Early pandemic demographic indicators

A couple new ones and a couple updates.


The pandemic could be affecting the number of abortions, miscarriages, or infant deaths, but unless those effects are large it should be too early to see effects on the total birth rate, given that we’re only about 7 months into it here. So for possible birth indicators I did a little Google search analysis using the public Google Trends data.

I found three searches that were pretty well correlated in the weekly series: “am I pregnant”, “pregnancy test,” and “morning sickness”, which all should have something to do with the frequency of new pregnancies. I ran Google Trends back five years, created an index from these searches (alpha = .68) , smoothed it a little, and this is what I got:

There was already a big drop in 2019 from the previous three years (reasonable, based on recent trends), and then 2020 started out with a further drop. But then it spiked downward in March before rebounding back to its lower level. So, maybe that implies birth rates will keep falling but not off the charts compared with recent trends.

I also checked “missed period,” which was not well correlated with the others, and got this:

Again, 2019 was already showing some decline, and 2020 started out lower than that, and now searches for “missed period” are running lower than last year, but not more in the middle of the year than they were in the beginning. So, inconclusive for pandemic effect.


Here’s a new take on the Google trends for weddings. I took the averages of searches for “wedding invitations”, “wedding shower”, “bridal shower”, “wedding shower”, and “wedding dresses” (alpha=.94). With a little smoothing, here is 2020 compared with the average of the four previous years (unlike pregnancy searches, this one didn’t show a marked decline in 2019 compared with previous years).

March and April showed catastrophic declines in searches for wedding topics, and the rebound so far has been weak. However, weddings aren’t the same as marriages. Maybe people who had to cancel their weddings still got married down at whatever the pandemic equivalent of the courthouse is. So here’s the same analysis just for the search term “marriage license.” This shows a steep but not as catastrophic drop-off in March and April, and a stronger rebound. So maybe the decline in drop in marriages won’t be as big as the drop in weddings.

Actual marriages

I previously showed the steep decline in recorded marriages in Florida. Here’s an update.

Florida lists recorded marriages by county and month, one month behind (see Table 17). They update as they go, so as of today August marriages are probably still not all recorded. The comparison with previous years shows a collapse in March and April, and then some rebounding. August is preliminary and will come up some.

Marriages in Florida normally peak between March and May. Of course it’s too early to say how many of these were just being postponed. The cumulative trend shows that through July Florida is down 24,000 marriages, or 27%, compared with last year.

Divorce ideation

When the going gets tough, the afflicted want to get divorced, but maybe they can’t. It’s expensive and time consuming and maybe people think it will upset the children even more. (I’ve written about divorce and recessions here and here). So my initial assumption going into the pandemic was that there would be a stall in divorces even though the intent to divorce would rise, followed by a rebound when people get a chance to act on their wishes.

Here I use Google search trends for four searches: “divorce lawyer”, “divorce attorney”, “get a divorce”, and “how to divorce”. The alpha for this index is .69 (when I just use the attorney and lawyer, the alpha is .86, but the result looks the same, so I’m showing the wider index). The results show a drop in divorce ideation in March into April, followed by a rebound to a level a little above the previous year average. Note this pandemic-spring drop is a lot less pronounced than the wedding and marriage collapses above.

Actual divorces

Divorces take time, of course. Like births, I wouldn’t expect to see definitive results right away. In fact, it’s hard to know how long divorces are in process before they show up as recorded. However, in my favorite real-time demography state, Florida, they have been recording divorces every month, and have a look at this:

It’s a giant plunge in recorded divorces, almost 60% in April, followed by a weaker rebound. Again, the records are not yet complete, especially for August, so we’ll see. But comparing these patterns, it might be that there was a short suspension in divorce ideation as people were distracted by the crisis, followed by a rebound which hasn’t yet translated into divorce filings. Googling about divorce seems cheap and easy (and faster) compared with pulling it off, but this might mean there is growing pent up demand for divorce, which is bad (and may imply greater risks of conflict and violence).

Young adults living “at home”

I previous wrote about young adults living with their parents and grandparents using the June and then July Current Population Survey data made available by IPUMS.org. Subsequently, the Pew Research Center did something very similar using the data through July (with additional breakdowns and historical context). Pew used living with parents, apparently including those in households where the parents are not the householders. I prefer my definition — young adults living in the home of parents (also, or grandparents) — which fits better with the popular concept of living “at home.” So if your parents come to live with you, that’s different.

Anyway, here’s the update through August, which shows the percentage of young adults living at home falling back some from the June peak. I will be very interested to follow this through the fall.

Update: By October this trend had returned almost back to pre-pandemic levels:

Stata code for the living at home analysis is available here: https://osf.io/2xrhc/.

The pandemic and its attendant economic crisis is having massive effects on many aspects of family life. These early indicators are just possible targets of future analysis. There is a lot of other related work going on, which I’ve not taken the time to link to here. Please feel free to recommend other work in the comments.

Measuring inequality, and what the Gini index does (video)

I produced a short video on measuring inequality, focusing on the construction of the Gini index, the trend in US family inequality, and an example of using it to measure world inequality. It’s 15 minutes, intended for intro-level sociology students.

I like teaching this not because so many of my students end up calculating and analyzing Gini indexes, but because it’s a readily interpretable example of the value of condensing a lot of numbers down to one useful one — which opens up the possibility of the kind of analysis we want to do (Going up? Going down? What about France? etc.). It also helps introduce the idea that social students of inequality are systematic and scientific, and fun for people who like math, too.

The video is below, or you can watch it (along with my other videos) on YouTube. The slides are available here, including one I left out of the video, briefly discussing Corrado Gini and his bad (fascist, eugenicist) politics. Comments welcome.

Sambo’s Restaurant: Rise and fall, with Ithaca and Santa Barbara

The sociologist David Pilgrim, in an essay on the “The Picaninny Caricature” for the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, tells the story of the Little Black Sambo:

Arguably, the most controversial picaninny image is the one created by Helen Bannerman. … She spent thirty years of her life in India. … In 1898 there “came into her head, evolved by the moving of a train,” the entertaining story of a little black boy, beautifully clothed, who outwits a succession of tigers, and not only saves his own life but gets a stack of tiger-striped pancakes. The story eventually became Little Black Sambo. The book appeared in England in 1899 and was an immediate success.

At the time, the book was not the most racist thing out there:

Stereotypical anti-black traits — for example, laziness, stupidity, and immorality — were absent from the book. Little Black Sambo, the character, was bright and resourceful unlike most portrayals of black children. Nevertheless, the book does have anti-black overtones … The illustrations were racially offensive, and so was the name Sambo. At the time that the book was originally published Sambo was an established anti-black epithet, a generic degrading reference. It symbolized the lazy, grinning, docile, childlike, good-for-little servant.

I learned from Pilgrim that Julius Lester co-authored an Afrocentric retelling of the story in 1996, Sam and the Tigers. Pilgrim quotes Lester:

When I read Little Black Sambo as a child, I had no choice but to identify with him because I am black and so was he. Even as I sit here and write the feelings of shame, embarrassment and hurt come back. And there was a bit of confusion because I liked the story and I especially liked all those pancakes, but the illustrations exaggerated the racial features society had made it clear to me represented my racial inferiority — the black, black skin, the eyes shining white, the red protruding lips. I did not feel good about myself as a black child looking at those pictures.

These are the covers of Lester’s book and a 1934 version.

Ithaca, 1979

I didn’t know any of this at age 12, in 1979, when Sambo’s Restaurant opened up in Ithaca, NY, my hometown. The chain of restaurants was started in 1957 by Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett (get it, Sam-Bo’s). Despite a growing clamor to change its racist name (the interiors of the restaurants were also decorated with images from the story), Wikipedia says there were more than 1,100 outlets by that time. Here’s their 1980 TV commercial, featuring a White child with his divorce-era single dad, saving money because of inflation:

In Ithaca, anyway, there was a boycott movement. Maybe someone still has their orange “Boycott Sambo’s” bumper sticker; I can’t find mine. We canceled that shit, and the company declared bankruptcy in 1981.

Here’s a story from the Ithaca Journal, November 26, 1979:


A couple things are amazing about this, to me. First, the reporter Fred Gaskins (who is Black). Right around that time, must have been seventh grade, I spent some time (a day?) shadowing him under an apprenticeship-mentoring program called The Learning Web (still there!), because I wanted to be a writer. (News reporting was my first job after food service, in 1985.)*

Anyway, the other interesting thing in this article is Newstell Marable, the company’s Black regional community relations manager, who is running down the protesters and talking up the company’s hiring record. “The name is not demeaning to me as a black man,” he’s quoted as saying, noting that 12% of the local restaurant’s 50 employees were Black, while Ithaca was only 5% Black.

Marable died at age 84 in 2015, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. When he died, the Pottstown branch of the NAACP, of which Marable had been president (not clear which years), picked up his Sambo’s story:

Employed as Sambo’s Restaurants, Inc. Regional Marketing Manager for the Eastern Coast, he was their EEOC Officer and Community Relations Manager from 1980 to 1982. Mr. Marable shared racial sensitivity with the management and persuaded them to change the name from Sambo’s, a name with racist overtones, to Seasonal Restaurants.**

Noting his commitment to “public service, fighting poverty, and equal rights through jobs, housing, education, and health,” the chapter biography remembers Marable, a graduate of Alabama A&M and an Army veteran, with these moving words:

He bestowed blessing through a life filled with many rolls of service to others both at home and in the larger community. For countless people of all ages and walks of life, Mr. Marable demonstrated true leadership by serving others with integrity and courage. He mentored from personal experiences; guided with knowledge and insight; advised with wisdom; emphasized with true understanding; chastised with living kindness; battled courageously for justice while seeking truth and showing integrity; and encouraged many with endless patience.

(With his Sambo’s history, would Marable be memorialized as a “civil rights leader” today?)

Santa Barbara, 2020

Anyway, the Sambo’s Restaurant chain went away one way or the other. Except for the “first and last-standing” Sambo’s Restaurant, in Santa Barbara, California, which finally, only after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests this summer, changed its name. After a brief stint as [Peace] & Love, the owner (Sam Battistone’s grandson, Chad Stevens) changed the name to Chad’s, because “I knew it was time to change.”

The KEYT news report on the name change, bizarrely, says: “the name, however, had been interpreted as racist, as was the book about Little Black Sambo, an Indian boy, the restaurant had connected with.” And shows these totally not racist images on the wall:


Whatever you want to tell yourself, Chad Stevens. The report quotes local activist Rashelle Monet as “involved in name change.” She wrote on her Instagram account: “I’ll never forget this moment. I could literally feel something inside me awaken.”

The history runs through us.

Next day addendum: On account of doing no lit review, I just found out sociologist Karyn Lacy wrote an essay about Sambo’s last week. I should have linked to it. Feel free to post other relevant things in the comments.

* Here’s a story on the restaurant renaming from 1982. I don’t know if Marable’s role in that decision is documented anywhere.

** Gaskins went on to a long career in journalism, and now works in communications for the city of Hampton, VA.

Race/ethnic intermarriage trends, 2008-2018

Rising, with gender differences.

Since 2008 the American Community Survey has been asking respondents whether they got married in the previous 12 months. Using the race/ethnicity of spouses (when they are living together), you can estimate the proportion of new marriages that cross racial/ethnic lines.

Defining such “intermarriage” is not as simple as it sounds. Some people have multiple racial or ethnic identities. Some people marry across national-origin lines within panethnic groups (e.g., Mexicans marrying Puerto Ricans). Is a Black+White Dominican marrying a White Mexican, or a Black+White person marrying a Black person, “intermarriage”? In these estimates I drop people who are not Hispanic and specified more than one race, then combine Hispanic origin and race into one, mutually exclusive 5-category variable: White, Black, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic (of any race). In other words, intrapanethic marriage (Mexicans marrying Puerto Ricans, or Filipinos marrying Koreans) is not intermarriage. I’m not saying this is the best way; it combines conventional categories with convenience. I combine same-sex and different-sex marriages.

To present the results, I separate men and women (you’ll see why), and estimate predicted probabilities of intermarriage at the mean of controls for age and age-squared, using logistic regression with normalized weights. My Stata code is on the Open Science Framework; help yourself. (I previously did something very similar for states and metro areas.)

The results are in figures, with each race/ethnic group presented on its own scale (check the y-axes). I don’t present American Indians because the samples are small (about half the API sample) and the multirace group is large.


Click the images to enlarge

white intermarriageblack intermarriage

api intermarriage

hispanic intermarriage

Pandemic Social Problems, with video and partial reading list

PN Cohen photo / CC-BY / https://flic.kr/p/2jw5juv

With a lecture and reading list, almost ready to start class.

Almost 6 months ago, on March 2, I had an informal COVID-19 debriefing with 50 students in my Social Problems class. Some of what I said came true, and I’m glad (sort of?) none of it was completely wrong (though we didn’t actually hit 100 million worldwide confirmed cases in May). For a reality check I go back to this Twitter thread, where I jotted down what I told them:

Now, as I prepare to teach the course online next week, I have updated my overview lecture, which has grown to 40 minutes.

Beyond some fundamentals, I’m tossing out the traditional Social Problems course outline and just doing the pandemic and related issues this semester, so this is the introductory lecture. I expect to record some more lectures. If I decide they’re not too embarrassing to share I’ll put them on my YouTube channel (which you can apparently subscribe to if you want to be notified of the videos). Feel free to use them for whatever you like, and pass along your feedback.

The course doesn’t start till next week, so I don’t have everything together yet, but I have a lot of readings, some for me and some for the students, which I’m sharing below.

Happy to have more suggestions, too.


The 1918 Flu pandemic

Race and Ethnic Disparities 

  • Hammonds, Evelynn M., and Susan M. Reverby. 2019. “Toward a Historically Informed Analysis of Racial Health Disparities Since 1619.” American Journal of Public Health 109 (10): 1348–49. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305262.
  • Hogarth, Rana Asali. 2019. “The Myth of Innate Racial Differences Between White and Black People’s Bodies: Lessons From the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” American Journal of Public Health 109 (10): 1339–41. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305245.
  • Egede, Leonard E., and Rebekah J. Walker. 2020. “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” New England Journal of Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2023616.
  • Bobrow, Emily. 2020. “She Was Pregnant With Twins During Covid. Why Did Only One Survive?” New York Times, August 6, 2020, sec. New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/nyregion/childbirth-Covid-Black-mothers.html.
  • COVD race/ethnicity data: https://covidtracking.com/race/dashboard
  • Moore, Jazmyn T., Jessica N. Ricaldi, and Charles E. Rose. 2020. “Disparities in Incidence of COVID-19 Among Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups in Counties Identified as Hotspots During June 5–18, 2020 — 22 States, February–June 2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6933e1.
  • Kim, Lindsay, Michael Whitaker, and Alissa O’Halloran. 2020. “Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Children Aged 18 Years Hospitalized with Laboratory-Confirmed COVID-19 — COVID-NET, 14 States, March 1–July 25, 2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932e3.


Economic crisis and inequality

Gender and the lockdown

Government response

Anti-Asian racism

Trusting experts and confirmation bias, videos


Inequality, family change, and the pandemic (interview with Joanna Pepin)

Joanna Pepin was kind enough to interview me for her family sociology class (she’s just begun a new job at the University at Buffalo). We talked about why family sociology attracted me as an inequality researcher, what’s changed in modern families, some common misperceptions, what’s new the forthcoming edition of my textbook, and what COVID-19 is likely to mean for people and their families. In 11 minutes.

I hope it helps.


My green screen teaching setup explained

a picture of my makeshift home office with green screen.Janine Barchas, a professor of English who sells advice on “curating your material environment and adjusting the visible setting of your at-home office” for $250 per chat, managed to place a (paywalled) article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I haven’t read. But I did see people complaining on twitter about her advice that you “should curate your zoom backdrop.” Including this funny spoof from Andrew Ishak:

There was other followup advice, like this:

If you are white and male enough to own an expensive, new, and highly performing computer, you can opt for a virtual background. Several colleagues poignantly use photos of their now-vacant classrooms or offices. But not everyone has an up-to-date computer. Even for those who do, hours of flickering like a TV weather announcer in front of a greenscreen projection of the Grand Canyon or of your college campus can prove distracting, too. You might consider selling some of your Apple stock to purchase a top of the line machine, but only if you make sure to mention its purchase at the start of every meeting. After all, what use is having expensive things if you can’t constantly bring them up to others?

(I don’t know who wrote that, but it was shared here.)

All that said, I spend hours and hours in online video meetings, and I’m preparing to teach for hours and hours on Zoom. I want to feel like I’m doing a good job, and also maybe enjoy my job a little. I don’t want to decorate my living space to show students and colleagues in the background, I want a nice green screen setup to put me somewhere else. With under $300 and 4 x 6 feet of space, I found this was possible.

So, without telling anyone what they should do, or even implying that they should do something, this is a 4-minute explanation of how I got to be satisfied, on the very relative scale of our current “situation,” with my Zoom self for teaching. If it’s helpful, great. If you get pleasure from mocking me for it, you’re welcome.

Good luck this semester!

Families, inequality, and sociology in pandemic times (video)

This fall I will be recording video lectures for students in my undergrad class. I’m thinking about the technical aspects, but also the voice and posture. Sitting at my desk at home is quite different from my lecture hall (I usually get a few thousand steps during an hour class). We’ll have to see how it goes.

In June I had a chance to do a one-hour consulting with a “major corporation” to talk about what’s happening in the world, which I recorded and rewrote into this post. I just did another one on the subject of modern families and inequality. This one was like an interview, where I answered questions. I transcribed some of my answers, and then edited that text, figuring it might give me a nice blend of formal and conversational voice, which might work in a video.

After recording the video, I went back and added in some graphics using Photoshop as my video editor (did you know we can get Photoshop as part of our university site license?). A much quicker and easier way, which I assume I’ll be reduced to in the fall, is just to record the lecture live using Zoom or some other PowerPoint screen recorder. Anyway, here is the result, in 12 minutes.

Note: The video includes an update to data from this post on weddings in Florida, and this report on the impact of the epidemic on reproductive health experiences, from Laura Lindberg and colleagues at Guttmacher.

Framing social class with sample selection

A lot of qualitative sociology makes comparisons across social class categories. Many researchers build class into their research designs by selecting subjects using broad criteria, most often education level, income level, or occupation. Depending on the set of questions at hand, the class selection categories will vary, focusing on, for example, upbringing and socialization, access to resources, or occupational outlook.

In the absence of a substantive review, here are a few arbitrarily selected examplar books from my areas of research:

This post was inspired by the question Caitlyn Collins asked the other day on Twitter:

She followed up by saying, “Social class is nebulous, but precision here matters to make meaningful claims. What do we mean when we say we’re talking to poor, working class, middle class, wealthy folks? I’m looking for specific demographic questions, categories, scales sociologists use as screeners.” The thread generated a lot of good ideas.

Income, education, occupation

Screening people for research can be costly and time consuming, so you want to maximize simplicity as well as clarity. So here’s a way of looking at some common screening variables, and what you might get or lose by relying on them in different combinations. This uses the 2018 American Community Survey, provided by IPUMS.org (Stata data file and code here).

  • I used income, education, and occupation to identify the status of individuals, and generated household class categories by the presence of absence of types of people in each. That means everyone in each household is in the same class category (a choice you might or might not want to make).
  • Income: Total household income divided by an equivalency scale (for cost of living). The scale counts each adult as 1 person, each child under 18 as .70, and then scales that count by ^.70. I divided the resulting distribution into thirds, so households are in the top, middle, or bottom third. Top third is what I called “middle/upper” class, bottom third is “lower class.”
  • Education: I use BA degree to identify households that have (middle/upper) or don’t (lower) a four-year college graduate present. This is 31% of adults.
  • Occupation: I used the 2018 ACS occupation codes, and coded people as middle/upper class if their codes was 10 to 3550, which are management, business, and financial occupations; computer, engineering, and science occupations; education, legal, community service, arts, and media occupations; and healthcare practitioners and technical occupations. It’s pretty close to what we used to call “managerial and professional” occupations. Together, these account for 37% of workers.

So each of these three variables identifies an upper/middle class status of about a third of people.

For lower class status, you can just reverse them. The except is income, which is in three categories. For that, I counted households as lower class if their household income was in the bottom third of the adjusted distribution. In the figures below, that means they’re neither middle/upper class nor lower class if they’re in the middle of the income distribution. This is easily adjusted.

Venn diagrams

You can make Venn diagrams in Stata using the pvenn2 add-on, which I naturally discovered after making these. If  you must know, made these by generating tables in Stata, downloading this free plotter app, entering the values manually, copying the resulting figures into Powerpoint and applying the text there, then printing them to PDF, and extracting the images from PDF using Photoshop. Not recommended workflow.

Here they are. I hope the visuals might help people think about for example, who they might get if they screened on just one of these variables, or how unusual someone is who has a high income or occupation but no BA, and so on. But draw your own conclusions (and feel free to modify the code and follow your own approach). Click to enlarge.

First middle/upper class:

Venn diagram of overlapping class definitions

Then lower class:

Venn diagram of overlapping class definitions.

I said draw your own conclusions, but please don’t draw the conclusion that I think this is the best way to define social class. That’s a whole different question. This is just about simply ways to select people to be research subjects. For other posts on social class, follow this tag, which includes this post about class self identification by income and race/ethnicity.

Data and code: osf.io/w2yvf/

Where preprints fit in, COVID-19 edition

I recorded a 16-minute talk on the scientific process, science communication, and how preprints fit in to the information ecosystem around COVID-19.

It’s called, “How we know: COVID-19, preprints, and the information ecosystem.” The video is on YouTube here, also embedded below, and the slides, with references, are up here.

Happy to have your feedback, in the comments or any other way.