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Income inequality has been growing in the U.S. since the 1970s and has created resentment and anger that sparked protest movements like Occupy and contributed to President Trump’s election. Yet, scholars and activists alike are still trying to understand the root causes of increased inequality itself. In a recent article, David Jacobs and Jonathan C. Dirlam seek to explain what accounts for increased stratification in the U.S. in the past 40 years.

Jacobs and Dirlam use IRS data from 1978 to 2011 to determine state level income inequality, allowing them to capture very high earners – those making over $1 million – that are often overlooked in other data that combines all people earning over $200,000. They then compile data on the political party that controlled national and state level political office, state unemployment levels, and state unionization rates. They analyze changes over time and assess the relationship between national and state-level conditions.

According to Jacobs and Dirlam’s research, many factors produce state-level inequality, but the strongest influence is which political party is in power. Income inequality increased the most when Republican politicians were in office, particularly when the U.S. President was Republican. Lower state-level unionization rates were related to wider income disparities because unions bargain for higher wages and often push up wages at competing non-union companies. Economic and labor market changes had an effect as well — increases in people completing a four-year college degree and decreases in manufacturing employment were associated with greater inequality. These changes created disparities between more and less educated workers, and led to higher demand and rewards for skilled workers.

In conclusion, Jacobs and Dirlman argue that shifting political power towards companies and away from workers is a major driver of inequality. Conservatives, since Ronald Reagan, have enacted neo-liberal policies that deregulate industry, cut taxes, and weaken unions; this leads to higher profits for companies and investors, but lower wages for workers and less power to advocate for their rights. Thus, politics and political power are key factors, and economic changes alone do not fully explain the growing gap between the least and most wealthy Americans.

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Numerous studies have emerged on gender inequality in the workplace, several of which discuss the differences in treatment, employment opportunities, and pay for women in tech-industries. However, very few studies address how sexuality, gender, and race intersect in the tech workplace for female employees. In a new study, Lauren Alfrey and France Winddance Twine investigate how women’s race, gender, sexuality, and gender fluidity either help them navigate the tech industry or further subject them to critique by their male peers in the predominantly male tech industry.

The authors conducted extended interviews and surveys with 18 women from a larger study of tech workers in at companies like Twitter and Google to examine their experiences of navigating predominantly male work spaces. Women discussed their how their race, sexuality, and gender fluidity influenced the ways men interacted with them in the workplace. 

The findings indicated that race and sexuality together determined the degree of male peer acceptance. White and Asian lesbian women that were more gender fluid experienced greater support and acceptance. The authors suggest that male coworkers perceived these women as more competent because of their ability to look and act like “one of the guys” through the way they dressed. Yet, Black, dark skinned Hispanic, and straight women who conformed to traditional styles of femininity through dress and behavior were more likely to face criticism from their male peers. For example, females who wore plain shirts and jeans were accepted, and those who wore dresses experienced more isolation. The theme of “geekness,” or the level of expertise one possesses in the tech-field, along with knowledge of popular culture including Japanese Anime and Star Trek, were also key indicators that females would be accepted by their male peers.  

While the acceptance of alternative forms to femininity may benefit some gender-fluid women, Black, dark Latina, and straight women are locked out of these benefits and continue to experience gender inequality in the tech industry.

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In the United States, one of the most recognizable cultural icons of WWII is Rosie the Riveter, an image that challenged traditional gender roles in American culture. Although this icon represents a critical moment in American women’s participation in the labor force, Jeffrey Hass finds that women in Eastern Europe did not use their entry into the labor force to challenge gender essentialism. Using diary entries written by women during the Blockade of Leningrad, as well as archival data and interviews with blockade survivors from the Museum of the Defense of Leningrad, Hass examines the roles of women in the Eastern front of WWII.

Hass finds that Eastern European women had to contend not only with changing perceptions of their dependency and status vis-à-vis men, but also the already embedded expectations of gender roles. Although narratives about patriotic responsibility encouraged women to perform duties like taking care of children and the home, women also described being pressured to recruit men into the Red Army and fill men’s jobs in the factories. Nonetheless, activities like bread seeking, caregiving, and factory work allowed women to construct a narrative of wartime heroism. But as these women became more aware of the importance of their skills, they started to view men as weak. And the more women viewed men as weak, the more they reinforced essential gender dispositions and relations.

Hass contends that the women of Leningrad did not feel empowered by taking on men’s roles because they challenged gender roles per se, but rather because these gendered practices gave them status and shifted the dependency relationship. He concludes that to better understand the relationship between changing gender roles and the reinforcement of gender’s essentialism during conflicts, it is necessary to analyze the objects and people that are permeated with sentiment and meanings.  

Paula England, Jonathan Bearak, Michelle J. Budig, and Melissa J. Hodges., “Do Highly Paid, Highly Skilled Women Experience the Largest Motherhood Penalty?,” American Sociological Review, 2016
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Previous sociological research has revealed that part of women’s lower earnings compared to those of men come from a “motherhood penalty.” Not only are mothers more likely to face discrimination in hiring, employers and colleagues also perceive them as less committed to their work due to the responsibilities of rearing children. Additionally, when mothers take time off to take care of children, they often come back to the same job with lower wages than they had previously. 

Paula England and her colleagues set out to determine if the motherhood penalty differently affects employed women across earning brackets and job skills. They studied women from nationally representative survey data (NLSY79) that follows the same group of similarly aged people over time. They classify mothers as any woman in the dataset who had given birth or adopted a child. To answer how the motherhood penalty varies by cognitive skill within the same wage level, they use respondents’ scores on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test, then divided the respondents into either a low or high score group. Additionally, the researchers use educational attainment as a control variable. Then, they create a second set of statistical models to analyze the differences in motherhood penalty between those in the top fifth percentile of hourly wages versus those in the bottom fifth. 

The results show that highly skilled white women with wages in the 80th and above percentile suffer the biggest motherhood penalty, losing 10% in wages for each of their children. This loss is significantly larger than the penalties for women with similarly high skills but low wages or less skilled women with earnings in either the high or low wage group. This is surprising because women with high skills and high wages tend to have the most continuous job experience compared to other women. But because the correlation between wages and experience is so steep, even dropping out of the workforce to rear children for a short time makes it extremely difficult for highly skilled, highly paid women to make up for lost time. For black women across wage groups and skill levels, interestingly, the motherhood penalties overall are less than they are for white women; however, black women overall have lower wages than white women from the start. Privilege, it seems, has its price in the form of high motherhood penalties.

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Economic inequality is at high tide in the United States, across numerous demographic lines. For example, privileged children often attend high-quality schools that lead to further advantages in adulthood like elite employment opportunities. However, does class status only impact elite employment prospects through education? Lauren Rivera and Andras Tilcsik use an experimental audit study to examine how class status influences employment likelihoods above and beyond educational credentials.

Rivera and Tilcsik sent random fictitious resumes to 316 summer associateships at large law firms. They manipulated the gender and the class status of the applicant, while other application items such as educational credentials and experience were identical across applications. Gender was signaled via the applicant first name (John vs. Julia) and class status was signaled through the last name (Cabot vs. Clark), extracurricular activity (sailing vs. track and field), athletic award (regular athletic award vs. athletic award for student on financial aid), and personal interests (e.g. classical music vs. country music). The researchers then measured whether the applicant was invited for an interview callback. 

The findings reveal that the effect of status markers depends on one’s gender: men who display markers of high social class are significantly more likely to receive a callback than high-status women. Rivera and Tilcsik followed up with a survey experiment and interviews to investigate why status works in the favor of men but not for women. Overall, firms saw higher-class applicants as better fits than lower class candidates, even though their credentials were the same. Although firms also saw higher-class women as better fits, they simultaneously perceived them as less committed to full-time, demanding careers. This “commitment penalty” offset the gains in callback likelihood that higher-class women get through perceived fit.

In the context of elite employment, the implications of class status vary based on an applicant’s gender.   The authors argue that the “commitment penalty” is a type of anticipatory discrimination, where employers, hiring in the ethos of time-intensive jobs, question women’s commitment due to the perceived potential for external commitments (e.g. motherhood), as well as gendered notions of work devotion. Overall, this research highlights how the interaction of class and gender, rather than either alone, pattern opportunities for elite employment.

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While rates of church attendance in the United States have been decreasing over time, the number and popularity of “megachurches” has increased significantly. It is estimated that the largest 7% of congregations contain about half of all American churchgoers. These predominantly Protestant churches draw anywhere from 2,000 to 30,000 attendees every week and they typically rely on an energetic and highly publicized charismatic leader to fill the seats. So what draws so many Americans to these stadium-sized congregations? New research by Katie Corcoran and James K. Wellman Jr. suggests that it might have something to do with the particular form of charisma found among many megachurch leaders.  

Most social science research on charismatic leadership focuses on political leaders or leaders of new religious movements and cults — groups that exist on the fringes of more mainstream, institutionalized religions. In these religious movements, the founder or leader is often seen as divine or supernatural and their authority is derived from that perception. Instead, Corcoran and Wellman examine how charisma emerges in the more institutionalized spaces of Protestant megachurches where leaders are not seen as divine. Drawing on interview and survey data from a large sample of megachurches, the researchers find that pastors of megachurches establish a “charismatic bond” with their attendees by being both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

Even though megachurch pastors were described by many of their congregants as having “extraordinary qualities” and being “gifted,” “special,” or “unique,” congregants were also equally drawn to the more “ordinary” and “human” side of their leaders. For example, congregants were more likely to describe their pastor as trustworthy or authentic if they felt the pastor was relatable and honest about their own flaws. The authors explain, “… they must be extraordinary without becoming perceived as a deity, while at the same time, be ordinary but not so ordinary as to engage in deviant behaviors that undermine their perceived extraordinary abilities.” This research reveals that charismatic leadership can come in many forms, and sometimes it’s someone’s ordinary qualities that make them seem extraordinary.

For research on the instability of charismatic leadership, check out this TROT!

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Recent estimates from Child Trends indicate that nearly seven percent of children in the U.S. have experienced parental incarceration. And this rate is twice as high among black children. Most of the current research on the negative impacts of parental incarceration focuses on the effects of a father’s imprisonment on boys’ behavioral problems — boys with incarcerated fathers often act out in school and at home. To expand beyond this research, Anna R. Haskins examines the effects of paternal incarceration on both young boys and girls’ cognitive development and across racial lines.

Haskins analyzed a sample of over two thousand children from the Fragile Families project, a longitudinal study that tracks children and their parents across twenty large U.S. cities. Focusing on the first 9 years of the child’s life, she observed four skills representing cognitive development: verbal ability, reading comprehension, mathematical problem-solving, and attention span. She then determined if a father’s incarceration negatively impacts these key developmental areas during middle childhood.

Findings suggest that the experience of paternal incarceration diminishes a child’s reading, math, and attentional capacities, but not their verbal abilities. But these effects differ between boys and girls. While girls experience reduced reading and math skills, boys are more likely to exhibit a reduced attention span. Preliminary estimates also indicate that racial disparities in paternal incarceration contribute to racial inequality in the achievement gap. In other words, if white Americans were incarcerated at the same rate as African Americans, the black-white achievement gaps at age nine in reading, math, and attention skills would reduce by a range of seven to fourteen percent.

Haskins argues that children of an incarcerated parent may face undue stress, trauma, or stigma, which may latently impact cognitive capacities. In addition to perpetuating racial inequities in educational attainment, the collateral consequences of paternal incarceration extend “beyond boys’ bad behavior,” negatively impacting both young boys’ and girls’ cognitive skills.

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In U.S. culture, we get a lot of messages about what a “good” mother should do. A good mother should always make time for her kids, model healthy eating habits, throw her kids a birthday party, and so on. Sociologists have  acknowledged how motherhood is raced and classed, but fewer studies recognize the ways that constructions of motherhood are dependent on ability status. In her new article, Angela Frederick argues that popular ideas about “good mothers” assume these women are able-bodied. As a result, mothers with disabilities are excluded from mainstream images and parenting advice, perceived as threats to their children’s well-being, and disciplined by medical professionals because of this perceived risk.

Frederick conducted 42 interviews with women who had sensory (blind, deaf, hard of hearing) or physical disabilities. In the interviews, women highlighted the ways doctors perceived them as risks to their children. For instance, one doctor initiated a social services investigation because he assumed a mother who was partially paralyzed on one side could not care for her child. Doctors also pressured women into submitting their children for genetic tests, even when the mothers’ disabilities were not genetic. 

While in some ways their disabilities made these women targets of greater attention from doctors, in other ways medical facilities rendered them invisible by disregarding their needs. Blind women, for instance, were often forced to verbally provide confidential medical information because the medical office did not have an online option to fill out paperwork. And parenting advice materials, like magazines and parenting books, often ignore the experiences of mothers with disabilities in the advice they offer.

The way medical professionals interact with mothers who have disabilities and the way mothers are constructed in parenting advice materials reflect a “normalcy project,” according to Frederick. “Good” mothering has become synonymous with able-bodied mothers. Even when women with disabilities follow standard expectations of “normal” mothering, they remain suspect as a potential risk to their children.

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Senior year of high school is often an exciting time for students, as many make decisions about higher education and nervously await college admission letters. Yet, not all seniors join their peers in the move to higher education. The sociological “life-course labeling perspective” suggests that students already involved with the criminal justice system face the enduring consequences of a criminal record and many are forced to take alternative pathways after high school. Drawing from this perspective, Alex Widdowson, Sonja Siennick, and Carter Hay examine how being arrested in high school affects college enrollment.

The authors draw from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to test whether a student’s arrest within the first three years of high school impedes enrollment into 2-year and 4-year colleges within 9 months after graduation. Out of the 1761 students sampled, nine percent had been arrested during their first three years of high school. The authors also examined a sample of youths who received a GED or dropped out of high school. The authors find that people who had been arrested during high school were more likely to be Black and male, to engage in higher levels of delinquency, and to exhibit lower levels of interest in school. Further, they found that high school graduated youths that were arrested were 42 percent less likely to enroll in 4-year college programs within 9 months after graduating high school, and 41 percent less likely after 10 years. Arrests for GED and high school dropouts followed a similar pattern. However, arrest had no direct effect on enrolling in a 2-year college. 

The authors conclude that arrest rates account for much of these findings because being arrested hinders performance in school. Youths’ who were arrested had lower GPAs and decreased participation in advanced coursework, which weakened the competitiveness of their college applications and deterred them from enrolling in college. Therefore, improving youths’ performance may limit the long-term effects of an arrest within an economy that increasingly relies on higher education for a stable income.

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Recent high-profile incidents of police violence against black citizens have spoiled the reputation and legitimacy of legal authorities among many Americans. In a new study, Matthew Desmond, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk investigate one of the consequences of this police misconduct and its accompanying legal cynicism — people are less likely to call 911 to report criminal activity.

Using 911 call data from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and U.S. Census neighborhood characteristics, the researchers analyze how crime reporting calls fluctuated in the weeks following the high-profile beating of Frank Jude, a black male citizen. Controlling for the level of crime reporting before the incidents, time variation, and neighborhood block-group characteristics, they find that levels of citizen reporting significantly decreased in the weeks following the incident, and that this effect was particularly strong in majority black neighborhoods. This drop in crime reporting lasted for over a full year after the beating, and resulted in an estimated 22,200 fewer 911 crime reporting calls. The researchers also replicate this finding with three other cases of police violence, and show that 911 calls for car accidents were not altered in response to the incidents, suggesting that the reduction in calls was not due to some concurrent event impacting emergency calls overall. 

This study illustrates how the high-profile cases of police force do not just impact those closely connected to the perpetrator and victim, but have broader consequences for police-community relations. The decrease in citizen crime reporting can have tragic outcomes for public safety, and the authors note that the uptick in Milwaukee homicides following the Frank Jude beating could be, in part, the result of decreased 911 calls. Overall, the research highlights how seemingly “isolated incidents,” at least as framed by police departments and politicians, can have wide-ranging effects across a community.