110 posts categorized "Social Institutions: Work, Education, and Medicine"

October 17, 2014

Who is a Low Wage Earner?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The mayor of Los Angeles has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour in the city, and requested an analysis of the potential impact an increase would have on workers and businesses.  Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics produced a report and concluded that more than a half a million workers in the city would get a raise (those earning minimum wage and those earning below the proposed minimum wage).

The report provides a demographic profile on these low-wage workers. They comprise 37 percent of those earning wages in the private sector; 39 percent of women and 35 percent of men. The vast majority—83 percent—are persons of color.

Despite the widespread belief that most low-wage workers are teens earning extra spending money while attending school, in Los Angeles few of them are teens; 38 percent of low wage workers are in their twenties, nearly 22 percent are in their thirties, and 37 percent are over forty. The majority work full time, and 36 percent have children.

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October 06, 2014

Sociology, Murals, and Communities

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you seen any murals in your community? If so, do you know what they depict? Do you know the history behind them? Finding such murals can be a good exercise for your sociological imagination.

There is one mural right next door to my college: The Great Wall of Los Angeles. It is a half-mile long, located along the interior wall of the Los Angeles River – yes, our river runs within a concrete channel, built to control the unruly flow of water. With our current state of drought, however, we don’t have much water flowing so we can see the entire mural!

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September 15, 2014

Ebola and the Construction of Fear

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

No doubt you have heard about the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which received heightened attention in the news after three Americans working as missionaries in Liberia contracted the virus. The first two, diagnosed in mid-August, become the topic of debate when they were given an experimental drug and airlifted home to the U.S.

Some wondered why they received the drug, while thousands of those infected in Africa did not (it is currently considered experimental and apparently in very short supply). Others expressed concern that they would spread the disease in the U.S. and should have been treated in Liberia.

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September 03, 2014

The Unintended Manhattan Project Experiment

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Moving to a new place is always a challenge…but what about a place that is new to everybody?

During World War II, an interesting—an unintended—sociological experiment took place when a few communities were built from scratch during the top-secret development of the nuclear bomb. People relocated to these restricted areas from all around the country, turning what once were desolate or sparsely populated areas into thriving mini-cities. Scientists, secretaries, technicians, and other workers came, along with their children, wives, and husbands to work on “The Project,” and in the process, create a new, if short-lived community.

How do people create communities where none exists? And why do communities matter?

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July 29, 2014

The Never-Ending Beauty Shift

Peter rydzewskiBy Peter Rydzewski

Sociology Ph.D. student, University of Maryland

The idea that physical characteristics can be socially developed may be difficult to consider at first. According to Raewyn Connell, however, “bodies are both objects of social practice and agents in social practice” (p.67). This means that while most of our appearance is commonly attributed to gene composition and biological parents’ body characteristics, discussions about the power of gender expectations, although sometimes missed, continue to play a large role in the development of the way that we look.

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July 18, 2014

Collective Memory and the Danger of Forgetting

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago I wrote about the importance of collective memories following the centennial coverage of the sinking of the Titanic. Collective memories are societal-level memories, shared by regularly told stories, and are often events we might have intimate knowledge of even if we weren’t born when they occurred.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s “slow speed chase” and subsequent arrest. Why are these events part of our collective memories?

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June 20, 2014

Work, Autonomy and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It’s tempting to argue that summer break is the best time to be a college professor. We can work on other projects, have time to read and indulge in hobbies, and it’s easy to schedule a vacation when you have several months off.

Of course there are many challenges to this career too. Just as with any profession, there are pressures associated with deadlines, one’s workload, and as in any situation, you might encounter difficult people. And for all too many adjunct professors, summer break doesn’t exist. If it does, it means months without pay, as they typically get paid by the class, and they are often poorly paid as well. They seldom have time to work on research, to write and publish, or even to read if they are teaching multiple classes to get by.

For those with full-time employment, one thing that sets being a professor apart is the degree of autonomy that often comes with the position. This means having flexibility to make at least some choices about your work.

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June 03, 2014

Smoking and Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

People with higher levels of education are less likely to smoke cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 just 5.6 percent of those 25 and older with graduate degrees smoked—compared with nearly half (49 percent) of those with GEDs. More education correlates with less cigarette smoking across the educational spectrum: 25.1 percent for high school graduates, 23.3 percent of who attended college but earned no degree, and just 11.1 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees smoked.

Why such a consistent difference?

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May 23, 2014

Costumes: Special Occasions as Performance

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Recently, I received a package on my desk. It was a black gown with a decorative, brightly colored velvet hood and an oddly-shaped hat. There was no note, no explanation, but I knew what it was for.

In any other context, the arrival of an unusual outfit would be strange, maybe even disconcerting; it is not something I would personally have chosen to wear, as it is bulky and way too warm to wear in the late spring. I am expected to wear this outfit for our university’s commencement ceremonies, just as others on our faculty and around the country are.

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May 15, 2014

Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are about to graduate from college, or know someone who is, you may be feeling many things: excited, overwhelmed, stressed, proud, and uncertain, especially if you are not sure what you are going to do next.

For many soon-to-be graduates, this will be the end of a sixteen-year (or longer) journey. Participating in educational institutions all those years shapes the kinds of choices and goals that we make, whether we are conscious of it or not. Did you participate in extracurricular activities to boost your odds of admission to the university of your choice? Volunteer in order to qualify for a particular scholarship, as part of a service learning course, or because your fraternity or sorority encourages you to do so?

Continue reading "Graduation, Social Structure, and Anomie" »

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