Photo of two steaks on a grill with an open flame.
Photo by Gabriel Saldana, Flickr CC

Originally published April 17, 2019.

Men are less likely than women to consider becoming vegetarian. And in the United States, where men have higher rates of life-threatening health conditions than women — including uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease — changing eating habits may be important for their health. To learn more about meat and masculinity, Researchers Sandra Nakagawa and Chloe Hart conducted a study examining how gender identity influences eating habits.

Nakagawa and Hart conducted experiments to test whether a threat to masculinity influences men’s likelihood of eating meat. In one experiment, the researchers told some men their answers from a previous survey fell in the “average female” range, while others fell into the “average male” range. For the men who received “average female” results, the authors expected them to feel like their masculinity was in question.

Men who experienced a threat to their masculinity showed more attachment to meat than those who did not experience the threat. They were also more likely to say they needed meat to feel full and were less likely to consider switching to a diet with no meat. This study shows that masculinity does matter for how men maintain their health. Importantly, it is not masculinity itself that is the problem here, but the high standards men feel they must meet — and eat.

Photo by Pablo Varela, CC

Originally posted November 5, 2019.

The term ‘gaslighting’ earned its name by way of the 1944 film, Gaslight. In the film, an antagonist secretly brightens and dims his home’s lights, making his wife doubt her sanity and sense of reality. Despite the cinematic origins of its label, this form of abuse is experienced by many women. Though psychologists have extensively investigated the subject, little attention has been paid to the role that underlying social characteristics may play. In new research, Paige Sweet fills this void by revealing how social characteristics affect individual experiences of gaslighting within domestic abuse.

Through a series of life course interviews, Sweet finds that abusers mobilize gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, and victims’ institutional settings in order to manipulate their victims’ sense of reality. Women of different racial and social backgrounds experience gaslighting in different forms; whereas an abuser might prey upon a black woman’s fear of becoming a stereotypical “baby mama,” another might threaten an undocumented Hispanic woman with deportation. Despite differences, abusers in Sweet’s study utilized “crazy-making” tactics for all women — drawing on stereotypes that men are rational, while women are irrational.

Sweet’s argument that “micro tactics of abuse are situated in macro conditions of inequality”  helps us to understand why gaslighting can be so effective at stripping down one’s sense of reality; by drawing attention to existing power structures and inequalities, abusers are able to gain a greater sense of legitimacy and tailor their tactics to a victim’s personal social experiences. It is crucial that we understand the forces that underlie gaslighting in order to more effectively recognize symptoms of abuse, and subsequently support the victims who experience it. 

Jessica Finlay, Michael Esposito, Min Hee Kim, Iris Gomez-Lopez, and Philippa Clarke, “Closure of ‘Third Places’? Exploring Potential Consequences for Collective Health and Wellbeing,” Health & Place, 2019
Photo of men in a barbershop via pxhere.

Third places, or gathering spaces that are neither work nor home, are important social sites for many Americans. Third places can often act as buffers against loneliness, physical inactivity, and alienation. Yet since the start of the Great Recession, communal spaces like nail salons, diners, barbershops, and sites of religious worship have closed at increasing rates across the U.S. At the same time, other categories of third places,
such as libraries and commercial banks, have grown in number. In a new paper, researchers highlight the role of third places in promoting wellbeing and public health. 

By analyzing U.S. business trends from the National Establishment Time-Series (NETS), the authors examine changes in sectors including food and beverage, civil and social organizations, religious institutions, and arts and entertainment. Almost all categories–especially privately-owned establishments–have declined since 2011. Some of the declines are striking (for instance, grocery stores, bakeries, farmers’ markets, and butcher shops decreased by 23 percent and hobby shops by 28 percent) and seem counterintuitive, given ongoing and persistent gentrification movements and their emphasis on shopping local.

Against a backdrop of the “retail apocalypse,” rising rents, and the food delivery boom, what do widespread third place closures mean for health and well-being? The authors find that by creating a sense of belonging, third places can build security and rapport. As a “home away from home,” third places not only foster social connections, but also encourage physical activity, particularly for the elderly. Over time, some third places have evolved to act as community centers, as in the case of some libraries which train staff to administer Narcan to those who have suffered an opioid overdose.

This study took a “bird’s eye” view of national business trends, and raises interesting questions about when and where third place closures are occurring, whose role it is to protect against them, and how they impact communities. It provides one example of how increased attention on vanishing third places matters not only for socialization and wellbeing, but for our understanding of the social and geographic determinants of health.

Photo of a bronze cast of an intrauterine device (IUD). Photo by Sarah Mirk, Flickr CC

Originally posted February 5, 2019.

Throughout history, concerns about women’s sexual behavior and reproduction have often been tied to mental health. For example, in the Victorian era, doctors believed that women’s bodies were incapable of physical exertion and mental activity, and they diagnosed many women — typically white women– with “hysteria.” Hysteria was a catch-all term often used to police women’s sexuality and bodies, and was characterized as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1980. While diagnosing women with hysteria may seem like an outdated practice today, mental health professionals still exercise control over women’s sexuality and reproductive choices. A recent study finds that clinicians today use both coercive and non-coercive techniques in facilitating reproductive decisions for their clients — especially female clients — diagnosed with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and major depression.

Using interview data with 98 patients at two state hospitals and three community mental health centers, Brea Perry, Emma Frieh, and Eric Wright examine clients’ interactions with service providers and family members regarding their sexual behavior and contraceptive use. The authors find that mental health professionals use strategies ranging from full client participation (what the authors call “enabling”) to no input by the client (what the authors called “coercion”).  

Providers used coercive techniques more frequently with women than with men. In the most extreme cases, this took the form of unwanted and traumatic sterilization procedures. More frequently, providers and female clients’ family members did not include women in key decisions, provided misinformation, or did not gain consent for the birth control medications prescribed. For male clients, providers used education through classes or group therapy more frequently. While these sessions often framed sex as risky for male clients, this technique allowed men much more reproductive freedom than many women experienced. The researchers also found that providers used “enabling” strategies (those that included full client participation), like  providing condoms or sex starter kits, for both genders at similar rates.

These findings demonstrate that women’s mental health remains inextricably linked to concerns about women’s bodies and their sexual behavior. Gender norms and expectations, especially those regarding sexual behavior and reproduction, have enduring impacts on our understanding of mental illnesses, as well as the medical decisions made for or by people diagnosed with a mental illness. To avoid these patriarchal patterns in the the future, Perry and colleagues suggest providers focus more on sex positivity rather than risk avoidance for their clients.

The 2012 London Summit on Family Planning resulted in Family Planning 2020 Initiative (FP2020). Photo by Russell Watkins/Department for International Development, Flickr CC.

Supporters of global family planning initiatives argue these programs can empower women in (mostly) low-income countries by giving them options to control their reproduction. New research shows that the structure of these programs may actually constrict women’s choices. 

Leigh Senderowicz conducted 49 in-depth interviews with women in a low-income sub-Saharan African country that is engaged in a variety of family planning initiatives. These initiatives are part of the global FP2020 initiative  — its goal is to add 120 million contraceptive users worldwide by the year 2020. The focus and structure of these initiatives shape how health clinics operate and how providers interact with patients. For example, health centers are evaluated based on national- and district-level quotas for contraceptive uptake. Providers can only get “credit” towards these quotas if a patient accepts a form of contraception, not if providers inform the patient about contraceptive options and the patient declines. In other words, the structure of the programs incentivize providers to convince patients to use contraception.

Senderowicz 2019

In turn, providers use a range of coercive tactics to convince women to use contraception. On one end of the spectrum, providers offer a limited selection of contraception options to patients. In this study, the most common forms were contraceptive pills, implants, and injectables. Instead of tailoring the method to a patient’s specific needs, providers primarily emphasized the advantages of a few long-term contraceptive methods without giving other options, and sometimes even failed to disclose risks of use. Few women in this study were ever told about barrier methods, IUDs without hormones, or fertility-based awareness methods. 

Providers also used more overt forms of coercion, like threatening to deny women future care and refusing to remove an IUD at one woman’s request. These actions do the opposite of empowering women through introducing contraception as one option of many. Instead, these family planning initiatives’ focus on quotas meant that contraception was the only option.

Syrian refugee children study in a Lebanese school classroom. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the average length a refugee spends in a foreign country is between 10 and 25 years, which is three times longer than it was 30 years ago. Historically, refugees sought temporary residence in a foreign country until it was safe to return. But because violent conflicts are lasting much longer, refugees often never return home. Thus, host countries must decide what the future looks like for refugees. Countries view education as an agent of socialization — creating ideal citizens and incorporating children into the nation’s fabric — which makes access to education a key factor in how a country will seek to integrate refugees. 

In their most recent article, Dryden-Peterson and authors ask: if the purpose of education is to create a better future for students and the nation, then what does this look like in the context of refugee education? The authors study 14 refugee-hosting nation-states, conducting interviews, participant observation, and content analysis of educational documents and policies. Global actors like the UN focus on getting refugees into national education systems, but the authors find that inclusion means different things to different countries.

Countries like Malaysia and Bangladesh do not officially resettle refugees, so they assume refugees will leave the country and not become integrated into their societies. As a result, refugees attend their own schools. In countries like Uganda and Pakistan where the refugee population has become urbanized instead of living in isolated refugee camps, refugees are incorporated into the existing school systems due to convenience. While these countries recognize the prolonged exile of refugees, these countries believe that refugees’ long term futures would eventually be outside of the host country. Lastly, in host countries like Chad, refugees are integrated into schools because it is assumed that refugees will integrate into their society. This model of inclusion is driven by a lack of predictable external funding, and thus, national actors integrate refugees into schools to mitigate some of the volatility of international funding. 

Despite these national differences, at the school level nearly all schools struggled over whether and how refugee education was to enable belonging. The inclusion of refugees into their host country’s national education systems is merely inclusion into a low quality education system. Thus, the authors find that just because refugees have been able to access education through these different systems, education does not promote a route to belonging, nor does it guarantee a quality education or better future.

A father and his daughter draw together with colored pencils. Photo via Pxhere.

Society has always put a lot of pressure on parents, but in the past, parenting standards have differed by social class. In the late twentieth century, middle- and upper-class families differed from poor and working-class families in terms of both their beliefs about good parenting and the actual parenting practices they used. But recent research suggests that, nowadays, people from all social classes have begun to share beliefs about “good” parenting. 

To understand how people’s beliefs differ by social class, Patrick Ishizuka surveyed American parents with children living at home. Because parenting pressures have historically targeted women, he also investigated how “good” mothering differs from “good” fathering. He asked people to rate examples of parenting behaviors on a scale from “poor” to “excellent.” The parenting behaviors described had previously been found to be popular among either working class or middle class families, and the examples varied in whether the parent described was a mother or a father.

Ishizuka found that participants from all social classes gave the best ratings to parenting behaviors which were previously associated with middle class families. Described in 2003 by Annette Lareau as part of a parenting model called “concerted cultivation,” these behaviors included signing kids up for structured, adult-led extracurricular activities; encouraging children to explain their thoughts and feelings, discussing misbehavior, and negotiating; and prompting children to speak up about their individual needs to adults in settings like school and the doctor’s office. Ishizuka’s participants rated these behaviors more positively regardless of whether a mother or a father was using them.

This study demonstrates that cultural norms of child-centered, time-intensive parenting are now widespread. But even when people believe certain parenting strategies are ideal, they don’t always act on those beliefs, often because they lack the necessary resources. While survey research cannot tell us how people are parenting in practice, Ishizuka’s findings are important because they reveal the high expectations people now hold for mothers and fathers of all social classes. 

Minnesota Atheists are among the many individuals who identify as nonreligious. Here they march in the Twin Cities Pride Parade. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Social scientists assume that people want to feel certain about their beliefs and identities and that religion helps people find this sense of security. Thus, the modern rise in people who do not identify with a religion must have led to increased anxiety, depression, or social isolation. However, in this new article, Jacqui Frost demonstrates that some nonreligious people have certainty in their beliefs and others experience uncertainty as positive and motivating. 

Frost conducted interviews with fifty non-religious people, including those who identified as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. Frost interviewed people involved in either social or political nonreligious organizations and people not involved in any belief-based groups. In these interviews, Frost asked people to explain how they came to their current nonreligious beliefs.

Frost found that some nonreligious individuals felt certain in their beliefs. For some, this confidence led them to join nonreligious organizations and have frequent discussions about their beliefs. Other nonreligious people were sure in what they believed but did not consider these beliefs important in their daily life.

Other nonreligious people in Frost’s study were not sure what they believed, but were okay with that. These individuals found the uncertainty associated with their nonreligious beliefs to be “freeing.” For these nonreligious people, not being sure about their religious beliefs motivated them to remain skeptical and ask questions throughout their life. Their embrace of uncertainty turned some of these individuals away from nonreligious social and political groups whose beliefs and values they found too narrow and specific.

Popular culture suggests that the decline in religious affiliation is one sign of increasing social chaos. However, Frost’s new article shows that uncertainty is not always a bad thing. Rather than being anxious and socially isolated, nonreligious people find meaning and connection whether they are sure, or not-so-sure, what they believe. 

Map showing Chicago’s racial diversity. Each dot represents 25 residents: Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, and Yellow is Other. By Eric Fisher via Flickr.

Since the mid-20th-century, research has linked racial residential segregation to a variety of unequal outcomes between racial groups, including education, health, incarceration, and employment. Segregation seems to be slightly declining recently, particularly as the USA becomes more racially diverse. This does not mean, however, that residential segregation is no longer relevant. Long-lasting legacies and impacts of racial segregation remain. Michael Light and Julia Thomas analyze how residential segregation between blacks and whites relates to racial disparities in violence and victimization. 

Using decades worth of data from 1970 to 2010, Light and Thomas explore neighborhood segregation and violent crime in several large metropolitan areas across the country. Taking into account the level of non-black and non-white residents, Light and Thomas compare the risk of being the victim of a violent crime for blacks and whites across areas with differing levels of black-and-white segregation. 

As the above graphic from the article shows, the impact of racial residential segregation differs across race. Increasing segregation is linked to higher victimization for blacks and low victimization for whites, but the slopes of these relationships are not equal. In essence, segregation hurts blacks more than it helps whites; racial segregation itself is not only a product of racial inequality; it also another driver of such dynamics. 

This research highlights how violence is yet another factor related to racial residential segregation that hurts blacks and helps whites.  Notably, the data show that metros with more integrated neighborhoods seem to have less violence overall. Thus, as America becomes more racially diverse, racial residential integration may reduce racial inequality as well as inequality in violent crime and victimization. 

Picture of woman prepping healthy meals for her family
Photo by monicore, Needpix.com CC.

Married couples are sharing household chores more than ever before, but women still do more than men. While sociologists already know a great deal about gender differences in couples’ physical and emotional work, new research shows that there’s even more to gendered differences in household labor. Women are often responsible for the lion’s share of another form of invisible household work: cognitive labor.

Allison Daminger interviewed middle- and upper-middle class, married couples living in the Boston area. All were between 35-50 years old, had at least one Bachelor’s degree, and were living with at least one child younger than 5 years old. Most of the couples were heterosexual. Daminger interviewed each partner separately to encourage respondents to share their honest perspective. 

Respondents discussed the typical chores of household labor: cooking, cleaning, shopping, mowing the lawn, etc. But many couples also talked about a sort of “project manager” category of family responsibilities, which includes anticipating the needs of family members, identifying options for meeting those needs, deciding among the options, and monitoring the results. Daminger labeled these tasks “cognitive labor,” and identified nine domains in which cognitive labor occurs: food, childcare, scheduling and logistics, cleaning and laundry, finances, social relationships, shopping, home and car maintenance, and travel and leisure. Cognitive labor in the food domain, for instance, includes responsibilities like deciding what meals to cook and ensuring a consistent supply of groceries. These responsibilities are added on to the work that must be done, for instance, soothing a tantruming toddler displeased by the dinner menu.

Daminger found that, like emotional labor, cognitive labor is often invisible and is a frequent source of conflict. Overall, the women in the study were responsible for a larger amount of the anticipation and monitoring work than their male partners. But when it came to decision-making — the part of cognitive labor most closely linked to power and influence — partners shared the work of decision-making much more equally. Daminger argues that cognitive labor is thus an overlooked, yet potentially consequential, source of gender inequality at the household level. 

To read more about emotional labor, check out these posts here and here.