“Healthcare Justice March – October 26, 2013” by United Workers is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Immigration and healthcare are both major political issues: policies made about these issues have profound impacts on people’s lives. This is especially true for agricultural workers. According to the US Department of Agriculture, about half of the nation’s farmworkers are immigrants. This work is essential to making sure that we have food on our tables. Even in the best of times, farm work is a dangerous business. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this situation even worse. According to one study, farmworkers faced 4 times the risk of getting COVID as most people.

New research by Rebecca A. Schut and Courtney E. Boen examined the influence of state immigration policy on agricultural workers’ healthcare use. They also compared healthcare usage across various categories, such as race and legal immigration status. Examples of immigration policies that differ across states include to what extent immigrants have access to Medicaid and whether undocumented immigrants can get driver’s licenses.

Overall, Schut and Boen found that white people who did not identify as Latinx (the term used in the paper) and were born in the US used healthcare more often and reported the fewest barriers to care. Differences in state immigration policies, however, had a big impact on the healthcare usage of non-white Latinx agricultural workers with legal immigration status. In states with more restrictive immigration policies, these groups reported less healthcare use and more barriers to seeking care. 

Some examples of barriers to care include not having transportation or money, fearing job consequences if they took time off, believing providers didn’t understand their needs, and not feeling welcome to get care. By contrast, state policies had little effect on the healthcare usage of undocumented workers.

Although undocumented workers did report more barriers, including xenophobia, in states with more restrictive policies, their overall levels of healthcare usage didn’t change significantly. The researchers say that this could be because, due to surveillance and discrimination, undocumented people are already unlikely to use healthcare or other social services, instead relying on their social networks.

The authors argue that while these restrictive policies often target the undocumented, they also affect legal immigrants. In part, this is because they might reinforce stereotypes which associate undocumented legal status with non-white, Latinx immigrant farmworkers for whom English is not their first language. Essentially, Schut and Boen argue, Latinx people who were born in the US or have legal documentation  may be “lumped in” with undocumented people thanks to these stereotypes.

If we want to reduce health disparities, the researchers argue, we need to look at the unintended consequences of non-health related government policies on people’s healthcare usage–especially in the case of restrictive policies that have nativist origins and racialized implications.

A group of white moms dressed in winter coats stand in front of a fence near a sports court. One of them smiles at the camera, another holds a young girl wrapped in a blanket. “Moms at Playground” by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Monkey bars, children playing, parents socializing on the benches—these are components of any ordinary playground. Playgrounds provide great opportunities for both children and parents to socialize with neighbors while enjoying the outdoors. But in a new ethnographic study focusing on the behavior of mothers, Paula Paajanen and colleagues find that playgrounds can be a space where informal racial and ethnic segregation is (re)inforced. 

First and second generation immigrants from across Europe, Asia, and Africa make up 25% of the population of Helsinki. Paajanen and colleague’s spent 11 months observing two playgrounds and conducting interviews with mothers in two multi-ethnic neighborhoods in the Finnish capital. The research focused on how the interactions between mothers in these public playgrounds were shaped by their ethnic backgrounds. 

Paanjanen and colleague’s core finding is that social norms both produce and maintain informal ethnic segregation. Finnish mothers were often regular visitors to playgrounds, having a set daily schedule for when they take their kids to the playground. They also expected their kids to play outside most days, no matter the season. Because Finnish mothers frequented the playground and understood these norms, they were more likely to know the “best” time to take their kids to the playground to meet up with other mothers.

Immigrant mothers, on the other hand, didn’t tend to value regular outdoor activity in the same way. Instead, immigrant mothers gave their children more agency with their daily activities. Families went to the playground when the children wanted to go. Immigrant mothers were also less likely to encourage their kids to play outside during the cold winter months, unlike Finnish mothers. These differences in norms and practice made social contact between mothers of different ethnic groups a rare occasion. 

Other factors came into play too. For example, Finnish mothers were more likely to form a small “nuclear group” with other Finnish mothers who also frequented the playground. Rarely did mothers make relationships or engage with other parents outside of these groups who they didn’t already know, these outsiders were more likely to be immigrant mothers.  As one Finnish mother put it: “I rarely go to a playground and start to talk with someone completely unknown to me, whether a local Finn or someone with a foreign background.” Oftentimes mothers who didn’t know each other would avoid direct contact, even when in close proximity. As a result, immigrant mothers had little social interaction with fellow neighborhood moms.

The authors suggest that the social practices that occur on playgrounds are just one example of how everyday actions can regularly produce and reinforce ethnic segregation even when that isn’t the intention. It isn’t hard to imagine that fewer opportunities for social connection between Finnish and immigrant moms prevents familiarity, and even friendships, that could build opposition to the social inequalities and prejudices against migrants that persist in Finland.

A huge American flag covers much of the field at a Philadelphia Eagles game. “American Flagby Peter Miller is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Everyone gets quiet, removes their hats, and puts their hand over their hearts to sing. In center field, soldiers hold the American flag. Fighter jets fly over the stadium as the national anthem plays. Sports are not only about the games, they also provide a platform for the presentation and celebration of all manner of collective identities and values–and in the United States, the message is often about nationalism and the military. In new research, Chris Knoester and Evan Davis examine whether Americans  recognize this  messaging or not.

They used data from the National Sports and Society Survey (NSASS) which asked nearly four thousand Americans, “if they felt sports taught a love of country, respect for the military, competition as a way of life, or how to be Americans.” They found that the vast majority of respondents did not believe that sports teaches nationalistic or militaristic values even while most, 84%, overwhelmingly agreed that sport teaches competition as a way of life.  Given that the United States is one of the few countries in the world which plays the national anthem before sporting events and features armed forces in their ceremonies, their results are intriguing, to say the least. 

Interestingly, respondents who identified as male, heterosexual, Christian, and Republican were most likely to agree that sports teaches patriotic and militaristic values, with Black and Latinx respondents not far behind. In contrast, Americans who were white and college-educated were less likely to believe that sports taught any values. The authors suggest that this could be due to them viewing sports as truly neutral. 

Over the years, sport sociologists have demonstrated that sport  is a place where many Americans learn patriotic, nationalistic, and militaristic ideals. The fact that most Americans don’t believe this, and that those who do tend to be more conservative, less educated, or not white, raises some very important questions about the role of sport in contemporary American culture.

A prison cell block in Faribualt, Minnesota. “Faribault Cell Block 2,” by Minnesota Department of Corrections is licensed under CC0.

Advocates for criminal justice reform have argued that supervisory punishments, such as parole and probation, are a key driver of  mass incarceration even though they are meant to serve as alternatives to prison. This is because people who violate the technical conditions of their supervision are often arrested and reincarcerated. However, new research from Michelle Phelps and colleagues puts some of these concerns into perspective. 

Using data from a national survey of incarcerated adults from 1979 to 2016, the researchers discovered that people in prison for parole and probation violations alone have made up about 11-14% of the prison population – and that this percentage has been remarkably stable over time. The largest percentage of the prison population consists of people incarcerated for new offenses, regardless of whether they were on probation or parole.

This finding suggests that mass incarceration has been driven primarily by increasing punishments for new offenses, rather than increasing enforcement of technical conditions. In order to reduce mass incarceration, the researchers advise that prison reformers should focus on shortening sentence length for new offenses. 

Although parole and probation violations have not contributed as significantly to mass incarceration as originally thought, the researchers caution advocates from diverting their attention from this issue. First, this study focuses on state prison populations and revocations are likely to have an even larger effect on local jail populations. Second, the threat of incarceration alone puts unnecessary stress on those who are on probation and just trying to survive. Incarceration for parole and probation violations contributes to the disorganization and difficulties people can face when they are churned in and out of prison.

A smiling black father kneels, holding one of his child’s hands. “Father Playing With Little Son at Home” by Ksenia Chernaya is licensed under pexels license.

Bundles of joy? Previous research suggests that having children may not be joyful for all parents, especially those who juggle high expectations with inflexible and demanding workplaces or raising children of color in a racially inhospitable world. However, new research from Jennifer Augustine and Mia Brantley finds that the happiness of parents varies by race and gender and in ways that were not entirely expected, especially in comparison to adults without kids.

The study is based upondata from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of adults in the United States, between 2010 and 2018. Researchers used questions where participants are asked to rate how happy they are and provide information about  their race and if they have children who they live with. This study also took into account what respondents reported for  r items such as income  or church attendence that previous research has shown influences happiness.

Augustine and Brantley found that there is not a difference in happiness between white fathers and nonfathers, but that white mothers are less happy than white women who are not parents. The existence of a “happiness gap” for white women but not white men may result from cultural expectations that  White mothers be totally devoted to their children despite the necessity for most white moms to work outside the home. Conversely, the fact that white dads are not expected to take equal responsibility for caring for kids might help explain why they are about as happy as men without kids.

This analysis also revealed no difference in happiness between black parents and nonparents. In fact, it found that black fathers are actually happier than their peers without children. These findings suggest that fatherhood is an important and meaningful part of life for many black men, whileblack moms might have ways of coping that help them manage the stress of raising children that white moms lack. Black mothers also may not exhibit a “happiness gap” compared to black nonmothers because black motherhood views work and parenting as complementary and emphasizes the importance of communal care for children, providing important support for moms. 

This study only analyzed data up to 2018, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Future research will have to examine how changing demands on parents during the pandemic, especially virtual schooling, as well as greater attention to police brutality and racial injustice shaped differences in happiness between black and white parents and nonparents. But what this research clearly demonstrates is whether there is a “happiness gap” between parents and adults without children depends on who is doing the parenting and how they are expected to manage their parenting responsibilities with other aspects of their life.

Robert Courtney Smith, Andres Besserer Rayas, Daisy Flores, Angelo Cabrera, Guillermo Yrizar Barbosa, Karina Weinstein, Maria Xique, Michelle Bialeck, and Eduardo Torres, “Disrupting the Traffic Stop–to-Deportation Pipeline: The New York State Greenlight Law’s Intent and Implementation,” Journal on Migration and Human Security, 2021
New York state police parked behind a gray near a highway exit. “New York State Police Traffic Stop” by dwightsghost is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Although many of us view traffic stops as a minor inconvenience, a ticket on the commute to school can end in traumatic separation for undocumented immigrants and their children. Using interviews and data from The US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS), Robert Smith and colleagues found that the threat of deportation can jeopardize children’s mental and physical wellbeing. 

Smith and colleagues interviewed undocumented parents who have been pulled over for driving without a license. Parents described stops where the police discovered they were unlicensed and delivered them to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on the side of the road while their children watched. The children in the backseat watching these encounters experienced short and long term emotional harm after police stops and ICE detainment, including nightmares, post traumatic stress disorder and difficulty adjusting to change in family structure. After these arrests, the parents felt that police neglected their children. For example, one mother described how police made her young children walk three miles home unaccompanied on a cold winter night.

Children and parents lived in constant fear that routine trips to school or the doctor would lead to separation after a police stop. This constant fear of separation from parents made it hard for kids to focus in school. One mother reported that her son had to repeat fifth grade because of his anxiety about his mom being deported. Likewise, fear of deportation can also prevent parents from taking their children to routine healthcare visits.  

 Many parents reported that they were stopped by police due to racial profiling.  Researchers found that a majority of people deported after a traffic stop were booked under “No conviction,” meaning that they were not convicted of any crime or driving violation. Instead, many were targeted for stops on account of their racial appearance. Smith and colleagues found that some law enforcement agencies would even work cooperatively with ICE to scout out undocumented people through traffic stops. 

The authors argue that New York’s newly implemented Drivers License Access and Privacy Act, commonly known as the Greenlight law, could prevent these harms to children. The law allows undocumented immigrants in New York to obtain drivers licenses and prevents the DMV from reporting them to ICE. However, the government’s implementation of the Greenlight law has been inconsistent, weakening its effects. In the small number of counties where Greenlight licenses are offered, lack of funding restricts the amount of licenses that the DMV can administer per day. Some DMV offices refuse to offer services in Spanish and make Greenlight applicants, but not standard license applicants, wait outside in the cold. 

The researchers suggest that universal implementation of the Greenlight law and more thoughtful policing of Latinx communities could eliminate the harm to children and families that comes from police stops, ICE detainment, and family separation. Other solutions include expanding busing to communities with large immigrant populations. This would ensure that children have a safe ride to school and parents would not have to risk deportation by driving unlicensed. These efforts could address the reality that short and routine car trips put some immigrant families at risk of police contact and the harm and separation that can follow. 

Business partners shaking hands in agreement. “Image 3353” is licensed under CC0.

Snappy suits, sparkling smiles, and sob stories—that’s all anyone needs to become a career coach or self-help speaker, right? From print books to online influencers, there is no shortage of gurus willing to help you organize your love life, finances, and more—for a price. But there is little research examining why these so-called “experts” are considered believable. A new piece by Patrick Sheehan shows that career coaches who often lack degrees, credentials, or even any tangible evidence that their work works are still seen as helpful by their clients.

Sheehan observed weekly meetings of “job clubs” for unemployed professionals. He also conducted interviews with club leaders, attendees, and career coaches, professionals who assist people in job searches with both technical and emotional support. Finally, he examined the websites, biographies, and LinkedIn profiles of 15 coaches. These interviews, in combination with the other materials that Sheehan collected, established that emotional connections with clients could serve as qualifications rather than degrees. 

Have you ever had a teacher mention failing a class? Did it make you think of them as more relatable or reliable? Sheehan found that many professional career coaches use a similar strategy, gaining the trust of their clients by telling stories of their long-term unemployment. Most of the coaches Sheehan interviewed had inconsistent work experiences and long periods of unemployment, like their clients. Somewhat surprisingly, Sheehan found that self-help professionals maximize their personal stories of unemployment to form emotional connections, all while minimizing their formal credentials. For example, one client described the career coach she hired saying, “I think that she’s going to work hard for me because she’s been in my shoes. Maybe that’s a false assumption on my part, but that’s kind of, I guess, how I feel.”

However, these coaches also use their higher position as in-demand specialists to validate their advice. One client Sheehan interviewed talked about how their coach tells them “‘Here, I’m successful, but I was where you were twenty years ago.’” In response, the client said “you can’t help but get your hopes up. So even if … they’re falsely raised, it’s what you want to hear.” In other words, self-help “experts” use their personal experiences to both connect with their clients and establish themselves as experts on how to transcend spotty employment histories.

The bottom line is that, unlike doctors or therapists who use emotional connections to make their existing credentials more respected, self-help experts rely almost entirely on their clients’ opinions of them.

In today’s society where being seen as credible seems more challenging than ever for scientists and doctors and others,  could it be that career coaches reflect a shift in social attitudes toward expertise, assistance, and support where personal experiences and emotional connections become as (or more) important than other traditional factors and credentials? Maybe experts in another field should consider adding personal testimonials next to the degrees proudly displayed on those office walls.

National Trans Visibility March, Washington, DC USA by Ted Eytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the increasing visibility of transgender people in media, law, and social life, many suggest that the United States reached a  “transgender tipping point” in the past decade. The term suggests a big recent increase in people identifying as transgender, yet there has been surprisingly little research into whether and how the likelihood of identifying as transgender has changed over time.  

In a recent American Journal of Sociology article, Danya Lagos put the “transgender tipping point” idea to the test. They analyzed how many people, born between 1935 to 2001, identified as transgender or gender nonconforming. In addition, Lagos looked at the influence of social demographic factors (age, race, sex assigned at birth, and educational attainment) on the likelihood of identifying as transgender. The results of the study confirmed that there has been a big increase in people identifying as transgender and gender nonconforming since 1984, and that there have been big changes in the social demographic factors that predict trans identity across different birth cohorts.

For cohorts born from 1995 to 2001, for example, white people are somewhat more likely than people of other races to identify as trans, yet the reverse was the case for older cohorts born from 1945 to 1984. For every cohort born from 1935 to 1984, people assigned male at birth are more likely to identify as trans than those assigned female at birth. But this too has changed in recent years, as sex assignment at birth no longer predicts trans identity for those born from 1985-2001. Higher educational attainment is more consistently linked to lower rates of transgender identification throughout all age cohorts. Many believe that exposure to gender theory in higher education leads to more fluidity in gender expression, but the results of this study suggest otherwise.

In short, although the number of people identifying as trans has definitely increased, there hasn’t been any singular “transgender tipping point.” Instead, it’s more complicated than that.  The effect of other social identities and statuses, including race, sex assignment, and education, actively evolves and shifts as each birth cohort grows up in a changing social world. And just as society has changed throughout the years, so too has the prevalence and predictors of trans identity.

“Communicating commuters” by The Freelens is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

New research suggests that the assurance “you can always ask for help” is a westernized ideal that can have different meanings and impacts. Researchers found that, while there are associations between greater life satisfaction and help-seeking in the United States, the same help-seeking behavior was associated with poorer life satisfaction and less positive mood in Japan.

Verity Y.Q. Lua and colleagues compared data from two similar surveys, one conducted in the United States and a parallel study conducted in Japan. They identified specific and concrete cultural differences in appropriate behaviors and their impact on well-being. Specifically, they found asking for help and getting help had very different meanings and relationships in the United States as compared with Japan.

In the United States, a willingness to ask for help in times of need is associated with improved overall well-being. However, in Japan the same help-seeking behavior led to decreased life satisfaction and less positive mood.

Lua and colleagues attribute this difference to distinct sociocultural norms. In collectivist, or community-focused cultures like Japan people place more importance on maintaining a positive and stress-free social community. Actions that add stress to the community atmosphere, like asking for help or for a favor, can lead to judgments of incompetency or inferiority.

These results suggest that what is essential for health and happiness isn’t the same everywhere and for all people. Health professionals who may be inclined to recommend relying on help from others in times of difficulty or stress should consider the importance of cultural ideals for the relationship between wellness and help-seeking.

“Judge gavel and money on white background” by Marco Verch Professional Photographer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Court fines and fees are hardly new, however, their use has increased in recent years. New research from Ilya Slavinski and Becky Pettit shows how law enforcement agencies are using “legal financial obligations” to further punish and constrain the same groups of people that have been historically disadvantaged by incarceration. 

Slavinski and Pettit analyzed data from 254 counties in Texas, a large, diverse state that collected over $1 billion in legal financial obligations in 2016. They found that Texas jurisdictions with more Republican voters issued monetary sanctions at a much higher rate than less conservative regions. This finding parallels prior research that links party identification with incarceration rates. Slavinski and Pettit also observed that heavy use of fines and fees was not associated with higher crime rates. This is consistent with research showing that some  “tough on crime” policies are more closely tied to politics, race, and class than they are to crime control. 

Relatedly, the researchers found that legal fines and fees were disproportionately concentrated in predominantly Black and Latinx areas. This builds on previous research that links incarceration rates to perceptions of “racial threat.”  

Based on their Texas data, Slavinski and Pettit report that legal financial obligations are often combined with jail and prison time, rather than serving as an alternative to incarceration. This means that after people leave incarceration, they continue to be watched by authorities to ensure that they pay their legal financial obligations. By coupling prison sentences and legal fees in this way, the state has used legal debt to extend the surveillance and control of historically marginalized populations.