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.  

The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

The 2015 Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

The U.S. presidential election is beginning to take on issues of poverty and class. Such conversations often look at “the poor” from a careful remove, but work by Thomas Hirschl of Cornell and Mark Rank of Washington University says that outsider angle is a comfortable farce. As explained by an article in Salon, the unpleasant fact is that over fifty percent of Americans will experience poverty during our lifetimes. Impoverishment and “the poor”—and the politics and policies that affect them—are actually very close to home.

Of course, demographic factors are a big part of predicting one’s likelihood of experiencing poverty. (If you’re interested in calculating your own odds, check out Hirschl and Rank’s poverty calculator!) Education is one big factor, as is race: white people are half as likely as non-white people to fall into poverty. And married people are less likely to become poor than singles. Still, as candidates and voters debate nature of class and poverty in America, we would do well to remember that they affect us all. To pretend like anyone’s above poverty would be a poor show.

The poster for "global warning" film "An Inconvenient Truth."

The poster for “global warning” film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Beliefs about climate change are not so much about social demographics, but about what else you believe in–your values, worldviews, and political affiliations. The Washington Post recently featured a new analysis reviewing all existing literature on climate change beliefs. They found that people who vote for more liberal political parties are more likely to believe in climate change. In addition, those who are more concerned with the environment–measured by something called the New Ecological Paradigm (NEP)–were also more likely to believe in global warming. Finally, the trustworthiness of scientists was also a strong predictor in individuals’ beliefs in climate change.

Beliefs, though, do not always translate into action. The researchers found that even those who believe in climate change sometimes do not support policies to remedy it. This occurs more as the policies asked about get more specific. According to sociologist Aaron McCright, this disconnect may simply reflect how people feels about those policies regardless of how they help the environment. He says, “even people who are pretty environmental don’t like taxes still.”

So how do these findings help fight climate change? Sociologist Riley Dunlap suggests that since it may not be possible to change people’s minds, activists should focus their resources on mobilizing voter support for politicians who recognize the importance of climate change. Additionally, McCright suggests that conservative leaders who believe in climate change should be more outspoken about their positions. Psychology professor Matthew Hornsey add that the key, to his mind, is making messages about climate change fit with the worldviews of people who generally do not support climate change. Painting environmentalism as patriotic, for instance, may spur support for mitigation policies.

R/DV/RS via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/P22Ry

R/DV/RS via Flickr.

“Work-family balance” is a phrase that many of us are all too familiar with, and competition between workplace and family demands are a “given” for many people, but particularly for parents. Flexibility is key—and it’s a luxury that many workers don’t have when office culture and workplace norms prioritize “work” over “family” in self-presentation and conduct.

Research by U of MN sociologist Phyllis Moen and MIT sociologist Erin Kelly, whose work with five coauthors was published in the most recent issue of the American Sociological Review, shows how consciously changing such workplace culture is a win for families and offices, as explored in a New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller.

Miller describes how the team’s innovative experiment simulated a new type of workplace culture for those in the experimental group, while it was business as usual for the control group:

Workers in the experimental group were told they could work wherever, and whenever, they chose so long as projects were completed on time and goals were met; the new emphasis would be on results rather than on the number of hours spent in the office. Managers were trained to be supportive of their employees’ personal issues and were formally encouraged to open up about their own priorities outside work—an ill parent, or a child wanting her mom to watch her soccer games. Managers were given iPods that buzzed twice a day to remind them to think about the various ways they could support their employees as they managed their jobs and home lives.

In the study, both the experimental employees and their children were sleeping better than those in the control group. Employers might also be interested to know that retention rates and desire-to-stay were higher in the experimental group.

Though having management and bosses openly discuss and respect the struggles of work-family balance goes against the grain of office norms, this research shows that these boundaries aren’t doing anyone favors. Shifting toward a conceptualization of this dynamic with vocabularies like “work family fit”—which doesn’t treat work and family as competitors in a zero-sum-game—could help workers and companies alike.