Zafer Buyukkececi, Thomas Leopold, Ruben van Gaalen, and Henriette Engelhardt, “Family, Firms, and Fertility: A Study of Social Interaction Effects,” Demography, 2020
A woman holding a newborn baby
Photo by Jake Guild, Flickr CC

Everyone is stuck inside, so we will see a baby boom in nine months . . . right? There’s actually not a lot of evidence that interruptions to normal life cause baby booms, but there is evidence that the decision to have kids spreads through personal networks. In a recent article, four researchers found new evidence that both siblings and co-workers affect individuals’ fertility decisions. 

Zafer Buyukkececi, Thomas Leopold, Ruben van Gaalen, and Henriette Engelhardt used detailed statistical data from the Netherlands to identify how two networks, siblings and co-workers, affect whether or not an individual decides to have a baby. The longitudinal data covers the entire Dutch population and allows researchers to link individuals to families and workplaces. 

Demographers have long known that siblings and coworkers make similar decisions about fertility. Those similarities could be because siblings and coworkers share contexts and experiences, or because the choices of those around us actually help us make our own choices. In this study, the researchers found evidence that the actions of individuals we know does change decision-making, at least for women.

Women were more likely to become mothers after others in their sibling and colleague networks became parents. The sibling effect was stronger, but because most people have more colleagues than siblings, more births in colleague networks might make up for the strength difference. Colleague effects were only significant for women with other female colleagues. 

Networks affect fertility decisions in part because individuals learn what to expect from others. So, rather than a universal baby boom, expect potential mothers to be watching the experiences of their siblings and coworkers during this pandemic.

Image: low camera angle photo of church pews facing the front of a sanctuary. Image courtesy of pixabay/marcino.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that Sunday mornings contain the most segregated hour in America. MLK was talking about churches in 1960. Today, a small but growing reality is a move toward multiracial churches. These churches create a unique situation in which Black pastors have a seat at the table in predominantly white institutional settings. But, as recent research demonstrates, white pastors benefit more from leading a multiracial church. 

 Christopher Munn conducted a qualitative analysis using a national, stratified sample of 121 religious leaders to understand how race shapes inequality in multiracial churches. He looked at multiple social contexts (i.e. mentorship, leadership positions) and material resources (i.e. grant funding) that each leader described, weighing each social relationship by its potential benefit and perceived durability. Munn found clear racial differences in social capital, or the resources that come from social relationships.

First, white pastors hoard capital. They trap resources by sharing primarily with other white network members. This looks benign on the surface, as it commonly takes the shape of things like peer mentor programs, sharing social ties, and informal exchanges of resources in general. But access to these embedded resources is mostly limited to white men, and to a lesser extent white women. 

Second, Black pastors found a more symbolic seat at the table, in which their contributions were devalued and their access was restricted. For example, they could be paid a small sum for leading a diversity workshop for other church leaders, but were unlikely to find the more sustainable funds that white pastors were more able to access. 

In a telling example, a white male pastor serving on the board for a local healthcare system befriended the hospital’s CEO, and now his church’s nonprofit housing initiative receives $100K/year from that hospital. Racial inequality in wealth and access continues to matter, even in the leadership of religious organizations. 

Photos of female Democratic presidential candidates Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Tulsi Gabbard. Photos via Wikipedia.

In October there were four women out of twelve presidential candidates on the Democratic debate stage, and Joe Biden has committed to selecting a woman as his vice president. But women are still underrepresented in political and business leadership. Why does this continue to be the case, 100 years after female suffrage and 50 years after the women’s movement went mainstream? New experimental research finds that anticipating harsh consequences for failure may be one reason women do not say yes to leadership opportunities.

Susan Fisk and Jon Overton performed three studies to test how the belief that female leaders are punished more harshly than men affects women’s leadership ambitions. They first confirmed through a survey that both men and women believe female leaders will face harsher consequences for failure. They then tested whether “costly” failure would decrease leadership ambitions as compared to “benign” failure, using survey questions about whether the respondent would be willing to take on a hypothetical leadership opportunity at their job. In the “benign” circumstance the respondent’s supervisor had encouraged them to take the leadership opportunity and had expressed that the respondent could return to the original team if the initiative failed. In the “costly failure” circumstance the respondent had not received support from their supervisor and did not know what would happen if the initiative failed. 

Both men and women were less likely to say yes to the leadership position in the costly failure circumstance, but women’s leadership ambitions decreased an additional 20% over the men’s decrease. These results demonstrate that simply encouraging women to say yes to more opportunities misses why they might say no. Women in the workplace are aware that they may be judged more harshly and face more reputational or employment consequences if they fail. This study helps us understand the micro-level reasons behind the stalled gender revolution and how gender inequality can continue to exist within gender-neutral organizations.  

Photo by Lori Newman, public domain

We know that children’s health depends on their parents in many ways, from genetics to life experiences. New research shows that the reverse is also true: children’s experiences impact their parents’ health. Specifically, this research shows that children’s experiences of discrimination influence their mothers’ health. 

Cynthia G. Colen, Qi Li, Corinne Reczek, and David R. Williams used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, a survey following women and their children. They looked at mothers’ self-rated health assessments from the mid 2000s, when mothers were 40 and 50 years old, to determine how their health changed. The sample of mothers’ health assessments varied significantly by race. By age 50, only 17% of white mothers reported poor health, while 31% of Black and 26% of Hispanic mothers reported poor health. 

The researchers also looked at data on children’s experiences of unfair treatment when the children were young adults. Unfair treatment fell in two categories: major experiences or “acute discrimination,” and everyday or “chronic discrimination.” Acute discrimination included specific incidences like being unfairly fired or denied promotion and being unfairly searched or abused by police. Chronic discrimination highlighted the frequency of unfair treatment, like how often respondents had been treated with less respect than others, called names or harassed, or how often other people had treated respondents as if they were not smart. 

Overall, children’s exposure to discrimination — both acute and chronic —  was associated with significant declines in their mothers’ health at midlife (from age 40 to 50). This is an important finding because most research on intergenerational health focuses on how parents affect their children’s health. Studies like these can help us to understand how disadvantage is reproduced through generations.

The researchers wondered whether Black and Hispanic mothers’ poor health was a result of their children experiencing more discrimination than children of white mothers. They found this to be true for Black mothers, but not for Hispanic mothers. Specifically, children’s experiences of discrimination explained about 10% of the Black-white health gap, but very little of the Hispanic-white health gap for mothers.

In addition, Black mothers’ health declined at a slower rate compared to white mothers’ health, even when their children experienced high levels of discrimination. One explanation for this finding is that Black mothers spend a lifetime preparing to and dealing with discrimination, whereas white mothers may not and thus have fewer coping skills to deal with feelings of helplessness when their children experience discrimination.

This research helps us to understand how discrimination is more than just an individual experience. Stressors, like unfair treatment, can have “spillover effects” — in this case, leading to declines in the health of family members.

A young girl about to receive a vaccine. A parent holds her hand.
Photo by SELF Magazine, Flickr CC

The anti-vaccine movement has persisted for some time, perplexing scholars and medical practitioners alike. Based upon anti-vaxxers’ strong sentiments, one would expect these same parents to reject other pharmaceutical interventions. In a recent study, however, Jennifer Reich finds that parents often have contradictory views on their children’s health care. These parents use pharmaceutical interventions for some illnesses while simultaneously refusing to vaccinate their children for others.

Reich interviewed 34 parents from 2007 to 2014 in Colorado (the state with the lowest rates of vaccination). These parents had challenged or rejected expert recommendations on vaccines but consented to other forms of medical intervention for their children in the cases of ADHD medication, seizure disorder medication, and cancer treatments. 

Reich finds that anti-vaxxers “call the shots,” but they don’t make these decisions alone. Parents’ decisions regarding medication use for their children results from individual, interactional, and institutional contexts. Thus, the refusal to vaccinate is not a categorical rejection of pharmaceutical intervention.

Reich finds that some parents used individual strategies in which they differentiated between necessary treatments to protect their children from harm, such as ADHD medicine, and unnecessary medications, such as vaccinations. Alternatively, for some parents, negotiations with healthcare providers led to the use of medication. For example, one family shopped for healthcare providers they liked and felt respected by, and paid more for medications that they believed were safer.

Parental consent to medication may also result from institutional insistence. For example, one family was convinced to let their child receive medical treatment for cancer through the threat of legal coercion and the hospital requirement for all patients to receive the flu vaccine. 

Finally, Reich finds that privileged parents are both more likely to challenge expert advice regarding vaccines, and more likely to receive respect from healthcare providers and have their views taken seriously.

Photo of traffic jam, by ianholton,Flickr CC

We know that underrepresentation in media contributes to ideas that women are less competent and less likely to be experts. But can overrepresentation also perpetuate gender stereotypes? And do gender stereotypes spread differently through social media than traditional media? In a recent study, Muyang Li and Zhifan Luo analyzed social media and newspaper reports of traffic accidents in China to examine whether media overrepresentation drives the idea that women are worse drivers than men. 

The study collected 97,120 posts from Weibo, China’s largest social media site, and 11,290 newspaper articles from January 2010 to November 2018. Using computer-assisted text analysis, the authors identified articles’ topics and gender mentions. 

Graph showing the gender ratio of registered drivers, traffic accident, and media coverage.
Gender ratio of registered drivers, traffic accident, and media coverage (Li and Luo 2020).

Although women are underrepresented in actual traffic accidents — they are 30% of registered drivers in China and the drivers in only 10% of traffic accidents — both newspaper and social media posts were more likely to identify a driver as female. Seventy-nine percent of newspaper articles that mentioned a driver’s gender identified female drivers, while 94% of Weibo posts did the same. 

Gender stereotypes were overall less explicit in newspaper articles. Although newspapers were more likely to include the gender of the driver if they were female, the newspapers rarely blamed specific accidents on inherent bad driving. Weibo posts, on the other hand, often included direct discussions of the stereotype that women are worse drivers. Weibo posts mentioning female drivers were also more likely to be reposted than those mentioning male drivers, and police department Weibo accounts were the most likely to mention female drivers. 

The researchers dug deeper on a selection of Weibo posts that discussed sexism. Through a qualitative analysis they found that these Weibo posts included a mix of sexist and feminist arguments. Some of these posts argued that women were worse drivers or reiterated gender stereotypes about female drivers, but a substantial number used Weibo to call out sexism and argue that women are no worse at driving than men. In some ways, social media is still a toxic cesspool, but it’s also a place where people can talk back.

Picture of a color-coded credit score scale
Photo by CafeCredit.com, Flickr CC

It seems that algorithms are shaping more and more of our world. However, algorithms — rule or process-based calculations most often done by computers — have been an important part of society for centuries. In her new research, Barbara Kiviat explores how policymakers respond to one not-so-new use of algorithms and the predictions they can produce: how insurance companies use credit scores to set prices.  

Kiviat examines thousands of pages of documents and 28 hours of testimony from state, congressional, and professional debates and investigations around insurance companies’ use of credit scores. Credit scores are the output of algorithms that rely on huge amounts of consumer financial information. Insurance companies use these scores to set prices based on predictions of how often a customer will make insurance claims, so customers with lower credit scores have higher prices. In the insurance industry there is widespread agreement that this practice is justified because of “actuarial fairness.” In other words, the data is fair to use to set prices because credit scores do actually predict how often someone will use their insurance.

However, policymakers do not agree with the insurance industry’s argument of credit scores as “actuarially fair.” Instead, policymakers draw on ideas of “moral deservingness.” They try to understand whether or not people were responsible for bad or good behaviors that corresponded to their current credit score and insurance cost. Policymakers objected to the use of credit scores when they did not reflect policymakers’ understandings of what counted as good or bad behavior. For instance, policymakers sought to include sections for “extraordinary life circumstances” in insurance regulation that would not penalize consumers for poor credit scores resulting from, for example, the death of a spouse or child.

This research shows that policymakers do not object to predictive practices because they are mysterious or confusing. Rather, they object when algorithmic results disagree with existing assumptions of what is good or bad behavior. Kiviat’s findings are important to consider as algorithms and the predictions they create are used in more of our social and economic life, such as for identifying students at “high-risk” of poor academic outcomes, informing policing by “predicting” crime, or showing job ads to some individuals and not others.

Resistance to algorithms based on fairness can only go so far. Who will be protected from the use of algorithms if we think they are unfair only for “good” people?

Nolan Smith of the Duke Blue Devils drives past Miami Hurricanes’ Durand Scott. Photo by Luis Blanco via Flickr CC.

There’s a big audience for the Big Dance. Although the NCAA Tournament has been canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020, an average audience of 10.5 million people tuned in to each 2019 game of the NCAA Division I College Basketball Tournament. But between screaming at the television and obsessively checking their brackets, some fans might not have noticed the subtle ways that broadcast announcers talk differently about lighter and darker-skinned players on the court. 

According to colorism theory, darker skinned people are seen as more brutish and lighter skinned people are viewed as more intelligent. Curious how colorism operates within college sport coverage, Steven Foy and Rashawn Ray used video broadcasts of the NCAA Tournament (years 2000-2010) to analyze the types of comments made by broadcast announcers across player skin tone. Athletes’ skin tones were categorized on a scale of lighter to darker skin by Amazon Mechanical Turk respondents. The research team then coded announcer commentary into three different types of discourse: remarks about players’ physical performance (basketball skills like ball-handling ability, rebounding ability, etc), physicality (athleticism, size/height, jumping ability, etc), and mental ability (aggression, cleverness, coordination, etc).

Foy and Ray found that announcers do talk about lighter skinned players differently than darker skinned players. First, announcers are more likely to make comments about player performance, such as shooting ability, with lighter skin tones. Second, announcers are more likely to discuss the physical characteristics, such as athleticism, of players with darker skin tones. And third, announcers are more likely to remark on the mental characteristics, such as cleverness, of players with lighter skin tones. Foy and Ray ultimately argue that color is “not a proxy for race,” and that they are independent social constructs with different features. 

This research illustrates how sport is a racialized institution, and that stereotypes based on skin color affect how players are evaluated. Although a lighter and a darker skinned player may be equally good at basketball, a darker skinned player’s abilities are more likely to be attributed to his physical characteristics, whereas a lighter skinned player’s abilities are more likely to be attributed to his skills or intelligence. College basketball fans should keep screaming at the television–but they may want to be mindful of the language they use to cheer on their favorite player. 

Photo of three women: one young woman is sitting at a desk, an older woman with white hair is bent over the desk writing, and the other woman is standing watching them.
Photo by COD Newsroom, Flickr CC

Rural youth trail their non-rural counterparts in college enrollment, further exacerbating spatial inequality in the United States. These rural students often are children of parents who did not attend college and know little about the college application process. A recent study, though, reframes these parents as college assets who support college because of their lack of education and financial struggles, not in spite of them. Said one struggling mother of her son’s college hopes: “I think he saw what a lack of education does for you.”

Mara Casey Tieken interviewed nine rural, first-generation students accepted into a New England private liberal arts college, which accepts less than 20 percent of its applicants. Tieken also interviewed their parents. Both interviews took place during the summer before the children’s first year of college. Tieken’s writing is clear and is a good example of how a small sample can tell an important story. 

Tieken found that rural parents supported a liberal arts education as a path toward a promising career. They accepted that they had a limited role in the application and decision-making process, in part because a liberal arts curriculum was a new concept to many of them. This limited role made their children more reliant on institution officials, such as counselors. The parents also valued factors that helped diminish concerns of their children leaving home, including financial aid, location, and school culture. In addition to reframing the narrative on rural students, this research recognizes that colleges need to ensure adequate administrative and cultural support for their first-generation, rural students.

@realDonaldTrump: “The Mexican legal system is corrupt, as is much of Mexico. Pay me the money that is owed me now—and stop sending criminals over our border” (February 24, 2015, Twitter)

We know that social media has huge impacts on politics, but did you know that it can also drive international economic trends and investment practices? This is one of the major findings in new research by Allyson Benton and Andrew Philips. The authors demonstrate how social media allows investors to gather both policy information and policy resolve of future governments; this is particularly salient in times when there are political newcomers and their policy positions are unknown. More specifically, the authors show how social media affects currency volatility.

The authors analyzed over 400 of President Trump’s Mexico-related policy tweets from January 1, 2015 to February 2, 2018, comparing the tweets with the volatility of the U.S. Dollar – Mexican Peso exchange rate. Using qualitative software, they analyze the relationship of these tweets to the volatility of the exchange rate. They find that Trump’s Mexico-related tweets, especially those of stronger sentiment, negatively impacted the exchange rate before and after his Mexico-related policy views were known.

Social media is one way potential future leaders can divulge future policy directions, and information gleaned from social media affects both investors and financial markets. This is important because the USD-MXN exchange rate has the ability to harm companies’ profits and valuations during foreign transactions.  Social media usage by highly visible public actors thus has social, cultural, and economic implications.

As presidential elections approach, citizens and investors alike try to anticipate the future policy directions of their government. This new research shows that social media allows not just voters, but also financial investors to gather information on future politicians’ policy inclinations and dedication to their policy goals which can impact international commerce and markets.