Photo of Cleveland Ohio Police Emergency Rescue SWAT by Raymond Wambsgans, Flickr CC

Modern policing is often characterized by its quasi-militaristic tendencies, from its stated “wars” on drugs and crime to its use armored vehicles and automatic weapons. The Department of Defense 1033 Program, which provides military equipment slated for storage to law enforcement agencies, is a popular route by which police and sheriff’s departments acquire military gear. According to data from the Defense Logistics Agency, the acquisitions of military equipment by state and local law enforcement sharply rose to a peak in 2016, but has declined in recent years. But what explains who participates in the DOD’s program and who acquires the most military equipment?

David Rameyand Trent Steidley investigate the factors that pattern whether law enforcement agencies participate in the program and how much gear they acquire using 1033 program participation and U.S. Census and American Community Survey data. They find that participation in the 1033 — but not the value of gear acquired — is greater in areas of higher violent arrests. They also find that, after controlling for crime rates and other factors, higher Black and Hispanic populations correlate to higher levels of participation and greater value acquired.

However, these racial impacts work in a nonlinear fashion.   Agencies operating in areas very low and very high in minority presence have low probabilities of program participation, but agencies that serve a more diverse community are most likely to obtain military equipment through the 1033 program. For those that do participate, increases in minority populations raised the value of gear agencies used, with each subsequent increase garnering even more gear than the last (an exponential increase). In other words, program participation increases in response to racial demographics up to an extent, but once an agency decides to participate, the value of military equipment requested dramatically increases as minority populations increase.

Police militarization appears to support two key theories. From a classic rational choice perspective, law enforcement agencies respond to increasing crime rates with police militarization, possibly in an attempt to increase the agency’s ability to deter further crime. In contrast, the racial effects found in this study follow  a “minority threat” model, as military acquisitions are patterned by perceptions of racial competition in the presence of racial minority groups. This research illustrates how race, net of the crime rates in an area, can pattern not only where police operate, but how police operate. 

Photo of a man touching his wife's face while she lays in a hospital bed.
Photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Flickr CC

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support doctor-assisted suicide laws. These laws — also known as death with dignity or aid-in-dying laws — allow people with terminal illnesses to request medical assistance to hasten their deaths. Eight states and Washington, D.C. have death with dignity laws and 19 more are considering similar policies. Yet, only about half of Americans believe doctor assisted suicide is moral. New sociological research shows that understandings of a “good death” may help explain these competing views. 

Cindy L. Cain and Sara McCleskey conducted focus groups with 39 people shortly after California’s aid-in-dying law passed. Participants considered the aid-in-dying law good when it eases suffering, takes a burden off family members, and results from an individual’s choice. This is consistent with previous research documenting Western ideals for a good death: pain relief, acceptance, mending of familial and other important relationships, and not being a burden to others. In line with these ideals, participants characterized aid-in-dying laws as bad when their use is seen as suicide or “a way out.”

Not all participants viewed aid-in-dying laws the same way. African American and Latino participants expressed concerns that aid-in-dying laws could mean worse medical care, especially for people who already struggle to access medical institutions, knowledge, and treatment. Some specifically voiced concerns that discrimination would make them targets for an early death.

Death may be a physiological process, but how we understand death is social. Cultural conceptions of what a “good death” entails shape how people make sense of new options for end-of-life care. But even when these options align with understandings of a “good death,” discrimination and resulting distrust of medical institutions can mean that marginalized people do not see aid-in-dying as a safe option.

For more on racial disparities in mortality, check out the Center for Disease Control’s 2017 report.

Photo of pots and bowls filled with food on a kitchen island
Photo by ironypoisoning, Flickr CC

Life moves fast. One area where people are spending less time on housework is in cooking; In new research, Marie Pleszz and Fabrice Etilé describe that people in the United States and France spend less time cooking and eating at home today than in the past. The research also suggests that cooking and eating times have fallen for different reasons in each country.

Piezz and Etilé draw on time-use surveys, a research tool that measures how participants spend their time. Comparing nationally representative samples of households in the United States and France, the researchers find that people in both countries spend approximately 15 to 20 minutes less on cooking per day in 2010 than in 1985. In France, the drop in cooking time was paired with a drop in eating time, while Americans are spending less time cooking per meal. In other words, the amount of time spent cooking in France has remained relatively stable when we compare it to time spent eating at home. On the other hand, Americans are still eating at home, but they spend less time cooking at home to make those meals.  

What drives these changes? The authors find that in France the time drop is primarily caused by an increase in smaller households, as well as eating less at home. Other factors could include cultural factors such as changing practices in the ways people consume food, shifts in gender norms surrounding housework, or the household choice to cook faster recipes in the interest of saving time. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: if you’ve got a lot on your plate, cooking at home is taking up less of the pie.

Photo of high school girls in a science lab by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr CC.

As the school year gets underway, many students are excited to get their schedules and find out which friends will be in their classes fall semester. But who is in their third-period Pre-Calc and seventh-period Physics may matter for more than just socializing. New research shows that friends’ and classmates’ preferences for school subjects influence adolescents’ opinions of STEM subjects, which potentially affects their occupational choice and earnings.

Isabel J. Raabe, Zso´fia Boda, and Christoph Stadtfeld examined Swedish adolescents’ social networks over time to find out how peers influence preferences for STEM subjects. A survey asked students about their favorite subject and who their best friends were in the class, first in eighth grade and then a year later. Controlling for socioeconomic status and cognitive ability, the researchers analyzed and compared the influence of friends and other students on the STEM preferences of boys and girls.

They found that while both boys and girls like what their friends like, social influence on favorite subject was stronger among boys. Since the boys in the sample were mostly friends with boys and the girls were mostly friends with girls, social influence came primarily from same-sex friends. Because boys already tended to prefer STEM subjects more at the start of the study, they were more likely to be exposed to STEM-preferring friends.

Girls, on the other hand, were influenced less by their friends’ favorite subjects than by simply having other girls in their class who preferred STEM subjects. This presence of girls who like STEM seemed to protect female students from negative consequences associated with violating gender norms, like preferring STEM subjects.

Despite Sweden’s policy efforts to reduce gender gaps, gender disparities among engineers and scientists persist. By identifying another factor influencing these disparities, this study can inform new solutions to keep young women in the STEM pipeline.

a boy looks at a book. around his head are math problems and works like "homework," and "calculation"
Max Pixel, CC

Books like The Rise of Women and The End of Men herald the academic success of young women in the United States today, but the image of the “genius” is still male. And fields that emphasize the importance of raw intelligence, like physics, economics, and computer science are still male-dominated. How can both of these social facts co-exist? New research from Michela Musto suggests that racialized and gendered classroom management practices in schools may be part of the problem. How teachers respond to talking out of turn establishes a hierarchy of intelligence in middle school classrooms, where high-achieving white boys are considered “brilliant” and more exceptional than girls, and low-achieving Black and Latino boys are viewed as “bad.”

Musto spent 2.5 years observing in a public middle-school in Los Angeles, talking to over 190 racially-diverse students. This article examines patterns of rule-breaking, especially talking out of turn, in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade math classes. In higher-level courses, which overwhelmingly consisted of white and Asian students, boys monopolized classroom discussions in eighth grade because teachers tolerated their interruptions and regularly allowed them to challenge their female classmates in sixth and seventh grade. Musto’s data shows that this disparity in who acts as the expert in high-level classrooms contributes to a belief among eighth-grade girls and boys that boys are more exceptionally intelligent than girls.

In lower-level courses, dominated by Black and Latino students, harsh discipline from teachers caused disengagement for some eighth-grade boys. Musto observed that students came to see Latino boys as the “dumbest” kids in school because teachers repeatedly challenged their competency, and high levels of policing left Latino boys academically disengaged. Race also mattered in higher-level classes because teachers tolerated non-academic interruptions from white boys, but not Asian ones. 

Taken together, racialized tracking and teacher response to students helps us understand the continued sense among students that while girls are smart, the truly exceptional students are white boys.

The photo shows a large room with a person standing on a stage at a microphone and an audience sitting in chairs in front of the stage. The audience and speaker appear to be white.
Photo of a community meeting by Fabrice Florin, Flickr CC

In general, Americans are positive about the idea of “diversity.” Yet, they may also have mixed, ambivalent feelings about living in a diverse area. In a recent article, Erin Hoekstra and Joseph Gerteis show that people express their mixed feelings through discussions of social order and civic engagement. This “civic talk” allows people to speak positively about the idea of diversity while also expressing misgivings about their changing neighborhoods and the presence of new, different groups.

The authors conducted fieldwork and interviews in neighborhoods in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis in the summer of 2003. Each neighborhood was fairly racially homogenous. In Los Angeles and Minneapolis, the neighborhoods were over 75% white, while the neighborhood in Atlanta was over 75% Black. The authors coded their field-notes and interviews to illustrate how people discussed diversity as an ideal in tension with their accounts of personal experiences.

Participants frequently said that diversity was a positive, harmonious characteristic of their neighborhood. However, several people also discussed discomfort with others in their neighborhood and challenges associated with diversity. In identifying misgivings, participants used two aspects of civic life to voice their concerns. First, residents brought up the concept of “social order” to identify groups or newcomers who they associated with causing trouble or violating neighborhood rules. Second, residents would discuss a groups’ lack of “civic engagement,” such as not participating in the neighborhood association. By using “civic talk,” residents maintained a positive orientation toward diversity in the United States, while simultaneously voicing their misgivings or apprehension about living in a more diverse area.

A student sits in a booth crouched over a laptop with a hand in their hair.
Image by Tim Gouw from Pixabay

In a recent interview, Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks confessed: “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”

Some highly successful people frequently feel like impostors—that they have attained their status through luck, not merit. Psychological research on impostor syndrome has treated it as a durable personality trait that comes from within and does not change based on context. Sociologists counter that imposter syndrome should be thought of as a social process. The social environment — such as organizational rules, incentives, and culture — structures interactions between people and affects the development of impostor syndrome.

Researchers Emma Cohen and Will McConnell surveyed 1,476 graduate students at a midwestern university to examine the relationship between the graduate school environment and impostor syndrome. They discovered three factors in the graduate students’ perceptions of their departments that influence feelings of impostorism:

  • Mentorship: Survey results showed that students who experience higher-quality mentoring report lower fears of impostorism. Because grad students are often expected to excel in research and teaching while completing their studies, objective metrics like test scores and letter grades give only a narrow view of student performance. A quality mentor fills the gap by giving a graduate student specific and helpful feedback to identify strengths and areas for growth. Lacking a mentor, or having a strained relationship with a mentor, opens space for self-doubt.
  • Competition: Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that students who perceive greater funding competition score higher on the impostor syndrome scale. Some graduate departments guarantee funding for all admitted students. In others, students must compete for assistantships and fellowships. The latter type of department leads many students to feel inferior to the few students who are awarded funding, even if they may be successful by other metrics.
  • Isolation: The study showed that students who feel isolated are more likely to feel inadequate. When graduate students are able to talk openly with others in their program, they may realize that feelings of self-doubt are common. This can help them to persevere and form more realistic self-evaluations.

Graduate schools can do more to help their students than offering individual strategies to overcome self-doubt. Training faculty to be good mentors, celebrating a variety of student achievements, and creating opportunities for students to connect with each other, can reduce feelings of fraudulence among their talented students.

A group of seven vietnam veterans, wearing vietnam t-shirts. one is in a wheelchair, the others stand around him.
Photo by deveion acker, Flickr CC

Veterans Affairs (VA) has had it’s fair share of scandals — including 2014’s scandal about massive wait times in its healthcare system. A new policy now allows U.S. veterans to seek care outside of traditional VA hospitals in an attempt to reduce the wait time — still a month or more — for veterans seeking treatment. New research explores the long-term consequences of combat experience for veterans’ health and finds that worsening physical and mental health outcomes later in life are not directly related to combat experience (i.e., a physical injury suffered during combat or PTSD that directly results from combat). Instead, poor health can result from a variety of social and psychological processes in veterans’ lives after returning home.

Jason Schnittker used data from the 2010 National Survey of Veterans to understand how combat experience relates to poor health. Respondents reported their physical health (whether they needed help with basic activities) and mental health (whether they had been treated for a psychiatric disorder in the past six months). Schnittker restricts the analysis to veterans who served during the draft era (prior to 1974) and excludes veterans with service-related disabilities.

Veterans who had combat experience (service in combat or a war zone) and had contact with  dead and wounded reported worse health than those who only reported combat experience. Further, those with combat experience reported worse health than those who only served during years of active combat operations.  

Psychiatric disorders explain part of the relationship between exposure to the dead or wounded and poor health outcomes. Not all health effects are the result of trauma, though — feeling unprepared for the transition back to civilian life, social relationships, and smoking behavior also explain a significant portion of the relationship between combat experience and poor health.

This research demonstrates that veteran’s health outcomes — especially physical health — involve a variety of psychological and social processes. For example, veterans whose experiences in civilian life diverge significantly from their experiences as a service member may find it difficult to reconcile their military service with their new roles and identities in civilian life. Schnittker believes this research can also help inform transitions out of other “total institutions,” like prisons, or even out of significant social roles. Understanding the unique experiences of veterans will be even more important as veterans begin seeking care outside of veteran-specific hospitals. 

Photo by Sarah-Rose, Flickr CC

Party animals are finally proving their point. Meeting the love of our lives, forgiving a friend, or even rethinking the way we experience ourselves are more likely to happen at a party than when washing dishes at home. In a new study, Alice Goffman casts her sociological eye on how social occasions — from drinks in a bar to birthday parties — can turn into transformative experiences.

Like a kaleidoscope, the nitty-gritty details of how people organize their events, their motivations to attend, the proper social norms, and what is required for social occasions to succeed follow intricate patterns. To interpret their complexity, Goffman and her research team deployed several strategies:

Goffman started to take notes and interview attendees when she attended social occasions in 2009. In addition, during the fall 2017 semester, 15 undergraduate students wrote weekly event journals as part of a college course and shared these diaries to be analyzed in the study. Finally, Goffman’s research team turned to The New York Times’ marriage section, online websites, and literary work for accounts of turning points and transitions in people’s lives. Goffman’s notes, undergraduates’ diaries, and people’s experiences helped her to understand social occasions as platforms for the emergence of life-changing moments.

Social occasions range from a visit to the doctor to the celebration of a bar mitzvah. Some of these events — parties especially — represent a special realm where people design exceptional atmospheres by decorating, dressing up, or displaying outstanding cooking. The ambiance aims to relax existent social boundaries and release attendees from the mundane pressures of everyday life. Likewise, gatherings bring together disparate people who share similar social connections, interests or activities, and create a sense of communion. The combination of heightened energy, social commonalities, and collision of divergent words gives people an opportunity to perceive things differently and think differently about themselves. Parties reinvent friendships, launch marriages, and boost professional careers by prompting people to revisit their personal plans and discovering new social connections.

Social occasions do not always run smoothly. As energy and relaxation go up, people become more vulnerable to moments of acute disrespect or embarrassment, causing lasting damage for social relationships. Social occasions also force participants to reveal their social preferences and personal rankings, so gatherings become de facto popularity contests based on, for instance, who is included in the guests lists or who gets social attention. Social norms around greetings, proper topics of discussion, or how to dance competently challenge guests to perform a complex’ choreography that others will watch and judge. People in parties thus discover their and others’ social relevance.

Social occasions have a flip side too. Racial discrimination, lack of economic or social capital, or not having an able body generate invisible restrictions to accessing and experiencing social occasions. Future research is required to identify how structural inequalities limit access to these transformative experiences.

Jill E. Yavorsky, Lisa A. Keister, Yue Qian and Michael Naud, “Women in the One Percent: Gender Dynamics in Top Income Positions,” American Sociological Review, 2019
Photo by Tim Sackton, Flickr CC

If you make at least $859,000 per year in 2016 dollars, you’re part of the “one percent”– the top 1% of income earners in the United States. According to a recent study by Jill E. Yavorsky, Lisa A. Keister, Yue Qian and Michael Naud, you’re most likely to be part of the one percent if you’re a highly educated, white, married or cohabiting man or woman in your 50s, but individuals that don’t match those characteristics are much less likely to be.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances from 1995 to 2016, which includes 40,418 one-percent households. They examine whether there has been a change in the gender makeup of the one percent and how many households in the one percent rely on women’s income to remain in this top category.

In 2016, only 4.5% of elite households rely on women’s income for one-percent status. While this number has increased modestly since 1995 — when only 1.7% of households relied on women’s income — a financial glass ceiling remains intact at the one percent level, and gender progress has effectively “stalled” for these women since the mid-1990s.

Education, employment, age, and race affect whether households fall in the top one percent, but their analysis show key differences between men and women:  

  • Higher education. A higher percentage of both married and single men and women in the top one percent of households are highly educated, compared with those in the full population. 
  • Self-employment. Men and women in the top one percent are much more likely to be self-employed than those in the general population. Married men are much more likely to be self-employed than married women. 
  • Age. Married and single men and women in one percent households are older, on average, than the general population. The average age for single women is 63, which is 9 to 12 years older than others in the one percent. 
  • Race. Households in the top one percent are less racially diverse than households in the general population: Of married households in the top one percent, had respondents who identified as nonwhite, while only 3% of single-women households did.

In short, the same variables matter for both men and women, but key differences illustrate a continued gender imbalance.