Minnesota Atheists are among the many individuals who identify as nonreligious. Here they march in the Twin Cities Pride Parade. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Social scientists assume that people want to feel certain about their beliefs and identities and that religion helps people find this sense of security. Thus, the modern rise in people who do not identify with a religion must have led to increased anxiety, depression, or social isolation. However, in this new article, Jacqui Frost demonstrates that some nonreligious people have certainty in their beliefs and others experience uncertainty as positive and motivating. 

Frost conducted interviews with fifty non-religious people, including those who identified as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. Frost interviewed people involved in either social or political nonreligious organizations and people not involved in any belief-based groups. In these interviews, Frost asked people to explain how they came to their current nonreligious beliefs.

Frost found that some nonreligious individuals felt certain in their beliefs. For some, this confidence led them to join nonreligious organizations and have frequent discussions about their beliefs. Other nonreligious people were sure in what they believed but did not consider these beliefs important in their daily life.

Other nonreligious people in Frost’s study were not sure what they believed, but were okay with that. These individuals found the uncertainty associated with their nonreligious beliefs to be “freeing.” For these nonreligious people, not being sure about their religious beliefs motivated them to remain skeptical and ask questions throughout their life. Their embrace of uncertainty turned some of these individuals away from nonreligious social and political groups whose beliefs and values they found too narrow and specific.

Popular culture suggests that the decline in religious affiliation is one sign of increasing social chaos. However, Frost’s new article shows that uncertainty is not always a bad thing. Rather than being anxious and socially isolated, nonreligious people find meaning and connection whether they are sure, or not-so-sure, what they believe. 

Map showing Chicago’s racial diversity. Each dot represents 25 residents: Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, and Yellow is Other. By Eric Fisher via Flickr.

Since the mid-20th-century, research has linked racial residential segregation to a variety of unequal outcomes between racial groups, including education, health, incarceration, and employment. Segregation seems to be slightly declining recently, particularly as the USA becomes more racially diverse. This does not mean, however, that residential segregation is no longer relevant. Long-lasting legacies and impacts of racial segregation remain. Michael Light and Julia Thomas analyze how residential segregation between blacks and whites relates to racial disparities in violence and victimization. 

Using decades worth of data from 1970 to 2010, Light and Thomas explore neighborhood segregation and violent crime in several large metropolitan areas across the country. Taking into account the level of non-black and non-white residents, Light and Thomas compare the risk of being the victim of a violent crime for blacks and whites across areas with differing levels of black-and-white segregation. 

As the above graphic from the article shows, the impact of racial residential segregation differs across race. Increasing segregation is linked to higher victimization for blacks and low victimization for whites, but the slopes of these relationships are not equal. In essence, segregation hurts blacks more than it helps whites; racial segregation itself is not only a product of racial inequality; it also another driver of such dynamics. 

This research highlights how violence is yet another factor related to racial residential segregation that hurts blacks and helps whites.  Notably, the data show that metros with more integrated neighborhoods seem to have less violence overall. Thus, as America becomes more racially diverse, racial residential integration may reduce racial inequality as well as inequality in violent crime and victimization. 

Picture of woman prepping healthy meals for her family
Photo by monicore, Needpix.com CC.

Married couples are sharing household chores more than ever before, but women still do more than men. While sociologists already know a great deal about gender differences in couples’ physical and emotional work, new research shows that there’s even more to gendered differences in household labor. Women are often responsible for the lion’s share of another form of invisible household work: cognitive labor.

Allison Daminger interviewed middle- and upper-middle class, married couples living in the Boston area. All were between 35-50 years old, had at least one Bachelor’s degree, and were living with at least one child younger than 5 years old. Most of the couples were heterosexual. Daminger interviewed each partner separately to encourage respondents to share their honest perspective. 

Respondents discussed the typical chores of household labor: cooking, cleaning, shopping, mowing the lawn, etc. But many couples also talked about a sort of “project manager” category of family responsibilities, which includes anticipating the needs of family members, identifying options for meeting those needs, deciding among the options, and monitoring the results. Daminger labeled these tasks “cognitive labor,” and identified nine domains in which cognitive labor occurs: food, childcare, scheduling and logistics, cleaning and laundry, finances, social relationships, shopping, home and car maintenance, and travel and leisure. Cognitive labor in the food domain, for instance, includes responsibilities like deciding what meals to cook and ensuring a consistent supply of groceries. These responsibilities are added on to the work that must be done, for instance, soothing a tantruming toddler displeased by the dinner menu.

Daminger found that, like emotional labor, cognitive labor is often invisible and is a frequent source of conflict. Overall, the women in the study were responsible for a larger amount of the anticipation and monitoring work than their male partners. But when it came to decision-making — the part of cognitive labor most closely linked to power and influence — partners shared the work of decision-making much more equally. Daminger argues that cognitive labor is thus an overlooked, yet potentially consequential, source of gender inequality at the household level. 

To read more about emotional labor, check out these posts here and here.

High school students eat lunch with their friends in the school cafeteria. Photo by Sean, John, and Joe via Wikipedia CC.

For many adolescents, schools serve as the epicenter of friendships and peer social engagement. Yet, as disciplinary practices like suspension become increasingly common and disproportionately targeted towards racial and ethnic minority youth, school punishment may not only weaken students’ tie to school, but also their friendships with fellow classmates. Wade C. Jacobsen’s new research examines whether and how school suspension in rural communities impacts current friendships and future engagement with antisocial peers.

To measure changes in friendship networks, Jacobsen examined surveys from 766 students each year between sixth and ninth grade. Each survey asked students to name their closest school friends, the number of times they were suspended, and involvement with substance use and delinquent behavior (e.g. vandalism, fighting, etc.). Jacobsen further observed whether students withdrew from peers, were rejected by peers, and increased involvement with antisocial peers.

By the time students reached ninth grade, roughly 40 percent of racial and ethnic minority students experienced suspension versus less than 20 percent of white students. Furthermore, all students who were suspended nominated fewer peers and received less friendship nominations from peers than non-suspended same-grade students in ninth grade. The more times students were suspended, the more likely they were to discontinue friendships. Experiencing at least one school suspension also increased student likelihood of nominating friends who engaged in substance use. At the same time, suspended students held more friendships in different grades and schools than non-suspended students. 

School discipline imposes harmful effects across both urban and rural communities. When administrators design school punishment policies, they must acknowledge that they are carried out in a deeply racialized context and consider their impact on students of color, who are disproportionately targeted by teachers, school administrators, and law enforcement officers. 

Photo of a businesswoman walking away from a job opportunity, by Erich Ferdinand via Flickr.

In October there were four women out of twelve presidential candidates on the Democratic debate stage. But that ratio is far from the norm 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 women’s leadership ambitions are affected by the belief that female leaders are punished more harshly than men. They first confirmed through a survey that both men and women believe that 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 of Cleveland Ohio Police Emergency Rescue SWAT by Raymond Wambsgans, Flickr CC

Modern policing is often characterized by its quasi-militaristic tendencies, from its stated “wars” on drugs and crime to its use of armored vehicles and automatic weapons. The Department of Defense 1033 Program, which provides military equipment slated for storage to law enforcement agencies, is a popular route by which police and sheriff’s departments acquire military gear. According to data from the Defense Logistics Agency, the acquisitions of military equipment by state and local law enforcement sharply rose to a peak in 2016, but has declined in recent years. But what explains who participates in the DOD’s program and who acquires the most military equipment?

David Rameyand Trent Steidley investigate the factors that pattern whether law enforcement agencies participate in the program and how much gear they acquire using 1033 program participation and U.S. Census and American Community Survey data. They find that participation in the 1033 — but not the value of gear acquired — is greater in areas of higher violent arrests. They also find that, after controlling for crime rates and other factors, higher Black and Hispanic populations correlate to higher levels of participation and greater value acquired.

However, these racial impacts work in a nonlinear fashion. Agencies operating in areas very low and very high in minority presence have low probabilities of program participation, but agencies that serve a more diverse community are most likely to obtain military equipment through the 1033 program. For those that do participate, increases in minority populations raised the value of gear agencies used, with each subsequent increase garnering even more gear than the last (an exponential increase). In other words, program participation increases in response to racial demographics up to an extent, but once an agency decides to participate, the value of military equipment requested dramatically increases as minority populations increase.

Police militarization appears to support two key theories. From a classic rational choice perspective, law enforcement agencies respond to increasing crime rates with police militarization, possibly in an attempt to increase the agency’s ability to deter further crime. In contrast, the racial effects found in this study follow  a “minority threat” model, as military acquisitions are patterned by perceptions of racial competition in the presence of racial minority groups. This research illustrates how race, net of the crime rates in an area, can pattern not only where police operate, but how police operate. 

Photo of a man touching his wife's face while she lays in a hospital bed.
Photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Flickr CC

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support doctor-assisted suicide laws. These laws — also known as death with dignity or aid-in-dying laws — allow people with terminal illnesses to request medical assistance to hasten their deaths. Eight states and Washington, D.C. have death with dignity laws and 19 more are considering similar policies. Yet, only about half of Americans believe doctor assisted suicide is moral. New sociological research shows that understandings of a “good death” may help explain these competing views. 

Cindy L. Cain and Sara McCleskey conducted focus groups with 39 people shortly after California’s aid-in-dying law passed. Participants considered the aid-in-dying law good when it eases suffering, takes a burden off family members, and results from an individual’s choice. This is consistent with previous research documenting Western ideals for a good death: pain relief, acceptance, mending of familial and other important relationships, and not being a burden to others. In line with these ideals, participants characterized aid-in-dying laws as bad when their use is seen as suicide or “a way out.”

Not all participants viewed aid-in-dying laws the same way. African American and Latino participants expressed concerns that aid-in-dying laws could mean worse medical care, especially for people who already struggle to access medical institutions, knowledge, and treatment. Some specifically voiced concerns that discrimination would make them targets for an early death.

Death may be a physiological process, but how we understand death is social. Cultural conceptions of what a “good death” entails shape how people make sense of new options for end-of-life care. But even when these options align with understandings of a “good death,” discrimination and resulting distrust of medical institutions can mean that marginalized people do not see aid-in-dying as a safe option.

For more on racial disparities in mortality, check out the Center for Disease Control’s 2017 report.

Photo of pots and bowls filled with food on a kitchen island
Photo by ironypoisoning, Flickr CC

Life moves fast. One area where people are spending less time on housework is in cooking; In new research, Marie Pleszz and Fabrice Etilé describe that people in the United States and France spend less time cooking and eating at home today than in the past. The research also suggests that cooking and eating times have fallen for different reasons in each country.

Piezz and Etilé draw on time-use surveys, a research tool that measures how participants spend their time. Comparing nationally representative samples of households in the United States and France, the researchers find that people in both countries spend approximately 15 to 20 minutes less on cooking per day in 2010 than in 1985. In France, the drop in cooking time was paired with a drop in eating time, while Americans are spending less time cooking per meal. In other words, the amount of time spent cooking in France has remained relatively stable when we compare it to time spent eating at home. On the other hand, Americans are still eating at home, but they spend less time cooking at home to make those meals.  

What drives these changes? The authors find that in France the time drop is primarily caused by an increase in smaller households, as well as eating less at home. Other factors could include cultural factors such as changing practices in the ways people consume food, shifts in gender norms surrounding housework, or the household choice to cook faster recipes in the interest of saving time. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: if you’ve got a lot on your plate, cooking at home is taking up less of the pie.

Photo of high school girls in a science lab by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr CC.

As the school year gets underway, many students are excited to get their schedules and find out which friends will be in their classes fall semester. But who is in their third-period Pre-Calc and seventh-period Physics may matter for more than just socializing. New research shows that friends’ and classmates’ preferences for school subjects influence adolescents’ opinions of STEM subjects, which potentially affects their occupational choice and earnings.

Isabel J. Raabe, Zso´fia Boda, and Christoph Stadtfeld examined Swedish adolescents’ social networks over time to find out how peers influence preferences for STEM subjects. A survey asked students about their favorite subject and who their best friends were in the class, first in eighth grade and then a year later. Controlling for socioeconomic status and cognitive ability, the researchers analyzed and compared the influence of friends and other students on the STEM preferences of boys and girls.

They found that while both boys and girls like what their friends like, social influence on favorite subject was stronger among boys. Since the boys in the sample were mostly friends with boys and the girls were mostly friends with girls, social influence came primarily from same-sex friends. Because boys already tended to prefer STEM subjects more at the start of the study, they were more likely to be exposed to STEM-preferring friends.

Girls, on the other hand, were influenced less by their friends’ favorite subjects than by simply having other girls in their class who preferred STEM subjects. This presence of girls who like STEM seemed to protect female students from negative consequences associated with violating gender norms, like preferring STEM subjects.

Despite Sweden’s policy efforts to reduce gender gaps, gender disparities among engineers and scientists persist. By identifying another factor influencing these disparities, this study can inform new solutions to keep young women in the STEM pipeline.

a boy looks at a book. around his head are math problems and works like "homework," and "calculation"
Max Pixel, CC

Books like The Rise of Women and The End of Men herald the academic success of young women in the United States today, but the image of the “genius” is still male. And fields that emphasize the importance of raw intelligence, like physics, economics, and computer science are still male-dominated. How can both of these social facts co-exist? New research from Michela Musto suggests that racialized and gendered classroom management practices in schools may be part of the problem. How teachers respond to talking out of turn establishes a hierarchy of intelligence in middle school classrooms, where high-achieving white boys are considered “brilliant” and more exceptional than girls, and low-achieving Black and Latino boys are viewed as “bad.”

Musto spent 2.5 years observing in a public middle-school in Los Angeles, talking to over 190 racially-diverse students. This article examines patterns of rule-breaking, especially talking out of turn, in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade math classes. In higher-level courses, which overwhelmingly consisted of white and Asian students, boys monopolized classroom discussions in eighth grade because teachers tolerated their interruptions and regularly allowed them to challenge their female classmates in sixth and seventh grade. Musto’s data shows that this disparity in who acts as the expert in high-level classrooms contributes to a belief among eighth-grade girls and boys that boys are more exceptionally intelligent than girls.

In lower-level courses, dominated by Black and Latino students, harsh discipline from teachers caused disengagement for some eighth-grade boys. Musto observed that students came to see Latino boys as the “dumbest” kids in school because teachers repeatedly challenged their competency, and high levels of policing left Latino boys academically disengaged. Race also mattered in higher-level classes because teachers tolerated non-academic interruptions from white boys, but not Asian ones. 

Taken together, racialized tracking and teacher response to students helps us understand the continued sense among students that while girls are smart, the truly exceptional students are white boys.