A preview of my upcoming talk on social media, emerging adults, and religiosity

Ahead of my participation in the “Emerging Adults: Formation for Mission” conference taking place soon on the Wheaton College campus is an interview regarding my talk:

I would describe the use of social media by emerging adults as a mix of excitement and resignation. A vast majority of emerging adults participate. They describe learning about relationships they already have, connecting with friends and family, seeing pictures, sharing jokes.

They find out about events and news through social media. They search for romantic partners through social media.

On the other side, they can articulate some of the downsides of this use including a lack of focus, not spending time with people (just their feeds), and the conflict that can arise in social media. Not participating means missing key connections and knowledge that others can access. Current emerging adults have known and participated in social media all of their lives and will continue to use social media as they age beyond this life stage.

The emerging adults of today are immersed in social media, technology, and other forms of media and they bring this with them as they consider faith and church.

While there is a lot of work looking at social media or social network site (SNS) use, relatively little of it in sociology and other disciplines addresses how this activity is influenced by or influences religion. This talk will help bring together several years of research projects with my sociology colleagues Peter Mundey and Jon Hill.

Biggest European youth survey to conclude with two documentaries

Several researchers are embarking on what they say will be the biggest survey of young adults in Europe but what the results will lead to is different:

RTÉ is seeking 18-34-year-olds to take part in a pan-European online survey that it hopes will produce the “most comprehensive sociological study” of the age group ever presented…

Processing the data will involve a three pronged approach. There will be a quantitative side based on the questionnaire results, a qualitative approach based on documentary videos of groups of people and individuals filling out the survey, and a comparative approach looking at how the answers compare with other European societies…

“We’re ultimately going to produce two one-hour documentaries later this year, which will be the sociological analysis of the survey, and which we hope will provide a very valuable window into contemporary Ireland today.

If there is so much good data to be collected here, the choice to conclude with a documentary is an interesting one. On one hand, the typical sociology approach would be to publish at least a journal article if not a book. On the other hand, if the researchers are trying to reach a broader audience, a documentary that is widely available might get a lot more attention. At least in the United States, documentaries might be seen as nice efforts at public sociology but they are unlikely to win many points toward good research (perhaps even if they are used regularly in sociology courses).

Why doesn’t the American Sociological Association have an arm that puts together documentaries based on sociological work? Or, is there some money to be made here for a production company to regularly put out sociological material? Imagine Gang Leader For a Day or Unequal Childhoods as an 80 minute documentary.

Unclear how much student debt is holding back the housing market

The sluggish housing market is likely not helped by the amount of student debt held by young adults:

[T]he Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports today that in 2013, student debtors between the ages of 27 and 30 were less likely to own a home—or, specifically, to have a mortgage—than their peers who were student-debt free. Homeownership rates have fallen fast among all young adults since the recession. But, as shown below, they’ve dropped most precipitously among those who borrowed for school.

6a01348793456c970c01a511b13bd1970c450wi_1Federal Reserve Bank of New York

There’s one key detail this graph leaves out, however, which the Fed shared in a separate report from early last year (and which I’ve written on before). It turns out that, at the end of 2012, borrowers who were current on their student loan payments were actually more likely to take out a mortgage than other young adults. Borrowers who were delinquent on their student loans, however, took out barely any mortgages at all. In other words, young people who already couldn’t handle their debt simply weren’t in the market for houses.

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Federal Reserve Bank of New York

A key point: having college debt doesn’t completely stop mortgage originations. So, reducing college debt (and look at the median, not the average) could help free up the housing market but it isn’t the only problem.

I wonder if there isn’t another way to think about this: more young Americans are willing to trade a college degree for homeownership before they are 30. This could be due to a variety of reasons including earning potential due to a college degree but also a decreased interest in owning a home as opposed to accomplishing other goals like living in an exciting place or establishing themselves in a career. In other words, this issue may not really be about college debt holding people back but rather about the relative interest young adults have in owning a house.

New TV shows with young adults feature unrealistically large city apartments

The dwellings of many young adults on television are quite large:

Plenty of things are unrealistic about television: No iconic moment in my life has ever been accompanied by Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen,” despite how much I wish it were. But the perpetual tiny-but-annoying quirk that most shows are guilty of is the unemployed twentysomething with a fabulous apartment. I’m onto you, Girls: No matter how much junk you throw around in Marnie and Hannah’s onetime-shared living space, it doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve got a ton of room. I live in New York City; I know you’re lying to me.

This isn’t anything new, of course. The go-to example is usually Carrie Bradshaw and her ridiculous Manhattan apartment with its gorgeous walk-in closet full on Manolos when her only source of explained income was a weekly newspaper column. But while everyone loves some good 1998 nostalgia (the Friends’ West Village apartments are another egregious example), the trend of the unbelievably large home isn’t fading away.

I’m not simply talking about gorgeous, jealousy-inspiring apartments; I totally get and buy into the fact that say, Dr. Lahiri from The Mindy Project would have an awe-worthy living space to bring all of her meet-cute boyfriends. What I can’t get behind is recent shows like dearly-departed Happy Endings (perpetually unemployed Max’s “gross loft” in Chicago is gorgeous) or 2 Broke Girls‘ Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment (They’re supposed to actually be broke, not heiresses!) where the characters ostensibly “have no money,” yet are somehow chilling around complaining about said fact in an abode that would retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sure, this is a minor issue. None of this is getting in the way of my enjoyment of all of these shows. But there is some point during each of these programs’ respective runs — often more than once — where I’ll laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. It’s all I can do; I can’t change the channel: basically all shows with twenty-something characters are guilty of this. Weirdly enough, the most realistic living set-up on television right now might be the Big Brother house, with all 16 of its residents fighting in a Hunger Games of sorts for limited bed space.

Several quick thoughts:

1. If Big Brother is perceived to be more realistic, these other shows may have some problems.

2. Of the examples cited above, most of the urban apartments are in New York City with one in Chicago (Happy Endings). Manhattan and some of the surroundings areas are some of the most expensive areas in the country so the housing situation as portrayed on TV is really unrealistic. At the same time, TV shows with young adults in places like Atlanta or Houston or Dallas or some other cheaper markets could feature bigger apartments without losing all realism.

3. This is not a new phenomenon on TV. In The Overspent American, sociologist Juliet Schor talks about the expanding middle-class lifestyle on television in the later decades of the 20th century. As the years went by, middle-class people on TV had more and more material goods, larger houses, and had fewer concerns about work and money. Schor then argues that TV contributed to changing perceptions among Americans in what they needed to own to have “the good life.”

4. Shows on channels like HGTV don’t help. It seems like every show features a person looking for the most-updated features. Granted, their price range varies quite a bit but the homes tend to be on the larger side. This is simply unrealistic for many emerging adults.

5. There is potential here for some TV shows to work with more size-appropriate dwellings. How about a show about young people revolving around micro-apartments? How about bringing back the starter home on TV?

Where emerging adults live tends to perpetuate residential segregation

A new study suggests mobility patterns of emerging adults tend to reinforce existing patterns of residential segregation:

“We were interested in this idea that this stage of the life-course could be a potentially really important juncture for breaking down these kinds of very long-established patterns of residential segregation and all of the inequalities that go with them,” says Marcus Britton, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has studied the question. “Unfortunately, our results are not tremendously encouraging on that score.”

Britton and Pat Goldsmith, a sociologist at Texas A&M, examined records from the National Education Longitudinal Study of more than 7,000 students who were eighth-graders in 1988. That study followed these students through 2000, when most of them were 26. Britton and Goldsmith, in research published in the journal Urban Studies, compared their home zip codes and other characteristics at various points along this timeline with census data collected in 1990 and 2000 about the racial makeup of those neighborhoods.

Blacks and Hispanics who migrated to new metropolitan areas were, in fact, more likely to live in zip codes with greater exposure to whites, unlike minorities who moved within their own city. But few minorities actually made such long-distance moves. This means that segregation persists in part because many minorities have limited exposure to integrated neighborhoods as children, but also because they have limited mobility as they age to relocate somewhere entirely new.

Britton has conducted other research that suggests that minorities are also much more likely to live at home as young adults than whites are. And given patterns that we’ve seen more recently during the recession – when young twentysomethings of all races have been stuck at home – these trends bode particularly poorly for integration.

This is a clever research design: emerging adults, who may be more interested in diversity compared to older generations and who are also in a period of transition where they can try out some new kinds of places, might break out of patterns of residential segregation. But, this description of the research findings suggests it is difficult to move beyond past residential segregation patterns. This sounds like a basic sociological finding, people are strongly influenced by past conditions, but also adds the element that even a younger generation who has heard more about diversity and may be more interested in living in urban areas is also not willing or able to move in large numbers to more diverse places.

This would be something interesting to keep track of in the future: could we envision a United States in several decades where most people support diversity and fighting inequality based on race/ethnicity, class, and gender but few people are willing to actually change where they or others live?

“Faith in the Age of Facebook” published online by Sociology of Religion

Along with my co-authors Peter Mundey and Jon Hill, a new article I co-wrote was published online a few days ago by Sociology of Religion. The paper is titled “Faith in the Age of Facebook: Exploring the Links Between Religion and Social Network Site Membership and Use” and here is the abstract:

This study examines how religiousness influences social network site (SNS) membership and frequency of use for emerging adults between 18 and 23 years old utilizing Wave 3 survey data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). Independent of religion promoting a prosocial orientation, organizational involvement, and civic engagement, Catholics and Evangelical Protestants are more likely than the “not religious” to be SNS members, and more Bible reading is associated with lower levels of SNS membership and use. We argue there are both sacred and secular influences on SNS involvement, and social behaviors, such as being in school and participating in more non-religious organizations, generally positively influence becoming a SNS member, yet certain more private behaviors, such as Bible reading, donating money, and helping the needy, lessen SNS participation. We also suggest four areas for future research to help untangle the influence of religiousness on SNS use and vice versa.

More micro-apartments being built in American cities

New York City isn’t apparently the only place looking into micro housing units; micro-apartments are apparently popping up in other major citiesb.

Micro-unit apartments range from 300-square-foot studios being built in San Francisco, where studios average 510 square feet, to New York’s pilot for a building with studios of 275 to 300 square feet, vs. an average studio size of 517 square feet. In Boston, the units are as small as 354 square feet, vs. an average studio size of 492 square feet, says real estate research firm Reis.

These small spaces, McIlwain says, are particularly well suited for the influx of young professionals moving to high-rent cities like New York and San Francisco. If they’re priced right, the tiny apartments make it more affordable for members of the younger crowd to have their own space, vs. roommates…

Kennedy expects his studios to go for $1,500 to $2,000 a month. That would be somewhat less than the $2,075 a month average rent for a San Francisco studio — an average of 493 square feet, according to SFGate.com, citing data from real estate service RealFacts.

Tiny typically means cheaper — but just to a certain extent, McIlwain notes. Total construction cost for an apartment drops as you make it smaller, he adds, but cost per square foot rises.

It will be interesting to see how many of these units are built. There may be demand but I wonder if these are long-term units, meaning young people may not stay here long (housing more for a particular stage of life) or the economy could improve.