Image: Marchers at a May Day Immigration March hold a sign that reads “Ningun Ser Humano Es Ilegal!!” or “No human being is illegal.” Image courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh, CC-BY-2.5.

Every four years, political parties court Latinx voters, an elusive but increasingly powerful bloc sometimes referred to as the “sleeping giant.”. Immigration and the rights of the undocumented are key issues for these voters, not only abstractly but also directly shaping undocumented residents’ political engagement. Sociologist Angela García argues that local immigration policies shape undocumented Mexicans’ political engagement and participation in public life both positively and negatively.

García conducted almost 100 interviews with undocumented Mexican immigrants in two cities in Southern California, Escondido and Santa Ana, both near the US/Mexico border. She also observed events, marches, and town hall meetings to examine undocumented residents’ responses to local immigration policies which contrasted starkly in the two cities.

In Escondido, a San Diego suburb, restrictive immigration policies curtail employment, restrict rentals, and allow for collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Measures banning day laborers and driver’s license checkpoints were intended to incite fear among undocumented residents. Conversely, Santa Ana, located 75 miles north, had more accommodating policies, including advocacy for DREAMers and sanctuary city protections. García found that these contrasting immigration policies shaped undocumented residents’ political participation. 

In Escondido, with its more restrictive policies, undocumented residents expressed hesitation in confronting local leaders and politicians. In Santa Ana, in contrast, residents more fully embraced their rights, engaging in grassroots politics, attending city council meetings, and even advocating for issues unrelated to immigration, like bike lanes. García found that even in hostile Escondido undocumented residents overcame barriers to political participation and mobilized in response to restrictive policies, like a proposed measure barring immigrants from rentals. 

By highlighting how community members respond to immigration policies, this study illustrates how  local political climates can both constrain and empower undocumented immigrants’ political action. Although local context can provide roadblocks to undocumented migrants’ political participation García’s work also shows the potential for these same conditions to inspire collective organizing and mobilization. 

Anna Zajacova, Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, and Zachary Zimmer, “Sociology of Chronic Pain,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2021
Image: A white woman sits on a bed in pajamas, her arms clutched around her midsection in pain. Image courtesy of pixabay, Pixabay License.

How does pain affect the well-being of an individual? What about the well-being of a society?

In a recent article, Anna Zajacova, Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, and Zachary Zimmer argue that chronic pain is a social issue with consequences beyond medicine

In 2016, the CDC estimated that 20% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain. Chronic pain is a distinct phenomenon of suffering and disability that has significant mental and physical impacts. Chronic pain is different from acute pain from a temporary injury, such as a broken bone or a burn. A person who experiences chronic pain is more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, and twice as likely to commit suicide. 

Chronic pain disproportionately impacts certain groups. Overall, women experience slightly higher levels of pain than men. People with lower socioeconomic status experience significantly more chronic pain. For instance, individuals without a high school diploma experience three times the amount of severe pain than college graduates. These findings demonstrate that pain is connected to broader social inequalities and conditions. 

The seemingly private experience of pain has wide-ranging social dimensions and implications that require further study. Our suffering may be individually felt, but it must also be collectively understood, especially if we are to make real progress in advancing the health and well-being of all.

Image: A white woman holds her phone in one hand, with the other she taps the phone’s screen. Image courtesy of canva, canva free media use.

Dating apps have changed how we think about dating. With options that allow users to search for partners across physical distance, it can seem like there are no boundaries to finding love with these apps. However, one sociologist highlights that race and location continue to limit dating options.

Sarah Adeyinka-Skold interviewed over 100 racially diverse, college-educated women, who live in the United States. Adeyinka-Skold asked if these dating apps lessened the boundaries of location and race for women trying to find romantic partners across the country.  The interviews revealed that local culture was actually still a major factor for all those she interviewed.

Some women were frustrated about being in locations where there seemed to be a pattern of men who didn’t take dating seriously or just wanted hookups. In other locations, women found it challenging to find dates that shared their gender expectations, with many available men only wanting housewives. 

One example was Monique who described her frustrations with dating in Lubbock, Texas. Monique specifically focused on her realization that her aspiration of wanting to be more than a stay-at-home mom went against the conservative culture of Lubbock. In particular, she found that men there were, “looking for that person, that woman where she might have a career, but is willing to give it up to raise a family.” 

Latinx and Black interviewees were more likely to express additional issues with race in regards to location. This was because women of color struggled to find potential partners with the same racial and educational background as their own. There simply weren’t enough college educated men of color in their areas so they felt that their local dating pool was very limited.

This research highlights the limits of technology in mitigating the effects of deeply embedded inequalities and cultural constraints. Technology didn’t help the white college educated women because of gender norms in parts of the United States that only valued women’s contributions in house or care work. Technology also was limiting for college educated women of color because of inequalities that only allowed very few men of color to get college degrees. In other words, whatever the new digital world may bring us, it is, like everything else, still bound up with long-established constraints of culture and social inequality.

Lindsey Rose Bullinger, Jillian B. Carr, and Analisa Packham, “Effects of Stay-at-Home Orders on Domestic Violence,” American Journal of Health Economics, 2021
Image: The roof of a police car is visible at the bottom of the image, a blue light is illuminated on top. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License.

The COVID-19 lockdowns brought much of society to a screeching halt – including many types of crime. Yet one crime type that is especially difficult to track may have risen – domestic violence.  Lindsey Bullinger, Jillian Carr, and Analisa Packham looked closely into these crime numbers and discovered some unexpected findings.

Using cell-phone activity and public transportation data in Chicago during the March 2020 lockdown, the researchers examined the impact of official stay at home orders on domestic violence reports, arrests, and 911 calls. They found that reports and arrests for domestic violence decreased during the lockdown, but when they looked “upstream” at 911 calls, they found a 7.4% increase in police calls for domestic violence. 

To explain the apparent increase in police calls for domestic violence but decline in reports and arrests, the researchers suggested three possible explanations.  

  1. Many people were deemed “nonessential” and ordered to remain home, leading more neighbors to “self-police” domestic conflicts, potentially increasing 911 calls.  However, when police arrived, victims of domestic violence may have been less likely to officially report the crime because they feared further isolation during this unpredictable time – leading to fewer reports. 
  2. Due to concerns about COVID-19 within jails and prisons, police and courts may have intentionally limited arrests and prosecutions. 
  3. The shutdown of workplaces, schools, child care centers, domestic violence shelters, and other supports during the lockdown created additional stress on the community.  From these closings, pressures such as unemployment, increased caregiver demands, and isolation increased the chance of conflict and domestic violence within homes. 

The lockdowns in cities and communities across the U.S. clearly saved many from COVID-19 and reduced many types of crime.  But domestic violence is a distinctive category of crime, with social causes that are bound up with family relationships.  Policies providing better social and material support for families during future lockdowns might help ease the strains that led to domestic violence in the COVID-19 era.

Image: A table in an examination room is in the center of an image, with a medical machine to the left, and a light aimed at the table to the right. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

Across the country, state legislatures are passing laws to decrease access to abortion. These legal barriers to abortion highlight the importance of geography to abortion access with access to abortion care varying dramatically according to state laws. New research from Orlaith Heymann and collaborators explores how people select clinics for abortion care when faced with limited choices.

The researchers interviewed forty-one people seeking abortions in cities in and around Ohio, a state with abortion laws that leave more than ninety percent of the state without access to abortion care. Heymann and colleagues invited people to interviews who already had appointments scheduled at abortion clinics, meaning their participants had already overcome many of the legal and economic barriers to accessing care. 

They found that, in seeking abortion care, people sought to minimize the risks associated with abortion which is stigmatized and viewed as shameful, lonely, impersonal, and unsafe. Interviewees sought abortion clinics that felt safe, friendly, and comfortable. In doing so, participants drew on their personal experiences receiving abortions and other reproductive healthcare or the experiences of their friends and family members. Interviewees also relied on publicly available information like online reviews and the reputation of national organizations.

Public information like online reviews were a particularly important source of information for study participants who felt uncomfortable asking friends and family for guidance because of the stigmatized nature of abortion care. Some participants also sought clinics in far away neighborhoods in order to avoid being seen or recognized. These respondents used online information to assess whether or not these neighborhoods were safe, hoping to avoid areas that felt unsafe or risky.

Heymann and colleagues’ work is a reminder that even those that have overcome barriers to accessing abortion did so while figuring out how to minimize the risk of getting care and in hope of having a positive and safe experience.

Image: A white woman is in the foreground of the image, her eyes closed and face resting against her clasped hands as if in prayer. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License.

Belonging to a sexist religious community can negatively impact women’s health and well-being. Despite advancements in representation and inclusion across religious groups and denominations in recent years, many places of worship still maintain policies that exclude women from positions of authority. A recent study finds women who are members of sexist congregations report worse self-rated health when compared to women who are involved at more inclusive congregations. 

For decades, social scientists have demonstrated the positive effects of religious belief and affiliation on health and well-being. But, considering past research alongside self-rated health, Patricia Homan and Amy Burdette discover women in “sexist congregations” – congregations that bar women from serving as deacons, clergy, and on boards – report overall worse health outcomes than those in “inclusive” congregations, ones that allow women into leadership positions.

Strikingly, it is only the women within these sexist congregations who report worse health. Men in both sexist and inclusive congregations experience no such health effects while women attending inclusive congregations report no such negative health outcomes. While more research is needed to understand specifically how congregations that discriminate against women negatively impact women’s health, the authors hypothesize the psychological stress women face, alongside structural sexism in other facets of society, leads to worse health outcomes. 

As many religious communities grapple with harmful cultures of abuse and exploitation among sexual minorities and women, this investigation offers welcome insight into the real, bodily toll of gender discrimination. While religious participation has positive health benefits, these benefits are severely limited by the systematic exclusion of women.

Image: A blurry male figure, wearing a backpack, stands away from the camera between two library stacks. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

First-generation college students, or students whose parents did not receive a bachelor’s degree, make up a large portion of the student population. About a third of all undergraduate students are first-generation. Here at the University of Minnesota, first-gen students make up a quarter of our undergrad student body. First-gen students face a unique set of challenges as they enter college, including more academic and financial challenges than their peers. Surprisingly, despite their exposure to more stressors, new evidence shows that they do not experience more depressive symptoms. 

Tabitha Wilbur used data from the The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to examine differences between first-generation and continuing-generation students’ exposure to stressors and depressive symptoms. Wilbur looks at the relationship between stress and depressive symptoms both before and after students enter college. 

Before college, first-generation students are more likely to be exposed to stressors like financial strain, unmet needs, or unsafe neighborhoods. They are also more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms. During college, first-generation students are also more likely to experience stressors such as student loan debt or housing insecurity. Despite this increased stress, however, during college first-generation students do not exhibit more depressive symptoms than their peers.

Wilbur suggests that first-generation students’ relatively low depressive symptoms, compared to their stress exposure, may result from the assets they bring to college. As a result of earlier stress exposure, these students may have developed resilience that prepares them to handle college stressors. They also might feel more hopeful or grateful about the opportunities that college provides, compared to peers whose parents have a bachelor’s degree.

First-generation students are an important part of the student body at colleges and universities across the country. As faculty, administrators, and peers seek to better support first-generation students, Wilbur’s research is an important reminder to attend to their strengths and the positive contributions  that first-generation students are making to college communities.

Image: A set of produce bins holding apples in the foreground, a blurry person stands in the background, holding a shopping basket. Image courtesy of Charlotte90T,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Discussions of cities and food availability have long centered on the idea  that poor residents are likely to live in “food deserts,” areas of concentrated poverty with few food outlets. A new study of grocery stores in Metro Atlanta examines this idea, showing how spatial location and neighborhood characteristics shape access to grocery stores in surprising ways. Using quantitative data that tracks regional migration patterns 2003-2015, sociologists Joowon Jeong and Cathy Yang Liu find little evidence that low-income residents – predominantly residents of color – have less overall  access to food stores across geographic locations. 

Challenging the notion that poorer residents tend to live in food deserts, they instead find that urban residents living in high poverty rate areas have, on average, 1.73 more markets than others. One crucial caveat: in addition to neighborhood characteristics, disparities in food access vary across locations including central city, inner-ring suburbs, and outer ring suburbs. For example, residents living in Latinx-dominated central city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburban African Americans face markedly lower access to food outlets.

These surprising findings reflect some broader recent changes in “who lives where” in U.S. cities. The return of a younger, highly-educated middle class to city centers has pushed many working-class residents to more affordable suburbs. Although suburbs have historically enjoyed ample food options, this may no longer be the case. In the last decade, in particular, Jeong and Yang Liu find that grocery store options for inner-ring urbanites have increased while central city and outer-ring suburbs experienced little change. 

In revitalizing neighborhoods, the influx in food options alone won’t end the food scarcity residents face, with many new amenities like grocery stores and restaurants being costly and out of reach. Instead of offering all poor and working-class residents new affordable options for consumption, these stores disproportionately cater to whiter, affluent residents, meaning quality food remains out of reach for many residents. The food desert myth may be on ice, but food precarity endures.

Image: A man takes notes next to an open laptop. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License.

The world changed.” That quotation sums up the experiences of participants in a new study by researchers Corey Moss-Pech, Steven H. Lopez, and Laurie Michaels. The researchers developed the term educational downgrading to describe how some workers are pursuing different types of education in the years since the Great Recession of 2008. 

Educational downgrading refers to workers returning to school to obtain a degree or credential at a lower level than educational credentials that they already have. While some individuals return to school for reasons of personal fulfillment or occupational upgrading, this term specifically refers to individuals responding to structural changes in the labor market. Facing a changed world, where professions increasingly require specialized credentials, the risk and expense of training is increasingly put on employees rather than employers, and some career paths simply no longer exist, these participants are pursuing new educational forms in an effort to manage or stop downward class mobility.

Researchers identified three circumstances that can lead to educational downgrading: occupational dead ends, career reversals, and educational inflation. These categories included participants across a range of ages and previous qualifications. 

Participants facing occupational dead ends felt that they had advanced as far as they could in their chosen field. They decided that they needed a new certificate to move into related work, even though the certificate was at a lower level of education than they previously achieved. Examples of participants in this category included a researcher who got a teaching license, a fine arts major who got an associates in communications for graphic design work, and an electrical engineer who got a certificate in IT.  

Participants facing career reversals found that their previously established careers were no longer available. For instance, participants with established careers in banking, law, public health, and digital media had faced significant periods of unemployment and were looking for an entirely new career path. 

Finally, some participants were looking to obtain credentials in the face of educational inflation. Credential inflation, or jobs requiring additional, more specialized, or higher credentials than previously, affected all participants in this study in some way. But educational inflation especially hit older adults who had been able to start a middle-class career without a bachelor’s degree prior to 2000. After losing their job in the 2008 recession, these workers found it impossible to apply for jobs that would maintain their status without a bachelor’s. Many of these participants settled for pursuing an alternative certification when they were unable to afford a four-year school. 

This study is an important contribution to research mapping how economic conditions after the Great Recession continue to shape school and work trajectories today. Job seekers are negotiating an altered landscape, one with new credential requirements, increasing inequality between types of jobs, and risk increasingly shifted onto individuals. For many of the participants in the study, a new certificate was necessary but not sufficient. These participants scraped together money for a new certificate but were still unable to secure work that would improve their financial situation.

Educational downgrading highlights how adult education today isn’t just about self-fulfillment, educational upgrading, or occupational sidestepping. Instead, many adult learners are simply trying to maintain their occupational status or stop a downward slide. 

Image: A black-and-white photo of graduates from behind, only a sea of mortarboards are visible. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License.

Like the generations before them, today’s college students have been important leaders in social activism. This activism is likely to decline sharply, however, for those graduating in the next few weeks. Why? In a new article, Jonathan Horowitz shows how the post-college decline in activism is driven by fewer opportunities for involvement.

Horowitz’s longitudinal research combines survey data and interviews to track college activists over time. Previously, social scientists have argued that activism declines after college because people have less time and more family and professional responsibilities. Or that family members and peers might pressure people to “get serious” after college, only tolerating idealism during college as a phase. Horowitz, however, finds that neither time pressures nor declining social support can explain the 80% post-graduation decline in activist involvement he observes. Instead, it is mostly about the rich opportunities for activism that college life offers.

During their time in college, Horowitz’s respondents describe quick walks from the library to the activist meetings with which they are involved. Students bump into friends on campus and receive invitations to social justice events. The college activists in Horowitz’s sample are busy, spending considerable time on school work and part-time jobs. However, it is easy for them to switch between classwork and activist activities and dense, busy college campuses are full of opportunities to engage in activism. 

Horowitz’s findings are a necessary reminder that today’s college students are not entitled and privileged, with lots of free time to engage in social movements. They are busy, motivated, and have a lot of responsibilities. Even still, they choose to engage in social justice activism. The physical environment of college campuses, and college students’ broad networks of campus friends and acquaintances, make this choice easy and convenient. This suggests that one way to engage young people in activism after college is to make it easier for them to access social justice opportunities and events — as easy as rolling out of your dorm bed and into your 8 a.m volunteer shift.