84 posts categorized "Relationships, Marriage and Family"

September 03, 2012

Gay Marriage Made Me Get Married

WynnAuthorPhoto1By Jonathan Wynn

Call me old fashioned, but before I went to Robyn’s father to ask for her hand, I went to Human Resources. I wanted to know if my partner could share my health care benefits as a civil union or a common-law marriage. “Nope. Massachusetts allows anyone to get married, so we don’t recognize ‘registered partnerships.’” The advisor on the other end of the line giggled and added, “It looks like you’re going to have to get hitched, son.” She hung up the phone still chuckling.

We’d been together for seven years. “What happens when a feminist rapper and a sociologist get together?” sounded more like a joke in search of a punch line rather than a description of a couple in search of a registry. As a musician who values feminist ideals and gay rights, Robyn was uncomfortable with the patriarchal and heteronormative trappings of marriage. As a sociologist (and son of divorced parents, and both sets of grandparents), I was keenly aware of the issues and personal struggles with marriage as an institution. We were also uncomfortable with both the religious norms and the billion dollar wedding industry surrounding it as well.

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January 17, 2012

Everyday Sociology Talk: Brian Powell on Defining Families


Karen Sternheimer interviews Brian Powell, author of Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family.

For more videos, visit http://www.youtube.com/nortonsoc

November 17, 2011

It Takes a Village—To Create Binge Drinkers

imageBy Sally Raskoff

How much do you take for granted as common sense? Are there some things out there in the world that you know are true not because they have been studied scientifically but because something just seems logical and everyone knows it’s true?

Sociology teaches us to be cautious about such “truisms.” Some of the time, those common sense notions are wrong! But we won’t know unless someone studies them, and then someone else replicates that study, and someone else tests it yet again, and so on. We do this until we’re pretty clear that most of the time, we know what’s going on. And then, yes, we need to do another study to see if what we knew is still accurate.

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October 27, 2011

Removed from Death

imageBy Sally Raskoff

I tried to go to our local mall the other day but couldn’t get into the parking lot. All the nearby streets and the mall access had been closed on the corner of the mall where I was headed. I finally found a parking space overlooking that corner. I saw police barriers, road closures, and some officers waving people away while others held clipboards and stood in small groups talking to other officers.

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July 14, 2011

Marriage, Max Weber, and Verstehen

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Max Weber talked about verstehen as a very important concept for sociologists and social scientists. When studying people, even at the macro level of society, it is important to really understand what’s going on at the micro level of interactions and individuals. That’s what verstehen is all about: understanding what goes on in the lives of people from their particular perspective so that one can better understand how things work at the larger level of society.

In sociology, we analyze the importance of social rituals and social bonds. Symbols and rituals tie us together and reinforce our bonds as we celebrate or mourn together.

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July 11, 2011

Sociology vs. the Obvious

KS_2010aBy Karen Sternheimer

What is sociology?

This question may seem obvious (especially—I hope—if you have taken or are taking a sociology class), but when I asked this question on a midterm years ago, I observed a troubling pattern.

While the majority of students successfully responded in some form that sociology is the systematic study of patterns of human interaction with special focus on social institutions and processes of power and inequality, a few students regularly answered as follows:

“Sociology is just what you think about things in society,” or

“Sociology is what peoples’ opinions are about their community,” and similar responses to this effect.

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June 30, 2011

Power and Decision Making

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

In California, the sexual orientation of a judge has become news following his judgment about Proposition 8. Prop 8 was passed by California voters in 2008, and served to amend the state’s constitution to deny access to marriage for same-sex couples. Recently, the judge’s sexual orientation has been disclosed as “homosexual,” and some are suggesting that the decision he made was biased because of his personal status.

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May 12, 2011

"Reality" TV, Stereotypes, and Teen Parenthood

clip_image002By Kim Cochran Kiesewetter

Instructor, Sandhills Community College

I think most people would agree that there is little to nothing “real” about reality television… which is why we enjoy is so immensely. Millionaire Matchmaker? I may or may not have subjected my poor spouse to more than one episode of that particular show’s highly uplifting material. When it comes to “reality” TV though, no one wants to watch the every day exciting-ness of most of our lives and producers of these shows are well-aware of that fact. They choose subjects that ensure that the people involved are sure to bring drama, suspense, and emotion to boot. It brings in the ratings!

Continue reading ""Reality" TV, Stereotypes, and Teen Parenthood" »

May 02, 2011

Heterosexual Norms and Friendship

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Have you ever wondered if men and women can be “just friends”?

I started thinking about this the other day when I heard some people talking about these issues. When a woman and a man forge a friendship, especially if one or the other is already in a committed relationship with another person, why do some people think it’s weird?

The people I heard discussing a married friend were very distrustful of the ability of the friend to maintain her marriage to one man and her friendship with another. While they might have more relevant information than I do about their friend’s past commitment history, I will volunteer a sociological reason for their suspicion.

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March 16, 2011

Research Methods and Studying Sex

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Sexual behavior is challenging to measure. Alfred Kinsey famously studied sex in the mid-twentieth century, and although groundbreaking, his study relied on convenience sampling which prevents us from being able to generalize the results to the entire population.

The National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS), conducted in 1992, has been considered a more scientifically rigorous study. Two more recent studies, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) provide us with a more current picture of sexual behavior in America.

The NHSLS, NSSHB, and NSFG are all national probability samples, which means that we can generalize the findings to the larger population even though they didn’t survey everyone in the country.

The older NHSLS is based on 3,432 respondents (1,901 women, 1,531 men), ages 18-59. The NSFG is sampled an astounding 13,495 people (6,139 men, 7,356 women), ages 15 to 44. The NSSHB sampled the largest age range, including 5,865 people (2,929 women, 2,936 men,), ages 14 to 94.

The findings from all these studies are quite interesting--and not just because they have to do with sexual behavior.

Each study asked about sexual orientation identity. The older NHSLS data showed 98.6% of women and 96.9% of men said they were heterosexual, 0.9% women and 2.0% men said homosexual, gay, or lesbian, and 0.5% and 0.8% men said they were bisexual.

The newer studies show slightly different data:

Sexual Orientation






NSFG, 2006-2008 18-44





Homosexual, Gay, or Lesbian
















Homosexual, Gay, or Lesbian








Source: NSFG: Tables 12 & 13; NSSHB: Table 1.

The table above shows the primacy of the heterosexual category, with which most people identify. However, comparing data on identity to those based on behavior, a fascinating pattern emerges: Identity does not always match behavior.

Sexual Behavior



NSFG (2006-2008)



Any Opposite Sex Contact



Any Same Sex Contact



No Sexual Contact with another person



Source: NSFG: Table 7.

Notice how the identity data patterns show very few people aligning with the homosexual or bisexual categories. Yet when asked about homosexual or bisexual behavior, much higher percentages appear.

Since both studies utilize probability samples, they are both representative of the larger population. There can be some sampling error, wherein some groups might be systematically excluded in ways that might bias the data. When this happens one sample may not fully represent its population. Is that what’s happening here? Or is there more going on?

Part of the answer might lie with methodology. The NHSLS used face-to-face interviews and focus groups. The NSFG used in-person interviews using “Audio Computer Assisted Self-Interviewing” technology. The NSSHB used “Research Panels accessed through Knowledge Networks” via the internet, although they did provide hardware and internet access when necessary. When dealing with a sensitive subject like sex, how the data are collected will have a big impact on the results.

Another clue would rest with the different ways the questions were asked. Each study asked about the issues in slightly different ways.

For the NSFG, what was considered “sexual behavior” was different if it was same-sex or other-sex contact. For the NSSHB, questions were about specific behaviors based on who were their partners.

While the studies were conducted at different times, that is not necessarily problematic. Cultural patterns such as these do not tend to shift quickly.

Our scientific techniques for high-quality research are based on systematic methodologies. Because such techniques can yield different results we need to replicate or repeat research studies as often as possible. Many studies on the same topic can give us a lot of data patterns which then can be compared and compiled so that we can see more clearly what is going on in our social world. What other factors do you think might create more high-quality data on sensitive issues like this one?

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