National Trans Visibility March, Washington, DC USA by Ted Eytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the increasing visibility of transgender people in media, law, and social life, many suggest that the United States reached a  “transgender tipping point” in the past decade. The term suggests a big recent increase in people identifying as transgender, yet there has been surprisingly little research into whether and how the likelihood of identifying as transgender has changed over time.  

In a recent American Journal of Sociology article, Danya Lagos put the “transgender tipping point” idea to the test. They analyzed how many people, born between 1935 to 2001, identified as transgender or gender nonconforming. In addition, Lagos looked at the influence of social demographic factors (age, race, sex assigned at birth, and educational attainment) on the likelihood of identifying as transgender. The results of the study confirmed that there has been a big increase in people identifying as transgender and gender nonconforming since 1984, and that there have been big changes in the social demographic factors that predict trans identity across different birth cohorts.

For cohorts born from 1995 to 2001, for example, white people are somewhat more likely than people of other races to identify as trans, yet the reverse was the case for older cohorts born from 1945 to 1984. For every cohort born from 1935 to 1984, people assigned male at birth are more likely to identify as trans than those assigned female at birth. But this too has changed in recent years, as sex assignment at birth no longer predicts trans identity for those born from 1985-2001. Higher educational attainment is more consistently linked to lower rates of transgender identification throughout all age cohorts. Many believe that exposure to gender theory in higher education leads to more fluidity in gender expression, but the results of this study suggest otherwise.

In short, although the number of people identifying as trans has definitely increased, there hasn’t been any singular “transgender tipping point.” Instead, it’s more complicated than that.  The effect of other social identities and statuses, including race, sex assignment, and education, actively evolves and shifts as each birth cohort grows up in a changing social world. And just as society has changed throughout the years, so too has the prevalence and predictors of trans identity.

“Communicating commuters” by The Freelens is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

New research suggests that the assurance “you can always ask for help” is a westernized ideal that can have different meanings and impacts. Researchers found that, while there are associations between greater life satisfaction and help-seeking in the United States, the same help-seeking behavior was associated with poorer life satisfaction and less positive mood in Japan.

Verity Y.Q. Lua and colleagues compared data from two similar surveys, one conducted in the United States and a parallel study conducted in Japan. They identified specific and concrete cultural differences in appropriate behaviors and their impact on well-being. Specifically, they found asking for help and getting help had very different meanings and relationships in the United States as compared with Japan.

In the United States, a willingness to ask for help in times of need is associated with improved overall well-being. However, in Japan the same help-seeking behavior led to decreased life satisfaction and less positive mood.

Lua and colleagues attribute this difference to distinct sociocultural norms. In collectivist, or community-focused cultures like Japan people place more importance on maintaining a positive and stress-free social community. Actions that add stress to the community atmosphere, like asking for help or for a favor, can lead to judgments of incompetency or inferiority.

These results suggest that what is essential for health and happiness isn’t the same everywhere and for all people. Health professionals who may be inclined to recommend relying on help from others in times of difficulty or stress should consider the importance of cultural ideals for the relationship between wellness and help-seeking.

“Judge gavel and money on white background” by Marco Verch Professional Photographer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Court fines and fees are hardly new, however, their use has increased in recent years. New research from Ilya Slavinski and Becky Pettit shows how law enforcement agencies are using “legal financial obligations” to further punish and constrain the same groups of people that have been historically disadvantaged by incarceration. 

Slavinski and Pettit analyzed data from 254 counties in Texas, a large, diverse state that collected over $1 billion in legal financial obligations in 2016. They found that Texas jurisdictions with more Republican voters issued monetary sanctions at a much higher rate than less conservative regions. This finding parallels prior research that links party identification with incarceration rates. Slavinski and Pettit also observed that heavy use of fines and fees was not associated with higher crime rates. This is consistent with research showing that some  “tough on crime” policies are more closely tied to politics, race, and class than they are to crime control. 

Relatedly, the researchers found that legal fines and fees were disproportionately concentrated in predominantly Black and Latinx areas. This builds on previous research that links incarceration rates to perceptions of “racial threat.”  

Based on their Texas data, Slavinski and Pettit report that legal financial obligations are often combined with jail and prison time, rather than serving as an alternative to incarceration. This means that after people leave incarceration, they continue to be watched by authorities to ensure that they pay their legal financial obligations. By coupling prison sentences and legal fees in this way, the state has used legal debt to extend the surveillance and control of historically marginalized populations. 

Placing a wedding ring onto a finger. “Placing a wedding ring” by Petar Milošević is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

“You may kiss the bride.” Getting married is a pivotal moment that comes with many life changes. One of the first big decisions couples must make is whether spouses will change their last names. Although increasingly women are choosing to keep their maiden names, and some couples have hyphenated, new research from Kristin Kelley shows that Americans still hold strong beliefs that women should take their husband’s last names.

Kelley asked a nationally representative sample of 1000 people to rate each spouse’s level of commitment to love and similarity to the “ideal” husband or wife in three different hypothetical situations: a wife taking her husband’s last name, a wife keeping her maiden name, or both the husband and wife hyphenating their last names. 

They found that respondents viewed women who did not take their husband’s name negatively. Specifically, respondents believed that women who kept their maiden names were 14 percent less committed and loving, and 12 percent further from the ideal wife than women who took their husband’s last name. 

Respondents viewed the women who hyphenated their last names with similar skepticism, rating them as 12 percent less committed and loving, and 13 percent further from the ideal wife. These results did not appear for men who changed their names. Surprisingly, these views of women were also true of highly educated respondents who we might expect to have more egalitarian gender expectations. 

These findings raise many questions–about the persistence of gendered double-standards that work against women, for example, or about how marital name changes might impact partners in non-heterosexual unions.  But it is not difficult to imagine that negative attitudes towards women who don’t take their husband’s names at marriage carry over to their social and professional relationships. 

Young couple putting their heads together while sitting on steps. “2019 – Mexico – Morelia – 16 – Young Love” by Ted McGrath is licensed under (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Ah, young love. We tend to think of romantic relationships between teenagers as fun and fleeting: intense infatuations that may bring drama or heartbreak but are not really relevant to young people’s well-being. However, new research from Sara Villalta and colleagues finds that when adolescent relationships are high-quality, they can support emotional well-being.

Villalta and colleagues used data about teenagers’ relationships and emotional wellbeing collected over the course of a year through short surveys administered about twice a month. The teenagers who took these surveys were sixteen or seventeen as part of a larger study that has followed them from birth. Every two weeks, these now-teenagers answered questions about how they were feeling and whether they were in romantic partnerships. They were also asked about how they felt about these relationships, and reported whether they felt their relationships were high-quality, making them feel supported with little conflict, or low-quality, with frequent disagreements and little support. 

The researchers found that when teenagers are in high-quality relationships they are more likely to feel happy and less likely to feel sad. That is, teenagers’ emotional health is improved by relationships with partners that make them feel supported and with whom they infrequently have arguments.

Common  stereotypes of “boy-crazy” young women suggest that teenage girls might have more emotional investment in their romantic relationships. As a result, adolescent girls’ emotions could be more influenced by these partnerships. Contrary to these stereotypes, the researchers found that both teen boys and girls felt happier and less sad when in high-quality romantic relationships.

The researchers also tested whether teenagers who have had challenging childhood experiences, such as bad relationships with their mothers or harsh parenting, or who came from households with fewer resources were more likely to be both in low-quality relationships that are unsupportive and argumentative and feel less happy. On the other hand, results indicated that  regardless of the background of teenagers, high-quality romantic relationships made them feel happier.

This research cautions us to not dismiss teenagers’ romantic relationships as fun, ephemeral, and ultimately unimportant forays into love. Instead, Villalta and colleagues’ findings show us that when teenagers’ relationships are supportive and have little conflict they can help adolescents thrive. 

Police lead meeting in large, and mostly empty room. “Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Community Meeting #1” by Daniel X. O’Neil is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recent police violence and related protests have led to calls to reestablish and strengthen trust between police and communities. In response, the New York Police Department (NYPD) holds quarterly police-community listening meetings to discuss issues ranging from junked cars to shootings of people with mental illness. 

Cheng collected ethnographic data from 40 of these community-police meetings across nine communities in New York and conducted 58 interviews with meeting attendees. He found that three issues prevent these meetings from successfully increasing police-community trust and communication: 1) ignoring “rabble rousing” topics such as police brutality and focusing on easily resolvable problems, 2) the snubing of first-time attendees from actively participating, and 3) the use of police-friendly venues.

During these meetings, attendees sometimes raised concerns about police violence towards community members. When these conversations arose, police redirected comments and shifted dialogue towards directly resolvable problems, such as parking. Following meetings, tweets and reports written by officers further omitted complaints about police violence and framed the events in a favorable light. For example, instead of recording discussion about the police’s failure to respond to gang activity in a timely manner, police officially reported “Trespassing/Narcotics–Late Nights” in a housing development as the topic of discussion – favorably curating the original complaint. 

In his observations of the dialogue between police and attendees, Cheng also noted the presence of pro-police “regulars” frequently attending meetings and vocally dismissing first-time attendees. For example, when a first time attendee expressed their intent to create a non-profit to help youth find employment and reduce crime, “regulars” dismissed this non-law enforcement solution and declared that youths in question “don’t want help”. 

The location of the meetings also favored the NYPD. Churches, schools, and housing complexes were selected for their convenience and capacity – but these venues hold pre-existing connections with law enforcement. Officers frequently serve in roles such as security for weekend religious gatherings and school resource officers in schools. By using these venues the NYPD inadvertently stacked attendance with police-friendly community members. For example, one pastor had bible-study members attend and following an opening prayer to begin the meeting then commented, “the way to stomp [drug dealing] is to foster that relationship between the police. We’re not just to see the police as the enemy, but we see the police as our ally”.

This research shows how intentional and impartial organization is necessary to create a space where people can effectively share constructive criticism of the police. In order to meaningfully change responses to police complaints, organizers must better balance institutional control over these types of meetings and actually provide space for community members’ criticism.

An asian chef holds her hands over a plate, seasoning the food. “Chef Pam is working on her dish in “The Table” restaurant by Thexprojectbkk is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

American fine dining is innovative, prestigious, and world-renowned. But a recent study by Gillian Gualtieri reveals that inequality also shapes the industry: only some forms of cuisine are labeled as “ethnic” and excluded from the status and rewards of the fine-dining designation. 

Gualtieri conducted 120 interviews with renowned chefs in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, two of the most popular restaurant cities in the United States. She also analyzed over one thousand Michelin restaurant reviews from these cities. Her basic finding was that restaurants that are considered “ethnic” are held to different standards.

Gualtieri identified three descriptors routinely used in to assess restaurants: technique, creativity, and authenticity. These criteria are used inconsistently by both chefs and critics. Restaurants considered general fine dining establishments, including those featuring Italian, vegan, or contemporary food, are more likely to receive recognition for technique and creativity.

On the other hand, restaurants that are typically thought of as “ethnic,” such as Indian, Thai, or Greek establishments, are more frequently judged for their perceived authenticity. This means that ratings of ethnic restaurants are more heavily dependent on “what other people’s perception of the cuisine is… a stereotype of what that cuisine is,” according to one chef at a Chinese restaurant.

This differential evaluation leads to Gualtieri’s second finding: restaurants designated as “ethnic” are less likely to hold high Michelin star ratings, one of the primary markers of prestige and value in the field of fine dining. Gualterri argues that ethnic restaurants are less likely to receive fine dining awards because they are overwhelmingly evaluated by their authenticity, rather than their creativity or technique. 

Another consequence of the emphasis on ethnic restaurant’s authenticity is competition for low prices. “People seem to think if they pay a lot for ethnic food, they’re being ripped off because it’s not supposed to be expensive,” a chef told Gulaterri. In other words, being designated as an ethnic restaurant not only lowers the chances of receiving prestigious awards and recognition, it also forces ethnic restaurants to charge less than their peers. Together, this places ethnic restaurants in precarious positions where they struggle to stay afloat.

Dylan Jackson, Alexander Testa, Jelena Todić, and Jonathan Leos-Martinez, “Exclusionary School Discipline during Childhood and Adolescent Police Encounters,” Deviant Behavior , 2022
The back of a young black person in a red jacket, they are facing a large building in the distance. (Pxhere, public domain)

Originally published October 25, 2022

Many argue that well behaved students do not deserve to have their learning disrupted by unruly behavior. But what happens to the students who are expelled or suspended  for their misbehavior?

In new research, Dylan Jackson and colleagues find that children who have been expelled or suspended from school experience earlier and more frequent police encounters.  And that the nature of these stops can be traumatic, with officers using racial slurs, excessive force, and conducting intrusive searches. 

The researchers speculate that these early, frequent, and traumatic interactions with the police increase the likelihood of later incarceration because they foster distrust of police and may even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. 

There are many reasons why youth who have been expelled might experience earlier and more traumatic contact with police. Children who do not have parents at home to supervise them may be out in public during school hours – where they are likely to be stopped and questioned by police because they look out of place.

School expulsion can also make it difficult for youth to graduate high school since they miss out on class time. Because it is harder for people without a high school diploma to find jobs, such youth may seek income through illegal activities.

Jackson and colleagues suggest that schools should replace expulsion with alternatives that are supported by evidence and do not raise the risk of police contact. One approach is school-based restorative justice, which empowers students with the communication skills needed to resolve conflicts and encourages teachers to refrain from punishing students. The goals of such alternatives are to promote student health and wellbeing, improve the school climate, and reduce racial disparities – while minimizing the disruptive effects of expulsion.

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Students in a large college lecture. (Kevin Dooley / Flickr; some rights reserved.)

Originally published May 18, 2022

For decades, conservatives have claimed that higher education has a negative influence on students’ moral and political development. A new study from Miloš Broćić and Andrew Miles provides research on one of the most understudied and misunderstood of these claims: the effect of college attendance on moral values.

Using data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, Miles and Broćić found that people who attend college are more likely to have a greater concern for others, less of a concern for social order, and be less relativistic. They used data from both before people enrolled in college and after people attended to look at the influence of college, specifically. 

People who went to college are more likely to say that compassion for people who are suffering is most important, but less likely to say that kids need to respect authority or that morals are relative. Moral relativists believe that morality is relative: that is, moral truths are not absolute and can change from one society to another, or over time.

Notably, this is distinct from previous work that found increased moral relativism among academics. This could be because college’s role in moral socialization has changed over the years. These days, critics of higher education are more likely to argue that it leads students to not be relativistic enough: too uncompromising in their morality. The authors say that their study provides preliminary evidence in favor of this critique.

Our values are fundamentally shaped by the environments and institutions we find ourselves in, and this research brings us closer to understanding how going to college shapes students as human beings.

Image: A female service member stands at the front of a formation of soldiers, her gaze resolutely focused beyond the camera. “Military women, rule.” by Johnny Silvercloud is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Women who enter the armed forces are expected to be strong, tough, and masculine. Feminine insults, like being called a girl, are used to denigrate and motivate male service members. New research shows a hidden consequence of these gendered expectations: undeniably feminine moments in servicewomen’s lives, like pregnancy or entering a new heterosexual relationship, increase their risk of assault and discrimination.

Sociologist Stephanie Bonnes interviewed 50 current and former servicewomen. Over 59% of the participants experienced sexual harassment and discrimination that coincided with feminine life events like dating, engagement, marriage to a man, or  pregnancy. Feminine life events jeopardize female service members’ efforts to appear strong and masculine and put them in danger. 

One participant explains how she was victimized  after she started dating a fellow serviceman. The day that her partner left the unit for training, her superior sexually assaulted her. 

 “This NCO cornered me and grabbed and kissed me. I was completely caught off guard. I mean it was right in front of his home, with his wife inside.

The participant described how this had shocked her. Not only was this very public, she had also never had any issues with this coworker before. The timing of the incident led her to believe that her superior waited for her new boyfriend to leave before assaulting her. 

Discrimination against servicewomen who are pregnant or in heterosexual relationships is also deeply ingrained in military institutions. One woman described how her she was treated differently by the military organization after she told her unit she was pregnant.

 “So, I got pregnant and of course they’re liable for lots of things, so God forbid I pick up  a single chair. But then they went and made me go clean the bathrooms for the company.”

The findings show how the undeniably feminine moments in servicewomen’s lives put them at risk for both sexual harassment and workplace discrimination – and how women in the US military are put in harm’s way by their fellow soldiers.