The New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise reports that the long term trend of increasing life expectancy has reversed it self among one specific group of people.  Between 1990 and 2008, the life expectancy of White men and women without high school degrees has dropped.  Women have lost five years, men three.

The difference in the life expectancy between men and women without high school degrees and those who complete college are even more striking.  Women with a college degree can expect to live, on average, more than 10 years longer than high school drop outs.  Among men, the gap is even larger, a whopping 13 years.

The words “alarming” and “vexing” were used to describe this drop in life expectancy.  Scholars are still unsure of its causes, but note the stress of balancing work and family, “a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity, and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack health insurance.”

Ultimately, they argue, as fewer and fewer people fail to graduate from high school, the concentration of disadvantages in those that do are making this population especially vulnerable to all kinds of ills, some of which kill them.

Hat tip to The Global Sociology Blog.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Corporate Governance.

Sociologists Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff began studying ascendance to the top corporate office 20 years ago and, while the population of CEOs is far from diverse, they report that they have been surprised to see as many women and minorities as they have.  Today there are 80 white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans at the head of Fortune 500 companies.

In a discussion about their book, The New CEOs, at The Society Pages, they ask whether the rise of non-white/non-male CEOs is really a disruption in the distribution of power.  Despite protestations to the contrary — “all CEOs, it seems, worked their way up from the bottom,” they say with tongue in cheek — almost all come from wealthy backgrounds.  The rising diversity, in other words, doesn’t include class diversity.

With one exception: African Americans.  Most African American CEOs, they show, did not grow up in wealthy families.  “Many,” they write, “grew up with parents who were factory workers, postmen, custodians, day-care workers, or house cleaners.”  They refrain from speculating as to why they see this difference.

So, what’s next?  Zweigenhaft and Domhoff make some guesses as to the near future. The people positioned to be our next Fortune 500 CEOs will have graduated from college, got an MBA or law degree, will be currently earning more than $250,000 a year, and now hold a senior executive position.  Given these parameters, they conclude that:

…about two-thirds of those a step from the CEO office were white men, about 19% were white women, slightly fewer than 3% were African Americans, about 4% were Latinos, and about 8% were Asian Americans.

As the graph shows, compared to minority men, white women are far more likely to be rising into CEO positions in the near future.  Women of color, as they say, “almost disappear” in the data.  They explain that this likely has to do with their double minority status.  When hiring and promoting, people tend to look for ways of connecting with the potential employee.  A white man (usually doing the hiring) will see at least one thing in common with a white woman or a man of color.   As an example, they cite a study of executives with MBAs from Harvard:

…female Jewish executives all agreed that being female was more of an impediment to their careers than being a Jew, but many quickly emphasized that being Jewish, or different in any other way, was not irrelevant. As one put it, “It’s the whole package. I heard secondhand from someone as to how I would be perceived as a pushy, Jewish broad who went and got an MBA. Both elements, being Jewish and being a woman, together with having the MBA, were combined to create a stereotype I had to work against from the first day.” Another woman explained, “It’s part of the question of whether you fit the mold. Are you like me or not? If too much doesn’t fit, it impacts you negatively.”

These dynamics affect your entire career trajectory, of course, but Zweigenhaft and Domhoff believe they become even more intense as people approach the top office.  They conclude:

Culture (in the form of cultural capital), education, and class are all still in play. While gender and color remain the best predictors of who will make it into the upper echelons of the corporate world, beyond that, it’s intersectionality [of different identities together] wherever we look.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Identifying as Republican is strongly associated with religiosity in the U.S., so much so that people often use the term “Republican” and “Religious Right” interchangeably. Indeed, religious people are more likely to be politically conservative overall, but a Gallup poll shows that this relationship is moderated by race.  The figure below cross-tabulates religiosity for four racial/ethnic groups with the likelihood of affiliating with the Democratic or Republican party or neither.  You can see that the typical relationship — religion/Republican and no religion/Democrat — holds for all groups, except for African Americans.

At Gallup, Frank Newport writes:

Asian and Hispanic Americans, regardless of religiousness, are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans. But the Democratic advantage goes from 14 points among very religious Asians to 44 points among nonreligious Asians. The differences are less substantial among Hispanics; very religious Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves as a Democrats than Republicans by 20 points, while nonreligious Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats by a larger 36-point margin.

Personal religiousness makes little difference among blacks, however, as the powerful partisan pull of Democratic identification among black Americans trumps any influence of religion.

The report is a great example of the importance of doing intersectional analyses.  When you pull groups apart (by, say, adding race when looking at the relationship between religion and politics), you often find that a more generalized examination is hiding interesting details.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

James Mollison, the photographer who brought us Where Children Sleep, has a fantastic series called The Disciples in which he captures die-hard music fans (he calls them “tribes”).  The results are a great example of the power of sub-culture.


Mollison photographed fans of Madonna, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Dolly Parton, 50 Cent, The Casualties, and many more. You should go check out them all..

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Abortion is highly politicized in the U.S. (more so than in many other countries) and the fight between those who are in favor of and against available abortion occurs on two fronts.  One is familiar to just about everyone: the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the legislation Supreme Court decision that established the legality of abortion in 1973.

The second front, though, is less familiar.  It involves reducing the ease of access to legal abortion. Efforts to increase barriers to accessing legal abortion include passing laws that require minors to notify their parents of an abortion or get their consent, requiring mandatory counseling for abortion-seekers, instituting waiting periods, and discouraging medical schools from teaching abortion procedures.  Some of the issues of diminishing access are non-movement related; others are the direct result of pro-life activism.

I bring this up in order to focus on an additional barrier to access: a reduction in the number of clinics and hospitals that provide abortions.  The map below, based on data from the Guttmacher Institute and compiled by ANSIRH, shows how availability varies by state.  In the darkest states, up to 20% of women live in a county with no abortion provider; in the lightest states, between 81 and 100% percent do.

Living far from the nearest abortion provider is a problem especially for low-income women.  Such women are less likely to have an employer who will give her a day off to travel to the clinic, less likely to get a paid sick day, and less likely to be able to afford to lose even a single day’s wages.  She is also less likely to have a car, making it more difficult to get to a distant location, and less likely to have reliable day care for any existing children.  If the state requires in-person counseling and has a waiting period, it means that the woman must take two days off, travel to and from the clinic twice, and arrange for child care on multiple days.

Reduction in the availability of abortion does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions.  We recently posted global data showing that less liberal abortion laws actually correlate with higher rates of abortion.  The data below, also from Guttmacher, show that were abortion laws are less liberal (largely in developing countries), the rate of abortion is 34/1,000 women oer year, compared to 39/1,000 in developed countries (the difference may look significant here, but imagine how trivial it would look if the horizontal axis went all the way to it’s true maximum of 1,000):

Guttmacher explains that the relevant variable isn’t availability of abortion, but the unintended pregnancy rate (which is surprisingly high in the U.S.).

Barriers to accessing abortion, then, don’t lower the abortion rate.  They do, however, increase the likelihood that an abortion procedure will occur later in pregnancy and guarantee a greater logistic burden on the pregnant woman.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

April 15th was World Art Day.  A museum in Stockholm, the Moderna Museet, celebrated with what appears to be a chocolate and red velvet cake in the likeness of a caricature of member of a generic African tribe.  The cake was designed by an artist, Makode Aj Linde, who wanted to draw attention to the practice of female genital cutting, which occurs in parts of Africa (and elsewhere).  Accordingly, the cake was in the shape of a woman’s shoulders, breasts, belly, and genitals; it was covered in black fondant.  The head was the artist himself, painted black with cartoon-ish eyes and mouth reminiscent of American minstrelsy. Neck coils tied it all together.

The Swedish minister of culture, Adelsohn Liljeroth, was asked to cut the cake.  Playing along with the “art,” she began at the clitoris.  After slicing herself a piece, she fed it to the artist (it’s unclear if that was planned or improvised).  Each reveler carved out more and more of the genitals, revealing brown and then red cake inside.  With each cut, the artist let out a yell and cried.  People attending the exhibit reportedly gawked and generally went along having a good time.

Kitimbwa Sabuni, a spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association, called the cake a “racist caricature of a black woman” and criticized the event, writing:

The “participation [of the minister of culture], as she laughs, drinks, and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision.”

The minister shrugged rhetorically, saying  “Art needs to be provocative.”  On his Facebook page, the artist was nonchalant, writing about the above photo: “This is After getting my vagaga mutilated by the minister of culture…”

I will go on the record saying that this is obviously racist, trivializes genital cutting, is wildly insensitive to women who have experienced cutting, and fails to accord any respect to members of communities that practice genital cutting.  It’s a shameful mockery.


UPDATE: It occurred to me that it’s possible that the artist intended to trap a mostly white audience into participating in this obviously racist game, all with the intention of revealing that they would.  Sort of like Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, where the fictional African American tv writer, asked by his White boss to write something “Black,” wrote the most racist thing he could think of… only to discover that audiences loved it.  So perhaps the artist meant to provoke the same sort of horror that Bamboozled provokes in its real audience.  And that is provocative indeed.  But I’m guessing that this message will be lost on the vast majority of people at the same time it provides a satisfying opportunity to object to something obviously racist (as I did); meanwhile, more subtle discrimination and institutionalized racism remains un-examined.


One of my main areas of serious academic research involves trying to understand how Westerners think about female genital cutting, and what motivates them to understand it in the way they do.  I must say, though, that I am at a loss to explain this.  My research on American perceptions of the practice (not Swedish, notably) suggests that we take the practice extremely seriously, framing it as (one of) the worst human rights abuses imaginable.  From this perspective, this approach to raising awareness — from the party-atmosphere symbolized by the cake to the almost comical and obviously fake protestations from the artist/actor — takes the issue far too frivolously for comfort.

Caricaturing Africans, however, and seeing them as lesser humans is also part of what drives American condemnation of genital cutting.  U.S. discourses often frame Africans as either ignorant or cruel.  We routinely dehumanize both women and men in these discourses.  They are seen more as objects of intervention than human beings.  Accordingly, it doesn’t surprise me too much that the (mostly White, Swedish) people viewing the performance felt enough distance from the practice of genital cutting to enjoy their cake.  Nor does it surprise me to hear at least some of them dismiss the concerns of the spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association.

The video, in all its glory:

Thanks to Sharla F., Samira A., and an anonymous reader for sending in the tip to this story!

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Originally posted at In Transit and Racialicious.

I’m still trying to work my way through my discomfort and analyze exactly where my discomfort of this Sociological Images post is coming from, so if this critique seems a bit scattered, it’s because my thoughts about it, at the moment, are that way.

First: I agree with where the post is coming from, in that the disenfranchised rarely ever have a voice of their own in mainstream Western culture, are always portrayed as the Other, which is defined as everything that said mainstream Western culture isn’t (at best as something that props it up and provides an aesthetically pleasing contrast, at worst as something that must be exterminated). And this leads to remarkably similar cycles of dehumanization and disenfranchisement. As so many minority thinkers/activists have noted, manufactured binaries between the privileged West and everyone else, even seemingly positive ones, ultimately end up reinforcing destructive hierarchies.

Where I disagree with the poster is the framing, which I feel makes the post, in some ways, as reductive as what it’s critiquing. Because there are different contexts in which the above cycle/process of exotification occurs, and those contexts matter and shouldn’t be handwaved, even (and I would say especially) if you’re taking the pov of the white outsider and attempting to deconstruct it. Social justice discourse loses its meaning when it becomes divorced from one of power relations.

In this specific example, while making its comparison of India as a magical negro, the post fails to both note and appreciate the following bits of context:

That both the main white actress and the main desi actor in the film are British, with Dev Patel adopting an Indian accent and playing the part of a “native”. That all the featured Indian characters are coded as middle/upper class (the dress, able to speak fluent English, etc) and light skinned. That in many ways this is how India is actively marketed by its tourism sector (and also its government. Did a project once which involved collecting promo material from the Indian consul — I think in Chicago? — and it was quite hilariously illuminating), because they’ve judged that this type of pandering will bring in the tourist dollars.

And this exotification of India in the West has been happening since before the time of Columbus, and reducing said things to a “phenomenon in which a white character in a tv show or movie finds enlightenment…” seems rather glib. (Just because it appears in tvtropes does not mean TV created it!) And that’s not even getting into how most isms seem to inevitably become just like the racism that blacks (had) face(d) in the US.

I also thought it was telling how none of the links elaborating on the “magical negro” trope went to one of the many black writers who’ve done the major work of deconstructing and dissecting it, much less linking to desi writers talking about colonialism and othering.

So what my disagreement boils down to, I think, is this: that this is a discussion about the Othering/exotification of India in mainstream Western culture that succeeds in further marginalizing/disenfranchising desis and other minorities. It doesn’t consider that we might be among the audience for this post (much less making room in the conversation for us, much less acknowledging all the times we’ve already discussed this), and in the way it takes something that rose out of certain contexts, misidentifies said contexts while applying it to different ones with no mention of the consequences of the differences, makes it, again, similar to what it’s aiming to critique.

And it brings home the point that, for all its social justice aims, this is a blog for a specific group of white people, by a specific group of white people, with all the marginalizations that entails.

Another note: it is interesting to read the comments, to see all the places East/West binaries crop up. For example, this comment (which thankfully was critiqued):

So, this is probably why you’ll never find a movie about a Westerner in Latvia trying to find himself- “finding oneself” usually requires immersing oneself in a setting completely different from the everyday humdrum norm.

I do find India humdrum normy, actually. And infrastructure specifically designed to ape the west is increasingly common in cities, and you can always find people in the touristy parts who speak English and cater to Western tastes in a thousand and one ways. (Actually, you won’t need to find them, if you are white they will find you and you will not be able to escape them!) Latvia, I am assuming not so much?

I feel as if the manufactured differences that so many Westerners create for India, while completely missing the deeper and more significant ones, are part of the same binary that Fanon was talking about when he said: “The settler is all that is good and of value. The native is the negation of the settler’s value”. And a lot of the appeal of India, the reason for it not being “everyday humdrum normy”, is that it still gives middle class white Westerners who go there chances to personally experience the colonial British sahib lifestyle.


Colorblue blogs at In Transit.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

In 1994, Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur published, Growing Up With A Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. The growth of children living with only their mothers was — then as now — a matter of concern not only for children’s well-being, but for intergenerational mobility. One of their empirical conclusions was this:

For children living with a single parent and no stepparent, income is the single most important factor in accounting for their lower well-being as compared with children living with both parents. It accounts for as much as half of their disadvantage. Low parental involvement, supervision, and aspirations and greater residential mobility account for the rest.

The biggest problem, in other words, is economic. The other factors —  involvement, supervision, aspirations, mobility — are related to social class and the time poverty that economically-poor parents experience.


Here are some bivariate illustrations — that is, head-to-head comparisons of the difference between children of poor and non-poor versus single and married parents.

These are the “skill group” rankings by teachers of children by socioeconomic status (or SES, a composite of parents’ education, occupational prestige and income) versus race/ethnicity, gender and family structure. SES shows the widest spread in reading teachers’ group placement of first graders.

Source: Condron (2007)

Similarly, the poor/nonpoor difference is greater than the two-parent/single-parent difference in kindergarten entry scores:

Source: Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (2009)

Those are just two examples from early-childhood assessments. More importantly, here is the breakdown seen in a longitudinal study of children growing up. When women grow up to be mothers, their poverty level in childhood is more important than their family structure for predicting whether they will be in poverty themselves. The poverty difference is large, the family structure difference is not:

Source: Musik & Mare (2006)

This study included a more sophisticated set of multivariate analyses than this simple graph, but the author’s conclusion fits it:

Net of the correlation between poverty and family structure within a generation, the intergenerational transmission of poverty is significantly stronger than the intergenerational transmission of family structure, and neither childhood poverty nor family structure affects the other in adulthood.

That is, childhood poverty matters more.

Fewer single parents, or less poverty?

But if single parenthood and poverty are so closely related, some people say, we should spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting marriage to help children avoid poverty (and other problems). That’s what the government has done, with money from the welfare budget. Even if it worked, which it apparently doesn’t, it’s only one approach. What about reducing poverty? And, more specifically, reducing the relative likelihood of poverty in single-parent families versus those with married parents. That is, address the poverty gap between the two groups, rather than the size of the two groups. This has the added advantage of not singling out one group — single mothers — for social stigmatization (of the kind I mentioned here). And, because it defines the problem as economic rather than moral, may make it easier to build public support for helping the poor.

Consider a recent paper by David Brady and Rebekah Burroway, which will be published in Demography. They analyzed the relative poverty of single mothers versus the total population — that is, what percentage had incomes below half the median (per person, after accounting for taxes and government transfers). Such a relative poverty measure is really a measure of inequality, but specifically inequality at the low end. (Regardless of how rich the rich are, it’s theoretically possible to have no one below half the median income). Here is my graph showing that result, with only the countries that have reliable sample sizes in the survey:

The Nordic countries have the lowest overall poverty rates. But in absolute terms their advantage is much bigger for single mothers. (The red line shows equal poverty rates for single mothers and the total population.) The US and UK have the largest difference in poverty rates between single mothers and overall poverty. That is, we have the largest poverty penalty for single motherhood. If the relative poverty rates for single mothers were lower in the US, we might spend more time and money addressing poverty and less trying to change family structures.