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 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.

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 Kevin Walsh, Flickr CC

Be it the Syrian refugee crisis or President Trump’s border wall, the debate over immigration is regularly front-page news across the globe. And while contemporary factors like current events or the national economy can certainly impact attitudes about immigration, a recent article by Wesley HiersThomas Soehl, and Andreas Wimmer argues that anti-immigrant sentiment on the national level may have more of a historical legacy than was previously assumed. While much of the previous literature focuses on individual- and country-specific factors, the authors compare global historical trends as they relate to anti-immigrant sentiments. They find that nations with high levels of past territorial loss or conflict are more likely to base their national identity around a shared ethnicity, rather than shared citizenship.

To test this, the team created a scale with which to measure past historical tensions, which may shape how national identity is formed. They then proposed that such tensions would lead to increasingly negative opinions of immigrants, creating a scale to measure these geopolitical experiences. The assessment included 33 European nations, with the researchers predicted that nations ranking higher on this scale (like Russia and Turkey) would have higher levels of anti-immigrant sentiments than nations ranking lower (like Switzerland and Iceland). Utilizing immigration questions from each country’s most recent European Social Survey, they compared responses from non-immigrants on immigration to each nation’s rank on the 6-point geopolitical scale.

Their predictions were correct. Even when accounting for individual difference (like place of residence or religion) and national factors (like changes in immigration patterns), countries with more historical conflict had higher anti-immigration sentiment. The authors note that this phenomenon may look different throughout the world, and more research would be needed to validate these findings. But their research indicates that, despite the heated political debates and flashy news coverage, history itself plays a central role in contemporary beliefs about immigration.

Photo by Candida.Performa, Flickr CC

As the United States ages, more and more older adults are adjusting to the lifestyle changes that coincide with changing work and family roles, limited mobility, and chronic health conditions. For older adults who are married, cohabiting, or in another type of long-term relationship, this means that many of these relationships will include a partner who is living with a long-term disability or other impairment. In recent research, Deborah Carr, Jennifer Cornman, and Vicki Freedman investigate how intimate relationships affect the ways people experience disability, finding that support and strain in relationships affects the emotions of men and women in strikingly different ways.

The authors used data from the 2013 Disability and Use of Time supplement to a longitudinal study, which included over 1,100 adults over the age of 60 who were married, cohabiting, or in a romantic relationship. Researchers used 6,603 activity reports from time diaries in the supplement to analyze feelings of happiness, calm, frustration, sadness, and worry. They broke down the results by gender, presence of a disability (43% of the sample), and level of impairment. 

The study found that support from partners buffered negative emotions for women and men with low levels of impairment. Support was especially beneficial for the most highly-impaired women. In a marked contrast, however, support increased all four negative emotions in highly-impaired men. These men also responded to relationship strain with negative emotions, while the effects of strain were negligible for other men and all women. The researchers suggest that these findings point to gendered attitudes about independence. While women may understand support as a way to maintain autonomy, highly-impaired men may feel that both criticism and support threaten their independence and competence. These findings provide insight into the experiences of the older disabled and their caregivers, while also contributing to our understanding of how gender has important effects in all stages of life.

Photo by emyeu sss7, Flickr CC

Scholars tend to categorize relationships into two types — traditional, where one partner does the majority of housework and caring for children (typically the woman), and egalitarian, where these tasks are equally shared between partners. Among heterosexual couples, there has been a recent shift towards more egalitarian relationships, but this does not mean that all people define gender equality in the same way. New research from Carly Knight and Mary Brinton shows that there are actually three different ways Europeans define and subscribe to ideals of egalitarianism.

The authors use data from multiple surveys across 17 European countries. Respondents had to agree or disagree with statements about importance of a job for women’s independence, the primacy of men’s jobs over women’s, and women’s “natural” mothering abilities and desires to stay at home. 

It turns out that egalitarianism takes three forms: liberal egalitarianism, egalitarian familism, and flexible egalitarianism. The largest number of people fall under the liberal egalitarian group, which includes those who strongly support women’s participation in the labor force and believe that husbands and wives should both contribute to household incomes. Egalitarian familists are closer to traditionalists in their thinking that women should participate in the paid labor force, but that the home and family are more crucial parts of women’s identities. The third group, flexible egalitarians, equally support women’s decisions to enter the workforce or stay at home and do more traditionally feminine domestic work. Even though all of these people subscribe to some kind of equal division of labor in heterosexual relationships, this research shows that there is more than one way to understand these important changing family dynamics. 

Photo by University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability

Consumer genetic-testing is now available through several companies in the U.S, but can these tests actually explain your medical conditions? Sociologist Stefan Timmermans goes behind the scenes of a clinical genetics laboratory and explores how experts study a section of the genome – called the exome – to discover the genetic causes (genotype) of a certain disease (phenotype).

After three years attending the board meetings at one of the first U.S. academic centers to offer whole exome sequencing, Timmermans found that clinical scientific teams encounter great difficulties when trying to establish the causal connection between genes and symptoms. Sometimes the process is short and clear (what they call a scientific “slam dunk”). For instance, while studying the exome of a 35-year-old woman with retinitis pigmentosa, the team found a variant in her USH2A gene. The gene’s location, its rare frequency in the population, and previously published reports indicated that the team had “nailed” a molecular case. 

But most of the cases Timmermans witnessed were not that straightforward. He found instead that laboratory geneticists have to balance the information at hand (such as gene sequences and patients’ clinical records), with their disciplinary background, cultural beliefs, and institutional limits. Because they are doing a clinical study, scientists need a quick and accurate diagnosis, which means there is little time for long-term research or speculative debates. Professionalization also plays a role. Scientists are usually trained under the “one-gene-one-trait” tradition, which compels the team to choose one possible cause and exclude other genetic causes from their report, even when they might think that multiple genes are causing the disease. Finally, personal and moral considerations matter. For example, in spite of the absence of a clear genetic path, the team decided to report a gene only slightly associated with the disease, in part because they felt morally obligated to the family of the patient. 

Patients expect that exome sequencing will define the proper treatment and prognosis, but the process of genetic sequencing is not as clear-cut as it seems. Institutional, moral, and personal circumstances all influence how scientists understand the relationship between genotype and phenotype. In short, even science is a very social activity.