Archive for: August, 2011

Why Variance Matters: Race, Education, and Income

Aug 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

Kelsey C. sent in a some great data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that helps illustrate why variance matters as much as a measure of the average.  The figure shows the median income by race and education level, as well as the typical earnings of each group’s members in the third quartile (or the 75th percentile) and first quartile (or the 25th percentile).  What you see is that the median earnings across these groups is different, but also that the amount of inequality within each group isn’t consistent.  That is, some groups have a wider range of income than others:


So, Asians are the most economically advantaged of all groups included, but they also have the widest range of income.  This means that some Asians do extremely well, better than many whites, but many Asians are really struggling.  In comparison, among Blacks and Hispanics, the range is smaller.  So the highest earning Blacks and Hispanics don’t do as well relative to the groups median as do Whites and Asians.

Likewise, dropping out of high school seems to put a cap on how much you can earn; as education increases it raises the floor, but it also raises the variance in income. This means that someone with a bachelors degree doesn’t necessarily make craploads of money, but they might.

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The Ubiquity of Gender Rules; Or, Do Lesbians Have to Love Cats?

Aug 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

In my Sociology of Gender course I talk about how gender conformity isn’t simply a matter of socialization, but often a response to active policing by others.  Single women usually avoid having too many cats, for example, not only because they’ve been taught that too many cats sends the wrong signal, but because they may be called a “cat lady” by their friends (a joke-y slur suggesting that she is or will be a batty old spinster).  Or her best friend, with her best interests in mind, may discourage her from adopting another cat because she knows what people think of “cat ladies.”

People who find community in subcultures that are seen as “alternative” to the “mainstream” often feel like they are freed of such rules.  But these subcultures often simply have different rules that turn out to be equally restrictive and are just as rigidly policed.

A recent submission to PostSecret, a site where people anonymously tell their secrets, reminded me of this.  In it a lesbian confesses that she hates cats.  Because of the stereotype that women love cats, the “cat lady” stigma may be lifted in lesbian communities.  This lesbian, however, doesn’t feel freed by the lifting of this rule, but instead burdened by its opposite: everyone has to like cats.  So she feels compelled to lie and say that she’s allergic.

Related, see our post on a confession, from another lesbian, about suppressing the fact that she’s really quite girly.

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"Tribal Princesses" at Toronto's 2011 Caribana Parade

Aug 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

A couple of days ago I posted a video at Sociological Images about stereotypes of Native Americans in video games, including the Hot Indian Princess. Though the video discussed video games specifically, these tropes are common in other area of pop culture as well. Dolores R. sent in a great example. Over at Beyond Buckskin, Jessica Metcalfe posted about the 2011 Caribana Parade in Toronto. This year the parade theme was Native America, including various sections such as Amazon Warriors, Lost City of the Aztecs, Brazilian Amerindians...and Tribal Princesses. Here's a Tribal Princess costume provided by one band, Callaloo (it's now sold out):

Jessica Metcalfe posted other costumes, such as the Native Apache:

A commenter on Metcalfe’s post takes exception with criticisms of these costumes and the parade theme, saying,

[This is a] celebration of historic alliances between African Diaspora peoples and Native peoples. In New Orleans, the tradition was a specific response to racist laws that placed Native and other POC communities in a common frame of reference. This tradition is almost 200 years old among Caribbean/Diaspora people in North America…you are making a tremendous mistake by attacking a part of Afro-Caribbean culture as if this was the same as an expression of White/Euro privilege.

So the argument is that this can’t be problematic cultural appropriation or propagation of the sexualized Indian Princess trope because it is part of an event meant to celebrate and recognize the histories and cultures of groups that have themselves been the target of discrimination and political/cultural exclusion. Certainly there is an important cultural and historical context there that, the commenter argues, distinguishes these costumes from, say, the current fad of “tribal” clothing in fashion.

And yet, that argument seems to discursively claim a right to represent Native Americans in any way without being subject to criticisms of stereotyping or cultural appropriation. For instance, the Apache were not a Caribbean tribe (though the Lipan Apache moved far into southeastern Texas by the late 1700s, coming into regular contact with Texas Gulf tribes). Does this sexualized “Apache” costume, as imagined by non-Apaches and sold to the general public, differ greatly from other appropriations and representations of Native American culture and identity as fashion statement?

This feels a little like a different version of the “But we’re honoring you!” argument used in efforts to defend Native American sports mascots — that any concern the viewer has is only due to their lack of understanding of the reason for the depiction of Native Americans, not because that depiction might be, in fact, problematic.

Cross-posted at Sociological Images.

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(Young) (Male) Americans Prefer Boy Children

Aug 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

In a previous post I’ve argued against framing a preference for boy children as “culturally Asian.” New data from Gallup, sent in by Kari B., shows that this preference is alive and well among Americans, at least among young men.  While women are most likely to have no opinion and about equally likely to prefer a girl or boy, men are significantly more likely to prefer a boy.  This preference is strongest among younger men, but still present among men over 50.  Whereas women become increasingly indifferent with age and, secondarily, begin to prefer girls.

The editors at CNN note that, since children are mostly born to young people, and indifferent women may bend to men’s preferences, new sex selection technologies threaten to create a gender imbalance in the U.S.

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Lifetime Earnings Gaps, by Sex and Race/Ethnicity

Aug 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Dolores R. and Andrew S. let us know about the report “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings,” by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, based on 2007-2009 American Community Survey data (via Feministing and Kay Steiger). Not surprisingly, higher education significantly increases lifetime earnings of U.S. workers:

But education doesn’t pay off equally for all groups. Women, not surprisingly, make less at every level of education than men do; in fact, their median lifetime earnings are generally on par with men a couple of rungs down the educational ladder:

Ah, but, you might think, women are more likely to take time out of the workforce than men, so perhaps that accounts for the difference. But the gaps calculated here are only for full-time, year-round workers and do not include periods out of the workforce — that is, this is the “best-case scenario” in terms of comparing gender earnings, and yet women still make about 25% less than men at the same educational level. When they include workers taking time out of the workforce, the pay gap would be significantly larger. The far right column in this table shows how much less women make compared to men based on the “typical” work pattern for workers in each educational category:

The benefits of education also vary by race and ethnicity, with non-Hispanic Whites generally making more at each educational level than all other groups, though Asians outearn them at the highest levels:

Though the authors don’t include a table showing the gap if you include workers who do not work full-time year-round throughout their careers, they state that as with gender, the gap widens significantly, since non-Whites are more likely to experience periods without work.

So does education pay? Undoubtedly, for all groups. But due to factors such as occupational segregation (especially by gender) and discrimination in the workplace, the return on an educational investment is clearly a lot higher for some than others.

Also see related posts on the gender gap in science and tech jobs, racial differences in job loss during the recession, unemployment among Black and White college grads, and trends in job segregation by sex.

Cross-posted at Sociological Images.

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Are Kids Watching Internet Porn?

Aug 10 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

The introduction of the internet has made pornography more easily available than any time in modern history.  Responding to this development, some have worried that adolescents are looking at and watching porn, and plenty of it.

Is this true?

Drawing on a telephone survey of 1,500 youth, Janis Wolak and colleagues present some data giving us a clue.  They find that less than half (42%) of 10- to 17-year-old internet users had seen online pornography in the last year.  Most of them that had, further, had not sought it out.  The majority (66%) had come across the pornography by accident (e.g., they had entered a porn site without meaning to, been emailed an explicit image, or seen a pop up).

The image below shows unwanted and wanted exposure to pornography for boys as they age.  Only 1% of the boys 10- to 11-years-old had sought out pornography, by 12-13 about one in ten have done so, and by 16-17 over 1/3rd have (38%).  Unwanted pornography is a problem for boys of all ages. Seventeen percent of boys 10-11 encountered unwanted porn and this number increased as the boys aged.

Few girls seek out pornography: 2% of 10- 11-year-olds had sought out pornography, rising to 8% by 16-17.  Girls have the same problem with unwanted exposure to pornography; it happens about as frequently as it does for boys among 10- 13-year-olds and even more often among 14- 17-year-olds.

So there’s some data.  Whether it justifies the hand-wringing is for you to debate in the comments.


Source: Wolak, Janis, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor. 2007. Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users. Pediatrics119, 2: 247-257.

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Luxury and the Consumption of Labor

Aug 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

I came across this fascinating poster advertising tea at The Coffee Bean in Irvine. The ad features tea leaves balled up into small tea “pearls” and spilled into a person’s palm (text and analysis below):


Three minutes to fragrant perfection.

It takes a full day to hand-roll 17 ounces of our Jasmine Dragon Pearl Green Tea. But in just three minutes you can watch these aromatic pearls unfurl gracefully into one of the world’s most soothing and delicious teas.

This ad suggests that others’ toil should enhance one’s experience of pleasure. The fact that it takes a significant amount of human labor to “hand-roll” tea leaves into balls — an action that is in no way asserted to change the taste of the tea — is supposed to make the tea more appealing and not less. We are supposed to enjoy not just the visual, but the fact that others worked hard to produce it for us. A whole day of their labor for just three minutes of curly goodness.

This is a rather stunning value pervading U.S. culture. Luxury may be defined not only as pleasure, or as the consumption of the scarce, but as the “unfurling” of others’ hard work. What could be more luxurious than the casual-and-fleeting enjoyment of the hard-and-long labor of others?

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What to Do with All the Pretty Horses?

Aug 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Mustangs are powerful symbols of the American West. The modern mustang is the descendant of various breeds of horses taken by everyone from Spanish conquistadors to pioneers in wagon trains into the Western U.S., where some inevitably escaped over time and formed herds of feral horses (wild herds in the eastern part of the U.S. were generally either driven west or recaptured over time as the frontier moved ever westward, the wild ponies of Assateague Island off the coast of Virginia being a famous exception). Over time, they became inextricably entwined with perceptions of the West as still wild and free, not yet fully domesticated. The image of a herd of beautiful horses running across a gorgeous but austere Western landscape is a striking one, perhaps something like this (via):

So how do we get from that to this next image of mustangs running...after a feed truck in Oklahoma?


It's a complicated story involving conflicts surrounding federal land management, public attitudes toward mustangs, and unintended consequences of public policies.

Wild horses fall under the purview of the federal Bureau of Land Management, since most live on public range (particularly in Nevada, California, and Idaho, as well as Washington, Wyoming, and other Western states). Mustangs have no natural predators in the West; mountain lions, bears, wolves, and so on certainly kill some horses each year, but their numbers simply aren't large enough to be a systematic form of population control for wild horse herds, especially given that horses aren't necessarily their first choice for a meal. So wild horse herds can grow fairly rapidly, despite die-offs due to disease, droughts, and so on. Currently the BLM estimates there are about 33,000 wild horses and 5,500 wild burros on BLM land in the West.

Of course, managing wild horses is one small part of the BLM's mission. The agency is tasked with balancing various uses of federal lands, including everything from resource extraction (such as mining and logging), recreational uses for the public, grazing range for cattle ranchers, wildlife habitat conservation, preservation of archeological and historical sites, providing water for irrigation as well as residential use, and many, many more. And many of these uses conflict to some degree. Setting priorities among various potential uses of BLM land has, over time, become a very contentious process, as different groups battle, often through the courts, to have their preferred use of BLM land prioritized over others.

I'm not going to go into a history of these conflicts or arguments for or against different uses of public lands. The important point here is that managing wild horse numbers is part, but only a small part, of the BLM's job. They decide on the carrying capacity of rangeland --- that is, how many wild horses it can sustainably handle --- by taking into account competing uses, like how many cattle will be allowed on the same land, its use as wildlife habitat, possible logging or mining activities, and so on. And much of the time, the BLM concludes that given their balance of intended uses, there are too many horses.

So what does the BLM do when they've decided there are too many horses? For many years, the BLM had simply allowed them to be killed; private citizens had a more or less free pass to kill them. There wasn't a lot of oversight regarding how many could be killed or the treatment of the horses during the process. Starting in the late 1950s, the BLM began to get negative press, and a movement to protect wild horses emerged. It culminated in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed in 1971. The law didn't ban killing wild horses, but it provided some protection for them and required the BLM to ensure humane treatment, guarantee the presence of wild horses on public lands, and encourage other methods of disposing of excess horses.

One such method is making such horses (and burros) available to the general public for adoption. The BLM holds periodic adoption events. However, currently the demand for these animals isn't nearly large enough to absorb the supply. For instance, in 2010, 9,715 wild horses were removed from public lands, while 2,742 were adopted.

So the BLM is removing more horses than the public adopts individually. Killing them has become increasingly unpopular. Controlling herd populations through some form of birth control hasn't been widely implemented and has led to lawsuits.

This is how thousands of wild horses ended up on private land in Oklahoma and other states. The BLM began paying private citizens to care for mustangs removed from public lands. Here's a news segment about one of these operations near where I grew up (available here if it's not showing up):

The ranch in that video is owned by the Drummond family...a name that might ring a bell if you're familiar with the incredibly popular website The Pioneer Woman, by Ree Drummond. They are just one of several ranching families in the area that have received contracts to care for wild horses.

But this brings a whole new set of controversies, as well as unintended consequences for the region. Federal payments for the wild horse and burro maintenance program are public information. A quick look at the federal contracts database shows that in just the first three financial quarters of 2009, the Drummonds (a large, multi-generational ranching family) received over $1.6 million. Overall, 57% of the BLM budget for managing wild horses goes to paying for holding animals that have been removed from public lands, either in short-term situations before adoptions or in long-term contracts like the ones in Oklahoma. There are increasing complaints about the amount of federal money being spent to care for horses on private land.

At the local level, these contracts have impacted surrounding communities in often unanticipated ways. This is an enormous source of income, one that hasn't been subject to the same risks as raising cattle. The price is guaranteed in advance. While there are certainly start-up costs involved, this area of Oklahoma is used for cattle ranching and so pastures are already fenced, corrals exist (though perhaps not to the specifications of the BLM), and the contracting families generally continue to run cattle while setting some acreage aside for the wild horses.

But this income-generating opportunity isn't available to everyone; generally only the very largest landowners get a chance. From the BLM's perspective, it's much easier and more efficient to contract with one operation to take 2,000 horses than to contract with 20 separate people to take 100 each. So almost all small and mid-size operations are shut out of the contracts. This has led to an inflow of federal money to operations that were already quite prosperous by local standards. These landowners then have a significant advantage when it comes to trying to buy or lease pastures that become available in the area; other ranchers have almost no chance of competing with the price they can pay. The result is more concentration of land ownership as small and medium-sized ranchers, or those hoping to start up a ranch from scratch, are priced out of the market.

The future of this program isn't certain. It is coming under increasing criticism because of the costs. There are ongoing criticisms of the process of rounding up horses to have them shipped to Oklahoma and other states. Billionaire Madeleine Pickens wants her Nevada ranch to become a mustang sanctuary, but it could hold only a tiny proportion of animals removed from BLM land. And so the conflicts about how to manage the wild horse population in the Western states, and what to do with those that are removed, continue, with no resolution in sight.

Cross-posted at Sociological Images.

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Framing Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse (Trigger Warning)

Aug 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

fds sent us a link to a set of “extreme” ads.  One of them was an Italian ad designed to draw attention to the seriousness of child sexual abuse.  I’ve placed it after the jump because it is VERY disconcerting.  My comments may be quite provocative as well.

Continue Reading »

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Fox Calls Obama's Birthday Party a "Hip Hop BBQ"

Aug 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She blogs every day at Sociological Images.

So it’s racist, right, to say that the presence of a handful of black people makes a BBQ a “hip-hop BBQ”?  Yes.  And yet that is exactly what the folks at Fox Nation, a Fox-affiliated content-aggregator, did on Friday.

So… let’s see… Obama has a birthday party and invites a whole lotta people — mostly white people but, like, some black people too  – and Fox Nation calls it a “hip hop BBQ.”  As Salon put it: “Black people! Hip-hop!”  They listened to MUSIC! From, like, the United States Marine Band and Stevie Wonder.

In addition to the bold-faced racism (“err, it’s so weird to have black people there; I bet they’re doin’ scary black stuff!”), this tactic is outright deceptive.  Back in 2009, Media Matters’ John Delicath wrote that Fox Nation “craft[s] inflammatory and widely misleading headlines for links to articles by news organizations whose content contradicts the Fox headline.”  Indeed. None of the stories that are linked to in this post — from Politico, theChicago Sun Times, and ABC — are stories about how Obama’s party was over-run by blackness.  But by linking to these sources with an invented headline, Fox Nation attempts to borrow their authoritativeness for its own nefarious project.  If nothing else, it suggests a degree of contempt for their readers, who they either think are just as racist as they are, or aren’t smart enough to read past the picture.

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