Friday, August 31, 2012

single and unequal

This post was written by Paul Dean and originally appeared in The Sociological Cinema

In this video, The New York Times notes that "as a single mother of three, Jessica Schairer falls in the middle of a sharp debate about how economic inequality is increasingly linked to changes in family structure" (see accompanying article and infographic). Through Jessica's story as a working class mother, it illustrates how family structure can exacerbate already existing class inequalities. Jessica explains her stress trying to raise her children as a single parent, including the difficulties of getting home and needing to meet the needs of children and her inability to pay for all the activities her children would like to do. This is contrasted with her married supervisor at work, who is able to rely on a partner when going home from work. The narrator notes that like Jessica's supervisor, college-educated people are more likely to marry and that their combined resources help provide an additional advantage in raising their income, which provides additional advantages conferred to their children. The narrator also notes that "many children of single parents flourish, but studies have shown that on average, children raised by single parents are more likely to fall into poverty, do poorly in school, or become teenage parents." The accompanying article provides many additional statistics. For example, it notes that "estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality." Viewers can be encouraged to consider how class and family structure intersect to shape intergenerational economic inequality, and how low-income workers face more job-related difficulties in meeting family needs as compared to salaried professional workers.

Image by Stephen Crowley/New York Times

Friday, August 3, 2012

do men really earn more than women?

This entry was written by Lester Andrist and originally posted at The Sociological Cinema.

A few months ago, sociologist Phillip Cohen blogged about a feminist viral statistic meme, which claims that women own less than 1% of all the world's wealth. It turns out, a credible source for this figure can't be traced and is unlikely to exist. As Cohen's post reminds us, the very statistics that shape how we understand the world are sometimes little more than elaborately disguised rumors. So what about other influential statistics? What about that viral statistic which states that women earn about 77 cents for every dollar men earn? When people have denied gender inequality exists and when they have implied it is unnecessary to enact policies aimed at eradicating it, the 77-cent statistic has often come to the rescue and thwarted derailment, so whether the statistic is accurate is an important question. In the above clip, Republican Party strategist Alex Castellanos asserts the 77-cent statistic is untrue. Could it be just another viral statistic meme without a source? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that 77 cents is an average, and the number varies based on profession, age, and race. The 77-cent statistic can easily be traced to a respectable source--the Census Bureau (the U.S. Bureau of Labor calculates the number differently and arrives at about 81 cents on the male dollar). The point is society needs an accurate description of the world, lest our dominant understanding of the world become solely derived from eloquently stated assertions by elites with narrow interests. In part, this clip makes a good case for the potential importance of sociology, and in particular, a sociology that checks its sources. It is also important to have a sociology that is capable of setting the record straight, if only to rebuke those talking heads who seek to confuse the public with baseless assertions. In this clip, Alex Castellanos' baseless assertion begins at about the 7:35 mark.