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The 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police reinvigorated a national debate on racism in law enforcement. Despite calls to eliminate aggressive engagement practices – such as the chokehold – larger debates on racist biases in law enforcement remain fraught and contested. In a recent article, sociologists Victor M. Rios, Greg Prieto, and Jonathan M. Ibarra set out to understand how police respond to changing expectations of police conduct in their interactions with Latinx communities.

To examine how the goal of friendly civilian encounters occur in practice, the authors spent five months observing a Gang Suppression Team (GST) in a mid-sized California city. Additionally, they interviewed gang-associated Latinx civilians who interacted with the GST. Although many researchers have studied police bias against Black communities, Rios and colleagues focus on the Latinx community, a largely overlooked group in the literature on racial profiling. 

Rios and colleagues identify a continuum of policing tactics. These range from cordial and cooperative engagement styles – mano suave (Spanish for soft hand) – to more abusive and punitive tactics in which officers frisk civilians and use physical force to display dominance – mano duro (hard hand). These varying and often contradictory approaches to policing signal recognition of changing expectations of law enforcement. However, the authors find that courtesy policing, or the turn to respectful and cordial methods, is often used to justify more punitive approaches. Officers approach these encounters “interactionally,” integrating new practices alongside tactics that reflect ingrained racist biases.

In recent years, police leaders have expressed a desire to repair relationships with Latinx communities and other historically marginalized groups. Yet the legitimacy policing continuum leaves space for existing biases and racist practices to shape interactions with overpoliced communities. The years-long debate over excessive policing has underscored the need for systemic change. Many activists have called for the outright abolition of police and law enforcement, while other advocates and policymakers favor reform in engagement styles, such as bans on techniques like the chokehold. However, as this article demonstrates, surface-level reforms without structural change can leave room for existing biases, amounting to little more than “a velvet glove sheathing an iron fist.”

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Gig workers, such as Uber drivers or Instacart deliverers, face challenges when attempting to transition to full-time work. But the category of “nonstandard” work is complex and includes individuals like freelancers, self-employed workers who operate on a project-to-project basis. Freelancers often have a high level of skills, autonomy, and pay, but they also experience low job security and meager benefits. In a recent paper, Quan Mai set out to examine how employers assess a history of freelancing in job candidates. 

The study had two parts. First, a field experiment tested the effect of a history of freelancing on the likelihood of getting called for an interview. The experiment sent out approximately 12,000 applications to 6,000 real marketing, sales, or administrative assistant job postings in 50 urban areas. Each job posting received a set of applicants who were matched on qualifications but varied in terms of whether the last job held was full-time employment, freelance employment, or unemployment. Mai also interviewed 42 hiring managers to probe for why they might be less likely to hire freelancers than other applicants. 

Mai found that employers were 30% less likely to call back applicants currently freelancing than those who were currently employed full-time. In interviews, hiring managers indicated two reasons why they may be less likely to hire individuals with a history of freelancing. The first reason is that job skills can be harder to verify. A history of freelancing might indicate high or low skills, and that uncertainty makes it less likely for hiring managers to advance freelancers to the next round of a job search. The second, and likely more consequential, reason is that freelancing sends a negative signal about devotion, stability, and loyalty. Hiring managers, simply put, are concerned that freelancers won’t be committed to the job long term. 

Employers are looking for signals about competence and commitment when they are evaluating resumes. A history of freelancing sends uncertain signals of competence and strong negative signals of commitment, leading to a disadvantage in the search for full-time work. This study adds to our understanding of nonstandard work, especially with respect to what temporarily taking on nonstandard work might mean for long-term employment prospects.

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Although public awareness of sanctuary has increased dramatically in the last few years, sanctuary cities have actually existed since the 1980s. Sanctuary jurisdictions are areas with policies that limit federal and local level cooperation in regards to immigration enforcement. The impacts of sanctuary policies are only beginning to be understood, but one outcome has emerged already: their impact on crime reporting. New research suggests that victims of crime are more likely to report their victimization when they reside in a sanctuary city.

In a new article, Ricardo Martínez-Schuldt and Daniel Martínez analyze 35,000 incidents of violent crime victimization and 135,000 incidents of property crime in 40 of America’s largest metro areas from 1980 to 2004. They find that Latinos and Latino-Americans are 12% more likely to report violent crime victimization when they live in a sanctuary city. Interestingly, the authors did not find any evidence for other ethno-racial groups’ odds of reporting crime victimization.

The higher rates of violent crime reporting found by the authors indicate that victims are more likely to come forward when they have the basic protections offered in sanctuary cities. The fact that immigrant community members were more likely to notify the police when victimized suggests that sanctuary policies may help establish trust in local law enforcement agencies. Sanctuary policies are therefore important for achieving equal justice for victims of crime, in this case permitting Latinos to report crimes without fear of their or their loved ones’ potential deportation. Conversely, the absence of sanctuary policies may undermine trust and the perceived legitimacy of local criminal justice systems.

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Today, more people are seeking mental health treatment than ever before. Some have attributed the rise in treatment seeking to greater psychological distress among young people due to the influence of social media and other cultural changes. But a new article by sociologist Amy Johnson finds mental health treatment seeking has increased for people of all ages, despite little change in mental distress over time. 

Johnson uses data from the National Health Interview Survey to examine how general psychological distress and mental health treatment seeking have changed over time. Johnson leverages statistical techniques that allow her to separately examine the influence of a respondent’s age, generation, and the historical moment. This allows her to conclude that treatment seeking is increasing for people of all ages and generations, despite no significant increase in psychological distress among any group.

Johnson’s finding is important because it focuses attention on how broad cultural changes have affected treatment seeking among people of all ages. For example, she points to the destigmatization of mental illness and major policy changes, such as the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that insurance companies cover mental health treatment, as potential drivers of treatment seeking.

Despite Johnson’s finding that treatment seeking has increased across the board, some people still lack access to mental health treatment, particularly non-white and non-college-educated people. Even as the broader social context reflects more comfort with and availability of mental health treatment, it is important to recognize and address remaining disparities in access to this care.

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Each March, we celebrate women’s history month. During this time we recognize influential women and highlight the various challenges and inequities that women face. Many scholars have shown that gender inequality predicts violence, specifically homicide, against women. Yet new research from Moore and colleagues suggests that gender inequality also predicts  homicide against men.

Constructing a database modeled after the UN Human Development Report, the authors calculated each US state’s gender inequality index based on health, empowerment, and labor market participation measurements. They also indexed homicide rates for each state using the FBI Uniform Crime Report. The authors find that as gender inequality increases, the total homicide rate also increases. That is, as a state becomes more unequal for women, more homicides are committed. These findings hold true even when male and female homicide are analyzed independently. For example, as gender inequality increases, the male homicide rate also increases.

Previous studies have linked gender inequality to violence against women, either through women’s empowerment or through the backlash they face from men. Overall, scholars have found that as women gain political, social, and economic power, they are less likely to be targets of violence. This new study is important because it shows that gender inequality not only increases violence against women but increases violence against men as well.

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Over 3 million Americans were targets, or victims, of violence in 2018. Yet, only half of the targets of nonlethal violence seek formal medical care. Why do some targets of violence avoid medical care? Keith L. Hullenaar and Michelle Frisco studied how adults make healthcare decisions after suffering injuries in violent incidents. 

Using the National Crime Victimization Survey from the past 20 years, the researchers identify three “situational factors” that influence a person’s decision to receive medical care. They find a victim is less likely to seek medical care if they have previously experienced violence, know the person who injured them, or if the incident was sexually violent.  In these instances, the target of violence may feel safer avoiding medical care altogether. Unfortunately this holds true even after controlling for race, gender, income, and healthcare coverage, when the individual has serious injuries.

The decision to seek medical care is not neutral or obvious in the face of injury but contextualized within relationships, risks, and consequences. While social connections are necessary for wellbeing, negative or abusive relationships can actively harm health. As this research demonstrates, “social relationships can have a dark side for health and health care use.” By understanding the social factors that can limit access to care, healthcare professionals can mitigate these risks and create better care conditions for targets of violence.

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If you google “pornography addiction,” you’re immediately directed to a huge variety of advocacy organizations, professionals, and self-help articles that can help you “break free” of its negative effects on your life. Celebrities such as  Terry Crews and David Duchovny have spoken out about their struggles with pornography consumption. State legislators have even gotten involved, with many states passing or considering resolutions defining pornography addiction as a public health crisis. At the same time, social scientists have critiqued the simple application of medical concepts to understand social problems like addiction. In their new article, Burke and MillerMacPhee chronicle the recent attention to “pornography addiction,” how this focus contradicts science, and the consequences of labeling porn as addictive.

Burke and Miller MacPhee conducted a content analysis of over 600 documents to understand how activists, religious leaders, politicians and scientists framed the harms of pornography. They found that references in popular media and legislation to pornography as “addictive” are a relatively recent phenomenon, emerging during the early 21st century. The news media and politicians repeatedly refer to the dangers of pornography addiction despite inconclusive neuroscientific evidence that pornography can be addictive in the same sense as substances like nicotine or alcohol. Yet references to “pornography addiction” have increased dramatically in the last ten years.

Activists, reporters, religious leaders, and legislators all use terms such as  to “pornography addiction” to highlight porn’s harmful effects on not only individual health but, also, heterosexual relationships and society. By framing pornography as biologically addictive, their judgements appear neutral or unbiased, rather than rooted in particular interests such as conservative christianity or the therapeutic profession. In short, social actors can use scientific and biomedical framings of pornography “addiction” to give legitimacy and authority to their own judgements about sexual behavior.

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When natural disasters strike, we expect help from the federal government. But a 2019 study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Rice University shows federal disaster relief aid distributes money along existing lines of wealth inequalities. In 2020 alone, wildfires decimated Pacific coast forests; tropical storms pummeled Gulf Coast towns and Northeastern cities; and freak earthquakes and tornadoes ripped through much of the country, from Texas to Ohio. Although aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has become increasingly necessary as the Earth continues heating, a recent study shows that these dollars disproportionately help those with wealth and homes.

To examine the critical relationship between natural damages and wealth, sociologists Junia Howell and James Elliott use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the US, the 2000 Census, and county-level FEMA information on assistance expenditures. By linking respondents to zip code level data on natural disasters, these data highlight the determinative role government aid plays in shaping socioeconomic disparities following natural crises. 

They find that damages from natural hazards contribute to wealth inequality, noting that these damages exact disproportionate impacts along lines of race, education, and – crucially – homeownership. When disaster strikes, homeowners’ wealth grows, while renters’ net wealth diminishes. This results in insurance policies and disaster response programs that privilege private ownership. Troublingly, those who need the most help are often left worse off following government intervention. 

These ongoing disparities stem from long patterns of racial exclusion in the housing market, the classroom, and workforce. Disaster aid not only favors those with systemic advantages, like homeowners and college graduates, it often worsens already precarious conditions for those most in need. Considering  the close connection between homeownership and  the intergenerational transmission of wealth, these findings demonstrate the importance of recognizing systemic exclusion and marginalization as policymakers and scholars address the present climate crisis.

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In 2019, nearly 72,000 Americans died from a drug overdose — more than car accidents or gun violence. Over 50,000 of those deaths involved opioids. Drug overdose deaths have been on the rise for the past twenty years, with deaths increasing fourfold

Katherine Beckett and Marc Brydolf-Horwitz wanted to know whether states had altered drug policies in response to the opioid crisis. The researchers reviewed US state sentencing statutes between 2010-2016, as well as drug arrest and imprisonment records in a similar time frame. With the rise of the opioid crisis, the authors hypothesized that the drug war is de-escalating and that White drug users would see the greatest decline in punishment. The War on Drugs that began in the 1970s overwhelmingly targeted Black communities, contributing to the rise of police brutality and mass incarceration. What they found surprised them. 

Contrary to their prediction that White drug users would disproportionately benefit from policy changes, drug arrests decreased more sharply for Black people in the last decade. While Black people remain considerably overrepresented in drug arrests, 31 percent fewer Black people were arrested for drugs in 2018 than in 2007. Further, the number of Black people incarcerated in state prisons due to a drug conviction fell by 53% between 2012 and 2017.

Beckett and Brydolf-Horwitz think geography could explain this decline. Drug arrest and imprisonment rates decreased in urban areas but increased in suburban and rural areas. Since urban areas are typically more racially diverse, this geographic trend could explain why Black people were arrested and imprisoned at lower rates. This trend could also explain why drug arrest and imprisonment rates did not fall for White people, because many suburban and rural areas remain predominantly White. 

While further research is needed to understand these shifting patterns in drug arrests, the most recent War on Drugs appears to be slowing down. And this decline is significantly narrowing the racial disparities between Black and White drug arrests. The racial injustices of previous drug scares and the tragedies of the opioid crisis cannot be undone, but these trends demonstrate that meaningful changes are underway in state drug policies.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, internet memes have made light of people’s use of alcohol to cope with the stress and isolation of social distancing and virtual work and schooling. The corresponding rise in alcohol sales and consumption has raised questions about how isolation and loneliness contribute to drinking. New research by Eric Vogelsang and Joseph Lariscy, however, concludes that increased social participation may actually increase drinking, particularly for older adults.

Using the Wisconsin Longitudinal Sample, a long-term survey of a random sample of Wisconsinites who graduated high school in 1957, Vogelsang and Lariscy ask how participants’ families and social networks influenced their alcohol consumption in their sixties and seventies. 

The authors found that greater social participation was associated with more drinking days per month. Respondents who met with friends regularly, participated in group exercise, or attended arts or cultural events had more drinking days per month compared to respondents who did not engage in these social activities. One measure, meeting with friends regularly, was also associated with greater chances of participating in “at risk” drinking, or having more than three drinks at any one occasion.

The long duration of social distancing means that many Americans are missing their friends and family members, and some have begun drinking more. However, this research suggests that decreased social interaction may curb alcohol consumption among older adults, a population that is vulnerable to the health risks of alcohol abuse and facing increasing rates of substance abuse. Such findings remind us of the  potential “dark side” of social support, which may encourage negative health behaviors through peer pressure, relaxed norms, or providing more opportunities for substance use.