More than ten year gap in life span among rich and poor

New data shows that the difference in life spans between richer and poorer Americans continues to grow:

The poor are losing ground not only in income, but also in years of life, the most basic measure of well-being. In the early 1970s, a 60-year-old man in the top half of the earnings ladder could expect to live 1.2 years longer than a man of the same age in the bottom half, according to an analysis by the Social Security Administration. Fast-forward to 2001, and he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart.

New research released on Friday contains even more jarring numbers. Looking at the extreme ends of the income spectrum, economists at the Brookings Institution found that for men born in 1920, there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between the top 10 percent of earners and the bottom 10 percent. For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled, to 14 years.

For women, the gap grew to 13 years, from 4.7 years…

It is hard to point to one overriding cause, but public health researchers have a few answers. In recent decades, smoking, the single biggest cause of preventable death, has helped drive the disparity, said Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the rich and educated began to drop the habit, its deadly effects fell increasingly on poorer, uneducated people. Mr. Fenelon has calculated that smoking accounted for a third to a fifth of the gap in life expectancy between men with college degrees and men with only high school degrees. For women it was as much as a quarter.

In the set of the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, you can’t have as much of the second and third if the first is not the same. While we often discuss inequality of opportunities or outcomes, we spend less time focusing on the body though commentators like Ta-Nehisi Coates have recently drawn more attention to the role of bodies in racial differences.

The article does suggest that evidence shows access to healthcare is not a big driver of this gap.

The workouts of the upper class aim to avoid “excessive displays of strength”

Workout goals and expectations about the ideal fit body type may just be related to social class:

Soon, however, I suffered a creeping insecurity. Looking into the eyes of a banker with soft hands, I imagined him thinking, You deluded moron, what does muscle have to do with anything?

One day, a skinny triathlete jogged past our house: visor, fancy sunglasses, GPS watch. I caught a look of yearning in my wife’s eyes. That night, we fought and she confessed: She couldn’t help it, she liked me better slender…

Sociologists, it turns out, have studied these covert athletic biases. Carl Stempel, for example, writing in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, argues that upper middle class Americans avoid “excessive displays of strength,” viewing the bodybuilder look as vulgar overcompensation for wounded manhood. The so-called dominant classes, Stempel writes—especially those like my friends and myself, richer in fancy degrees than in actual dollars—tend to express dominance through strenuous aerobic sports that display moral character, self-control, and self-development, rather than physical dominance. By chasing pure strength, in other words, packing on all that muscle, I had violated the unspoken prejudices—and dearly held self-definitions—of my social group.

I’ve never encountered this literature. But, I wonder how this might be related to historical social patterns, particularly the shift away from and the growing bifurcation between manual labor/unskilled jobs and the growing white-collar job force who often sit in offices all day. While the wealthy classes of the past may not have had to show any physical abilities, now the expectation is fitness across a wider range of classes. With less manual labor on the job, people today have more choices about exercise ranging from whether to do it at all, how much money to spend on what can become a very expensive activity, and what kind of path to pursue from older patterns to the latest trends.

h/t Instapundit

How the history of mannequins reveals sociological changes in American society

You might not think to look to mannequins to learn about significant changes in American society:

Mannequins have a rich century-old history. They’re what Dr. Marsha Bentley Hale, one of the world’s leading experts on mannequins, calls “significant sociological reflections of our consumer society.”…

– Until the early 1900s, the most common mannequins had no head, arms or legs. But by 1912, with the rise of mass production clothing, full-fledged human figures became popular.

– During the Depression era, mannequins were inspired by Hollywood starlets as many Americans took refuge in movie theaters, according to Eric Feigenbaum, chair of the visual merchandising department of LIM College, a fashion college in New York City. But during World War II, the displays took on a somber tone to reflect more subdued fashions, he says.

– After World War II, mannequins started looking playful again. But sexuality was squelched during the 1940s and the 1950s. In fact, many American retailers removed the nipples of the older mannequins because they were considered too sexual, says Dr. Hale.

Read on to reach the present day where there are more realistic mannequins. I wish there was more analysis here to further explain how mannequins reflect American ideals and perceptions about the body. Plus, are there big differences in mannequins aimed at men or women or in different class settings (like differences between cheaper clothing lines versus higher-end retailers)?

Male British hedge fund employees worried about their appearance, link it to wealth

Even as women are presented with pressure in regard to their appearance, some men face similar pressure. Take this case of male employees at a British hedge fund:

We got our hands on an academic paper published last week by the British Sociological Association, which muscles into the attitudes of male traders towards their bodies, ageing and fitness, as observed at one (thus far unidentified) City-based hedge fund…

According to the study, titled, “Built to last: ageing, class and the masculine body in a UK hedge fund,” people at the mystery fund admit they get teased for not keeping fit, think affluence is linked to physical activity and exercise to offset the negative perceptions of ageing … oh and er, lie about getting work done.

“Conversations on the floor suggested that traders explicitly rejected or mocked the idea of Botox or other forms of cosmetic treatment,” goes the report.

“Yet, during interviews some mentioned dyeing their hair, having regular massages or going on an intense boot camp holiday in order to ‘fix’ parts of their body.”

The acceptable masculine appearance in this setting is interesting. But, it would then be worthwhile to hear more about how appearance gets linked to success and status within the firm. Do fellow employees perceive fit workers to be more successful? Do they get earlier promotions? Did male traders always have to be fit or get benefits from being fit or is this a relatively new phenomenon? This may be another piece of evidence that economic trading is not just about the numbers. As a number of sociological studies have found, other factors other than individual talent or intuition affect abilities in the finance industry including emotion and social networks.

A sociology PhD student is studying changing women’s clothing sizes while also not looking in the mirror before her wedding

This story has now been going around for a few days: a bride-to-be decided 6 months before her wedding to not look at herself in the mirror for the next year, blog about the experience, and draw attention to how women think about beauty and their bodies. What perhaps has gotten lost in this story is that this is being undertaken by a sociology PhD student who is writing a dissertation about women’s clothing sizes:

When Kjerstin Gruys got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, the former fashion merchandiser turned sociologist feared she would relapse into an eating disorder as she hunted for the perfect wedding dress. She was fiercely committed to researching her sociology Ph.D. on beauty and inequality, but was overwhelmed by the pressure of having a picturesque wedding. Her values and behavior were at odds, and she knew had to do something — and quick.

Instead of becoming engulfed in a vanity obsession, she committed to a year without mirrors — and launched the blog Mirror Mirror…OFF The Wall six months before her wedding date…

For her Ph.D. research, Gruys has moved on from body image and started examining vanity size — when clothing that was once, say, a size 8, becomes a size 6 so that women feel better about themselves, she said. By analyzing Sears catalogs from the past 100 years, Gruys said she’s seen drastic changes in clothing size over time. “I think the most interesting thing I’ve found so far is simply that clothing sizes have changed so dramatically, especially for women, and in the direction of getting away from having the clothing size and clothing measurements having any relationship to each other.”

“When we think of standards we think of things that make our lives more standard and more efficient,” she said. But clothing size standards are different across every fashion firm and even across brands within a firm. “We attach so much emotion to body size, women especially and companies want us to feel good when we are trying on their clothes.”

Both projects sound interesting and studying women’s clothing sizes from a sociology of culture perspective is something I wrote about recently.

It is also intriguing to think how this PhD candidate is mixing more traditional forms of research with blogging. This particular mirrors project is not simply being undertaken by someone like AJ Jacobs, a writer who has tackled some odd activities and then written about them (my favorite: The Year of Living Biblically). Rather, this is an academic who has a background in fashion who is also researching topics in the same subfield. The blog could function as more of a personal outlet but I assume it would be informed by sociological insights. I suspect we will see more of this in the future as academics would benefit quite a bit from blog side projects that draw attention to noteworthy issues as well as highlight their research.

A final thought: what would be an equivalent project that a man could undertake?

A sociologist offers a short history of dieting

If you partake of any advertisements in any media form, you will inevitably hear pitches for different kinds of diets. Eat less carbs! Count your points! Take this pill! Get this exercise machine! These sorts of diet pitches are not just a recent phenomenon; a sociologist suggests our ideas about dieting stretch back several hundred years.

Thin has been in much longer than most of us realize, says Ellen Granberg, an assistant professor of sociology at Clemson who studies the history of weight loss…

Moderating the experts will be David Kirchhoff, president and CEO of Weight Watchers International. His organization is just about 50 years old, but Granberg says the very first documented “weight watcher” was an Italian guy in the early 17th century who took notes about his caloric intake and weighed himself daily on a crude scale.

Diet and exercise really took off in the mid-19th century in Europe and migrated over to the U.S. by the 1890s. Why then? Granberg suspects it has to do with the introduction of commercially developed food. And early health gurus, including Sylvester Graham (of eponymous cracker fame), were worried from the get-go about adulterated products.

What Granberg finds most surprising is that modern diets look a lot like the first ones. People were eating low-carb in the 19th century, way before Atkins came along. Sweets were shunned. Just about the only slimming method you won’t hear about today is the suggestion that you smoke cigarettes.

To Granberg, this history proves weight loss has never been easy — and it may never be. “The idea that there is a single, perfect plan is a very old idea. People were thinking about this in the 1600s,” she says. “But it’s always difficult and frustrating. It’s not the fault of the individuals struggling.”

It is interesting to note that the rise of diets in the 1800s seems linked to particular products, such as Graham crackers or corn flakes, that their makers deemed healthy. I wonder if this sociologist could comment on  how much ideas about dieting are tied to capitalism and making money.

And for those who dieted in past histories, which segments of the population were interested in this? Was it a widespread movement or did this come later with the rise of mass media?