A dark silhouette of a man reading a book in a library. Image from Pixabay under Pexels license.

Self-help books have continued to gain popularity in recent decades, but there is mixed evidence of how these books are helpful for people, especially for those experiencing mental health challenges. To gain a better understanding of how individuals use these books, A.E. Gwynne did intensive interviews with people experiencing depression who regularly read such literature.

When asked why they turned to self-help books in the first place, interviewees typically described wanting a “quick fix” or “silver bullet”. Sarah is an example. She believed reading a self-help book on mental health would, “be like going to one of those churches where they put their hands on your head, and all of a sudden…a miracle!” 

Many interviewees described changing their expectations of these books as they read more. In particular, they described the quest for books that could teach them only one thing that could potentially aid them in their lives. They also realized that the books were only an aid and they needed to do the work of helping themselves. Aaron explained, “That’s what self-help means. It means help yourself. The book’s helping you, but you’re still doing the lifting.” Beyond personal improvement, respondents also valued how self-help books allowed them to understand that others are experiencing the same struggles as they were. 

While readers were generally enthusiastic about self-help books, some admitted that reading them sometimes caused them to experience shame, disappointment, fear, confusion, and anger. This less-than-positive effect was generally attributed to the fact that reading was sometimes hindered by the very symptoms they were experiencing. Monique explained, “When you’re depressed you don’t really feel like reading. I think coming out of it, that’s when you read.”

While self-help books can be helpful for some, this research highlights how reading them is often a mixed bag and rarely an instant fix. People seeking help strictly from self-help books may isolate themselves and prevent them from connecting with organizations, programs, and professionals with expertise in dealing with addressing the root issues of mental health.

Head football coach Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings from 2010-2013. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Racial disparities in hiring practices remain a constant issue in many workplaces. What’s more, these racialized biases are also influencing nonwhite employees’ likelihood of being promoted to leadership positions. This happens even in the National Football League, which has made a point of trying to facilitate the hiring of Black head coaches through the implementation of its famous “Rooney Rule.”

In 2003, the NFL adopted one of the most recognized diversity policies in the U.S., the Rooney Rule. Named after Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Rooney Rule requires that at least one person of color be interviewed for all open head coaching positions in the league. Ironically, Pittsburgh is one of the only places where the rule seems to have worked. Before the 2022 Super Bowl, two of the three Black NFL head coaches were fired, only leaving Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Steelers since 2007. Although Tomlin is only one season short of being the NFL’s longest-tenured Black head coach, racial disparities in the NFL’s hiring practices still exist. 

In their article “Racial Disparity in Leadership: Evidence of Valuative Bias in the Promotions of National Football League Coaches”, Christopher I. Rider and colleagues explore how racial disparities in leadership roles persist despite this policy. They provide an NFL context by using career history data for over 1,300 coaching staff of the NFL between 1985 and 2015 to investigate how, even when employees of color and white employees hold the same lower-ranked position and perform at equal rates, employees of color are less likely to progress toward a leadership role than their white counterparts (also known as valuative bias). They then analyze if the Rooney Rule was effective at reducing valuative bias in promoting lower-level coaches of color to leadership roles. 

It remains puzzling that the NFL is made up of primarily Black football players yet white men hold the majority of leadership roles. This reason alone provides the researchers with an informative context for exploring racial disparities in leadership attainment. Additionally, it is easy to measure a coach’s performance by simply looking at the percentage of a team’s wins and the performance of the offense/defense that corresponds with the coach’s primary responsibility. Finally, as demonstrated in the chart below, the NFL coaching staff is great for analyzing promotions to leadership roles because there is a clear ranking among coaching positions.

The researchers found that between 1985 and 2015, the Rooney Rule did increase the representation of head coaches of color right after it was implemented. However, when they include all variations of promotions across all coaching positions, they find a significant difference in the average promotion rate for coaches of color (4.5%) and white coaches (7.6%). They also find that when the lowest-level coaches are restricted (assistant position coaches), white coaches are 2.4 times more likely than coaches of color to be promoted. Although they find that white coaches are no more likely to be promoted to head coach than coaches of color in the same position, they find that nearly 80% of promotions to head coach are from coordinator positions. This means that even when a coach of color and a white coach played the same position in college, began their coaching career at the same level, and are currently coaching the same position, white coaches are nearly twice as likely to be promoted to coordinator positions than coaches of color, suggesting that Black coaches who are initially hired into lower-level coaching positions have a much lower chance in career advancement opportunities than their white counterparts.

Although the Rooney Rule increased the representation of coaches of color in all NFL coaching positions, racial disparities in career advancement opportunities across all levels persist in the NFL–especially in lower-level positions, where they are not subject to the Rooney Rule. In other words, valuative bias in promoting coaches of color persists despite the NFL’s high-profile attempt to close the racial gap in leadership positions. By using NFL hiring practices as a case study, the researchers show that organizations must address unequal promoting practices from lower-level positions to close racial disparities in leadership positions.

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Collaboration is the key to spurring creativity…or is it? Research suggests that women are often undervalued on creative project teams, receiving harsher evaluations and fewer opportunities to participate. However, as new technologies allow for asynchronous work (with team members working independently at different times, and in different spaces), the structure of creative teams is changing.  

Aruna Ranganathana and Aayan Dasa studied how asynchronous teamwork affects performance for Baul sangeet folk-music ensembles in eastern India. Most ensembles have several instrumentalists – who are typically men – and a single singer. The ensembles collaborate to decide what music to play and how to shape each song musically. Because each ensemble member plays a unique part, the music can be recorded either synchronously (with all ensemble members performing live together) or asynchronously (with each musician recording their part independently). The researchers interviewed musicians and observed recording sessions. They also conducted an experiment in which Baul singers recorded the same song both synchronously and asynchronously. Their performance was then assessed by musical experts on singer performance, vocal tone, vocal range, and overall group cohesion. 

From the interviews and observations, the researchers found that men and women experienced the synchronous recording environment differently. The men enjoyed the synchronous recording and thought that the group brought out their best creative work. They enjoyed creative discussions with other musicians, valued the feedback they received, and felt motivated. “People were encouraging me throughout, which further boosted my confidence; it felt like they were guiding me. I also got respect from all the people here. I also had a great experience interacting with the music producers; they were all very good,” a male musician described. 

Although some women also preferred synchronous recording and felt they performed best in a group environment, others preferred recording asynchronously. These women described receiving unnecessarily critical feedback or a lack of support and respect from the male musicians in synchronous recording. Some said they couldn’t express creative ideas or concerns. 

“The person who was playing the flute was trying to establish himself as a big shot and was constantly boasting about himself,” said one female singer. “He was trying to hint that I was not singing properly at certain points. . . . When I pointed out his mistake, and he was offended by it, no one else supported me even though they knew what I was saying was correct…I felt really bad today.”

Working asynchronously, in contrast, many women felt that their performance improved and that they could express themselves better. One woman described: “Whatever I had within me related to that song, I was able to provide all of it.” 

The experimental study appeared to bear this out, as the asynchronous environment improved ratings of women’s performance by nearly 30%. Even the women who preferred working synchronously received better performance ratings in an asynchronous environment.

While we don’t know whether asynchronous options have similar effects for other types of work, this study suggests that changes to the structure of work in creative teams can reduce gender disparities in performance and allow women to fully realize their creative potential. 

A grayscale landscape with a tall border fence surrounded by floodlights in the distance. Image by David Peinado from Pexels is licensed under Pexels license.

Immigration law is commonly assumed to be enforced by federal agencies such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, in recent years state, county, and municipal police and courts have become integral to the process of identifying, holding, and punishing immigrants. From the moment a person is booked, local police become aware of their citizenship status and this information can be immediately forwarded to federal authorities. 

To gain insight into these local-federal law enforcement relationships, Michael T. Light and colleagues looked at data on felony convictions from every local jurisdiction in Texas and California. These states have the largest and fastest-growing immigrant populations in the US but differ greatly in how they treat immigrants in the justice system. Texas has given immigration authority to the local police and has increased cooperation with ICE. California, in contrast, has become a self-proclaimed “sanctuary” for immigrants by distancing themselves from ICE and preventing local authorities from holding people for immigration violations alone. Looking at data from both states allowed the researchers to compare these differing approaches.

In both states, the researchers found that immigrants were convicted and incarcerated at a much higher rate than comparable US citizens arrested for the same crimes with similar criminal histories. In Texas, however, they found that immigrants were almost 10% more likely than citizens to be incarcerated, whereas the immigrant-citizen gap was only 2% in California. This is largely due to Texas’ strict policies that encourage local law enforcement to work with federal law enforcement

In some ways, this “punishment gap” between citizens and immigrants parallels the disparities between white and non-white defendants. The authors therefore suggest that future discussions of disproportionate criminalization may center around citizen status as well as race. 

This research shows what can happen when local police become the gatekeepers of both the criminal justice system and the immigration system. Based on the differing outcomes in Texas and California, it appears that deepening connections between local and federal criminal justice systems may result in harsher punishment for immigrants. 

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Racism is found everywhere in America – from neighborhoods to the criminal justice system, and even in classrooms, where Black boys are more than three times as likely to be suspended or expelled from school than White boys are. In a recent article, Dr. Jayanti Owens looked into one possible explanation for this disparity: differences in how Black, White, and Latino public school teachers assign blame to their male students for minor classroom misbehaviors.

Dr. Owens conducted her study on 1,339 teachers who were nationally representative of racial and gender demographics from 295 schools across the United States. To test the impact of teacher blaming bias, Dr. Owens and professional videographers worked with 11 high school-aged, undercover actors (four Black boys, four Latino boys, and three White boys) to film short clips of an actor from each racial group either throwing paper, texting during class, or slamming the door in the classroom. Owens then asked the teachers to evaluate and describe the behaviors of the students in a textbox after viewing one of the nine possible videos (three misbehaviors and three racial groups, creating nine unique vignettes).

Owens found that, on average, White teachers were more likely to assign blame to Black students than White students for identical classroom misbehaviors. However, these assignments varied by the race of the teachers. When White teachers were asked to describe the behaviors of the Black students in the video clips, they tended to use language that assigned blame to the personality of the student, rather than the potential factors outside the student’s control. In contrast, Black teachers assigned blame equally across all student races, while Latinx teachers assigned significantly more blame to Black students than White and Latino students.

Owens suggests that the higher attribution of blame by teachers of color to Black and Latino students could be a result of what she terms ‘tough love,’ where Black and Latinx teachers hold their students of color to higher behavioral standards to “prepare [their] minority students for the realities of racism.”  

Looking beyond the classroom, Owens emphasizes that these different standards for attributing blame can have real and long-term effects on students. The more blameworthy that teachers see their students, the greater the chance that students will be disciplined by the school. Students who are suspended or expelled from school have a higher likelihood of dropping out, which studies show leads to higher rates of incarceration and other lifelong disadvantages. 

An older couple walking closely together along a gravel path on a cloudy autumn day. Image by EddieKphoto from Pixabay is licensed under Pixabay license.

Are you looking for love? Above the age of 60? Well, you’re in luck. With the advent of online dating, older singles are beginning to reenter the dating world. Social science research has mainly focused on the online dating experiences of twenty-somethings, but new research from Lauren Harris explored the dating preferences and patterns of older adults.

Harris interviewed 50 men and 50 women, ages 60-85, through four online dating sites. Three of the sites were for the general public and one was specifically targeted towards older adults. Harris asked participants questions about their motivation and interests in online dating such as: “What are you looking for in a romantic partner?,” “Do you have any deal breakers?,” and “What do you notice when looking through someone’s online dating profile?”

Harris discovered that family caregiving responsibilities played an important role in how older singles viewed potential matches. Oftentimes, older adults will still provide care for their adult children or grandchildren. Harris found that these caring responsibilities actually changed the desirability of singles online in gendered ways. 

Women with family care obligations were seen as less desirable. For example, one of the men interviewed explained his irritation with this dynamic saying, “Why are you teasing me and wasting my time when you have the responsibilities? …It just gets frustrating. Do you want a relationship or do you not? So if you’re always taking care of your grandkids, why are you on a dating site when you don’t have time to get into a relationship?”

In contrast, men who had similar care responsibilities were seen as more desirable to women. As one woman explained in her interview, “A lot of times they’ll say something about how they love their children and their families and spend a lot of free time with their family. I like that. I like a family man.” At the same time, however, if men appeared to be in poor health or have young children of their own their desirability decreased. Women tended to shy away from men which might add to their care work responsibilities. As one woman described,  “What they’re looking for is women to take care of them… Or they’re having health problems. Maybe the wives [were] taking care of them in life or whatever…I’m not your nurse.”

Harris highlighted the gendered role family care responsibilities play in selecting potential love interests at an older age. Many older adults have care responsibilities and are subsequently experiencing unequal gendered impacts on their dating life. Because romantic relationships can be a major source of support and improve overall well-being, the influence of gender inequality on the dating experiences of older adults is important to consider. Technology has allowed more older adults to re-enter the dating world, but it has also highlighted the persistent caregiving double standard. 

A collage of social media icons with a blue haze by geralt. Image from Pixabay is licensed under Pixabay license.

Your Tweets, pictures, and messages may be used against you. Social media, a common way to connect and share our lives, has become a common form of courtroom evidence. Jeffrey Lane, Fanny A. Ramirez, and Desmond U. Patton explored in their research how social media data in criminal trials harms low-income defendants – who are commonly represented by public defenders. The researchers interviewed New York City public defenders, lawyers appointed to represent people who cannot afford to hire private attorneys, about their experiences preparing for trial and defending clients in cases involving social media data. 

The public defenders shared three main disadvantages they experienced while defending their clients. First, they were frustrated by overly broad search warrants that allowed the prosecution to access years of social media data to use as evidence. This overwhelmed public defenders with data, which increased their uncertainty about what evidence might be used, their fear of missing important data, and the amount of time preparing the case. Describing prosecutors’ use of these search warrants, one public defender said: “They were just fishing…they looked at everything and they found something they liked. That’s not how it’s supposed to go.”

Next, public defenders told the researchers that social media companies generally “bend over backwards for law enforcement,” but do not cooperate with public defenders in sharing individual profile data. While law enforcement could request a wide range of data (including data unavailable to the public, like location data), public defenders have limited access to data that may help their clients.

Lastly, public defenders described how social media data is used to paint their clients in a negative light. This pattern of using social media against people even involved using racial stereotypes. For example, one public defender told researchers about a case where the prosecution selected a photo from Instagram to identify the defendant at trial. Although the Instagram account had plenty of options, including family pictures, the prosecution selectively chose a photo that made the defendant appear ‘thuggish’ and ignored others. 

Due to these disadvantages, public defenders in this study said that they consistently had to defend against social media and lacked opportunities to use social media data to help their clients. While social media data could negatively impact any defendant, this research suggests that low-income defendants are particularly vulnerable due to the time and resources it takes to review social media data, putting increased strain on public defenders.  

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In the United States, every state has different laws regulating the strength of unions. About half of states have anti-union laws – somewhat deceptively called “Right to Work” (RTW) laws – that make union membership and the payment of union dues for workers optional and limit other union organizing. In contrast, pro-union states mandate workers join unions at workplaces with existing unions and pay dues. Supporters of these RTW laws argue that workers should not be obligated to join a union at their workplace or pay dues. Opponents argue all workers at unionized workplaces should have to join the union because they benefit from bargaining agreements, including pay, benefits, and working conditions. 

Tom VanHeuvelen compared these RTW laws in anti-union states and pro-union states using a nationally recognized data set of 5,000 American families and 18,000 individuals to see if there were different economic outcomes for workers. His results suggest that pro-union policies are good for workers whether they are in unions or not. Specifically, VanHeuvelen found that states with RTW laws had lower average pay (5-12% less), lower union premiums (benefits, working conditions, promotion policies, etc.), and more pay inequality between employees. In other words, these anti-union states had poorer economic outcomes for workers than pro-union states.

VanHeuvelen suggests that anti-union laws have lasting impacts on the overall economy and political landscape of states. To support his theory, VanHeuvelen looked at workers who travel between states for work, e.g. someone who lives on the border of two states: residing in a pro-union state, but working in the neighboring anti-union state. This analysis revealed a sharp decrease in average pay and pay equality in anti-union states — even when workers lived in a pro-union state but worked in an anti-union state. 

Broadly speaking, this research suggests that so-called ‘Right To Work’ laws not only lead to a weaker union presence but also that workers in RTW states are actually somewhat worse off than those in ‘pro-union’ states. For those who were optimistic about RTW laws benefiting workers, it might be time to rethink policies for both unions and workers.

 A woman in a suit arguing with a judge in robes outside a courtroom. Image by ekaterina-bolovtsova from Pexels is licensed under Pexels license.

Both child welfare social workers and juvenile probation agents work in systems where time is scarce and caseloads can be overwhelming. Catherine Sirois observed this reality among social workers and probation agents by observing court hearings where youth did not neatly fit within either the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.

Sirois observed juvenile court hearings, interviewed court and social service workers, and attended governmental committee meetings to understand how young people ended up being the responsibility of child welfare or juvenile justice. She found that both agencies attempted “institutional offloading” during court hearings. That is, they tried to place the children, who required the most time and effort due to mental or behavioral challenges, in the other agency and not their own.

This deflection, Sirois explains, is not caused by social workers or probation officers being lazy, but because of the reality of scarce resources. For example, a social worker may have an overbooked caseload which means they can only serve a certain number of time-intensive youths. As a result, when they get to court, such social workers may attempt to remove some of these youths from their caseload — freeing up their time for other, less time-intensive youths.

Because this institutional offloading often occurs in court, where children and adolescents can hear and see their social worker or probation agent attempt to drop them as a client, this can make them feel unwanted, abandoned, and unloved. This institutional abandonment coupled with family histories of neglect and abandonment can increase the likelihood that youth will need even more interventions. 

Sociological research like Sirois’ study sheds light on the paradox of institutional offloading in child welfare and juvenile justice systems. While it may be easy to blame individual probation officers and social workers for turning youth away, this research shows how limited resources can pressure well-meaning social workers and probation agents to drop the children who are most in need of services.

Kristin Turney, Katelyn Rose Malae, Mackenzie A. Christensen, and Sarah Halpern-Meekin., ““Even though we’re married, I’m single”: The meaning of jail incarceration in romantic relationships,” Criminology, 2023

A jail cell, partially open with two uncomfortable mattresses on a bunk bed. Image by RDNE Stock project from Pexels is licensed under Pexels license.

Almost one in five adult women in the United States is a romantic partner or co-parent with a currently or formerly incarcerated person. In other words, roughly 33 million women in America have had to manage a relationship behind bars. 

Unlike previous studies of long-term prison incarceration, new research by Kristin Turney, Katelyn Rose Malae, MacKenzie A. Christensen, and Sarah Halpern-Meekin asks how shorter-term jail incarceration affects romantic relationships and family structures for women in relationships with incarcerated men. This research addresses a lack of focus on jail incarcerations. Jail sentences often come more suddenly and are less predictable than prison sentences, leaving families less time to plan for the future. 

Turney and colleagues analyzed interview data from the Jail and Family Life Study of incarcerated fathers and their family members. The researchers had three main findings. First, women whose partners were incarcerated in jail felt their relationships were in a period of transition where their roles and expectations were uncertain. Arrests meant that families were suddenly separated for unknown amounts of time. Some interviewees spoke about their partners’ unclear release dates making them unsure of their relationship status and how things might change after release. Many interviewees described feeling both “connected” and “disconnected” from their incarcerated partners, with some describing their relationships as “long-distance” even though they still lived in the same county as their partners. Because of the forced separation, some interviewees even described themselves as newly “single” although they still felt committed to their partners.

“We were kind of at a standstill. We’ve just been dealing with Manny being gone, having to just go through life, I guess, without him. Raising his son, raising my daughter as a single mom. Because that’s what it is. Even though we’re married, I’m single,”

Second, many women whose partners were incarcerated in jails took on new or increased responsibilities when their partners were incarcerated, often becoming their family’s only breadwinners. Being in charge of their family’s finances, women were often responsible for the court fees of their incarcerated partners, creating new, challenging relationship dynamics. Without their children’s fathers, the interviewees also described difficulty in parenting alone, especially when speaking to their children about their partner’s absence. These often led to shifts in how interviewees viewed themselves with some finding a new sense of independence, such as seeing themselves as more positive, self-reliant role models for their children 

Finally, the researchers found that women with partners in jails reevaluated their relationships and priorities. Some interviewees felt the incarceration strengthened their relationships, as they became more committed to their partners. Some described feeling as though their partners focused on them more after being incarcerated which led to their relationship roles becoming more stable.  Others, because of their new responsibilities or the uncertainty of their relationship status, took the opportunity to reexamine their relationships, choosing to focus on themselves and their children while finding their relationships less important and feeling less committed to their partners.

Jail is an isolating experience for those incarcerated but it also affects relationships back home. Turney and colleagues show how separation complicates these relationships and, more generally, how the criminal justice system can impact relationships and inequalities among families outside of jail.