Tag Archives: teaching

Race and racism in America (video)

In my Social Problems class we’re spending the next few weeks on race, racial inequality, and racial politics. Step one is this lecture on race and racism.

After a tangent on racial identity, idealism and its enemies, I address biology and race, describing the classic racist racial categories in relation to vast human diversity in Africa and the world overall, with discussion of biological evolution and the sources of human variation. Then I turn to the US and discuss social definition and self-definition, race versus ethnicity, definitions of racism and discrimination, and how the Census Bureau measures US race and ethnicity, before summarizing current and projected race/ethnic composition. And I used the new Zoom feature where your PowerPoint slides are the virtual background (which is harder than it looks because your image isn’t mirrored while you speak!).

It’s 35 minutes. The slides are here, CC-BY: osf.io/uafvp. To see all my videos, visit my YouTube channel.

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The COVID-19 economic crisis is increasing every kind of inequality (video)

I recorded a 25-minute lecture on the COVID-19 economic crisis, with emphasis on increasing inequalities, for my Social Problems class. The slides are posted here, CC-BY.

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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.

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Demographic facts your students need to know right now (with COVID-19 addendum)


PN Cohen photo / Flickr CC: https://flic.kr/p/2jw6stF

Here’s the 2020 update of a series I started in 2013. This year, after the basic facts, I’ll add some pandemic facts below.

Is it true that “facts are useless in an emergency“? I guess we’ll find out this year. Knowing basic demographic facts, and how to do arithmetic, lets us ballpark the claims we are exposed to all the time. The idea is to get your radar tuned to identify falsehoods as efficiently as possible, to prevent them spreading and contaminating reality. Although I grew up on “facts are lazy and facts are late,” I actually still believe in this mission, I just shake my head slowly while I ramble on about it (and tell the same stories over and over).

It started a few years ago with the idea that the undergraduate students in my class should know the size of the US population. Not to exaggerate the problem, but too many of them don’t, at least when they reach my sophomore level family sociology class. If you don’t know that fact, how can you interpret statements like, “The U.S. economy lost a record 20.5 million jobs in April“?

Everyone likes a number that appears to support their perspective. But that’s no way to run (or change) a society. The trick is to know the facts before you create or evaluate an argument, and for that you need some foundational demographic knowledge. This list of facts you should know is just a prompt to get started in that direction.

These are demographic facts you need just to get through the day without being grossly misled or misinformed — or, in the case of journalists or teachers or social scientists, not to allow your audience to be grossly misled or misinformed. Not trivia that makes a point or statistics that are shocking, but the non-sensational information you need to make sense of those things when other people use them. And it’s really a ballpark requirement (when I test the undergraduates, I give them credit if they are within 20% of the US population — that’s anywhere between 264 million and 396 million!).

This is only a few dozen facts, not exhaustive but they belong on any top-100 list. Feel free to add your facts in the comments (as per policy, first-time commenters are moderated). They are rounded to reasonable units for easy memorization. All refer to the US unless otherwise noted. Most of the links will take you to the latest data:

Number Source
World Population 7.7 billion 1
U.S. Population 330 million 1
Children under 18 as share of pop. 22% 2
Adults 65+ as share of pop. 17% 2
Official unemployment rate (July 2020) 10% 3
Unemployment rate range, 1970-2018 3.9% – 15% 3
Labor force participation rate, age 16+ 61% 9
Labor force participation rate range, 1970-2017 60% – 67% 9
Non-Hispanic Whites as share of pop. 60% 2
Blacks as share of pop. 13% 2
Hispanics as share of pop. 19% 2
Asians / Pacific Islanders as share of pop. 6% 2
American Indians as share of pop. 1% 2
Immigrants as share of pop 14% 2
Adults age 25+ with BA or higher 32% 2
Median household income $60,300 2
Total poverty rate 12% 8
Child poverty rate 16% 8
Poverty rate age 65+ 10% 8
Most populous country, China 1.4 billion 5
2nd most populous country, India 1.3 billion 5
3rd most populous country, USA 327 million 5
4th most populous country, Indonesia 261 million 5
5th most populous country, Brazil 207 million 5
U.S. male life expectancy at birth 76 6
U.S. female life expectancy at birth 81 6
Life expectancy range across countries 51 – 85 7
World total fertility rate 2.4 10
U.S. total fertility rate 1.7 10
Total fertility rate range across countries 1.0 – 6.9 10


1. U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock

2. U.S. Census Bureau quick facts

3. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. CIA World Factbook

6. National Center for Health Statistics

7. CIA World Factbook

8. U.S. Census Bureau poverty tables

9. Bureau of Labor Statistics

10. World Bank

COVID-19 Addendum: 21 more facts

The pandemic is changing everything. A lot of the numbers above may look different next year. Here are 21 basic pandemic facts to keep in mind — again, the point is to get a sense of scale, to inform your consumption of the daily flow of information (and disinformation). These are changing, too, but they are current as of August 31, 2020.

Global confirmed COVID-19 cases: 25 million

Confirmed US COVID-19 cases: 6 million

Second most COVID-19 cases: Brazil, 3.9 million

Third most COVID-19 cases: India, 3.6 million

Global confirmed COVID-19 deaths: 850,000

Confirmed US COVID-19 deaths: 183,000

Second most COVID-19 deaths: Brazil, 121, 000

Third most COVID-19 deaths: India: 65,000

Percent of U.S. COVID patients who have died: 3%

COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 Americans: 50

COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 non-Hispanic Whites: 43

COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 Blacks: 81

COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 Hispanics: 55

COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 Americans over age 65: 400

Annual deaths in the U.S. (these are for 2017): Total, 2.8 million

Leading cause of death: Heart disease, 650,000

Second leading cause: Cancer: 600,000

Third leading cause: Accidents: 160,000

Deaths from flu and pneumonia, 56,000

Deaths from suicide: 47,000

Deaths from homicide: 20,000


COVID-19 country data: Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center

U.S. cause of death data: Centers for Disease Control

U.S. age and race/ethnicity COVID-19 death data: Centers for Disease Control



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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



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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.


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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!


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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.


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Health disparities & COVID-19 lecture

For Social Problems, an introductory level sociological course, I gave a lecture that combines an introduction to health disparities and some issues of disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s 23 minutes. Some slides and links below.

The first half describes the theory of fundamental causes (as I understand it), and has some basic health disparities examples. Here are some graphs:

Then I apply some of the ideas to what we know about COVID-19 impacts, and likely problem areas. Here is some of that:

The PowerPoint slides, with references in the notes, is up here: https://osf.io/d4ym3/.


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Family violence and abuse lecture, with COVID pandemic discussion

I recorded a video lecture on the subject of family violence and abuse, including intimate partner violence, rape, and sexual abuse, with some discussion of the COVID pandemic implications.

The 24-minute video is on YouTube here:

Related pieces that came out after I recorded this:


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