Photo by Luca Melloni, Flickr CC
Photo by Luca Melloni, Flickr CC

Reintegration into society is crucial for ex-combatants who were previously involved in armed conflict, yet repeated offenses often impede successful transitions. This problem can be seen first hand in Colombia, where approximately 20 percent of former combatants from guerrilla and paramilitary groups engaged in illegal activity since demobilization of armed conflict. The Colombian government has responded by supporting educational resources, counseling, health care, employment, and financial assistance programs for former combatants. Successful reintegration, however, also involves determining which individual and social factors influence some ex-combatants to commit crime and others to lead a crime-free life.

 Oliver Kaplan and Enzo Nussio use event history analysis to predict the time until ex-combatants are arrested, combining 2008 Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) survey data of 1,485 ex-combatant men and women from both guerrilla and paramilitary groups with police records documenting arrests and captures through June 2012. Additionally, they conducted 98 interviews with ex-combatants from 2008 to 2010 to determine potential motives for returning to criminal activity. 

Findings indicate that former combatants who initially joined guerrilla or paramilitary groups for personal motives are more likely to commit crime after demobilization. This effect was even stronger for former paramilitaries. In contrast, those who are deterred by police, held strong family ties, achieved more education, and had children are less likely to return to illegal activity after armed conflict. Factors such as threatened security and worsening economic opportunities, however, showed little effect on recidivism. Kaplan and Nussio also note the importance of gender reintegration, as women may face sexual violence and men may experience feelings of emasculation after losing their military status. Studies like this show a clear link between “street crime” and other forms of armed conflict — and the common reintegration challenges they pose for individuals and societies.  

Photo by Personal Creations,, Flickr CC.
Photo by Personal Creations,, Flickr CC

Men today express a greater commitment to an equal division of labor at home than in the past and some workplaces continue to implement supportive work-family policies, like paid leave for fathers in San Francisco for example. However, women are far more likely to take advantage of work-family policies like parental leave and data suggest that a large gap still exists in the division of household labor for straight couples. So, how can we get men to take advantage of work-family policies? In a recent study, Sarah Thebaud and David Pedulla attempt to answer part of this question by exploring how the existence of supportive work-family policies influences young men’s preferences for different types of work-family arrangements.

Using experimental survey data, Thebaud and Pedulla asked unmarried men without children, ages 18 to 32, how they would prefer to divide work and home responsibilities with a potential partner. One group of respondents was told there were supportive policies in place to help with work-family balance (paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and options to work from home), while the other group did not receive any information about work family policies. The researchers also measured men’s gender ideology with a five-question scale, as well as men’s perceptions of their male peers’ preferences for the division of work and home responsibilities. 

The researchers found that the men who learned about supportive work-family policies were more likely to prefer progressive work-family arrangements, but only if they thought other men shared those preferences. When respondents believed their male peers did not prefer progressive arrangements, information about work-family policies actually decreased the likelihood of men having gender-progressive preferences.

These findings indicate that supportive work-family policies may actually have unintended consequences if male colleagues have more traditional beliefs about work and household division of labor. Men may worry about the stigma of taking advantage of these policies if they believe the policies contradict masculine norms. Thus, changing men’s individual beliefs may not be sufficient for getting them on board with supportive work-family policies and more gender-progressive relationship arrangements. Instead, we must challenge the masculine culture that pervades male peer groups and reproduces gender inequity.

Photo by simpleinsomnia, Flickr CC
Photo by simpleinsomnia, Flickr CC

The character of Black boys is often questioned in American society. Much of the focus is on their clothing style or physical size and they are often portrayed as “thugs,” deserving of whatever violence that befalls them. The fatal shootings of boys like Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin garnered widespread attention to this perceived dangerousness of African-American boys. Despite better access to economic resources, many middle- and upper-class Black mothers fear they cannot adequately prepare their sons for the gendered racism likely to pervade nearly every aspect of their social lives. In her recent study, Dawn Marie Dow explores these challenges Black mothers face raising their sons in a society that views black boys as “thugs.”

From 2009 to 2011, Dow interviewed 60 middle- and upper-class Black mothers in the San Francisco Bay Area who had at least one son under the age of 10, talking with them about how they prepare their sons to successfully avoid the “thug” perception. Mothers’ incomes ranged from $50,000 to $300,000 and 63% held advanced degrees. Dow found that middle – and upper-class Black mothers employ multiple strategies to combat negative stereotypes about their sons. Some mothers use “experience management” that focuses on involving their sons in various empowering and challenging activities, like baseball leagues or music lessons. Others use “environment management,” such as moving to predominantly white neighborhoods or limiting their son’s interactions with other neighborhood kids in order to curb the amount of discrimination they face in certain social settings. Mothers also teach their sons how to engage in “image and emotion management” by prohibiting certain styles of dress and telling them not to show frustration and anger. The mothers Dow interviewed saw these techniques as essential in navigating the “thug” image and keeping their children safe from the discrimination of teachers and the brutality of law enforcement. 

Dow’s findings suggest that while middle- and upper-class mothers acknowledge additional resources afforded by their socioeconomic status, they believe their sons are still treated poorly by educators and law enforcement officials because of their racial identity and gender. As a result, Black mothers of all economic backgrounds use stigma management to try and keep their sons safe, whether it be teaching them to manage their environment, their experiences, or their emotions. With all the work Black mothers and their sons are doing to keep Black boys safe, here’s hoping others start putting in some effort too. 


Photo by SEO, Flicker CC
Photo by SEO, Flicker CC

While social media sites have certainly benefited for-profit companies, providing unprecedented visibility and the ability to target key demographics, non-profits have also been utilizing these sites to promote their causes and collect donations. Their goal is usually for a cause to “go viral” and spread within and across social networks in the form of likes and shares. The Kony 2012 campaign is a perfect example of this, which reached 120 million people in just five days and garnered $32 million in donations. But recent research finds that this level of online social contagion is rare and “likes” are not often likely to lead to donations.

Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis, and Angelo Mele studied charitable donations on Facebook and Twitter over a two-year period to determine if and how online social contagion occurs. They collaborated with HelpAttack!,  an application that allows users to donate to charities through social media sites. The HelpAttack! application lets users “broadcast” their initial pledge and subsequent donations to friends in their network, and the researchers analyzed how often users who broadcast a pledge to donate actually fulfill that pledge. While they found that broadcasting a pledge is related to actually making a donation, a large proportion of users “opportunistically broadcast a pledge and then delete it.” Further, they did not find evidence of a social contagion effect after pledges were broadcast. Although the campaigns in their experiment reached 6.4 million users and received numerous clicks and likes, only 30 donations were made.

This study shows that social media sites enable “costless” support in the form of likes and shares, which might raise awareness of a cause or organization, but that these likes rarely lead to support in the form of donations. What’s more, it appears that a lot of people use donation pledges to boost their social image but then quickly delete their pledge to avoid actually shelling out any cash for the cause. The researchers conclude that, despite initial optimism that the Internet and social media sites would make campaigning for causes easier and more effective, it seems that offline, face-to-face campaigns are still needed to turn costless likes into capital.


Photo by Steven Sim, Flickr CC
Photo by Steven Sim, Flickr CC

Parents undoubtedly play a role in their children’s understanding of gender and sexual health. But can children have any effect on their parents? In a study investigating how becoming a father influences men’s sexual behavior, sociologist Abigail Weitzman finds that the gender of a father’s firstborn child has a significant influence on that father’s likelihood of being sexually promiscuous later in life.

Using 61,801 Demographic and Health Surveys from 37 developing countries, Weitzman looks at how the sex of a firstborn child influences the father’s sexual health and behavior. The survey provides information about whether or not fathers pay for sex, use condoms, have extramarital sexual partners, and report having genital ulcers or genital discharge, which may be signs of an STI. Through fixed effects models that control for differences between countries, Weitzman finds that fathers with firstborn sons are significantly more likely than those with firstborn daughters to pay for sex, and they are also less likely to use condoms. Fathers of firstborn sons also have a higher probability of reporting genital ulcers or genital discharge. Additionally, fathers with firstborn sons reported having slightly higher opposition to women’s sexual autonomy. In short, fathers with firstborn children who are male are associated with higher rates of promiscuity.

Interestingly, these differences among fathers tend to emerge when their firstborn child reaches adolescence, suggesting that family gender dynamics shift as children reach puberty and young adulthood. Though the data cannot fully explain why firstborn adolescent sons are associated with more promiscuous behavior among fathers, Weitzman speculates that perhaps fathers of firstborn adolescent males are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity as a means to maintain, reinforce, and teach masculine behavior and identity. Weitzman’s study may have just scratched the surface of an important set of new questions about how fatherhood, gender identity, and sexual behavior around the world intertwine with family.

Photo by Keoni Cabral, Flickr CC
Photo by Keoni Cabral, Flickr CC

More people are talking about the dangers of lead poisoning public water systems—and children. Public water systems are not the only way to be exposed to lead poisoning, however; the human body can ingest lead through paint chips, gasoline exhaust, and industrial processes. Previous research on environmental health hazards has illustrated that a person’s neighborhood (a product of class factors) best predicts their risk of being exposed to these dangers. Studies also show that predominantly black or white neighborhoods experience different levels of environmental health hazards. Now, writing in the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Heather Moody, Joe T. Darden, and Bruce William Pigozzi demonstrate the significance of class and race in black-white gaps in childhood blood-lead-levels (BLLs).

The authors use Census data from the Detroit metropolitan area alongside Michigan Medicaid data to examine black and white childhood BLLs. Drawing on a sample of over 160,000 children, the authors compare BLLs between black and white children of the same age across socioeconomic positions. As expected, children of all races had lower BLLs the higher their class. Unexpectedly, however, the authors find gaps in BLLS by race that grow with class. The gap between black and white childhood BLLs is very low among the poorest, but rises in more affluent neighborhoods.

Some ideas to explain this paradox include the possibility that black families may be relegated to older or less desirable houses within wealthier neighborhoods (infamous historical “redlining” comes to mind). Thus, even though class is a strong predictor of your risk for lead exposure, race still plays an important role. These findings also challenge assumptions that class mobility can erase racial inequality absent other interventions.

Photo by Matt Trostle, Flickr CC.
Photo by Matt Trostle, Flickr CC.

We often think that religion helps to build a strong society, in part because it gives people a shared set of beliefs that fosters trust. When you know what your neighbors think about right and wrong, it is easier to assume they are trustworthy people. The problem is that this logic focuses on trustworthy individuals, while social scientists often think about the relationship between religion and trust in terms of social structure and context.

New research from Olson and Li (using data from the World Values survey) examines the trust levels of 77,405 individuals from 69 countries collected between 1999 and 2010. The authors’ analysis focuses on a simple survey question about whether respondents felt they could, in general, trust other people. The authors were especially interested in how religiosity at the national level affected this trust, measuring it in two ways: the percentage of the population that regularly attended religious services and the level of religious diversity in the nation.

These two measures of religious strength and diversity in the social context brought out a surprising pattern. Nations with high religious diversity and high religious attendance had respondents who were significantly less likely to say they could generally trust other people. Conversely, nations with high religious diversity, but relatively low levels of participation, had respondents who were more likely to say they could generally trust other people.

One possible explanation for these two findings is that it is harder to navigate competing claims about truth and moral authority in a society when the stakes are high and everyone cares a lot about the answers, but also much easier to learn to trust others when living in a diverse society where the stakes for that difference are low. The most important lesson from this work, however, may be that the positive effects we usually attribute to cultural systems like religion are not guaranteed; things can turn out quite differently depending on the way religion is embedded in social context.

At the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op. Edward Kimmel, Flickr CC
At the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op. Edward Kimmel, Flickr CC.

We expect co-ops to be places where employees and customers are free to be themselves, empowered by collective ownership and unencumbered by the corporate control of scheduling, dress code, and workplace policies. However, sociologist Elizabeth Hoffmann finds worker cooperatives are not always utopian work spaces. Instead, they rely heavily on a specific kind of emotional labor to achieve conformity and productivity among their employees.

Hoffmann studied emotional labor like verbalizing support for your coworkers and smiling while on the job in worker cooperatives in the U.K. and the U.S. across four industries: coal mining, chemical manufacturing, taxicab driving, and organic food distribution. Through interviewing co-op employees and observing their behavior on the job over a number of years, Hoffmann found that working at a co-op can actually demand more emotional labor than working for a conventional company. For example, while employees at co-ops are encouraged to display emotions not typically condoned in other work environments, like anger or love, they are also expected to truly identify with the cooperative’s ideology and ethos. And while workers in conventional workplaces are expected to maintain a façade of good relationships with customers and co-workers, worker cooperatives often expect their employees to truly feel the emotions they display at work. Not only should they smile and help, the workers at the co-ops that Hoffman studied expected that employees actually want to help their co-workers.

So while co-ops appear to promote individuality and choice among their workers, they often require a much deeper, possibly more insidious level of conformity and self-control than one might imagine. Perhaps it’s just one more case of how the most powerful forms of social control are those we exert—or are expected to exert—on ourselves.

Which one's the bad influence? Tony Alter, Flickr CC.
Which one’s the bad influence? Tony Alter, Flickr CC.

Binge drinking has been tied to both genetic propensity (nature) and peer influence (environment). Using data from the College Roommate Study and National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Guang Guo, Yi Li, Wang Hongyu, Cai Tianji, and Greg J. Duncan investigate the interplay between these social and biological influences in the case of college binge drinking.

The authors hypothesize that genetics modify the effects peer influences on binge drinking. For example, the impact of peer pressure on one’s likelihood to engage in a drinking game would depend genetic predispositions toward heavy drinking. Guo and colleagues use a type of “natural experiment” – where randomization is present, but not introduced by the experimenter via manipulation – in which college roommates are randomly assigned, thus removing the influences of friend selection (since people who are more likely to drink are more likely to be friends) and potential correlations between the genes and environment. Based on genetic markers empirically linked to alcohol use, the researchers split the sample into three groups in terms of their genetic propensity for alcohol use (low, medium, and high).

Controlling for various respondent and roommate characteristics, the researchers find that having a roommate who drinks increases binge drinking, on average, by 20-40%. Peer influence, though, only has an effect among those with a medium propensity to drink: the influence of peer influence is eight times higher for medium propensity drinkers than for either low or high propensity drinkers. In other words, low propensity drinkers and high propensity drinkers are largely unaffected by peer influences to drink in college, whereas those “on the bubble” are more likely to drink when their roommate imbibes. The study highlights how social and biological factors work in tandem, illustrating a further mechanism by which social interventions can impact individuals differently. In the meantime, universities’ “one size fits all” safe drinking initiatives are unlikely to make much difference in students’ binge drinking behaviors.

Education is a good place to start, but it won't end racism on its own. Photo by  David Prasad, Flickr CC.
Education is a good place to start, but it won’t end racism on its own. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.

Social scientists debate the extent to which education and cognitive ability influence individual prejudices against blacks and support for policies that seek to lessen racial inequality. On one hand, higher education levels (cognitive abilities) may lead the embrace of ideologies of racial equality and tolerance. On the other hand, support for racial equality in principle is not the same as support for specific policies seeking to reduce racial inequalities. That difference could indicate that white people with higher cognitive abilities are not necessarily less racist—perhaps they are more able to express their beliefs without appearing overtly racist.

Sociologist Geoffrey T. Wodtke set out to investigate. In a new paper, Wodtke examines the responses of over 44,000 whites in various cohorts from 1972 to 2010 using data from the General Social Survey. Unlike prior studies, he reports participants’ verbal abilities (one aspect of cognitive ability) through the Gallup-Thorndike Verbal Intelligence Test on racial attitudes including anti-black prejudice, integration, discrimination, and policies aimed at racial equality. Wodtke also tests whether the period of people’s political socialization—before the civil rights movement or after—impacts the extent to which respondents’ verbal ability influences their prejudices for or against blacks and racial equity policies.

Wodtke’s findings demonstrate that whites with higher verbal abilities are less likely to support anti-black prejudice and racial segregation, and they are more aware of the discrimination that blacks face. At the same time, they are not more likely—in some cases, they are even less likely than others—to favor specific policies seeking to reduce racial inequality, such as the busing programs of the 1970s, financial aid for minority schools, and government assistance programs. Additionally, the apparently liberalizing effects of education do not appear across generations. Wodtke finds that whites’ verbal abilities have a much smaller impact on racial attitudes among those generations socialized prior to the civil rights movement, and even among post-civil rights, high verbal aptitude whites, attitudes on racial inequality in principle for have not translated into more support for policies supporting racial equality. Rhetorical abilities aside, attitudes mean little without action.