February 04, 2013

Revisiting Research

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

The journal Social Forces has published many classic studies in sociology in its ninety year history. To celebrate,the publisher has offered free public access. Even better, each of these articles has updates or reflection articles from the original authors.

While new research is always being pursued, it is important to realize that classic work still has an important contribution to make – that’s why you end up reading so much of it in sociology classes. On the other hand, it is important not to just accept the older work as consistently applicable but to reflect, reassess, reapply the findings to see if they retain their power of explanation. If the findings are no longer as relevant, we can  learn about how life has changed or what the research might have missed, created as it is rooted in a particular time and place.

I invite you to check out a pair of articles – the original and the reflection – to learn more about society and also how the research process works. 

For example, I took a closer look at the Bianchi et al. article, “Is Anyone Doing the Housework?” and its reflection, “Housework: Who Did, Does or Will Do It and How Much Does It Matter?”

The original article looked at housework to explore the domestic aspects of gender inequality. The reflection piece updates their data analysis, through 2009-2010 presenting a longer period of time to asses domestic chores and gender. Women are still doing more core housework than men. Sigh.

However, the authors note that by only looking at housework we may be missing much of the unpaid work in the home. Childcare and the relationship between housework and childcare compared to paid or market work are identified as important factors that help us understand gender inequality.

Their new data analysis includes a focus on mothers and fathers, not just men and women, and the additional issue of childcare highlights how caring for family members itself affects how much time people spend doing household work.

The new analysis shows that women’s market (paid) work and unpaid household work are inversely related (the more a woman works outside the home, the less housework she does) while the same 800px-Age-of-Iron_Man-as-he-Expects-to-Be_1869does not hold true for men. They also find that mothers and fathers have different patterns than men and women in general. Parenting is an important variable in understanding the amount of work one does at home.

As the authors say  it’s important to consider contextual factors, not just individual or couple-level factors. Factors like global full time employment of women, publicly funded childcare, maternal leave, and egalitarian gender attitudes gives are central to understanding housework in a cross cultural context. All of these societal factors affect gender inequality, housework and childcare work hours.

It is interesting to note that the original research retains its importance but the updated reflection gives the original analysis more nuances and explanatory power. It also highlights the importance and ongoing contribution of replication and continuing research.

Over time people change, it may feel like society is changing, yet trends may remain the same or change – but we won’t know that without doing research! Again. And again.

What other classic studies do you think might reveal different—or surprisingly similar—results if repeated today? This question is the first step in designing a new study and often motivates researchers to revisit their own, or someone else’s data.

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Another great post, I appreciate all the work you put into this site, helping out others with your fun and creative works.

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