Photo by Sarah-Rose, Flickr CC

Party animals are finally proving their point. Meeting the love of our lives, forgiving a friend, or even rethinking the way we experience ourselves are more likely to happen at a party than when washing dishes at home. In a new study, Alice Goffman casts her sociological eye on how social occasions — from drinks in a bar to birthday parties — can turn into transformative experiences.

Like a kaleidoscope, the nitty-gritty details of how people organize their events, their motivations to attend, the proper social norms, and what is required for social occasions to succeed follow intricate patterns. To interpret their complexity, Goffman and her research team deployed several strategies:

Goffman started to take notes and interview attendees when she attended social occasions in 2009. In addition, during the fall 2017 semester, 15 undergraduate students wrote weekly event journals as part of a college course and shared these diaries to be analyzed in the study. Finally, Goffman’s research team turned to The New York Times’ marriage section, online websites, and literary work for accounts of turning points and transitions in people’s lives. Goffman’s notes, undergraduates’ diaries, and people’s experiences helped her to understand social occasions as platforms for the emergence of life-changing moments.

Social occasions range from a visit to the doctor to the celebration of a bar mitzvah. Some of these events — parties especially — represent a special realm where people design exceptional atmospheres by decorating, dressing up, or displaying outstanding cooking. The ambiance aims to relax existent social boundaries and release attendees from the mundane pressures of everyday life. Likewise, gatherings bring together disparate people who share similar social connections, interests or activities, and create a sense of communion. The combination of heightened energy, social commonalities, and collision of divergent words gives people an opportunity to perceive things differently and think differently about themselves. Parties reinvent friendships, launch marriages, and boost professional careers by prompting people to revisit their personal plans and discovering new social connections.

Social occasions do not always run smoothly. As energy and relaxation go up, people become more vulnerable to moments of acute disrespect or embarrassment, causing lasting damage for social relationships. Social occasions also force participants to reveal their social preferences and personal rankings, so gatherings become de facto popularity contests based on, for instance, who is included in the guests lists or who gets social attention. Social norms around greetings, proper topics of discussion, or how to dance competently challenge guests to perform a complex’ choreography that others will watch and judge. People in parties thus discover their and others’ social relevance.

Social occasions have a flip side too. Racial discrimination, lack of economic or social capital, or not having an able body generate invisible restrictions to accessing and experiencing social occasions. Future research is required to identify how structural inequalities limit access to these transformative experiences.

Jill E. Yavorsky, Lisa A. Keister, Yue Qian and Michael Naud, “Women in the One Percent: Gender Dynamics in Top Income Positions,” American Sociological Review, 2019
Photo by Tim Sackton, Flickr CC

If you make at least $859,000 per year in 2016 dollars, you’re part of the “one percent”– the top 1% of income earners in the United States. According to a recent study by Jill E. Yavorsky, Lisa A. Keister, Yue Qian and Michael Naud, you’re most likely to be part of the one percent if you’re a highly educated, white, married or cohabiting man or woman in your 50s, but individuals that don’t match those characteristics are much less likely to be.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances from 1995 to 2016, which includes 40,418 one-percent households. They examine whether there has been a change in the gender makeup of the one percent and how many households in the one percent rely on women’s income to remain in this top category.

In 2016, only 4.5% of elite households rely on women’s income for one-percent status. While this number has increased modestly since 1995 — when only 1.7% of households relied on women’s income — a financial glass ceiling remains intact at the one percent level, and gender progress has effectively “stalled” for these women since the mid-1990s.

Education, employment, age, and race affect whether households fall in the top one percent, but their analysis show key differences between men and women:  

  • Higher education. A higher percentage of both married and single men and women in the top one percent of households are highly educated, compared with those in the full population. 
  • Self-employment. Men and women in the top one percent are much more likely to be self-employed than those in the general population. Married men are much more likely to be self-employed than married women. 
  • Age. Married and single men and women in one percent households are older, on average, than the general population. The average age for single women is 63, which is 9 to 12 years older than others in the one percent. 
  • Race. Households in the top one percent are less racially diverse than households in the general population: Of married households in the top one percent, had respondents who identified as nonwhite, while only 3% of single-women households did.

In short, the same variables matter for both men and women, but key differences illustrate a continued gender imbalance.

Pride Parade in Kyiv 2017. Photo by Arrideo Photography, Flickr CC

Originally published October 10, 2018

At the international level, the advancement of sexual minorities’ rights often result from advocacy by broad international human rights groups, like Amnesty International, or from international organizations specializing in LGBT issues. In a recent study, Kristopher Velasco investigated which of these two types of organizations is more effective at influencing the national adoption of progressive LGBT policies.

To measure the success of LGBT causes at the national level, Velasco created a LGBT Policy Index of national laws that impact people with different sexual orientations, gender identities, or who engage in same-gender sexual practices. The Index is higher in countries that have enacted bans on employment discrimination, established hate-crimes protections, or legalized same-sex unions. Velasco then gathered data from 156 countries for the period between 1991 and 2015 . The study compares the relationship between the Index and the global emergence of human rights international organizations and LGBT international organizations, as well as the overall effect of the mounting global support for LGBT rights.

Velasco finds that the LGBT Policy Index has dramatically risen since 1990. For example, bans on employment discrimination increased from less than 1% of countries in 1991 to over 32% in 2015. Velasco also finds that the emergence of national LGBT policies is significantly associated with the global emergence of organizations specifically concerned with LGBT rights, and it was not significantly associated with the presence of broader international human rights organizations. In addition, the positive effect of LGBT international organizations increases when considering the mounting support for LGBT rights in the global context. For instance, as the United Nations expresses growing concern to sexual orientation and gender identity, political leaders are more likely to adopt progressive LGBT policies.

In short, globalization and mobilization of international organizations — especially those concerned with particular issues — play a key role in whether nations adopt LGBT-friendly policies.

Emily Huddart Kennedy, Christine Horne, “Do Green Behaviors Earn Social Status?,” Socius, 2019
Black and white photo of a large commercial plane just above the ground as if it is landing or taking off.
Photo by Bernal Saborio, Flickr CC

In Sweden, many are opting out of air travel due to “flying shame” (“flygskam”) an abashedness about using transportation that relies on fossil fuel. Instead, travelers interested in climate-smart travel are going by rail in record-breaking numbers, prompting Swedes to coin new terms for “train bragging” (“tagskryt”) and “flying in secret” (“smygflyga”).

Given that environmentally friendly practices like train travel are more often expensive and time-consuming than the alternative, it is a bit of a mystery why people are willing to adopt them. New research on the United States shows that certain eco-friendly behaviors may signal higher social status. And in the United States — given the politicization of environmental issues — it is unclear whether conservatives and liberals evaluate green consumption in the same way.

Emily Huddart Kennedy and Christine Horne used interview and survey data to investigate how American adults judge the social status of people who engage in eco-friendly behaviors like reducing consumption and consuming green products (low-energy refrigerators, solar panels, and hybrid vehicles). They also asked respondents if they thought Democrats and Republicans were likely to view people who engage in eco behaviors as having higher statuses.

Respondents in both political camps expected that only Democrats would rate green consumers as having higher social status. However, their predictions were incorrect. The researchers found that green consumption is a status symbol for both conservatives and liberals alike, but reducing consumption is not. In addition, respondents on both sides of the political aisle granted status to green consumption because they associate it with wealth. Conservatives, however, were more likely to associate green consumption with knowledgeability, while liberals associated it with morality.

The connection between consumption behaviors and social status may help to explain why many people opt to conspicuously consume green forms of travel and energy rather than reducing consumption. This study also helps us to understand how conservatives and liberals agree and disagree about eco-friendly consumption, and may suggest new ways to motivate households to reduce their environmental footprint.

Photo of elementary school students standing by their desks working with construction paper.
Photo by K.W. Barrett, Flickr CC

Millions of students each year are suspended or expelled from school, sometimes in response to minor, non-violent policy violations such as skipping class and “disruptive behavior.” These harsh policies disproportionately push out students from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially youth of color. Much of the research on this topic focuses on middle and high school students. However, a new study by Wade Jacobsen, Garrett Pace, and Nayan Ramirez shows that a surprising number of urban students are already impacted by the third grade.

The researchers used data from several thousand children in 20 large American cities to document how many were suspended or expelled by age 9. Overall, 11% of children were removed from school at least once by this age. However, there were stark race and gender inequalities in elementary school discipline. Only 8% of white boys and 2% of white girls were suspended or expelled, compared with 40% of black boys and 15% of black girls.

Next, the researchers wanted to understand what factors are driving inequalities in early school discipline. They found that racial disparities were not due to differences in behavior reported by parents. Instead, disparities were mostly explained by school disciplinary practices and family background, such as poverty and parental incarceration.

Exclusionary discipline is intended to punish and reduce aggressive behavior. However, the researchers showed that children who were suspended or expelled became more physically aggressive after they returned to school. They suggest that suspension and expulsion disrupt routines at home and cause children to fall behind at school, and this increased stress may lead to poor behavior.

While exclusionary discipline may sometimes be necessary to ensure student safety, there can be little disagreement that pushing kids out of schools when they are still learning to read is a practice that should be reconsidered. Finding effective alternatives to exclusionary discipline for non-violent behavior at an early age could improve racial equity in life-long educational outcomes.

Photo of young students writing at a long table. The student closest to the camera is an African American boy with glasses and a green shirt.
Photo by Amanda Mills, USCDCP. Pixnio, CC

“Broken-windows” policing was a popular policing strategy in the 1990s that emphasized aggressive policing of low-level crimes as a way to reduce more serious crimes in an area. However, broken-windows policing led to racial disparities in stops and arrests in many cities where it was implemented. Recent research by Joscha Legewie  and Jeffery Fagandemonstrates that such disparities in police stops and arrests can have far-reaching impacts on youth educational performance. Specifically, they found that in New York City, broken-windows policing led to diminished educational successes among African American boys in particular.

Legewie and Fagan tested the effect of policing program, “Operation Impact,” which began in 2004. Over its 10 years in existence, Operation Impact targeted high-crime areas of the city for increased stop-and-frisks of pedestrians and officers were encouraged to make arrests for low-level offenses. Legewie and Fagan argue that Operation Impact could have two potential impacts on educational performance among youth: 1) it could lead to major reductions in crime which could increase academic performance in high-crime areas or 2) it could diminish educational achievement due to negative direct and indirect contacts with police.

The authors employ data from two major sources to test this relationship: a database of NYC student records from 2003 to 2012 and NYPD data on pedestrian stops, crime complaints, and arrests during Operation Impact from 2004 to 2012. They adopt a difference-in-differences analytic approach to assess the before and after impacts of Operation Impact on crime and educational performance. The NYPD expanded, moved, removed, or added impact zones every six months during implementation of Operation Impact, which allowed Legewie and Fagan to estimate the causal effect of the program on youth educational performance by accounting for other neighborhood factors that could confound their findings.

Operation Impact lowered educational performance of black boys in the neighborhoods affected, especially those between the ages of 13 to 15. They find that this reduced educational performance was related to decreased school attendance among African American boys, suggesting that this form of system avoidance may be partly to blame for bad test scores.

This research demonstrates how broken-windows policing strategies have had far-reaching consequences for opportunity gaps in education. The analysis suggests that while Operation Impact reduced violent and property crime rates, its costs to students’ educational success outweighed these crime reductions.

Image shows people holding protest signs. One sign says "Mr. policeman please don't kill my day, my child, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, etc. thank you." Another says, " the right to bear arms is a white privilege."
Photo by Tony Webster, Flickr CC

On April 18th, police officer Christopher Krickovich faced public criticism for rough handling a Black teenager at a local school. Similar incidents across the nation have compelled Black parents to talk to their children about how to navigate and survive police interactions. Most of these conversations use familiar high-profile cases involving Black men such as Michael Brown and Eric Gardner to illustrate the danger with police contact. Yet, Black girls and women have largely been neglected as targets of police brutality. In a recent study, Shannon Malone Gonzalez reveals that Black girls are not only left out of public discourse regarding police violence, but also the everyday “police talk” Black mothers use to teach Black children how to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

Gonzalez conducted interviews with 30 middle- and working-class Black mothers in an urban city. Each mother had one or more children between the ages of four and thirteen and 21 Black mothers had at least one daughter. During her interviews, Gonzalez asked Black mothers to reflect on their children’s racial and gendered vulnerabilities to police violence and how these perceptions of vulnerability informed police talk with their children.

Black mothers often utilized the “making it home” framework when discussing police with their children. Through double consciousness — understanding one’s own vulnerabilities through the lens of the dominant group — this framework teaches Black youth to be hyperaware of police stereotypes that reproduce notions of Black criminality. Mothers provide suggestions for how Black youth should interact with law enforcement to increase their chances of “making it home” safely. Black mothers believe these talks are vital for their children’s survival.

At the same time, Gonzalez points out that these talks marginalize the experiences of Black girls in three ways. First, Black mothers often categorized Black sons as the primary targets of police brutality and Black daughters as collateral targets or “secondary victims.” Even when asked about girls, several mothers turn their attention back to their sons. Second, these talks reinforce the idea that violence associated with masculinity, such as physical assault and shootings, are more important than verbal harassment or sexual violence — experiences that are more often linked to women’s experiences of police misconduct. The “making it home” narrative also treats the home as an inherently safe space, even though homes often function as a site of police violence for Black girls and women. Finally, mothers see police talk as crucial for boys’ socialization but optional for their daughters. Through her work, Gonzalez encourages us to make Black women’s and girls’ experiences with police more visible in our understandings of police-community relations.

Photo shows a lecture hall with many students sitting in rows, facing the front of the room where a professor stands near a podium.
Photo by the University of Manchester School and College’s Photostream, Flickr CC

It’s teaching evaluation season again, when universities collect anonymous student evaluations of each class, contingent faculty wonder whether their scores will help them get another contract, and female faculty brace themselves for comments about their appearance. Teaching evaluations continue to be the most widely used (often the only) tool to evaluate and reward college-level teaching, despite a long history of research on gender bias in evaluations. New research considers how the design of evaluations affect their outcomes, and whether simply changing the number of points in a rating scale reduces the size of gender gaps.

Lauren A. Rivera and András Tilcsik studied a large North American university that moved from a 10-point scale to a 6-point scale in its teaching evaluations. The change in scale allowed the researchers to test whether the same professors, teaching the same courses, were evaluated differently on the 6-point scale than on the 10-point scale. Rivera and Tilcsik also performed an experiment where participants evaluated identical lecture transcripts in order to control for teacher quality and improvement.

Changing from a 10-point to a 6-point scale significantly affected the gender gap in the most male-dominated fields. Specifically, on the 10-point scale 31.4% of male professors received the highest score, while only 19.5% of female professors did. A ten was the most common rating for male professors, followed by a nine and then an eight. For female professors, an eight was the most common, followed by a nine and then a ten.

After switching to the 6-point scale, the gender gap disappeared. On the 6-point scale, 41.2% of male professors and 41.7% of female professors received the highest score. Findings from the experiment likewise found a statistically significant difference between men and women using the 10-point scale and no statistically significant difference with the 6-point scale for professors in male-dominated fields.

The authors hypothesize that a ten on a 10-point scale connotes brilliance, a trait that students are less likely to attribute to female professors in these male-dominated fields. While ingrained biases are difficult to shift, careful construction of evaluation instruments is an achievable step for organizations looking to mitigate gendered effects.

Photo of a lined piece of paper with writing on it and a stamp that says, application granted.
Photo of 1902 application for Cherokee Census Card. Photo by U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, public domain.

Contesting individual’s claims to Indigenous ancestry is nothing new; a notable example is Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry testing and Donald Trump’s repeated “Pocahontas” jeers. Proving authentic group heritage is something many Americans never think about, but such dynamics are common for Indigenous persons.

The labels, “Native American,” “Indigenous,” and “American Indian,” are social constructions rooted in the story of colonization. Indigenous populations in present-day United States were subject to state policies and institutions that lumped many different groups into the label, “Native American.” As a legacy of these policies, people have to provide proof of Native American ancestry to be considered official tribal members. In new research published in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Dwanna L. McKay explores how Indigenous people draw on different strategies to navigate these complicated systems of belonging and proving identity.

Interviewing 45 Native American participants, McKay describes two dominant methods they use to defend their identity as authentic Indigineous Peoples. First, there is “blood quantum,” a term that refers to how much Native ancestry or family a person can point to in their family tree. The other common way to display authenticity is producing one’s “Indian Card,” a certificate that some Indigenous people receive as proof of their heritage. For several interviewees, these cards not only represent a structural and political qualification, but also hold cultural and personal significance.  

Of course, blood quantums and Indian cards are specific to Native Americans; members of other races in the United States do not have to similarly prove their ancestry or identity. This distinct picture is a product of colonialism and the subsequent categorization, marginalization, and isolated Indigenous populations. Today, such history has affected how people experience race and negotiate Indigenous authenticity.

Photo of two steaks on a grill with an open flame.
Photo by Gabriel Saldana, Flickr CC

Men are less likely than women to consider becoming vegetarian. And in the United States, where men have higher rates of life-threatening health conditions than women — including uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease — changing eating habits may be important for their health. To learn more about meat and masculinity, Researchers Sandra Nakagawa and Chloe Hart conducted a study examining how gender identity influences eating habits.

Nakagawa and Hart conducted experiments to test whether a threat to masculinity influences men’s likelihood of eating meat. In one experiment, the researchers told some men their answers from a previous survey fell in the “average female” range, while others fell into the “average male” range. For the men who received “average female” results, the authors expected them to feel like their masculinity was in question.

Men who experienced a threat to their masculinity showed more attachment to meat than those who did not experience the threat. They were also more likely to say they needed meat to feel full and were less likely to consider switching to a diet with no meat. This study shows that masculinity does matter for how men maintain their health. Importantly, it is not masculinity itself that is the problem here, but the high standards men feel they must meet — and eat.