Table of Contents
The Tradition of the Bride Price
“Ali Eski and Nuran Aydogmus were young and very much in love and wanted to get married, but their families could not agree on the bride price, so they committed suicide.” So began a story in the New York Times late in 1980.
The tradition of the bride price has persisted for many centuries in Turkish culture, particularly in certain rural areas in which age-old values remain dominant. In this case, the young woman’s father insisted on a price of 100,000 liras (about $1,100) before he would consent to the marriage. Ali Eski’s family offered 30,000 liras in advance and the rest in a promissory note, a common practice in the area, but their offer was rejected.
The tragic death of 22-year-old Ali Eski and 16-year-old Nuran Aydogmus led to a new debate over this cultural practice. Many urban young people and intellectuals attacked the bride price, arguing that it treats women as commodities to be bought and sold. But older rural people defended the custom as a guarantee of a prospective bride’s virginity; in addition, a special commission established by the Turkish government to study the issue filed a report generally favoring the bride price. As a result, this custom continues to be a part of Turkish culture.
According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world with 29% of Bangladeshi girls married before the age of 15, and 65% before the age of 18. Widespread complicity by officials has facilitated many of the child marriages. Interviewees consistently described local government officials issuing forged birth certificates showing girls’ ages as over 18, in return for bribes of as little as US$1.30. Poverty, tradition, the sexual harassment of unmarried girls and limited access to education drives the practice, convincing parents that they’re doing what’s best for their daughters. Marriage is seen as a cover of respect and protection for girls. Global data shows that girls from the poorest 20% of families are twice as likely to marry before 18 as girls whose families are among the richest 20%. Child marriage around the world is associated with many harmful consequences, including health dangers associated with early pregnancy, lower educational achievement for girls, a higher incidence of spousal violence and an increased likelihood of poverty.
Photographer Allison Joyce said, “Working on this issue [child brides] has been very troubling. The only difference between these girls and me is that I happen to have been born into a country and culture that respects girls and women, and sees a woman’s value in a society beyond the role of a mother or a wife. Seeing their future, their possibilities and potential being ripped away from these girls in the span of one night is equal parts heartbreaking and infuriating for me. I don’t think it will be possible for countries to develop to their full potential until women and men stand on equal footing.”
Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides (10:41)
Market Exchange: The Wedding Reception
An exchange occurs when all participants recognize and take account of all the exchange opportunities in calculating their pricing strategies. We may all be aware of this at an auction, but we are less likely to see it in a wedding reception unless we use sociological imagination.
In the US, it is expected that the close relatives of the bride will provide a feast for members and friends of the bride’s and bridegroom’s families. This feast is generally held after the religious or state-sanctioned ceremony, which is considered the only absolutely indispensable part of the ritual legitimating marriage. Thus, the feast is not absolutely compulsory and some who are very poor or nonconformist dispense with it. Most families, however, expend a large percentage of that year’s income on a feast.
The exchange of goods involved is as follows. The bride’s family offers food and alcoholic drink in their home, at a hotel or in another grand setting for which they pay rent to the owners. In return, each of the guests brings a gift to the bride and groom. The food is offered in a special, ceremonial manner, and the gifts are brought in special, ceremonial wrapping, often with verses of well-wishing attached to the wrappings. That this situation is definitely not a market transaction may be seen in the fact that the guests would never overtly evaluate the food and drink in terms of money; nor would the bride and groom comment on the money value of the gifts in the presence of the givers. The participants are not aware of an obligation to expend equal amounts. Each giver sees his or her own giving as an act of friendship, without specific hope of return. A guest without a gift would never be stopped at the door though the omission might be negatively commented on in the privacy of the family circle.
The feast is paid for by the bride’s family as a kind of dowry for having the woman, traditionally considered a financial liability, taken off their hands. The feast also performs a function in the prestige system of the natives (that is, Americans). Each family will go to great lengths to put on the grandest display of wealth it possibly can. Much honor is reflected on the bride’s parents for their ability to provide such a lavish display. Feasts in each locality are described in local newspapers and give an indication of the family’s high position. The feat is therefore an exchange of goods for prestige. It should be noted, however, that there is no simple or automatic exchange of dollar value for prestige. Rather, the feast must be presented in a certain traditional style felt to be proper. Any other style would bring ridicule down on the heads of the givers even though they had spent many dollars. In this sense, as well, it can be seen that this is not simply a market transaction.
The feast also serves to strengthen the legitimacy of the union in the eyes of relatives, friends and the community in general. Parents feel that they express love for their daughter by giving a grand feast, even though, interestingly enough, the young couple is seldom as excited or pleased by the arrangements as the parents are.
Sociologist Robert Blood Jr and Donald Wolfe developed the concept of marital power to describe the manner in which decision making is distributed within families. They defined power by examining who makes the final decision in each of eight important areas that, the researchers argue, traditionally have been reserved entirely for the husband or for the wife. These areas include what job the husband should take, what house or apartment to live in, where to go on vacation and which doctor to use if there is an illness in the family.
Recent research suggests that money plays a central role in determining marital power. Money has different meanings for members of each sex: For men it typically represents identity and power; for women, security and autonomy. Apparently, money establishes the balance of power not only for married couples but also for unmarried heterosexual couples who are living together. Married women with paying work outside the home enjoy greater marital power than full-time homemakers do.
Labor not only enhances women’s self-esteem but also increases their marital power because some men have greater respect for women who work at paying jobs. Sociologist Isik Aytac studied a national sample of households in the US and found that husbands of women holding management positions share more of the domestic chores than do other husbands. In addition, as a wife’s proportional contribution to the family income increases, her husband’s share of meal preparation increases. Aytac’s research supports the contention that the traditional division of labor at home can change as women’s position in the labor force improves and women gain greater marital power.
Comparative studies have revealed the complexity of marital power issues in other cultures. For example, anthropologist David Gilmore examined decision making in two rural towns in southern Spain. These communities, one with 8,000 residents and the other with 4,000, have an agricultural economy based on olives, wheat, and sunflowers. Gilmore studied a variety of decision-making situations, including prenuptial decisions over household location, administration of domestic finances and major household purchases. He found that working-class women in these communities, often united with their mothers, are able to prevail in many decisions despite opposition from their husbands.
Interestingly, wives’ control over finances in these towns appears to lessen with affluence. Among the wealthier peasants, husbands retain more rights over the family purse strings, especially in terms of bank accounts and investments. In some cases, they make investments without their wives’ knowledge. By contrast, in the working-class, where surplus cash is uncommon and household finances are often based on borrowing and buying on credit because of the uncertainties of household employment, the wife rules the household economy and the husband accepts her rule.
Housework within Lesbian and Gay Households
The recognition that family structures are variable has led social scientists to begin exploring some previously overlooked variations. Combining interviews and observation research, sociologist Christopher Carrington conducted a study of the housework of 52 lesbigay households (26 lesbian households and 26 gay men’s households).
Carrington looked at couples who had been in relationships at least two years. The housework considered included cleaning, taking care of pets and plants, yard work, laundry and household paperwork. In general, housework is often taken for granted or designated as an unfortunate part of family life. Rarely in the US is daily housework viewed in a positive light. However, the research suggested that participating in housework helps lesbigays develop a stronger sense of themselves as families, “maintaining our yard and building.”
Lesbigay couples with more resources were able to invest more money and time into the housework. Carrington found such couples to have developed more of an identity as a family.
Tibetan Family Life
From 1938 through 1957, His Royal Highness Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, a trained anthropologist, carefully recorded his observations of family life in mountainous Tibet. His work offers a glimpse at family life in a culture very different from our own.
The ideal Tibetan family was a polyandrous one in which all brothers had a common wife. Unrelated men might, in some cases, share a woman. However, the close association of brothers served to reduce the jealousy that might arise if a number of unrelated men were sharing the same wife.
The co-husbands of a particular woman would agree among themselves as to which one would have sexual relations with the wife on any given day. Apparently the women had little say in the matter. Birth control was nonexistent and restriction on sexual behavior prior to marriage was minimal. Nevertheless, in a very poor society that could not afford to feed many children, an unmarried woman bearing a child was expected to abandon the baby in the river.
The proportion of Tibetan marriages that were polyandrous varied from 90% in the rural areas to only 2% in the capital of Lhasa. Since polyandry was so common and more than one-fourth of Tibetan males were Buddhist monks, many women remained single throughout their lives. Some became nuns, some lived permanently in the households of their married brothers and others turned to prostitution.
As in most societies, Tibetan families did not all correspond to the ideal. Most families were monogamous, especially in the cities. Some affluent nobles and merchants practiced polygyny (one man having several wives). In rare cases, the co-husbands of a polyandrous family would collectively take on a second wife. Generally, this occurred when the first was unable to bear a p’horjag, or heir.
It should be noted that since Prince Peter recorded these observations, Tibet has become an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. As a result, these patterns have undoubtedly undergone change.
Hutterites Coming of Age
Child-rearing practices differ among peoples of the world. The practices of one group in North America, the Hutterites, are at variance with those typically found in Canada and the US.
Although the Hutterites number about 30,000, few Americans know much about them. Today’s Hutterites are descended from Russian immigrants who came to North America in 1874. They live together in some 250 communal villages, called bruderhofs, in western Canada, the Dakotas, Montana, Washington and Texas. Their religious faith is Anabaptism, they practice adult baptism and they are firmly pacifistic. Both economically and theoretically, the Hutterites practice communalism. The live and work together for the good of the community. When Hutterites use the pronoun we, they refer not to their own family but to the bruderhof. They do not knock before entering each other’s residences; they drop in unannounced at all hours. As they see it, seclusion by individual families is unnecessary and lessens group loyalty.
Accordingly, the goal of child rearing among the Hutterites is young adults’ voluntary decision to submit themselves to the community. The sense of community will is transmitted very early in life. Only for the first 13 weeks of an infant’s life is the mother relieved of her responsibilities to the bruderhof; after that, the mother returns to her previous responsibilities, such as helping in the community kitchen. The community essentially dictates a schedule for babies, specifying times for feeding, playing and sleeping. A child’s hands are held together in the position of prayer before each feeding. Children pray voluntarily before each meal by the time they are one year old, a procedure they will follow for the rest of their lives.
Children are believed to be completely innocent until they are observed to strike someone or try to comb their own hair. Either activity is believed to indicate a level of comprehension sufficiently high to understand discipline. Young children learn that they can avoid adult displeasure if, after hitting someone, they immediately hug and kiss. Infants and young children are watched over by all members of the bruderhof. At age three they enter kindergarten, where as one Hutterite minister put it, “they learn to obey, sing, sleep, memorize and pray together.” Punishment tends to emphasize that exclusion from the group is most unpleasant.
The most important birthday for a Hutterite is the 15th, since on that day the school child becomes an adult. Almost as a rite of passage, the child is moved from the children’s dining room to the adults’ dining room and from the play group into the adult work force. Since these changes involve a single individual whereas the Hutterites emphasize the colony as a whole, the movement into adulthood goes uncelebrated.
Gradually, the bruderhof awards the new adults various gifts that reflect their altered situation. Both boys and girls are given a wooden chest with a lock in which to keep their personal belongings. Boys are given tools; girls receive a scrubbing pail, a broom and knitting needles. The first years of adulthood are occupied in apprenticeships to older people, but soon young people enter jobs considered suitable to their sex. Despite being surrounded by the culture of Canada and the US, Hutterite youngsters grow up to accept the Hutterites’ philosophy of life, economic communalism and religious beliefs.
Stages of Divorce
Divorce is a complex and difficult experience for all family members. Anthropologist Paul Bohannan has identified six overlapping experiences that arise from divorce and which vary in intensity depending on the couple. The six stations of divorce, as Bohannan calls them, are as follows.
As Bohannan has observed, undivorced people rarely appreciate the difficulties that the divorced person experiences in mastering these stations of divorce.
Are the children of divorced couples more likely to become divorced themselves? The answer appears to be in the affirmative but the reasons are complex. Sociologist Paul Amato analyzed longitudinal data to determine the extent of intergenerational transmission of divorce. Data came from the Study of Marriage Over the Life Course, which consisted of telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,033 married persons who were 55 years old and younger in 1980. They were then interviewed again, in keeping with a longitudinal analysis, in 1983, 1988 and 1992.
Based on these data, parental divorce is associated with increased risk of offspring divorce, especially when the wives or both spouses have experienced the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. This association is true in second marriages, as well as in the initial marriages. The age of offspring at marriage, cohabitation, socioeconomic attainment and pro-divorce attitudes have only modest impact on the estimated effect of parental divorce. In contrast, a series of interpersonal behaviors offers the largest share of explanation. Among interpersonal behaviors, Amato includes problems with anger, jealousy, hurt feelings, communication, infidelity and so forth. These findings suggest that parental divorce elevates the risk of offspring divorce by increasing the likelihood that children will exhibit behaviors that interfere with the maintenance of a mutually rewarding marriage relationship. Adult children from divorces are exposed to poor models of two-person behavior and may not learn the skills and attitudes that facilitate functioning in a dyadic social relationship. Similarly, children of divorce may be predisposed to develop traits, such as a lack of trust or an inability to commit, that lead to disharmony.
Single Mothers and Society
The societal concern with unwed mothers is an excellent illustration of the labeling perspective at work. For example, is a woman in her thirties who chooses to become pregnant for the first time and have her child considered a part of a social problem? Is a married mother aged 17 part of a social problem? Is it a problem of age or marital status or both? The power of labeling can also be seen in terminology popularly used to refer to these issues: broken, disrupted, unfit, illegitimate, unadjusted, unsuitable or bastard as compared to. intact, nuclear or stable.
More specifically, this labeling is another example of the type of stereotyping that sociologist Erving Goffman has referred to as stigmatization. By definition when we so stigmatize people, they are not quite so human. It allows us the luxury of planning for them and not with them, as in the debate over welfare policies. Goffman argues that in stigmatization, we construct stigma theory, an ideology to explain someone’s inferiority and account for the alleged danger it represents. Many speeches concerning unwed mothers and welfare emphasize this danger. In the context of the 1992 South Central Los Angeles riots, then–Vice President Dan Quayle condemned Murphy Brown, the central character in a popular television program, for having a baby outside of marriage. Her actions in this fictional story line represented to Quayle a violation of family values and reinforced the media’s endorsement of unmarried mothers who presumably were less equipped to raise and watch over children and thus unable to prevent the kind of lawlessness that concerned so many during the riots.
In colonial America, the social problem was defined as that of being a bastard. A child born out of wedlock became a public charge and for the small, rural communities of the early colonies this was a financial hardship aside from any moral concerns. Punishing women who bore such children by whipping was not unusual and often the punishments were administered in public. Many of the laws did apply to both men and women, but the latter were more likely to be convicted because their relationship to the child was, of course, more clear and they were less likely to have property that would allow them to pay fines and avoid being whipped.
While this may seem harsh, the early US was, in fact, more open-minded than Europe in these matters. In this country the concept of child protection (ie, not punishing the child for being born out of wedlock) took hold. Also, the US first recognized both common-law marriages and the possibility that illegitimate children could have some legal rights relevant to the property of their parents. In England, for example, the concept of filius nullius, a child of no one, legally prevailed for a longer time than in the US (Luker, 1996:19–20).
In the US during the late 19th century, immigration and urbanization made it increasingly difficult for a gemeinschaft community (where everyone knows one another) to assume responsibility for unwed mothers and their children. In 1883, the Florence Crittenton Homes were founded as refuges for fallen women or prostitutes. Within a few years their function was expanded and they also took in unwed mothers. It is not hard to see both the labeling and stigmatization taking place here. Sociologist WEB Du Bois in 1909 noted that there were seven homes for African-American women as well as one Crittenton home reserved for that purpose.
The discussions about poverty and single parents are almost always intertwined with questions of race. Many people immediately think of unwed mothers or babies having babies as African American. Although the image is not totally false — African Americans do account for a disproportionate share of births to teenagers and unmarried women — the majority of all babies born to unmarried teenage mothers are born to whites. Also, since 1985, birthrates among unmarried white teens have been increasing rapidly, while those among unmarried black teens have been largely stable.
Other myths concerning unwed mothers relate specifically to welfare. Sociologist Ruth Sidel notes that:
Virtually all social science studies indicate that over four-fifths of teenage pregnancies are unintended.
From 1975 to 1994, the average AFDC benefit per family measured in constant dollars (ie, accounting for inflation) dropped by 37%.
In no state do welfare benefits plus food stamps bring the recipient families up to even the minimum of the federal poverty line.
71% of adult AFDC recipients have recent work histories and almost half of the families who leave welfare do so to work.
The Center on Social Welfare and Law in a 1996 report clarified some other frequently held notions concerning welfare. In their report they found the following:
Is there a direct relationship among low-income people between the number of babies and the size of welfare checks? The answer is presumably relevant to those who argue that maintaining or increasing subsidies to unmarried mothers only serves to increase illegitimacy. The pattern in the US and other industrial nations is that governments are cutting back on welfare provisions as a result of the tightening global economy, while out-of-wedlock births have actually increased. In the US, the real value of a welfare check has declined since 1973, even as women of all age groups have chosen more often to become single mothers. Worldwide, the industrial nation that has witnessed the sharpest increase in the proportion of babies born to unwed mothers has been Great Britain, which has also instituted conservative anti-welfare policies.
Much of the concern, as noted earlier, reflects labeling. Babies having babies is labeled as a problem in the US, but would it be better to have more abortions? Research suggests that young people in the US are about as likely to be sexually active as their counterparts in Great Britain, France, Germany and Scandinavia. Yet in other nations they are more likely to seek an abortion. So, from a labeling perspective, if one is concerned about abortion, the situation in the US is much less of a problem. Of course, the real question may be why people who are unprepared to be parents are having sex, or at least unprotected sex, in the first place.
Sociologist Kristin Luker (1996:11) in Dubious Conceptions, draws upon two decades of social science research to conclude: “The short answer to why teenagers get pregnant and especially why they continue those pregnancies is that a fairly substantial number of them just don’t believe what adults tell them, be it about sex, contraception, marriage or babies. They don’t believe in adult conventional wisdom — not because they are defiant or because they are developmentally too immature to process the information (although many are one or the other and some are both), but because the conventional wisdom does not accord with the world they see around them. When adults talk to teenagers, they draw on a lived reality that is now ten, twenty, thirty, forty or more years out of date. But today’s teenagers live in a world whose demographic, social, economic and sexual circumstances are almost unimaginable to older generations. Unless we can begin to understand that world, compete with its radically new circumstances, most of what adults tell teenagers will be just blather.”
Another way of viewing this difficulty in communicating across generations is to view it in what sociologist William S. Ogburn termed culture lag. Many elements in our society, including both people and social institutions, refuse to adjust to the profound social changes, such as family formation and pregnancy, that have occurred during the latter half of the 20th century.
From a feminist perspective the welfare debate certainly qualifies as blaming the victim. African-American sociologist Patricia Hill Collins notes that the tendency to view black women matriarchally, as the sole positive influence in otherwise dysfunctional households, also leads to blaming them for the failure of their children and for the continuance of poverty intergenerationally. Emphasizing the need to get welfare women jobs also seems to undermine the importance of parenting producing the irony of trying to strengthen the household economically while undermining the family’s integrity.
The discussion about single mothers and welfare has changed in the last 20 years. In the 1970s, conservatives wanted teens to be less active sexually, to have fewer abortions and to contribute less to the growing AFDC rolls. Liberals sought to have women regain control over their reproductive destinies and economic future. Increasingly, conservatives were joined by what has been termed the New Right, which saw the issue in moral terms. Today, according to Luker, the debate over early childbearing has become more heated due to the slowdown in economic growth and greater disparity between rich and poor. Liberals argue that society should make a greater investment in teenage mothers through training programs and education but this approach ignores the multiple problems (violence, poverty, racism, a history of sexual abuse or domestic violence, and underequipped schools) that so many bring with them. In this social context, training programs have very real limits. Luker defends the need for better public funding of contraception and improved sex education. But she cautions that if trends continue (the number of sexually active teenagers doubled between 1970 and 1990) there may be only modest improvement in delaying childbirth.
Is Single Parenthood the Problem?
A gradual rise in the number of divorces, fewer marriages and the societal acceptance of unmarried women giving birth have led to an increase in single-parent or lone-parent families. Single-parent families only appeared in official documentation in the 1960s. Of course, arrangements whereby one parent brings up a child have always existed but historically it was a phenomenon known by different stigmatized names (unmarried mother, fatherless family) and regarded from different perspectives (for example, as pathological). The change in name, a shift towards being regarded as a variant family form, the rise of pressure groups, changes in welfare provision and the collection of statistics on what is now more commonly referred to as single parenthood all illustrate how this category and this experience is socially constructed.
Single parenthood is strongly gendered: single parents are mostly mothers, and they therefore experience unequal opportunities and gender discrimination in the labor market. Family structure and socioeconomic status are linked, according to decades of research. Increasingly, marriage reflects a class divide, as individuals with higher incomes and education levels are much more likely to marry. In 2021, nearly 30% of single parents lived in poverty while just 6% of married couples fit this same statistic. Single parents are also more likely to live in poverty when compared to cohabiting couples, and single mothers are much more likely to be poor compared to single fathers.
The reasons for the increase in single parenthood are varied. David Morgan (1994) put the rise of single parenthood down to the changing relationships between men and women. Allan and Crow (2001) identified two factors: an increase in marital breakdown and a rise in births to unmarried mothers. They argue these trends are due to society’s acceptance of family diversity. The increased acceptance of having children outside marriage was shown in Alison Park’s research (2001). Gordon Carmichael (2014) writes that a decline in shotgun weddings in addition to a growing social acceptance of cohabitation led to an increase of single parenthood. If cohabitation fails, single parenthood is the outcome.
The widespread normalization of one-parent homes outside the college-educated class has occurred hand-in-hand with woefully little public support for programs aimed at strengthening families. There are also people inclined to blame single mothers for having or raising children outside of marriage. But it is not helpful to blame or shame women who are faced with the difficult choice between parenting alone or living with a partner who is an economic or emotional drain on the family. Some politicians argue the rise of single parenthood is due to the welfare state. But despite the increase of single-parent families, there is little evidence to suggest single parents actively seek such status by having planned pregnancies without a partner.
Recent research has shown that the rise of single-parent households in America has exacerbated inequality and contributed to astonishingly high rates of child poverty. Income gaps between one- and two-parent homes are substantial, and income matters a lot for kids’ prospects and futures. Children from single-parent homes have more behavioral problems, are more likely to get in trouble in school or with the law, achieve lower levels of education and tend to earn lower incomes in adulthood. Boys from homes without dads present are particularly prone to getting in trouble in school or with the law. Children in single-parent households are likely to have less time with their parent when compared to peers in cohabiting- or married-couple households. Researchers have also linked poverty to parental stress. Single parents may struggle to cover their family’s basic needs, including food, utilities, housing, child care, clothing and transportation. Navigating these struggles alone - and with limited resources - can send stress levels soaring. High parental stress, in turn, can spark even more challenges and adverse outcomes among the children involved. Compared to kids in married parent households, children in single-parent families are more likely to experience poor outcomes.
But the research is complex, sometimes contradictory and evolving. Mounting evidence indicates that underlying factors - such as strong and stable relationships, parental mental health, socioeconomic status and access to resources - have a greater impact on child success than does family structure alone. Low-income kids (regardless of family structure) often live in less safe communities with limited access to quality health care, comprehensive support services and enriching activities. Christina Cross (2020) analyzed the relationships between family structure and individual well-being in health, education and socioeconomic mobility. Research has shown that living apart from a biological parent is less negatively consequential for racial/ethnic minority children than white children, a finding that may be explained by group differences in exposure to socioeconomic stress and their interactions with relatives in extended family networks.
For many years, the conversation among researchers, advocates, policyşmakers and others has focused on how single-parent families might negatively affect children. What if, instead, it focused on what children need to thrive? We know, for example, that economic resources play a key role in determining children’s educational success. Our current welfare legislation (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996) emphasizes the importance of the two-parent family model and hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for welfare have been used to try to encourage low-income families, who are disproportionally families of color, to get married and stay married. Many researchers have found these programs to be largely ineffective and not the best solution to fixing poverty. Research and welfare policy, with their explicit emphasis on the two-parent nuclear family, are disconnected from the demographic realities of American families today.
The HalÚvy Thesis: Religion as a Stabilizer
Max Weber is not the only scholar to contend that religion can exert an important influence on the process of social change. Elie HalÚvy (1870–1937), a Frenchman and noted historian who wrote at about the same time as Weber, was primarily interested in the stability of English society during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The HalÚvy thesis suggests that Methodism, under the influence of John Wesley (1703–1791) and his followers, provided a kind of escape valve - a stabilizing function - for the discontented English working class. This religious faith became a mechanism for dissent, an outlet for opposition to everything from labor practices to the monarchy itself. Yet this opposition was basically peaceful and was oriented to social reform rather than revolutionary change. From a Marxist point of view, Methodists were not part of the ruling bourgeoisie, yet they served the interests of the wealthy and powerful. For HalÚvy, the rise of Methodism explains why England, of all the nations of Europe, was most free from political disorders and revolutions during the 18th and 19th centuries.
HalÚvy’s thesis has been criticized; in fact, many of the objections are similar to those raised in response to Weber’s monumental work. Some critics have argued that HalÚvy exaggerates the influence of Methodism and fails to explain the lack of revolt in England before this religion arose. Nonetheless, HalÚvy’s work, like Weber’s, contains important insights regarding the relationship between religious beliefs and the process of social change.
Goal Multiplication and Religious Organizations
Religious groups fulfill many of what Durkheim would term secular (rather than sacred) functions. In recent years (with the emphasis on government downsizing), churches and other religious organizations have started providing services previously assumed by government agencies. Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, want to roll back government-funded welfare programs and shift the social safety net to private organizations in general and to churches and religious charities in particular.
There appears to be public support for this role. Yet, the public rejects the notion that the nation’s religious organizations should be the main source of funds for the needy. In a 1995 national Gallup survey, respondents were asked: “Who do you think should be more responsible for providing assistance to the poor — government or religious organizations?” The results showed 55% selecting the government, 28% religious organizations, 10% both, 4% neither and 3% with no opinion. Among Republicans and Protestants, the government was still favored as a source for such funds, but by smaller margins. Only self-identified conservatives favored religious organizations over the government as the main source of support for assisting the poor.
Some clergy and other observers are concerned about religious groups playing more of a role. They feel it is unconstitutional and spiritually wrong to force the poor through a religious doorway to meet their basic needs.
Federal legislation has been proposed that would create a charity tax credit of $500 per taxpayer. It would allow taxpayers to designate money to a religious or charitable organization that devotes 70% of its efforts to poverty relief.
The Ghost Dance of the Sioux
An example of the integrative function of religion can be found in so-called millenarian movements. A millenarian movement is a religious group that believes in a prophecy that a cataclysmic upheaval will occur in the immediate future, followed by collective salvation. This shared world view offers its members a sense of belonging. During the late 19th century, a millenarian movement appeared among the Sioux Indians.
Life for the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians was especially oppressive in the middle to late 19th century. Spurred on by General George Custer’s exaggerated reports of gold in the Black Hills, many white settlers infiltrated Sioux territory in what is now South Dakota. Hostilities followed and in 1876 the Sioux won a great victory in the battle of the Little Big Horn. But the Sioux were eventually defeated by the US Army and forced to sell much of their land. Unable to continue hunting game as they traditionally had, members of the tribe found life on the reservation increasingly unbearable.
Many Sioux sought an escape through the supernatural and turned to the ghost dance religion, which included dances and songs that proclaimed the return of the buffalo and the resurrection of deceased Indians in a land free of whites. The ghost dance had originated among the Paiute Indians of Nevada and soon became a symbolic or millenarian movement. Ironically, it had spread northward to the Plains Indians through the schools — the institution that served as the cornerstone of forced assimilation of native Americans.
By 1890, according to sociologist Russell Thornton, about 65% of the Indian tribes in the west were involved in the ghost dance. From a functionalist perspective, this millenarian movement can be viewed as a means of coping with the domination of white intruders. While the ghost dance was essentially harmless, whites feared that the new Indian solidarity encouraged by the movement would lead to renewed warfare. As a result, more troops were summoned to areas where the ghost dance had become popular.
In late December of 1890, anticipating that a massive ghost dance would be staged, a cavalry division arrived at an encampment of Teton Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge reservation. When the soldiers began disarming the warriors, a random shot was fired at them touching off a close-range battle. The cavalry then turned its artillery on Indian men, women and children. Approximately 300 Sioux and 25 soldiers were killed in the ensuing fighting.
One Sioux eyewitness later recalled: “We tried to run, but they shot us like we were buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot children and women.” The Wounded Knee massacre was not the worst defeat suffered by native Americans during the 19th century but it shattered the Sioux hope for a return, even a supernatural one, to the life they had known.
The Decline of American Christianity
Throughout history and in societies across the world, leaders have used religious narratives, symbols and traditions in an attempt to give more meaning to life and understand the universe. Some form of religion is found in every known culture, and it is usually practiced in a public way by a group. The practice of religion can include feasts and festivals, intercession with God or gods, marriage and funeral services, music and art, meditation or initiation, sacrifice or service, and other aspects of culture. Religion is a social institution and exists as an organized and integrated set of beliefs, behaviors and norms centered on basic social needs and values. Religion is a cultural universal found in all social groups.
Sociologists study religion as both a belief system and a social institution. As a belief system, religion shapes what people think and how they see the world. As a social institution, religion is a pattern of social action organized around the beliefs and practices that people develop to answer questions about the meaning of existence. As an institution, religion persists over time and has an organizational structure into which members are socialized.
Sociological perspectives on religion aim to understand the functions religion serves, the inequality and other problems it can reinforce and perpetuate, and the role it plays in our daily lives. ╔mile Durkheim saw religion as the most fundamental social institution of humankind, and one that gives rise to other social forms. It is religion that gives humanity the strongest sense of collective consciousness. Much of Durkheim’s work stressed the functions that religion serves for society regardless of how it is practiced or what specific religious beliefs a society favors. Durkheim’s insights continue to influence sociological thinking today on the functions of religion:
Durkheim held that the source of religion and morality is the collective mind-set of society and that the cohesive bonds of social order result from common values in a society. He contended that these values need to be maintained to maintain social stability, that religion is not just a social creation but something that represents the power of society.
But what would happen if religion were to decline? In 2023, for the first time in Gallup polling, only a minority of adults in the US belong to a church, synagogue or mosque. The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. In US religion today, the most important story without a doubt is the rise in the share of Americans who are nonreligious, says Ryan Burge.
In 1972, when the General Social Survey first began asking Americans, What is your religious preference? 90% identified as Christian and 5% were religiously unaffiliated. In the next two decades, the share of unaffiliated crept up slowly, reaching 9% in 1993. But then disaffiliation started speeding up - in 1996, the share of unaffiliated Americans jumped to 12%, and two years later it was 14%. This growth has continued, and 29% of Americans now identify as unaffiliated. Pew Research Center has been measuring religious identity since 2007 using a slightly different question - What is your present religion, if any? - and a different set of response options. Since 2007, the percentage of adults who say they are atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular in the Center’s surveys has grown from 16% to 29%. During this time, the share of US adults who identify as Christian has fallen from 78% to 63%.
Roughly 90% of people who were born in the 1960s and raised Christian were still Christian when they turned 30. Among those born in the 1970s, fewer than 85% remained Christian at 30. Among those born in the 1980s, it is about 80%. Too few of those born in the 1990s have turned 30 to estimate their switching patterns but Christians in this youngest cohort appear to be disaffiliating even more than older cohorts. Starting in the mid-1990s, it became more common for adults in middle age and beyond to discard Christian identity. Before that, changing religions after 30 was rare. One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the unaffiliated is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation and less connection with Christian churches than older generations.
According to Burge, while the nones’ diversity splinters them into myriad subgroups, most of them have this in common: They really don’t like organized religion. Nor its leaders. Nor its politics and social stances. Most nones are not atheist or agnostic, according to Burge’s research. Many embrace a range of spiritual beliefs. Scholars worry that, as people pull away from congregations and other social groups, they are losing sources of communal support. But nones have said in interviews they are happy to leave religion behind, particularly in toxic situations, and find community elsewhere.
Even among those who still affiliate, participation in houses of worship continues to decline, according to a study by Melissa Deckman. Twenty-eight percent of respondents say they seldom attend religious services, and 29% say they never attend religious services. A decade ago, those figures were 22% and 21%, respectively. Thirty percent of congregations are not likely to survive the next 20 years. We are witnessing a tectonic shift in the landscape of American religious life. Robert Putnam was right when he declared over a decade ago that religious disaffiliation has the potential for completely transforming American society.
There are various theories for what is behind the struggles of Christianity, and multiple factors are probably at work. One noted by Jim Davis and Michael Graham is that the church hasn’t seemed very Christian to many people. When the Rev. Jerry Falwell dismissed AIDS as God’s lethal judgment on promiscuity, he conveyed a sanctimoniousness that in the 1980s and 1990s allowed much of the religious right to turn a cold shoulder to the suffering of people with the virus. Then in 2001, Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson suggested that the Sept. 11 terror attacks were God’s punishment for the behavior of feminists, gay people and secularists. The embrace of Donald Trump by many Christian leaders - as he boasted about assaulting women, separated children from their parents at the border and backed an insurrection - was for some a final indication of moral decay. In a survey by Baptist News Global, the most common reasons for leaving American Christianity were the mistreatment of LGBTQ people, the bad behavior of believers, the lack of intellectual coherence, its obsession with politics and its maltreatment of women.
As Robert Putnam and David Campbell (2010) demonstrated, most Americans no longer orient their lives around houses of worship. For most Americans who were once a part of churches but have since left, the process of leaving was gradual and in many cases they didn’t realize it was even happening until it already had. And that loss is about more than just missing out on prayer services. It means that when people move to a new city, they have to work much harder to find new friends than previous generations did. When someone falls ill, they might not have a cadre of their fellow faithful to offer home-cooked meals and prayers for healing. This reorientation away from houses of worship has led to the decline of a sense of community, the rise of social isolation and the corresponding negative effects on public health, especially for older adults.
Are Americans losing their ability to incorporate religion into their lives? As Jake Meador notes, part of the problem is the unusual role that religion has come to play in some Americans’ lives. The Atlantic writer Derek Thompson coined the term workism in 2019. According to Thompson, the economists of the early 20th century did not foresee that work might evolve from a means of material production to a means of identity production. They failed to anticipate that for the poor and middle class work would remain a necessity, but for the college-educated elite it would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence and community. For those who have come to view work as the guiding principle of life, other priorities can quickly fall by the wayside. But workism doesn’t deliver on these promises, Thompson noted. Jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87% of employees are not engaged at their job and that number is rising by the year, according to Gallup. Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individual accomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves precious little time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life or, as one ages, the professional prospects of one’s children. The underlying challenge for many is that their lives are already too busy and church attendance ends up feeling like an item on a checklist that’s already too long. The problem is not that America is a healthy, sustainable society that doesn’t have room for church. The problem is that many Americans have adopted a way of life that has left them lonely, anxious and uncertain of how to live in community with other people.
Where are Americans finding meaning in their lives? A vibrant, life-giving church requires more, not less, time and energy from its members. It asks people to prioritize one another over their careers, to prioritize prayer and time reading scripture over accomplishment. This seems like a tough sell in an era of de-churching. If people are already leaving, especially if they are leaving because they feel too busy and burned out to attend church regularly, why would they want to be part of a church that asks so much of them? Wendy Cadge and Elan Babchuck found that although participation in traditional religious settings (churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, etc) is in decline, signs of life are popping up elsewhere: in conversations with chaplains, in communities started online that end up forming in-person bonds as well, in social-justice groups rooted in shared faith. This swell of spiritual creativity comes at a time when Americans seem to need it most. They are more lonely and divided, and less hopeful and trusting than in previous decades. But new types of spirituality are not available to or comfortable for many newly unaffiliated Americans.
Without a church community, the nation’s political system becomes a church for many - and the results may be polarizing. The sheer ferocity of contemporary politics suggests that, for many people, it’s their real religion. According to Putnam, American public policy has historically often been moved in a progressive (leftward) direction by religion. Of course, the last 40 years have been different - religious leaders and organizations have led a movement toward more conservative public policies on social issues like abortion and gay marriage - but it is important to recognize that that is rather unusual in the full sweep of American history. By and large, religion in America has not been a monopoly of the political right.
Churches may have a reputation in some circles as promoting hyper-politicization but they can be depolarizing institutions. Being part of a religious community often forces people to get along with others - including those with different political views - and it can channel people’s efforts into charitable work or forms of community outreach that have little to do with politics. Leaving the community removes those moderating forces, opening the door to extremism. Denominations and church commitments preserve a set of broadly shared Christian moral values that transcend the right-left divide. And in contrast to the days when both Republicans and Democrats, and northerners and southerners, shared a common religious language despite their differences, little common ground is now left.
Millions of Americans who leave church continue to identify as Christians and many retain theologically orthodox beliefs. Religious narratives about Christian nationhood may have their strongest political effects when, and perhaps because, they are detached from religious institutions, one 2021 sociological study concluded. When supporters of Christian nationalism leave their denominations behind, there is little to stop them from refashioning the Christian faith in their own image, with potentially extreme results. They bring whatever moral and social values they acquired from their church experience and then apply those values in the political sphere with an evangelical zeal. The exodus of millions of Americans from churches will have a profound influence on the nation’s politics, and not in the way that many might expect. As religion recedes as a force in American public life, politics has co-opted faith for its own purposes.
The assumption used to be that religion was a fixed, core identity and that political preferences flowed from bedrock religious commitments. But scholars increasingly find that the causal arrow runs the other way: In a country with polarized choices and decreasing religious salience, politics is a foundational social identity and Americans bring their religious identities and beliefs in line with what their party preaches. Many people become more entrenched in their political views when they stop attending services. The decline of churchgoing in America, it seems, has not eviscerated Christianity but has simply distorted it. And that distortion will have politically unpleasant implications that go far beyond church walls. Rather than ending the culture wars, the battle between a rural Christian nationalism without denominational moorings and a northern urban Social Gospel without an explicitly Christian framework may become more intense.
School Desegregation and the Hmong Community
Wausau (population 30,060) is a community located in rural Wisconsin best known, perhaps, for the insurance company bearing its name that advertises on television. To sociologists, it is distinctive for its sizeable Hmong population. Wausau finds itself with the greatest percentage of Hmong of any city in Wisconsin. These Southeast Asians are 10% of the city’s population and 22% of its kindergarten pupils. But because the Hmong are concentrated in the more affordable downtown area, they constitute as much as 62% of the students in some schools. The Hmong immigrated to the US from Laos and Vietnam among the refugees who came following the April 1975 end of the US involvement in Vietnam.
In the view of school officials, progress in teaching the Hmong English in Wausau was stymied because the newcomers associated mainly with each other and spoke only their native tongue. The Wausau school board decided in the fall of 1993 to distribute the Hmong and other poor students more evenly by restructuring its elementary schools in a scheme that requires two-way busing.
The desegregation result has divided the city, with residents voting in a 1993 special recall election to decide whether to fire the five board members who backed the plan. “People feel this decision was just stuffed down their throats,” said Peter Beltz, director of Families Approve Neighborhood Schools (FANS), which fielded candidates and gathered the signatures for the recall.
Wausau school officials said their plan, which is not federally mandated, is aimed less at achieving a more equitable socioeconomic balance and learning environment. The busing, they say, was begun as a convenience for parents, whose children now travel an average of two miles farther than before.
Recalls are rare, but in December 1993, opponents of the busing plan that integrates Asian American youngsters into mostly white grade schools won a majority on the Wausau school board by ousting five incumbents in a recall election. “Busing and partner schools as envisioned is [sic] over,” Don Langlois, one of the winners, declared after the votes were counted on a Tuesday night. “We plan to have a neighborhood school plan for the fall 1994 school year,” Langlois said.
But board president Richard Allen, one of those defeated, said he expects supporters of the busing plan to take the matter to court with a lawsuit claiming that to remove busing would cause segregation. Christopher Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said after the successful recall effort that his group was willing to file a lawsuit to stop the school board from overturning the changes. “Where a governmental body by law engages in an intentional act of resegregation, that would violate all kinds of constitutional standards.”
Inequality in Education
Educational achievements play a critical role in social mobility. Consequently, concern has been expressed that subordinate minorities in the US, such as blacks, Hispanics and native Americans, do not have positive experiences in schools that will assist them in later competition in the job market. This country’s minorities, however, are not alone in this experience.
The anthropologist John Ogbu looked at educational opportunities and achievements in six societies and found group inequality in all of them. In Great Britain, for example, West Indian immigrants and their descendants (many of whom are born in Britain) perform poorly in school. By contrast, in New Zealand it is the native Maori people (the original islanders now outnumbered and dominated by white Europeans) who have the greatest difficulty in the educational system. Whites are 350 times more likely than Maori to attend college.
In these societies, race was the critical factor differentiating successful and unsuccessful educational performance. However, in studying other societies, Ogbu found that inequality was evident even when racial distinctions were absent. In India, people from lower-caste backgrounds are physically indistinguishable from other residents. Yet children from the lower castes are much less likely to attend the private schools that launch Indians toward better careers. While lower caste children account for more than 15% of India’s population, they constitute only about 5% of those attending college.
Ogbu found certain common themes in all the societies he studied (one of which was the US). The dominant groups in each society agree on the importance of education and the key role of educational attainment in shaping one’s position in adult life. At the same time, however, folk explanations in many societies contribute to prejudice and discrimination by ascribing failure in school to the alleged inferiority of subordinate minorities.
More recent studies have demonstrated that educational inequalities persist around the world.
A study of educational attainment in Taiwan found a substantial difference between the mainlanders (those who immigrated to Taiwan from mainland China in the 1940s) and the native Taiwanese. The latter are much less likely to continue schooling than are the mainlanders.
Researchers have found a significant gap in educational attainment between Jews and Arabs living in Israel. In part, this has resulted from the government’s failure to apply compulsory school attendance laws to Arab residents as forcefully as it has to Jews.
According to a 1992 report by the World Bank, children from poor and rural families around the world are less likely to attend primary schools than children from affluent and urban families. Moreover, girls from all types of families are less likely to attend primary schools than boys. The report urges governments to ensure greater access to education for these underrepresented groups.
Both Boys and Girls Have Reason to Feel Disadvantaged in School
Recent studies have focused on how schools work against young women, documenting such sexist practices as failing to involve women as much as men in classroom discussion, differential treatment in career guidance and even episodes of sexual harassment. However, University of Chicago educators Larry Hedges and Amy Howell point to systematic differences in reading and writing, with girls outperforming boys. The same analysis of six national data sets from 1960 through 1992 also showed that boys outperform girls in science, mathematics and auto mechanics.
Why these differences exist and persist is not clear. For example, closer analysis shows that larger sex differences occur even in areas not generally taught in schools, such as mechanical comprehension and other vocational aptitudes.
On writing tests, young men score significantly below women. Larry Hedges observes “The data imply that males are, on average, at a rather profound disadvantage in the performance of this basic skill.” Some of this difference may come from differences in reading between boys and girls: because reading may be linked to writing, girls write more fluently since they may also read books more frequently than boys. These results suggest that both men and women are harmed by these differences.
One of the most profound changes in college level education in recent years has been the development of online courses and online degree programs. An online course may consist of a Web site that contains a course syllabus, course notes, power point presentations, links to relevant sites on the Internet, e-mail capabilities between the instructor and students and between students, a real time or synchronous chat room and an asynchronous bulletin board for class discussions.
Online courses are just the latest manifestation of distance learning courses, which have been available since the mid-1800s. Distance learning permits students to take college courses without being on a college campus full-time. Correspondence courses; television-, radio-, and newspaper-based courses; and, interactive television courses are several types of distance learning courses. Schools may offer several types of distance learning courses in addition to traditional classroom or on-ground courses. At many colleges, students may now complete an entire undergraduate or graduate degree by taking only online courses.
Online education may be examined using each of the three major sociological perspectives. Functionalists might note that online courses are a very flexible form of education that enables working students, homebound students and housewives with child care responsibilities to take courses when their schedules might not otherwise permit. Conflict theorists, on the other hand, would suggest that not all students have access to online courses. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to own or have access to a computer that will permit them to take advantage of online courses. Interactionists would focus in on the surprising statement made by many online instructors that they get to know their students better and they have better class discussions online than they have ever had in a classroom because the level of interaction in an online class is more frequent and more personal than in a traditional course.
In addition, the advent of online courses has had a significant impact on the organizational structure of colleges and the administrative relationship of colleges to one another. For example, one of the leaders in the field of online education is the state of New Jersey. For the first time in state history, all 19 of the state's community colleges have banded together in an educational endeavor. Students may register for an online course at their local community college but, if their school does not offer the course that they want, they can take the course from any one of the other community colleges in the state that is offering the course. All 19 colleges have agreed to charge the same fee to students for online courses. When students have completed a course, the grade is sent to the student's home college and the letter grade, not a transfer grade, is added to the student's transcript. A system of this type has organizational implications for how each of the member schools does business, which is an interesting research base for future studies of formal organizations.
Theories of the Current Polarization of America
The US has had a few undeniably turbulent years, with civil rights protests emerging amidst a devastating pandemic, an economic crash not seen in decades, an attempted insurrection and overthrow of an elected president, and continual and deliberate lies from elected politicians. Those events emerged from seemingly immediate and unpredictable triggers, such as the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer and a virus that jumped the species barrier. Some sociologists say that the current level of civil unrest was predictable due to a clear increase in destabilizing factors - including economic inequality, a growing youth population, urbanization and an erosion of trust in government institutions. Another factor that leads to social upheaval - an economy that is unable to provide enough jobs for its university graduates - has historically led to an increase in radical organizations and revolutionary movements. As with earthquakes, a buildup of pressure along fault lines, paired with a trigger event, leads to a seismic shift. When living conditions become unbearable and are met with resistance, social and political turbulence motivates the government to implement structural reforms that improve people’s well-being. These reforms are then slowly eroded over time, until resistance resurges. The result is alternating periods dominated by either social unrest or peaceful coexistence.
Social outcomes are always the result of a complex mix of influences. There are some broad underlying social causes that are relevant to the outbreak of civil unrest or ideological change. There are semi-random events that may serve as a flashpoint stimulating an outbreak. There are countervailing efforts and strategies that are designed to reduce the likelihood of civil unrest or the spread of heterodox ideas. Social unrest can be caused by structural changes, such as the dramatic social, economic and political changes that occurred in the 1960s. Such structural changes result in stressors that spur mobilization and even radicalization of social movements. New technologies have exacerbated the turbulence. For example, a study led by Yale sociologist Daniel Karell found that increased social media activity on hard-right platforms, which purport to represent viewpoints not welcome on mainstream platforms, contributes to rightwing civil unrest in the US.
Sociologists are interested in the underlying social factors contributing to changes in political demand. One influential theory proposed that since the 1960s, contemporary political preferences shifted away from older, materialist concerns with economic growth and physical security to post-materialist concerns with quality of life issues: personal autonomy, self-expression, environmental integrity, women’s rights, gay rights, the meaningfulness of work, habitability of cities, etc (Inglehart 2008). From the 1970s on, post-materialist social movements seeking to expand the domain of personal autonomy and free expression encountered equally post-materialist responses by neoconservative groups advocating the return to traditional family values, religious fundamentalism, a submission to work discipline and tough-on-crime initiatives. This led to a new post-materialist cleavage structure in political preferences. The implication Herbert Kitschelt (1995) drew from this analysis was that as the conditions of political demand shift, the strategies of political parties need to shift as well. Darrell West explored shifts in attitudes toward same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and Trumpism, and found that long-held assumptions had been shattered and people needed to alter their expectations about the speed and magnitude of political and social change.
The US stands out among advanced economies as one of the most conflicted when it comes to questions of social unity. A large majority of Americans say there are strong political, racial and ethnic conflicts in the US and that most people disagree on basic facts. However, multiple studies show that American voters are less ideologically polarized than they think they are, even on hot-button issues. It is American politicians that are highly ideologically polarized. They believe in and vote for different sets of policies, with little overlap. This trend has grown in a steady, unpunctuated manner for decades. Americans are emotionally polarized (known as affective polarization). In other words, they do not like members of the other party. Affective polarization appears to be driven largely by an individual’s misbeliefs about the policy beliefs of the other party, a sense that members of the other party dislike members of their party, a fear that the other party supports breaking democratic norms, and misunderstandings about the demographic composition of the other party.
A number of recent studies have found that interventions to decrease affective polarization can change participants’ feelings toward members of the other party but they don’t seem to affect the antidemocratic or violent attitudes and behaviors that are supposedly being caused by affective polarization (Voelkel 2022, Broockman 2022). Newer research suggests that the problem is not general feelings of dislike for the other party but instead specific fears that the other party will undermine democracy. But what is causing this affective polarization? Kitschelt points to the incentives for politicians to prime polarization and stoke the divides, including fanning the flames of affective polarization. The problem is not affective polarization as such; it’s a political system that is failing to contain significant democratic erosion and illiberalism being driven by Republican elites (though affective polarization may help encourage and enable such tactics). Research is beginning to scrutinize the role of elites and political systems in fomenting illiberal behavior.
Some researchers are taking a longer view. In 1997, William Strauss and Neil Howe argued for a sociological view of history. Best known for coining the nickname for the millennial generation, their work identified a pattern: Every two decades or so, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation and the future. Strauss and Howe argued that these turnings come in cycles of four, with each generational cycle lasting roughly 80-100 years. The first turning is a high, a positive era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order is installed and the old values regime decays. The second turning is an awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. The third turning is an unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions. And, lastly, the fourth turning is a crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one, history’s great discontinuity because it ends one epoch and begins another. A crisis era begins with a catalyst, a startling event (or sequence of events) that produces a sudden shift in mood. Order follows great wars, order which decays over time, leaving vacuums of power and authority, which lead to another great war. And so on.
Under this theory, America has entered a fourth turning, marked by new sobriety about unpaid debts at home and unmet challenges abroad. Like all turnings, the current fourth turning will draw its momentum from the aging of each generation into a new phase of life. Unlike the last three turnings, the current generations are likely to push history forward in a sudden, concerted and decisive direction. As visionary boomers replace the silent as elder leaders, they are rejecting caution and compromise and acting on moral absolutes. As pragmatic gen-Xers replace boomers in midlife, they are manifesting a new toughness and resolution as hands-on managers. As group-oriented millennials replace gen-Xers in young adulthood, they are ready to mobilize behind some new model of public authority with collective action and social discipline. [Side note: Strauss and Howe expect that a new Homeland Generation (born 2005?) will begin to come of age as young adults. They will strike older Americans as well-educated, well-behaved, risk averse and perhaps also credulous and conformist.]
According to Strauss and Howe, all of these generations are likely to view the recent third turning as an era of drift when public problems were allowed to accumulate - problems that must now be tackled head-on. The risk of catastrophe is very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort - in other words, a total war. Yet Americans will also enter the fourth turning with a unique opportunity to achieve a new greatness as a people. As the old civic order gives way, Americans will have to craft a new one. This will require a values consensus and, to administer it, the empowerment of a strong political regime. If all goes well, there could be a renaissance of civic trust, and more. America could become a society that is good, by today’s standards, and also one that works.
All human societies experience recurrent waves of political crisis. Peter Turchin’s research (2023) takes an even longer view. Turchin found two main drivers of instability. The first is popular immiseration - when the economic fortunes of broad swaths of a population decline. The second, and more significant, is elite overproduction - when a society produces too many super-rich and ultra-educated people, and not enough elite positions to satisfy their ambitions. According to Turchin, in the past 50 years, despite overall economic growth, the quality of life for most Americans declined. The wealthy became wealthier, while the incomes and wages of most American families stagnated. At the same time, the US began overproducing graduates with advanced degrees. More and more people aspiring to positions of power began fighting over a relatively fixed number of spots.
When the equilibrium between ruling elites and the majority tips too far in favor of elites, political instability is all but inevitable. As income inequality surges and prosperity flows disproportionately into the hands of elites, the common people suffer and society-wide efforts to become an elite grow ever more frenzied. Turchin calls this process the wealth pump, a world of the damned and the saved. Since the number of such positions remains relatively fixed, the overproduction of elites inevitably leads to frustrated elite aspirants, who harness popular resentment to turn against the established order. Turchin's models show that when this state has been reached, societies become locked in a death spiral that is very hard to stop.
It is easy to see similarities between today’s America and all of these theories. Except on minor points, however, the research is not yet conclusive as to the causes of America’s current problems and, therefore, as to the possible solutions.
In the first majority-Muslim US city, residents tense about its future.
HAMTRAMCK, MICH. — Earlier this month, this blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendents for more than a century became what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a majority-Muslim council.
In 2013, Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-ik) earned the distinction of becoming what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the US following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade. The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.
“It’s traumatic for them,” said Mayor Karen Majewski, a dignified-looking woman in a brown velvet dress, her long, silvery hair wound in a loose bun.
Majewski, whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century, admitted to a few concerns of her own. Business owners within 500 feet of one of Hamtramck’s four mosques can’t obtain a liquor license, she complained, a notable development in a place that flouted Prohibition-era laws by openly operating bars. The restrictions could thwart efforts to create a thriving entertainment hub downtown, said the pro-commerce mayor. And while Majewski advocated to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, she understands why some longtime residents are struggling to adjust to the sound that echoes through the city’s streets five times each day.
“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”
Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear. Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.
“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari, who received the highest percentage of votes (22%) of any candidate. “When we asked for votes, we didn’t ask what their religion was.”
Past clashes with present
Surrounded by Detroit, Hamtramck is Michigan’s most densely populated city, with about 22,000 residents occupying row after row of two-story, turn-of-the-century bungalows packed into two square miles. Polish Catholic immigrants began flocking to Hamtramck, which was originally settled by German farmers, in 1914 when the Dodge brothers opened an auto assembly plant in town.
While the city’s Polish Catholic population has shrunk from 90% in 1970 to about 11%, in part as the old residents have moved to more prosperous suburbs, Polish American culture still permeates the town. Labor Day, known as Polish Day here, is marked with music, drinking and street dancing. The roof of the Polish cathedral-style St. Florian Church peaks above the city landscape, and a large statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1987, towers over Pope Park on Joseph Campau Avenue. The Polish pope’s cousin, John Wojtylo, was a Hamtramck city councilman in the 1940s and 1950s, according to local historian Greg Kowalski.
The once-thriving factory town now struggles with one of the highest poverty rates in Michigan. In 2009, American Axle shut down its plant in Hamtramck, laying off hundreds of workers. There is a new class of entrepreneurs, including Igor Sadikovic, a young Bosnian immigrant who plans to open a coffee shop with an art gallery by next summer, and Rebecca Smith, who owns a handbag store that employs Muslim women.
But the new businesses have not been enough to offset the loss of a manufacturing base and reductions in state revenue sharing. Since 2000, Michigan has twice appointed an emergency manager to the city, which has an annual operating budget of $22 million.
Hamtramck’s exceedingly low home prices and relatively low crime rate have proved especially attractive to new immigrants, whose presence is visible everywhere. Most of the women strolling Joseph Campau Avenue wear hijabs, or headscarves, and niqabs, veils that leave only the area around the eyes open. Many of the markets advertise their wares in Arabic or Bengali, and some display signs telling customers that owners will return shortly — gone to pray, much in the same way Polish businesses once signaled that employees had gone to Mass.
Tensions rise in volume
Many longtime residents point to 2004 as the year they suspected that the town’s culture had shifted irrevocably. It was then that the city council gave permission to al-Islah Islamic Center to broadcast its call to prayer from speakers atop its roof.
“The Polish people think we were invading them,” said Masud Khan, one of the mosque’s leaders, recalling that time in an interview earlier this month. “We were a big threat to their religion and culture. Now their days are gone.”
The mosque, which attracts about 500 people for its Friday prayer services, has purchased a neighboring vacant limestone building in the heart of the city that once was a furniture store. The mosque’s leaders plan to put a minaret — a spire — on the building and use it to continue broadcasting a call to prayer five times a day. The private sale enraged city leaders, including the mayor, who sees the area as key to commercial growth. Mosque leaders estimate that the 20,000-square-foot building will hold up to 2,000 people once the renovation is finished next year.
The town’s transformation caught Mike Bugaj off guard. When the Hamtramck native left to join the Air Force in 1972, the city was widely referred to as “Little Warsaw.” When he returned from the military in 1995, “the Muslims were here,” said Bugaj, who is of Polish and Native American descent. The new majority Muslim council has Bugaj worried that old traditions soon will be wiped away.
He and other residents are “concerned about what they would want to change, that they could mistreat women,” said Bugaj, who wore feather earrings and a T-shirt with wolves on it. “Don’t come over to America and try to turn people to your way of thinking.”
Wayne Little, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years at Corinthian Baptist Church, said many of the city’s African American residents are also waiting to see whether the new Muslim-majority city council will represent their interests. “They are clannish and stick together. The jury is out on them.” Little said.
But Hamtramck’s Muslim population is hardly a monolith - the city is about 23% Arabic, 19% Bangladeshi and 7% Bosnian. The predominantly Muslim groups don’t intermingle much because of language differences, according to Thaddeus Radzilowski of the Piast Institute, a census information center. Adding to the city’s burgeoning diversity are the young, white hipsters who have begun to migrate here from surrounding areas for the food, bars and art shows.
On a recent Saturday, about 40 people crowded into a one-room studio to sip wine from red Solo cups and enjoy a watercolor exhibition by African American artist Olayami Dabls as reggae music thumped in the background. The nudity and sexuality portrayed in Dabls’s paintings provided a startling contrast that afternoon to the handful of veil-clad Muslim women poring over produce at the Yemeni-owned grocery store visible across the street through the window.
Even some residents who are nervous about the new council speak of the city’s diversity with pride, noting the eclectic mix of restaurants and the fact that at least 27 languages are spoken in Hamtramck schools. Frank Zacharias, an elderly Polish American usher at St. Ladislaus, the Catholic parish across the street from the mosque, is intimately familiar with life on Hamtramck’s streets, which he tromped for 28 years as a mail carrier before retiring. The changes have stunned him, he said. “It was hard at the beginning,” he said, referring to 2004, when the mosque began the call to prayer. But, he added: “They’re human. You gotta live with them. Hamtramck is known for diversity.”
University of Michigan at Dearborn professor Sally Howell, who has written a book on Michigan and U.S. Muslims, said that although some outsiders have equated the election results with “a sharia takeover,” that is not a fear she hears expressed by Hamtramck’s non-Muslims.
It all boils down to “a fear that this city council won’t represent the community,” Howell said. Her own sense is that it will. The discord intensified before the election, beginning when several senior citizens living in an apartment complex complained about the volume of the 6 a.m. call to prayer from a nearby mosque.
Susan Dunn, who was on her fifth unsuccessful run for city council, raised the issue before the governing body. “I have my own rights, as well,” she said. “I’m not a hater. It wasn’t a calculated move.” At one point as she spoke, a mosque close to Dunn’s house began broadcasting the call to prayer. “You try reading a book in your back yard while your dog is barking to that,” Dunn said, clearly exasperated.
On the eve of the vote, then-candidate Almasmari sent a photo of a flier he said he had found on the street to Majewski, the mayor, and Dunn. “Let’s get the Muslim out of Hamtramck in November 3rd. Let’s take back our city,” it read. The photo of the flier, which was illustrated with images of three white candidates, including Dunn, began circulating on Facebook. Dunn said she had nothing to do with it.
Then, after the election, a Muslim community organizer upset many residents when he praised the composition of the new council.
“Today, we show the Polish and everybody else,” said Ibrahim Algahim in an address to fellow Muslims that was captured on video.
Muslim community activist Kamal Rahman said he empathizes with the older residents’ concerns and has been working to help unify the town by meeting with city leaders. Rahman, who in 1986 became one of the first Bengalis to attend a Hamtramck high school, said he considered moving to a mostly white Detroit suburb but decided against it once he discovered that a Ku Klux Klan group also had an address there. Instead, he built a five-bedroom home next to a Yemeni mosque just outside of Hamtramck, and sends his children to charter schools in the city.
Rahman encourages other Muslims to watch their language, because it can seem threatening. “It sends the wrong message. If I were white, I would feel scared,” he said.
As he sat in a Yemeni restaurant neatly dressed in a blue dress shirt and dark blue striped tie, Almasmari, the council member, recalled feeling shaken in the weeks leading up to the election, when he discovered that dozens of the yard signs touting his candidacy had been spray-painted with an “X.”
On a boarded-up building on the city’s main street, a poster to re-elect council member Anam Miah had been partially covered with big block letters — “DON’T VOTE” — and a swastika was drawn on Miah’s forehead. But Almasmari insists that long timers’ fears are unfounded. Already, he said he has scheduled a meeting with residents who wish to talk about their concerns — economic, educational and otherwise.
“People talk about Muslims by talking about ‘them,’ but we’re not going to be as single-minded as people think,” said Almasmari, a married father of three who covered his Facebook profile picture last week with the French flag filter.
Back in her vintage shop down the block, Majewski said she sympathizes with the stories of immigrants in search of a better life. It is a subject the mayor knows something about, having specialized in immigration and ethnicity when she earned her doctorate in American culture at the University of Michigan, said Majewski, who works at UM’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.
A few minutes later, she pointed to a large, vacant building down the street that she said had once housed a popular department store. It was purchased by a Yemeni immigrant and has sat empty for two years, she said. “It creates a lot of resentment and drags down the property values. That’s a real source of tension,” Majewski said. “Is that ethnic? What do you call that? Can you criticize his lack of action? There’s certainly an ethnic element, the feeling that they don’t care about the city. How do you disentangle those?”
She paused to tell a shopper that the red plaid shirt he was trying on looked like a good fit before concluding aloud that the new conflicts in Hamtramck have less to do with ethnicity and religion and more about to do with what it means to be a good neighbor.
“We live on top of each other,” she said. “You can pass your plate through the window to the person next door.”
The Future of Cities
The city is clearly seen as a stage on which societal futures will play out. Urban areas are also a stage open to design and intervention: shaping cities for a desired (and often as-yet immaterial) future. We can’t predict future cities, but we can invent them. Cities are largely unpredictable because they are complex systems that are more like organisms than machines. Cities are the product of countless individual and collective decisions that do not conform to any grand plan. They are the product of our inventions. They evolve. Cities are living organisms … they alter and change.
In some ways, cities can be microcosms of universal human behavior, while in others they provide a unique environment that yields its own brand of human behavior. There is no strict dividing line between rural and urban. Rather, there is a continuum where one bleeds into the other. However, once a geographically concentrated population has reached approximately 100,000 people, it typically behaves like a city regardless of what its designation might be.
According to sociologist Gideon Sjoberg (1965), there are three prerequisites for the development of a city: good environment with fresh water and a favorable climate, advanced technology that will produce a food surplus to support non-farmers, and strong social organization to ensure social stability and a stable economy. Most scholars agree that the first cities were developed somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia, though there are disagreements about exactly where. Most early cities were small by today’s standards, limited by a lack of adequate sewage control and food supply, and by geographic restrictions. (Serfs were tied to the land, and transportation was limited and inefficient.)
The primary influence on the growth of modern cities is economic. Urbanization in the US proceeded rapidly during the Industrial Era. As more and more opportunities for work appeared in factories, workers left farms (and the rural communities that housed them) to move to the cities. From mill towns in Massachusetts to tenements in New York, the industrial era saw an influx of poor workers into U.S. cities. At various times throughout history, demographic groups - from post-Civil War southern Blacks to more recent immigrants - have made their way to urban centers to seek a better life in the city.
Cities arouse strong opinions pro and con because there are many things both to like and to dislike about cities. On the one hand, many cities are vibrant places, filled with museums and other cultural attractions, nightclubs, theaters and restaurants, and populated by people from many walks of life and from varied racial and ethnic and national backgrounds. Many college graduates flock to cities, not only for their employment opportunities but also for their many activities and the sheer excitement of living in a metropolis. On the other hand, many cities are also filled with abject poverty, filthy and dilapidated housing, high crime rates, traffic gridlock and dirty air.
The pandemic upended city life and was followed by premature predictions of the demise of the city. Cities aren’t going anywhere, but they do need to change. Big cities - New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston - will ultimately be okay, since a lot of what made them attractive in the first place is still there and impossible to find elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean they will - or can - stay the same. In looking at the future of cities, a few themes have emerged.
The demise of big cities has been greatly exaggerated. Ten years from now, big cities will most likely look remarkably similar to the way they do now. The populations of big cities are always churning, as people in search of more space or cheaper housing leave and new people move in. Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor who studies remote work, estimated that the 12 largest US cities collectively lost about two-thirds of a million residents from city centers through the pandemic, with about 60% moving to nearby suburbs. The explosion of remote work allowed many of the rest to go further afield, to other cities, more distant suburbs and rural areas. But relatively few people abandoned urban life altogether. Even with the option of remote work for many, the same things that attracted people to cities before are still attractive: jobs, other people, amenities. Emily Talen pointed out that people are social animals and will always want to gather and cluster in cities. Cities create a critical mass of activities where commercial, cultural and civic activities are concentrated. That concentration facilitates business, learning and cultural exchange, and that will always be desirable, socially and economically.
Cities will be most attractive to the young and the old. For the population groups at both ends of the age spectrum, post-pandemic cities may represent the perfect place to settle. Young people will still be attracted to big cities for the one thing they can offer that suburbs and rural areas can’t: other people, lots of them, in both a professional and social sense. They’re also the biggest fans of the cultural amenities giant population concentrations bring: restaurants, nightlife, swift public transit, diversity and green spaces. Meanwhile, aging populations could flock to cities at higher rates to take advantage of best-in-class health care, myriad services, walk-ability, and cultural opportunities - all of which allow active seniors to live independently longer.
Downtowns will have to revolve around something other than office space. The old central business district is over, the last gasp of the industrial age. As it stands, three years after the start of the pandemic, offices are still at half their occupancy. Researchers at Columbia and New York University estimate remote work has destroyed half a trillion dollars in office value nationally. Most experts agree that many big-city office buildings will have to become something else to withstand the sustained move to hybrid and remote work. But while the loss of commercial tax revenue stands to put a hole in city budgets, it could lead to a transformation that will ultimately improve city dwellers’ quality of life. Downtown office space will need to be transformed, as well as the activities that are done downtown. Cities will probably become less business- and more amenity-oriented, with an emphasis on culture and entertainment. According to Talen, in order to remain vibrant, downtowns can’t only be a business district or only an office district. They need to be places where people can live, work and play. So downtowns will greatly diversify. That will likely mean more of an emphasis on other revenue streams, like food, entertainment, tourism and converting office spaces to other uses - especially housing. In a thriving ecosystem the waste in the system is quickly repurposed and cities need to do the same, constantly self-refuel and regenerate.
Remote work is a big opportunity for small and midsize cities. Thanks to remote work, people leaving cities can go farther than they would have typically and that’s a big opportunity for smaller and midsize cities, where prices are lower, but so were job opportunities. Of course, these smaller cities have to prove that they are good places to live. That means having - and marketing that they have - things like cheap housing, good schools, temperate climates, abundant green spaces, good airports and robust cultural activities. Post-industrial cities have a leg up, due to ample housing, historic culture and proximity to major waterways that now might function as recreation in addition to ports of commerce.
To compete with each other and truly thrive, cities must work on becoming more attractive places to live. Just because big cities are probably going to be fine doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of challenges or that they can’t be a lot better. They do and they can. The strength of big cities’ labor markets allowed them to ignore other issues like school quality, transit reliability, public safety and housing affordability. The rise of remote work should at least nudge cities back to the basics, refocusing city leaders on the core quality-of-life concerns that local governments were created to address. That means maintaining what already makes cities good and adding things that could make their constituents’ lives better, something that will keep people there and make others come. Critical areas for cities to focus on include building housing, and managing infrastructure and public services more broadly. That would require a combination of loosening zoning restrictions, incentivizing office-to-housing and other commercial real estate conversions, and finding new tax bases. It also means maintaining the systems they already have, like transit systems. It’s also important that cities maintain cleanliness and safety, both in perception and actuality. Law and order is paramount as no business or high earner wants to live in a high crime area. Cities must also consider new challenges on the horizon like climate change and invest more heavily in adapting to changing weather patterns, with things like sea walls and fire-resistant structures.
Sociologist Hillary Angelo says the field needs to expand the frontiers of urban sustainability. Clustering people in energy-efficient buildings and walkable, shady neighborhoods can make cities more pleasant places to live and is better for the global environment but true sustainability requires more. According to Angelo, sustainability research and policy-making should shift focus from city centers to urban regions and global networks of production, consumption and distribution. And policy-makers should incorporate equity into every stage of the urban policy process, from research to formulation to implementation. What exactly the future of cities holds isn’t totally clear, but they’ll certainly stick around. Whether they truly thrive depends on what we do with them next.
Work and Alienation: Marx’s View
For millions of men and women, work is a central part of day-to-day life. Work may be satisfying or deadening and the workplace may be relatively democratic or totally authoritarian. Although the conditions and demands of people’s work lives vary, there can be little doubt of the importance of work and workplace interactions in our society and others.
All the pioneers of sociological thought were concerned that changes in the workplace resulting from the industrial revolution would have a negative impact on workers. ╔mile Durkheim argued that as labor becomes more and more differentiated, individual workers will experience anomie, or a loss of direction. Workers cannot feel the same fulfillment from performing one specialized task in a factory as they did when they were totally responsible for creating a product. Max Weber suggested that impersonality is a fundamental characteristic of bureaucratic organizations. One result is the cold and uncaring feeling often associated with contemporary bureaucracies. But Karl Marx offered the most penetrating analysis of the dehumanizing aspects of industrialization.
Marx believed that as the process of industrialization advanced within capitalist societies, people’s lives became increasingly devoid of meaning. While Marx expressed concern about the damaging effects of many social institutions, he focused his attention on what he saw as a person’s most important activity: labor. For Marx, the emphasis of the industrial revolution on the specialization of factory tasks contributed to a growing sense of alienation among industrial workers.
The term alienation refers to the situation of being estranged or disassociated from the surrounding society. The division of labor increased alienation because workers were channeled into monotonous, meaningless repetition of the same tasks. However, in Marx’s view, an even deeper cause of alienation is the powerlessness of workers in a capitalist economic system. Workers have no control over their occupational duties, the products of their labor, or the distribution of profits. The very existence of private property within capitalism accelerates and intensifies the alienation of members of the working class since they are constantly producing property that is owned by others (members of the capitalist class).
The solution to the problem of workers’ alienation, according to Marx, is to give workers greater control over the workplace and the products of their labor. Of course, Marx did not focus on limited reforms of factory life within the general framework of capitalist economic systems. Rather, he envisioned a revolutionary overthrow of capitalist oppression and a transition to collective ownership of production (socialism) and eventually to the ideal of communism.
The New American Pocketbook
In 1989 a controversy erupted concerning the role of women in corporate America. The debate followed a review about the management styles of men and women. Felice Schwartz, the president and founder of Catalyst, a women’s business research group, makes her case in the respected Harvard Business Review in “Management Women and the New Facts of Life” (67(January–February 1989):65–76). Schwartz argues that women managers are different because many eventually have children and leave or cut back on work commitments while their children are young. Without a strategy for handling these women, she says companies pay a high price. Businesses, according to Schwartz, do not receive a full return on their investment in training some women for top jobs if the women quit or are unable to put in long hours after they become mothers.
In suggesting ways to reduce these costs, Schwartz proposes an idea quite unacceptable to feminists. She says executives should think of female managers as fitting into two broad categories. Career primary women who put work first would be identified early and groomed for top-level positions alongside ambitious men. At the same time, executives would recognize that career and family women can also be valuable assets. To allow them to spend more time at home, companies would offer more options like flexible hours and part-time jobs. Although she did not use the term, mommy track quickly became the buzzword to describe Schwartz’s career and family track.
A common objection to Schwartz’s position is that it may only reinforce corporate and social prejudices about women. “My fear is that if only women take this option, they won’t move up the career ladder, and they have a guaranteed position as the primary parent,” says University of Texas psychologist Lucia A. Gilbert. “We’ll be back where we were in the ‘60s.”
Reverse Socialization and Gender Roles
Conventionally, social scientists examine how parents create gender roles for children from birth through adolescence. Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman have found that children can also affect their parents’ gender roles. They administered the Bem Sex Role Inventory to 306 parents (153 couples) who had daughters only (N=41), sons only (N=41), or an equal number of sons and daughters (N=71).
Fathers with sons had lower femininity scores than fathers with daughters only. Mothers with sons were significantly more feminine than those with daughters only. These results do not support the common-sense expectation that socializing daughters would have a feminizing effect on parents and that socializing sons would have a masculinizing effect.
Ganong and Coleman contend that parents become more sex-typed (that is, fathers become more masculine than feminine and mothers more feminine than masculine). Parents seem to respond to sons by becoming clearer role models of masculinity and femininity. Daughters, on the other hand, have no such effect because there is relatively less concern for teaching them a rigid gender role. The study supports yet another interactionist dimension to gender roles, that the child-parent relationship is mutually influential.