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. 

Photo by René C. Nielsen, Flickr CC

Photo by René C. Nielsen,
Flickr CC

While it is well known that social media sites can create and enable “social media bubbles” in which users are only exposed to news that reinforces their beliefs, sites like Facebook and Twitter have also been lauded for expanding our social networks and exposing us to new ideas. This increased exposure to diverse opinions and cultures can, so the thinking goes, challenge pre-existing assumptions and push individuals to reevaluate their beliefs. And a recent study by Paul McClure finds that this is indeed the case for religious beliefs — young adults who use social media are much more likely to find truth in many religions rather than adhere to a strict set of traditional religious beliefs.

McClure uses three waves of data from the National Study of Youth and Religion to test whether time spent on social networking sites (SNS) affects the religiosity of young adults over time. He focuses on two measures to assess whether SNS reinforce or expand religious beliefs  — syncretism and pluralism. Syncretism involves “picking and choosing” different beliefs and practices from a variety of religions to construct a personalized belief system, for example being raised Methodist but also practicing Buddhist meditation. Pluralism, in contrast, is the perspective that all religions are equally valid and that their differences should be minimized. While these terms are related, they are distinct ways of approaching religiosity. As McClure explains, “The judicious syncretist must discern which beliefs and practices to borrow, whereas the pluralist believes that all religions are the same anyway.” Despite these differences, both concepts denote a more open approach to religious differences, and McClure tests how SNS use influences the levels of both in young adults over time.

McClure’s analysis reveals that young adults who use social networking sites are more inclined to exhibit religious syncretism than non-SNS users, but they are not any more or less likely to be religious pluralists. McClure calls this the “Facebook effect” on religion — on social media, religious and spiritual options can become vehicles for self-expression and they are often less constrained by tradition or doctrine. In other words, many young adults treat their religiosity like they do their other “likes” and preferences on social media, and religion functions as a malleable and often inconsistent expression of their personality, morality, and spirituality. Interestingly, social media use does not make young adults any more or less pluralistic. McClure concludes that this is due to the nature of social media itself and the “modern consciousness” that it has enabled. Being syncretistic means that you can be both pluralistic and exclusivist, picking and choosing depending on the situation, and updating your status along the way.

Joshua Kehn, Flickr CC

Joshua Kehn, Flickr CC

Incidents of extreme violence impact both the victim and the perpetrator, but they also affect the greater community in terms of things like increased fear of crime and negative impacts on child development. Johanna Lacoe and Patrick Sharkey detail another key mechanism by which the neighborhood social climate is altered by violent events: the increased interaction of law enforcement and community residents via stop, question, and frisk activity after a violent crime.

Using data from the NYPD on stop and frisk activity and homicide, as well as U.S. Census data on neighborhood demographics, the authors examine the relationship between neighborhood homicides and subsequent police activity. They find that block groups where a homicide is committed experience a 70% increase in stop and frisk events relative to the stop and frisk activity a week before the homicide. This association holds even adjusting for neighborhood characteristics, such as racial/ethnic composition and poverty rate, the time of year the homicide occurred, and the precinct responsible for the homicide response. Further, Lacoe and Sharkey find that the increase in stop and frisk activity is higher in neighborhoods defined as “high crime” (90% increase vs. 68%). However, the increased levels of stop and frisk in both “high crime” and “not high crime” neighborhoods is experienced predominantly in majority black and majority Hispanic neighborhoods. The researchers find no difference in stop and frisk activity before and after a homicide in predominantly white neighborhoods. 

This study illustrates how both the violence a neighborhood experiences and the responses to that violence are disproportionately distributed within the city. Not only are communities of color more likely to experience violence in their communities, but they are also more likely to experience more stop and frisk activity that extends the range of the “crime scene” into the greater community.

Photo by meesh, Flickr CC

Photo by meesh, Flickr CC

The stigma of incarceration often extends beyond the individual and results in unintended consequences for their families. In addition to caregiver transitions, socioeconomic disadvantage, and an increased risk for contact with the criminal justice system, children of incarcerated parents are often deemed “guilty by association.” Yet, we know little about those children who transition into adulthood and receive a college education. Are adult children able to create a prosocial identity outside of their parents’ felony status?

Kate Luther set out to explore this question through interviews with 32 adult children of incarcerated parents in college. She used announcements, emails, fliers, and social media to recruit college students at community colleges, four-year universities, and graduate programs. Her sample of 32 students were between ages 18 to 39, and had at least one parent in prison for a minimum of 6 months before turning 18.

She found that students navigated parental stigma in three distinct ways. First, many attempted to both physically and emotionally distance themselves from their parents. They maintained physical distance by not visiting their parents in prison and emotional distance by changing their last names, not referring to them as “mom” or “dad,” or developing close ties with other adult caregivers, such as grandparents or stepparents. Other participants only separated themselves from their parent’s criminal behavior, while maintaining that he/she was a good father or mother. Second, students viewed their parents as negative role models. They asserted that their parent’s criminal lifestyle motivated them to form an identity outside of criminality so that they would not become like their parent. Lastly, despite the fear of shame and judgement from peers, many students used their parents’ criminal status as a positive factor in developing their identity. They viewed having a parent in prison as an experience that made them who they are today.

Luther’s work shows that adult children of incarcerated parents are not forever bound by that stigma. While their educational environments may require more stigma management, these students often find ways to use their experiences with parental incarceration as a means to create a prosocial identity.

Photo by GrrlScientist, Flickr CC

Photo by GrrlScientist, Flickr CC

The word gossip conjures up images of high school rumor mills, or maybe workplace drama in a corporate break room — we don’t exactly think of prestigious biologists whispering among their microscopes about a colleague’s latest research blunder. However, academic science is no different. Sociologists know that any workplace can have its fair share of gossip, particularly among frustrated colleagues who feel otherwise powerless.

Drawing from interviews with 251 academic scientists in elite and non-elite departments in the United States, United Kingdom, and India, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Simranjit Khalsa, and Elaine Howard Ecklund found that scientists use gossip to police their colleagues. This gossip is often about someone’s sloppy data analysis, unethical research methods, faked co-authorship, or misused funds. It may even warn about a colleague’s tendency to exploit or abuse students, with one interviewee describing a faculty member as “so, so unethical that [they] bea[t] people up and … abus[e] them…throw[ing] sandals and what not!”

The researchers argue that this gossip is not just a way to make small talk around the water cooler, either. In a profession where many are hesitant or unable to formally report, let alone prove, professional transgressions, scientists use gossip as a means to warn newcomers about untrustworthy colleagues and even tarnish the ever-important reputation of a researcher. A sullied reputation can have serious consequences for a scientist, affecting their ability to secure funding, publish in top journals, and even prevent them from receiving promotions.

But gossip’s influence is limited. As with many hierarchical organizations, senior researchers often continue enjoying their power and prestige even when their shoddy work becomes common knowledge through the grapevine. On the other hand, junior faculty are more vulnerable to the harms of gossip, as well as the risks of being labeled untrustworthy should they get caught gossiping themselves. The study ultimately serves as a warning to scientists: gossip may not be as effective as you’d hope, and it can easily backfire. Tread lightly.

The new arena, Rogers Place. Photo by Kurt Bauschardt, Flickr CC

The new arena, Rogers Place. Photo by Kurt Bauschardt, Flickr CC

Debates regarding the use of public funds to construct new world-class sport arenas continue, as some believe it will foster economic and social growth in the host city while others strongly disagree this idea. Yet resistance has proven difficult. In a recent paper, sport sociologist Jay Scherer documented the efforts of one such grassroots organization—Voices of Freedom (VFD) in Canada—in their attempts to stop the Edmonton Oilers hockey arena from 2011 to 2013.

In opposition to the estimated $606.5 million arena for the Edmonton Oilers, concerned citizens formed the VFD to inform the public of the financial concerns regarding the arena. VFD first gained traction when they questioned the conclusions of the City Shaping report because it failed to include the potential pitfalls of constructing a new arena. The organization sought to mobilize public resistance by conducting city-wide telephone surveys, distributing brochures, purchasing billboards, and creating informative websites.

Scherer collected ethnographic accounts of his two-year personal experiences working with the Board of Directors of the VFD. He also conducted in-depth interviews with board members. While initially promising, VFD experienced many difficulties, such as lack of human, financial, and material resources needed to maintain public interest in opposing public funding for the Oilers arena. Additionally, Scherer found that citizens could not fully participate because of the complexity in understanding deliberations associated with development projects. Investors also intimidated board members and citizens who wanted to participate in public debates regarding the arena. These citizens feared personal, financial, and professional ramifications for openly opposing the arena development. Ultimately, VFD ceased of operations.

Scherer’s research highlights the limitations of grassroots organizations such as Voices for Democracy to compete in the political arena when it comes to stopping public funds being used for sport arenas. His work also helps us think about the importance of political officials’ accountability to their communities regarding the use of public funds to support these large projects.