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.

Pride Parade in Kyiv 2017. Photo by Arrideo Photography, Flickr CC

Originally published October 10, 2018

At the international level, the advancement of sexual minorities’ rights often result from advocacy by broad international human rights groups, like Amnesty International, or from international organizations specializing in LGBT issues. In a recent study, Kristopher Velasco investigated which of these two types of organizations is more effective at influencing the national adoption of progressive LGBT policies.

To measure the success of LGBT causes at the national level, Velasco created a LGBT Policy Index of national laws that impact people with different sexual orientations, gender identities, or who engage in same-gender sexual practices. The Index is higher in countries that have enacted bans on employment discrimination, established hate-crimes protections, or legalized same-sex unions. Velasco then gathered data from 156 countries for the period between 1991 and 2015 . The study compares the relationship between the Index and the global emergence of human rights international organizations and LGBT international organizations, as well as the overall effect of the mounting global support for LGBT rights.

Velasco finds that the LGBT Policy Index has dramatically risen since 1990. For example, bans on employment discrimination increased from less than 1% of countries in 1991 to over 32% in 2015. Velasco also finds that the emergence of national LGBT policies is significantly associated with the global emergence of organizations specifically concerned with LGBT rights, and it was not significantly associated with the presence of broader international human rights organizations. In addition, the positive effect of LGBT international organizations increases when considering the mounting support for LGBT rights in the global context. For instance, as the United Nations expresses growing concern to sexual orientation and gender identity, political leaders are more likely to adopt progressive LGBT policies.

In short, globalization and mobilization of international organizations — especially those concerned with particular issues — play a key role in whether nations adopt LGBT-friendly policies.

Emily Huddart Kennedy, Christine Horne, “Do Green Behaviors Earn Social Status?,” Socius, 2019
Black and white photo of a large commercial plane just above the ground as if it is landing or taking off.
Photo by Bernal Saborio, Flickr CC

In Sweden, many are opting out of air travel due to “flying shame” (“flygskam”) an abashedness about using transportation that relies on fossil fuel. Instead, travelers interested in climate-smart travel are going by rail in record-breaking numbers, prompting Swedes to coin new terms for “train bragging” (“tagskryt”) and “flying in secret” (“smygflyga”).

Given that environmentally friendly practices like train travel are more often expensive and time-consuming than the alternative, it is a bit of a mystery why people are willing to adopt them. New research on the United States shows that certain eco-friendly behaviors may signal higher social status. And in the United States — given the politicization of environmental issues — it is unclear whether conservatives and liberals evaluate green consumption in the same way.

Emily Huddart Kennedy and Christine Horne used interview and survey data to investigate how American adults judge the social status of people who engage in eco-friendly behaviors like reducing consumption and consuming green products (low-energy refrigerators, solar panels, and hybrid vehicles). They also asked respondents if they thought Democrats and Republicans were likely to view people who engage in eco behaviors as having higher statuses.

Respondents in both political camps expected that only Democrats would rate green consumers as having higher social status. However, their predictions were incorrect. The researchers found that green consumption is a status symbol for both conservatives and liberals alike, but reducing consumption is not. In addition, respondents on both sides of the political aisle granted status to green consumption because they associate it with wealth. Conservatives, however, were more likely to associate green consumption with knowledgeability, while liberals associated it with morality.

The connection between consumption behaviors and social status may help to explain why many people opt to conspicuously consume green forms of travel and energy rather than reducing consumption. This study also helps us to understand how conservatives and liberals agree and disagree about eco-friendly consumption, and may suggest new ways to motivate households to reduce their environmental footprint.

Photo of elementary school students standing by their desks working with construction paper.
Photo by K.W. Barrett, Flickr CC

Millions of students each year are suspended or expelled from school, sometimes in response to minor, non-violent policy violations such as skipping class and “disruptive behavior.” These harsh policies disproportionately push out students from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially youth of color. Much of the research on this topic focuses on middle and high school students. However, a new study by Wade Jacobsen, Garrett Pace, and Nayan Ramirez shows that a surprising number of urban students are already impacted by the third grade.

The researchers used data from several thousand children in 20 large American cities to document how many were suspended or expelled by age 9. Overall, 11% of children were removed from school at least once by this age. However, there were stark race and gender inequalities in elementary school discipline. Only 8% of white boys and 2% of white girls were suspended or expelled, compared with 40% of black boys and 15% of black girls.

Next, the researchers wanted to understand what factors are driving inequalities in early school discipline. They found that racial disparities were not due to differences in behavior reported by parents. Instead, disparities were mostly explained by school disciplinary practices and family background, such as poverty and parental incarceration.

Exclusionary discipline is intended to punish and reduce aggressive behavior. However, the researchers showed that children who were suspended or expelled became more physically aggressive after they returned to school. They suggest that suspension and expulsion disrupt routines at home and cause children to fall behind at school, and this increased stress may lead to poor behavior.

While exclusionary discipline may sometimes be necessary to ensure student safety, there can be little disagreement that pushing kids out of schools when they are still learning to read is a practice that should be reconsidered. Finding effective alternatives to exclusionary discipline for non-violent behavior at an early age could improve racial equity in life-long educational outcomes.

Photo of young students writing at a long table. The student closest to the camera is an African American boy with glasses and a green shirt.
Photo by Amanda Mills, USCDCP. Pixnio, CC

“Broken-windows” policing was a popular policing strategy in the 1990s that emphasized aggressive policing of low-level crimes as a way to reduce more serious crimes in an area. However, broken-windows policing led to racial disparities in stops and arrests in many cities where it was implemented. Recent research by Joscha Legewie  and Jeffery Fagandemonstrates that such disparities in police stops and arrests can have far-reaching impacts on youth educational performance. Specifically, they found that in New York City, broken-windows policing led to diminished educational successes among African American boys in particular.

Legewie and Fagan tested the effect of policing program, “Operation Impact,” which began in 2004. Over its 10 years in existence, Operation Impact targeted high-crime areas of the city for increased stop-and-frisks of pedestrians and officers were encouraged to make arrests for low-level offenses. Legewie and Fagan argue that Operation Impact could have two potential impacts on educational performance among youth: 1) it could lead to major reductions in crime which could increase academic performance in high-crime areas or 2) it could diminish educational achievement due to negative direct and indirect contacts with police.

The authors employ data from two major sources to test this relationship: a database of NYC student records from 2003 to 2012 and NYPD data on pedestrian stops, crime complaints, and arrests during Operation Impact from 2004 to 2012. They adopt a difference-in-differences analytic approach to assess the before and after impacts of Operation Impact on crime and educational performance. The NYPD expanded, moved, removed, or added impact zones every six months during implementation of Operation Impact, which allowed Legewie and Fagan to estimate the causal effect of the program on youth educational performance by accounting for other neighborhood factors that could confound their findings.

Operation Impact lowered educational performance of black boys in the neighborhoods affected, especially those between the ages of 13 to 15. They find that this reduced educational performance was related to decreased school attendance among African American boys, suggesting that this form of system avoidance may be partly to blame for bad test scores.

This research demonstrates how broken-windows policing strategies have had far-reaching consequences for opportunity gaps in education. The analysis suggests that while Operation Impact reduced violent and property crime rates, its costs to students’ educational success outweighed these crime reductions.