Marriage, Emoticons and Dual Citizenship

thinking twice about marriage

Love may never go out of style, but the added benefits of healthy married life may be a thing of the past, a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (September 2008) suggests.

Getting married has long been thought to improve couples’ health because pooling resources and support systems often sustains healthier lifestyles. Some of us also tend to ditch the bachelorhood fare of instant noodles and eat better when we couple up.

According to Hui Liu and Debra J. Umberson, however, these marriage benefits have become less significant over time. Examining self-reported health surveys from 1972 to 2003, they found the health gaps between married and never-married groups have shrunk considerably. Particularly for men, marriage today may provide little advantage over bachelorhood.

A partial explanation is the simple fact that single people are living healthier lives with better diets and regular exercise than did their elder counterparts. Although getting married may still be a healthy thing to do, the benefits of doing so may not go above and beyond being single and active.

Moreover, the study found divorces have not only become more common today, but the ill-effects of dissolving a marriage have become much more severe.

Of all the reasons to fall in love, it seems improving your health may not be one of them. For that, joining a gym might suffice. A.B.

thinking thrice about marriage

Americans have experienced significant gains in income and material wealth over the last several decades, yet many report being less happy today than ­previous generations.

Theories about the diminishing returns of our fast-paced, consumer-based lifestyles abound, but Jason Schnittker (Social Psychology Quarterly, September 2008) says money alone­hasn’t been responsible for our emotional undoing. Our feelings about marriage have changed, too, and may account for the apparent happiness downturn.

Using data from the General Social Survey over 30 years, Schnittker illustrated that married people are less happy now than 30 years ago. Curiously, this pattern held true for both unhappily married individuals as well as those reporting overall satisfaction with their relationships.

Controlling for this peculiar “marriage effect,” Schnittker argues relative happiness may not have declined at all since the 1970s, and may have actually increased since the 1990s.

That is, growing wealth likely increased general feelings of happiness but changes in the institution of marriage and its significance for our lives have had the opposite effect. A.B.

to :–) or not to :–)?

E-mail is supposed to make communication easier, but it backfires when our sarcasm gets misinterpreted as earnestness, our witty jokes as personal insults, and our matter-of-factness as indifference.

After studying the e-mail interactions of a tech-savvy research panel for 18 months, Daniel Menchilik and Xialio Tian (American Journal of Sociology, September 2008) found that miscommunications arise largely because the reader lacks the proper context.

In face-to-face interactions, we can easily pick up on cues that help us communicate effectively—the tone of a conversation, the moods of participants, and their immediate personal reactions to our statements. But in the faceless, silent world of e-mail, such information is missing, leading to misinterpretations of meanings and intentions.

To avoid these problems, the authors found e-mail users employ techniques for creating context where none exists. That includes, for example, the use of emoticons and CAPS versus lowercase letters, and adding personal information about themselves.

So, smiley faces and exclamation points aren’t just cutesy ways to personalize our online communications, they’re essential techniques for communicating effectively over e-mail. D.W.

portuguese prisons a neighborhood affair

When anthropologist Manuela Ivone P. da Cunha (Ethnography, September 2008) returned to a Portuguese women’s penitentiary for a follow-up study, she found life behind bars looked radically different than it had only a decade earlier.

Instead of individual women being randomly placed, she observed as many as four generations of family members—as well as next-door neighbors and close friends—often imprisoned together.

After a year exploring this shift, da Cunha found that over the previous few years law enforcement had focused more heavily on retail drug trafficking in poor neighborhoods. As well, in Portugal, the risky business of street-level drug sales had developed along close-knit, trustworthy kinship, and neighborhood ties. These two factors came together to make imprisonment in Portugal a distinctively neighborhood affair. 

This shift fundamentally altered the experience of incarceration for many inmates. While time in prison used to be experienced as a “time apart” in which inmates developed new relationships, identities, and lives, many now find that family and friends have been imprisoned along with them, for better or for worse.

da Cunha’s findings help us understand the local effects of mass incarceration and ponder the wider conse­quences of stepping up the global war on drugs. In the effort to get drugs out of neighborhoods, it seems, we may be putting entire neighborhoods in prison. D.W.

stripping bad for women after all

Some feminists have argued that stripping actually empowers women because it defies social conventions by putting sex on display, and then women pocket the cash. But Sheila Jeffreys (Signs, Autumn 2008) argues this is a romantic portrayal of a demeaning and dangerous job.

Most strippers work as independent contractors—which means they pay a stage fee to club owners for the privilege of dancing—and many struggle to make more than $100 a night. Despite their “independent” status, club managers set the price for private dances, determine when women can use the restroom, and often fine dancers for calling in sick or talking back to patrons. 

The pressure to make money in the face of all these regulations and fees can lead dancers to engage in practices such as lap dancing, prostitution, and private dances, where they have a more difficult time protecting themselves from sexual abuse, Jeffreys found. And none of this, the author says, is improved by the fact that much of the industry is controlled by organized crime.

So tell us again what was empowering about all that? M.K.

the economics of the attitude gap

If you’ve ever thought the economy influences attitudes toward gays and lesbians, you may be on to something. Robert Andersen and Tina Fetner (American Journal of Political Science, October 2008) have found that rich countries tend to be more accepting of sexual minorities.

Economic development alone, however, doesn’t lead to less negative attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. It has little impact on working class people’s attitudes, although it engenders more positive attitudes among middle and professional classes. Economic inequality, in other words, exacerbates this attitude gap.

The authors suggest high levels of inequality undermine social trust overall, leading to negative attitudes toward a variety of minority groups, including sexual minorities. 

Anderson and Fetner suggest economic policies such as progressive taxation, like those in more liberal social democratic states, may encourage more tolerance among all classes. T.O.

moving has drawbacks

Americans move pretty often. In fact, 14 percent of us change residences yearly. While previous research has examined how rates of moving affect crime rates in communities, few scholars have looked at the impact of the movement of individual households.

Min Xie and David McDowall (Criminology, August 2008) use data from the annual National Crime Survey to examine how the odds of victimization increase both as people move from one dwelling to another and as dwellings change occupants.

In an individual residence, a household with newer occupants is more likely to be victimized than one with longer-term residents, they found. Within the same neighborhood, houses with more residential turnover are more likely to be victimized than those with stable residents. Finally, their work revealed, neighborhoods with higher levels of residential turnover have higher overall risks of victimization.

Xie and McDowall argue their findings support the “crime opportunity” theory, which holds that crime requires not only a motivated offender but a suitable target that isn’t properly monitored. By understanding how residential turnover leads to greater opportunities for crime, they suggest, neighborhood crime prevention can be improved by better integrating a community’s newest residents. J.S.G.W.

ladies night at the county lock-up

Drunken driving rates in the United States overall have fallen steadily in the past 25 years, but the gap between men’s and women’s arrest rates is narrowing as more women are arrested for driving under the influence.

Sociologists argue this must be due to one of two factors—either more women are driving drunk or the criminal justice system is paying more attention to female drunken drivers. Jennifer Schwartz and Bryan D. Rookey (Criminology, August 2008) use self-reported, traffic, and arrest data to test these competing hypotheses.

They found the criminal justice system is indeed paying more attention to women’s drinking and driving habits. While both self-report and non-arrest traffic data indicate men and women are driving drunk far less than in the past, the arrest rate for men is decreasing much faster than it is for women.

Changing definitions of what constitutes drunken driving seem to be responsible for the narrowing gender gap. As many states have lowered the blood-alcohol content threshold required for arrest, an unintended consequence has been sanctioning more women, who tend to commit less serious DUI offenses. J.S.G.W.

hooligans not just drunken idiots

Although rioting and fighting among spectators may appear to be alcohol-induced male aggression, deeper social forces underlie this raucous fanaticism.

In a study of violence at Dutch soccer matches, Robert Braun and Rens Vliegenthart (International Sociology, November 2008) move away from previous conceptions of fan violence as irrational and disorganized. Instead, they see hooliganism as a form of collective action akin to political protests and revolutions.

The authors measured the social climate within which violent incidents occurred, accounting for variables that extend beyond the sports arena. They found media coverage of recent bouts between fans increased violence, as did aggressive play on the field and unemployment among males ages 18 to 24, the core hooligan demographic. The soccer hooligan’s seemingly disorderly behavior actually fluctuates in relation to social factors, just like other social protestors.

For soccer hooligans, it appears, collective rowdiness functions to humiliate rivals, draw attention to economic and regional backgrounds, and express frustration with social conditions. J.S.

the times, they are a changin’

A surprising new study by Val Burris (Social Problems, November 2008) reveals that in at least one area of political engagement—war—young people today are more active than their Vietnam-era counterparts. 

Burris uses data from the American National Elections Study, CBS News/New York Times polls, and ABC News/Washington Post polls to examine public opinion on war from 1964 until 2006. He found that women and people of color have always resisted sending troops to foreign nations in an offensive strike, wealthy people persist in their support of tough military action, and people with more education continue to be less likely to support war.

However, it’s young people whose opinions have altered over the last four decades—they’ve become more critical of military action. According to Burris, movies have made today’s youth more aware of the horrors of war and teens today face less pro-war propaganda in schools and on television. Encouraged by the anti-war student demonstrations of the 1960s, they now think it’s “normal” for young people to protest military action. Together these factors have added up to an increasingly critical younger population, Burris found.

Apparently, today’s young people, far from apathetic, are learning from the past, while other groups continue to rally around the flag in the same way they always have. K.H.

the great migration … south

U.S. history classes teach about “The Great Migration” of African Americans north following the Civil War. But recent scholarship now points to an exodus from the north back to the south.

A new article by Larry L. Hunt, Matthew O. Hunt, and William W. Falk (Social Forces, September 2008) confirms this reverse migration, which qualitative researchers began to notice in the 1990s.

The authors examined census data from 1970 to 2000 and compared white and black migration. They found that, in spite of its reputation for intolerance, the south is a magnet for a diverse group of people.

Young single people of all races are moving to Dixie to reconnect with extended kin, find employment, and seek potential spouses. And, as of late, increasing numbers of blacks have followed this pattern.

The authors suggest these migrants may also be in on a well-kept secret: the south has the highest numbers of black political office holders and has seen recent increases in black wealth. 

While the south may not be the promised land the north was once thought to be, it does appear young people of color perceive greater opportunities there than ever before. K.H.

i pledge allegiance to the flags

Citizenship has been a way for states to mark who “belongs” and who “doesn’t,” but dual citizenship changes the rules of the game, blowing open the idea of a state as a closed territory with a clearly defined homogenous citizenry. 

In her analysis of dual citizenship legislation in 115 countries, Tanja Brøndsted Sejersen (International Migration Review, Autumn 2008) found only a handful of countries allowed dual citizenship in the 1950s, while today nearly half the analyzed countries do. And, these changes in legal status are a contemporary phenomenon—most of the increase has been since the 1990s.

Asia and the Middle East are much less open to dual citizenship (just 23 percent of countries allow it) than Europe or the Americas (where more than 60 percent of countries do), but Sejersen thinks the dual citizenship wave may be spreading just as the idea of citizenship radiated from Europe in earlier centuries. 

Globalization is part of the story—global migration, the increase of strong transnational communities, international trade, and the decrease in interstate violence all help explain the legal recognition of multiple national identities. Individual states increasingly want to create or maintain stronger ties to those who emigrated and now live abroad, and some states also want to increase political participation of immigrants living within their borders. Territorial boundaries, it seems, may matter less in the 21st century. 

Dual citizenship raises questions of both personal identity and public policy; even so, pledging allegiance to more than one flag just may become the norm. S.G.

africa’s brain gain

Having lived outside their home countries helps well-educated African workers land a job, according to Kevin J.A. Thomas (International Migration Review, Autumn 2008).

Using Ugandan census data, Thomas found that Africans educated at foreign colleges and universities were twice as likely to be employed than equally educated Ugandans who never left their homeland. Foreign-educated Ugandans were also three times more likely to be employed than foreign-born immigrants in Uganda. Even returning migrants with vocational training are more likely to be employed than Ugandans who’ve stayed put or foreign-born immigrants. 

And, it’s not just having migrated that matters. Staying overseas for a longer period of time also helps improve the chances of finding employment. 

This job market advantage may contribute to return-migration patterns, leading to a “brain gain” that could enhance economic development of African nations like Uganda. A warm welcome home, indeed. S.G.

way too cool for school

Homework is just so passé for some teenage boys, especially those in poorer neighborhoods and schools. Understanding why this is the case, according to Edward W. Morris (Gender & Society, December 2008), helps better explain the well-known gender gap in education whereby girls tend to get higher grades, go to college more often, and aspire to higher status jobs than boys.

In interviews, Morris found that boys in rural Appalachian Ohio took pride in their lack of academic effort, instead valuing “common sense” and “working with your hands.” They also reveled in demonstrations of physical power and risk, and considered the term “redneck” a positive identity embodying these traits. Booksmarts was considered feminine, and Morris observed that boys who studied and worked hard in school were on the receiving end of insults intended to strip them of their masculinity. 

Morris contends the gender gap in education may emerge in underprivileged communities—whether rural or urban—because boys are seeking the means to prove their manhood when perceived opportunities for upward mobility and economic security are limited. T.O.

multiculturalism in south america

In the United States “multiculturalism” can mean anything from ethnic dances and identity politics to affirmative action and redistributive economics. And debates over the application of these meanings are often contested and consequential. So what happens when this term is exported?

Over the last few decades, pressure from international organizations and grassroots activists has pushed governments in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru to address historic racial and ethnic challenges under the guise of multiculturalism. Specific policies include recognizing ethnic and lingual diversity, affirming indigenous groups’ autonomy, and redefining “citizen” from an economic standpoint (campesino or poor farmer) to a cultural one (indigenous).

Felipe Arocena (Race and Class, October 2008) compared each government’s evolving efforts. He found that these new policies have not only employed minorities, they have, in combination with legacies of discrimination, given afro-movements in Brazil and indigenous movements in Bolivia and Peru the opportunity to re-evaluate their national identity. In some cases indigenous movements have even called for the creation of a new and separate state for themselves.

To Brazilian, Bolivian, and Peruvian administrations, the difficulty of multiculturalist policies lies in giving rights and opportunities to historically marginalized groups while maintaining a unified nation. How political leaders deal with the diverse and changing power dynamics will determine whether their countries stay unified or balkanize along racial lines. R.A.