IU sociologists examine workplace stress, parenting trends, voter ID laws and more at annual meeting

  • Aug. 25, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington faculty members and graduate students presented research findings at the 110th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, a five-day meeting in Chicago that concludes today. Several of their studies are highlighted.

New Yorker cartoons reveal attitudes toward parenting

Jaclyn Tabor and Jessica Calarco tap a novel data source to track changing attitudes toward parenting during the 20th and early 21st centuries: cartoons in the New Yorker magazine.

“We find that portrayals of children and child-rearing are both more varied and more fluctuating than existing research would suggest,” said Tabor, an Indiana University Bloomington doctoral student in sociology. "Contemporary cartoons celebrate children but also recognize the significant challenges children create for parents. Cartoons from the 1920s and 1930s -- when rates of childlessness were also high -- reveal a similar set of mixed attitudes.”

In recent decades, parenting seems to have become an increasingly all-consuming project, particularly in affluent and highly educated families, said Tabor and Calarco, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Yet those same decades have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of adults -- and especially affluent and highly educated adults -- who are choosing to forgo parenthood entirely.

Their paper investigates that paradox of modern, privileged parenting, using a content analysis of New Yorker cartoons from 1925 to 2006 to examine portrayals of children and child-rearing.

In light of the findings, Tabor and Calarco argue that, when child-rearing poses particularly high costs to parents, and when those costs are widely recognized, reluctance about parenting can easily lead to opting out. They discuss the implications of these patterns for research on children and childhood, research on popular parenting patterns and research on changing demographic trends.

Tabor and Calarco presented their study, “The Parent Trap: What New Yorker Cartoons Reveal About Competing Trends in Childrearing, 1925-2006,” today during a roundtable on researching concerning children and youth. Top

Women in mostly male workplaces exhibit psychological stress response

Today’s workforce is highly sex-segregated -- for example, most elementary school teachers are women, while most chemistry professors are men. Indiana University Bloomington researchers Bianca Manago, a doctoral student in sociology, and Cate Taylor, an assistant professor of sociology and gender studies, examine one important consequence of this occupational sex segregation: the stress exposure of women working in highly male-dominated occupations.

“We find that such women are more likely to experience exposure to high levels of interpersonal, workplace stressors,” Manago said.

Previous research has shown that women working in male-dominated occupations face particular challenges. They encounter social isolation, performance pressures, sexual harassment, obstacles to mobility, moments of both high visibility and invisibility, co-workers’ doubts about their competence, and low levels of workplace social support. Chronic exposure to these types of social stressors is known to cause vulnerability to disease and mortality through dysregulation of the human body’s stress response.

Manago and Taylor measure whether women in occupations that were made up of 85 percent or more men, also known as “token” women, show such dysregulation by analyzing their daily cortisol patterns. Cortisol is a stress hormone that naturally fluctuates throughout the day, but people with high levels of interpersonal stress exposure have different patterns of fluctuation than people exposed to more average levels of stress.

“We find that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or ‘dysregulated,’ patterns of cortisol throughout the day,” Manago said. “We use nationally representative data, the MIDUS National Study of Daily Experiences, which allow us to assess women’s cortisol profiles in workers across the United States.

"We also use statistical techniques to account for individuals’ occupational and individual-level characteristics, allowing us to be more confident that the dysregulation of cortisol profiles we observe is due to the negative working conditions of token women, and not their own personal characteristics nor the characteristics of their occupations.”

Previous work has shown that women in male-dominated occupations encounter difficult and negative workplace climates. And previous researchers have hypothesized that exposure to such difficult and negative workplace climates can expose these women to chronic stress. The IU research is the first to demonstrate that such negative workplace climates can be expressed in these women’s bodies and can, in fact, dysregulate their stress response, potentially for years after the exposure to the stressful workplace climate.

“Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes,” Taylor said. “Thus, our project provides evidence that the negative workplace social climates encountered by women in male-dominated occupations may be linked to later negative health outcomes for these women."

Manago and Taylor presented their study, “Occupational Sex-Segregation, Workplace Interactions and Chronic Physiological Stress Response,” Monday as part of a research session on group processes. Top

Higher female attainment in education not reflected by expectations

Over the past 30 years, the traditional male advantage in educational attainment has reversed itself, and women are attending and completing college at much greater rates than men. Does that mean women will expect to complete more schooling than men? Not necessarily.

Daniel Rudel, a doctoral student in the IU Bloomington Department of Sociology, used data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey to examine whether and how men and women vary in the likelihood of expecting that they will earn a college degree.

“Even after controlling for a variety of aspects of student backgrounds, men and women did not appear to be substantially different in how much schooling they expected to attain,” he said. “This is particularly interesting given all the other measures where we know that women now outperform men.

“It suggests that the processes through which men and women form expectations about school are different from those that determine how they actually perform. It might even suggest that educational expectations are less relevant than we might have expected in making sense of why women now do so much better in the classroom.”

Previous research, Rudel said, demonstrated that educational expectations are an excellent predictor of how much schooling one ultimately completes. That suggests women would hold higher expectations for themselves than men, as they now outpace men across most -- though not all -- measures of educational attainment.

On the other hand, university attendance has become much more common among the U.S. population over the past 50 years, and many students of both sexes now expect to go to college. So we might not expect to see gender differences in expectations.

“My findings tended to support the latter perspective,” Rudel said.

Rudel presented his research, titled “A Gender Gap in College Expectations? The Role of Family Structure and Parental Education,” Aug. 22 as part of a roundtable on educational attainment. Top

Effects of voter ID laws difficult to pinpoint

Indiana’s strict voter identification law may have prevented some elderly citizens from voting in the last two presidential elections, but there’s little evidence it kept large numbers of voters from the polls, according to research by Indiana University Bloomington doctoral student Adam Nicholson.

Nicholson compared turnout figures in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections in Indiana and in Nebraska and Pennsylvania, two states without voter ID laws. Unlike most previous research on voter identification laws, the study examined data at the county level, not the state level.

“In counties with high populations of elderly voters, you actually see a decline overall in turnout,” said Nicholson, who conducted the study as his IU master’s thesis.

Indiana adopted a law in 2005 requiring residents to present a federal or state photo ID card in order to vote. The law was challenged, but the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional in 2008.

“After the Indiana law was upheld, it sort of opened the floodgates for other states,” Nicholson said. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 states now have voter ID laws -- including seven states with “strict” laws. Kansas, Nicholson’s home state, enacted a voter ID law in 2011.

Nicholson compared Indiana with Nebraska and Pennsylvania because the states, while different in some regards, are similar in the number of counties and the population mix. Overall, voter turnout was somewhat low in 2000 and lower in 2004, and peaked in 2008. Turnout in Indiana counties was high in 2008 but declined more sharply than in other states in 2012.

Critics say voter ID laws discriminate against elderly, poor and minority voters. But Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008 and 2012 led to large turnout among black voters, according to previous studies. For that and other reasons, Nicholson said, it will take more elections to render a verdict on ID laws.

“Hopefully the work I’m doing is a push in the right direction and will give people an idea of how to approach it,” he said. “More than anything, as time plays out, having more data points across multiple elections will be helpful.”

Nicholson presented his study, "The Impact of Indiana’s Voter Identification Law on County-Level Voter Turnout," on Monday. Top

Perception of urban schools led to divergent charter school policies in Indiana and Kentucky

Scholars attribute the spread of charter schools to a dominant national narrative about failing urban schools and the need for reforms to improve them. But why have some states embraced charter schools while others have not?

Research by Joseph Johnston suggests the answer may lie in local narratives about urban education -- which may be shaped by decades-old decisions about school district boundaries.

Johnston compares Indiana and Kentucky, contiguous states that are politically, economically and socially similar but have strikingly different charter school policies. Indiana adopted a charter school law in 2001 and has seen a rapid spread of charter schools. Kentucky remains one of a handful of states without charter schools.

Based on analysis of political debate and policy decisions in the two states, he attributes the difference to public perceptions of the major school systems in the states’ biggest cities: Indianapolis and Louisville.

“I argue that these perceptions are legacies of the contrasting desegregation policies instituted in the two urban centers,” said Johnston, who earned his Ph.D. from IU Bloomington in May 2015 and is an assistant professor of sociology at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

In Louisville, one large countywide public school district, Jefferson County Public Schools, was formed in 1975. But in Indianapolis, the urban district, Indianapolis Public Schools, remained isolated in the city center, a frequent pattern across urban areas in the U.S.

“The social geography of the school districts in and around the cities shaped the perceptions about the quality of urban schools,” Johnston said, “thereby generating the discursive possibilities available to actors in the charter school debates.”

Johnston analyzed data from 2002 to 2012 in the two states, including 2,200 newspaper articles, gubernatorial and mayoral speeches, and school reform group documents. In Indiana, the push for charter schools was tied to the argument that Indianapolis Public Schools were failing.

“School district lines seem sacrosanct today,” he said, “but my analysis demonstrates what a key policy change -- remaking the social geography of districts in urban areas -- could mean for the politics of urban education.”

He presented his study, “Failing Urban Schools? Urban District Isolation and Charter School Policy Divergence,” Saturday in a session on the sociology of education politics. Top

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