A building with United Nations carved into the top in the background, with flags from numerous countries in the foreground. Image by Xabi Oregi from Pexels is licensed under Pexels license.

How do the big, rich countries usually get what they want even when international organizations encourage representation and try to level the playing field? Many may assume it is the usual exercise of wealth and political power on the global stage. However, recent research from Danielle Falzon reports that in the case of the United Nations another, overlooked factor may be at play: namely, that the standards required for delegates and delegations present unique challenges and barriers for those from developing countries.

During UN sessions, representatives of various countries hold a series of meetings concerning each discussion topic. To be a part of these discussions, nations must maintain delegates and delegations to represent their country on each of these specific issues. In observing over 200 hours of climate negotiations at the United Nations and conducting interviews with dozens of representatives, Falzon identified at least four factors that affect a delegation’s involvement and impact: the size of the delegation, English-speaking language requirements, knowledge and expertise in Western science and legal standards, and long-term, multi-year representation. Suffice to say, each of these requirements are difficult for representatives and delegations from poorer, less developed nations to meet consistently.

Many interviewees focused on the lack of consistent and English-proficient representation, and especially the smaller number of delegates that developing countries were able to send. As a representative from a developing country explained:

“Just the amount of people that can devote time to a single issue makes such a huge difference… . It’s an enormous inequality. People who are tired, haven’t slept or eaten … they can’t argue as well as people who have.”

Falzon argues that these standards and expectations create a systemic inequality in access and representation at the UN that calls into question the status quo of the organization’s common operating practices. Do negotiations have to take place in person and require that delegates are always in attendance in order to have say? This sort of institutional change, while it would be a large transition, may make it easier for developing countries to have their voices heard.

Two college students sitting in the grass, chatting and studying with a large, brick building in the background. Image by Keira Burton from Pexels is licensed under Pexels license.

Opening a college admissions letter can be an exhilarating experience for some applicants and a crushing blow to others. Considering the importance of college admissions in many people’s lives, social scientists wanted to understand students’ beliefs and buy-in to the saying “hard work pays off.”

Researchers Rebecca Wetter and Claudia Finger analyzed the effects of acceptance and rejection from competitive German medical schools on beliefs about “meritocracy” – the idea that success is based on talent, skill, and hard work. When applicants were admitted to medical school, their confidence in the importance of personal effort for success increased. Alternatively, when applicants were rejected from these elite schools, they were less likely to believe that the application system was merit-based, and instead believed that economic resources and family background were more important for success in life. 

Results from the study confirmed that beliefs about the admissions system depended in part on whether applicants’ parents had attended college. Prospective students whose parents had attended university were much more likely to believe that their effort and skill would be rewarded in the application process. But if their parents had not had the privilege of higher education, applicants were more likely to see admission as depending on factors like affluence or class instead of their hard work and merit.

Findings like these are important to consider as countries continue to change their higher education systems. As tensions mount concerning college admissions around the world, the results of this German study serve as a reminder that the application process can undermine applicants’ beliefs in the fairness of the system and the idea that hard work will be rewarded.

National Trans Visibility March, Washington, DC USA by Ted Eytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the increasing visibility of transgender people in media, law, and social life, many suggest that the United States reached a  “transgender tipping point” in the past decade. The term suggests a big recent increase in people identifying as transgender, yet there has been surprisingly little research into whether and how the likelihood of identifying as transgender has changed over time.  

In a recent American Journal of Sociology article, Danya Lagos put the “transgender tipping point” idea to the test. They analyzed how many people, born between 1935 to 2001, identified as transgender or gender nonconforming. In addition, Lagos looked at the influence of social demographic factors (age, race, sex assigned at birth, and educational attainment) on the likelihood of identifying as transgender. The results of the study confirmed that there has been a big increase in people identifying as transgender and gender nonconforming since 1984, and that there have been big changes in the social demographic factors that predict trans identity across different birth cohorts.

For cohorts born from 1995 to 2001, for example, white people are somewhat more likely than people of other races to identify as trans, yet the reverse was the case for older cohorts born from 1945 to 1984. For every cohort born from 1935 to 1984, people assigned male at birth are more likely to identify as trans than those assigned female at birth. But this too has changed in recent years, as sex assignment at birth no longer predicts trans identity for those born from 1985-2001. Higher educational attainment is more consistently linked to lower rates of transgender identification throughout all age cohorts. Many believe that exposure to gender theory in higher education leads to more fluidity in gender expression, but the results of this study suggest otherwise.

In short, although the number of people identifying as trans has definitely increased, there hasn’t been any singular “transgender tipping point.” Instead, it’s more complicated than that.  The effect of other social identities and statuses, including race, sex assignment, and education, actively evolves and shifts as each birth cohort grows up in a changing social world. And just as society has changed throughout the years, so too has the prevalence and predictors of trans identity.

“Communicating commuters” by The Freelens is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

New research suggests that the assurance “you can always ask for help” is a westernized ideal that can have different meanings and impacts. Researchers found that, while there are associations between greater life satisfaction and help-seeking in the United States, the same help-seeking behavior was associated with poorer life satisfaction and less positive mood in Japan.

Verity Y.Q. Lua and colleagues compared data from two similar surveys, one conducted in the United States and a parallel study conducted in Japan. They identified specific and concrete cultural differences in appropriate behaviors and their impact on well-being. Specifically, they found asking for help and getting help had very different meanings and relationships in the United States as compared with Japan.

In the United States, a willingness to ask for help in times of need is associated with improved overall well-being. However, in Japan the same help-seeking behavior led to decreased life satisfaction and less positive mood.

Lua and colleagues attribute this difference to distinct sociocultural norms. In collectivist, or community-focused cultures like Japan people place more importance on maintaining a positive and stress-free social community. Actions that add stress to the community atmosphere, like asking for help or for a favor, can lead to judgments of incompetency or inferiority.

These results suggest that what is essential for health and happiness isn’t the same everywhere and for all people. Health professionals who may be inclined to recommend relying on help from others in times of difficulty or stress should consider the importance of cultural ideals for the relationship between wellness and help-seeking.

Young couple putting their heads together while sitting on steps. “2019 – Mexico – Morelia – 16 – Young Love” by Ted McGrath is licensed under (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Ah, young love. We tend to think of romantic relationships between teenagers as fun and fleeting: intense infatuations that may bring drama or heartbreak but are not really relevant to young people’s well-being. However, new research from Sara Villalta and colleagues finds that when adolescent relationships are high-quality, they can support emotional well-being.

Villalta and colleagues used data about teenagers’ relationships and emotional wellbeing collected over the course of a year through short surveys administered about twice a month. The teenagers who took these surveys were sixteen or seventeen as part of a larger study that has followed them from birth. Every two weeks, these now-teenagers answered questions about how they were feeling and whether they were in romantic partnerships. They were also asked about how they felt about these relationships, and reported whether they felt their relationships were high-quality, making them feel supported with little conflict, or low-quality, with frequent disagreements and little support. 

The researchers found that when teenagers are in high-quality relationships they are more likely to feel happy and less likely to feel sad. That is, teenagers’ emotional health is improved by relationships with partners that make them feel supported and with whom they infrequently have arguments.

Common  stereotypes of “boy-crazy” young women suggest that teenage girls might have more emotional investment in their romantic relationships. As a result, adolescent girls’ emotions could be more influenced by these partnerships. Contrary to these stereotypes, the researchers found that both teen boys and girls felt happier and less sad when in high-quality romantic relationships.

The researchers also tested whether teenagers who have had challenging childhood experiences, such as bad relationships with their mothers or harsh parenting, or who came from households with fewer resources were more likely to be both in low-quality relationships that are unsupportive and argumentative and feel less happy. On the other hand, results indicated that  regardless of the background of teenagers, high-quality romantic relationships made them feel happier.

This research cautions us to not dismiss teenagers’ romantic relationships as fun, ephemeral, and ultimately unimportant forays into love. Instead, Villalta and colleagues’ findings show us that when teenagers’ relationships are supportive and have little conflict they can help adolescents thrive. 

Police lead meeting in large, and mostly empty room. “Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Community Meeting #1” by Daniel X. O’Neil is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recent police violence and related protests have led to calls to reestablish and strengthen trust between police and communities. In response, the New York Police Department (NYPD) holds quarterly police-community listening meetings to discuss issues ranging from junked cars to shootings of people with mental illness. 

Cheng collected ethnographic data from 40 of these community-police meetings across nine communities in New York and conducted 58 interviews with meeting attendees. He found that three issues prevent these meetings from successfully increasing police-community trust and communication: 1) ignoring “rabble rousing” topics such as police brutality and focusing on easily resolvable problems, 2) the snubing of first-time attendees from actively participating, and 3) the use of police-friendly venues.

During these meetings, attendees sometimes raised concerns about police violence towards community members. When these conversations arose, police redirected comments and shifted dialogue towards directly resolvable problems, such as parking. Following meetings, tweets and reports written by officers further omitted complaints about police violence and framed the events in a favorable light. For example, instead of recording discussion about the police’s failure to respond to gang activity in a timely manner, police officially reported “Trespassing/Narcotics–Late Nights” in a housing development as the topic of discussion – favorably curating the original complaint. 

In his observations of the dialogue between police and attendees, Cheng also noted the presence of pro-police “regulars” frequently attending meetings and vocally dismissing first-time attendees. For example, when a first time attendee expressed their intent to create a non-profit to help youth find employment and reduce crime, “regulars” dismissed this non-law enforcement solution and declared that youths in question “don’t want help”. 

The location of the meetings also favored the NYPD. Churches, schools, and housing complexes were selected for their convenience and capacity – but these venues hold pre-existing connections with law enforcement. Officers frequently serve in roles such as security for weekend religious gatherings and school resource officers in schools. By using these venues the NYPD inadvertently stacked attendance with police-friendly community members. For example, one pastor had bible-study members attend and following an opening prayer to begin the meeting then commented, “the way to stomp [drug dealing] is to foster that relationship between the police. We’re not just to see the police as the enemy, but we see the police as our ally”.

This research shows how intentional and impartial organization is necessary to create a space where people can effectively share constructive criticism of the police. In order to meaningfully change responses to police complaints, organizers must better balance institutional control over these types of meetings and actually provide space for community members’ criticism.