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Everyone is worried about big money in politics. In a world of sharp partisan divides, it might seem like a very small, biased crowd dictates policy and pulls leaders away from the interests of the people. We assume donors are eager to push a specific agenda, and they don’t want to back moderate candidates who may compromise on their issues. However, new research tracking individual campaign contributions from Jennifer Heerwig shows frequent donors don’t alway buy into the high drama of American politics.

Heerwig gathered a data set of Federal Elections Commission disclosures for all individual campaign contributions over $200 between the 1979-1980 election cycle and the 2007-2008 cycle. Using computer matching on over 15 million records, she generated a new data set that tracks the same individual donors over time, rather than listing their contributions separately.

Since the 1980s, there has been a big drop in bipartisan giving, supporting the common story that U.S. politics are becoming more polarized. Heerwig writes,

For most of the 1980s, nearly 17% of contributors to federal elections made donations to both parties…In 2008, just 7% of contributors split their contributions.

But there’s an important difference in the data: this drop is due to new donors coming in. People who spend more time in the donor pool and give in multiple election cycles are more likely to split contributions between candidates in both political parties. They are also more likely to give to moderate candidates. Instead of becoming more polarized, longtime donors start to seek out political influence on both sides of the aisle. This second finding is especially important because it shows how American political institutions still matter for balancing our partisan interests. Yes, more purely ideological donors are entering the field and potentially contributing to polarization, but Heerwig’s results show how the time spent working within the system can teach donors that compromise still matters.


Jukka Savolainen, Samantha Applin, Steven F. Messner, Lorine A. Hughes, Robert Lytle, and Janne Kivivuori, “Does the Gender Gap in Delinquency Vary by Level of Patriarchy? A Cross-National Comparative Analysis,” Criminology , 2017
Protesters arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Photo by Jeremy Noble, Flickr CC

Almost universally, women commit less crime than men. At the family-level, researchers explain this through gender socialization — in families where parents exert more control over daughters than sons, girls are less likely to commit crimes than boys. New research by Jukka Savolainen and colleagues examines the gender gap in crime on a larger scale by using data from 30 countries to determine how patriarchal attitudes and the social position of women may influence young women’s participation in crime.

The authors combine the International Self-Report Delinquency Survey — which measures youth’s participation in crime in 30 nations — with attitudinal measures of gender equality from the World Values Survey and the Gender Inequality Index from the United Nations —  which measures gender disparities across nations in areas such as economic status and reproductive health. Consistent with previous research, they find a gender gap in crime participation. While young men participated in more crime than young women overall, the gap is greater in countries with greater patriarchal attitudes and higher levels of gender inequality. In other words, young men and women commit crimes at more similar levels in countries with more gender equality, and this is due to a combination of young women committing more crime and young men committing less crime. 

In sum, decreases in patriarchal attitudes and practices influence both male and female participation in crime. The authors suggest that variations in patriarchal norms across countries may alter gendered socialization practices, gender differences in parental supervision, and gendered attitudes and behavioral expectations — all of which may affect future participation in crime.

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In our busy lives, we sometimes prioritize our time over our money. Services like cleaning, lawn care, child care, and meal delivery offer convenience when it seems impossible to get everything done at work and at home. While it may seem like life is getting busier every year, the use of these types of services — known as “household outsourcing” — has increased surprisingly slowly over the past 30 years, even with household incomes increasing overall. New research by Sabino Kornrich and Allison Roberts finds that the use of these services depends primarily on increases in men’s incomes, not women’s for different-sex, married couples.

Kornrich and Roberts use the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES), a nationally representative sample of household spending for different-sex married couples beginning in 1980. CES uses interviews to capture larger, less frequent expenditures like rent or monthly childcare payments. Additionally, CES asks people to track their spending for two weeks to get a sense of small, day to day purchases that people often forget, like eating out or an afternoon latté. 

Changes in household income are the strongest predictors of outsourcing household services, like hiring a cleaning service or paying for daycare. However, changes in women’s earnings predict little change in outsourcing. This is somewhat unexpected given that compared to men, women tend to take on the majority of household work and childcare, in addition to paid work. Using economic survey data makes it difficult to capture exactly why increases in women’s incomes don’t correspond with more outsourcing of household services. The authors suggest that women may feel pressure to uphold an ideal image of the home and family and try to “do it all.”

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Education matters for quality of later life and so parents are highly invested in where their children attend school. Traditionally, choosing a good school meant choosing a good neighborhood — public schools serve everyone in the surrounding community and are funded primarily through property taxes. But increases in “school choice” policies, designed to improve schools by allowing parents more control over what school their children attend and increasing competition, weaken the link between schools and neighborhoods. In a recent study, Francis Pearman II and Walker Swain consider how school choice policies affect the housing decisions of educated, White families and in turn contribute to gentrification. 

Pearman and Swain tracked whether school choice (through charter schools, magnet schools, vouchers, or open enrollment) in certain neighborhoods increased between 2000 and 2012. Then, they identified if those neighborhoods had gentrified during the same time period. The authors tested each neighborhood’s probability of gentrification regardless of school choice, and then determined if adding school choice policies changed that probability. They found that Whites were less likely to move into a neighborhood that was primarily non-White when the area had traditional neighborhood schools. However, Whites were equally likely to move into a neighborhood — regardless of racial composition — if school choice policies were present. In fact, with school choice, the likelihood of gentrification in the most racially-isolated neighborhoods increased from 18 percent to 40 percent.

These results suggest that White parents are less likely to move to a neighborhood if their children will attend majority non-White schools. On the flip side, they are more willing to move into racially-isolated, disinvested areas if they are able to select more desirable schools for their children. Clearly, education and housing policies can’t be understood in isolation, as both affect displacement, segregation, and community integration. School choice policies may accelerate gentrification processes that push out communities of color, while decreasing the odds that residents will invest in their neighborhood schools. 

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We often assume that the descendants of immigrants will be better off than their predecessors–an idea that sociologists refer to as “assimilation theory.” However, recent social science research contradicts this assumption. In their new work, sociologists Vilma Ortiz and Edward Telles demonstrate the importance of considering the role of race and racial inequality for immigrants and their descendants.

Using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey, Ortiz and Telles examine respondents’ income, education, and employment outcomes, as well as race and immigration status. They find that third-generation Mexican-Americans do not experience better economic and educational outcomes than second-generation Mexican-Americans. In fact, third-generation outcomes are very similar to second-generation outcomes. Further, third-generation Mexican-Americans experience significantly worse outcomes than Whites. Ortiz and Telles suggest that racial inequality — like unequal access to education and job market discrimination — contribute to Mexican-Americans’ disadvantage. In short, this research shows the importance of considering racial inequality when examining the relative success of immigrants and their descendants. 

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The first rule of finding good real estate is location. Housing location is not simply a matter of preference, however. In the mid 20th century, discriminatory housing practices called redlining perpetuated racial segregation. During this time, the U.S. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) rated neighborhoods as desirable or undesirable based on their racial and ethnic makeup. White homeowners would often sell their homes below market value if their neighborhoods were at risk of being classified as undesirable, and racial minorities would then purchase these same homes at inflated prices, resulting in racial residential segregation. While redlining is now illegal, Blacks and Hispanics still tend to live in poorer housing and in less desirable neighborhoods than Whites. New research by Max Besbris and Jacob William Faber demonstrates the long legacy of redlining practices by examining how real estate agents play a role in perpetuating racial housing disparities. 

The authors use multiple methods in their study. First, they matched to the specific business addresses of licensed real estate agents in the state of New York to the median home values and other demographic information of their corresponding census tracts. Next, they interviewed 45 real estate agents about fair housing practices and where they do most of their work. To better capture real estate agents’ fair housing practices, the interviewers asked agents to respond to hypothetical situations where buyers and sellers expressed racist attitudes and asked for the racial composition of certain neighborhoods.

The census data shows that real estate agencies concentrate significantly more in neighborhoods with White or Asian majorities –averaging 12 and 20 real estate agents — rather than those with mostly Black or Latinx residents –averaging about three agents each. In interviews, several realtors argue this pattern does not reflect racial bias, but instead reflects the desire to earn more money by working in higher-priced areas. While none of the real estate agents explicitly believed segregation was right, many sought to please their clients and make sales by steering potential buyers to certain areas based on racial composition. The realtors describe these practices as responding to clients’ implicit and explicit preferences to be in neighborhoods with residents who resemble themselves racially and socioeconomically. In short, even though real estate agents may not have overtly racist attitudes, they use business practices that perpetuate structural racism to make a living and compete in the real estate business world.

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Mass information is changing criminal justice surveillance. Police departments have begun to use massive digital datasets — referred to as “big data” — to reduce crime rates. However, these practices can prompt inadvertent social consequences, according to sociologist, Sarah Brayne. Brayne spent more than two years observing and interviewing members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) investigating how new technologies have intensified and transformed how police monitor large numbers of people.

One of the most shocking transformations in the LAPD data-systems is the dramatic increase in the number of people and institutions under surveillance. Their software investigates individuals with and without previous police contact. Based on police records, the software builds network diagrams of associated contacts. These include the suspect’s relatives and people affiliated with the addresses or phone numbers in the suspect’s register, regardless of their involvement in criminal activities. Databases also gather information not related to crime control, like from Twitter accounts and utility bills. This widens the net of surveillance to non-criminal spaces.  

Although technology plays a big part in decision-making, humans still play a vital role in surveillance. For example, when an analyst runs a search for a certain individual, they can see how many times other criminal justice employees have searched for that individual. The more searches, the higher the individual’s “criminal risk,” no matter what their criminal justice involvement is. Further, big data makes it possible to patrol “hot spots” of crime, based on predictive analyses of future crimes. However, some officers contest this form of control, by turning off their automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology.

Advocates of big data believe it can reduce human bias against racial minorities and increase police accountability. However, their faith rests on false the assumption that digital information is free of human bias. As these new technologies extend and intensify surveillance of both individuals and institutions, Brayne points out that some individuals — particularly those living in low-income, minority areas — will surely bear the burden of control more than others. 

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In a world of infoglut, it can be tempting to ignore most of what we see on the internet.  In order to gain attention, organizations must present their messages strategically. In a recent study, Christopher Bail, Taylor Brown, and Marcus Mann investigate how advocacy groups keep their audiences engaged on social media. The authors argue that rational arguments or emotional arguments alone are not enough. Instead, the key to successful messaging is the “cognitive-emotional current,” or switching back and forth between rational and emotional argument styles.

The researchers evaluated Facebook posts and comments for 200 autism and organ donation advocacy groups. After collecting posts and comments for over a year, the authors used text analysis to classify messaging either as rational or emotional. They also created their own application, “Find Your People,” which provided the organizations feedback about their messaging styles in exchange for information about the effectiveness of their outreach strategies. The authors measured effectiveness by recording how many unique users engaged with the organization’s content each day of the study. Based on this method, the advocacy groups in the study effectively used the cognitive-emotional current to keep their audiences engaged. After a series of emotionally-charged posts, the organizations would shift to more factual arguments, then back again.

While this alone is an intriguing finding, Bail, Brown, and Mann tell us there are larger benefits than understanding how organizations keep their audiences engaged. The methods the authors used in this study — analyzing social media posts and comments — give us insight into how humans communicate and connect in a world where much of our communication happens through the medium of technology.

Photo by Shane Adams, Flickr CC

For those involved in gang activity, parenthood can serve as a powerful turning point in parents’ lives. Yet, men and women may experience and react to parenthood differently. In their recent work, David Pyrooz, Jean Marie McGloin, and Scott H. Dekker examine whether parenthood reduces the likelihood of gang affiliation and criminal offending among male and female gang members. 

The authors’ analysis draws from the responses of 163 women and 466 men who self-identified as gang members in the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The authors tested whether parenthood for the first or second time reduces the likelihood of self-identification as a gang member, in addition to the likelihood of committing crimes, including theft, drug solicitation, and assault. The authors also examined male gang members’ involvement in their children’s lives based on their residence with or apart from their children. Finally, the authors controlled for cohabitation between parents, legal employment, and education to determine the specific effects of parenthood.

Prior to having children, female gang members had a lower likelihood of committing crime and fewer years spent as gang members than men overall. For first-time mothers, having a child reduced their likelihood of gang affiliation by 93 percent and their probability of offending by 47 percent. However, only male gang members who were first-time fathers and resided with their children showed significant reductions in gang affiliation and criminal offending. At the same time, these changes were far less likely to last in comparison to female gang members. Thus, this research demonstrates that while parenthood can be a powerful force for moving away from criminal identity and activity, its impacts are tempered by gender.

Photo by Emilio Labrador, Flickr CC

The Internet’s ability to disperse large amounts of information has greatly changed communication worldwide. Not only can beneficial information be transmitted quickly, but incorrect information can also spread rapidly. In new researchDeenesh Sohoni investigates how immigration numbers are manipulated by restrictionist groups in the United States — groups that advocate for reduced levels of legal immigration and crackdowns than undocumented immigration — to advance and legitimize their claims that immigration is a serious social problem. 

In 2011, Sohoni examined how 42 national-level restrictionist groups use their websites to frame the demographic impacts of immigration based on population projections. 2011 was a particularly important year for immigration in the United States, as the DREAM Act was reintroduced in the Senate, and a number of states followed Arizona’s SB1070, passing restrictive immigration policies. 

Of the groups that presented data, nearly half presented numbers that were either exaggerations of U.S. Census Bureau projections, used the higher end of the projections without noting it, or listed projections that could not be verified. In all cases, these numbers were treated as facts and the groups used them to argue further immigration would make whites a minority in the United States by mid-century. They also used these figures to argue for restricting “illegal” immigrants in the United States as a way to reduce crime, save public services, and keep jobs and government benefits for  “Americans.”

Sohoni’s research shows us that fake news is not a new phenomenon, and when we use the Internet, we must not only consider what information we’re getting, but also where it comes from.