Moms in TV advertisements buy products for the good of their families

Two sociologists argue that a majority of mothers in TV commercials buy products for the good of their children:

Nearly two-thirds of mothers featured in ads on prime time Canadian television are “intensive” moms who buy products solely for the good of the family, while non-mothers were more likely to be portrayed as independent free agents, enjoying themselves far more, a new analysis has found.

The lion’s share of mothers were shown to be “organized, informative and in control,” and always purchasing the product for the benefit of their children, according to University of Toronto sociology researchers Kim de Laat and Shyon Baumann, who combed through 68 television ads…

But Ms. de Laat and Mr. Baumann say the advertising they studied is promoting “sacrificial consumption” — a term they coined to describe the act of buying products primarily for the care of others, rather than for self-care.

“It’s only been within the past 20 to 25 years that we’ve seen increasing emphasis solely on the children to the point where women are supposed to derive satisfaction from all of this caregiving,” said Ms. de Laat, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto.

“Sacrificial consumption” is an interesting phrase but it isn’t a new idea. I’m reminded of the research of Viviana Zelizer (in Morals & Markets) regarding how the once controversial product life insurance came to be viewed as a necessary and sacrificial product that would provide for one’s family. What might be new here is the idea that these commercials are tying motherhood, a social role, to a particular action, providing for children. It attaches a different idea to products: if you’re family needs the product or would at least benefit, whatever money that needs to be spent is well-spent. Being a good mother means buying the “needed” products, not necessarily providing love, support, time, or attention. Do these commercials work by guilting people into action (i.e, “I’m not a good mother unless I do this”)? I wonder how this ties in with the whole idea of “concerted cultivation” where middle- and upper-class parents look to give their kids advantages (including necessary products?).

Is sacrificial consumption used effectively to sell products to other groups? Can you imagine such marketing aimed at men/fathers?

Differences in who blogs by race and education

A new sociological study shows that who blogs is affected by both race and education:

While African Americans as a whole are less likely to afford laptops and personal computers, Internet-savvy blacks, on average, blog one and a half times to nearly twice as much as whites, while Hispanics blog at the same rate as whites, according to a study published in the March online issue of the journal, Information, Communication & Society.

“Blacks consume less online content, but once online, are more likely to produce it,” said the study’s author, Jen Schradie, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley and a researcher at the campus’s Berkeley Center for New Media.

Schradie analyzed data from more than 40,000 Americans surveyed between 2002 and 2008 for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which tracks Internet use and social media trends. Her latest findings follow up on a 2011 study in which Schradie found a “digital divide” among online content producers based on education and socio-economic status…

But, she said, “While blacks are more likely to blog than whites, it doesn’t mean the digital divide is over. People with more income and education are still more likely to blog than those with just a high school education and Internet access.”

There is not a whole lot of public discussion about this “digital divide” but it is interesting to see how this plays out with blogs. Of course, blogs are just one part of the content of the Internet and are a form that generally lends itself to longer pieces of writing (say compared to Twitter, Facebook, comment sections, discussion boards). In general, how involved are minorities in other forms of web content?

I wonder if the link between blogging and education is tied to the idea that more educated Internet users feel like they have something to say and contribute. Or perhaps education leads people to think that they should have a voice. For example, if you think about Annette Lareau’s theories about two types of parenting, “concerted cultivation” leads to adults who are assertive and comfortable in conversing with others.

“Concerted cultivation” in the Chicago Tribune

A story about how class affects how willing students are able to ask for help ran Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune:

Just as every school principal knows the adults most willing to pipe up about everything from the kids’ class assignments to cafeteria food — by and large, well-educated working professionals — a study published last month in the American Sociological Review found their children showed the same propensity to advocate for themselves in the classroom as early as third grade. The children of working-class parents profiled in the two-year study seemed more reticent in asking teachers to review directions, provide more instruction or even check their work…

“We tend to assume that once you put kids in school, what they get there will help them overcome any differences they bring with them. But what this shows is … children have a meaningful impact on the way schooling is happening and what they are able to get out of it,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco…

The picture that emerged was striking: Middle-class students walked in the door knowing how to get their questions answered and, in turn, spent less time waiting for help and typically completed assignments on time. Many working-class children, meanwhile, had to learn those key skills in class from their teachers and peers.

What’s more, Calarco found many middle-class parents coached their students to speak up — politely but persistently — if they did not understand. They viewed seeking help as a critical skill in a class where more than two dozen students turn to a single teacher.

The article doesn’t mention this but this is the concept of “concerted cultivation” (from Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods) in action. While some might just chalk these differences to personality (some kids are more shy or outgoing), Lareau argues that this is really the result of social class. Within the same classroom, students of different class backgrounds have been raised in different ways: the middle- to upper-class students have been socialized to be more assertive with authority figures while lower-class students are less assertive and let authority figures dictate what is happening. With years of being more assertive, middle- to upper-class students are able to reap the benefits of advocating for themselves as well as practicing interacting with and connecting with adults.

While the article mentions that Illinois “the first state in the nation to require that all school districts teach social and emotional skills as part of their curriculum and day-to-day routine,” it doesn’t see if this curriculum helps with this particular topic. While individual teachers might be addressing this, is there a systematic effort to try to help lower-class students find a voice in the classroom and speak up?

It would be fascinating to track these kids further and see how this affects educational achievement differences by high school. Similarly, are there studies about the effectiveness of trying to help lower-class students be more assertive?

This is not a bad run of publicity for the December American Sociological Review: another story from that issue about the gender inequality in multitasking among working parents has also been getting a lot of attention.