Photo by Tom Woodward, Flickr CC

Many different factors go into deciding your college major — your school, your skills, and your social network can all influence what field of study you choose. This is an important decision, as social scientists have shown it has consequences well into the life course — not only do college majors vary widely in terms of earnings across the life course, but income gaps between fields are often larger than gaps between those with college degrees and those without them. Natasha Quadlin finds that this gap is in many ways due to differences in funding at the start of college that determine which majors students choose. 

Quadlin draws on data from the Postsecondary Transcript Study, a collection of over 700 college transcripts from students who were enrolled in postsecondary education in 2012. Focusing on students’ declared major during their freshman year, Quadlin analyzes the relationship between the source of funding a student gets — loans, grants, or family funds — and the type of major the student initially chooses — applied versus academic and STEM versus non-STEM. She finds that students who pay for college with loans are more likely to major in applied non-STEM fields, such as business and nursing, and they are less likely to be undeclared. However, students whose funding comes primarily from grants or family members are more likely to choose academic majors like sociology or English and STEM majors like biology or computer science.

In other words, low- and middle-income students with significant amounts of loan debt are likely to choose “practical” applied majors that more quickly result in full-time employment. Conversely, students with grants and financially supportive parents, regardless of class, are more likely to choose what are considered riskier academic and STEM tracks that are more challenging and take longer to turn into a job. Since middle- to upper-class students are more likely to get family assistance and merit-based grants, this means that less advantaged students are most likely to rely on loans. The problem, Quadlin explains, is that applied non-STEM majors have relatively high wages at first, but very little advancement over time, while academic and STEM majors have more barriers to completion but experience more frequent promotions. The result is that inequalities established at the start of college are often maintained throughout people’s lives. 

Basim Usmani – from the Kominas – performs at La Casa Maladita. Photo by Eye Steel Film, Flickr CC

Punk rock is all about breaking the rules, nonconformity, and standing up to the man. Now, punk bands are turning it up to eleven to combat Islamophobia. In order to gather researcher for her recent article in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Amy D. McDowell  immersed herself into the “Taqwacore” scene — a genre of punk rock that derives its name from the Arabic word “Taqwa.” While inspired by the Muslim faith, this genre of punk is not strictly religious — Taqwacore captures the experience of the “brown kids,” Muslims and non-Muslims alike who experience racism and prejudice in the post-9/11 era. This music criticizes racism and challenges stereotypes with a punk-rock attitude. 

Through a combination of interviews and many hours of participant observation at Taqwacore events, McDowell brings together testimony from musicians and fans, describes the scene, and analyzes materials from Taqwacore forums and websites. Many participants, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, describe processes of discrimination where anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes have affected them. Her research shows how Taqwacore is a multicultural musical form for a collective, panethnic “brown” identity that spans multiple nationalities and backgrounds. Pushing back against the idea that Islam and punk music are incompatible, Taqwacore artists draw on the essence of punk rock as rebellious and nonconformist to create music to that criticizes racism and empowers marginalized youth. 

Photo by Victor, Flickr CC

Criminologists have long observed that men seem to commit less crime after they get married — marriage increases interdependence between spouses, changes social activities, and develops new thinking patterns. However, marriage is more than just the relationship between two individuals, but rather the joining of two social networks of friends, coworkers, and family members that can have other consequences beyond the spousal relationship. And sometimes we marry into families that increase, rather than decrease, our exposure to crime.

Lars Hojsgaard Andersen asks how in-laws affect men’s criminal activity. Using registry data on the entire population of Denmark, Andersen finds that, consistent with previous research, marriage reduces the likelihood that men will be convicted of crime.  However, this “buffer” of marriage is lessened by the presence of a brother-in-law who has been in trouble with the law. Specifically, new husbands whose brothers-in-law were convicted in the last 3 years have a 20% higher likelihood of being convicted themselves, relative to new husbands without a convicted brother-in-law. This relationship holds even when accounting for the characteristics and criminal history of both husband and wife, as well as the criminal history of both families.

Andersen notes that previously convicted brothers-in-law increase the likelihood of crime for husbands regardless of their own criminal histories — they can even “ignite criminality” among husbands who previously had no brushes with the law. Overall, the research shows that the ability of marriage to reduce criminal activity partly depends on the new network ties that marriage brings. In short, the impact social bonds and institutions have on behavior rests, in part, on the social ties that those institutions foster.

Photo by William Murphy, Flickr CC

Most people think of garbage with disgust, as it recalls images of filth and dirt and smells of rotting food. So, it’s not surprising that dumpster divers – people who salvage thrown away food – are often seen as “dirty” by mainstream society. As sociologist Erving Goffman famously argued, stigmatized groups are scorned by wider society who see them as outsiders and deviant.

Gianmarco Savio, a professor at St. Lawrence University, spent months hanging around dumpsters behind grocery stores in Manhattan, sorting through trash himself, and attending events coordinated by a dumpster diving organization. He got to know people in the community and got an inside view of what motivated people to dumpster dive. Savio found that many dumpster divers in New York City reject the label “dirty”. They are pushing back against stigmatization by creating an organization to promote “dumpstering” and developing a supportive community and collective identity.

Dumpster divers create a sense of community by sharing knowledge about where and when to find the best food, developing their own informal code of ethics, and looking out for each other’s safety. They realize that the practice is stigmatized, but don’t express guilt or shame for participating. People who are active in the dumpster diving organization even seek to actively change public perceptions. They try to promote the practice, making it more visible and acceptable to the public by doing things like inviting people to take trash tours, running a website, and getting media attention. Group members assert that dumpstering is a political act and part of a broader environmental sustainability or a “freegan” lifestyle that avoids buying things as a way to boycott capitalism.

Spending time with freegans and dumpster divers in New York City can shed light on how stigmatized groups can resist being labeled and change their public image. Savio suggests that informal communities can help people reduce the negative effects of stigma by creating a positive identity, while formal groups and public actions can go even further in challenging the stigma itself.

Photo by Steven Saus, Flickr CC

There are numerous factors that contribute to student success at school. For example, sociologists have explored the positive effects of higher parental income on student success. And while intelligence and hard work play an undeniable role in academic performance, a recent study by Martin Hällsten and Fabian T. Pfeffer finds that the ability to succeed in school may be partially determined generations before a student even sets foot in the classroom.

Hällsten and Pfeffer innovated from previous studies by focusing on familial wealth rather than income. Changes in wealth tend to be less dynamic than shifts in income, and this analysis allows them to better understand advantages passed between multiple generations. The research team created a new data source, combining a variety of relevant Swedish registers, including a register linking children to parents and grandparents, another on parental income and education, and data on childhood educational success. They were able to capture wealth data and educational data for nearly the entire population of Sweden. 

In utilizing this system, the researchers isolated the effects of grandparents, comparing cousins within the same family and to determine whether effects held constant between them. They found a strong relationship between grandparent wealth and student GPAs, and perhaps even more striking, when compared, parents and grandparents wealth had almost equal effects on student success. This means that studies which focused exclusively on parent-to-child wealth were vastly underselling the benefits, nearly by half, of familial financial success. 

Hällsten and Pfeffer point out that the context of their research matters. In Sweden, a fairly homogeneous and egalitarian country, there are lower levels of inequality on a wide variety of dynamics, like income, class, and education, and many resources that can be expensive in other nations (especially higher levels of education) are free and accessible for all students. This means that in societies where financial success is more directly tied with the ability to succeed as a student (like paying for an exclusive private education or paying for safer and more stable living conditions), wealth can play an even more important role. Particularly in nations like the United States, where inequality in wealth is continuing to rise, the effects found in this study might be even more significant.

Photo by Stewart Butterfield, Flickr CC

Women have made many strides towards equality in the workplace. Yet, studies continue to show that women are frequently paid less than men, women are expected to perform more secretarial tasks, and women are less likely to be promoted to higher-level occupations within organizations. And academia is no exception — while attaining tenure and promotion is the key to a long academic career, universities are less likely to grant it to women. A recent study by Katherine Weisshaar explores why female academics have a harder time achieving tenure promotion than their male peers.

The author developed a unique longitudinal dataset that includes department information and characteristics (e.g. prestige ranking, gender composition) from the National Research Council (NRC), Google Scholar citations, personal websites, and CVs. From 2000 to 2004, Weishaar documented the names of former assistant professors in 330 departments within sociology, computer science, and English. She examines three possible explanations for the 7 percent gender difference between male and female assistant professors in sociology departments: scholarly productivity (i.e. publications, awards, research grants), organizational differences (i.e. gender composition, prestige, public or private) and inequality in evaluations (i.e. gender bias, differences in recommendations).

The results indicate that women are less likely to receive tenure than their male peers across all three disciplines, though sociology and English maintain the greatest gender inequities in tenure. When women do secure tenure, the process takes longer than for male academics. Female assistant professors in sociology were less likely to publish in the discipline’s most prestigious journals (e.g. Social Forces, American Sociological Review, and American Journal of Sociology), obtained lower numbers of citations for their publications, and secured promotions in less prestigious departments. 

Overall, productivity differences accounted for approximately 34 percent of the gender gap, while time differences accounted for approximately 20 percent of the gender gap. The largest contributing factor to the gender gap (roughly 40 to 45 percent), however, lies within the assistant professor evaluation process that includes subtle biases and discrimination against women. Thus, increases in women’s individual productivity in the workplace will not likely lead to equal representation in higher occupational positions. Employers must also evaluate the ways in which gender discrimination both explicitly and implicitly hinder women’s promotion opportunities, despite equal rates of productivity.

Photo by DieselDemon, Flickr CC

In the age of Spotify, Netflix, and hipsters drinking PBR, it has become cool to consume a little bit of everything. If we’re used to the upper class consuming high-end culture like fine wine and classical music, though, why would elites start making a big deal about lowbrow culture? New research by Oliver Hahl, Ezra Zuckerman, and Minjae Kim finds that people who feel they have high status, but also feel like that status may not be authentic, will reach for “more authentic” lowbrow culture.

The authors used two main experimental studies. In the first, 123 undergraduate students watched competitors in a game who shared their “personality type.” In reality, participants were randomly assigned to the winning or the losing player in order to prime their sense of high or low social status. Some high status participants were told the game was public to promote insecurity, so they would feel their membership in the status group could be questioned. Other high status participants were told the game was private, to make their status feel more secure.

Later in the same study, participants were presented with two paintings and a biography for each painting’s artist: one artist who became famous through self-promotion more than skill, and another who was not well known but was instead “discovered” for his skilled work. Respondents who were members of the winning group in the early game, and insecure about the win, were much more likely to pick the low-status “authentic” artist who had was more skilled, while respondents in the secure winning group were much more likely to pick the high status artist. 

The second experiment presented a similar scenario, but had 181 participants watch the winners and losers of the game and see which paintings those simulated players selected later on. Like the first study, this one used public competition to raise questions about the authenticity of the winners and “denigrate” their social status. Respondents who saw potentially inauthentic winners pick the low-status “authentic” artist were much less likely to evaluate those winners negatively later on.

While other sociological research shows that members of elite groups use cultural tastes to signal their membership in the upper class, this work shows how we also publicly present our “tastes” in certain ways to compensate when we feel socially insecure.

Photo by Olgierd Rudak, Flickr CC

In a new study investigating bicycle commuting across the U.S., Derek Burk poses a sort of “chicken or egg” question: does the presence of bike paths and bike lanes encourage more bicycling, or does increased rates bicycling encourage the creation of more bike paths? In other words, which comes first — infrastructure or practice?

Burk proposes two perspectives that might explain the relationship between bikeways (paths and lanes) and bicycle commuting — the demand-driven perspective and the political perspective. From the demand-driven perspective, the argument is that increased bicycling leads to more bicycling infrastructure, like bike paths. The political perspective asserts the opposite — the creation of bike paths and lanes is what induces bicycling. To test which perspective is more accurate, Burk uses longitudinal data on bicycle-commuting in 62 U.S. cities from 2000 to 2014, combined with longitudinal data on the number of bikeways in each city, to determine the relationship between bicycling infrastructure and practice.

The results offer support for both perspectives, but with one important caveat — local environmentalism. Burk finds that more bikeways leads to more bicycling, and that more bicycling can lead to the creation of more bikeways, but both effects depend on the number of environmental organizations within a city. He finds that in the most biked cities, including Portland, OR, Minneapolis, MN, and San Francisco, CA, there are a high number of environmental organizations that fight for the creation of bikeways and promote bicycling as a positive lifestyle choice. In the least biked cities, like El Paso, TX, Omaha, NE, and Oklahoma City, OK, the effect of increased bicycle-commuting on bikeway construction is negligible because there are few environmental organizations to support bicycle commuters. In short, the relationship between infrastructure and practice is always influenced by political processes.

A memorial to the Little Rock Nine remembering the nine teenagers who stood up to an angry crowd protesting integration in front of Little Rock’s Central High in 1957. Photo by Steve Snodgrass, Flickr CC

Brown v. Board of Education ushered in a new era of legal action in school districts to promote racial integration in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1990s, however, desegregation efforts in schools have begun to stall, and some research suggests that white flight and poor economic conditions have actually worsened racial segregation in school districts. To address these issues, John Logan, Weiwei Zhang, and Deirdre Oakley explore school desegregation trends in metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2010.   

The study draws from an index of 358 court cases from the American Communities Project and data on the racial composition of schools compiled from multiple sources. Logan and colleagues use multilevel modeling techniques to examine segregation within districts, the effects of court mandates on this trend, and the effect of mandates on white flight at the district level. 

They find that most desegregation at the metropolitan level occurred between 1970 and 1980, with little change after 1990, particularly in the South. At the district level, white and black students attend districts with larger shares of minorities, suggesting that both white and black students are becoming less isolated at school from other minority groups like Asian and Latino students. The findings indicated that legal mandates have had a substantial impact on both desegregation and changes in white enrollment within districts — districts that faced an initial desegregation mandate in the 1970s reduced segregation in their schools more than districts with no mandate. Desegregation mandates, however, also resulted in white flight between districts, slightly diminishing desegregation gains within districts. 

Together, these findings suggest that the unprecedented desegregation gains made in the formative years following Board v. Brown may have been superseded by a “post-desegregation status quo” due to white flight. Thus, despite an abundance of court litigation in metropolitan areas, desegregation within schools has essentially reached a stalemate.

Graduation ceremony at Smith College. Photo by cogito ergo imago, Flickr CC

The emergence of women’s colleges in the U.S. was an important historical challenge to ideas about women’s intellectual inferiority to men. While the number of women’s colleges has declined significantly in the last half century, in 2014 there were still approximately 50 women’s colleges in operation. Recently, with the increased visibility of transgender identities, women’s colleges face a dilemma: How do they determine who counts as a woman?

Researchers Megan Nanney and David Brunsma investigated how women’s colleges determine students’ genders through an analysis of student newspapers and nine trans admittance policies at women’s colleges in the U.S. Through their analysis, they demonstrate how women’s colleges are not only structured by gender, they play an active role in actually constructing gender. 

Within the student newspapers examined, the debate between inclusion and tradition was apparent. Actors within the colleges balanced the need to stay true to their values and missions related to creating a “community of women,” while also recognizing gender as a social construct and wanting to be inclusive of non-normative gender identities. The analysis of admittance policies revealed a wide range of criteria for determining a student’s gender based on biological sex, legal documentation, and identity. For instance, a student who was assigned female sex at birth but now identifies as genderqueer was included at some colleges, but excluded from others.

So, while all of the colleges were actively constructing what it means to be a woman, definitions did not always align between the schools. This misalignment highlights that womanhood itself is constructed, and the ways the category of “woman” is applied is, according to the researchers, “neither static nor natural.”