83 posts categorized "Relationships, Marriage and Family"

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.

Continue reading "It Takes a Village—To Create Binge Drinkers" »

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.

Continue reading "Removed from Death" »

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.

Continue reading "Marriage, Max Weber, and Verstehen" »

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.

Continue reading "Sociology vs. the Obvious" »

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.

Continue reading "Heterosexual Norms and Friendship" »

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

NSSHB

2009

WOMEN

14-17

18-70+

NSFG, 2006-2008 18-44

Heterosexual

90.5

93.1

93.7

Homosexual, Gay, or Lesbian

0.2

0.9

1.1

Bisexual

8.4

3.6

3.5

MEN

14-17

18-70+

18-44

Heterosexual

96.1

92.2

95.7

Homosexual, Gay, or Lesbian

1.8

4.2

1.7

Bisexual

1.5

2.6

1.1

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

WOMEN

MEN

NSFG (2006-2008)

15-24

15-24

Any Opposite Sex Contact

70.1

71.7

Any Same Sex Contact

13.4

4.0

No Sexual Contact with another person

28.6

27.2

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?

January 21, 2011

Social Theory and Siblings

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Do you have brothers and sisters? Are you very different from each other or are you similar? Many people might report that they are more different than they are similar to their siblings. Researchers have come up with theories as to how people with similar genes and backgrounds can have such different personalities, have different talents, and sometimes make radically different life choices.

A recent story from National Public Radio (NPR) presented three theories about why siblings can be so different. The reporter briefly introduced a Darwinian File:Siblings.JPGtheory of Divergence, a sociological theory of Environment, and a social psychological theory of Exaggeration. She then described how each theory might help to account for the two brothers’ differences.

  1. The Darwinian theory suggests that in order to compete for their parents’ limited attention and secure their survival, siblings might purposely take on unique characteristics in order to maximize the resources devoted to them.
  2. Exaggeration theory suggests that children react to their families’ assessment of their personality characteristics and exaggerate qualities that family members perceive them to hold. This theory is similar to labeling theories and one of my favorite sociological concepts, the self-fulfilling prophecy. Labeling theories tend to examine how social realities are structured as a result of how we label things and people in specific ways. If you call someone stupid, you may only notice the things they do that seem less intelligent. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a situation or condition is set out as truth yet it is in fact false. The consequence of this information has the effect of actually bringing that situation or condition into reality and then to some extent becomes. Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase, and gave an example of a bank that was fine in the morning, but during a day filled with rumors of its financial woes finds itself bankrupt at closing because customers heard these rumors and acted upon them, rushing to the bank and withdrawing their assets.
  3. The Environmental approach argues that although siblings grow up in the same families, life events will impact children differently based on their age, and therefore they might have profoundly different environments. According to that theory, the siblings had very different experiences while growing up in the same family. The timing of family events impacted the kids differently depending on their ages. The conclusion of the NPR story suggests that the two brothers’ differences might be best explained by the Environment theory.

File:Mannerheim siblings.jpgAnother example of this type of “environmental” theory is Jessie Bernard’s classic study of “his and hers” marriages, described in her 1972 book The Future of Marriage. She argued that each participant in a marriage has a unique perspective and experience. She also pointed out that men generally had a better experience in marriage than women, a finding that surprised many.

Studies like these can explain some of the mysteries of human relationships. They can also explain why, potentially, a cloned individual will not be an exact copy of its source, since the experience that the clone will have as it grows and matures will be markedly different than that of its DNA donor.

The NPR story got my attention because it was an interesting application of theory and mirrors what we do in class. As you learn different theories, each of which have a unique explanation, it is important to try them on to see how well they explain a specific phenomenon. In some cases, all theories may have something to add, while in other cases, one theory may emerge as more relevant than the others.

Are you significantly different in some way from some or all of your siblings? If so, what social theories might help explain your differences?

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