist Paul DiMaggio helps explain why the current state of American politics is not an aberration.

Bonikowski and DiMaggio argue that Americans can be divided into four nationalist camps, each with its own differing levels of patriotism and dislike of the “other”: Ardent Nationalists, Creedal Nationalist, Restrictive Nationalists, and The Disengaged. Trump disproportionately draws his support from the “restrictive nationalists.”

Even after taking into account their partisan affiliations, “ardent” and “restrictive” nationalists are both significantly more likely than other Americans to believe immigrants cause crime and take jobs away from Americans. Trump has exploited these beliefs, even as his anti-Muslim (and implicitly anti-semitic) statements have solidified his support with people who equate Americanness with Christianity. The researchers write,

“Trump’s campaign has used a particular vision of the nation that emphasizes the superiority of the American people, the moral corruption of elites, and dire threats posed by immigrants and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities.”

Trump’s rise is a result of his campaign tapping into a vision of nationalism that embraces white, heterosexual Americans’ manifest destiny and presupposed excellence. 

Photo by Devon Buchanan, Flickr CC

Photo by Devon Buchanan, Flickr CC

The now infamous conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush became a major talking point of this election cycle, as the former can be heard describing how he uses his stardom to grope women without consent. Since the tape surfaced, there has been a series of sexual assault allegations against the Republican presidential candidate. Trump himself has claimed that these accounts are fabrications planted by the Clinton campaign, and some of his supporters have dismissed these claims as false. In fact, many people coming to Trump’s defense assert that since these allegations (some of which date back decades) are only coming out now, they are likely false.

According to an article in New York Magazine, however, the opposite is the case. With a little help from Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan (who cites research by University of Texas sociologist Ari Adut), author Jesse Singal described the impact of collective knowledge in situations like this. Moral scandals and “collective and focused action” take root after an offense becomes well-known. As the article explains,

“There had been stories floating around about his treatment of women forever, many of them publicly reported. But the image of Trump as a predator didn’t fully stick until the release of that Access Hollywood video.”

Now that Trump is caught on tape, these women may feel more confident that people will listen to their allegations, or that they are more obligated to come forward because people are aware of Trump’s behavior. Considering the difficulties people face when reporting sexual assault in general, these women may feel more likely to be believed now that people see Trump in a different light.