Category Archives: Me @ work

Family Inequality year-end review

This blog has enhanced my working life in so many ways, so let me start by thanking you for reading, sharing, and commenting here. The writing I do here — 909 posts so far — led to my textbook (working on the second edition now), and the new collection of essays I have under contract (and now under review at U. of California Press). Because of the visibility I have here, I got to be co-editor of Contexts magazine for the last two years (one more to go), and got elected to leadership positions in the American Sociological Association’s Family and Population sections. And the engagement I get here, with the discipline of sociology and academia generally, led to this year’s major initiative, SocArXiv, an open access archive of social science research (read about it, share your work, watch videos, @follow). This is all very rewarding work with an expanding group of great colleagues and collaborators.*

All of these things took me away from the daily work of writing here this year. As a result, I wrote fewer posts — 77, compared with an average of 130 per year since 2010. And for the first time this blog saw a decline in readership in 2016. Even with a self-serving new measure — visitors per new piece posted, which deflates the hit count by an indicator of effort — there was a drop this year:

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As long as blog traffic was increasing, I was of course delighted to report on my success on that metric. Now that it’s not I stress other key indicators, such as those I listed above. Obviously I won’t be measuring success by my interventions into politics. But more fundamentally, all of us in the knowledge and truth business have more serious problems to consider than impact metrics.

The most popular posts I wrote this year fall into four categories: Trump, the academic publishing problem, regular demography, and debunking.** This is a good reflection of my priorities over the year, and I have no strategic adjustments planned for 2017. But who knows?

Here are the top 10 posts written in 2016. Thanks again for reading!

  1. No Black women are not the “most educated group in the US”. How do you debunk a false meme when it says something positive about people you want to support?
  2. Black men raping White women: BJS’s Table 42 problem. A lot of clicks on this post came from people Googling things like “black man rape white woman.” I hope they stay to read it.
  3. Life table says divorce rate is 52.7%. There is no one “divorce rate.” This is an underappreciated method, with a non-surprising result.
  4. How broken is our system (hit me with that figure again edition). And see also Eran Shor responds. Our academic publishing system once again revealed to be poorly designed for the task of providing information to people.
  5. Perspective on sociology’s academic hierarchy and debate. Follow up to the Shor et al. debate. Academics are going to have to get thicker skins.
  6. The one big thing that might doom Trump in November. Race, I figured. I stuck with this message all year. Maybe it helped a little.
  7. Must-know current demographic facts. Updating a list of the basics, especially for teaching.
  8. How the left can win the general election. Some suggestions for how to win in a two-party game. The focus on “social” versus “economic” issues was incorrect. (This one just made the list because Chris Hayes called it “fascinating” on Twitter, a quote I plan to put on the back of all my books from now on.)
  9. Looks like racist Southern Whites like Trump. Sure do.
  10. For (not against) a better publishing model. How the American Sociological Association is not getting it right. Written the day I registered the SocArXiv domains.

* Note this year I started posting data and code on the Open Science Framework, a collaboration and sharing platform on which SocArXiv also runs. Here are my public projects. I hope you’ll consider using it, or something like it.

** Not included on this list, but probably tops among my essays this year, is the post that was picked up by the LSE Impact blog about the formation of SocArXiv. 

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Is there sex selection among Asian immigrants in the US?

There is a 2008 paper reported in the New York Times in 2009, which found skewed sex ratios among children of immigrants from China, Korea, and India, if their older siblings were girls, using the 2000 Census. The implication was that some parents were using IVF or abortion to select boy children if their first two were girls — as is the case in their home countries. There has been some other research on this from the early 2000s, but I haven’t seen it updated since then.

I took a quick stab at it, but don’t have time right now to pursue it more thoroughly. So here’s the quick answer I got, and I shared my data, code, and results in an Open Science Framework project, here. I hope someone will be interested and pursue it further (using my approach or not). The files there include all different ethnic/racial groups.

This is preliminary.

Using the American Community Survey data from 2010-2015, from IPUMS.org, I took U.S.-born children ages 0-5, whose parents were both born in China, Korea, or India and both were present in the household. I counted the sex of any present siblings under age 15 (excluding step- and adopted children). Then I restricted the data to those with 2 older siblings, and compared the sex ratios among those who had 0 or 1 older sister to those who had 2 older sisters. I did this in a logistic regression controlling for individual years of age, and using ACS person weights. There are judgment calls to make about age, siblings, data and other issues. The older you get the more likely you are to have kids moving out in a way that is not sex-neutral (for example, if parents with girls are more or less likely to divorce), and so on. Should parents be matched on immigration status, siblings born abroad included, why the years 2010-2015, and so on. This is what I mean by preliminary. But these results are interesting enough to prompt me to post them and encourage discussion and more analysis.

Here’s what I got:

sex selection.xlsx

The sex differences between those with 0/1 older sister and 2 older sisters are not statistically significant at p.<.05 in each of the three groups, but they are for the combined set (.046). These comparison involve a few hundred cases. Here are the unweighted, unadjusted results:

sexratiosunweighted

As you can see, just a few families intervening to choose boys — or some other force rearranging the living arrangements, or survival, of children and families, and the difference would not hold. Still, I think it’s worth pursuing. Maybe someone already has. If you decide to get into it, feel free to use this stuff, and let me know what you come up with!

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Advice for and about ASA

Last summer the incoming American Sociological Association President, Michèle Lamont, asked me to offer some advice to ASA about open access publishing issues. It was an open-ended request, and I didn’t know how to go about it. My understanding of ASA is that it is not well outfitted as a change agent; it’s much more likely to respond to external developments in its ecosystem than to take the lead, especially when its revenue stream is at stake. Nevertheless, lots of good people work in and around the association, and it has great capacity. (I am involved myself, as co-editor of the ASA magazine Contexts, as chair-elect of the Family Section, and as secretary treasurer of the Population Section.) So I wrote a short essay on what ASA might do, or what its members might do or demand of it.

It’s not coincidental that this is posted on the SocArXiv blog, SocOpen, which is part of that changing external environment that I hope will lead to ASA adapting for the better. I believe that devoting my energy to this project is producing something tangible for research and scholarly communication, while also pressuring ASA (and maybe other associations) to move in the right direction.

I hope you’ll read it on SocOpen.

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What, my workers? (Hershey park edition)

The previous post was about interracial civility at Hershey Park.. This is about something else I noticed there.

The “free” “chocolate” “tour” at Hershey Park is probably not best enjoyed on a Saturday in August while the roller coasters are closed due to inclement weather. Unless what you enjoy is people watching — which, although an odd omission from the tour itself, you will have plenty of time to do in line.

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The tour promises “NEW features,” including:

  • Immerse yourself in the cocoa farms of West Africa and the dairy farms in Central Pennsylvania
  • Hear and see the story of chocolate making through new technological effects
  • See the new, state-of-the-art animated figures, including our famous barnyard cows
  • Sing along to the sweet, catchy, and new theme song
  • Experience the social media-enhanced finale, featuring Hershey fans from around the world

When you finally get to the little train car that will take you on the tour, you ride past a series of big video screens showing machines, some big machines simulating chocolate-making, and some fake cows:

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The voices you hear belong to a woman who says she’s a quality control expert, and some animated or mechanical pieces of candy. There are literally no humans visible on the immersive tour of chocolate making. Hershey of course does have many people working to make chocolate for them, in Mexico and Brazil and Pennsylvania, among other places. But the tour designers who figured out how to pump chocolate smell into the confined, warmed, darkened, orange-glowing oven your car creeps through to simulate roasting, decided not to include any reference to those workers.

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At the very end, a high-school aged temp worker hands you a free sample, though!

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Maybe before Trump and Clinton bring back “our” manufacturing jobs, they can start by bringing back some pictures of our manufacturing jobs.

 

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Racist pile on, Storified

I made a Storify story out of a Twitter conversation I had with a bunch of racist Trump supporters yesterday. Here it is: Racist pile on. I can’t embed it here, probably just as well because a lot of readers probably don’t want to read Nazi propaganda, racial slurs, and gas chamber references.

This was the only thing they gave me that I actually laughed at.

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It sums up the power theory of racism nicely. But you have to stop to think about it. That’s not really how it happens, two innocent kids saying the same thing. In real life it’s more like Black Lives Matter saying “We like to be Black, and I don’t want our people to be killed for it,” and a mob of DavidDuke/Trump supporters burning a cross and yelling back at them, “White power!”

But anyway, interested to hear what you think if you go read the Storify thing.

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Civility in the swelter (Hershey Park edition)

This post combines my love of vacations (context), my habit of taking pictures of people in public places (data)*, and my sociological tendency to invent big conclusions from minor events (theory). As with last year’s selfie post , I hope you don’t take from this that I don’t really love vacations.

With 3.2 million annual visitors, Hershey Park is barely in the top 20 amusement/theme parks in the country. And unlike the top draws, all Disney properties, I reckon Hershey mostly draws a local and regional crowd, which means they’re not as rich as the average Disney visitor.

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What interests me is the way this lower-middle amusement park creates the context for civility in a very diverse environment, even as racial and ethnic conflagration seems to be breaking out all over.

It’s very racially and ethnically diverse, and most of the Whites either aren’t rich or they’re hiding their wealth well.

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Why didn’t Charles Murray, in his obnoxious “do you live in a bubble” quiz, which is supposed to test your exposure to and familiarity with working-class White culture (yes, just White culture, though the PBS promoters of the quiz only mentioned that after people complained), ask about amusement parks, where White working class people spend their vacations mingling with — or at least in close proximity with — racial minorities?

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Including in the historically-fraught pool.

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Some may be merely standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people from different races. But I saw more interracial couples and families than I usually see in my diverse suburb.

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Are they just tolerating each other, or are they really getting along? Of course, I’m White and rich and blind to all sorts of things, but I’m not stupid. I have no doubt there were slights and insults and aggressions going on outside of my perception (though I was looking for them). But there were also the kind of casual moments of “us just getting along” that usually go unremarked, like when parents enjoy watching their kids having fun together.

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I’m not making an argument about the relative racism apparent across classes. I know your feed today is probably awash in racist stuff coming from all over the social spectrum. I’m more interested in what the social context does to interpersonal interaction. The park is very leveling, economically. The poorest people are obviously excluded, and the richest aren’t interested. And then most people buy tickets before they arrive, and it’s in a remote place, so there is no one visible who can’t get in, no obvious fast lane for rich people (even at the rides, unlike Disney). We all ride the same tram from the parking lot to the gate, so the car interaction is minimized. We go through the same giant line to enter, and then wait in the same lines to ride the same rides and eat the same food once inside.

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There are ways to spend more money conspicuously, buying extra crap, but there is less of that than I’ve seen at Disney or Universal Studios (have you priced a genuine Princess dress lately?). In short, it brings out what a lot of different Americans have in common: overpaying for entertainment, overeating greasy food, and alternately yelling at and loving on their children.

I’m reminded of two things. One is that there is less racial conflict and violence in the U.S. than there was in the past (dating the data trends here is obviously debatable). The level of racism — structurally and interpersonally — is still way too high, of course. But it partly stands out now because we have more casual, positive interaction, than we did in the past. Social movement scholars will tell you that periods of improving relations are ripe for upheaval and unrest, because expectations are raised and subordinate groups are empowered. Don’t draw from the level of conscious resistance we see now the conclusion that conditions are worse than ever, because that’s not how it works.

Two is that civility can be engineered. In 2002 my friend Jennifer Lee wrote of the “important untold story [of] the mostly quotidian nature of commercial life in neighborhoods like New York’s Harlem and West Philadelphia,” areas at the time experiencing racial tension erupting in occasional violence around the issue of ethnic turf and racism in retail spaces. This Civility in the City was partly the product of deliberate, conscious effort by store owners and employees to preserve it. The level of interpersonal conflict and expression of animosity is not determined by structural inequalities alone. That deep inequality remains the defining American problem of our time. I don’t know how the level of interpersonal conflict plays into our ability to confront and address that inequality — and I’m not saying we should settle for civility over equality — but I’m sure it’s somehow relevant.

* This is ethical and legal as long as I’m not trying to harm anyone – millions of people do it every day. If you happen to be in one of these pictures and want me to take them down I will happily oblige. Before you get mad about me using these pictures, close your eyes and think of all the pictures you’ve seen just this week of strangers who did not consent to have their pictures taken.

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Interview: Independence, uncertainty, defamilialization

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My photo from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/Fet9Dc

I had an hour-long discussion about the decline of marriage on WYPR, Baltimore public radio, a couple weeks ago. You can listen to it here. I transcribed a short section that summarizes some of the points I find myself making in different contexts. This is a light edit (including taking out a couple things I disagree with myself on).

Independence

Q: Tell us more about some of the factors that are at work here. Some people say, well, back in the day my grandmother of course got married because she wasn’t going to have much of a job anyway, but now women have great jobs, so, that’s why they’re not getting married. True or false?

A: That is probably the biggest factor. Not just employment, but really independence. For women especially but for young adults overall. And that is, increased educational opportunities, increased employment opportunities, and the extended young adulthood, or what some people call extended adolescence. Just going to college into your 20s, and delaying that entry into marriage.

I’m not sure that if people are marrying less or marrying later we should equate this with a decline in respect or the importance of marriage. In some ways marriage is more important now that it’s more often a choice. That is people elevate it in their minds or in the culture because – when everybody had to be married, and it was virtually universal around 1960, it wasn’t something that that people personally chose. And so, yes it was important in the sense that everyone was doing it, but now it’s reached the point where people are much more likely to say: This marriage is not good, it’s not working, it’s not what I imagine a marriage should be, therefore we’re going to divorce. Or: We have a vision for marriage which is exalted, and we want to have our marriage take place when we have arrived, and we’re ready to own a house or a decent place to live, we have good jobs, to provide something for our children – and therefore because of that high view of marriage, we’re going to delay marriage. And so that may end up reducing the numbers of married people also, but not because people don’t value marriage.

Uncertainty

One way to think about the high divorce rate – which people are aware of – is it’s a kind of uncertainty that hangs over people. But it’s only one kind. In many ways life is less predictable and more uncertain than it was a few decades ago. And that just makes it difficult for a person to make long-term plans and commitments. We see this in the economic sphere, definitely, where people change careers and jobs more often than they did in the past. In housing, where they may change where they live more often. In a variety of ways our lives are less predictable. And when you don’t know what the future holds in one arena it’s very hard to make a commitment in another. You wouldn’t want to pick your job and make a lifetime commitment to it before you know what your college major is going to be. And in the same way, it’s difficult to make a commitment in marriage before you know what career you’re going to have, or how long you’re going to spend in school. So the uncertainty in one realm translates into cautiousness in others.

[Here I recommended All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister and Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg.]

There are different kinds of freedom in play here, and they’re somewhat contradictory. If you have a long-term commitment, that gives you one kind of freedom, for example the freedom to experiment, to make changes in your lifestyle, to change jobs, to take time off from work. Or things that you can do with the security of knowing that the other person is there to back you up. On the other hand, of course, the freedom of being single is a different kind of freedom, is the freedom to not have the set of burdens and obligations that do come from marriage or any kind of long-term commitment. So I do think it’s possible to consider the pros and cons that go in both ways, and it does get back to that idea of uncertainty in life, and the idea of tying oneself down to a long-term commitment in the absence of predictability in all the other aspects of life just seems increasingly disjointed to people. It doesn’t resonate with a lot of people.

The economic argument for marriage has always been that – like contracts, in the economy in general – when you make a commitment, it increases predictability, and you can make long-term plans and investments. For example, you can take a year off to invest in some training, and not worry that you’re going to end up losing income in the long run. And then you also have the economies of scale, two people sharing one refrigerator and one car is more efficient. And then there also are effects of marriage on people’s behavior. The fact that people are relying on you may make people, especially men, behave more responsibly. That may not have to happen within marriage, but the idea of having people depend on you may make people, for example, focus on their career advancement more than other kinds of ambitions.

Defamilialization

So it’s a challenge for our economy and our welfare state to think about: how can we ensure the wellbeing of people who do not have the two-person marriage – if we can’t assume people have that to back them up, economically speaking, and especially their children. But we’ve been going in that direction for a long time. The introduction of Social Security, retirement for older people, the public education system, we’ve been making investments in people to make them less reliant for their survival on their families for a long time, and in the long run that’s an important part of modern society. There’s a downside and an upside to that. The upside is people can act according to their own ambitions and desires individually, with more freedom than they could in the past. The downside is the expense for state institutions of caring for them and their children. It’s a complicated set of tradeoffs, and I think the important thing to realize is we can’t build our policies around the assumption that everybody and their parents are going to be married forever. And if we do that we’re going to leave a lot of people out, and put a lot of people at risk for real hardship.

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