Photo by Candida.Performa, Flickr CC

As the United States ages, more and more older adults are adjusting to the lifestyle changes that coincide with changing work and family roles, limited mobility, and chronic health conditions. For older adults who are married, cohabiting, or in another type of long-term relationship, this means that many of these relationships will include a partner who is living with a long-term disability or other impairment. In recent research, Deborah Carr, Jennifer Cornman, and Vicki Freedman investigate how intimate relationships affect the ways people experience disability, finding that support and strain in relationships affects the emotions of men and women in strikingly different ways.

The authors used data from the 2013 Disability and Use of Time supplement to a longitudinal study, which included over 1,100 adults over the age of 60 who were married, cohabiting, or in a romantic relationship. Researchers used 6,603 activity reports from time diaries in the supplement to analyze feelings of happiness, calm, frustration, sadness, and worry. They broke down the results by gender, presence of a disability (43% of the sample), and level of impairment. 

The study found that support from partners buffered negative emotions for women and men with low levels of impairment. Support was especially beneficial for the most highly-impaired women. In a marked contrast, however, support increased all four negative emotions in highly-impaired men. These men also responded to relationship strain with negative emotions, while the effects of strain were negligible for other men and all women. The researchers suggest that these findings point to gendered attitudes about independence. While women may understand support as a way to maintain autonomy, highly-impaired men may feel that both criticism and support threaten their independence and competence. These findings provide insight into the experiences of the older disabled and their caregivers, while also contributing to our understanding of how gender has important effects in all stages of life.

Photo by emyeu sss7, Flickr CC

Scholars tend to categorize relationships into two types — traditional, where one partner does the majority of housework and caring for children (typically the woman), and egalitarian, where these tasks are equally shared between partners. Among heterosexual couples, there has been a recent shift towards more egalitarian relationships, but this does not mean that all people define gender equality in the same way. New research from Carly Knight and Mary Brinton shows that there are actually three different ways Europeans define and subscribe to ideals of egalitarianism.

The authors use data from multiple surveys across 17 European countries. Respondents had to agree or disagree with statements about importance of a job for women’s independence, the primacy of men’s jobs over women’s, and women’s “natural” mothering abilities and desires to stay at home. 

It turns out that egalitarianism takes three forms: liberal egalitarianism, egalitarian familism, and flexible egalitarianism. The largest number of people fall under the liberal egalitarian group, which includes those who strongly support women’s participation in the labor force and believe that husbands and wives should both contribute to household incomes. Egalitarian familists are closer to traditionalists in their thinking that women should participate in the paid labor force, but that the home and family are more crucial parts of women’s identities. The third group, flexible egalitarians, equally support women’s decisions to enter the workforce or stay at home and do more traditionally feminine domestic work. Even though all of these people subscribe to some kind of equal division of labor in heterosexual relationships, this research shows that there is more than one way to understand these important changing family dynamics. 

Photo by University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability

Consumer genetic-testing is now available through several companies in the U.S, but can these tests actually explain your medical conditions? Sociologist Stefan Timmermans goes behind the scenes of a clinical genetics laboratory and explores how experts study a section of the genome – called the exome – to discover the genetic causes (genotype) of a certain disease (phenotype).

After three years attending the board meetings at one of the first U.S. academic centers to offer whole exome sequencing, Timmermans found that clinical scientific teams encounter great difficulties when trying to establish the causal connection between genes and symptoms. Sometimes the process is short and clear (what they call a scientific “slam dunk”). For instance, while studying the exome of a 35-year-old woman with retinitis pigmentosa, the team found a variant in her USH2A gene. The gene’s location, its rare frequency in the population, and previously published reports indicated that the team had “nailed” a molecular case. 

But most of the cases Timmermans witnessed were not that straightforward. He found instead that laboratory geneticists have to balance the information at hand (such as gene sequences and patients’ clinical records), with their disciplinary background, cultural beliefs, and institutional limits. Because they are doing a clinical study, scientists need a quick and accurate diagnosis, which means there is little time for long-term research or speculative debates. Professionalization also plays a role. Scientists are usually trained under the “one-gene-one-trait” tradition, which compels the team to choose one possible cause and exclude other genetic causes from their report, even when they might think that multiple genes are causing the disease. Finally, personal and moral considerations matter. For example, in spite of the absence of a clear genetic path, the team decided to report a gene only slightly associated with the disease, in part because they felt morally obligated to the family of the patient. 

Patients expect that exome sequencing will define the proper treatment and prognosis, but the process of genetic sequencing is not as clear-cut as it seems. Institutional, moral, and personal circumstances all influence how scientists understand the relationship between genotype and phenotype. In short, even science is a very social activity.

Photo by Elvert Barnes, Flickr CC

Since the 1960’s, many American colleges and universities have considered race in admissions decisions as a means to reduce racial inequality and foster more diverse student bodies. Such “affirmative action” programs have long been controversial, however, and several recent, high-profile court cases at elite institutions have raised new challenges to race-based targeting in higher education. New research from Daniel Hirschman and Ellen Berrey suggests that these political and legal controversies have had consequences for schools’ previous commitments to consider an applicant’s race. What’s more, these changes are most pronounced at the least selective schools that are theoretically more accessible to those from underprivileged backgrounds.

Through an analysis of almost 1,000 colleges and universities using data collected from the College Board ASC dataset and Barron’s Profile of Colleges, Hirschman and Berrey find that the proportion of schools that consider race in admissions has dropped from 60% in 1994 to 35% in 2014. The authors also find that a school’s status or competitiveness is the largest predictor of whether that school continued to consider race in admissions. Notably, schools that are less selective were more likely to stop using race as a factor in admissions. In other words, the drop in race-based admissions is most pronounced at schools that would be more affordable and accessible for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Hirchman and Berrey’s analysis reminds us that despite headlines about “affirmative action” lawsuits at elite colleges and universities, the real news seems to be at the nation’s non-elite schools — and that news isn’t good, at least not when it comes to access and opportunity for students of color. 

Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

We often hear public outcry regarding cases of children’s sexual victimization, but we rarely get to see what happens within the courtrooms. The reality is that not all of these cases face swift justice. In new research based on observations of seventeen jury trials, Amber Joy Powell, Heather R. Hlavka, and Sameena Mulla show that in trials where children serve as witnesses, defense attorneys often work to discredit children’s testimonies by relying on racial and gendered stereotypes.

The children who testified in the observed trials ranged from age five to sixteen, most were Black and Latinx youth, and all but two were girls. One of the strategies defense attorneys used included emphasizing the fragility of children’s bodies, especially girls’ bodies. They argued that the absence of visible physical or psychological injuries indicated the jury had reason to doubt the children’s claims. For those who were teenagers at the time of the assault, attorneys argued that adolescents, especially adolescent girls, were rebellious, manipulative, and less trustworthy than younger children. This especially applied to Black girls’ testimonies because they were often perceived as older than their ages and thus defense attorneys claimed they were more blameworthy. Attorneys also relied on stereotypes of deviant Black families, drawing on narratives about dysfunctional families, promiscuous “welfare mothers,” “baby mamas,” and blaming parents for having drugs in the house. 

In the cases where boys testified, attorneys relied on jurors’ difficulty believing that men could sexually assault boys without leaving physical evidence for someone to find. In one case, the defense attorney questioned the credibility of an adolescent Latino boy based on a “rumor” that he might be gay. In a post-trial interview, a juror proposed that “Latino culture” might have prevented the boy from admitting the sex was consensual.

While many sexual assault survivors face doubts about their credibility, this research show how children are often discredited in these cases because of distinct assumptions about gender, sexuality, and race. In particular, children of color confront cultural narratives that have the potential to produce unjust outcomes in the courtroom.

Pete Simi, Kathleen Blee, Matthew DeMichele, and Steven Windisch, “Addicted to Hate: Identity Residual among Former White Supremacists,” American Sociological Review, 2017
Photo by Dennis Skley, Flickr CC

After the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, Brexit in the UK, and a wave of far-right election bids across Europe, white supremacist organizations are re-emerging in the public sphere and taking advantage of new opportunities to advocate for their vision of society. While these groups have always been quietly organizing in private enclaves and online forums, their renewed public presence has many wondering how they keep drawing members. New research in American Sociological Review by Pete Simi, Kathleen Blee, Matthew DeMichele, and Steven Windisch sheds light on this question with a new theory—people who try to leave these groups can get “addicted” to hate, and leaving requires a long period of recovery.

The authors draw on 89 life history interviews with former members of white supremacist groups. These interviews were long, in-depth discussions of their pasts, lasting between four and eight hours each. After analyzing over 10,000 pages of interview transcripts, the authors found a common theme emerging from the narratives. Membership in a supremacist group took on a “master status”—an identity that was all-encompassing and touched on every part of a member’s life. Because of this deep involvement, many respondents described leaving these groups like a process of addiction recovery. They would experience momentary flashbacks of hateful thoughts, and even relapses into hateful behaviors that required therapeutic “self talk” to manage.  

We often hear about members (or infiltrators) of extremist groups getting “in too deep” to where they cannot leave without substantial personal risk. This research helps us understand how getting out might not be enough, because deep group commitments don’t just disappear when people leave.

Photo by Tom Woodward, Flickr CC

Many different factors go into deciding your college major — your school, your skills, and your social network can all influence what field of study you choose. This is an important decision, as social scientists have shown it has consequences well into the life course — not only do college majors vary widely in terms of earnings across the life course, but income gaps between fields are often larger than gaps between those with college degrees and those without them. Natasha Quadlin finds that this gap is in many ways due to differences in funding at the start of college that determine which majors students choose. 

Quadlin draws on data from the Postsecondary Transcript Study, a collection of over 700 college transcripts from students who were enrolled in postsecondary education in 2012. Focusing on students’ declared major during their freshman year, Quadlin analyzes the relationship between the source of funding a student gets — loans, grants, or family funds — and the type of major the student initially chooses — applied versus academic and STEM versus non-STEM. She finds that students who pay for college with loans are more likely to major in applied non-STEM fields, such as business and nursing, and they are less likely to be undeclared. However, students whose funding comes primarily from grants or family members are more likely to choose academic majors like sociology or English and STEM majors like biology or computer science.

In other words, low- and middle-income students with significant amounts of loan debt are likely to choose “practical” applied majors that more quickly result in full-time employment. Conversely, students with grants and financially supportive parents, regardless of class, are more likely to choose what are considered riskier academic and STEM tracks that are more challenging and take longer to turn into a job. Since middle- to upper-class students are more likely to get family assistance and merit-based grants, this means that less advantaged students are most likely to rely on loans. The problem, Quadlin explains, is that applied non-STEM majors have relatively high wages at first, but very little advancement over time, while academic and STEM majors have more barriers to completion but experience more frequent promotions. The result is that inequalities established at the start of college are often maintained throughout people’s lives. 

Basim Usmani – from the Kominas – performs at La Casa Maladita. Photo by Eye Steel Film, Flickr CC

Punk rock is all about breaking the rules, nonconformity, and standing up to the man. Now, punk bands are turning it up to eleven to combat Islamophobia. In order to gather researcher for her recent article in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Amy D. McDowell  immersed herself into the “Taqwacore” scene — a genre of punk rock that derives its name from the Arabic word “Taqwa.” While inspired by the Muslim faith, this genre of punk is not strictly religious — Taqwacore captures the experience of the “brown kids,” Muslims and non-Muslims alike who experience racism and prejudice in the post-9/11 era. This music criticizes racism and challenges stereotypes with a punk-rock attitude. 

Through a combination of interviews and many hours of participant observation at Taqwacore events, McDowell brings together testimony from musicians and fans, describes the scene, and analyzes materials from Taqwacore forums and websites. Many participants, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, describe processes of discrimination where anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes have affected them. Her research shows how Taqwacore is a multicultural musical form for a collective, panethnic “brown” identity that spans multiple nationalities and backgrounds. Pushing back against the idea that Islam and punk music are incompatible, Taqwacore artists draw on the essence of punk rock as rebellious and nonconformist to create music to that criticizes racism and empowers marginalized youth. 

Photo by William Murphy, Flickr CC

Most people think of garbage with disgust, as it recalls images of filth and dirt and smells of rotting food. So, it’s not surprising that dumpster divers – people who salvage thrown away food – are often seen as “dirty” by mainstream society. As sociologist Erving Goffman famously argued, stigmatized groups are scorned by wider society who see them as outsiders and deviant.

Gianmarco Savio, a professor at St. Lawrence University, spent months hanging around dumpsters behind grocery stores in Manhattan, sorting through trash himself, and attending events coordinated by a dumpster diving organization. He got to know people in the community and got an inside view of what motivated people to dumpster dive. Savio found that many dumpster divers in New York City reject the label “dirty”. They are pushing back against stigmatization by creating an organization to promote “dumpstering” and developing a supportive community and collective identity.

Dumpster divers create a sense of community by sharing knowledge about where and when to find the best food, developing their own informal code of ethics, and looking out for each other’s safety. They realize that the practice is stigmatized, but don’t express guilt or shame for participating. People who are active in the dumpster diving organization even seek to actively change public perceptions. They try to promote the practice, making it more visible and acceptable to the public by doing things like inviting people to take trash tours, running a website, and getting media attention. Group members assert that dumpstering is a political act and part of a broader environmental sustainability or a “freegan” lifestyle that avoids buying things as a way to boycott capitalism.

Spending time with freegans and dumpster divers in New York City can shed light on how stigmatized groups can resist being labeled and change their public image. Savio suggests that informal communities can help people reduce the negative effects of stigma by creating a positive identity, while formal groups and public actions can go even further in challenging the stigma itself.

Photo by Steven Saus, Flickr CC

There are numerous factors that contribute to student success at school. For example, sociologists have explored the positive effects of higher parental income on student success. And while intelligence and hard work play an undeniable role in academic performance, a recent study by Martin Hällsten and Fabian T. Pfeffer finds that the ability to succeed in school may be partially determined generations before a student even sets foot in the classroom.

Hällsten and Pfeffer innovated from previous studies by focusing on familial wealth rather than income. Changes in wealth tend to be less dynamic than shifts in income, and this analysis allows them to better understand advantages passed between multiple generations. The research team created a new data source, combining a variety of relevant Swedish registers, including a register linking children to parents and grandparents, another on parental income and education, and data on childhood educational success. They were able to capture wealth data and educational data for nearly the entire population of Sweden. 

In utilizing this system, the researchers isolated the effects of grandparents, comparing cousins within the same family and to determine whether effects held constant between them. They found a strong relationship between grandparent wealth and student GPAs, and perhaps even more striking, when compared, parents and grandparents wealth had almost equal effects on student success. This means that studies which focused exclusively on parent-to-child wealth were vastly underselling the benefits, nearly by half, of familial financial success. 

Hällsten and Pfeffer point out that the context of their research matters. In Sweden, a fairly homogeneous and egalitarian country, there are lower levels of inequality on a wide variety of dynamics, like income, class, and education, and many resources that can be expensive in other nations (especially higher levels of education) are free and accessible for all students. This means that in societies where financial success is more directly tied with the ability to succeed as a student (like paying for an exclusive private education or paying for safer and more stable living conditions), wealth can play an even more important role. Particularly in nations like the United States, where inequality in wealth is continuing to rise, the effects found in this study might be even more significant.