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Like the generations before them, today’s college students have been important leaders in social activism. This activism is likely to decline sharply, however, for those graduating in the next few weeks. Why? In a new article, Jonathan Horowitz shows how the post-college decline in activism is driven by fewer opportunities for involvement.

Horowitz’s longitudinal research combines survey data and interviews to track college activists over time. Previously, social scientists have argued that activism declines after college because people have less time and more family and professional responsibilities. Or that family members and peers might pressure people to “get serious” after college, only tolerating idealism during college as a phase. Horowitz, however, finds that neither time pressures nor declining social support can explain the 80% post-graduation decline in activist involvement he observes. Instead, it is mostly about the rich opportunities for activism that college life offers.

During their time in college, Horowitz’s respondents describe quick walks from the library to the activist meetings with which they are involved. Students bump into friends on campus and receive invitations to social justice events. The college activists in Horowitz’s sample are busy, spending considerable time on school work and part-time jobs. However, it is easy for them to switch between classwork and activist activities and dense, busy college campuses are full of opportunities to engage in activism. 

Horowitz’s findings are a necessary reminder that today’s college students are not entitled and privileged, with lots of free time to engage in social movements. They are busy, motivated, and have a lot of responsibilities. Even still, they choose to engage in social justice activism. The physical environment of college campuses, and college students’ broad networks of campus friends and acquaintances, make this choice easy and convenient. This suggests that one way to engage young people in activism after college is to make it easier for them to access social justice opportunities and events — as easy as rolling out of your dorm bed and into your 8 a.m volunteer shift. 

Image: Shelving in front of a house in New Orleans with “Community Baby Supplies” sign and boxes of clothing, toys, diapers, and other supplies. Image courtesy of the author.

One in three American families could not afford diapers for their kids before the pandemic. Now, demand for diapers has grown by almost 400% due to COVID-related financial hardship, and this shortage has disproportionately affected women and low-wage workers, parents who previously relied on employers, childcare centers, or diaper banks. “Diaper need” is causing health problems, racialized stigma, and financial burden as parents must choose between providing diapers and other necessities like food or electricity. New research by sociologist Jennifer Randles examines the overlooked issue of diaper need and the innovative, labor-intensive strategies families are employing to meet it.

Randles conducted in-depth interviews with 70 mothers of young children. Over half of them named diapers as their most anxiety-inducing household expense, more than food, housing, or electricity. 

Respondents raised the health implications of diaper need for both children and parents. Keeping a baby in a used diaper for too long can result in painful rashes, urinary tract infections, and emergency room trips for the child. Mothers in Randles’ study went without medical care, internet access, toilet paper, tampons, food, and other necessities to save diaper money. Going hungry was particularly problematic for moms who were still breastfeeding.

Because diapers are considered fundamental to being a ‘good’ parent, diaper need also caused anxiety, loss of dignity, and stigma for mothers. As one respondent said, “it’s really scary for a mom not to have diapers, not to be able to provide this basic thing for your child.” The psychological consequences were intensified for mothers of color and poor mothers who faced contempt from welfare agents when trying to access diapers for their children due to racialized stereotypes of lazy and irresponsible “welfare queens.” 

Diaper need is a public health problem without a public policy solution. Although diapers are a basic hygiene need of early childhood, they are categorized as “unallowable expenses” by aid programs like SNAP and WIC. Most states tax diapers as “discretionary” expenses. As one mother said, “babies need diapers as people. They are not a luxury. They are about being human.” If they were covered under existing welfare programs, parents would not need to face these difficult choices.

Image: Two sets of white feet sticking out of the end of a bed, under a yellow blanket. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

Young adults are having less casual sex, or sex outside of committed relationships. While sexual activity has decreased for some adults, the drop in sexual activity is even greater  among teenagers and young adults. According to previous studies, 15% of young adults (ages 20-24) did not have sex in the past year between 2010-2014, compared to 12% in the early 2000s. Why?

Speculations abound about why young people are having less sex. In their new study, Scott J. South and Lei Lei try to answer some of these lingering questions. They look at changes in self-reported sexual activity among single young men and women (ages 18-23), after statistically adjusting for the effects of race, educational status, religiosity, and health. Using nationally representative survey data from 2007-2017, they investigate some possible reasons for this decline: alcohol consumption, employment, financial debt, living with parents, and the use of different media. 

For both single young men and women, a decrease in alcohol consumption explains some of the decline in sexual activity. Previous research has found that alcohol consumption, in general, is a strong predictor of sexual activity. For young men only, the researchers found that an increase in computer gaming and living with parents also contributed to the decline in sexual activity. These findings support previous research that living arrangements and use of media may influence sexual activity among young adults. Interestingly, they find no significant trends related to financial burdens, internet use, or television viewing. This study only includes people who identify as women or men, so this research cannot speak to the experiences of other gender identities. 

These findings offer insight into only some of the reasons for declines in sexual activity, which occurred against a backdrop of shifting social understanding of gender identity, the meaning of casual sex, and the #MeToo movement. Overall, this research helps show how both life choices and a changing social environment  have contributed to reductions in casual sex among many young adults today. 

Image description: A police vehicle is in the foreground, a traffic light, and large office building in the background. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

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.

Image: Yellow “crime scene do not cross” tape in front of a black background. Image courtesy of Null Value, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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.