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.
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.

Photo by Abhisek Sarda via Flickr.
Photo by Abhisek Sarda via Flickr.

For years, legislators and employers have framed guaranteed parental leave as a “women’s issue.” Women serve as the primary advocates for policies that allow more flexibility between work and family life, while fighting stereotypes that paint them as less committed to their jobs than men. In a recent article for Fast Company, sociologist Michael Kimmel discusses how the U.S. lags behind every other industrialized country in policies that guarantee parental leave and how he believes this contradicts “family first” ideals. “Supporting families is the very definition of family values,” writes Kimmel. “How can we possibly lecture others about loving and supporting families when we value our own so little?”

One key to the gradual change that’s come to cities including New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago may be a shift in male perspectives of household work. Recent surveys suggest many men want to be more involved in household duties. Despite that willingness, however, women still bear much of the burden. Consequently, fathers are often praised for more public acts of parenting, like taking children to soccer practice, while mothers are more likely to take care of unsung housework, struggling to also meet the demands of their careers. Further, researchers note that demanding careers cause increased risks of physical and mental illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and stress for everyone, not just fathers or mothers.

As legislators craft a new wave of parental leave policies, many question how employers can provide a working environment to support parents and families. In a recent study, Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly studied the Star Initiative program that allowed for increased flexibility for 700 employees at a Fortune 500 company. The aim was to provide employees with more flexibility in attending meetings, working from home, and communicating via instant messenger. After one year, those involved in the initiative reported greater job satisfaction and lower rates of poor mental health. According to Kelly, “One important implication of this research is that workplaces can change to bring some relief to stressed out workers. It’s not up to an individual to figure out how to balance everything. Challenges come up with work, but organizations can change to bring some relief.”

Danny Fowler, Flickr CC.
Danny Fowler, Flickr CC.

Winter break is a time for students and faculty alike to hunker down after a long semester, spend time with family and friends, and relax. But if you’re a woman in your 20s or 30s, you’ve probably been cornered by at least one relative who tells you your biological clock is ticking. And while Aunt Helen may be right, it turns out there’s at least one big benefit for women who wait to start a family.

Recent research featured in the Huffington Post indicates that women in their 40s are actually healthier if they have their first child after age 24. Sociologist Kristi Williams and her colleagues followed 3,348 women for nearly 30 years, collecting self-reported health data. They found that women who had their first child between the ages of 25 and 35 reported better health at age 40 than women who had their first child between ages 15 and 19 or 20 and 24 (and there was no significant health difference at age 40 between these two younger groups).
Read the full article here.

ER photo via MilitaryHealth, Flickr CC.
ER photo via MilitaryHealth, Flickr CC.

In a recent piece for The Atlantic, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield explains how sexual innuendo can create hostile work environments for black men. As part of her research for her book about gender and race in men’s work, Wingfield interviewed Emergency Room doctors about their workplace experiences. Several recounted that sexual jokes and innuendo are commonplace between doctors and nurses. But these everyday jokes and comments, Winfield argues, create difficult situations for black male doctors.

Most of the black male doctors I interviewed for my research were the only black men in their work environments. They felt sensitive to that fact, and said they moderated their behavior when innuendo entered the conversation.

Black male doctors in these situations, Winfield explains, must navigate upholding a professional working identity while avoiding any link to the long history of black men stereotyped as dangerously hypersexual.

Responding to these interactions tactfully can be essential for black men to navigate their work environment, and the black male doctors I spoke to described feelings of deep discomfort and awkwardness. While some black male ER doctors do experience unique discomfort on the job, what these men encounter is similar to the plight of some black professionals more generally.

Thousands of people are shot and killed each year, but what happens to those who survive? Image via Flickr
Thousands of people are shot and killed each year, but what happens to those who survive? Tony Webster, Flickr CC. Click for original.

Gun violence has become a constant in American life. As of October 13th, there have been 10,348 shooting related deaths and 21,012 shooting-related injuries in 2015 already, per the Gun Violence Archive. What happens to the thousands who are shot and injured each year? Jooyoung Lee is a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies the lives of gunshot victims. In a recent interview with The Trace, Lee talked about the different difficulties his subjects—mostly young, working-class black men—have faced navigating their lives and treating their pain since being shot:

Getting shot really changes a person’s social world; it makes them suspicious of other people. You see them going from young and vibrant to reclusive. They go to public settings, see a crowd, and get anxious that someone is affiliated with the person who shot them. The Fourth of July is a very stressful day for gunshot victims. A lot of the young men talk about how the sound of fireworks would give them flashbacks. I had one guy who told me he was out at a bowling alley with friends, the first time he’d been out since he’d been shot, and he was having a great time, and then the sounds of pins crashing caused a flashback. He had the feeling that everyone in the place was potentially the killer. This kind of thing makes it very difficult to resume everyday life.

Read the rest of the interview here.

In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, the country's largest non-profit health system, was a silver sponsor for Capital Pride DC. The healthcare provider invited "the community of allies for LGBTI health" to celebrate. Ted Eytan//Flickr CC
In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest non-profit health system, was a silver sponsor for Capital Pride DC. The healthcare provider invited “the community of allies for LGBTI health” to celebrate. Ted Eytan//Flickr CC


This year was momentous for trans visibility in the media, with high profile celebs like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner speaking out about their experiences as trans women. Even so, trans folks still face an incredible risk of discrimination and attacks. The recent death of Keisha Jenkins marks at least 20 American trans women murdered in 2015.

But trans people are not equally likely to experience discrimination. A recent study published by Lisa R. Miller and Eric Anthony Grollman showed that trans women were more likely to experience discrimination than trans men, as are trans folks from already disadvantaged groups—like those who are multiracial or low income. In turn, those who experienced more discrimination were more likely to engage in risky health behaviors like smoking cigarettes, abusing drugs and alcohol, and attempting suicide. Miller told US News, “Rather than assuming that all members of the transgender community are equally at risk, we need to investigate the extent to which some members may face disproportionate exposure to discrimination and poor health.”

Ian Philp, director of the Clean Energy Institute, shares a maxim his mother taught him: "Have a clear, tangible idea of what success---or your goal---looks like when you set out." Photo by MaRS Discovery District, Flickr CC.
Ian Philp, director of the Clean Energy Institute, shares a maxim his mother taught him: “Have a clear, tangible idea of what success—or your goal—looks like when you set out.” Photo by MaRS Discovery District, Flickr CC.

It’s March, and many people’s well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions have long gone out the window. Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but in an interview with Washington Post, sociologist Christine Whelan sheds light on how to make a fresh start.

Her first piece of insight comes straight from sociologists’ time use surveys: consider a new habit as not only adding to your schedule, but also subtracting time from other activities. “If I said ‘I want to go the gym for an hour three times a week,’ the first thing I’d have to figure out is, what am I not going to be doing during those hours. But we don’t tend to think about that,” Whelan points out. Prioritization is key. Weighing the costs and benefits of sacrificing an hour spent sleeping or watching House of Cards for an hour at the gym will help determine if your goal is manageable or needs reworking.

Whelan also stresses the importance of making sure the new goal is something you want to accomplish, rather than something you feel like you should be doing. “You’re much less likely to accomplish a change if you don’t want to do it, and it’s not in keeping with your values.”

Finally, she advises against creating a laundry list of goals in favor of developing one new habit at a time. Specific goals are more likely to become habits because, according to Whelan, distinct aspirations are “SMART”:



There’s a Reward for sticking to it

Progress is Trackable

After 90 days of practice, it’s likely that your concerted lifestyle change will pay off: “The longer you stick with it, the more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that you don’t have to think about. It doesn’t require self control, there’s not a lot of active internal debate. You just do it.”

Photo by Shardayyy via
Photo by Shardayyy via

October is breast cancer awareness month in the U.S. Pink ribbons, 5k races, and educational events mark the campaign to educate the public about the disease and push for more research to find a cure. We hold fundraisers and portray survivors as heroes and positive role models. A number of sociologists and other academics have analyzed and critiqued the U.S. breast cancer industry, including Gayle Sulik, Sabrina McCormick, and Stefano Puntoni.

In other parts of the world however, breast cancer is silently killing women. For one, the disease still carries a stigma that keeps women from accessing treatment. New York Times blogger Denise Grady discusses this stigma towards the disease in developing nations, particularly African countries, as well as the many additional barriers to treatment. These barriers include scarce resources, shame surrounding the disease, corruption, and the real constraints of economic and family responsibilities, all of which make for a deadly combination. Grady states,

Survival rates vary considerably from country to country and even within countries. In the United States, about 20 percent of women who have breast cancer die from it, compared with 40 to 60 percent in poorer countries. The differences depend heavily on the status of women, their awareness of symptoms, and the availability of timely care.

Although it is not new knowledge that diseases disproportionately affect poorer countries and individuals, cancer treatment and education has been neglected in developing nations. It has been overshadowed by other diseases like malaria and AIDS, and due to a lack of public awareness on both the national and international scales, it has been underfunded by governments and foundations. Research from PRI indicates that “cancer kills more people in low- and middle-income countries than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined.”