Surely executives have binders full of women who'd make great C-suite occupants. Mike Licht, Flickr CC.
Surely executives have binders full of women who’d make great C-suite occupants. Mike Licht, Flickr CC.

Gender segregation at work is one of the biggest contributors to the wage gap between women and men–in 2014, women cashed in at about 79 cents per men’s dollar. Much of the difference is explained by the fact that women overwhelmingly dominate “pink-collar jobs” that generally pay less, like teaching, nursing, and waitressing, and men dominate in higher-paying positions, like physicians, sales directors, and CEOs. However, even when men and women start in the same field, men are much more likely to advance. For instance, in June, The Washington Post reported that the number of Fortune 500 companies led by women was at an all-time high: 5%. (Less heralded? That women make up 45% of the labor force in these companies.)

While the number is small, clearly some women do make it to the top. So, when women are employed in upper level positions, what happens to women left near the bottom?

Researchers Stainback, Kleiner, and Skaggs studied the association between women in leadership positions and gender segregation in lower-level positions across 86 Fortune 1000 firms in Texas. Using statistical models, they tested the level of gender segregation across eight non-managerial occupational categories based on the percentage of women in managerial and executive positions. Overall, the researchers found that having more women in leadership positions is associated with less gender segregation in lower level jobs. However, this relationship gets much smaller when the percentage of women on corporate boards approaches 20%.

Since none of the firms actually has women as 20% of its corporate board, their finding is telling of the gross inequality between men’s and women’s representation in executive positions. Put differently, because corporate board membership hasn’t surpassed 20% female, the authors cannot make any conclusions about what would happen if it did.

Still, the association between more women at the top and less gender segregation below leads the authors to conclude that women who make it to the top can–and do–act as “agents of change” across organizations.

A freegan feast. Photo by Natalie HG via flickr CC.
A freegan feast. Photo by Natalie HG via flickr CC.

Dumpster diving and urban foraging—that’s how “freegans” shop. Freegans participate minimally in the conventional economy through an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, including living off others’ waste. Based upon extensive ethnographic fieldwork with freegans, UC-Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Alex Barnard argues that this lifestyle constitutes an innovative alternative to consumer-driven city life.

Barnard’s ethnographic study of New York City’s freegans took place over two years. Barnard attended “trash tours” (dumpster dives announced to the general public), freegan communal “feasts,” organizational meetings, and “skillshare” events to observe the subculture’s performative claims-making practices. To supplement his participant observations, including six months of subsisting on discarded food, Barnard conducted 20 interviews of active members of

The themes and questions Barnard found in the freegan life centered around how freegans create what they consider a moral place in a capitalist city they characterize as immoral. One freegan describes NYC as an “evil haven of decadence and debauchery.” A distinctive lifestyle and relationship to the physical world helps freegans create and sustain a sense of morality, and freegans use nature as a framework for deciphering right from wrong. Nature, they believe, is free from social influence—a moral concept “outside of us.”

Barnard anticipates a logical question by explaining that freegans choose to live in the city rather than move to the purer countryside as an act of resistance. Moving to literal greener pastures would do little to push back against the capitalist system. Further, as freegans derive a sense of morality from using waste as a natural resource, they see themselves as offsetting the mainstream population’s wasteful practices. Even in a “sin city,” individuals and groups find ways to use space to live in a way that aligns with their values.

Race is a socially constructed system of classification often conceptualized as different tones of skin color, and it’s easy to see how people may conflate the two. Interestingly enough, however, skin color can have distinct impacts, including tangible ones like differences in paychecks. A recent Sociology of Race & Ethnicity article explains.

Alexis Rosenblum, William Darity Jr., Angel L. Harris, and Tod G. Hamilton draw on the New Immigrant Survey, a nationally representative study sampling over 8,000 permanent-resident immigrants. Other scholars had already conducted some analyses on the NIS, but Rosenblum and her coauthors provide a vital intervention: describing how color variation predicts immigrant wages by home geographic region, disaggregating data previously studied as composite.

Their findings show that, overall, there is a negative relationship between skin color and wages—darker immigrants are paid less. Further exploration goes further to show that immigrants from of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries do not contribute to this overall finding: only darker-skinned immigrants from Latin American or Sub-Saharan-African countries are penalized on payday.

The new work also makes it plain that skin shade matters more than race among respondents from Latin American or Caribbean nations. “Light” or “dark” skin color predicted wages in these groups better than “white” or “black” racial identity. The opposite held true for Sub-Saharan respondents, among whom being identified as “black” was a better predictor of lower wages than darker skin. As scholars tackle questions about assimilation, integration, and ethnic diversity, findings like these make us all remember that race and color have important effects, especially when considering how each intersects with class.

See also Ellis P. Monk’s AJS findings that skin tone corresponds to unequal health outcomes, covered on TSP by Amber Joy Powell.

Bradley R.E. Wright, Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, Christine Zozula, “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 2015
Eric Lamoureux, Flickr CC
Eric Lamoureux, Flickr CC

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning… we stand in the most segregated hour of America.” From “kneel-ins” of the civil rights era to surveys and think pieces today, we often talk religious segregation as the result of individual choices: what do congregants want from church? How do they choose a church, and why do they leave? How do they work for change when church doesn’t work for them? New research from Bradley Wright and colleagues, however, reminds us that larger institutional and cultural factors that keep churches segregated.

The authors set out to ask whether churches themselves were less likely to welcome new members from different racial groups. They drew a national sample of 3,120 churches to cover mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic denominations, and they sent each a form email from a family planning to move into the area and looking for more information about the church. In each email, they randomly changed the name of the sender to suggest that they were White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian. They then measured whether the church office responded, how many follow-up emails they sent, how long responses took, and the length, warmth, religious tone, and the quality of information for each email response.

Their tests revealed some surprising results. Evangelical and Catholic churches did not show significant differences in their response rates, but mainline Protestant churches were significantly more likely to respond to inquiries from white senders. Black senders were 11% less likely to get a response, Hispanics were 14% less likely, and Asians were 27% less likely than Whites. Mainline Protestant churches also took significantly longer to respond to senders of color, and when they did their responses had lower quality information and were more likely to be terse—offering only one or two sentences that did not directly address the senders’ questions.

This research reminds us that racial homophily—the preference for a community where everyone looks the same—is not just a matter of individual choices. It is baked into institutional processes, and it often persists in fairly mainstream, moderate groups where people just want to feel “normal” and avoid conflict. For American religion, it isn’t just about who chooses the pews; we have to look at who builds them, too.

Photo by Jason Hargrove, Flickr CC.
Photo by Jason Hargrove, Flickr CC.

Keeping secrets, both your own and others’, may seem like very personal business. However, it turns out that what sensitive information gets shared, and with whom, follows some clear social patterns. This is one of the big take-aways of Sarah Cowan’s study of how information about abortion and miscarriage circulates through social networks.

Cowan starts from the fact that even though abortion is a more frequent event in the U.S. than the miscarriage of a recognized pregnancy, “more Americans hear of women who have had miscarriages than they hear of women who have had abortions” (483). Using a nationally representative survey of 1,600 American adults, in fact, Cowan finds that each miscarriage “secret” was told to 2.63 people and kept from 0.2 people on average, whereas abortion secrets were told to only an average of 1.24 people and kept from 0.8 people.

Cowan suggests that the data show that abortion is a more stigmatizing than miscarriage (that is, it deviates further from social norms) as a piece of personal information. She cites higher levels of social disapproval and previous studies indicating that women frequently report their abortions as miscarriages to their doctors. In other words, stigmatized or potentially stigmatized information is less likely to be shared with others.

In addition, Cowan finds that secret telling/keeping is impacted by the presumed attitudes of its potential recipient. In this case, respondents who have more accepting views toward abortion are more likely to hear others’ abortion secrets. Controlling for how likely one is to hear secrets, for example, Cowan shows that staunch “pro-life” Americans are 58% less likely than are those who think abortion should be “generally available” to hear an abortion secret.

Cowan’s results highlight how selective information sharing and secret telling is, and that people are often only told of secrets with content they already approve of. This selective information flow can lead us to perceive that our social networks match our beliefs at a greater extent than they actually do.

Image via
Image via

It isn’t every day that scientific research involves a bloody cage match, but that’s the life of a sociologist. In his Social Problems article, UCLA graduate student Neil Gong reports on his observations in a no-holds-barred fighting and weapons group, a club where there are no rules to maintain order or safety in the ring. The group’s only decree is that fighters should remain “friends at the end of the day.” After observing bouts and participating, Gong describes how fighters create and follow unofficial rules. He details three ways in which the participants regulate happenings in the arena.

First, the participants cultivate a code of honor, including shared, core understandings of “dirty” or dishonorable moves in the ring. Second, Gong finds that hesitation helps maintain order; since the fighters rely on rules and regulations in the rest of their lives, hesitation about how to handle unexpected moments in the ring tend to keep things in check. And third, rules external to the club, such as self-defense laws in general society, quietly enter these spaces, helping to shape the tools and tactics participants are willing to use.

In essence, even when there are no official “rules,” people in social contexts stick to a general set of norms and ideas for maintaining order. Gong’s hard-hitting research highlights how there are always rules… even when there aren’t.


Films like An Inconvenient Truth, Super Size Me, and Blackfish can heighten attention to issues by disseminating important facts to a wide audience in ways that books and other media often cannot. But can they actually help social movements achieve change?

A new study in the American Sociological Review takes up this question by evaluating shifts in public opinion about fracking in response to Gasland, a documentary about the mining practice’s negative effects on nearby communities. The authors evaluate the film’s initial effects in a given community by measuring how the number of Google searches and Tweets about fracking changed after a showing and assessing whether Tweets about fracking were more likely to be negative in tone after a showing than before. They investigate screenings’ longer term effects by charting whether increased web searches and Twitter chatter amplified the likelihood that an anti-fracking demonstration would take place or a ban on fracking would be adopted nearby. They also explore the film’s national effects by evaluating web searches and Twitter chatter after the film was covered in mainstream national newspapers or nominated for awards.

Results suggest that Gasland did, indeed, increase public discussion about fracking, help sway public opinion, and spur mobilizations around the subject. After showings, discussion about fracking comprised more of both social media discourse (as measured by Twitter posts) and mass media discourse (as measured by newspaper articles) than otherwise. The tone of Tweets was also more negative, containing significantly more words like “contamination,” “pollution,” and “chemicals,” “ban,” and “moratorium.” Showings also increased the likelihood of anti-fracking demonstrations and the enactment of fracking bans in communities where the film was screened.

The findings shed light on how movements work in the age of social media. While the effects of screenings upon Twitter chatter were largest in the days immediately following the showing, the increase was usually noticeable as much as four months later. In addition, the communities which had the most Twitter activity were also the most likely to host demonstrations, suggesting that activists were able to capitalize on Twitter’s potential as an organizing tool.

In other words, documentary films and social media have a role to play in changing public opinion and enhancing social movements by helping activists disseminate and act upon information.

Supervisor by Tripp, Flickr CC,
Supervisor by Tripp, Flickr CC

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues plague Americans across socioeconomic lines, but those in the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder are most likely to suffer depression and anxiety. Now research from Seth J. Prins, Lisa M. Bates, Katherine M. Keyes, and Carles Muntaner finds that those stuck in the middle—not only the middle class—are at the most risk.

Usually sociologists use household income and education level provide sufficient measures for socioeconomic status, but the authors assert that these metrics miss crucial information about mental health when used alone. Using a nationally representative survey, the researchers investigate the relationship between depression and anxiety with additional socioeconomic indicators including income, education, and the presence of what these authors call “contradictory class location.”

As opposed to the business owner or the person who does the manual work for the company, someone with a contradictory class location falls in the middle, usually as a supervisor or manager. They have authority over other workers, but still answer to the big cats upstairs—positions that can feel contradictory.

Contradictory class location, the authors write, helps explain why depression and anxiety affect the middle-class in a specific way. In part, the increased risk may come from competing stressors: the feeling of being dominated by superiors and the responsibility of managing others. People in these supervisor and manager positions are more likely to blame themselves for issues in the company, whereas those in non-contradictory class locations tend to look toward external factors.

Excerpted from photo by Richard Masoner, Flickr.
Excerpted from photo by Richard Masoner, Flickr. Click for original.

Speaking more than one language can be a valuable resource, but does it translate into economic and occupational success? According to the American Community Survey, young adults today are far more likely to speak a language other than English at home compared to young adults in 1980, up from about 10% in 1980 to almost 25% in 2013. Of all Americans who speak a language other than English at home, 62% speak Spanish. So, does being bilingual in English and Spanish contribute to higher status achievement?  For Latinos, the answer is both yes and no, depending on gender.  

Sociologists Jennifer C. Lee and Sarah J. Hatteberg use data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study from 1988-2000 to examine the influence of bilingualism on educational attainment (measured as high school or GED completion), occupational prestige, and weekly income for Latinos. Individuals in the study were first surveyed in 8th grade, then in their mid- to late-20s, and their bilingualism is divided into five categories based on the ability to read, write, understand, and speak Spanish.

Compared with English-dominance, biliteracy (the ability to speak, read, write, and understand Spanish) is positively associated with high school completion and occupational prestige for Latina women. On the other hand, oral bilingualism (the ability to speak and understand Spanish well, but less so for reading and writing) and passive bilingualism (the ability to understand Spanish, but not speak it well) are negatively associated with high school completion among Latino men. The authors found no significant relationship between income and bilingualism, regardless of gender.  

Lee and Hatteberg note that indicators of ethnicity, like language, may have different meanings for men and women. They speculate that Spanish speaking men may be stigmatized, while women who speak Spanish may be rewarded in school and at work for having that particular skill. One man’s disadvantage appears to be another woman’s advantage when it comes to Spanish skills.

Makeup company Black Opal's foundation colors.
Hope “carob” isn’t the color of cardiovascular problems.

Skin color has long shaped the lives of blacks, as the advantages of being “light skinned” extend far beyond the socioeconomic. It even plays an important role in health outcomes. Health disparities between blacks and whites are well documented, and blacks often maintain higher rates of negative health outcomes such as mortality and morbidity than whites. The predictors of health disparities within the same racial group, however, remain largely unexamined. Thus, Ellis Monk investigates skin color as a form of discrimination in health outcomes between blacks.

So, how does one’s skin tone influence health disparities through discrimination? Monk uses various measures to investigate perceived discrimination and skin color through the National Survey of American Life (2001-2003) and face-to-face field interviews with respondents aged 18 and older. To assess perceived discrimination, Monk examines both perceived discrimination from whites and perceived discrimination from other blacks, in addition to the frequency of such discrimination. Monk measures skin color by first analyzing how the interviewer rates respondents’ skin tone, and second, how the respondents rate their own skin tone. Perceived discrimination and skin color are then examined in relation to four self-reported health outcomes: physical health, hypertension, mental health, and depression.

Monk concludes that the darker one’s reported skin color, the more discrimination they perceive from whites. Perceived discrimination among blacks, however, depends upon their placement in one of three categories: light skinned, medium-toned, and dark skinned. Blacks in the medium-toned category actually maintained more positive rates in mental health and were less likely to perceive discrimination from either white or black peers.

Still, the magnitude of the health disparities among blacks with various skin colors was found to be often equal to or greater than health disparities between blacks and whites. Monk also notes that blacks who reported higher levels of skin tone discrimination from other blacks also had higher rates of poor physical health. Monk argues that the study challenges common methodological practices that homogenize minority populations, demonstrating more nuanced life experiences affected by skin tone.