Photo by Paul Sableman, Flickr CC

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.

Photo by NEC Corporation of America , Flickr CC

When people have health concerns, they typically turn to doctors because of the years of medical training that makes doctors experts on human health. When it comes to the health of trans people, however, doctors often lack knowledge and experience, and the typical evidence-based guidelines (EBM) for making medical decisions can be more confusing than helpful for trans health cases. In a new study, stef m. shuster finds that “uncertainty” characterizes most provider’s experiences with trans patients, though they navigate this uncertainty in different ways.

To understand how healthcare providers treat trans patients, shuster interviewed 23 physical and mental healthcare providers. These providers included primary care physicians, OB/GYN, family and internal medicine specialists, physician’s assistants, psychologists, therapists, and counselors/social workers. Rather than asking about specific interventions with transgender patients, which could breach ethics of confidentiality, shuster engaged in conversations about the providers’ backgrounds, their professional associations, their workplace climates, and general experiences with trans patients.

shuster found that providers use two strategies to negotiate EBM guidelines when it comes to treating trans patients: following them to the letter or interpreting them as flexible strategies they use in other cases of medical uncertainty. More senior providers draw on their experience in the field when faced with uncertainty, while newer providers more often consulted the evidence-based medical guidelines to inform their decisions. However, for cases with trans patients, few providers had much prior experience, and turned to the EBM guidelines. shuster described how close followers of the guidelines act as medical gatekeepers; particularly for patients who want to physically transition via hormones and surgery, care providers try to contain uncertainty surrounding gender, identity, and health by insisting on following long bureaucratic processes for obtaining these expensive, difficult to reverse interventions. On the other hand, some providers interpret the EBM guidelines more as suggestions than law, and embrace the uncertainty of how to tailor their care for specific patients’ needs. 

Photo by Johnny Silvercloud, Flickr CC

Due to the increased scrutiny of racial bias among the police, the stop and frisk policies of the NYPD continued to fall out of favor in 2016.  Despite concerns of racial bias in police forces around the country, very little is known about the ways that inflammatory events may influence racial bias in policing — we tend to know more about where discrimination in policing takes place than what may influence when it occurs. To address this issue, Joscha Legewie explores how local acts of violence against law enforcement influence discriminatory use of force by the police after the fact.

Using data from 3.9 million police stops of pedestrians in New York City between 2006 and 2012, Legewie compared the effects of four significant incidents involving the death of police officers on the subsequent use of force by law enforcement. Of these four incidents, two NYPD officers were fatally shot by black suspects in two separate events in 2007 and 2011, while three officers were killed in two separate incidents by a Hispanic and a white suspect. 

The findings reveal a race-specific pattern. The two shootings by black suspects resulted in an increased use of physical force against blacks, but the two shootings involving a white and Hispanic suspect did not result in a similar increase in force against any group. However, this increase in the use of force lasted 10 days after the event in 2011, where it only lasted 3.5 days following the event in 2007. This pattern of racial discrimination remains even when accounting for the time, location, and the circumstances of the stop, as well as the characteristics and behavior of the stopped individual. Whether this discriminatory response in the use of force is the result of implicit racial stereotypes or an explicit retaliation by law enforcement remains to be uncovered (and it may very well be a combination of both). Regardless, this study shows how violence against police triggers race-specific reactions.  

Photo by Esther Max, Flickr CC

While male-dominated jobs are some of the fastest shrinking in the U.S., and female-dominated jobs are some of the fastest growing, many men choose not to enter fields they view as “women’s work” — occupations like home healthcare worker or nurse practitioner. But it is not all men who stay away from female-dominated occupations. You guessed it — it’s white men. Recent research by Jill Yavorsky, Philip Cohen, and Yue Qian shows that racial minority men are more likely than white men to work in female-dominated jobs.

The researchers use 2010-2012 American Community Survey data on working men ages 25 to 54 to statistically analyze the effects of race on the gender composition of jobs. The find that all groups of racial minority men are more likely than white men to work in female-dominated jobs, and this finding remains constant even when considering differences in men’s education levels, with the exception of Asian men with advanced degrees. Notably, black men and white men represent the greatest disparity — black men have the highest probability of working in a female-dominated job, while white men have the lowest probability of doing so. 

While this study can only tell us what is happening — that more minority men work in female-dominated jobs than white men — the “why” remains an open question. For one, this could be a tale of discrimination; minority men may be kept out of male-dominated fields and forced to choose female-dominated occupations. On the other hand, men of color may defy societal norms and place more value on so-called “women’s work,” like caring activities, than white men. Regardless, these findings highlight the important intersection of race and gender in the workplace. 

Photo by Agustín Ruiz, Flickr CC

Researchers and policymakers are divided over which approach to use in order to effectively change corporate behaviors so they uphold laws. Some believe that punishment will deter organizations from violating rules, while others believe that financial incentives and self-monitoring are more effective. These issues are particularly important when creating policies to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency. Should the government enforce standards and punish violators or should companies monitor their own behaviors and be encouraged through incentives?

Paul B. Stretesky and colleagues assess whether criminal prosecution or self-monitoring lead to greater reductions in industrial pollution. They use EPA data on regulated toxic chemical releases from the late 1980s, as well as corporate self-policing reports and cases filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office about natural resource and pollution crimes, to trace changes in pollution levels and policy actions.

The authors find that both legal actions and self-monitoring are associated with declines in the release of toxic chemicals, although there was a larger impact from criminal punishment. However, when the authors accounted for broader economic conditions — measured by GDP and total number of industrial facilities — neither type of policy had an impact on the amount of pollution. The economy itself, particularly the rate of growth, was the largest factor in how much a company pollutes — as GDP increased, so did the amount of toxics.

The authors argue that new policies are needed that get companies to redesign production so it is cleaner and more efficient, rather than just limiting the emission of particular chemicals. The findings suggest that environmental regulations alone will not reduce public health and environmental hazards from chemical pollution; instead, policymakers need to be thinking about addressing broader economic growth and overhauling production methods to make them greener.

Photo by Andrew Dupont, Flickr CC

Female athletes often face an uphill battle in traditional sports — commentators often perceive them as weaker than male athletes, media spectators sexualize them by focusing on their physical attributes instead of their athletic talent, and male athletes often do not take them seriously. Yet, we know little about women’s experiences with fantasy sports, an emerging sports arena where no physical activity is required and men and women can play side-by-side. In a new study in Gender & SocietyRebecca Kissane and Sarah Winslow find that the gendered dynamics of the sporting world persist in fantasy sports, but that some women are attempting to disrupt them by asserting their knowledge and abilities in the traditionally masculine space. 

Despite the potential for fantasy sports to be a more gender neutral space, Kissane and Winslow found that men often questioned women’s presence, and as one woman noted, “you are often looked down upon because you are a woman trying to play a man’s game.” Among the 42 female fantasy sports players surveyed, there were numerous instances of discrimination within fantasy sports leagues and the assumption that men are better and more interested in sports was pervasive. Some women react to this culture in ways that reproduce traditional gender dynamics — many quit or form all-women leagues, while others tacitly accept gendered stereotypes about women by positioning themselves as atypical women with the ability to “play like the boys.” 

On the other hand, several women challenged the gendered discrimination that they experienced. They openly asserted their love for sports and thrill for competition, and many worked to show that they, as females, could be just as competent in the league as men. Female players also challenged gendered stereotypes by openly embracing their femininity and asserting that one could be both feminine and interested in sports at the same time. Others would coin team names that satirized gender norms.  

However, the authors argue that most women they talked with simultaneously resist and reproduce the gendered dynamics of the sporting world — what they called “mediated” or “conflicted” agency — by questioning stereotypes in some cases but accepting some level of inferiority in others. They conclude that while most women reproduce assumptions about men’s dominance and women’s inferiority in fantasy sports, they also “open up the possibility for transformation of the gender order if through these efforts the climate in their leagues change and they are able to secure recognition as legitimate participants.”

Originally published March 15, 2016

Race is a socially constructed system of classification often conceptualized as different tones of skin color, and it’s easy to see how people may conflate the two. Interestingly enough, however, skin color can have distinct impacts, including tangible ones like differences in paychecks. A recent Sociology of Race & Ethnicity article explains.

Alexis Rosenblum, William Darity Jr., Angel L. Harris, and Tod G. Hamilton draw on the New Immigrant Survey, a nationally representative study sampling over 8,000 permanent-resident immigrants. Other scholars had already conducted some analyses on the NIS, but Rosenblum and her coauthors provide a vital intervention: describing how color variation predicts immigrant wages by home geographic region, disaggregating data previously studied as composite.

Their findings show that, overall, there is a negative relationship between skin color and wages—darker immigrants are paid less. Further exploration goes further to show that immigrants from of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries do not contribute to this overall finding: only darker-skinned immigrants from Latin American or Sub-Saharan-African countries are penalized on payday.

The new work also makes it plain that skin shade matters more than race among respondents from Latin American or Caribbean nations. “Light” or “dark” skin color predicted wages in these groups better than “white” or “black” racial identity. The opposite held true for Sub-Saharan respondents, among whom being identified as “black” was a better predictor of lower wages than darker skin. As scholars tackle questions about assimilation, integration, and ethnic diversity, findings like these make us all remember that race and color have important effects, especially when considering how each intersects with class.

See also Ellis P. Monk’s AJS findings that skin tone corresponds to unequal health outcomes, covered on TSP by Amber Joy Powell.

Originally published Jan. 4, 2016

The student loan boom brought a swath of new luxury apartments to college campuses. But on urban campuses, a growing population of bargain-hunting coeds raises concerns about gentrification—the way newcomers change the culture of a neighborhood and push out low-income residents. We usually see gentrification in new businesses and skyrocketing rents, but this process isn’t limited to economic change, nor is it limited to the United States. New research on Israeli students from Ori Schwarz shows how gentrification affects city culture at a very deep level, challenging even the fundamental definitions of what makes a good neighbor.

A 1970s-era stamp, part of Israel's Environmental Quality series, warns against noise pollution. Karen Horton, Flickr CC

A 1970s-era stamp, part of Israel’s Environmental Quality series, warns against noise pollution. Karen Horton, Flickr CC

Schwarz studied a low-income urban Israeli neighborhood he calls “Mixbury” by conducting 85 interviews and two focus groups with student and nonstudent residents and others living in the city, but outside the neighborhood. Many students draw sharp boundaries between themselves and other residents by saying their neighbors acted “shchuna” (a Hebrew slang term similar to the pejorative phrase “ghetto” in English). And Schwarz’s key finding is that rather than talking about dirt or crime, almost everyone identified the bad parts of the neighborhood by noise. “Shchuna” behavior included shouting, socializing loudly, or playing loud music.

While non-residents identified the whole neighborhood by noisy shchuna behavior, student residents often enjoyed the loud music played by their friends, while “judging harshly the lowbrow music played by locals” (223). Schwarz argues these standards of clearly separated private space, the right to live in a quiet neighborhood, and highbrow musical taste all emerged as markers of upper-class status fairly recently (in the 19th century). We could call the students’ views a double standard, but Schwartz goes a little deeper:

…although both students and locals produced loud sounds, these sounds carried different social meanings. Whereas loud party music played by students is considered a merely age-related expression of student lifestyle, the class-specific, stigmatized shchuna sounds of locals… are interpreted as representing cultural and moral deficiencies… Loudness is thus a matter of cultural meanings, not simply of decibels. (227-228)

This research gives us a look at how class can change the way we experience social relationships of all kinds, even experiences beyond sight or touch. It also highlights how certain standards of middle-class behavior are going global and changing urban culture worldwide—Schwartz highlights how the respondents’ stories reflect studies of gentrification in the U.S. and elsewhere. So, before leaving a note or calling the cops, it may be better to check our own volume: Where did we learn to be annoyed by noisy neighbors?

Photo by Ian MacKenzie, Flickr CC

Photo by Ian MacKenzie, Flickr CC

Sexual activity is, for many, one of the defining features of a romantic relationships. While there has been a lot of research investigating sexual activity and its consequences among young people, social science pays little attention to the health and emotional effects of sexual activity for older men and women. Sex among older individuals is particularly relevant because they are more likely to have sex and are more at risk for serious health problems. As such, Hui Liu and colleagues investigate how the sexual activity of older men and women affects cardiovascular risk.

The authors draw from interviews and screenings among individuals 57 to 85 in two waves of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. The participants were asked about frequency of sexual activity and sexual quality — the physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction of sex. The authors used screenings for hypertension, rapid heart rate, elevated C-reactive protein, and general cardiovascular disease events as measures for cardiovascular risk. 

The researchers find that older men who have sex at least once a week have a higher chance of cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack, heart failure, and stroke when compared to men who were sexually inactive. In contrast, the relationship between sex and cardiovascular risk among women has more do with quality than quantity. Older women who report having high quality sexual activity experience better emotional connection and intimacy with their partners, which reduces stress levels and cardiovascular risk, while women who have poor quality sexual relationships or have experienced marital loss are more likely to experience cardiovascular problems due to increased stress. Interestingly, high quantities of sex did not negatively affect older women’s health, and high quality sex did not protect men from cardiovascular risk. These findings challenge the assumption that sex brings uniform health risks and benefits to everyone, and highlight the ways that the gendered dynamics of sexual activity continue into old age. 

Photo by Kelly Teague, Flickr CC

Photo by Kelly Teague, Flickr CC

In 1897, sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote one of the first empirical studies of population health with his book Suicide. Over a hundred years later, students still learn about suicide and its causes from Durkheim. But in a recent study, Anna Mueller and Seth Abrutyn find that the type of suicide that Durkheim found least probable — fatalistic — is actually much more likely to happen today. While Durkheim concluded that suicide was more often caused by a lack of societal regulation or integration, Mueller and Abrutyn find that too much regulation or integration is just as likely to be a cause of suicide today. 

To understand why people commit suicide today, the researchers chose a small, upper-middle class, primarily white community with an unusually high rate of teen suicide — Poplar Grove. They used Poplar Grove as a case study of the social causes of suicide, asking residents about the community’s culture and their own personal understandings of the causes of suicide. The researchers conducted interviews with 71 people who lost loved ones to suicide, as well as with 13 focus groups made up of residents from Poplar Grove. In addition, the interviews included responses from mental health professionals and school personnel, who could act as expert informants about why these teens may have taken their own lives. 

After talking with numerous individuals from the Poplar Grove community, Mueller and Abrutyn concluded that the community’s intense, close-knit social ties created strong pressures for adolescents to conform to high standards of excellence in things like sports and academics. This environment had created a pressure-cooker that drove some teenagers to suicide. While many residents described a warm, caring community where “everybody knows everybody,” the darker side was that the close-knit environment made some people feel constantly under a microscope. Some respondents reported that the individuals they knew who committed suicide achieved great popularity and academic success, but that their support networks also pressured them to maintain appearances and be “ideal citizens.” In Durkheim’s terms, these high levels of social integration and moral regulation can create an environment conducive to “fatalistic” or “altruistic” suicides in which individuals commit suicide because they feel overwhelmed by the expectations of their tight-knit community. This is a troubling finding, and disrupts common assumptions that small towns and tight social networks are always and everywhere good for mental health and social relationships.