Photo by Ted Eytan, Flickr CC

Within the last decade, and particularly in the past few months, the Affordable Care Act — dubbed “Obamacare” — has been such a hot topic that it might be running a fever. Interestingly, ever since Trump and congressional Republicans tried — unsuccessfully — to repeal Obamacare and replace it with what commentators have called “GOPcare,” support for Obamacare has been on the rise. But why?

A recent article from CNN suggests that it might have something to do with increased support among working class whites. In the past, especially in Republican attacks directed at former President Obama, the ACA was cast as something pushed by the first president of color to help people of color. Recent media coverage of town halls and debates centering on Obamacare, however, has shown that poor whites are realizing that they would also stand to lose their health care if the ACA is repealed. Howard University sociologist Judy Lubin explains,

“When you see white working-class Americans saying that I’m benefiting and my family is getting help from the Affordable Care Act, you start to hear ‘repair’ not ‘repeal,’ … Whites standing up in support of a policy changes the dynamics of the conversation.”

Helsingborg Waterfront, Sweden. Photo by tsaiproject, Flickr CC

Sweden has a long tradition of supporting its citizens with protective regulations and social services, including 480 days of paid parental leave, universal health care, and free higher education.  But now, a new proposal has come forward in the Swedish town of Overtonea: to give municipal employees a paid hour break during the week to go home and have sex.  A recent article in the New York Times explains that the policy, a brainchild of councilman Per-Erik Muskos, could help with the decreasing population in Overtonea, improve marriages, and improve employee satisfaction. 

Muskos’ idea has garnered as much praise as criticism. Many believe that it will encourage single workers to go on dates that will take longer than the one hour. And many wonder how such something like this could be enforced. Others believe that it is an excellent idea, as it will help with work-life balance. Lotta Dellve, sociologist from the University of Gothenburg, believes that her research supports Muskos’ plan. Her findings show that short bursts of physical activity during office hours are correlated with work satisfaction and productivity. Dellve believes that sex can fulfill these needed bursts, but noted that a lot of people might struggle to find the motivation to come back to work. 

Photo by Tina Franklin, Flickr CC

Though “hookup culture” is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, an article in the Washington Post describes a recent report that finds Americans are having less sex. Published in Archives of Sexual Behaviorthe study authors find that Americans of all races, religions, and education levels are having less sex than in the past. While in the 1990’s people were having sex about 60 times a year on average, that number dropped by 53 times on average by 2014.

Apart from other factors, such as the rise in depression and declining rates of marriage and cohabitation, the tightening wallets of two-income-families may also be a factor driving this change. As explained by sociologist Pepper Schwartz of University of Washington, a product of the 2008 recession is that both people in partnered couples are more likely to be working. The resulting stress from these economic concerns could be behind the overall drop in sexual activity. Schwartz explains,

“You have many more women and men working to create a two-income family to stay middle class or above … People’s minds are occupied with things other than the physical connection, and that has increased in modern life, and especially from the ’80s and ’90s and forward.”

Photo by mosaic36, Flickr CC

Serving in the military can lead to an array of physical injuries or psychological traumas. But the media most often focuses on one particular trauma when veterans commit violent crimes — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sociologist Ardath Whynackt talked to CBC Radio about how the media’s focus on PTSD can be counterproductive. 

To start, Whynackt points out that there is no evidence that PTSD makes an individual dangerous, despite the number of movies, TV shows, and characters wherein “PTSD” leads characters to do something crazy. The media’s obsession with PTSD often obscures deeper issues, like the way we socialize men to be aggressive in the first place. For example, news broke in early January that a Canadian veteran murdered his family and committed suicide afterwards; it was later revealed that this man was suffering from PTSD and the media focused solely on that aspect of the case. Whynackt explains,

“When we talk about PTSD and we frame the conversation in really narrow terms around a lack of care for veterans – and I do agree there is a lack of care for veterans and we do need more – but we end up talking only about him as if he wasn’t accountable for his actions … If we want to talk about programs and services to prevent incidents like this, we need to be talking about not only trauma supports for all men, not just veterans, but we also need to be talking about the ways in which we socialize young men to take their distress out on others using anger and violence.”

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.

Photo by Tim Sackton, Flickr CC.
Photo by Tim Sackton, Flickr CC.

Sociology thoroughly embraces the “social construction” of race — that the ways we see, interpret, and act upon people’s “race” are actually created and maintained because of social norms. This line of thinking hasn’t caught on everywhere and medicine — especially since the completion of the Human Genome Project — often treats race as a biological, scientific category. This misunderstanding of race can have detrimental consequences, particularly when medical students are taught to use race as a shortcut for diagnosis.

Law and sociology professor Dorothy Roberts described this problem to Stat News:

“Right now, students are learning an inaccurate and unscientific definition of race. It’s simply not true that human beings are naturally divided into genetically distinct races. So it is not good medical practice to treat patients that way.”

She goes on to explain the relationship between race and health:

“It’s not that race is irrelevant to health, but it’s not relevant to health because of innate differences. It’s relevant because racism affects people’s health.”

Sociologist and physician Brooke Cunningham has taken a hands-on approach, giving lectures to first-year students at the University of Minnesota Medical School about race. She says, 

“People have been talking about race as a social construction for years and years and years and years and years and years and years. But there’s been a slow uptake of that understanding in medicine.”

Cunningham teaches students about the history of racial categories, which have changed drastically over time and space, and she describes how stereotypes and misunderstandings of race have influenced medicine over time. With the lack of understanding regarding the social construction of race in the medical profession, lectures like Cunningham’s provide a key intervention in the future of health care and the treatment of patients of all races.

Photo by 401(K) 2012, Filckr CC
Photo by 401(K) 2012, Filckr CC

Although industrialized nations are believed to have better health care, fewer health risks, and longer life expectancy, a recent report from the National Center For Health Statistics reports that life expectancy actually dropped in the United States for the first time in two decades. Chief among the causes of this shift is an increase in death due to diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Numerically speaking, the drop in life expectancy was small – in 2014 the life expectancy was 78.9 years, compared to 78.8 in 2015.  Nevertheless, it is rather alarming, especially when comparing it to the World Health Organization report, which stated an increase in global life expectancy by five years since 2000. Whereas the rest of the world is, on average, living longer, this trend doesn’t hold in the U.S., particularly among white males, white females, and black males

The Huffington Post talked to Jarron Saint Onge, professor of sociology at Kansas University, about these findings. Saint Onge said that this drop in life expectancy challenges the very idea of what it means to be an advanced society. Saint Onge believes that the effects are most notable in poorer communities, saying, “It has to do with smoking, obesity, lack of quality diets and exercise, which are really responses to poverty.” 

Photo by Julian Mason, Flickr CC
Photo by Julian Mason, Flickr CC

From the Olympics in ancient Greece to modern extravaganzas like the FIFA World Cup, sport has been historically associated with the purest form of competition. Ingrained moral and ethical values drive the spirit of competition, which helps make sport a cultural phenomenon. Of course, there are those who take short cuts, and these ideals of “purity” in competition come to the forefront with every new doping scandal and the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) by athletes.

Jan Ove Tangen, a professor in the sociology of sport from Norway, has an interesting point of view when it comes to PEDs.  Tangen proposes that the natural solution for monitoring PEDs and the ever-increasing performance of athletes is simply to allow doping.

“Wherever the arbitrary limits of doping are drawn it is the nature of competitive sports to strive towards getting as close as possible to those limits to achieve perfection. Sometimes that will lead to ‘accidental’ breaches of the rules.”

Tangen says that by accepting PEDs, the penalization of athletes for larger institutional flaws will come to an end. It will also eliminate the hefty costs of monitoring and regulation of doping, which could lead to positive outcomes like proper medical attention for athletes. Plus, this helps fight the inevitable dynamic where a rule is set and athletes toe the line as close as possible, but invariably step out of bounds.

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.