Photo by SEO, Flicker CC
Photo by SEO, Flicker CC

While social media sites have certainly benefited for-profit companies, providing unprecedented visibility and the ability to target key demographics, non-profits have also been utilizing these sites to promote their causes and collect donations. Their goal is usually for a cause to “go viral” and spread within and across social networks in the form of likes and shares. The Kony 2012 campaign is a perfect example of this, which reached 120 million people in just five days and garnered $32 million in donations. But recent research finds that this level of online social contagion is rare and “likes” are not often likely to lead to donations.

Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis, and Angelo Mele studied charitable donations on Facebook and Twitter over a two-year period to determine if and how online social contagion occurs. They collaborated with HelpAttack!,  an application that allows users to donate to charities through social media sites. The HelpAttack! application lets users “broadcast” their initial pledge and subsequent donations to friends in their network, and the researchers analyzed how often users who broadcast a pledge to donate actually fulfill that pledge. While they found that broadcasting a pledge is related to actually making a donation, a large proportion of users “opportunistically broadcast a pledge and then delete it.” Further, they did not find evidence of a social contagion effect after pledges were broadcast. Although the campaigns in their experiment reached 6.4 million users and received numerous clicks and likes, only 30 donations were made.

This study shows that social media sites enable “costless” support in the form of likes and shares, which might raise awareness of a cause or organization, but that these likes rarely lead to support in the form of donations. What’s more, it appears that a lot of people use donation pledges to boost their social image but then quickly delete their pledge to avoid actually shelling out any cash for the cause. The researchers conclude that, despite initial optimism that the Internet and social media sites would make campaigning for causes easier and more effective, it seems that offline, face-to-face campaigns are still needed to turn costless likes into capital.


Photo by Steven Sim, Flickr CC
Photo by Steven Sim, Flickr CC

Parents undoubtedly play a role in their children’s understanding of gender and sexual health. But can children have any effect on their parents? In a study investigating how becoming a father influences men’s sexual behavior, sociologist Abigail Weitzman finds that the gender of a father’s firstborn child has a significant influence on that father’s likelihood of being sexually promiscuous later in life.

Using 61,801 Demographic and Health Surveys from 37 developing countries, Weitzman looks at how the sex of a firstborn child influences the father’s sexual health and behavior. The survey provides information about whether or not fathers pay for sex, use condoms, have extramarital sexual partners, and report having genital ulcers or genital discharge, which may be signs of an STI. Through fixed effects models that control for differences between countries, Weitzman finds that fathers with firstborn sons are significantly more likely than those with firstborn daughters to pay for sex, and they are also less likely to use condoms. Fathers of firstborn sons also have a higher probability of reporting genital ulcers or genital discharge. Additionally, fathers with firstborn sons reported having slightly higher opposition to women’s sexual autonomy. In short, fathers with firstborn children who are male are associated with higher rates of promiscuity.

Interestingly, these differences among fathers tend to emerge when their firstborn child reaches adolescence, suggesting that family gender dynamics shift as children reach puberty and young adulthood. Though the data cannot fully explain why firstborn adolescent sons are associated with more promiscuous behavior among fathers, Weitzman speculates that perhaps fathers of firstborn adolescent males are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity as a means to maintain, reinforce, and teach masculine behavior and identity. Weitzman’s study may have just scratched the surface of an important set of new questions about how fatherhood, gender identity, and sexual behavior around the world intertwine with family.

Photo by Keoni Cabral, Flickr CC
Photo by Keoni Cabral, Flickr CC

More people are talking about the dangers of lead poisoning public water systems—and children. Public water systems are not the only way to be exposed to lead poisoning, however; the human body can ingest lead through paint chips, gasoline exhaust, and industrial processes. Previous research on environmental health hazards has illustrated that a person’s neighborhood (a product of class factors) best predicts their risk of being exposed to these dangers. Studies also show that predominantly black or white neighborhoods experience different levels of environmental health hazards. Now, writing in the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Heather Moody, Joe T. Darden, and Bruce William Pigozzi demonstrate the significance of class and race in black-white gaps in childhood blood-lead-levels (BLLs).

The authors use Census data from the Detroit metropolitan area alongside Michigan Medicaid data to examine black and white childhood BLLs. Drawing on a sample of over 160,000 children, the authors compare BLLs between black and white children of the same age across socioeconomic positions. As expected, children of all races had lower BLLs the higher their class. Unexpectedly, however, the authors find gaps in BLLS by race that grow with class. The gap between black and white childhood BLLs is very low among the poorest, but rises in more affluent neighborhoods.

Some ideas to explain this paradox include the possibility that black families may be relegated to older or less desirable houses within wealthier neighborhoods (infamous historical “redlining” comes to mind). Thus, even though class is a strong predictor of your risk for lead exposure, race still plays an important role. These findings also challenge assumptions that class mobility can erase racial inequality absent other interventions.

Photo by Matt Trostle, Flickr CC.
Photo by Matt Trostle, Flickr CC.

We often think that religion helps to build a strong society, in part because it gives people a shared set of beliefs that fosters trust. When you know what your neighbors think about right and wrong, it is easier to assume they are trustworthy people. The problem is that this logic focuses on trustworthy individuals, while social scientists often think about the relationship between religion and trust in terms of social structure and context.

New research from Olson and Li (using data from the World Values survey) examines the trust levels of 77,405 individuals from 69 countries collected between 1999 and 2010. The authors’ analysis focuses on a simple survey question about whether respondents felt they could, in general, trust other people. The authors were especially interested in how religiosity at the national level affected this trust, measuring it in two ways: the percentage of the population that regularly attended religious services and the level of religious diversity in the nation.

These two measures of religious strength and diversity in the social context brought out a surprising pattern. Nations with high religious diversity and high religious attendance had respondents who were significantly less likely to say they could generally trust other people. Conversely, nations with high religious diversity, but relatively low levels of participation, had respondents who were more likely to say they could generally trust other people.

One possible explanation for these two findings is that it is harder to navigate competing claims about truth and moral authority in a society when the stakes are high and everyone cares a lot about the answers, but also much easier to learn to trust others when living in a diverse society where the stakes for that difference are low. The most important lesson from this work, however, may be that the positive effects we usually attribute to cultural systems like religion are not guaranteed; things can turn out quite differently depending on the way religion is embedded in social context.

At the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op. Edward Kimmel, Flickr CC
At the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op. Edward Kimmel, Flickr CC.

We expect co-ops to be places where employees and customers are free to be themselves, empowered by collective ownership and unencumbered by the corporate control of scheduling, dress code, and workplace policies. However, sociologist Elizabeth Hoffmann finds worker cooperatives are not always utopian work spaces. Instead, they rely heavily on a specific kind of emotional labor to achieve conformity and productivity among their employees.

Hoffmann studied emotional labor like verbalizing support for your coworkers and smiling while on the job in worker cooperatives in the U.K. and the U.S. across four industries: coal mining, chemical manufacturing, taxicab driving, and organic food distribution. Through interviewing co-op employees and observing their behavior on the job over a number of years, Hoffmann found that working at a co-op can actually demand more emotional labor than working for a conventional company. For example, while employees at co-ops are encouraged to display emotions not typically condoned in other work environments, like anger or love, they are also expected to truly identify with the cooperative’s ideology and ethos. And while workers in conventional workplaces are expected to maintain a façade of good relationships with customers and co-workers, worker cooperatives often expect their employees to truly feel the emotions they display at work. Not only should they smile and help, the workers at the co-ops that Hoffman studied expected that employees actually want to help their co-workers.

So while co-ops appear to promote individuality and choice among their workers, they often require a much deeper, possibly more insidious level of conformity and self-control than one might imagine. Perhaps it’s just one more case of how the most powerful forms of social control are those we exert—or are expected to exert—on ourselves.

Which one's the bad influence? Tony Alter, Flickr CC.
Which one’s the bad influence? Tony Alter, Flickr CC.

Binge drinking has been tied to both genetic propensity (nature) and peer influence (environment). Using data from the College Roommate Study and National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Guang Guo, Yi Li, Wang Hongyu, Cai Tianji, and Greg J. Duncan investigate the interplay between these social and biological influences in the case of college binge drinking.

The authors hypothesize that genetics modify the effects peer influences on binge drinking. For example, the impact of peer pressure on one’s likelihood to engage in a drinking game would depend genetic predispositions toward heavy drinking. Guo and colleagues use a type of “natural experiment” – where randomization is present, but not introduced by the experimenter via manipulation – in which college roommates are randomly assigned, thus removing the influences of friend selection (since people who are more likely to drink are more likely to be friends) and potential correlations between the genes and environment. Based on genetic markers empirically linked to alcohol use, the researchers split the sample into three groups in terms of their genetic propensity for alcohol use (low, medium, and high).

Controlling for various respondent and roommate characteristics, the researchers find that having a roommate who drinks increases binge drinking, on average, by 20-40%. Peer influence, though, only has an effect among those with a medium propensity to drink: the influence of peer influence is eight times higher for medium propensity drinkers than for either low or high propensity drinkers. In other words, low propensity drinkers and high propensity drinkers are largely unaffected by peer influences to drink in college, whereas those “on the bubble” are more likely to drink when their roommate imbibes. The study highlights how social and biological factors work in tandem, illustrating a further mechanism by which social interventions can impact individuals differently. In the meantime, universities’ “one size fits all” safe drinking initiatives are unlikely to make much difference in students’ binge drinking behaviors.

Education is a good place to start, but it won't end racism on its own. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.
Education is a good place to start, but it won’t end racism on its own. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.

Social scientists debate the extent to which education and cognitive ability influence individual prejudices against blacks and support for policies that seek to lessen racial inequality. On one hand, higher education levels (cognitive abilities) may lead the embrace of ideologies of racial equality and tolerance. On the other hand, support for racial equality in principle is not the same as support for specific policies seeking to reduce racial inequalities. That difference could indicate that white people with higher cognitive abilities are not necessarily less racist—perhaps they are more able to express their beliefs without appearing overtly racist.

Sociologist Geoffrey T. Wodtke set out to investigate. In a new paper, Wodtke examines the responses of over 44,000 whites in various cohorts from 1972 to 2010 using data from the General Social Survey. Unlike prior studies, he reports participants’ verbal abilities (one aspect of cognitive ability) through the Gallup-Thorndike Verbal Intelligence Test on racial attitudes including anti-black prejudice, integration, discrimination, and policies aimed at racial equality. Wodtke also tests whether the period of people’s political socialization—before the civil rights movement or after—impacts the extent to which respondents’ verbal ability influences their prejudices for or against blacks and racial equity policies.

Wodtke’s findings demonstrate that whites with higher verbal abilities are less likely to support anti-black prejudice and racial segregation, and they are more aware of the discrimination that blacks face. At the same time, they are not more likely—in some cases, they are even less likely than others—to favor specific policies seeking to reduce racial inequality, such as the busing programs of the 1970s, financial aid for minority schools, and government assistance programs. Additionally, the apparently liberalizing effects of education do not appear across generations. Wodtke finds that whites’ verbal abilities have a much smaller impact on racial attitudes among those generations socialized prior to the civil rights movement, and even among post-civil rights, high verbal aptitude whites, attitudes on racial inequality in principle for have not translated into more support for policies supporting racial equality. Rhetorical abilities aside, attitudes mean little without action.

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.