Tag Archives: language

How (and how much) academics talk about inequality, in one chart

Reader advisory: When I say “in one chart,” I never really mean it.

Updated with new chart at the end.

Because someone asked, here is the article count from Web of Science (an academic journal database with emphasis on science), showing the frequency of articles (of all types) according to the inequality-related phrases in their titles. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of work on these subjects, but I did want to show all combinations of race, class, and gender (click to enlarge).

strat terms.xlsx

  • “Social inequality” now completely dominates, but it once was second to “social stratification.”
  • The most common of the three-word combinations is “race, class, and gender.”
  • “Gender, race, and class” has almost always been second.
  • “Gender, class, and race” made a run in the late 1990s, but has since faded.

I’ve written a little more about language and intersectional concerns here.


Don Tomaskovic-Devey sent along this figure, which shows newspaper articles using inequality related terms. The dotted line shows articles with rich, wealthy, top 1%, top one %, while the solid line shows income inequality. He suggests the dotted line may reflect an Occupy Wall Street effect, while the solid line shows the Thomas Piketty framing process:




Filed under Research reports

Open thread on the way some people, right, sort of really talk these days

Speaking extemporaneously in public is difficult. Since I’ve been on radio and TV a few times, and then reviewed the tapes afterward, I’ve developed my own internal criticism (drowning out that critic’s voice is sometimes difficult even while I’m talking). And I’ve also become even more aware of how people talk, to the point of speaking back lines I hear, trying out alternative expressions, and generally driving myself nuts.

Anyway, all that “really, sort of, right,” seems to be ascending toward some kind of peak. I heard this passage on the radio recently (no need to identify the speaker, is there?), and had to jot it down. The discussion was about Google and other tech workers and their buses to San Francisco. That’s enough context:

Look, I think, I mean, so all the data suggests, right, from the recent Census in the last two years, that obviously that center city areas are growing faster than suburban areas. But I think what’s actually interesting that’s happening, when you start to think about the city/suburbs divide, is really what we’re starting to see is are cities and suburbs become more and more alike. And that is to say that cities are having to deal with a lot of the issues that suburban areas have dealt with for a long time, right: crime, density, housing, all those issues. And now I think what we’re starting to see is suburbs, for instance, having to think about themselves becoming more attractive to folks who are looking for this urban lifestyle. So you’re starting to see suburban areas really focus on this idea of creative place-making: how do you really create a unique, authentic place, where people want to live. I think the other interesting thing is for suburbs is that they’re connected on transit, right – this idea of transit-oriented development is really important – how can they be connected to the city in terms of becoming a really sort of key node here. And so, you know, I think what we’re seeing, again, is this sort of shift, right, is what we call sort of this blending, of both cities and suburbs. You know, and just for a second to go back to the point about sort of young people and sort of being – not thinking about community as much – I think what’s interesting is you sort of see this shift of technology workers, back to city centers. What’s interesting is that a lot of technology workers are wanting to live in city centers because they want to have access to a unique, diverse community, they want to be engaged in their communities, so you see more of them taking public transit, you see more of them sharing resources. So it is about I think this sort of you know, it is perhaps a different perspective, but it is about sort of this engagement that we’re starting to see among young technology workers, Millennials, Creatives, etc., that are really going to sort of not be the problem for our cities, but really help us think about the solutions and what’s sort of to try to fix those issues.

Without picking on individuals (too late), any thoughts?


Filed under Me @ work

Academic puffery watch: ‘Utilizing’ edition

If you split hairs, you can argue there is a use for utilize that differentiates it from use. In the Oxford English Dictionary it’s all pretty circular:

  • Utilise: To make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account.
  • Use: To put to practical use; esp. to make use of in accomplishing a task.

You could get into variants, inflections, and origins. But it’s not worth it. In academic writing I don’t think people do that. I think they use utilize when they are committing puffery (“The action or practice of ‘puffing’ someone or something; extravagant or undeserved praise, esp. for advertising or promotional purposes; writing, etc., intended to have this effect.”)

So it is with heavy heart that I report what could be a comeback for utilize, or at least a stall in the course of its demise. I have this from two sources. First, from the JSTOR academic database:


And second, from the general corpus of published material (mostly books) that is in Google Books, using the American English collection for a longer period:utilize-coming-back.

Both show a rise of utilize from obscurity to a peak in the 1970s. Note the peak in academia is about twice as high as the peak in the general collection, at 10.7% compared with 5.3%. But both showed very promising declines until the early 2000s. In retrospect, we see the decline was slowing already in the 1990s. We should have been more vigilant.

Maybe this is just a reversal of progress toward pretending we are above excessive puffery. Which I think is a shame.

This all has something to do with this passage from the chapter titled, “Is a Disinterested Act Possible?” in Practical Reason by Pierre Bourdieu (including the length of the sentence itself):



Filed under Me @ work

What’s been queered?

How much has the term, and concept, of queer penetrated the discourse of sexuality, politics and identity?

In the overall use of the terms queer sexualityqueer politics, and queer identity, according to the Google ngrams database of American English usage, queer politics occurs most often, and queer sexuality is last.

queer-useSource: Google ngrams.

On the other hand, as a fraction of references to politics, identity, and sexuality respectively — what you could call the relative penetration of queer — the order is different: queer sexuality has most successfully entered the discourse on sexuality, with queer politics and queer identity quite behind in their relative niches:


Source: Google ngrams.

(In all of these I used both capitalized and un-capitalized versions. Follow the links to modify the codes yourself.)


Filed under In the news

What are we becoming a nation of now?

In Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk, “How common threats can make common political ground,” he mentions an influential New York Times article about how people with college degrees are more likely to get and stay married compared with those without college degrees.

At about 15:20 in the talk, Haidt says: “We are becoming a nation of just two classes.”

And I got to thinking about that phrase, “become a nation of…” It puts the reader at the moment of a transition from an assumed past to a specified future. A Google Books search reveals that we have become a nation of many things over the years:

1805: Becoming a nation of free men.

1815: becoming a nation of drunkards.

1822: becoming a nation of castes.

1840: becoming a nation of bull-dogs.

1856: becoming a nation of music lovers in the legitimate sense of the term.

1905: becoming a nation of dreamers, and then, in the next sentence, becoming a nation of money lovers and materialists.

1905: becoming a nation of physicians or even of lawyers.

1944:  fast becoming a nation of neurotics.

1953: becoming a nation of coffee drinkers instead of one of tea drinkers, like England.

1969: becoming a nation of two societies— one white and one black— separate and unequal. (from this awesome issue of Ebony:)


1977: becoming a nation of the elderly.

1985: Becoming a Nation of Readers.

1987: becoming a NATION OF ILLITERATES.

1988: becoming a nation of hamburger stands, and, in the same sentence, becoming a nation of management consultants, doctors, software designers, and international bankers.

1989: Becoming a Nation of Burger Flippers?

2008: becoming a nation of joiners.

2008: becoming a nation of orthorexics (people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating)


Filed under In the news

Tripping on tipping points

There you have it: since 2007, the number non-Hispanic White women having babies has fallen faster than the number of babies born to women from all the other race/ethnic groups in the U.S. combined — enough so that the Census Bureau determined that births from the second group outnumbered those in the first for the first time ever in 2011.

If that’s not an exciting enough lead sentence for you, how’s this?


If you followed my Twitter feed yesterday, I’m sorry. At first, my reaction to the New York Times story was disturbed…

Again @NYtimes says 50% is a “tipping point.” Agh! They even published my letter objecting to this & now ignore it.

The too-detailed history of my objecting is here, but it involves the same demographer, William Frey, repeatedly pitching 50% as a “tipping point” to the news media in reference to a series of demographic events. I don’t have anything against the term tipping point, I just don’t like to see it used to hype trends. Also, the figure is mislabeled, since the “Non-white” population there specifically includes White Hispanics. So the dark line should be labeled, “non-[non-Hispanic White],” and the light line should be labeled “non-Hispanic White.”

You’re probably beginning to see why these reporters rarely call me back, and attributing my tirades to sour grapes (which really turned soured after my slogan, “We are the 75%!” failed to catch on).

Anyway, after I settled down, I realized that the reporter, Sabrine Tavernise, had really written a very good third paragraph that attempted to capture the historic moment:

Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

But then when I got to the Washington Post editorial, my tweeting devolved back to deranged…

America at a tipping point: http://wapo.st/JVflcF <– tipping point in headline, AND “milestone” in lede?! Now they’re gaslighting me.

In fact, that Post editorial also used the term watershed, which they possibly picked up from Andrew Cherlin, who was quoted using it: “This is a watershed moment. It shows us how multicultural we’ve become.”

What is the right way to say it?

The Post was really just using terms randomly. But there must be a way to describe things. I think this event was definitely a milestone. In the Oxford English Dictionary, that is,

A significant stage or event in the progress or development of a society, a career, an individual’s physical and mental growth, etc.; a measure of progress or change.

I would additionally stress the socially-constructed nature of a milestone, since its namesake is a marker placed by humans at arbitrary intervals along a continuous path.

Cherlin may be right that this news will turn out to be a watershed, sometimes called a “watershed divide,” or the point at which water has to choose which way to flow:

Watershed can refer to an important point of division in time as well as geography, as in this from 1878:

Midnight! the outpost of advancing day!‥ The watershed of Time, from which the streams of Yesterday and To-morrow take their way.

All the media attention to this trend may in fact have made it a watershed moment in public discourse. But that is quite different from making it a tipping point, defined now nicely by the OED:

tipping point n. the prevalence of a social phenomenon sufficient to set in motion a process of rapid change; the moment when such a change begins to occur.

It’s very hard to announce the arrival of either watersheds or tipping points when they happen — which is one reason milestones are so useful for marking distance. Looking at the trends in births above, and projections of future demographic change, there is no reason to think this moment is a demographic tipping point. Here is the population projection to 2050, based on the Census Bureau’s current calculations (and using mutually-exclusive race/ethnicity categories):

Based on the 5-year intervals they use, I don’t see anything too non-linear here, suggesting an actual tipping point.

Finally, for some longer-range perspective:


Filed under In the news

Why are mothers becoming moms?

Listening to the debate about motherhood in the last few days reminded me of something that’s been nagging me for a while: what does it mean that mothers are becoming moms?

On the Republican side, in his NRA speech Friday, Mitt Romney said, “I happen to believe that all moms are working moms.” (The right-wing radio personality Laura Schlesinger always said, by way of introduction, “I am my kids’ mom,” as the most salient piece of her identity.) On the other side, both Hilary Rosen and President Obama used mom as the toughest-job-in-the-world’s title.

Why is it mom? Back in the 90s, poor single women weren’t “welfare moms.”

Here’s the trend in “working mother” versus “working mom” from Google Ngrams – the occurrence of these terms in the Google Books database:


The same pattern appears with just mother versus mom.

I don’t know why this is happening or what it means. Do you?


Filed under In the news