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Talking about racism and race relations is often difficult, especially between a parent and child. Parents of color often feel the need to talk about these subjects to protect their children from violence and prepare them for racism in the world. But recent research by Megan Underhill suggests that White parents more often remain silent on these matters, ignoring the reality of race relations in the United States and allowing for the continuance of White privilege and dominance.  

Through interviews with 40 White, middle-class parents in Cincinnati, Ohio from 2014–2015, Underhill questioned parents about their communications with their children regarding racial protests and violence — in Cincinnati in 2001 and Ferguson in 2014. Originally Underhill focused on the shooting and protests in Cincinnati, a city that is essentially half White and half Black. Then, a month into the interviews, violence in Ferguson occurred, so Underhill started asking parents about both cities (though not all parents originally interviewed were questioned on these latter events).

Twenty-eight parents did not talk to their children at all about racial tensions or protests in either city. When asked why, half stated that their children “never asked” and the rest stated that their children were too young to discuss such topics. Though most parents in the study reported speaking to their children about race beforehand, they often used rhetoric that superficially addressed diversity — “we’re all the same but different” — thus avoiding uncomfortable racial talk. Twelve parents spoke to their children about racial tension and the Ferguson protests, though most did not talk to their children about the underlying structures that support racial inequality in the United States. In all, only two parents in the study initiated conversations with their children about racial inequality and White privilege. 

Part of the reason seems to be that parents themselves had little knowledge of U.S. race relations and therefore felt like they could not have meaningful conversations about race with their children. In sum, this research demonstrates that White families — in contrast to families of color — lack either the willingness or the ability to talk about race, even in the face of current events. And this practice will surely only support the status quo. 

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Social media serves as a space where users can react to events (like the Parkland school shooting) in real time. While these conversations can be constructive, social media can also be a haven for anger and discrimination. In a recent study, René Flores examined what drives online bigotry, specifically in response to new laws. Flores focuses on Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which allowed authorities to demand immigration papers from individuals they thought may be undocumented. While a strong anti-immigrant response to the law on Twitter may seem to demonstrate a shift in attitudes toward immigrants, Flores argues that changes in behavior — in this case, an increase in posting and a change in the content of posts — may be to blame. 

Flores analyzed over 250,000 tweets posted between three months before and three months after the passage of SB 1070. Rather than sorting the tweets as positive or negative, Flores created a metric to rate the strength of sentiment in the tweets. He compared Arizona tweets to those in Nevada to measure changes specifically related to SB 1070, rather than other national or regional dynamics. After SB 1070, not only were there more anti-immigrant tweets in Arizona, but the tweets themselves were more negative. And further, Twitter users also directed negative sentiments toward non-immigrant Latinos, showing that the effect of SB 1070 was not limited to those targeted by the law.

 Beyond capturing the overall trends, Flores analyzed the motivation behind the tweets. Flores did not find evidence that neutral or pro-immigrant users changed their attitudes. Instead, users who already expressed anti-immigrant or anti-Latino biases drove the uptick in negativity. In other words, users who previously held an anti-immigrant stance posted tweets with greater negative content more frequently, at least in the immediate aftermath of the bill’s passing. This finding questions the possibility for laws to change attitudes in the short term, but demonstrates that laws can mobilize groups who already believe in the law’s sentiments. 

Photo by US Department of Education, Flickr CC

Teachers face difficult decisions in their classrooms, navigating both practical and more complex aspects of their profession. Racial segregation and discrimination are some of these more complex issues. In her recent study, Jessica S. Cobb investigated how teachers understand existing racial inequalities in their schools and beyond. She found that the local context of schools significantly shaped teacher perceptions of inequality.

Cobb interviewed 60 public school teachers from three different California high schools. Two schools, with the pseudonyms “Bunker High” and “Solidarity High,” served predominantly low-income Latinx and Black students. The third school, “Heritage High,” served a mainly affluent, and majority White and Asian student population. Each school’s demographics, resources, and professional development characteristics helped to create a local culture that shaped how teachers thought about educational inequality.

In a context of abundance and independent professionalism, Heritage High teachers attributed their privileged students’ success to their parents’ personal and financial investments. They perceived student differences to be the result of economic, rather than racial inequality.  On the other hand, many Bunker High students lived in precarious food and housing situations, and the school itself lacked resources for teachers. These school characteristics, in combination with constant in-fighting among the school board and other administrators, meant teachers at Bunker High understood inequality as the result of this dysfunction. They said that dysfunction among adults, including school teachers, administrators, and parents, reduced student chances of success, and teachers often discussed this dysfunction along racial lines. While Bunker High and Solidarity High served similar student populations, Solidarity High had many resources and boasted a collaborative culture among teachers. Because of this local context, teachers at Solidarity High attributed inequality directly to racism. 

Understandings of race and racial inequality are more than just individual dispositions. They are shaped by the social context of day-to-day life. Cobb’s study suggests that when schools like Solidarity High receive more resources and foster a collaborative teacher culture, there are both material and immaterial benefits. In other words, school structures provide an important context for teacher’s perceptions of how inequality operates in their own schools and elsewhere.

Photo by Christof Timmermann, Flickr CC

While social scientists regularly rely on surveys to understand individuals’ spiritual beliefs and practices, surveys rarely capture how an individual’s spirituality varies over time and by situation. In a recent study, Jaime Kucinskas, Bradley Wright, D. Matthew Ray, and John Ortberg use a new way of measuring spiritual experiences in real time to better understand these more nuanced aspects of spirituality.

The authors developed an app called SoulPulse to measure how “spiritual” people feel on a day-to-day basis. The authors used a broad definition of spirituality, asking participants to think of feelings of transcendence, meaningfulness, interconnectedness, and/or awareness of a god or something sacred. Then, after an initial intake survey, the app sent short surveys to research participants twice a day for two weeks. In each short survey, respondents reported how spiritual they felt at that time, as well as to describe their situational context — who they were with, where they were, and what they were doing.

The researchers found that people’s spiritual awareness varies throughout the day. Not surprisingly, people were most likely to report feeling spiritual on Sundays and when engaging in activities meant to elicit spiritual feelings — like praying and meditating. But people were also more likely to report feeling spiritual in the mornings, when they were with their friends, or when they were listening to music. And people were less likely to feel spiritual while at work, when they were with their co-workers, or while interacting with technology (playing video games or surfing the web). In short, people do not experience their spirituality as a constant, unchanging trait; instead, spirituality is shaped by day-to-day activities and social situations.

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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. 

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr CC

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.