public opinion

Based on analyses of General Social Survey data, a well-designed and respected source of data about American life, members of the Millennial generation are acquiring about the same number of sexual partners as the Baby Boomers. This data suggests that the big generational leap was between the Boomers and the generation before them, not the Boomers and everyone that came after. And rising behavioral permissiveness definitely didn’t start with the Millennials. Sexually speaking, Millennials look a lot like their parents at the same age and are perhaps even less sexually active then Generation X.

Is it true?

It doesn’t seem like it should be true. In terms of attitudes, American society is much more sexually permissive than it was for Boomers, and Millennials are especially more permissive. Boomers had to personally take America through the sexual revolution at a time when sexual permissiveness was still radical, while Generation X had to contend with a previously unknown fatal sexually transmitted pandemic. In comparison, the Millennials have it so easy. Why aren’t they having sex with more people?

A new study using data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) (hat tip Paula England) contrasts with previous studies and reports an increase. It finds that nine out of ten Millennial women had non-marital sex by the time they were 25 years old, compared to eight out of ten Baby Boomers. And, among those, Millennials reported two additional total sexual partners (6.5 vs. 4.6).

Nonmarital Sex by Age 25, Paul Hemez

Are Millennials acquiring more sexual partners after all?

I’m not sure. The NSFG report used “early” Millennials (only ones born between 1981 and 1990). In a not-yet-released book, the psychologist Jean Twenge uses another survey — the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System — to argue that the next generation (born between 1995 and 2002), which she calls the “iGen,” are even less likely to be sexually active than Millennial. According to her analysis, 37% of 9th graders in 1995 (born in 1981, arguably the first Millennial year) had lost their virginity, compared to 34% in 2005, and 24% in 2015.

Percentage of high school students who have ever had sex, by grade. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 1991-2015.

iGen, Jean Twenge

If Twenge is right, then we’re seeing a decline in the rate of sexual initiation and possibly partner acquisition that starts somewhere near the transition between Gen X and Millennial, proceeds apace throughout the Millennial years, and is continuing — Twenge argues accelerating — among the iGens. So, if the new NSFG report finds an increase in sexual partners between the Millennials and the Boomers, it might be because they sampled on “early” Millennials, those closer to Gen Xers, on the top side of the decline.

Honestly, I don’t know. It’s interesting though. And it’s curious why the big changes in sexually permissive attitudes haven’t translated into equally sexually permissive behaviors. Or, have actually accompanied a decrease in sexual behavior. It depends a lot on how you chop up the data, too. Generations, after all, all artificial categories. And variables like “nonmarital sex by age 25” are specific and may get us different findings than other measures. Sociological questions have lots of moving parts and it looks as if we’re still figuring this one out.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

“Fake news” has emerged as a substantial problem for democracy. The circulation of false narratives, lies, and conspiracy theories on self-described “alternative news” sites undercuts the knowledge voters rely on to make political decisions. Sometimes the spread of this misinformation is deliberate, spread by hate groups, foreign governments, or individuals bent on harming the US.

A new study offers information as to the content, connectedness, and use of these websites. Information scholar Kate Starbird performed a network analysis of twitter users responding to mass shootings. These users denied the mainstream narrative about the shooting (arguing, for example, that the real story was being hidden from the public or that the shooting never happened at all). Since most of the fake news sites cross-promote conspiracy theories across the board, focusing on this one type of story was sufficient for mapping the networks. Here is some of what she found:

  • The sites do not share a political point of view. They are dominated by the far right, but they also include the far left, hate groups, nationalists, and Russian propaganda sites. They did strongly overlap in being anti-globalist, anti-science, and anti-mainstream media.

  • Fake news sites are highly repetitive, spreading the same conspiracies and lies, often re-posting identical content on multiple sites.
  • Users, then, aren’t necessarily being careless or undisciplined in their information gathering. They often tweet overlapping content from several different fake news sites, suggesting that they are obeying a hallmark of media literacy: seeking out multiple sources. You can see the dense network created by this use of multiple data sources in the upper left.

  • One of the main conspiracy stories promulgated by fake news sites is that the real news is fake.
  • Believing this, Twitter users who share links to fake news sites often also share links to traditional news outlets (see the connections in the network to the Washington Post, for example), but they do so primarily as evidence that their false belief was true. When the New York Times reports the mainstream story about the mass shooting, for instance, it is argued to be proof of a cover up. This is consistent with the backfire effect: exposure to facts tends to strengthen belief in misinformation rather than undermine it.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Starbird expresses distress at her findings. “I used to be a techno-utopian,” she explained, but she is now deeply worried about the “menace of unreality.” Emerging research suggests that believing in one conspiracy theory is a risk factor for believing in another. Individuals drawn to these sites out of a concern with the safety of vaccines, for example, may come out with a belief in a Clinton-backed pedophilia ring, a global order controlled by Jews, and an aversion to the only cure for misinformation: truth. “There really is an information war for your mind,” Starbird concluded. “And we’re losing it.”

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted at Scatterplot.

There are few things more satisfying than finding another reason that millennials are the worst. They’re narcissistic, coddled, unpatriotic, racist, and nervous about free speech. And now, millennial men want a return to the nostalgic 1950s, with women in the kitchen, whipping up a nice quiche after a hard day on the line.

This is the story presented in Stephanie Coontz’s Friday piece in the New York Times, “Do Millennial Men Want Stay-at-Home Wives,”which reports on evidence from the Council on Contemporary Families (using the General Social Survey) and from sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter (using Monitoring the Future ).

Journalists have gone a bit nuts for this millennial-as-Ward-Cleaver narrative, consistent with what we already know about garbage millennials, and stories from Quartz and Time Magazine have already popped up.

The Times piece includes this damning trend among men ages 18-25:

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See? Millennial men are the WORST.

 

But the GSS just released their 2016 data this week. 89% of men disagree or strongly disagree with the statement “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the women takes care of the home and family” – the highest rate among either men or women ages 18-25 in the GSS’s 40-year history. It’s also much higher than the rate reported by everyone older than 25, about 71%.

So is the story, “Clinton defeat inspires millennial men to gender equality”? Or more likely, “Garbage millennial men can’t make up their mind about women”?

I suspect it’s another, less sexy story: you can’t say a lot about millennials based on talking to 66 men.

The GSS surveys are pretty small – about 2,000-3,000 per wave – so once you split by sample, and then split by age, and then exclude the older millennials (age 26-34) who don’t show any negative trend in gender equality, you’re left with cells of about 60-100 men ages 18-25 per wave. Standard errors on any given year are 6-8 percent.

So let’s throw some statistics at it. Suppose you want to know whether there is a downward trend in young male disagreement with the women-in-the-kitchen statement. Using all available GSS data, there is a positive, not statistically significant trend in men’s attitudes (more disagreement). Starting in 1988 only, there is very, very small negative, not statistically significant effect.

Only if we pick 1994 as a starting point, as Coontz does, ignoring the dip just a few years prior, do we see a negative less-than half-percentage point drop in disagreement per year, significant at the 10-percent level.

As Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman wisely warns, none of these results account for the many, many paths the researchers could have taken to arrive at these results, which can make overreliance on any of these p-values problematic. For example, if we just looked at millennials the way they’re usually defined, as individuals ages 18-34?

The Pepin and Cotter piece, in fact, presents two additional figures in direct contrast with the garbage millennial theory – in Monitoring the Future, millennial men’s support for women in the public sphere has plateaued, not fallen; and attitudes about women working have continued to improve, not worsen. Their conclusion is, therefore, that they find some evidence of a move away from gender equality – a nuance that’s since been lost in the discussion of their work.

So what does this mean? Standard errors matter, and millennials might not always be as garbage as we think they are.

Emily Beam is Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Vermont. She studies labor and development economics, with a particular focus on employment and education policy, migration, fertility and marriage, and the role of incomplete information and behavioral biases on individual decision-making.

Are some Trump supporters’ political views motivated by race?

One way to find out is to see whether the typical Trump supporter is less likely to support policies when they are subtly influenced to think that they are helping black versus white people. This was the root of a study by political scientists Christopher Federico, Matthew Luttig, and Howard Lavine.

Prior to the election, they asked 746 white respondents to complete an internet survey. Each person was randomly assigned to see one of two pictures at the beginning of the survey: a white man standing next to a foreclosure sign or the exact same photograph featuring a black man. Respondents were also asked whether they supported Trump. (Non-white people were left out of the analysis because there were too few Trump supporters among them to run meaningful comparative statistics.)

The first graph shows that white Trump supporters were eight percentage points more likely to oppose mortgage relief if they had seen a “black cue” (the picture featuring a black man) than a “white cue.” The opposite was true for white Trump opponents.

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When asked if they were “somewhat angry” about the assistance, the same pattern held:

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And likewise when asked if the beneficiaries of mortgage assistance were at least “somewhat to blame” for their situation:

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Findings held when the researchers controlled for possible confounding variables.

These findings aren’t particularly surprising. Others have also found that priming respondents to think of black people tends to make them tougher on crime and advocate for less generous social programs, like in this study on attitudes toward CA’s three-strikes law. What’s new here is the difference between Trump supporters and opponents. For opponents of Trump, priming made them more sympathetic toward mortgage holders; for supporters, priming made them less. This speaks to a real divide among Americans. Some of us feel real hostility toward African Americans. Others definitely do not.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted at Orgtheory.

6Iowa in 2008, Iowa in 2016

So there are a thousand reasons Trump won the election, right? There’s race, there’s class, there’s gender. There’s Clinton as a candidate, and Trump as a candidate, the changing media environment, the changing economic environment, and the nature of the primary fields. It’s not either-or, it’s all of the above.

But Josh Pacewicz’s new book, Partisans and Partners: The Politics of the Post-Keynesian Society, implies a really interesting explanation for the swing voters in the Rust Belt—the folks who went Obama in 2008, and maybe 2012, but Trump in 2016. These voters may make up a relatively small fraction of the total, but they were key to this election.

Pacewicz’s book, which just came out this month, doesn’t mention Trump, and presumably went to press long before Trump was even the presumptive Republican nominee. And the dynamics Pacewicz identifies didn’t predict a specific outcome. (In fact, Josh guest-blogged at orgtheory in August, but focused on explaining party polarization, and did not venture to predict a winner.)

But Partisans and Partners nevertheless does a really good job of explaining what just happened. Its argument is complex, and doesn’t imply a lot of obvious leverage points for decreasing political polarization or the desire for “disruptive” candidates. But I think it’s an important explanation nonetheless.

The book is based on ethnographic and interview data collected over a period of several years in two Rust-Belt Iowa cities of similar size, one traditionally Republican, and the other traditionally Democratic. Both of these cities saw a transformation in their politics in the 1980s. Until the 1970s, urban politics were organized around a partisan divide closely associated with local business elites, on the Republican side, and union leaders, on the Democratic side. Politics was highly oppositional, and the party that won local elections got to distribute a lot of spoils. But it was not polarized in the sense it is today—while there were fundamental differences between the parties, particularly on economic issues, positions on social issues were less rigidly defined.

During the 1980s, something changed. Pacewicz calls that something “neoliberal reforms”; I might argue that those are just one piece of a bigger economic transformation that was happening. But either way, the political environment shifted. Regulatory changes encouraged corporate mergers and buyouts. This put control of local industry in distant cities and hollowed out both business elites and union power. The federal government shifted from simply handing cities pots of money that the party in power could control, to requiring cities to compete for funds, putting together applications that would compete with those of other cities. This environmental change facilitated the decline of the old “partisans”—the business and labor elites—and the rise of a new group of local power brokers—the “partners”.

The partners were more technocratic and pragmatic. They did not have strong party allegiances, nor did they see politics as being fundamentally about competition between the incompatible interests of business and labor. Instead, they focused on building temporary alliances among diverse groups with often-conflicting interests. Think business-labor roundtables, public-private partnerships, and the like. This is what was needed to attract industry from other places (look how smooth our labor relations are!) and to compete for federal grants and incentives (cities with obviously oppositional politics tended to lose out). The end of politics. Sounds great, right?

The problem was that these dynamics also hollowed out local parties. The old partisans had lost power. Partners didn’t want to be active in party politics. This left parties to activists, who over time came to represent increasingly extreme positions—a new wave of partisans.

What did this mean for the average voter? Pacewicz shows how older voters still conceptualized the two parties as fundamentally reflecting a business/labor divide. But most younger voters came to understand politics as representing a divide between partners—people working together, setting aside differences, for the benefit of the community—and partisans—people representing the interests of particular groups.

Partners didn’t like politics. They didn’t really think it should exist. They disliked political polarization, thought that people were pretty similar underneath their surface differences, and that conflict was generally avoidable. They distrusted politics, their party affiliation tended to be provisional, and they often responded only to negative ads around hot-button issues.

The new partisans, on the other hand, were alienated from contemporary life. They thought things were going to hell in a handbasket. They were looking for change, and saw outsider candidates as appealing—candidates who promised to shake up the system. Many had a strong preference for Democrats or Republicans. But while for traditional voters party affiliation was rooted in a sense of positive commitment, for the new partisans, it was based on disaffection with the alternative. And a key group of “partisans” was politically uncommitted (a contradiction in terms?)—disaffected and angry and wanting politics to solve their problems, but not aligned with a party.

The 2008 election illustrates how these types respond to candidates. In the primaries, partners liked Obama, responding well to his post-partisan image. He was less favored by Democrats and traditional voters and partisans. By fall, though, traditional (Democratic) voters and (Democratic) partisans tended to get on board, while partners waffled as Obama came to seem more partisan.

The most erratic group was the uncommitted partisans. These people wanted somebody—anybody—to shake things up, to change the system. And they wanted somebody to represent them—the outsider. They tended to lean toward GOP candidates (one illustrative voter was a big Palin fan), but many also simply remained disaffected and stayed home.

This is the group, it seems to me, that is key to understanding the 2016 election. Democrats gonna Democrat, and Republicans gonna Republican. In the end, most people really aren’t swing voters. But the unaffiliated partisans are the type of voters who would have found some appeal in both Bernie and Trump: someone claiming to represent the everyman, and someone willing to shake up the status quo.

In the end, these folks are unlikely to be motivated to vote for a Clinton or a Romney. It’s just more of the same. But they can be energized by populism, and by the outsider. These are the people who will vote for Trump just as a big old middle finger to the system. Partisans and Partners isn’t specifically trying to explain Trump’s win, in Iowa or anywhere else. But it does as good a job as anything I’ve read at pointing in the direction we should be looking.

Elizabeth Popp Berman, PhD is an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany, SUNY, and the author of the award-winning book Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine. 

In a recent poll of registered voters by Pew Research Center, 30% of women, 26% of people of Hispanic descent, and 2% of black people say they’re planning to vote for Donald Trump. In fact, polls consistently find that women and racial minorities favor Hillary Clinton. So, what do we make of the statistics-defying members of those groups who support Trump?

Flickr photo by Johnny Silvercloud; creative commons license.
Flickr photo by Johnny Silvercloud; creative commons license.

For many, this fact is source of cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable feeling of knowingly holding irreconcilable beliefs. How could women, racial minorities, and especially minorities who are women, support a man who so persistently insults and attacks them? The discomfort of dissonance has led some to look for answers, with a few coming to the conclusion that supporting Trump is equivalent to betrayal — an identity-voiding decision (“You’re not true Mexican“) — and that women and racial minorities who support Trump are “hypocritical” and “ought to be ashamed.”

This sense of cognitive dissonance though, the idea that it’s “strange” for women or racial minorities to support Trump, is based on identity politics. Such politics has its strengths, but it also risks reducing complex social beings into one-dimensional labels, with the assumption that the label is the most important thing about them.  In this case, critics of women and racial minorities for Trump find their support of him to be more incomprehensible than that of others, based on identity alone. Thus, the individual blurs into a monolithic group, where each person is expected to be politically identical to the whole, thereby setting up the case for Trump support to be framed as a betrayal.

In fact, people are complex. They carry many intersecting identities at once, sometimes ones with conflicting politics attached, as well as a suite of other personal characteristics and structural situations. People make political choices that seem to contradict some of their identities not because they’re hypocrites, but because most people are themselves a whole host of contradictions. Reality is never so clear cut and finite as a singular label, nor are humans so easily generalized.

Given these realities, the poll numbers with which I began this post makes some sense. Trump has insulted and degraded women and minorities, and he has made policy promises that threaten them, too. Based on these facts, it should be no surprise that he is losing large swaths of those groups to Clinton. But given the complexity of identity, it should also be no surprise that he isn’t losing all of them. People are complicated, and politics is as well.

Paige Miller is a graduate student at the University of New Orleans working on her MA in Sociology. Her research interests include social psychology, new media, gender, and inequalities. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Originally posted at The Society Pages’ Discoveries.

Ten years ago, sociologist Penny Edgell and her colleagues published a surprising finding: atheists were the most disliked minority group in the United States. Americans said atheists were less likely share their vision of Americans society than were Muslims, gays and lesbians, African Americans, and a host of other groups — and that they wouldn’t like their child marrying one.

But that was a decade ago. Today, fewer Americans report a religious affiliation and, in the intervening years, many non-religious groups have made efforts to improve their public image.

So, have things gotten better for atheists? The authors recently published the findings from a ten-year follow up to answer these questions, and found that not much has changed. Atheists are now statistically tied with Muslims for the most disliked group in the United States. Despite an increased awareness of atheists and other non-religious people over the last decade, Americans still distance themselves from the non-religious.

Flickr photo from David Riggs.
Flickr photo from David Riggs.

This time around, the authors asked some additional questions to get at why so many people dislike atheists. They asked if respondents think atheists are immoral, criminal, or elitist, and whether or not the increase in non-religious people is a good or bad thing. They found that one of the strongest predictors of disliking atheists is assuming that they are immoral. People are less likely to think atheists are criminals and those who think they are elitist actually see it as a good thing. However, 40% of Americans also say that the increase of people with “no religion” is a bad thing.

These findings highlight the ways that many people in the United States still use religion as a sign of morality, of who is a good citizen, a good neighbor, and a good American. And the fact that Muslims are just as disliked as atheists shows that it is not only the non-religious that get cast as different and bad. Religion can be a basis for both inclusion and exclusion, and the authors conclude that it is important to continue interrogating when and why it excludes.

Amber Joy Powell is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her current research interests include crime, punishment, victimization, and the intersectionalities of race and gender. She is currently working on an ethnographic study involving the criminal justice response to child sexual assault victims.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Most people agree that when this election is over, Trump will have changed American politics. Bigly, perhaps. But one of the more ironic changes may be that he caused the most conservative sectors of the electorate to relax their views on the connection between a politician’s private life and his fitness for public office. (Yes, “his.” Their ideas about the importance of a woman’s private sexual life may not have evolved in a similar way.)

Call it “motivated morality.” That sounds much better than hypocrisy. It’s like “motivated perception” – unconsciously adjusting your perceptions so that the facts fit with your ideology. But with motivated morality, you change your moral judgments.

For religious conservatives, Donald Trump presents quite a challenge. It’s the sex. One of the things that conservatives are conservative about is sex, and Trump’s sexual language and behavior clearly fall on the side of sin. What to do? Conservatives might try for motivated cognition and refuse to believe the women who were the recipients of Trumps kissing, groping, and voyeurism. That’s difficult when Trump himself is on the record claiming to have done all these things, and making those claims using decidedly unChristian language.

Instead, they have changed their judgment about the link between groping and governing. Previously, they had espoused “moral clarity” – a single principle applied unbendingly to all situations. Good is good, evil is evil. If a man is immoral in his private life, he will be immoral or worse as a public official.

Now they favor “situational morality,” the situation in this case being the prospect of a Clinton victory. So rather than condemn Trump absolutely, they say that, although he is out of line, they will vote for him and encourage others to do likewise in order to keep Hillary out of the White House. For example, in a USA Today op-ed, Diann Catlin, a “Bible-thumping etiquette teacher” says:

I like God’s ways. … I also know that he wants discerning believers to take part in government. … God has always used imperfect people for his glory.

God uses people like Trump and like me who are sinners but whose specific issues, such as the life of the unborn child, align with his word.

She includes the “we’re all sinners” trope that’s so popular now among the Trump’s Christian supporters (funny how they never mention that when the topic is Bill Clinton’s infidelities or Hillary’s e-mails). More important is the implication that even a sinner can make good governmental decisions. That’s an idea that US conservatives used to dismiss as European amorality. In government, they would insist, “character” is everything.

It’s not just professional conservatives who have crossed over to the view that sex and politics are separate spheres and that a person can be sinful in one and yet virtuous in the other. Ordinary conservatives and Evangelicals have also (to use the word of the hour) pivoted.

Five years ago, the Public Religion Research Institute at Brookings asked people whether someone who had committed immoral acts in their private life could still be effective in their political or professional life. Nationwide, 44% said Yes. PRRI asked the same question this year. The Yes vote had risen to 61%. But the move to compartmentalize sin was most pronounced among those who were most conservative.

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The unchurched or “unaffiliated” didn’t change much in five years. But White Catholics and mainline Protestants both became more tolerant of private immorality. And among the most religiously conservative, the White evangelical Protestants, that percentage more than doubled. They went from being the least accepting to being the most accepting.

As with religion, so with political views.
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People of all political stripes became more accepting, but when it came to judging a privately immoral person in public life, Republicans, like White evangelicals, went from least tolerant to most tolerant.

What could have happened?

Flickr photo by Darron Birgenheier.
Flickr photo by Darron Birgenheier.

There’s no absolute proof that it was the Donald that made the difference. But those White evangelicals support him over Hillary by better than four to one. Those who identify as Republicans favor Trump by an even greater margin. There may be some other explanation, but for now, I’ll settle for the idea that in order to vote for Trump, they had to keep their judgment of him as a politician separate from their judgment of his sexual behavior – a separation they would not have made five years ago.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.