Americans, and even the sociologists among us, tend to think about crime as a problem related to people and their economic characteristics. Crime, we theorize, is caused by poverty or relative poverty (larger differences between the haves and have nots), joblessness, more lucrative underground occupations, or an insufficient safety net.
Other scholars have examined non-economic correlates of crime. One study of serial killing, for example, found that these crimes were more common in big cities with higher percentages of single-person households. The anonymity of a bustling metropolis, plus the likelihood of finding people all alone in their apartment, may attract killers, tempt people who otherwise wouldn’t kill, or both. Reducing people’s isolation might be protective.
Another interesting non-economic factor that has gotten recent attention is lighting. When early lighting companies began lobbying cities to install the first street lights at the end of the 1800s, they argued that bright lights would certainly deter crime. Historian Ernest Freeberg, in his book The Age of Edison, writes that:
…lighting companies marketed their product as noting less than a police force on a pole. After nightfall, urban parks became notorious danger zones, a haven for the city’s dregs and an infernal playground of indecency. Now all that could end, not by converting sinners or reforming criminals, but by harnessing light’s power of exposure.
City leaders were swayed and artificial nighttime lighting in parks and streets eventually became an expected and routine part of city-building.
But does it work? The consensus appears to be maybe a little and no. The no comes from a new study, a natural experiment published in 2015. Since 2000, cities in England and Wales have reduced street lighting to save money and reduce carbon emissions. The study, led by social and environmental health researcher Rebecca Steinbach, found no clear correlation between turning the lights down and a rise in crime (or car crashes, for that matter).
I’m excited by this research on the relationship between crime and non-economic characteristics of cities, whether the hypotheses bear out or not. It gives us creative ideas about how we might reduce crime — above and beyond the all-important economic issues — and may also show us where we might be wasting our resources.
Assigned: Life with Gender is a new anthology featuring blog posts by a wide range of sociologists writing at The Society Pages and elsewhere. To celebrate, we’re re-posting four of the essays as this month’s “flashback Fridays.” Enjoy! And to learn more about this anthology, a companion to Wade and Ferree’s Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, please click here.
Is the “Mrs. Degree” Dead?, by Laura Hamilton, PhD
In 1998 I was a first-year student at DePauw University, a small liberal arts college in Indiana. A floor-mate of mine, with whom I hung out occasionally, told me over lunch that she was at college primarily to find a “good husband.” I nearly choked on my sandwich. I had assumed that the notion of the “Mrs. Degree” was a relic of my parents’ era—if not my grandparents’. Surely it had gone the way of the home economics major and women’s dormitory curfews.
Years later, I — along with my co-director, Elizabeth A. Armstrong — would embark on a five year ethnographic and longitudinal study of a dormitory floor of women at a public flagship in the Midwest. As part of my dissertation, I also interviewed the women’s parents. What I found brought me back to my first year of college. A subset of parents wanted their daughters to be “cookie-baking moms”—not successful lawyers, doctors, or businesswomen. They espoused gender complementarity—a cultural model of how women should achieve economic security that relied on a co-constructed pairing of traditional femininity and masculinity. That is, men were to be economic providers and women supportive homemakers. This was a revised “Mrs.” Degree, in the sense that marriage during college, or even right after, was not desirable. College women were to build the traits and social networks that would hopefully land them a successful husband eventually, but it was assumed best to wait until men had proven themselves in the labor market before entering a marriage.
This was not the only cultural model to which women on the floor were exposed. In fact, those coming in primed for complementarity were in the minority. However, as I show in my article, “The Revised MRS: Gender Complementarity at College,” far more women left college leaning toward gender complementarity than their previous gender socialization suggested. Something was happening on the college campus — where women were, ironically, out-achieving men — that shifted them toward performing an affluent, white, and heterosexual femininity, marked by an emphasis on appearance, accommodation to men, and a bubbly personality.
I argue that gender complementarity is not just a characteristic of individual women, but is actually encouraged by the institutional and interactional features of the typical, four-year, public state school. Midwest U, like other schools of its kind, builds a social and academic infrastructure well-suited to high-paying, out-of-state students interested in partying. The predominately white Greek system — a historically gender-, class-, and racially-segregated institution — enjoys prominence on campus. An array of “easy” majors, geared toward characteristics developed outside of the classroom, allow women to leverage personality, looks, and social skills in the academic sphere. These supports make it possible for peer cultures in which gender complementarity is paramount to thrive. Women who want to belong and make friends find it hard — if not impossible — to avoid the influence of the dominant social scene on campus, located in fraternities and Greek-oriented bars.
This structure of campus life is not incidental. In recent years, cuts to state and federal support for higher education have led mid-tier public institutions like Midwest U to cater to the socially-oriented and out-of-state students who arrive with gender complementarity interests. These class-based processes have implications for the type of social and academic climate that all students find upon arriving at Midwest University.
The problem is, however, that most women need to accrue the skills and credentials that translate into a solid career. An institution supporting gender complementarity does them a serious disservice — potentially contributing to gendered differences in pay after college. The situation is particularly problematic for students not from the richest of families: Affluent women espousing complementarity form the type of networks that give them reasonable hope of rescue by a high-credentialed spouse, and heavy parental support means that they can afford to be in big cities where they mix and mingle with the “right” men. Women from less affluent backgrounds lack these resources, and are often reliant on their own human capital to make it after college.
The gradual shift from higher education as a public good — funded heavily by the state — to a private commodity — for sale to the highest bidder — has significantly stalled not only progress toward class equality, but certain forms of gender equality as well. Change is going to require unlinking the solvency of organizations like Midwest U from the interests of those can afford, and thus demand, an exclusionary and highly gendered social experience.
Police brutality is a problem in US criminal justice. Police-worn body cameras are one potential “remedy” to these violent encounters, but they have both benefits and drawbacks. The cameras may increase transparency and improve police legitimacy, promote legally compliant behavior among both police officers and citizens; enhance evidence quality that can improve resulting legal proceedings; and deter officers’ use-of-force. Conversely, body-worn cameras could create privacy concerns for the officer and the citizenry and place a large logistical and financial burden on already cash-strapped law enforcement agencies.
This issue is so timely that research is only now starting to see publication, but we do have some early insights. The first observational studies examining the use of police-worn body cameras were carried out in England and Scotland. They found rates of citizen complaints dropped after body cameras were introduced. Preliminary results from an experimental study in Phoenix, Arizona also suggest that the use of body cameras reduces both self-reported and official records of citizen complaints.
The first experimental evidence concerning use-of-force comes from a large study in the Rialto, California Police Department, and the results should encourage advocates of body cameras. The study randomly assigned particular police shifts to wear body cameras (the “treatment”). Police shifts in the treatment condition are associated with reduced use-of-force and citizen complaints against the police were significantly reduced. Shifts in the control condition, in contrast, saw roughly twice as much use-of-force as the treatment condition.
The research so far suggests that body cameras are a promising way to reduce unnecessary use of force.
Ryan Larson is a graduate student studying the sociology of crime at the University of Minnesota. His research interests extend to statistics, sport, and media. He writes for and is on the Graduate Editorial Board of The Society Pages. This post originally appeared at There’s Research on That!
Wealth inequality in the U.S. is extreme, but global wealth inequality, illustrates a video by The Rules, is even more stunning. Some facts:
The top 20% control 80% of the world’s wealth.
The richest 2% control more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population.
The richest 300 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3,000,000,000.
200 years ago, rich countries were three times as rich as poor countries. Today, they are eighty times richer.
Rich countries give $130 billion dollars worth of aid to poor countries every year, but they extract $2 trillion each year thanks to global economic rules.
Here are their sources; or watch the four minute video:
The Rules wants to reveal and challenge the laws that govern our global economy. It is a distinctly sociological project, looking at how factors outside of individuals — or, in this case, countries — shape lives. Shaped strongly by the richest countries in their own best interest, rules governing the trading of goods and money are determining the economic solvency and future of countries.
When those rules are invisible, it can seem like struggling countries are just poorly managed or culturally problematic when, in fact, the rules ensure that the deck is stacked against them.
Most Americans are either attracted to or repulsed by Donald Trump’s strong rhetoric around the “wall” between the US and Mexico. His plan is to build one taller and wider than the ones we already have, on the assumption that this will curb undocumented immigration and the number of migrants who live here.
But the idea isn’t just exciting or offensive, depending on who you’re talking to, it’s also wrong-headed. That is, there’s no evidence that building a better wall will accomplish what Trump wants and, in fact, the evidence suggests the opposite.
The data comes from a massive 30-year study led by sociologist Douglas Massey, published last month at the American Journal of Sociology and summarized at Made in America. He and his colleagues collected the migration histories of about 150,000 Mexican nationals who had lived for at least a time in the US and compared them with border policy. They found that:
More border enforcement changed where migrants crossed into the US, but not whether they did. More migrants were apprehended, but this simply increased the number of times they had to try to get across. It didn’t slow the flow.
Border enforcement did, though, make crossing more expensive and more dangerous, which meant that migrants that made it to the US were less likely to leave. Massey and his colleagues estimate that there are about 4 million more undocumented migrants in the US today than there would have been in the absence of enforcement.
Those who stayed tended to disperse. So, while once migrants were likely to stay along the border and go back and forth to Mexico according to labor demands, now they are more likely to be settled all across the US.
In any case, the economic impetus to migrate has declined; for almost a decade, the flow of undocumented migrants has been zero or even negative (more leaving than coming). So, Trump would be building a wall at exactly the moment that undocumented Mexican immigration has slowed. To put it in his terms, a wall would be a bad investment.
Earlier this year Brandy Zadrozny interviewed me for a Daily Beaststory about the new CDC guidelines for alcohol consumption by women. It caused an outcry because it advised all women who could potentially become pregnant to completely abstain from alcohol as a way to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Responses across the blogosphere included several objections, including the fact that research shows that alcohol alone is not sufficient to cause fetal harm (enter poverty as a major confounding factor) and paternal drinking prior to conception is believed to contribute to incidence of these disorders, too, despite no advice to men of fertile age to refrain from any alcoholic consumption.
Interesting points, but an argument made by Renée Ann Cramer in Pregnant with the Stars gave what I thought was some interesting historical perspective.
Until feminists fought to make it otherwise, she explains, it was perfectly legal in America to refuse to allow women access to certain jobs because they might get pregnant. If the working conditions were too challenging or involved exposure to dangerous chemicals, women were considered unfit for the work by virtue of their always-potentially-pregnant status. And if they did this work and harm did come to a child, it was considered a failure of the state to adequately protect her.
Feminists fought to make this “protectionism” illegal, demanding that women themselves have the right to decide, alongside men, if they wanted to take occupational risks. And they largely won this fight.
In turn, though, women themselves came under scrutiny. They were no longer excluded from certain jobs, but if they chose to do them, it was reasonable to judge them harshly for doing so. Cramer calls this the “responsibilization” of pregnancy. Now that women had the right to handle their pregnancy (or pre-pregnancy) however they wished, they (and not the state) would be held responsible for doing so in ways that society approved or disapproved.
This is what the CDC guidelines are doing. It’s not legal to “protect” women from harming her not-yet-existing fetus by refusing to serve her alcohol. Women have the same rights as men. But with rights comes responsibilization and if women don’t make the choices endorsed by their communities, the health industry, and even the federal government, they can expect to be surveilled, judged, and possibly bullied into doing so.
I thought of this research when I saw Time‘s 1-minute illustration of the rise of earthquakes in Oklahoma. To sum, thanks to the particular type of oil drilling done there, the state is now “one of the most seismic places on the planet.” There were 21 earthquakes in 2005. In 2015, there were 5,957. Nine hundred of these were magnitude 3 or higher.
I am trying to imagine what would happen if an industry caused almost 6,000 extra earthquakes annually (and growing) in or near a city America cared about. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York and, I can’t be sure but, I suspect politicians there might be quicker to interfere with business practices. And, if they weren’t, the political power of residents of those cities might force them to.
“But it’s just Oklahoma,” is apparently the refrain. Who cares if the oil companies’ saltwater disposal wells are causing the houses of hillbillies to shake? Apparently Okies don’t have anything — aren’t anybody — worth protecting. At least, not over the rights of corporations.
Over at Politics Outdoors, sociologist and political scientist David Meyer has argued that Trump is a charismatic leader. The idea comes from Max Weber, widely seen as a founding father of sociology, who argued that there are three types of authority: traditional, legal, and charismatic. Traditional authority derives its power from custom, legal from bureaucracy, and charismatic from cult of personality.
Weber argues that charismatic leaders are seen as somehow superhuman, exemplary, or ordained. They are different than the average human with exceptional qualities that can be depended upon to ensure that everything they do will be right. It is because Trump is a charismatic leader that he can say “trust me” and give few details as to his priorities or policies, even on something as serious as foreign conflict. It’s why he can say, when asked who he’s consulting: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
His followers don’t need to know what he might do or who he might listen to because they believe in him, not what he stands for. That’s why it makes sense to them to pledge allegiance to Trump instead of the flag.
Meyer adds that charismatic leaders are especially attractive during “turbulent times.” “[F]ew people would be willing throw in with someone who obviously lacks all of the qualities for the job he seeks,” Meyer writes, “unless times were truly desperate.” This is part of why Trump’s constant emphasis on inept politicians, broken policies, and the threat of terror and immigration works in his favor. Even his slogan, “Make American Great Again,” ominously implies that we are no longer great.
Charismatic authority is also, paradoxically, unstable. While followers tend to believe their leader to be infallible, the moment they no longer believe so, his power has vanished. At that time, movements either fall apart or find a charismatic successor. If Trump stumbles enough to reveal a weakness, and his supporters are willing to see it, this particular anti-establishment movement could disappear and more quickly than one might think. Unless, of course, they find someone who can step into Trump’s shoes.