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While support for gay marriage has grown steadily over the past 15 years, 31% of adult Americans still oppose it. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that it is harmful to children, and they some have cited social science studies to support this claim. This has been the subject of much controversy, with the American Sociological Association (ASA) filing an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in 2015 to weigh in on the issue. Yet new research by Deni Mazrekaj, Kristof De Witte, and Sofie Cabus challenges these claims. Their study is the first large-scale nationally representative study to examine the school performance of children raised by same-sex parents from birth.

Mazrekaj and coauthors use government administrative data from the Netherlands, which was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. The researchers followed children born between 1998 and 2007, tracking their school performance until 2019. This differs from previous studies with smaller sample sizes or those that have relied on U.S. Census data. Previous studies included children born to different-sex parents, who then divorced before entering into same-sex unions. Parental separation is known to have negative impacts on children’s wellbeing, so this method of counting same-sex couples likely skewed earlier results. The unique contribution of this study is the ability to directly compare children raised by same-sex parents from birth with those of different-sex parents. 

The authors find that children raised by same-sex parents from birth performed significantly better than their peers on standardized tests and were nearly 7% more likely to graduate from high school. The same-sex parents in this study tended to have a higher socioeconomic status, which is shown to have positive outcomes on children’s school performance. This makes sense given the high investment of time and resources required for same-sex couples to have children. Kids of same-sex couples still slightly outperformed their peers, even when the data were adjusted to control for socioeconomic factors.

This study directly challenges the claim that children of same-sex couples fare worse than their peers with different-sex parents. It shows that children’s wellbeing does not depend on the gender or sexual orientation of their parents, making it that much harder to argue against equal access to marriage and parenthood.

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From 1900 to 1978, between 25 to 35% of American Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes. Federal officials used this practice to colonize indigenous lands and undermine tribal sovereignty. In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) which created new legal protections for Native children in child welfare cases. At the time, this legislation was considered “the most far-ranging [Indian rights] legislation ever enacted.” Despite this legislative success, American Indians continue to be disproportionately represented in foster care, continuing the legacy of child removal.

Under the ICWA, state officials must determine whether or not a child is American Indian In order to apply these new legal protections.How do state agencies and officials decide if a child is American Indian? Hana Brown examines how state child welfare agencies, state courts, and federal courts implemented the Indian Child Welfare Act between 1978 and 2018. Analyzing state archival data, she explores how these agencies identify Native children and the consequences of those everyday decisions.

Brown explains that American Indians are classified as both citizens of sovereign tribal nations and as racialized minorities. Although the ICWA applies to citizens of tribal nations, caseworkers and public officials often applied the law based on race, not citizenship. For example, a caseworker may think a child “does not look Native” and marks them as non-Native. By assuming who “looks Native,” the caseworker treats citizenship status as something that is visible. In doing so, they racialize American Indians. When state workers misclassify Native children, they deny the sovereign legal rights of both individual children and tribes. In short, this misclassification strips away the tribe’s agency in child welfare cases of their own citizens, halting the progress of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Native children have a unique set of legal protections due to tribal sovereignty. While the ICWA combats the legacy of child removal in American Indian communities, the application of the law does not always enable these added protections. This research shows how legislation advancing racial justice or tribal sovereignty is often just a first step toward equality. The force of such laws is determined by the small, everyday moments in which the rules are applied. Without this analysis, we overlook how state actors may reproduce inequality and undermine sovereignty, even when they attempt to rectify it.

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, families are especially reliant on prior wealth (savings, home equity, other assets) to deal with potential changes in income and health. But the racial wealth gap is extreme, with Black Americans holding only 2.6% of wealth in the United States. Disparities in wealth, a household’s assets minus its debts, are a key source of generational inequality. Wealth disparities are greater between Black and White households, and in a recent article, Christine Percheski and Christina Gibson-Davis find that racial wealth inequality is even greater for a key group: families with children.

Percheski and Gibson-Davis examine nationally-representative data collected by the Federal Reserve. The Survey of Consumer Finances took place every three years between 2004 and 2016. This data set indicates that the gap between Black and White households with children (child households) is bigger than the gap between general Black and White households at every level of wealth; although both gaps are quite large. In 2016, the median Black child household had only one cent in wealth for every dollar that the median White child household held. This means $294 in wealth for the median Black child household and $47,250 for the median White child household. 

In dollars the disparity is most dramatic when comparing the wealthiest households. For example, Black child families in the 90th percentile hold $69,773 in wealth as compared to $565,700 for White child families at the same percentile. But the biggest relative gaps (the smallest ratio of wealth between Black and White child families) are at the bottom of the wealth spectrum. Black-White differences in wealth have grown since 2004, and they have grown more quickly for households with children. 

Wealth differences are not primarily a story of jobs. Income differences between Black and White families with children have not changed since 2004. Since 2004, Black families with children have seen a decline in home ownership and home equity levels and an increase in educational debt. These changes hit Black families more than White and Hispanic families, and by 2016, Hispanic child households had greater wealth than Black child families. This research indicates that the recovery from the 2008 recession was especially limited for Black families with children, which makes these families particularly vulnerable to economic disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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Since the 2016 presidential election violent hate crimes have risen by over 12% in America’s largest cities. It is not unusual for hate crimes to rise during election years, but they typically decrease quickly in the following year. For the first time in American history, however, hate crimes continued to rise after the last election. Hate crimes, or violent crimes committed against someone due to their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or national origin, are not simply individual acts. They are also symptomatic of racial power dynamics and are employed to reestablish a group’s dominance.

Using federal violent hate crime statistics and data on US federal government actions from 1992 to 2012, Laura Dugan & Erica Chenoweth examine this phenomenon. They ask how the federal government’s expressions of support or opposition to racial and ethnic minorities, such as affirmative action policies or hostile rhetoric towards immigrants, affect hate crimes rates.  

The authors find that when political gains are made by Black Americans, they are more likely to be targets of hate crimes. For example, when the government supports civil rights protections, hate crimes against Blacks people increase. Conversely, when politicians engage in hate speech against immigrant populations, demonizing and degrading these groups, hate crimes against Latinx folks increased.

These findings suggest that hate crimes that target Black people are used to reestablish White dominance because they occur when Black people have made political progress and are consequently seen as a political threat. This differs for Latinx persons. Hate crimes are more likely to target Latinx persons when politicians support anti-immigration policies or use hate speech.

These findings show how political actions aimed at minorities (such as protection measures and hate speech) may result in hate crimes, but these actions affect Black people and Latinx communities differently. The authors suggest this may be because Whites view Black people as “insiders,” and therefore, as a greater political threat. Alternatively, while Latinx persons may be seen as less politically threatening “outsiders,” the racist and exclusionary language of officials can encourage violence against Latinx targets.

This article cautions us that government actions and hate speech among elites have serious consequences and may in fact motivate Americans to commit hate crimes. In this election season, this research demonstrates the important role of government actions in driving violence against racial and ethnic minority groups.

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In 2016, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. This support was suprising due to his insensitive remarks about women and the Republican Party’s documented opposition to women’s issues, including abortion and paid family leave. In a recent article, Abigail Vegter and Margaret Kelley show how religious beliefs and a fear of “supernatural evil” inform women’s support for another mainstay of the Republican Party: Gun Ownership.

From 2018-2019, the authors conducted 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in gun ranges in Northwest Kansas. They spoke with 62 shooters and gun owners, the majority of whom were women. They show that fear of a supernatural evil and gun use are linked by a narrative of Christian duty to protect what they see as their vanishing way of life. 

The female shooters touched on gendered notions of care and familial protection in justifying their views and actions. Building on the notion of supernatural evil, interviewees revealed a sense of threat from both satanic forces and an overreaching government which, they believe, justifies their self-protection. For these religious women, their religious duty merges with their duty as caretakers and mothers. For instance, Vegter and Kelley show how the belief in a “Satanic force,” including Armageddon, hell, and demons has profoundly personal implications, demanding the protection of their children’s “endangered innocence”. 

Women gun-users comprise the majority of respondents in the interview sample, authors disproportionately highlight narratives of male shooters in their findings. Intriguingly, they note the difficulty in recruiting male interview respondents, fearing their spouses’ judgement. Even among male shooters, similar motivations are at play when it comes to gun use, including the duty to be diligent against supernatural elements, and to protect their families from shifting cultural values. Citing cultural loss, respondents made clear their resolve to defend their way of life, even if it involved using lethal force.  For example, they drew on conservative cultural touchstones from the blockbuster American Sniper to the ongoing debate on religion in classrooms, to argue that they needed guns to protect them in the spiritual battle against cosmic forces. Gun owners saw it as their duty to preserve “good” from creeping “evil.”

Taken together, theological belief and notions of the supernatural still serve as unique indicators of policy choices. The issue of guns and self-protection takes shape in the cognitive and spiritual levels, but closely informs both cultural choices – such as consumption patterns – and political worldviews. According to these shooters, a vanishing way of life and a creeping supernatural evil in their lives required the duty to defend, be diligent, and protect themselves and their loved ones at all costs, including the use of deadly force. Consistent with prior research, respondents preferred less restrictive gun control measures alongside religious freedom policies and government deregulation. With rich interview and ethnographic data, Vegter and Kelley show how the metaphysical and spiritual interact, producing a host of coherent policy preferences.

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In rural Coffeyville, Kansas, residents have a routine for handling the town’s public library’s waiting list for its WiFi hotspot lending program. “As soon as you turn it in,” one person said, “you put your name back on the waiting list.” With almost 50 people on the list, it might be another month before you can get a one-week hotspot rental again.

The Coffeyville library was one of 24 rural libraries that joined a New York Public Library pilot program for hotspot lending. A team of researchers gathered qualitative and quantitative data from 18 libraries in rural Kansas and six in rural Maine. All told, the research team interviewed more than 100 people, including school and government officials, librarians and other library officials and community members who participated in the lending program. This project focused on two research questions: (1) How do people experience hotspot connectivity in the context of their normal patterns of access and information seeking?; (2) How do hotspot adoption and use affect these communities? 

For the communities that participated, the researchers found that improved Internet connectivity was valuable for many reasons. Most frequently cited was the value of social connection, staying in touch with family and friends, via Facebook or Skype. Without the hotspots, participants said they miss out on important moments, gossip and news. Additionally, the hotspots provided assistance for childhood education, work and entertainment (music, Netflix, etc) and offered privacy to conduct personal tasks (banking, health services, finding work, shopping, etc). Ultimately, the authors find hotspot lending programs provide a much-needed and valuable community service. 

In fact, several of the libraries felt the pilot program, initially funded by the New York Public Library, was valuable enough for the libraries to find funding to continue the service. Almost 20% of the United States population lives in rural spaces, and around 36% of the rural population lacks access to fixed broadband, according to the researchers. Only 4% of the urban population lacks such standard connections. In many rural communities, the only reliable broadband access is at government centers or libraries, where residents can “check out” the Internet. 

Rural residents often face what the authors call a “vexing communication environment,” where broadband access is limited, cell phone signal is spotty (at best), and digital literacy is lacking because residents simply don’t have ready access to the Internet. These issues create inequalities, in education, economic development and community building, among others. This research suggests that a hotspot lending programs may be part of the solution to solve our nation’s growing digital divide. The findings demonstrate the value of the hotspot programs but also show they may still be insufficient. Said the Coffeyville, Kansas, participant of the month-long hotspot waiting list: “It’s worth it, just for that week of getting to stay connected.” 

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The practice of placing students in classes below or above their ability level is called mismatching–and while it may sound bad, it is often done deliberately and can be beneficial. For example, “overmatching”–when students are placed in more advanced classes than their previous performances would ordinarily merit–can actually improve performanceat the college level, as overmatched college students tend to rise to the occasion and succeed. But, does mismatching occur earlier on, in the middle school years? And is overmatching always the most advantageous position?

Fitzpatrick and Mustillo use nested, state-wide standardized testing data in their recent study to answer these questions. Starting with end-of-year test scores from Grade 5, and comparing scores in Grades 6-8, the authors find substantial mismatching does occur in middle school, with some students being more than a full grade level above or below their classmates in ability level. The most consistent predictor of mismatch was a poverty indicator. Non-poor students tended to be overmatched and poor students tended to be undermatched. And the outcomes of these mismatches are consequential and revealing.

When students are undermatched in these middle school years, their learning is slowed, and in the end, they underperform in all subjects. This means poorer students, who tend to be placed in classes below their demonstrated past ability, consistently show diminished growth. And while middle schoolers tend to benefit from being overmatched in math, the authors find that overmatching is detrimental in language arts. 

These findings suggest that all middle school students perform best when sorted into the most advanced math class possible, an opportunity more likely to be given to non-poor students. Alternatively, students perform best in language arts only when appropriately matched, which seems to not happen for most students. These findings call into question school sorting practices which appear to disproportionately undermatch poorer students and overmatch non-poor students. While schools and parents may think undermatching or even overmatching is beneficial, intentional mismatching seems to be harmful for most middle schoolers despite their economic status.

1 out of every 3 children will have their families investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) over the course of their childhood. Many of these children come from poor families and/or families of color. Investigations by CPS are often invasive. Investigators enter family homes and ask probing questions. But through these investigations, CPS is also able to assess and respond to the needs of families, oftentimes concluding that child abuse did not occur.

Drawing on observation of 37 CPS cases, including interviews with investigators, mothers, and ethnographic observation of two Connecticut CPS offices, Kelley Fong argues that it is a combination of care and coercion that brings CPS investigators into so many family homes. CPS investigators can often provide much-needed resources to families that are otherwise difficult to access, such as care for mental health, as long as families comply with CPS’ demands.

Workers at schools, doctors’ offices, and social service agencies realize that many families and children need assistance that they are unable to provide. In response, such workers file reports with CPS even when they do not believe that abuse is occurring, in hopes that CPS will offer families the kind of tangible support that they are unable to offer.

However, the intervention of CPS is also coercive and intrusive. While CPS can provide access to resources, this help is offered alongside the threat that the agency will separate children from their parents. The anxiety and fear sparked by an investigation can make parents wary of interacting with any institution that may refer families to CPS, including schools, doctors’ offices, or social service agencies.

In the United States, a weak social safety net means that families are left with few options for receiving support. A referral to Child Protective Services is one of the few options left for administrators who are aware of the challenges children and families face at home. However, CPS investigations also bring fear and worry to these families and may marginalize them from the institutions of social life, such as their children’s school. Strengthening social support programs outside of CPS would allow families to get needed help from concerned professionals without intruding into and threatening family life.

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Wage inequality in the United States has been increasing for four decades, and there are documented wage gaps by education, race, and gender. But new research shows that as big as wage inequality is in the United States today, benefit inequality is worse. And these gaps especially affect low-income Americans. 

The United States is unusual in that retirement benefits, health care, and paid leave are tied to employment rather than provided by the federal government. Employer-based benefits such as pension plans and employer-based health care therefore are not simply “extras,” but instead are the core of how Americans access health and other well-being resources. 

Just as some jobs pay much higher wages than others, some jobs come with much more extensive benefit packages. To examine the pattern within these benefit packages, Tali Kristal, Yinon Cohen, and Edo Navot examined the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Employer Costs for Employee Compensation microdata. These data include the hourly cost of benefits for a nationally representative sample of jobs. The jobs are linked to employers, allowing researchers to track employer practices over time in a variety of sectors.

Looking at the time period between 1982-2015, inequality in benefits grew more than twice as fast as inequality in wages. Benefit inequality is larger than wage inequality both between and within workplaces (meaning both when comparing line workers at two different companies and when comparing a janitor to a CEO). Benefit inequality is only slightly higher than wage inequality within workplaces — largely because both are so high and have grown so much since the 1980s. But between-workplace inequality was almost six times higher in total benefits than in wages, indicating that the measure of a good job is more about benefits than the weekly paycheck. 

Why has benefit inequality grown? The authors have two answers: the decline of unions and the increase in nonstandard employment practices. Fewer and weaker unions mean less employee pressure for employers to provide strong benefits. Unions are especially effective at advocating for more equality in benefits, so the loss of union power is felt more in benefits than in wages. In addition, changes to employment practices including classifying more workers as independent contractors, temporary, or part-time mean that fewer workers qualify for generous benefit packages. A key part of these authors’ analysis is that workplaces have more control over the setting of benefits than the setting of wages, making benefits an easier place to decrease total compensation. 

While wage inequality is mostly a story of the richest Americans separating themselves from the middle-class, benefit inequality is largely a story of low-income jobs getting worse. For instance, while large firms can more easily provide a good package of benefits to all of their workers, these firms have increasingly subcontracted janitorial, food service, and delivery work. 

Benefit inequality is increasingly visible and increasingly life-or-death. These statistics represent the lives of workers who lack paid leave and health care during a global pandemic, and this article is a crucial addition to our understanding of how inequality matters today. 

Pamela Herd, Jeremy Freese, Kamil Sicinski, Benjamin W. Domingue, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Caiping Wei, Robert M. Hauser, “Genes, Gender Inequality, and Educational Attainment,” American Sociological Review, 2019
A woman receives her college diploma. Photo via pxfuel.

Both nature and nurture have always influenced who goes furthest in school. Recent advancements in genetics have found a way to modestly predict educational success through genes, and sociologists are engaging with that work to explore what social factors affect the expression of those genes. Because women’s access to higher education has historically been limited by social and structural barriers, genetic predictors of educational success may have been muted. Over the past century, women’s college access has increased, but has this also equalized the role played by genetics in predicting who attains a higher education? Tracing gendered effects of genetics over time can expose effects of gender discrimination in education.

Pamela Herd and her research team including Jeremy Freese, Kamil Sicinski, Benjamin W. Domingue, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Caiping Wei, and Robert M. Hauser decided to find out. Using data from three longitudinal surveys, they examined the educational attainment of participants born during different generations, including the Silent Generation (born 1931-1941); War Babies (born 1942-1947), Early Baby Boomers (born 1948-1953), Mid Baby Boomers (born 1954-1959); and Generation X (born 1976-1983). Each respondent provided a saliva sample which was analyzed for genetic intelligence indicators, or alleles associated with higher educational attainment. Respondents were then assigned a polygenic score — a big summary measure that has been shown in other studies to modestly predict educational success. The researchers used these scores to compare how much genes predicted educational attainment for the men and women born throughout the 20th century, and how this changed over time.

They found that the role of genetics in shaping educational attainment is strongly patterned by gender. Among participants born in 1939-1940, they found that men’s polygenic score was more tightly linked to their schooling than women’s at every age. Genetic predispositions helped men graduate college, but even women with the same genetic predispositions were limited by societal factors. 

But in comparing the patterns of men and women born in different generations, they found that gender differences varied as social conditions changed. Among the older cohorts, men showed a stronger link than women. The researchers believe that this was because women’s participation in higher education was severely limited during the 1950s and 60s, and because many men who had the grades (and the genes) to go to college either opted to do so to avoid the draft or mandatory military service or took advantage of GI benefits afterward. During the 1950s, however, the pattern began to reverse. This was likely because women in the older cohorts entered middle age, they returned to school as their childrearing responsibilities lessened and educational opportunities became more widely available. At that point the relationship between genetic factors and attainment increased–that is, the women who were genetically predisposed to do well at school were more likely to return in later adulthood. Around that time, more young women also began taking advantage of increased opportunities for higher education.

Among the youngest respondents, born in 1982 and for whom educational opportunity has been the most equal, genetics is no stronger a predictor of postsecondary educational attainment for men than for women. 

Examining the interplay between genes and the environment can help us understand how gender inequalities in educational outcomes have changed over time. It also reveals that finishing college is not automatically the result of individual traits, but instead shaped by the social environment.