Image by Cascadian Farm licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

For many people, from professors to preschoolers, the end of August heralds the start of a new academic year. A new school year can be an exciting time for students who get to know new teachers and friends while showing off their best back-to-school clothes and supplies. However, for many students, going back to school means once again experiencing additional aggression from their peers.

During peer aggression, what we often refer to as bullying, youth experience unwanted aggression from other young person(s) who have power over them through physical, verbal, relational, or property-based actions. In 2021 more than one in five high school students said that they had experienced bullying in the past year.

Popularity and power are important motivators for peer aggression and bullying works to maintain status hierarchies. Most youth, apart from the “most elite,” are at risk of both bullying others and being victimized themselves, as young people bully and are victimized while jockeying for status. Social media has opened up new avenues for aggression and infinitely expanded the opportunities for bullying.

Sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom reminds us that we have too often overlooked the role of physical attractiveness in granting privileges and resources. Although we like to tell young people that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, the reality is that adolescents are targeted according to traits such as physical attractiveness or athleticism.

There are gender differences in peer aggression, as well, with girls more likely to experience bullying than adolescent boys. Although we associate “catty” adolescent girls with gossiping that may constitute or accompany bullying, the gendered nature of peer aggression may result from greater social marginalization. Adolescents who do not identify as straight or who have sexual contact with people of the same gender are also more likely to experience bullying.

We also like to tell young people that “it gets better,” and that their hard academic work will matter more in fifteen years than whether they were invited to that party last weekend. However, research tells us that the mental and physical health consequences of bullying in adolescence can extend through adulthood.

As kids and teenagers return to school it is important to pay attention to their experiences without panicking. Some suggest that rates of peer aggression are not rising. Regardless of its true prevalence, the short-term and long-term consequences of bullying demand attention. Adults that care for adolescents should consider environmental changes that could foster the well-being of all teenagers given the limited control young people have over their own lives.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Christopher Donoghue and C.J. Pascoe. 2023. “A Sociology of Bullying: Placing Youth Aggression in Social Context.” Sociology Compass 17(4):e13071.

Christopher Donoghue. 2022. The Sociology of Bullying. NYU Press.

Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee. 2014. “Casualties of Social Combat.” American Sociological Review 79(2):228.

A smiling black father kneels, holding one of his child’s hands.  “Father Playing With Little Son at Home” by Ksenia Chernaya is licensed under pexels license.

Bundles of joy? Previous research suggests that having children may not be joyful for all parents, especially those who juggle high expectations with inflexible and demanding workplaces or raising children of color in a racially inhospitable world. However, new research from Jennifer Augustine and Mia Brantley finds that the happiness of parents varies by race and gender and in ways that were not entirely expected, especially in comparison to adults without kids.

The study is based upondata from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of adults in the United States, between 2010 and 2018. Researchers used questions where participants are asked to rate how happy they are and provide information about  their race and if they have children who they live with. This study also took into account what respondents reported for  r items such as income  or church attendence that previous research has shown influences happiness.

Augustine and Brantley found that there is not a difference in happiness between white fathers and nonfathers, but that white mothers are less happy than white women who are not parents. The existence of a “happiness gap” for white women but not white men may result from cultural expectations that  White mothers be totally devoted to their children despite the necessity for most white moms to work outside the home. Conversely, the fact that white dads are not expected to take equal responsibility for caring for kids might help explain why they are about as happy as men without kids.

This analysis also revealed no difference in happiness between black parents and nonparents. In fact, it found that black fathers are actually happier than their peers without children. These findings suggest that fatherhood is an important and meaningful part of life for many black men, whileblack moms might have ways of coping that help them manage the stress of raising children that white moms lack. Black mothers also may not exhibit a “happiness gap” compared to black nonmothers because black motherhood views work and parenting as complementary and emphasizes the importance of communal care for children, providing important support for moms.

This study only analyzed data up to 2018, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Future research will have to examine how changing demands on parents during the pandemic, especially virtual schooling, as well as greater attention to police brutality and racial injustice shaped differences in happiness between black and white parents and nonparents. But what this research clearly demonstrates is whether there is a “happiness gap” between parents and adults without children depends on who is doing the parenting and how they are expected to manage their parenting responsibilities with other aspects of their life.

Jennifer Augustine and Mia Brantley , “Black-White Differences in Parental Happiness,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 2023

Originally posted April 5, 2023

A photo of Annie Ernaux smiling and looking above the camera. (2cordevocali/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The following is re-posted from the Conversation. We share this reflection because Annie Ernaux’s writing centers socio-political context and the experiences, and suffering, of the French working-class.

The French author Annie Ernaux has won the 2022 Nobel prize in literature at the age of 82. Of the 119 awarded, Ernaux is only the 18th woman Nobel laureate in literature and the first French woman to have won the prize.

The academy praised her “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”.

From her first book Cleaned Out in 1973, Ernaux’s work has been closely informed by her own life experiences. She has continued to surprise and inspire readers with coverage of daring topics and her innovative approach to genres. Her body of work includes discussions on the act and art of writing, texts incorporating personal photographs, intimate and public diaries, and life-writing that refuses to be contained by categories.

Class conflict

Born in 1940, Ernaux was brought up in Yvetot in Normandy. She is the only daughter of working-class parents who ran a cafe-cum-grocers, and her childhood was underpinned by class tensions within the family home and outside it. Ernaux attended a private Catholic girls’ school for her secondary education, which fuelled social divisions between her and her parents – in particular her father, which she explores in her fourth publication A Man’s Place.

Growing up in a socially divided environment meant Ernaux felt ashamed of the supposedly distasteful aspects of her upbringing, such as the working-class environment of her father’s cafe or her mother’s shirking of the norms of middle-class housewifery and femininity, which she writes about in A Frozen Woman.

Her childhood was immersed in working-class culture, popular songs and the romantic novels her mother consumed. But from an early age, she was also an avid reader of “classic” French texts. She then studied literature at Rouen university and went on to teach it at secondary school before becoming a full-time writer in the 1970s. This experience gave Ernaux knowledge of French theories and practices of writing, which is evident in her references to authors such as Honore de Balzac, Marcel Proust and Simone de Beauvoir and her self-reflexive comments on the act of writing.

As a writer, she realised that her daily life was not represented in either the French literature she read at home or in the classrooms she learnt and later taught in. It was at school that she became aware of a “familiarity, a subtle complicity” as her teachers avidly listened to the stories of her middle-class schoolmates but silenced her attempts to speak about her home life. These experiences permeate her work, which repeatedly touches on the conflict between what she calls “the dominant class” and “the dominated class”, referencing the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

Her first three novels, Cleaned Out, Do What They Say or Else and A Frozen Woman, form a trilogy of autobiographical novels. These works broadly detail the socialisation of a working-class girl who has a middle-class education and then marriage. Her protagonist is a woman who, like so many of Ernaux’s readers, identifies as a “class defector”.

In subsequent works, Ernaux considered fictionalised accounts of her origins a form of betrayal because they ran the risk of exoticising her family and class origins.

Ernaux’s acute awareness of the formative influence of class underpins her entire body of work and in the wake of her win, many in France praised her work for its ongoing focus on the French working-class experience.

Flat writing

Following this trilogy, Ernaux adopted the writing style for which she has since become well-known, typically referred to as “l’écriture plate” (literally “flat writing”). This pared-down, understated style is coupled with a fluid approach to genre that incorporates elements of ethnography, autobiography and sociology. As she comments in A Man’s Place:

This neutral way of writing comes to me naturally, it is the very same style I used when I wrote home telling my parents the latest news.

The chairman of the Nobel Literature committee, Anders Olssen, described Ernaux’s work as “uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean”.

This approach to writing is underpinned by a mission. Ernaux believes that writing about the self inevitably involves writing about a socio-political context, and thereby extends the representativeness of her own experience. By writing simply about her own experiences, she also wants to write into literature the collective experience of the French working-class.

That desire to give voice to marginalised experiences is further illustrated in two of her “external diaries”, Exteriors and Things Seen, which record the everyday exchanges of people in outside spaces such as the supermarket or when commuting on the Paris metro.

She has also published more intimate diaries composed during significant stages of her life. I Remain in Darkness was written during her mother’s decline from Alzheimer’s. Getting Lost is a diary she kept during a passionate affair with a married man – a love affair she also described in her work Simple Passion. The honesty with which she details her obsession with this man struck a chord with many of her female readers.

Her literary approach typically incorporates self-reflexive remarks where she comments on the challenges she faces in turning lived experiences into literary form.

It is that openness and sense of writer-reader intimacy that partly explains her popularity. Her courage in exploring and exploding generic expectations is also reflected in the content of her work. She writes about a range of taboo subjects including her backstreet abortion (Cleaned Out and Happening, which was recently made into a film), sexual intimacy and issues of consent, breast cancer and her dead sister (L’Autre Fille).

Her most famous work, The Years, is considered to be her magnum opus. It can be read as a further example of a “public diary” in that it covers the socio-cultural history of France, mixing her own story (relayed through the representative “she”) with the collective story of her generation. Nominated for the International Booker Prize in 2019, The Years made English-speaking audiences aware of her work – and that attention has now happily been extended by the jury of the Nobel prize in literature.

Like many of the women prizewinners who have preceded her, including Toni Morrison and Alice Munro, Ernaux has spent her writing life giving voice to the experiences of those who remain under- or unrepresented in literature. This award will allow these voices to ring out all the more clearly.The Conversation

Siobhán McIlvanney, Professor in French and Francophone Women’s Writing; Head of Department of French, King’s College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

(A pile of orange prescription bottles with pills spilling out of one bottle K State Research and Extension Extension and Education/Flickr/Some Rights Reserved)

The opioid epidemic has touched thousands of lives in America, bringing death and disabling addiction to many families and communities, including my own. In response to rising opioid overdose deaths, some state policy makers implemented prescription drug monitoring programs to track prescriptions for controlled substances such as opioids. Their goal was to decrease the number of prescriptions, limit the supply of legally prescribed drugs, and diminish the potential for patients to develop substance abuse disorders. In new research Mike Vuolo and colleagues found that the very presence of a prescription drug monitoring program reduces overdose deaths.

The researchers created a data set that included information about all deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2016. They also included information about whether or not states created prescription drug monitoring programs and when these programs were created. Finally, their data set included information about the race and socioeconomic status of counties’ and states’ populations. They found that overdose deaths decrease after prescription drug monitoring programs are implemented.

They found that enabling or requiring doctors to access the program did not lead to additional decreases in overdose deaths compared to states who set up prescription drug monitoring programs that doctors did not have access to.

This research shows that, over time, prescription drug monitoring programs are an effective policy tool for decreasing overdose deaths. As a society, we continue to grapple with how to effectively respond to substance abuse and drug addiction. The collective grief of those that have lost a loved one to a drug overdose is palpable. This research provides hope that state-level policy focused on regulating drug supply, rather than punishing drug users or distributors, can help prevent overdose deaths. 

This article is reprinted, with author and publication permission, from September/October 2022 issue of The Criminologist

This article is cross-posted on The Society Pages’ teaching page. We post it here because of its relevance for involving students in documenting and understanding suffering.

Exhibit titled, “Hell in Georgia: Convict Leasing,” curated by students in Sarah Shannon’s Criminal Punishment & Society course at the University of Georgia in spring 2022. Archival materials from the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Libraries.

I wasn’t sure anyone would show up. My students had worked for six weeks to prepare a pop-up exhibit event showcasing their archival research projects on Georgia’s carceral history. In groups of four or five, my 44 students in Criminal Punishment & Society at the University of Georgia (UGA) prepared eight exhibits that told multi-layered stories of incarceration, convict leasing, probation/parole, fines and fees, boot camps, and life on death row spanning the late 19th to the early 21st centuries. The students worked in collaboration with university archivists to cull through multiple collections housed at the UGA Special Collections Library. They located and interpreted archival documents and objects, including media, and carefully crafted overview and caption texts to help visitors engage with big questions about how and why people have been punished by Georgia’s carceral state. During our final exam period for spring semester 2022 we set up our tables, put out our signage in the hallway of the UGA Special Collections Library, and crossed our fingers that at least some of the friends, colleagues, and community members we’d invited would come.

Exhibit titled, “The Horror and Humanity on Death Row,” curated by students in Sarah Shannon’s Criminal Punishment & Society course at the University of Georgia in spring 2022. Archival materials from the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Libraries

And they did. About 30 minutes into our event I scanned the room and smiled. I saw my students interacting enthusiastically with diverse members of our university and local communities. Guests included faculty and students, of course, but also the former head of our local public defender’s office, our county’s current district attorney, a former probation officer from New York, a friend of mine who spend 25 years locked up in Georgia prisons, and many others, including local activists involved in bail reform efforts and death penalty abolition. One attendee was delighted to see that an exhibit featured a letter he’d written decades ago as part of criminal justice reform efforts in southwest Georgia. My students left their final exam period feeling accomplished and wowed by the conversations they’d had about their work and guests’ real-world experience with their topics. All told, it was one of the most fulfilling teaching experiences of my career. In this article, I describe and reflect on my initial experiences implementing archives-based learning in undergraduate courses focused on criminal justice topics.

What is archives-based learning?

I designed this course after participating in UGA’s Special Collections Library Faculty Fellows Program that provides instructors with supported exploration of archives-based learning as a high impact learning practice. As a fellow, I collaborated with UGA archivists with the aim of including an archives-focused approach to the pedagogy and course design of a new or existing course. The program builds on the work of, a resource born of a three-year partnership between archivists and faculty in Brooklyn, New York to pioneer an approach to teaching in the archives. There are many models for incorporating archival materials into the classroom, including one-time encounters and semester-long engagement. Teaching with the archives includes directed, hands-on activities based on specific learning objectives, thoughtful selection of documents/objects, and small group activities. It is considered a high-impact educational practice because it teaches research skills, creates a common intellectual experience, and requires collaboration.

My approach to archives-based learning in two courses

So far, I’ve implemented archives-based learning in two of my courses: Juvenile Delinquency and Criminal Punishment and Society. Both are upper-division undergraduate elective courses, largely comprised of sociology and criminal justice majors. In Juvenile Delinquency, we visited the Special Collections Library twice during the semester, once near the beginning of the term and once later on. In the first encounter, students were assigned to groups and examined sets of archival documents and media clips that relate to the early juvenile court in Georgia from 1908 to the 1950s. Example documents included one of 100 original copies of a 1908 bill to establish juvenile courts in Georgia and a 1939 report describing subsequent reforms. I drew media clips largely from newsreel footage from the 1950s, including judges discussing juvenile court practices, youth sharing their experiences in juvenile training schools, and parents encouraging more community involvement in preventing delinquency. For the second visit, I curated several sets of documents and media clips from the “get tough” era of the 1980s and 1990s. Topics included boot camps touted by Georgia Governor Zell Miller in the 1990s, a movement to raise the age for the death penalty in Georgia to 18, and the 1998 settlement agreement between the state of Georgia and the Department of Justice to address suboptimal conditions in Georgia’s Youth Development Centers. Example media clips for the second visit included a segment of a documentary on boot camps and a two-part investigation by an Atlanta news station about Youth Development Centers. To assess students’ learning, I assigned reflection essays following each encounter that prompted students to articulate connections between the archival materials they worked with and course content (e.g., readings, class discussions, etc.). For Criminal Punishment and Society I used a much more intensive model. For the final six weeks of the semester, I moved all class meetings to the UGA Special Collections Library. I curated eight sets of archival documents, objects, and media clips that related to Georgia’s carceral history from the late 19th to early 21st century. Students were assigned to groups of four or five to work together on creating a pop-up exhibit. Unlike the two-encounter model I used for Juvenile Delinquency, students were required to search for additional archival materials beyond those that I provided. Students were guided by archivists in searching the archives as well writing captions and overview text for their exhibits. To chronicle and reflect on their learning throughout the project, students were responsible for writing blog posts describing their work as it unfolded over the six weeks. Their efforts culminated in the popup exhibit event that I described in the introduction to this article. Regardless of the model, implementing archives-based learning requires a great deal of preparatory work. From my experience, the process of locating, evaluating, and selecting archival materials for each course required many hours in the archives reading room. I enjoyed the research process a great deal, yet in both cases it took more time that I had anticipated. Of course, now that I’ve done this work once it will be far easier to implement future iterations of these courses with little additional time on the front-end. It’s also important to prepare students for encountering difficult language and topics in archival materials, especially in courses related to crime and criminal justice. For example, students in my courses regularly grappled with offensive language pertaining to race and sexual identity. I not only gave “trigger warnings,” but also provided space for students to take breaks or to discuss their reactions to offensive material in class, individually with me or one of the archivists, and in their writing, depending on how they felt most comfortable.

Impact on student learning and community engagement

Themes from my students’ reflection essays in both courses mirror findings from evaluations of the project: working hands-on with the archives can be “revelatory,” working in small groups generates camaraderie, and intensive interaction with archival materials makes course content more relevant. Students in my courses remarked on how the visceral experience of touching archival objects and documents, as well as hearing and seeing first-hand accounts in archival media clips, brought course concepts to life for them in powerful ways. Students expressed that working with primary sources allowed them to apply course material to the real life events and people that generated the documents, objects, and clips they handled. Students also indicated that engaging with archival materials helped them understand and contemplate the historical context of our present moment more fully, especially in comprehending how policies related to criminal punishment and juvenile justice are developed, implemented, critiqued, and experienced by real people over time. Most notably, students in my Criminal Punishment and Society course indicated that working so intensively in small groups to create their exhibits helped them appreciate the value of group work for the first time. More than one student remarked that this course was the best group project experience they have had in college. Multiple students expressed that they made real friendships in their groups; for some this was the first time they had made friends through a college course. Many students stated that the small group work helped them consider others’ points of view on the same material and appreciate the benefits of learning with and from their peers.

Closing thoughts

My experiences in implementing archives-based learning have been fulfilling and I highly recommend this approach. It is timeintensive on the front-end, but there are a variety of formats that can fit just about any course, from one-time events to full semester engagement. is a wonderful resource with example exercises that can be adapted. Students have overwhelmingly endorsed it as a highly impactful learning experience. And, as our public pop-up exhibit event showed, archives-based learning can engage the broader campus and community in vital conversations about our shared past, present, and possibilities for change.

About the Author

Sarah Shannon’s research focuses on systems of criminal punishment and their effects on social life. Her interdisciplinary research has been published in top journals in several fields including sociology, criminology, public health, social work, and geography.

Sarah is also an award-winning teacher, having received recognition for excellence in undergraduate instruction, research mentoring, creative teaching, and service-learning. She proudly facilitates UGA’s first-ever Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program course in partnership with the Clarke County Jail.

As a publicly engaged scholar, Sarah’s research has been cited in several high profile media outlets including The New York TimesThe Economist,  and the Washington Post. Prior to her graduate work, Sarah worked in the non-profit sector. As a result, she cares about doing research that matters for academics, policy makers, and ordinary citizens.

Four green glass bottles dripping with condensation. Image used under CC0.

This week The New York Times covered new research from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that shows there was a 25% increase in alcohol-related deaths between 2019 and 2020.

The new research, published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association last Friday used death certificates to identify all deaths for which alcohol was a primary or contributing cause.

They quote Aaron White, the lead researcher, who says that the sharp increase in deaths may be due to people with substance abuse disorder relapsing on account of pandemic-related stress. At the same time as stress and the risk of relapse increased, the pandemic also decreased access to rehabilitative and support services, putting peoples lives at risk.

To put this increase in perspective: the report shows that more people under sixty-five died from alcohol use in 2020 than from covid-19.

The increase in alcohol-related deaths in 2020 is part of a longer trend of alcohol use increasing among adults over the past fifteen years.


Image: An image of white hands shuffling money, with a black background. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License. Over 50 per cent of working Americans continue to be dissatisfied with their ‘unjust’ incomes. They say it isn’t sufficient to meet their family expenses.

Scott Schieman, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

There has been endless chatter about the Great [insert pandemic-related work trend here].

Resignation. Renegotiation. Reshuffle.

Regardless of the descriptor used, employees in the United States are purportedly re-evaluating the role of work in their lives. While some of this is related to deeper existential questions — like “What am I doing with my life?” or “Is this really how I want to be spending most of my waking hours?” — there might be a much simpler and more practical explanation for the take-this-job-and-reinvent-it wave.

A classic quote from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire captures it well. Sports agent Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) has been fired and as he embarks to become an independent agent he desperately tries to retain one of his clients, football star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.).

Tidwell shouts his demands: “Show me the money!” He adds: “I have a family to support, Jerry!”

Earning enough to make ends meet

Given what Americans say about their earnings, you’d think many would be bellowing like Tidwell. From Jan. 19 to Feb. 2, 2022, my research assistant and I partnered with Angus Reid Global to field a national survey of 2,000 working Americans. We asked: Do you feel that the income from your job alone is enough to meet your family’s usual monthly expenses and bills?

An astonishing 54.8 percent said “no.”

Image: money, coins, and a calculator in a pile. A tiny shopping cart in the background on its side. Image via flickr, CC BY 2.0. Over the past two decades, more than half of surveyed American workers weren’t able to make ends meet with their job earnings alone.

Considering the ominous news about inflation lately, we figured that this unfavourable perception has spiked from previous years. But looking back through two decades of U.S. data from the General Social Survey (GSS) — a highly reputable national survey of Americans — we were surprised by how prevalent and stable the “no” responses have been.

In 2018, the last time the GSS asked this question, 50.8 percent of American workers reported that the income from their job was not enough to make ends meet. And the percentage was even higher in previous years: 52.9 in 2014; 53.4 in 2006 and 55.9 in 2002. The highest on record — 58.2 per cent — occurred in 2010 at the tail end of the Great Recession.

How fair is what you earn?

But “show me the money” isn’t only about having enough for life’s necessities. It’s also about the sense of fairness — what scholars refer to as distributive justice. In our survey, we asked: How fair is what you earn on your job in comparison to others doing the same type of work you do?

While 37.9 per cent feel they are paid appropriately, 52.7 per cent feel they are paid less than they deserve. On this indicator, the shift is substantial. Between 2002 and 2018, 40.6 per cent on average have described their pay as being somewhat less or much less than they deserve, with 2010 again being the outlier at 46.2 percent.

We need to earn enough to live, and the amount should be just. But there’s another element of pay that reflects something deeper. A fundamental human motive: status. Justifying his “show me the money” plea, Tidwell roars: “I’m a role model, Jerry,” adding “it’s a very personal … very important thing.”

Image: stacks of silver coins in a line, growing in height from left to right. Image via piqsels, piqsels terms of service. Income, which can often be distributed unfairly, determines social status.

Status matters. Not only in the eyes of others, but in our own self-evaluations too. Sociologists refer to this as subjective social status. To measure it, we told respondents to think of a ladder. At the top (10) are the people who are the best off. At the bottom (1) are the people who are the worst off. And, we asked: Where would you put yourself at the present time?

On average, American workers report a 6 on the status ladder. But those who report insufficient earnings and feel severely underpaid score significantly lower (4.9), compared to those who have sufficient earnings and feel their pay is appropriate (6.6). That difference holds regardless of education, occupation, income and job authority.

Can money buy happiness?

Some say money can’t buy happiness, but it goes a long way to providing status. And status often translates into happiness.

In our survey, Americans who don’t earn enough to make ends meet and feel underpaid are less happy and hopeful about the future. Life, for them, is less enjoyable. Inadequate earnings and feeling underpaid also erode happiness more strongly than the objective indicators of low socio-economic standing do. And one’s position on the status ladder eclipses all other socio-economic indicators in predicting happiness.

Our sample doesn’t include any professional football stars. But it does contain a broad cross-section of American workers — doggie daycare assistants, accountants, truck drivers, software engineers, sous chefs, electricians, candle-makers and on and on. All have a few things in common: They want to earn enough money to make ends meet, they want to be paid fairly for the work they do and they all share the fundamental human motive for status.

As dated as Jerry Maguire feels, “show me the money” still resonates. Maybe it always will. Given how consistent these indicators of income dissatisfaction have been for the past few decades, perhaps the Great Re-evaluation of work should focus first and foremost on compensation. Channel your inner Rod Tidwell!

Xin Ming Matthew Zhou, an undergraduate research assistant in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto, co-authored this articleThe Conversation

Scott Schieman, Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair, University of Toronto

This piece is reposted, with permission, from Sociological Images.

As the new year brings in a new peak in COVID cases across the country, we all have a right to feel a little down in the dumps.

One trend picked up by surveys earlier in the pandemic was a drop in self-reported happiness. Now, with a new year of General Social Survey data released, it looks like the trend continues.

Part of this change could also be explained by the survey’s new online administration method, but the pattern is consistent with NORC’s previous pandemic tracking survey.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and wellbeing as I launch into teaching Introduction to Sociology this year, both because we want to do right by our students in a tough time and because new students thinking about majoring have a right to ask us: how is our field helping the world?

That’s why I was especially hopeful to hear about this study making its way around Twitter. The authors conducted interviews and surveys with experts in the field of happiness research to rank the things they thought would be most likely to increase life satisfaction based on their understanding of the research literature. Two important points caught my attention.

First, the researchers ranked both personal solutions and policy solutions to improve life satisfaction. This is important because we often think about our own happiness as an individual experience and an individual effort (often bolstered by the self-help industry). Focusing on policy reminds us that our individual wellbeing is linked to collective wellbeing, too.

Second, many of these experts’ top ranked solutions were explicitly about social relationships. For personal solutions, two of the top ranked suggestions were investing in friends and family and joining a club. For policy solutions, some of the top answers included promoting voluntary work or civil service and reducing loneliness.

It wasn’t just high expert ratings, low expert standard deviations indicated a lot of agreement about the value of social bonds. You can see the full set of results here, and the full paper here.

Expert consensus studies like this have a lot of limitations, since they only show us a glimpse of the current conventional wisdom. But this study also shows us the positive stakes of sociology. It reminds us that developing a better understanding of our relationships and investing in those relationships is not just a self-help fad; it can be a social policy priority to get us through tough times together.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

Image: Shelving in front of a house in New Orleans with “Community Baby Supplies” sign and boxes of clothing, toys, diapers, and other supplies. Image courtesy of the author.

Jennifer Randles, “‘Willing to Do Anything for My Kids’: Inventive Mothering, Diapers, and the Inequalities of Carework,” American Sociological Review, 2020.

Originally posted May 5, 2021

One in three American families could not afford diapers for their kids before the pandemic. Now, demand for diapers has grown by almost 400% due to COVID-related financial hardship, and this shortage has disproportionately affected women and low-wage workers, parents who previously relied on employers, childcare centers, or diaper banks. “Diaper need” is causing health problems, racialized stigma, and financial burden as parents must choose between providing diapers and other necessities like food or electricity. New research by sociologist Jennifer Randles examines the overlooked issue of diaper need and the innovative, labor-intensive strategies families are employing to meet it. Over half of [the mothers in the study] named diapers as their most anxiety-inducing household expense. Randles conducted in-depth interviews with 70 mothers of young children. Over half of them named diapers as their most anxiety-inducing household expense, more than food, housing, or electricity. 

Respondents raised the health implications of diaper need for both children and parents. Keeping a baby in a used diaper for too long can result in painful rashes, urinary tract infections, and emergency room trips for the child. Mothers in Randles’ study went without medical care, internet access, toilet paper, tampons, food, and other necessities to save diaper money. Going hungry was particularly problematic for moms who were still breastfeeding.

Because diapers are considered fundamental to being a ‘good’ parent, diaper need also caused anxiety, loss of dignity, and stigma for mothers. As one respondent said, “it’s really scary for a mom not to have diapers, not to be able to provide this basic thing for your child.” The psychological consequences were intensified for mothers of color and poor mothers who faced contempt from welfare agents when trying to access diapers for their children due to racialized stereotypes of lazy and irresponsible “welfare queens.”  Diaper need is a public health problem without a public policy solution.Diaper need is a public health problem without a public policy solution. Although diapers are a basic hygiene need of early childhood, they are categorized as “unallowable expenses” by aid programs like SNAP and WIC. Most states tax diapers as “discretionary” expenses. As one mother said, “babies need diapers as people. They are not a luxury. They are about being human.” If they were covered under existing welfare programs, parents would not need to face these difficult choices.

Image: A white woman sits on a bed in pajamas, her arms clutched around her midsection in pain. Image courtesy of pixabay, Pixabay License.

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

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

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

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

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

This piece is cross-posted over at Discoveries on The Society Pages