Image: A wooden gavel sits next to a pair of handcuffs and a stack of spread out cash. Judge Gavel, Money And Handcuffs by George Hodan is licensed under CC 1.0.

Court fines and fees  are hardly new, however, their use has increased in recent years. New research from Ilya Slavinski and Becky Pettit suggests that law enforcement agencies have resurrected these “legal financial obligations”  as an additional tool of punishment that targets and constrains the same groups of people that have been historically disadvantaged by incarceration. 

Slavinski and Pettit analyzed data from 254 counties in Texas, a large, diverse state that collected over $1 billion in legal financial obligations in 2016. 

Slavinski and Pettit found that Texas jurisdictions with high Republican voter affiliation issued monetary sanctions at a much higher rate than less conservative regions. This finding parallels prior research that links party identification with incarceration rates. Similarly, they noticed that heavy use of fines and fees was not associated with higher crime rates. This is consistent with research showing that some  “tough on crime” policies are more closely tied to politics, race, and class than they are to crime control. 

The researchers also found that legal fines and fees were disproportionately  administered in predominantly Black and Latinx areas. This builds on previous research that has linked incarceration rates to perceptions of “racial threat.”  

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

Image: A blonde preschool-aged girl stands, speaking and pointing at her brunette classmate’s paper. Her classmate is drawing with a marker. “Two preschool girls doing arts and crafts” by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Student behavior is greatly influenced by peers. While preschool teachers may reward students exhibiting desirable classroom behavior with special titles such as “line leader,” or with physical prizes like candy, they often rely on other students to teach acceptable conduct. Do these peer reinforcements help to build children into disciplined students? Perhaps. However, recent research from sociologist Amy August finds that these methods may have unintended consequences, facilitating social inequalities in schools. 

August observed a preschool class at a private school. The teachers used strategies that allowed children to train one another on appropriate actions by granting or refusing attention and inclusion. Specifically, children were instructed to ignore disruptive students, were excluded from play following prohibited behavior, and were welcomed back into playtime after behavioral improvement. 

Children learned that inclusion and attention are rewarded and can be used to discipline peers, thus promoting social isolation in schools. For example, a child who is upset with their classmate may “punish” that student by excluding them from a game at recess and encouraging others to do the same. While the first student may gain social status from enforcing this exclusion, the student that is left out faces peer rejection that can become a long-term pattern that lowers their self-esteem. 

August’s study points to the idea that peer socialization in schools acts as a double edged sword. While this strategy is often necessary to enforce discipline and encourage appropriate behavior, the approach inevitably facilitates exclusion as well.

Alexandra K. Murphy, Karina McDonald-Lopez, Natasha Pilkauskas, and Alix Gould-Werth, “Transportation Insecurity in the United States: A Descriptive Portrait,” Socius, 2022
People wait in a bus shelter while snow falls. “People in Winter Clothes Standing on a Waiting Shed” by Ömer Faruk Yıldız is licensed under Pexels.

Transportation is essential for everyday responsibilities like grabbing groceries or getting to work on time. But securing transportation can be difficult, particularly for people who live below the poverty line. Sociological research typically considers how poverty interacts with factors such as health, housing, and neighborhood crime, but rarely mentions transportation necessities. 

In a new research study, Alexandra Murphy and colleagues introduce the term transportation insecurity to describe difficulty traveling between places in a safe or timely manner. Experiencing transportation insecurity can include having unreliable, unsafe, or untimely transportation, as well as the emotional strain that can come from transportation problems.

Transportation insecurity is even more prevalent for those living below the poverty line. 53% of impoverished Americans experienced this phenomenon. Impoverished Americans are also most likely to experience the most severe level of transportation insecurity which may entail a higher frequency of car troubles, longer commutes, or other unsafe and inconvenient transportation conditions.

Americans who do not own cars, live in cities, are younger in age, do not have a high school diploma, or are non-white, also experience transportation insecurity more frequently.

One in four people in the United States struggle to secure safe and timely transportation. Over half of poor Americans have unreliable, unsafe, or untimely transportation. Clearly, then, policy aimed at alleviating the challenges of living in poverty needs to address transportation insecurity.

Stefanie Mollborn, Aubrey Limburg, Jennifer Pace, and Paula Fomby, “Family Socioeconomic Status and Children’s Screen Time,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 2022
A white finger scrolls on a smart phone, only the finger is illuminated by the glow. “Untitled” by Japanexperterna.se is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Parents must decide how much “screen time” is okay for their kids and how they are going to control technology use for their families. In new research, Stefanie Mollborn and colleagues examined how higher socioeconomic status (SES) families control their children’s technology use. They were surprised to find that families with higher socioeconomic status don’t set hard limits on technology use. Instead, parents and youth collaborated on setting boundaries around technology. 

Millborn and her team conducted 77 interviews with higher SES families. One of their most basic findings is that parents believe there are good and bad ways of using technology. “Good” uses of technology included reading, information gathering, producing content, developing computer skills, and family time like watching tv or a movie together. “Bad” uses of technology included watching TV content individually and playing non-educational video games. 

Although parents identified “good” and “bad” uses of technology, they didn’t want to set hard limits on technology. The reason? Because they felt this would not help their children learn how to communicate with adults, a skill that they thought would benefit their children when they speak with adults in power outside of the home. 

Instead of setting limits on “bad” technology use, these parents sought to work collaboratively with their children. For instance, when April saw her daughter texting while doing her homework, she didn’t tell her not to do but but instead said: “Use it [technology] when it’s helpful. Have fun with it … but don’t let it consume you.”She then asked her daughter,“How does it feel to be sitting there doing your homework and you ‘get the ding’? Is that distracting? Would you like me to help you with a boundary?”

This study highlights that parents with high socioeconomic status want to communicate about technology with their children, rather than setting hard limits. While parents tried to work collaboratively to set media limits with their children it produced conflict when youth pushed for technology use. Many high-income parents talked about just having to give in to their children at times because of the emotional effort involved in saying “no” so many times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin R. Karney, Jeffrey B. Wenger, Melanie A. Zaber, and Thomas N. Bradbury, Journal of Marriage and Family , 2022
A plastic model of a white and red home sits on top of one hundred dollar bills. (Marcho Verch Professional Photography/flickr/some rights reserved)

Across the United States, campaigns have pushed for higher minimum wages. Many are motivated by the economic benefits of these changes. New research suggests that increasing the minimum wage can also have substantial effects on non-economic domains of life such as marriage rates, family formation, and relationships.

Benjamin Karney and colleagues examined recent data on marriage and divorce rates in cities that had a minimum wage increase of $1 an hour. Their research revealed that small increases in the minimum wage have a significant effect on relationship patterns. Karney and his coauthors uncovered surprising, and somewhat contradictory, patterns.

In cities that raised the minimum wage, for example, there was actually a 5% decrease in marriage rates for men and 4.5% for women. On the other hand, researchers found that divorce rates fell by 10% for men and 7% for women after a year in these same cities.

The authors suggest that these decreasing marriage rates may result from higher minimum wages. When young people are more financially independent they can prolong their search for a better partner. Since marrying later usually results in longer-lasting unions, this change may spell stability for future families. 

Conversely, the researchers speculated that lower divorce rates are also due to worker’s lessened financial stress. By relieving economic concerns, the chances of divorce for couples are lessened.

Increasing minimum wages have many economic benefits. This research show that they also have significant effects on non-economic concerns such as relationships and families. These impacts may differ from our long-held assumptions about relationships. These non-economic changes are important to consider as communities work to raise wages. 

Four images of American flags in different colors are arranged inside of a picture frame. (​​jeanne rené / Flickr; public domain)

In the United States, it might seem like one party has a monopoly on nationalism. But, according to new research from Bart Bonikowski, Yuval Feinstein, and Sean Bock, nationalism mattered in the 2016 election for both Democrats and Republicans.  Bonikowski and colleagues found support for several types of nationalism, with Democrats and Republicans increasingly divided by which type of nationalism they support. They also found that this partisanship has increased over time.

The researchers argue that the radical right does not have a monopoly on nationalism. International research on radical-right politics has focused on forms of nationalism grounded in prejudices and resentment. This research focuses on the many different types of nationalism, each with its own view of national collective identity.

In their paper, Bonikowski and colleagues explored a nationally representative survey from the six days before Election Day 2016. They also looked at data from several representative surveys over the previous two decades. 

The researchers asked how nationalist beliefs impact elections. They found that many candidates’ supporters held nationalist beliefs. However, the kind of nationalism people supported differed by their political orientation. 

In fact, they found that over time  nationalism is increasingly partisan. From 1996 to 2016, believers in different forms of nationalism sorted themselves into different political parties.

The authors argue that partisan division in nationalism may threaten sociopolitical stability. These ideas of nationhood can be powerful and all-encompassing. In a time of considerable political polarization, increasing partisan division on nationalism could erode social solidarity, consensus and political stability.

An eviction notice and a judge’s gavel lie on a wooden surface. (Marco Verch / Flickr; some rights reserved)

As housing prices rise many are struggling to pay rent and face the risk of eviction. Social scientists have documented  many ways eviction harms families. But new research shows that eviction also hurts democratic participation. 

Gillian Slee and Matthew Desmond examined eviction records and voting records from the 2016 election. They found that the higher a neighborhood’s eviction rate, the lower its voter turnout rate.

Specifically, the researchers calculated a neighborhood’s average eviction rate between 2013 and 2015. They found a clear link between high eviction and low voter turnout in both rural and urban areas, as well as in deep blue or deep red states.

The hardship associated with eviction, they argue, puts strain on both the individual or family that gets evicted and on their social networks. For individuals, eviction lowers social trust, causes hardship, and decreases people’s faith in the legal system. These effects ripple through social networks, lowering voter turnout.

The researchers identify several ways this could affect elections or dilute the voting strength of particular groups. For example, renters are more likely to be Democrats, Black or Latino. This means that any link between turnout and eviction could disproportionately affect these groups. 

Their data also show how expanding voting access might reduce the impact of eviction on voting. For instance, they found that eviction’s impact on voter turnout was less significant in states with same-day voter registration. If it’s easier to vote, particularly for people who are “residentially unstable,” then eviction might be less likely to disrupt turnout. 

More broadly, the researchers say that reducing eviction, through policies like establishing a right to counsel or expanding housing vouchers, could potentially increase voter turnout.

Ultimately, what this research shows is that affordable housing isn’t just an economic problem, or an issue affecting individuals and families. Evictions have profound consequences for democracy itself.

Image: A child’s hands put together lego bricks in the center of the image, in the background additional toys lie on a wood floor out of focus. Image via pixio, CC0.

Parents with high levels of education and income spend a lot of money raising their children. They shuttle their kids between violin lessons and soccer practice, fill playrooms with toys designed to aid kids’ development, and squeeze in weekend visits to museums and exhibits. Low-income parents’ money, in contrast, is more tightly stretched, and tends to go towards necessities like bills and food. Can anything be done about these differences and inequalities? New research from Margot Jackson and Daniel Schneider suggests a potential solution, one that involves increased public investment for all kids.

Jackson and Schneider created and analyzed a new data set that links state-level investments in children and families with information on household spending on children over a period of fifteen years. Examples of state-level spending include things like public education, welfare, and Medicaid. Household spending includes purchases of educational books or toys or recreational equipment. They find that when public investment increases, inequality in parental spending on children decreases.

There are two reasons for these promising results. One is that low-income families have more money to spend on their children when public support helps families meet their basic needs. In other words, when income and healthcare are supplemented, families have more money available to invest in their children’s education and development.

At the same time, when there is more universal public investment in resources like schools, high-income parents spend less on their children, more confident in the resources their children are already receiving. In short, increased public investments allow low-income parents to spend more, and high-income parents to spend less.

Those of us who care about inequalities in parental spending on children know that early inequalities set the stage for a lifetime of differences in the opportunities and experiences available to people in their formative years. It can be difficult to imagine how these gaps can be narrowed. This research shows that these inequalities are not fixed or inevitable, and that more public spending on children can help equalize the playing field.  

Image: A black mom kisses a child she holds in her arms, another young child sits next to her. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Smith, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

With the growing price of rent and buying homes in America, the American dream of living and raising children in your own home is becoming inaccessible. In response to unaffordable housing, some families chose to raise their children in the homes of their parents or friends, what is referred to as “doubling up.” While these arrangements allow mothers economic stability, they also bring challenges because of deeply held societal understandings around good parenting.

Hope Harvey sought to understand the challenges that mothers face when trying to raise their children in another person’s household. She interviewed 29 mothers over 3 years (2012-2015). Through her interviews, she found that the mothers’ questioned their identity as adults while “doubling up.” One of the main reasons was that the women felt being in charge of your own home was essential to being a good parent.

One example is TaKayla, who says,” I think that’s important [to have my own home] because I just want to see what it’s like to have my own family…I want my kids to be around me, their father, and just do our own thing. Go through our own holiday celebrations together and experience the whole mommy is getting up, cook dinner and breakfast stuff. See dad going to work, kiss him when he get back home, ‘How was your day?’ Stuff like that. I want to experience that.” We see from Takayla’s description that she feels home ownership affects almost all parent-child interactions. This also connects to other mothers who felt that being a “normal family” is based on white-heterosexual norms and being in charge of your own home. 

Another challenge was hosts (home owners and lease holders) challenging mothers’ parenting by giving children conflicting instructions. One example is Toni, who talked about how she would tell her children,”to go lay down” and rest but then her father, whose home they were living in, would tell the kids to, ”come on, go outside. Go out in the backyard.” 

Women pushed back against these challenges to their identities as adults and mothers. One of the main ways women in the study tried to resist their feelings of inadequacy was to set up private areas in the house where only the mothers and their children could go. They referred to these places as their “apartments” or “ little houses,” and tried to symbolize ownership of these spaces by calling these spaces ”their rooms.”

The second way they protected their motherhood was preventing the hosts from giving conflicting orders to their children. The mothers did this by having conversations with the owners of the home about their parenting expectations. They also told the hosts to let them be the ultimate decision-maker in terms of how to raise their children and to follow their lead. If these arrangements were not agreed upon, the mothers ended the living arrangement. 

The article highlights that while economic resources are currently limiting the ability of mothers to practice a traditional style of parenting, many people still hold traditional understandings of parenting that rely on owning a home or leasing their own apartment. These idealizations create tension for parents living in homes that they do not own or rent themselves. Harvey found that mothers must grapple with this tension every day and find creative ways of fulfilling traditional parenting ideals within their current living situations.