August 30, 2019

Sociological Bits of Knowledge

Todd Schoepflin author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

My sociological mind is racing with excitement for the new school year. Whether you’re beginning college, going back to college, graduated from college, or never been to college, here are some useful sociological bits of knowledge:

  1. Not all young people are Millennials! The term “Millennial” has caught on as an umbrella term for anyone under 30. But the birth years for the millennial generation are 1981-1996, currently including 23-year-olds to 38-year-olds. Those who were born from 1997-2012 belong to a different generation. For a while, Pew Research was temporarily using the term ‘post-Millennial’ until something else caught on, and has settled on “Generation Z” for people who are currently in the age range of 7-22.
  2. Did you know that the teen birth rate is at a record low? Data have been collected for births to 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds for nearly 100 years. In 2018, the birth rate was 18 births per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15-19. In 1940, it was 54 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15-19. The birth rate decline in recent years is attributed to many factors, notably the use of effective contraception. Keep in mind that empowering information about sex and contraception is available to anyone with access to the Internet. And while people might be inclined to think that the show Teen Mom glorifies teen pregnancy, it actually has gotten credit for contributing to birth rate declines. Note that abortion rates have also declined in the past several years.
  3. Megan Rapinoe and three of her teammates on the 2019 World Cup championship team were sociology majors. The women’s team is fighting for pay equal to the men’s team. Another well-known sociology major is Stephen Curry, recently in the news for helping to fund the golf program at Howard University. Many prominent people have majored in sociology, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Michelle Obama, and Ronald Reagan.
  4. Bud Light is the best selling beer in the U.S. But corporate brands of beer have declined in popularity, one reason being the rise of craft beers. There’s an interesting study about craft beer revealing gender bias. Participants had lower expectations for the taste and quality of beer they thought was brewed by women. If you’re curious about the sociology of wine, check out the work of John Germov, a sociologist who studies wine production and consumption.
  5. Millions of Americans depend on tips to earn a living, and most of them are women. There’s an excellent piece just published in Time that digs into the working life of people in the service industry. Food service jobs have grown substantially in the past few decades, while higher-paying manufacturing jobs have declined. As the article points out, sexual harassment is a common experience for women who work in the restaurant industry.
  6. Gun suicide rates and gun murder rates have increased in recent years. Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. died from gun related injuries in 2017. Suicides accounted for 60% of gun deaths in the U.S. in 2017. Alaska was the state with the highest rate of gun-related deaths in 2017, while Hawaii was the lowest. In 2016, half of all gun-related deaths occurred in six countries: Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala. In exploring the question as to whether the U.S. is a particularly violent society, sociologist Kieran Healy says “the United States is a society where an unusual number of people die violently, at least in comparison to other rich, capitalist democracies.” He points to the easy availability of guns as a reason for high rates of lethal violence. Note that he says the United States is not the most violent country in the world.
  7. Another way of studying violence in America is to examine data on murder rates in America’s largest cities. The website AmericanViolence.org is a valuable resource to better understand trends in violence. Led by sociologist Patrick Sharkey, the site provides data on murder rates in America’s largest cities. Richard Florida shares insights from Sharkey in an article that delves into long-term trends in urban violence. America’s cities have become safer since the early 1990s. The cities of New York and Los Angeles have seen remarkable declines in murders since the early 1990s. However, Baltimore and Chicago have recently experienced increases in murders. If this topic interests you, I encourage you to read the data brief “Are U.S. Cities Getting More or Less Violent?” by Sharkey and his colleagues.
  8. Let’s end on a happy note. As Peter Kaufman wrote on this blog, sociologists have not directed sufficient attention to the study of happiness. Like he said, sociologists tend to focus on social problems and injustices; those are essential pursuits, no doubt, but we should also consider what makes people happy and fulfilled. In a similar vein, Dan Brook entices us to develop a sociology of joy. But it looks as though the scholarly pursuit of happiness might be catching on with sociologists. For instance, Steve Derné has published research on the sociology of well-being. I found a syllabus for a Sociology of Happiness course taught by Corey Keyes. Kristen Schultz Lee has also taught a Sociology of Happiness course, and co-authored a book entitled Redistributing Happiness: How Social Policies Shape Life Satisfaction. I’ll close by saying I’m happy that fall is around the corner because it’s my favorite season. I love the back to school energy this time of year. I find joy in teaching sociology, and I’m happy to have shared these sociological bits of knowledge with you J

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