May 25, 2016

Suicide Rates: Percentages and Rates, Age and Gender

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report on suicide rates, finding that suicides in the United States had increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014. Like most people, I learned of this report after reading upsetting headlines about this increase. My local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times reported that "US Suicides Have Soared Since 1999."

As sociologists, we learn to look at the original data to get the real story beyond the headlines. What do the data tell us? Is it the same story as being told in news reports?

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May 17, 2016

Architecture and Inequality on College Campuses

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2016-05-13/3916422015ae4d8da6c36dc3c98cbdd8.pngBy Peter Kaufman

Inequality is one of the most important and most popular topics that sociologists study. It might even be the most important and popular topic. Inequality is discussed in every introductory course, it is a prominent theme in many sociological theories, and it is even a required topic of study in most sociology departments. If you have ever studied sociology and have never thought about inequality then something was probably missing from your education.

When sociologists study inequality we usually look at the various ways that it exists in our daily lives. We may consider the different effects that inequality has on people, the multiple ways it plays out, and the various social institutions or locations where we might see proof of it. Because the world is awash in inequality, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of topics to consider.

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May 12, 2016

Goal Displacement: Solar Panels, Congress, and Your Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Telemarketers notoriously violate the Do Not Call list and sometimes call people repeatedly, presumably to sell something. A colleague recently mentioned that she had been called about solar panels, and she told the caller she already had solar panels installed at her home. "No problem, I'll call back later," the telemarketer told her, and proceeded to call back several times that week.

Why would a telemarketer call back even after being told that someone already had solar panels, which is not a product you would need to buy repeatedly? It certainly would make the recipients of these calls angry, and annoying someone is rarely a good way to sell a very expensive product.

Could it be that success for telemarketers isn't judged by how many solar panels they sell, but by how many people they speak to on the phone and how many possible "leads" they get? I've read claims that some telemarketers' calls are made just to see if anyone will pick up the phone; your number is then marked as a possible lead, and even sold to another telemarketing company as a live number. In effect, your answering the phone becomes the product they are selling.

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May 05, 2016

Studying Aging Populations

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

You might have heard the phrase "aging population" and thought, wait a minute, isn't every living thing aging? What does it mean to say that a population is aging?

Demographers study the composition of populations, including its age structure. Demographers use population pyramids to create a graphic depiction of a country's age structure. In a "normal" pyramid, the base is wider (representing infants and children) and gradually narrows at the top; as people get older and die, they essentially leave the population.

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May 02, 2016

Polling Methods

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are polls getting less reliable? Some say so. Our changing technology, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle, can have an effect on opinions and behavior. People who hear that a candidate already has a good lead might change their opinion or not show up to vote. On the other hand, some estimates of the error rates of polls suggest that they are somewhat stable as pollsters change their methods to adapt to society's dictates.

Or are polls still pretty accurate, taking the pulse of the people? Some say so. If the difference between opinions is huge, then a poll can certainly pick that up. However, if opinions are just a few points apart, polls may not be able to show those differences accurately.

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April 28, 2016

Mindfulness and Methodological Confusion

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

You have probably heard of the word mindfulness. The term is so commonplace these days that the only people who may not have heard about it are the ones who are practicing it diligently in some remote cave in the Himalayas. As I wrote about in a previous post, there is a prevailing sentiment that we are in the midst of a mindfulness revolution. From podcasts and apps to weekend retreats and self-help books, mindfulness is definitely in the moment (pun intended).

The popularity of mindfulness has also taken off among academic researchers. According to the American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA), the number of academic publications on mindfulness has increased over 2,000% in the past 15 years from a mere 22 articles in 2000 to well over 500 articles in 2014 (although the actual number of research articles may be larger).

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April 25, 2016

Affordable Housing: An Oxymoron?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A few years ago, I had a student who was extremely anxious as the summer approached. While most of her classmates couldn't wait for graduation or summer break, she was scared. She had no family and had no place to live. Her worry about finding short-term housing was preventing her from sleeping at night and she began having difficulty in her coursework.

This is just one example of one of the challenges many people face—and not just students or low-income people. The cost of housing has priced many people out of the rental market, even people with steady incomes. The rental website Zumper lists the average rents in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. In nearly half (22) of these cities, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $1,000. That's about what a minimum wage earner makes in a month before taxes, assuming they earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and work 40 hours a week.

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April 19, 2016

Play and Public Space

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As a sociologist, I often feel as though much of what I teach and research has a tinge of apocalyptic despair. As a result, I've started looking into topics that center on (or have an element of) joy, hope, happiness, laughter, or playfulness.

In searching for things that make me smile, I've come across a growing body of scholarship on the importance of play in social movements. The research suggests that play helps to build community, maintain interest in a social cause, invites people into the movement, fosters civic engagement, and diffuses power (e.g. clowns who confront police officers).

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April 14, 2016

Explanations are Not Excuses: The Importance of Criminology

Ian d marderBy Ian D. Marder, Ph.D. Student, School of Law, University of Leeds

Founder, Community of Restorative Researchers

Social scientists are concerned with identifying the individual and societal factors that lead people to behave in certain ways. In criminology, the branch of social science to which I belong, we try to find explanations (and ultimately preventative measures) for such behaviors which result in harm. For everything from theft, assault and police violence, to rape, human trafficking and genocide, our task is to ask two questions: why did it happen, and how should we respond?

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April 12, 2016

Ten Sociological Metaphors and Paradoxes

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

A few years ago, as a graduate student I was talking with an older sociologist who was cranky about how qualitative research was "too cute" in its lyrical presentation of data. I asked further about what that meant to her and she told me that she felt sociology should be "straight science." Upon further prompting she exclaimed, "metaphor has no place in sociology." Flummoxed with the conversation, I blurted, "WHAT ABOUT WEBER'S IRON CAGE!?!"

Metaphor is a rhetorical technique wherein one image stands in place of another. (Metaphor is different from a simile, wherein something is explicitly described as "like" something else.) My impolite response to a senior faculty member wasn't my finest moment. Her position, however, was astonishing because sociology is chockablock with wondrous metaphors and creative paradoxes that serve as conceptual tools for research and heuristic devices.

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