Connor Tom Keating, Lydia Hickman, Joan Leung, Ruth Monk, Alicia Montgomery, Hannah Heath, and Sophie Sowden, “Autism-related language preferences of English-speaking individuals across the globe: A mixed methods investigation,” Autism Research, 2022

A man walking on a concrete ground, leaving a shadow behind him, by Bob Price. Image from Pixabay is licensed under Pixabay license.

When referring to people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there are typically two approaches, person-first or identity-first. Some argue that person-first language, which places the person before their condition (“person with autism”), is less stigmatizing and suggests that the individual can be more than the label they have been assigned. However, new research from Keating and colleagues found that this approach may not be preferable for people with ASD. 

Keating and colleagues administered an online survey to English-speaking people with an ASD diagnosis around the world to learn their preferences. 654 people who had ASD from 30 different countries completed the survey and shared their opinions.  

They found that the vast majority of people, 75% to 90% (varying by country), preferred identity-first language, such as “autistic person” or “neurodivergent person.” Respondents felt that person-first language such as “person with autism” separates autism from their identity and suggests that their autism is a defect that can be removed. As one participant said, “Using terms like ‘person with autism’ feels like an attempt to separate it from me as if it were a disease, and these terms are commonly used by groups of people who ignore autistic voices and support things like a ‘cure’ for autism.” 

Interestingly, while 66%-73% of participants endorsed the use of “autistic” as a noun (such as “an autistic”), others felt it was historically dehumanizing and reduced them to a diagnosis. One respondent said, ”I do generally try to avoid noun omission,” using autistic rather than autistic person, because “omission of a noun is often used to subtlety dehumanize marginalized groups (e.g. “blacks” vs “black people’…)” Some specified that,  while the autistic community has reclaimed the use of “autistic” as a noun, it should not be used this way by non-autistic people.

While these results suggest a general preference for identity-first language, they also reveal the diversity of opinion within the autistic community. Since there is not a consensus, the researchers recommend asking autistic people about their language preferences. When it is not possible to ask for language preferences, Keating and colleagues hope that the results of this survey can be used as a general framework. 

This study reminds us that language is not only descriptive but also performative of how people are identified and described. Language can have an influence on how society views and treats people–autistic or otherwise.

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Your Tweets, pictures, and messages may be used against you. Social media, a common way to connect and share our lives, has become a common form of courtroom evidence. Jeffrey Lane, Fanny A. Ramirez, and Desmond U. Patton explored in their research how social media data in criminal trials harms low-income defendants – who are commonly represented by public defenders. The researchers interviewed New York City public defenders, lawyers appointed to represent people who cannot afford to hire private attorneys, about their experiences preparing for trial and defending clients in cases involving social media data. 

The public defenders shared three main disadvantages they experienced while defending their clients. First, they were frustrated by overly broad search warrants that allowed the prosecution to access years of social media data to use as evidence. This overwhelmed public defenders with data, which increased their uncertainty about what evidence might be used, their fear of missing important data, and the amount of time preparing the case. Describing prosecutors’ use of these search warrants, one public defender said: “They were just fishing…they looked at everything and they found something they liked. That’s not how it’s supposed to go.”

Next, public defenders told the researchers that social media companies generally “bend over backwards for law enforcement,” but do not cooperate with public defenders in sharing individual profile data. While law enforcement could request a wide range of data (including data unavailable to the public, like location data), public defenders have limited access to data that may help their clients.

Lastly, public defenders described how social media data is used to paint their clients in a negative light. This pattern of using social media against people even involved using racial stereotypes. For example, one public defender told researchers about a case where the prosecution selected a photo from Instagram to identify the defendant at trial. Although the Instagram account had plenty of options, including family pictures, the prosecution selectively chose a photo that made the defendant appear ‘thuggish’ and ignored others. 

Due to these disadvantages, public defenders in this study said that they consistently had to defend against social media and lacked opportunities to use social media data to help their clients. While social media data could negatively impact any defendant, this research suggests that low-income defendants are particularly vulnerable due to the time and resources it takes to review social media data, putting increased strain on public defenders.  

Jessica Pac, Sophie Collyer, Lawrence Berger, Kirk O’Brien, Elizabeth Parker, Peter Pecora, Whitney Rostad, Jane Waldfogel, and Christopher Wimer, “The Effects of Child Poverty Reductions on Child Protective Services Involvement,” Social Service Review, 2023

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Child Protective Services (CPS) are meant to protect the safety and well-being of all children, however, they often end up punishing families for being poor. Many parents in poverty do not mistreat or neglect their children but are investigated by CPS because they lack the necessary resources to provide adequate care to their children. Since poor families are more likely to be under CPS surveillance, new research from Jessica Pac and colleagues examined how policy changes aimed at alleviating poverty might affect the number of CPS investigations.

In 2019, the National Academy of Sciences consensus report proposed four policy packages that they estimated would reduce child poverty by 19-52%. These packages included expansions to existing welfare policies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which gives low-income families tax breaks, the Child and Dependant Care Tax Credit which helps families pay for expenses related to child care, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which helps families pay for groceries. 

To test the potential influence of these policies on CPS investigations, Pac and colleagues ran a simulation using data from various databases. What they found was that on average, these packages could reduce CPS investigations by 11.3-19.7% yearly. Based on their estimates, up to 669,018 fewer children could be under CPS supervision. 

Because race and ethnicity are associated with need, Pac and colleagues noted that these policy packages would greatly reduce racial disparities within the child welfare system. They found an 18.7-28.5% reduction in investigations for Black children and a 13.3-24.4% reduction for Hispanic children. This is important because Black and Hispanic children have been historically overrepresented in CPS reports even though they only make up a smaller percentage of the population. 

Based on this research, it seems that implementing policies that lessen the economic and mental burdens on parents can reduce CPS investigations and improve child wellbeing. For example, expanding economic support would allow parents to spend more time with their children, buy essentials such as groceries, and afford necessary physical and mental health care. All in all, the researchers suggest that the potential positive effects of poverty alleviation policies on child safety are too big to be ignored. 

Daniel T. Lichter and Kenneth M. Johnson, Socius, Urbanization and the Paradox of Rural Population Decline: Racial and Regional Variation

Image: A rural landscape during late summer with blooming GoldenRod and tall, dry grass in the foreground, young Walnut trees in the midground, and a silo and barns in the background. Photo via author.

Rural America has been shrinking, right? Sociologists have been monitoring the alleged erosion of rural America and while many envision an exodus of millions of families packing their possessions and moving to the city, sociological research tells us a different story. The true story is that, without moving, many families once considered “rural” are now “urban” households. This urban-rural “line” has been simply moved. 

Daniel Lichter and Kenneth Johnson analyzed county-level changes for urban-rural classifications in the 2020 census. Urban or rural classifications are technical: the United States government categorizes counties as either urban or rural based on their population size and density, the percent of the population that commutes, and their economic activity. 

Comparing 1980 to 2020, Lichter and Johnson found that 464 counties that were previously considered rural have since been recategorized as urban. Although we might typically consider many of these shifting counties as “suburban,” the primary census categories are either urban (metro) or rural (nonmetro). As a result of these changing categorizations, between the 1980 and 2020 censuses, there was a 64% increase in the technical number of urban counties at the expense of historically rural counties.

The researchers also found that “rural” America is not only becoming smaller, it is also becoming less white. This is a result of both white, rural depopulation – with white people moving out of rural towns – and other racial groups’ internal population growth within rural counties. In terms of population, white-rural America has decreased by nearly 14 million [28% decrease] and minority-rural America has increased by over 3 million [40% increase]. 

In short, the commonly spun story of predominantly Black urban city dwellers and white rural farmers may be conceptually familiar, but it distorts today’s, real picture. Our popular understandings of the “city” or “country” and “urban” or “rural” are changing, and where and how we draw the line is important.

Image: From the Daniel T. Lichter and Kenneth M. Johnson’ s publication [Figure 2] showing the designation of counties as consistent nonmetro in white, transitioning from nonmetro to metro in orange, or consistent metro in red.

Click here to visit an interactive map from the U.S. Census Bureau about rural America. 

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Are you looking for love? Above the age of 60? Well, you’re in luck. With the advent of online dating, older singles are beginning to reenter the dating world. Social science research has mainly focused on the online dating experiences of twenty-somethings, but new research from Lauren Harris explored the dating preferences and patterns of older adults.

Harris interviewed 50 men and 50 women, ages 60-85, through four online dating sites. Three of the sites were for the general public and one was specifically targeted towards older adults. Harris asked participants questions about their motivation and interests in online dating such as: “What are you looking for in a romantic partner?,” “Do you have any deal breakers?,” and “What do you notice when looking through someone’s online dating profile?”

Harris discovered that family caregiving responsibilities played an important role in how older singles viewed potential matches. Oftentimes, older adults will still provide care for their adult children or grandchildren. Harris found that these caring responsibilities actually changed the desirability of singles online in gendered ways. 

Women with family care obligations were seen as less desirable. For example, one of the men interviewed explained his irritation with this dynamic saying, “Why are you teasing me and wasting my time when you have the responsibilities? …It just gets frustrating. Do you want a relationship or do you not? So if you’re always taking care of your grandkids, why are you on a dating site when you don’t have time to get into a relationship?”

In contrast, men who had similar care responsibilities were seen as more desirable to women. As one woman explained in her interview, “A lot of times they’ll say something about how they love their children and their families and spend a lot of free time with their family. I like that. I like a family man.” At the same time, however, if men appeared to be in poor health or have young children of their own their desirability decreased. Women tended to shy away from men which might add to their care work responsibilities. As one woman described,  “What they’re looking for is women to take care of them… Or they’re having health problems. Maybe the wives [were] taking care of them in life or whatever…I’m not your nurse.”

Harris highlighted the gendered role family care responsibilities play in selecting potential love interests at an older age. Many older adults have care responsibilities and are subsequently experiencing unequal gendered impacts on their dating life. Because romantic relationships can be a major source of support and improve overall well-being, the influence of gender inequality on the dating experiences of older adults is important to consider. Technology has allowed more older adults to re-enter the dating world, but it has also highlighted the persistent caregiving double standard. 

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Although many adults look back upon their time in primary and secondary school fondly, access to education in America is discriminatory. Disabled people, in particular, face widespread discrimination in their early education. Although disabled people represent about a quarter of the US population, on average, they 1) receive fewer years of education, 2) are less likely to receive diplomas or degrees, and 3) earn substantially less when employed. Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik’s new research uncovers how disability and racial discrimination interact to limit entrance to American public schools.

Rivera and Tilcsik first collected data through an experimental audit study, sending emails to over 20,000 primary and secondary school principals in several states, describing an imaginary student who was interested in attending their school. Researchers varied whether the fake student had an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), which indicates the student had an educational disability that schools must legally accommodate, and other student identities – leading principals to assume student characteristics.

They found clear evidence of admission discrimination against disabled students when compared to non-disabled students. Principals were generally less likely to respond to emails that described a student with a disability, regardless of the assumed gender or race of the student. This suggests that students with disabilities are at an increased risk for discrimination when seeking out educational opportunities.

For assumed Black and disabled students, they were 9.5% less likely to receive a response about a prospective tour than assumed White and disabled students and 5% less likely to receive any sort of positive response. This indicates that disabled Black students may experience a “double disadvantage” based both on their race and disability, creating a more challenging educational experience than White students with disabilities.

In the second part of their research, 578 principals, not involved in the audit study, participated in a separate survey. The researchers found that principals viewed both Black and White disabled students as more challenging because of the compulsory educational accommodations. Lastly, they found that surveyed principals understood Black families as a burden upon the school system as a whole. These families, not just the students, were perceived as “less valuable future members of the school community.”

Based on these findings, Rivera and Tilcsik suggest that all disabled students, regardless of race or gender, face more discrimination when seeking educational access. This contributes to the inequities disabled people experience throughout their lives in accessing education and then rippling into their jobs and personal lives. However, Black disabled students and families experience racial and disability discrimination.

A white father and son place plants in a garden bed together. Image 11481 by Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta CDC is licensed under CC0.

“He’s on paternity leave,” is a phrase that seems to spell success for gender equality. While previous research has focused on how mothers affect children’s gender views, new research from Australia looks at the role of fathers in the development of children’s and adolescents’ gender values. Tomas Cano and Heather Hofmeister found that when fathers are more engaged with their kids and do more housework, their children are more likely to feel that men and women should have equal power and status in the workplace, world, and home. 

Cano and Hofmeister analyzed 10 years of data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children which gathers information about the opinions and routines of children and parents as they age. They used measures of the quality of father-child relationships, and father’s involvement in housework and childcare to assess how different kinds of parental involvement from fathers influences their children’s views on gender equality.

The study found that when fathers spent more time on childcare when children were young, kids are more likely to feel that men and women should be treated equally. When children got older and reached adolescence, different kinds of involvement from fathers had more effect. When fathers with older children take on housework, even in smaller amounts than their wives, their adolescent child is much more likely to express egalitarian views on gender.

The socialization of gender values in Australian adolescents can help us imagine how we could shift the behavior of fathers to promote more egalitarian gender values elsewhere. Further research is necessary to determine if the relationship between these fathering behaviors and children’s gender values is relevant across cultural lines. But the more that is learned about how values are internalized from paternal parenting, the more parents may pay attention to modeling not just what is polite or successful, but also what habits and actions communicate their values. 

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It’s no secret that childhood can influence the trajectory of adult life. Childhood disadvantages like financial strain and low socioeconomic status impact mental and physical development, which can set the stage for worse health outcomes in adulthood. Matthew A. Andersson and colleagues wanted to understand whether access to quality healthcare might limit the influence of childhood disadvantage on adult well-being.

To answer this question, Andersson and colleagues compared data from 16 countries, testing whether and how the quality and accessibility of European healthcare systems influence the illness rates of adults who experienced adverse childhood events. The researchers measured childhood disadvantage using information on childhood poverty, household conflict, and whether a parent was deceased or away from home. Healthcare quality and access were measured through both objective measures (how many adults in a country experience illness, the amount a country spends on healthcare, and the size of the healthcare system) and subjective measures (whether people in a country felt they had access to high-quality healthcare).

The researchers found that access to a good healthcare system – one that effectively prevents and manages disease –  reduced the effect of childhood adversity on adult health. In fact, the better the quality of a nation’s healthcare system the more it acts as a buffer against poor health outcomes.

This research shows how access to decent healthcare makes a real difference in shaping life outcomes. Quality healthcare may not eliminate childhood adversity, but it can offer the possibility for a healthier future for all.

Ben Crewe, Julie Laursen, and Kristian Mjåland, “Comparing deep-end confinement in England & Wales and Norway,” Criminology, 2023
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There is prison, then there is prison within prison. Countries vary in their approach to these “deep-end” or high-security prison sections reserved for the most dangerous residents with a history of violence. Ben Crewe, Julie Laursen, and Kristian Mjåland compared two approaches towards these high-security prison units: one in England & Wales, and the other in Norway. After conducting 55 interviews with prisoners in restrictive “deep-end” confinement, the authors compared the experiences of prisoners in England & Wales’s traditional supermax system to Norway’s “inclusive othering.”

In Norway, now famous for its less restrictive prisons, deep confinement is rare and used to protect the outside community. Deep-end prisoners continue to enjoy benefits such as attending educational and job programs alongside the general prison population, lengthy, unsupervised visitation time (including accommodations for sexual activity), and supervised, temporary release for activities such as fishing, shopping, or meals with friends. 

Despite their relative freedom, people in deep-end Norwegian prisons were still concerned about being watched by cameras, the limits placed on their phone calls, and other connections with the outside world, especially in comparison to the general, less restrictive Norwegian prison environment. Lastly, although Norway does not give life sentences, people in the deep-end sometimes do not have a specific release date, leaving some feeling hopeless about serving an indefinite sentence.

In England & Wales, people in the deep-end are isolated for the safety of other prisoners rather than the safety of the outside community. Once isolated, the deep-enders felt far removed from the general population, and they too reported feeling like they were in a “hopeless vacuum,” “on the moon,” or “in a cave.” They also felt that corrections officers used incident reports to target deep-end prisoners. However, some of these deep-end prisoners felt relieved to be removed from the “prison politics” and “batch living” of the general population. Some even reported that less competition with other prisoners provided them with greater access to staff and resources.

This research shows how looking across borders helps us understand both the distinct approaches to managing people who have done serious harm and the human impact of policies that leave some prisoners swimming in the deep-end. Although Norway’s focus on reintegration and openness seems quite different from England & Wales’s focus on “managing unruly groups”, people in both types of deep-end confinement reported feeling isolated, surveilled, and often hopeless.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, more women are killed by their current or former partners than by strangers, and the millions of women in physically abusive relationships are at even greater risk. Because most intimate partner homicides are committed with guns, many states have implemented firearm restrictions on persons convicted of domestic abuse.

Victims of domestic violence often seek emergency restraining orders to help protect themselves and their children. In some states, judges are legally required to order the confiscation of firearms when restraining order petitions contain allegations of physical abuse or threats. These statutes are designed to prevent perpetrators from escalating violence against their current or former partner because firearms are commonly used in intimate partner murders. Research has even shown that this mandatory firearm confiscation lowers homicide risk. Given the importance of mandatory confiscation, judges should be ordering the removal of firearms, right?

Not exactly. Recent research from Julie Kafka, Kathryn Moracco, Deanna Williams, and Claire Hoffman found that judges in North Carolina failed to order firearm confiscation in 61% of protective orders, even when physical violence and/or threats to kill were present. This runs against North Carolina’s mandatory firearm confiscation law in emergency restraining order hearings, and the researchers observed judges failing to verbally announce firearm restrictions during hearings in two-thirds of cases. In other words, judges pick and choose when to follow the law and enforce firearm restrictions for people accused of domestic violence; in most cases, they do not order confiscation. 

This research shows that leaving the confiscation of firearms up to judges maintains access to firearms even after allegations of physical abuse and threats. Kafka and colleagues suggest making confiscation the default or removing the “open-to-interpretation” language in the law. The researchers suggest that better training for judges, monitoring the whereabouts of guns in households with a history of intimate partner violence, and greater domestic rights education for victims could prevent further tragedy.