Photo by Victor, Flickr CC

Originally posted Sept. 7, 2017

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 Stewart Butterfield, Flickr CC

Originally posted Aug. 15, 2017

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 oddharmonic, Flickr CC

In the United States we tend to think children develop sexuality in adolescence, but new research by Heidi Gansen shows that children learn rules and beliefs associated with romantic relationships and sexuality much earlier. Gansen spent over 400 hours in nine different classrooms in three Michigan preschools. She observed behavior from teachers and students during daytime classroom hours and concluded that children learn — via teachers’ practices — that heterosexual relationships are normal and that boys and girls have very different roles to play in them. 

In some classrooms, teachers actively encouraged “crushes” and kissing between boys and girls. Teachers assumed that any form of affection between opposite gender children was romantically-motivated and these teachers talked about the children as if they were in a romantic relationship, calling them “boyfriend/girlfriend.” On the other hand, the same teachers interpreted affection between children of the same gender as friendly, but not romantic. Children reproduced these beliefs when they played “house” in these classrooms. Rarely did children ever suggest that girls played the role of “dad” or boys played the role of “mom.” If they did, other children would propose a character they deemed more gender-appropriate like a sibling or a cousin.

Preschoolers also learned that boys have power over girls’ bodies in the classroom. In one case, teachers witnessed a boy kiss a girl on the cheek without permission. While teachers in some schools enforced what the author calls “kissing consent” rules, the teachers in this school interpreted the kiss as “sweet” and as the result of a harmless crush. Teachers also did not police boys’ sexual behaviors as actively as girls’ behaviors. For instance, when girls pulled their pants down teachers disciplined them, while teachers often ignored the same behavior from boys. Thus, children learned that rules for romance also differ by gender.

Photo by Rob Brewer, Flickr CC

Scholars of crime pay extensive attention to how the physical characteristics of neighborhoods, like street lighting and security cameras, might help deter crime in high crime areas. A recent study by Paulo Avarte, Filipe Ortiz Falsete, Felipe Garcia Ribeiro, and André Portela Souza extends this research by assessing the effects of electricity access on violent crime rates in Brazil. Brazil is an important location for a focus on violence reduction, as Brazil — and the whole of Latin America — is home to some of the highest homicide rates in the world.  

The authors examine the impact of a federal program titled Luz Para Todos (LPT), or the Light for All program, which aimed to provide Brazilian households with access to electricity beginning in 2001. The LPT program provided electricity access to ten million households by 2009, focusing specifically on expanding access in impoverished rural areas. The authors use demographic census and mortality data from over 5,000 Brazilian municipalities in 2000 and 2010 to assess the relationship between electricity and homicides, accounting for other characteristics such as education levels, labor market characteristics, unemployment, and police size.

They find that the LPT program resulted in a discernible drop in homicide rates for rural areas, especially in the Northeast region of Brazil, an extremely impoverished area that had minimal electricity access prior to the implementation of the LPT program.This effect appears to be especially pronounced for homicides that occurred on rural roads and urban streets rather than in households and other closed spaces, suggesting that lights in public spaces help to deter violent behavior. 

Another explanation for reduced homicide rates may simply be that electricity access is a marker of numerous social benefits, like increased school enrollment and improved health outcomes. In other words, as quality of life improved in these areas, homicides decreased. Although the LPT program was not intended as a violence reduction policy, it clearly had significant impacts on homicide rates in areas of high need. Avarte and colleagues’ findings suggest that targeting electricity policies in areas that previously had little to no access to electricity can be an essential tool for crime control.

Photo by Esther Max, Flickr CC

Originally posted Jan. 31, 2017

While male-dominated jobs are some of the fastest shrinking in the U.S., and female-dominated jobs are some of the fastest growing, many men choose not to enter fields they view as “women’s work” — occupations like home healthcare worker or nurse practitioner. But it is not all men who stay away from female-dominated occupations. You guessed it — it’s white men. Recent research by Jill Yavorsky, Philip Cohen, and Yue Qian shows that racial minority men are more likely than white men to work in female-dominated jobs.

The researchers use 2010-2012 American Community Survey data on working men ages 25 to 54 to statistically analyze the effects of race on the gender composition of jobs. The find that all groups of racial minority men are more likely than white men to work in female-dominated jobs, and this finding remains constant even when considering differences in men’s education levels, with the exception of Asian men with advanced degrees. Notably, black men and white men represent the greatest disparity — black men have the highest probability of working in a female-dominated job, while white men have the lowest probability of doing so. 

While this study can only tell us what is happening — that more minority men work in female-dominated jobs than white men — the “why” remains an open question. For one, this could be a tale of discrimination; minority men may be kept out of male-dominated fields and forced to choose female-dominated occupations. On the other hand, men of color may defy societal norms and place more value on so-called “women’s work,” like caring activities, than white men. Regardless, these findings highlight the important intersection of race and gender in the workplace. 

Photo by Hernán Piñera, Flickr CC

We often think that religion is a deeply personal commitment tied to parents and family; research has shown that women tend to be more religious than men, and that starting a family often marks a return to religion as people settle down. But religion is also tied to society in general, and it is easy to forget that many of the religious choices we make are for the sake of belonging to a community of other people. Public religious signals like the way we dress and self-identify are just as much about others’ expectations as our own private beliefs.

For example, the practice of wearing a veil in Islam is part of a personal faith commitment for Muslim women. But new research from Ozan Aksoy shows that this might have more to do with the social expectations that come from having a family than big changes in religious beliefs. Using data from a 2013 Demographic and Health Survey in Turkey and the Pew Research Center’s 2013 World Muslim Survey, Aksoy looked at whether Muslim women with children were more likely to report wearing veils. This analysis matched married women with one child to married women with no children who shared similar demographic characteristics such as age, education, beliefs about family values, and region of residence. This technique, called propensity score matching, allows researchers to focus on the effect of one key difference (having a child or not) on whether women were more likely to wear a veil. 

Two key points emerge. First, having a child significantly increased the probability of wearing the veil, and the effect got stronger with each additional child. Women who had sons first were also more likely to veil than those who had daughters. Second, having one child versus no children did not relate to other measures of religiosity and traditional family values such as attitudes about women’s roles in the home, prayer, and fasting. In other words, women who had children weren’t necessarily more religious, they were only more likely to signal their religiosity to others in public.

This finding fits with other recent research that shows how religious identities in public life work differently from private beliefs and practices. Learning how these differences work around the world can help us better understand what different faith communities share in common in society.

Photo by Jeremy Sternberg, Flick CC

The mark of a criminal conviction often has a devastating effect on future career opportunities. Black formerly incarcerated individuals have an even harder time finding employment due to employer discrimination. But jobs aren’t only important for economic security. Susila Gurusami’s recent study explores how state agents like probation officers, parole officers, and attorneys determine Black women’s commitment to rehabilitation by assessing if and how their employment is reliable, recognizable, and redemptive. Failure to meet these criteria could mean returning to jail or prison. In doing so, probation and parole officers reinforce “rehabilitation labor,” where formerly incarcerated women must prove that they have successfully transformed from ‘criminals’ to ‘workers.’

Gurusami spent 18 months volunteering as a social work intern with a local organization in a Los Angeles county that assisted formerly incarcerated women find employment, housing, and other rehabilitative needs. During her time there, she worked with 35 women — driving them to doctor’s appointments, guiding them through job applications, and accompanying them to court proceedings. She developed a close relationship with several women by conversing with them in their homes, meeting them at restaurants, accompanying them on daily walks, and speaking with them via phone and text messaging regularly.

The women in Gurusami’s study quickly learned that their probation and parole officers would not simply accept any form of employment. Rather, probation and parole officers emphasized that formerly incarcerated women must find work that state agents deem reliable, recognizable, and redemptive. Reliable employment meant long-term, full-time work. State agents criticized women who found seasonal positions or temp jobs. Some women were even discouraged from seeking education despite its long-term potential to generate greater income.  Those who attempted to earn GEDs, college degrees, or attend trade school were often discouraged by parole and probation officers who did not recognize education as a legitimate means to finding employment. 

Furthermore, parole and probation officers did not recognize traditionally female-dominated forms of work, like braiding hair or assisting with care of relatives, that did not take place in conventional workplace settings as valid employment. Lastly, state agents also tended to push women towards redemptive work — work that they viewed as beneficial to the community, such as counseling and social work. Women who failed to find employment that met these criteria were threatened with prison. While employment is vital to a successful future after incarceration, limiting opportunities for both work and education and forcing Black women to partake in rehabilitation labor reinforces notions that Black women’s actions are in need of constant control and discipline by the state.

Peruvian dance group. Photo by McKay Savage, Flickr CC

Dance is important as a form of expression, and for immigrant communities, dance can be a way to maintain a connection with their home countries. Drawing on their own experiences and heritage for a recent study, sociologists Hui Nui Wilcox  and Erika Busse analyze dance performances by Peruvian and Chinese dance groups in the United States to demonstrate how dance is a way for immigrants and their families to foster a connection with their pre-migration identities and maintain “authenticity” as individuals within their particular ethnic group.

The authors discuss the concept of “authenticity” in two ways. First, there is authenticity on an individual level, wherein being authentic is a subjective experience based on individual details. Wilcox and Busse discuss interviews wherein Chinese and Peruvian immigrants describe participation in these dance groups as a way to construct their individual identity as an authentic member of their cultural group. At the same time, individual participants articulate specific reasons for joining the dance group which go beyond simply maintaining a connection to their home country, but include a complex set of reasons to participate such as having fun, maintaining positive body image, and fitness. For different members of these groups, dancing is a way to reaffirm both their ethnic identity and their individuality. 

Then, there is authenticity on a community level, where a group’s image of authenticity is part of that group’s identity and shapes how others see them.  As Wilcox and Busse describe, the dance groups foster Chinese and Peruvian communities’ sense of solidarity and national identity. Often, these dance groups perform at various cultural shows, international festivals, and other public events. These events are reflective of “multiculturalism,” or the ways that everyday Americans try to present themselves as modern and worldly by expressing interest in different cultures and traditions. What this means for the dancers and their families, however, is that some audiences watch these dance performances as further proof that immigrant communities are foreign or alien, a dynamic which generally affects non-white immigrants in particular.

Though participating in dance reflects a complex combination of individual decisions and collective experiences, everyday multicultural narratives can characterize immigrant Americans as outsiders or exotic. Thus, through their analysis, Wilcox and Busse demonstrate that dance performances intersect with greater issues of race, immigration, and the multicultural imperative.

Photo by torbakhopper, Flickr CC

Often when we think of humor and drugs, images from popular media such as Cheech and Chong or Pineapple Express come to mind. These images often frame dealers as clueless stoners who can’t seem to stay out of trouble with the law or other dealers. But how do jokes play a role in the reality of drug dealing? Recent research by Timothy Dickinson and Richard Wright shows that humor, particularly denigrating humor, is central to the identity of drug dealers.

Given inherent legal and privacy concerns, illicit drug markets are difficult spaces for researchers to access. The lead author Dickinson was able to circumvent this complication by drawing on his personal connections to recruit participants. The study includes both interviews and observations of 33 current and former drug dealers in the St. Louis area. Many dealers indicated that they were “retail-level” dealers that sold small quantities, while a few others were suppliers that sold larger amounts for redistribution by other dealers. The dealers sold a variety of substances including cocaine, meth, marijuana, and MDMA. Most operated in “closed markets,” so they typically only sold to friends or acquaintances, and the large majority also reported having some form of legal employment and using their own drug supply.

Findings suggest that humor helps these individuals assert their identity as dealers, while also allowing them to reduce their perceptions of the threats posed by police and police informants. Specifically, dealers distinguished their current identity as “smart” from other “stupid” dealers, while also distinguishing their current “smart” dealer identity from their previous decisions that they viewed as “being stupid.” In one example, Brian, a white ecstasy and marijuana dealer, mocked himself for driving while intoxicated with drugs:

“I just got off work and I had eight individual eighths [bags of marijuana weighing 3.5 grams] … all individually wrapped cuz I was getting ready to sell. … And I was an idiot. … I was smoking weed [laughs]. … I went through a sobriety check. … As soon as the [police officer] walks up to the truck, he’s like, “You having a good night?” and I’m like, “Well, not now” [laughs].”

Dealers reduced perceived threats of arrest by dismissing police as as too crooked or incompetent to punish them. Some claimed to have an eye for undercover police officers, and parodied police efforts to identify them as dealers. They also denigrated possible police informants as non-threatening and indicated that their present dealing was too small time to be of much interest to police. Taken together, these findings suggest that the role of humor in drug dealing goes far beyond what we see in many stoner comedies. The threat of punishment is perceptual, and wit is one way that dealers can mitigate the riskiness of dealing while cementing their identity as the smart players in the drug game.

Photo by Bootsendra, Flickr CC

Many Americans share strong beliefs in the importance of education, ambition, and hard work — what many refer to as “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” New research by He Xian and Jeremy Reynolds investigates whether these beliefs are unique to western countries, like the United States. Xian and Reynolds chose China to compare to the United States since both countries have long, yet unique, histories of meritocracy.

The authors’ analysis draws on data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and its associated country-specific surveys from 2009. Respondents were asked a series of questions about what is needed to “get ahead” in their societies. The analysis separated meritocratic elements — those that were based on individual efforts, like hard work or education — from non-meritocratic elements — those that were not based on individual efforts, like parental education or social ties to powerful people.

Both Chinese and Americans strongly believe that meritocratic elements are important for success. However, Chinese believed more than Americans that non-meritocratic elements are also necessary. Nearly twice as many Chinese agreed that having well-educated parents and “knowing the right people” are important for getting ahead. While a belief in bootstraps is not unique to Americans, other meritocratic nations may be more likely to recognize hard work can’t do it all.