Two women lie together on a rooftop divan. Photo via pxfuel CC.

The United States has seen substantial change in both public perceptions and legal treatment of same-sex relationships in recent years. Sociologists are interested in how many people have changed their sexual behavior in response to these shifts in social forces. According to a new study, younger people demonstrate more same-sex sexual behavior than older people, with a greater increase for women and black men. 

Emma Mischel, Paula England, Jessie Ford, and Monica L. Caudillo examined data from the General Social Survey, a nationally-representative survey, from 1988-2018. They analyzed whether respondents reported they had same-sex sexual partner since they were 18, as well as whether they reported they had a same-sex partner in the last year. Their main interest was in cohort change, or changes in behavior of people born in a given period. Cohorts involved in this study ranged from those born in 1920 to those born in 2000.

The authors found significant increases in same-sex sexual activity for both men and women in more recent cohorts, but much greater increases for women. They estimate that the probability of a woman having sex with another woman in her life went from approximately 1 in 100 for women born between 1920-1945 to approximately 1 in 5 for women born between 1984 and 2000. The increase for women does not substantially vary across class or race, but it does for men, with lower-class and Black men showing steeper increases in having sex with both women and men. 

Social forces that discourage or punish same-sex behavior have lessened across the board, which may have led to more same-sex sexual behavior. The authors theorize that the lessening of sanctions for same-sex behavior is largely a result of the gender revolution, since same-sex behavior is seen as gender nonconforming. But because the gender revolution shifted the definitions of femininity more than the definition of masculinity, women are more able to deviate from gender norms. In short, heterosexism may have lightened but the change is uneven. 

The EPDC helps educators bring NASA STEM content into the classroom through workshops, webinars and more. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Teachers and other workers rely on workplace relationships to get through the day and do their jobs. New research explores how white and Black teachers achieve access to political, social, and emotional resources within schools through social ties. For 11 months, Jennifer L. Nelson observed 98 teachers across five public high schools, two of which were majority-white and three were majority-Black. Nelson shadowed and spoke with teachers as they prepared for lessons, taught in classrooms, participated in work-related meetings, and interacted in hallways. Nelson’s observations reveal how Black teachers in majority-white schools and white teachers in majority-Black schools form same-race social ties. These ties then provide access to additional emotional, political, and professional resources.

Both Black and white teachers received similar emotional resources through their same-race ties, including close friendships and opportunities to vent about workplace frustrations. Yet, most white teachers received additional professional and political resources (e.g. technical assistance, lesson plans, quieter hallways, “putting in a good word,” etc.), while only one-third of Black teachers’ same-race social ties produced similar resources. 

Nelson argues that the differences in Black and white teachers’ resources are the result of same-race ties forming slower for Black teachers, who were less likely to have prior contacts and school affiliations than white teachers. White teachers in majority-Black schools were more likely to be placed in classrooms with close proximity, allowing them to meet more frequently in hallways and classrooms to share resources. These meetings resulted in more opportunities to form same-race cliques. 

Black teachers, however, did not receive the same classroom proximity to other Black teachers. When Black teachers did form ties, these ties were more likely to stay within the workplace, include more non-teaching staff such as cafeteria staff or janitors, and include only two members. Black teachers in majority-white schools also faced more reprimand from administrators if they sat together during school events.

This research allows us to see how workplace social bonds — particularly between those with a shared racial identity — remain crucial in securing resources. Yet, workplace practices can hinder the extent to which same-race ties result in valuable resources between Black and white employees.

Photo shows a protester holding a sign that reads, "welcome asylum seekers and refugees," over top of a red heart.
Photo by John Englart, Flickr CC

Refugees seek to start a new life in an unfamiliar place because of persecution, war, or violence. On arrival, they face challenges as they learn to live in a new society. New research shows how social ties affect refugees’ quality of life as they navigate these challenges. Specifically, it highlights the importance of what sociologists call strong and weak ties, and how the types of relationships matter greatly.

R. Neil Greene used quantitative and qualitative data from the Refugee Well-Being Project, a 5-year community-based study of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the Great Lakes region of Africa who had recently resettled in the United States. Refugees answered questions about their mental and emotional well-being, as well as their support networks. 

Strong family ties were associated with a higher quality of life for refugees. These ties were especially important for emotional support and comfort. In addition to strong family ties, refugees reported relying on weaker ties for their more practical needs, like finding work and navigating new systems. 

Refugees who settled in the United States long ago played an especially important role as “cultural brokers” because they were able to provide both emotional or psychological support, as well as help new refugees with more practical tasks, like how to find a job or get a driver’s license. In other words, settled refugees represented the best of both strong and weak ties.

For more data on refugee resettlement in the United States, check out the Migration Policy Institute or read the Pew Research Center’s “Key Facts about Refugees Coming to the U.S.

Image of a student holding a mounting pile of books, beneath a mortarboard cap and a diploma, all tagged, “I.O.U.” Photo via Pixabay.

The recent news and research on student loans identify graduate degrees as a major culprit of mounting debt. Although 75% of people with student loans borrowed for an undergraduate degree, over 40% of the $1 trillion of student debt is a result of borrowing for graduate school. In a new paper, Jaymes Pyne and Eric Grodsky present trends of graduate student borrowing, who borrows, and the graduate wage premium.  

Pyne and Grodsky look at 1996-2016 data from three nationally-representative datasets. They find that one trend is simply more people getting masters degrees — a result of what they call “a perfect storm” of changes to funding in higher education, a greater demand for higher credentials, and increased returns to graduate degrees. Masters students are also borrowing more to complete those degrees than past students. Across all degree types women, historically underserved students, and students of low socioeconomic background on average borrow more for graduate degrees than their counterparts. Graduate debt has especially risen among Black students.

Scholars of mobility worry about the large debts for Black graduate students. Carrying lots of student loan debt may prevent individuals from accruing wealth and perpetuate generational inequality. But the graduate wage premium, or the amount that a person makes as compared to a similar person without a graduate degree, is greatest for Black students. In short, we will have to wait and see whether borrowing for a graduate degree will turn out to be worth it. 

Graphic shows the percent of parents who rate each trait as the most important for children to learn from 1986-2018. Support for autonomy (top line) declines, while support for hard work (solid orange line) increases. Image via Socius.

Popular culture complains that parents have become too focused on making kids feel good about themselves and not focused enough on encouraging hard work and effort. However, in their new article, Nomaguchi and Milkie demonstrate that support for passing on the value of working hard to children has actually increased over the past forty years.

Nomaguchi and Milkie analyzed which traits adults ranked as most important for children to learn on the General Social Survey between 1986 and 2018. Survey respondents ranked five traits from most to least important: obedience, autonomy, diligence, compassion and likability. The authors wondered if rising economic uncertainty would increase emphasis on survival skills, like hard work, or whether “self-expression” values like thinking for oneself and helping others (autonomy and compassion) would remain popular, as they had between 1920 and 1980. 

They found that although thinking for oneself remains the most popular, adults increasingly emphasized passing on the value of hard work. Between 1986 and 2018, the number of adults who considered autonomy as the most important trait for children to learn declined by about 10% while support for hard work more than doubled.  Nomaguchi and Milkie also found that since 2010 Americans have ranked hard work either as important or more important to pass on to children than thinking for oneself. Importantly, they found that if changes to the population, such as the increased number of college graduates, had not occured support for hard work would have been greater. 

Nomaguchi and Milkie speculate that the increased preference for survival values instead of “self-expression” values reflects the greater sense of economic precarity in the United States. Other social scientists have documented how shifts in the labor market since the 1980s have left more people feeling economically insecure. 

Nomaguchi and Milkie’s finding demonstrates the importance of investigating parenting values, like which traits to pass on to children, to better understand people’s sense of the economy and culture they are living in. People’s increased focus on hard work, and not self-expression, may demonstrate that Americans are concerned about the economy they are living in and will pass onto their children. 

Photo shows college basketball players sitting on a bench while a coach crouches next to them. The players are wearing white jerseys with blue letter that says Toreros.
Photo by SD Dirk, Flickr CC

Over 50% of men’s NCAA Division 1 basketball players are black, but over 75% of coaches at that level are white. In new research, Ryan Seebruck and Scott Savage examine who is likely to fill vacant coaching positions as a way to better understand the continued racial inequities in D1 basketball. 

The authors looked up biographical information for every NCAA Division I basketball assistant coach who had the opportunity to get an internal head coaching hire from 2008-2013 (over 700 assistant coaches at 239 schools that had head coach openings). They then tested what variables affect the likelihood of a coach receiving an internal promotion, including whether their race matched the race of the outgoing head coach. 

White assistant coaches under white head coaches are the most likely to benefit from an internal hire, so basic social reproduction is part of the story. But there is an important organizational dimension here, as well. It involves the racial composition of the coaching staff as a whole. Schools were more likely to promote an assistant coach to the head spot if the racial composition of the staff matched the race of the previous head coach. In other words, if the outgoing coach was white, the likelihood of promoting one of the assistant coaches was highest when all of the assistant coaches were white. As the number of Black assistants increased, schools were more likely to pass over all of the assistant coaches and hire an outside coach. For Black head coaches the situation was symmetrical — the likelihood of internal promotion increased as the number of black assistant coaches increased. 

AC = assistant coach (Seebruck and Savage 2019)

This research adds to our understanding of how racial matching and organizational structure can maintain inequality, and how and when change can occur. Individual black coaches may be hired to assist with recruiting and player development in the college ranks, but their path to the top job at predominantly white institutions will be difficult. As protests and legislation across the country bring more attention to racial inequities in college athletics, this research suggests that coaching may be the next area of contention.

Picture of a home with a white picket fence via Needpix.

The spring real estate market is right around the corner, and the annual frenzy of home buying and selling will begin again. For many parents, the residential search means finding a house in a neighborhood and school district with desired characteristics. But new research shows that not all families have the luxury of taking these factors into account. 

To better understand how people choose a home, Hope Harvey, Kelley Fong, Kathryn Edin, and Stefanie DeLuca interviewed 156 parents with young children in metro areas in Ohio and Texas. They interviewed about two-thirds of the parents again one year later, and also accompanied about two dozen residents who moved between interviews on their search for a new home. 

Regardless of their financial resources, parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds expressed similar desires for high-quality homes in safe neighborhoods with strong schools where they could live for many years. However, parents thought about the goals of their searches differently depending on their income level. Higher-income parents’ searches were geared toward finding “forever homes,” and these parents attempted to come as close as possible to achieving their long-term preferences. In contrast, nearly all of the lower-income parents in the study were seeking to rent rather than buy. Because circumstances like eviction often pushed them to relocate, these parents tended to look for a new rental unit that would meet their immediate needs. Thinking of these rented homes as “temporary stops,” lower-income parents deferred their plans to search for homes that better matched their preferences until they were ready to buy a home. 

Understanding why lower-income parents may be willing to settle for houses that don’t match their long-term preferences is key to reducing a number of social inequalities, like disparities in school and neighborhood quality across income groups. This study shows that parents who decide to relocate before they can afford to purchase a home often turn to rental units that are better than their previous residences, while falling far short of their ideals. As a result, solutions that provide families more time to evaluate their options–like giving evicted residents longer to move–could help lower-income families forced to move on a tight timeline. 

Arlington Courthouse displays a U.S. Flag after 9/11. Photo by Pedro Vera, Flickr CC.

National crises can have long lasting impacts beyond the day or year they occur. For example, in the wake of September 11th, American nationalism increased. However, the unity Americans displayed was an exclusive form of nationalism that pitted many U.S. citizens against non-citizens. A recent study found that following the 9/11 national crisis, non-citizens in the United States faced a greater likelihood of imprisonment than citizens. In fact, by 2010 nearly 48 percent of the federal docket was comprised of cases against non-U.S. citizens. 

Michael Light, Ellen Dinsmore and Michael Massoglia examined a database of federal criminal felony offenses that includes case type, defendant characteristics, court location, and judge-specific data. They find non-U.S. citizens living in New York and Washington D.C were eight percent more likely to be imprisoned than U.S. citizens after 9/11. The increased likelihood of incarceration for non-citizens in New York and D.C. was evident for a full four years after September 11, 2001.

The authors suggest that the reason for this disparity in criminal punishment is not due to changes in federal policies, but instead due to judges being less sympathetic to defendants without American citizenship during times of national emergencies. In other words, the federal criminal justice system is not unbiased: Legal actors like judges can be affected by national fear during times of crisis.

This research raises important questions about the functioning of democratic institutions in the wake of national emergencies. The findings show legal patterns of inequality that target non-U.S. citizens — raising the question of whether the American penal system has become a component of immigration enforcement.

Photo of two steaks on a grill with an open flame.
Photo by Gabriel Saldana, Flickr CC

Originally published April 17, 2019.

Men are less likely than women to consider becoming vegetarian. And in the United States, where men have higher rates of life-threatening health conditions than women — including uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease — changing eating habits may be important for their health. To learn more about meat and masculinity, Researchers Sandra Nakagawa and Chloe Hart conducted a study examining how gender identity influences eating habits.

Nakagawa and Hart conducted experiments to test whether a threat to masculinity influences men’s likelihood of eating meat. In one experiment, the researchers told some men their answers from a previous survey fell in the “average female” range, while others fell into the “average male” range. For the men who received “average female” results, the authors expected them to feel like their masculinity was in question.

Men who experienced a threat to their masculinity showed more attachment to meat than those who did not experience the threat. They were also more likely to say they needed meat to feel full and were less likely to consider switching to a diet with no meat. This study shows that masculinity does matter for how men maintain their health. Importantly, it is not masculinity itself that is the problem here, but the high standards men feel they must meet — and eat.

Photo by Pablo Varela, CC

Originally posted November 5, 2019.

The term ‘gaslighting’ earned its name by way of the 1944 film, Gaslight. In the film, an antagonist secretly brightens and dims his home’s lights, making his wife doubt her sanity and sense of reality. Despite the cinematic origins of its label, this form of abuse is experienced by many women. Though psychologists have extensively investigated the subject, little attention has been paid to the role that underlying social characteristics may play. In new research, Paige Sweet fills this void by revealing how social characteristics affect individual experiences of gaslighting within domestic abuse.

Through a series of life course interviews, Sweet finds that abusers mobilize gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, and victims’ institutional settings in order to manipulate their victims’ sense of reality. Women of different racial and social backgrounds experience gaslighting in different forms; whereas an abuser might prey upon a black woman’s fear of becoming a stereotypical “baby mama,” another might threaten an undocumented Hispanic woman with deportation. Despite differences, abusers in Sweet’s study utilized “crazy-making” tactics for all women — drawing on stereotypes that men are rational, while women are irrational.

Sweet’s argument that “micro tactics of abuse are situated in macro conditions of inequality”  helps us to understand why gaslighting can be so effective at stripping down one’s sense of reality; by drawing attention to existing power structures and inequalities, abusers are able to gain a greater sense of legitimacy and tailor their tactics to a victim’s personal social experiences. It is crucial that we understand the forces that underlie gaslighting in order to more effectively recognize symptoms of abuse, and subsequently support the victims who experience it.