Sociologist explains how the Beatles really did change the world

In a new book, a female sociologist argues that the Beatles “actually did change everything…It’s not just hyperbole.”

In addition to the fan voice being missing from 50 years of Beatles scholarship, Leonard said, the female voice is absent. Most of the books about The Beatles are written by men.“As a lifelong female fan and sociologist, I knew I had a fresh perspective that would be an important contribution to the conversation.”

The intense six-year Beatles immersion created a fan-performer relationship that had never existed before, she said: “Demographics, technology, marketing, the political moment and of course quality of the music, all converged to make it a historically unique event.”

From the very beginning, fans had a sense that The Beatles were talking to them directly…

Young people, she said, had the sense all along that The Beatles “were on their side, encouraging and empowering them. Looking at it in this way, fans’ strong emotional attachment, 50 years later, makes perfect sense.”

Add these generational changes (could the Beatles emerged in the same way without the Baby Boomers?) to a band that came right at the peak of mass media (by the end of the 1960s, more narratives and media outlets were emerging), was able to do everything themselves as a cohesive group (write, sing, and play) compared to single performers (like Elvis) or made bands (like the Monkees), had a personality that was both somewhat traditional (see the clear contrast The Rolling Stones made with them) as well as cheeky and somewhat rebellious, pushed the boundaries of pop music as well as recording techniques, and sold a ridiculous number of albums. Is all of this on the scale of the Cold War or landing on the moon or the ongoing struggles in the Middle East? Probably not but it helped develop and ingrain the importance of popular culture for American society…

It is interesting that most of the major Beatles books have been written by men. Come to think of it, rock music still is dominated by men whether it comes to performers, behind the scenes operators (producers, record label executives, etc.), and journalists.

Sociologist: white heterosexual adult men have the least close friends

Sociologist Lisa Wade argues white heterosexual adult men want more friendships but have a hard time finding them:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation. Friendship scholar Geoffrey Greif calls these “shoulder-to-shoulder” friendships, contrasting them to the “face-to-face” friendships that many women enjoy. If a man does have a confidant, three-quarters of the time it’s a woman, and there’s a good chance she’s his wife or girlfriend.

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure. Moreover, when asked to describe what they mean by intimacy, men say the same thing as women: emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them.

Men desire the same level and type of intimacy in their friendships as women, but they aren’t getting it.

This seems to line up with research from sociologist Michael Kimmel in Guyland where he found that young adult, college-age, and teenage males generally wanted deeper friendships but the expectations about what it means to be a man, particularly in group settings, makes this quite difficult. Also, Grief’s description of “shoulder-to-shoulder” friendships sounds similar to C.S. Lewis’ description of friends walking side-by-side in life as opposed to romantic partners continually looking at each other.

A note: I do wish Wade had more broad data to back up her argument. She cites the McPherson et al. 2006 ASR piece on friends but I remember seeing that one of the co-authors, Matthew Brashears, suggested the study may not have been conclusive.

When will more romantic comedies reflect living alone, cohabitation, and women getting more education than men?

The world of romantic relationships is changing: more people are living alone, cohabitating (maybe or maybe not marrying in the long run), and more women are obtaining college and graduate degrees than men. So when will romantic comedies reflect this?

I bring this up because I recently saw The Five-Year Engagement. This movie tackles the latter two issues I mentioned above: the couple lives together roughly 3-4 years before they get married (there is a clear period when they live separately). Also, the woman is working on a post-doc in social psychology at the University of Michigan while the man is a chef who has taken some classes as a culinary school. They end up having to try to compromise between their two jobs but little is mentioned about the relative status of the two professions. (A side note: how many people seeing this movie even know what a post-doc is? Is this mainstream? Also, I am undecided whether the film makes the field of social psychology look good or bad.) Yet, in the end, the couple still gets married. In fact, much of the plot of the movie is driven by the idea that the couple wants to get married but circumstances keep getting in the way. Additionally, the other main couple in the movie gets married quickly after they find out the woman is pregnant.

In the future, can the genre of romantic comedies survive without marriage at the end? Marriage is a nice plot device to end the film: they invariably show happy couples finally going through a marriage ceremony. It wraps up the story nicely. However, fewer American adults are married (51%) so are these films now more aspirational than ever and/or do they reflect the interests of a shrinking subset of the population? This also reminds me of the film (500) Days of Summer where marriage is not in the cards for the couple involved but movie viewers probably don’t get the same happy feeling at the end. I suspect romantic comedies will subtly or not so subtly change in the coming years to reflect these new realities and still try to provoke happy feelings even if marriage is not seen as much as the end goal.

Elderly co-housing in France an alternative to Going Solo in the United States?

While Americans may be increasingly living alone, Le Monde reports on another trend: co-housing among the elderly.

This unconventional but pragmatic solution is happening all over France – dozens of house-shares have already been created, and they are giving food for thought to many in their 60s, 70s and 80s…

According to Yankel Fijalkow, urban sociologist and author of “Sociologie du Logement” [Sociology of Housing], “House-sharing for the elderly is a sort of group response to the ambient individualism.” Fijalkow says. “It is part of the same phenomenon as co-housing – houses with shared facilities – in Northern Europe and the United States or housing cooperatives. Faced by the fragility of the family unit, a desire emerges to recreate a quasi-family.”

But Fijalkow adds: “Let’s not be idealistic. Accommodation is expensive, and this is mostly a commercial transaction. With the current changes in family models, we go from being part of a couple to living on our own or in a house-share. People are flexible and adapt when the housing market is prohibitively expensive.”…

This system is being adopted all over Europe. Colocation Seniors, an organization in the western French city of Nantes was inspired by a similar project in Belgium, and has already helped dozens of seniors set up house-shares in the last three years, offering continuing support even after the house-share has been organized.

It is hard to know from this article how big of a trend this really is.

It is interesting to hear Fijalkow talk about these two motivating factors: a desire to have a “quasi-family” and economic realities. Which of these are more important? Does this suggest that people with more economic resources would not choose co-housing? It is already a foregone conclusion in many places that most families are fragile and/or past the breaking point?

This also reminds of the end of Kate Bolick’s article “All the Single Ladies” from November 2011. Here is where Bolick ends her thoughts on current relationships between women and men – a tour of a sort of dormitory for single women in Amsterdam:

The Begijnhof is big—106 apartments in all—but even so, I nearly pedaled right past it on my rented bicycle, hidden as it is in plain sight: a walled enclosure in the middle of the city, set a meter lower than its surroundings. Throngs of tourists sped past toward the adjacent shopping district. In the wall is a heavy, rounded wood door. I pulled it open and walked through.

Inside was an enchanted garden: a modest courtyard surrounded by classic Dutch houses of all different widths and heights. Roses and hydrangea lined walkways and peeked through gates. The sounds of the city were indiscernible. As I climbed the narrow, twisting stairs to Ellen’s sun-filled garret, she leaned over the railing in welcome—white hair cut in a bob, smiling red-painted lips. A writer and producer of avant-garde radio programs, Ellen, 60, has a chic, minimal style that carries over into her little two-floor apartment, which can’t be more than 300 square feet. Neat and efficient in the way of a ship, the place has large windows overlooking the courtyard and rooftops below. To be there is like being held in a nest.

We drank tea and talked, and Ellen rolled her own cigarettes and smoked thoughtfully. She talked about how the Dutch don’t regard being single as peculiar in any way—people are as they are. She feels blessed to live at the Begijnhof and doesn’t ever want to leave. Save for one or two friends on the premises, socially she holds herself aloof; she has no interest in being ensnared by the gossip on which a few of the residents thrive—but she loves knowing that they’re there. Ellen has a partner, but since he’s not allowed to spend the night, they split time between her place and his nearby home. “If you want to live here, you have to adjust, and you have to be creative,” Ellen said. (When I asked her if starting a relationship was a difficult decision after so many years of pleasurable solitude, she looked at me meaningfully and said, “It wasn’t a choice—it was a certainty.”)

When an American woman gives you a tour of her house, she leads you through all the rooms. Instead, this expat showed me her favorite window views: from her desk, from her (single) bed, from her reading chair. As I perched for a moment in each spot, trying her life on for size, I thought about the years I’d spent struggling against the four walls of my apartment, and I wondered what my mother’s life would have been like had she lived and divorced my father. A room of one’s own, for each of us. A place where single women can live and thrive as themselves.

How modern societies reconcile aging and individualism will be very interesting to watch.

“Almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives now out-earn their husbands”

This isn’t too surprising considering the number of women getting college and graduate degrees today, but a new statistic puts those education figures in a different light: “almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives now out-earn their husbands.”

Reading Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy’s book, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family, out this March, was a genuine shock. Based on 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures hot off the press (a government economist slipped Mundy the stats before they were published, in fact), “almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives now out-earn their husbands.” While that’s not the majority-grandiose subtitles definitely are the norm-it’s darn close to it. (For the record, my guess was 25 percent, the figure in the early ’90s.)

Luckily for my ego, Mundy tells me in an interview that she too was surprised at the 40 percent, and, better yet, she says, “Most of the expert readers I’ve given the manuscript to don’t believe it.” The lofty number of female breadwinners, or more accurately, female primary breadwinners, isn’t just a product of our devastating recession. As has been well publicized, largely male employment sectors such as manufacturing did contract the most during the recent economic downturn, accelerating the trend. But since way back in 1987, the slice of wives taking home more than their husbands has risen steadily, by a percentage point or so every year.

That’s principally because so many more women than men are getting undergraduate and postgrad degrees-by 2050, there will be 140 college-educated women in the U.S. for every 100 similar men-and because the economy is bifurcating between low-skill, low-wage jobs and high-skill, higher paying ones (that require a bachelor’s or more), with the middle emptying out.

Indeed, another title of Mundy’s book could’ve been The Big Flip. It’s the phrase she uses to denote the time not so far away-2025 is her hunch, based on her impressive research, which, in addition to a data dump, includes interviews with scores of ordinary people living the new reality-when more than half of the earners-in-chief in American households will be women. (Another factoid pointing toward the imminence of the flip: Nine out of the 10 U.S. job categories expected to grow most in the next decade-nursing, accounting, postsecondary teaching-are female dominated.)

While this is a weirdly casual account of these figures, the author is correct in suggesting this could lead to big changes in relationships and the established patriarchy.

One issue I haven’t seen raised when looking at data like this is while women may be making more money and be getting more degrees, will they really be in positions of power in society? While women may have relative power in the household (though having an economic edge doesn’t necessarily translate into more power), this doesn’t necessarily mean that these women have power in their workplace. You could end up with a situation where women’s status at home is up, which I think some would see as is a good thing, but they are still subordinates in male-led careers and workplaces, which would not be viewed as positively.

Has the rise of football harmed male educational attainment?

With data in recent years suggesting that men are falling behind at the college level, Gregg Easterbrook suggests this may be due to football:

Women are taking more of the available slots in college at the same time boys are spending more time playing football. Are these two facts related?

The main force must be that girls as a group are doing very well in high school, making them attractive candidates for college. But perhaps the rising popularity of football is at the same time decreasing boys’ chances of college admission.

Having ever-more boys being bashed on the head in football, while more play full-pads tackle at young ages, may be causing brain trauma that makes boys as a group somewhat less likely to succeed as students. In the highly competitive race for college admissions, even a small overall medical disadvantage for boys could matter. More important, the increasing amount of time high school boys devote to football may be preventing them from having the GPA and extracurriculars that will earn them regular admission to college when recruiters don’t come calling…

Neurology aside, most likely the largest factor in the possible relationship of rising football popularity to declining male college attendance is that teen boys who play the sport spend too much time on football and not enough time on schoolwork. When they don’t get recruited, many may lack the grades, board scores and extracurriculars for regular college admission.

Easterbrook is suggesting a correlation between two pieces of data: the declining performance of men in school compared to women and a rising interest in football. (To really get at whether this is the case, we would need to undertake an analysis where we can control for other factors.)  He suggests two possible ways in which football might be having an impact: neurological damage and time spent playing and practicing the sport. Out of these, the second sounds more plausible to me.

But I wonder if there isn’t a lot more we could say about this second possible explanation. Why would high school and college males want to spend so much time playing football? Why is it such an attractive option? Perhaps this attraction to football suggests that society doesn’t present too many other attractive options to young males. Perhaps younger males lack good role models in their personal lives or in society who do other things, respectable males who would say that getting an education is an important step in order to participate in today’s society. Do we have cool scientists or academics or do we usually highlight celebrities (particularly those who are famous for being famous) and athletes? Perhaps “manliness” is now defined by football: across the positions, it requires speed (running), violence (hitting), decision-making, and competition. Plus, everyone has been playing this on Madden for years so how hard could this be?

I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too difficult to find some data regarding high school students to see who plays football and perhaps even indicates why they play.

A stable statistic since 1941: “Americans prefer boys to girls”

Amidst news that families in Asian countries are selecting boys over girls before they are born, Gallup reports that Americans also prefer boys:

Gallup has asked Americans about their preferences for a boy or a girl — using slightly different question wordings over the years — 10 times since 1941. In each instance, the results tilt toward a preference for a boy rather than a girl. The average male child-preference gap across these 10 surveys is 11 percentage points, making this year’s results (a 12-point boy-preference gap) just about average. Gallup found the largest gap in 1947 and 2000 (15 points) and the smallest in a 1990 survey (4 points).

The attitudes of American men drive the overall preference for a boy; in the current poll, conducted June 9-12, men favor a boy over a girl by a 49% to 22% margin. American women do not have a proportionate preference for girls. Instead, women show essentially no preference either way: 31% say they would prefer a boy and 33% would prefer a girl…

The degree to which Americans deliberately attempt to select the gender of their children is unclear. It is significant that 18- to 29-year-old Americans are the most likely of any age group to express a preference for a boy because most babies are born to younger adults. The impact of the differences between men and women in preferences for the sex of their babies is also potentially important. The data from the U.S. suggest that if it were up to mothers to decide the gender of their children, there would be no tilt toward boys. Potential fathers have a clear preference for boys if given a choice, but the precise amount of input males may have into a deliberate gender-selection process is unknown.

This seems to be one of those statistics that is remarkably constant since 1941 even though the relationships between and perceptions of genders has changed. Is this statistic a sign of a lack of progress in the area of gender?

Gallup suggests several traits lead to higher preferences for boys: being male, being younger, having a lower level of education (though income doesn’t matter), and Republican. So why exactly do these traits lead to these preferences? Outside of being younger, one could suggest these traits add up to a “traditionalist” understanding of families where boys are more prized.

Quick Review: The Cosmopolitan Canopy

While I have already written some about Elijah Anderson’s new book The Cosmopolitan Canopy (here and here), I had a chance to read the book for myself and I have a few thoughts.

1. The book is supposedly about the public spaces in Philadelphia (and other big cities) where people of different races and social classes can mingle and interact without the difficulties that race and social class can often impose. Interestingly, this isn’t really the focus of the whole book (more on this shortly). But in this section, I thought some of the analysis was thin. It is clear that Anderson has spent a lot of time in some of these spaces, such as the Reading Terminal Market. I don’t doubt his observations but others have written before about public spaces and how they operate.

1a. Thinking about this, I would enjoy seeing some work on this in suburban settings. Since this is where most Americans now live, how do public spaces in the suburbs operate?

2. The strongest part of the book, in my opinion, was the latter half when Anderson focuses more on the experiences of black males in these canopies and elsewhere. Here, Anderson provides a lot of insight into how race still is a master status, even within high-powered workplaces. His examples are interesting, including settings like law firms and upper-end restaurants, and he has some insights into how race still has a profound impact on everyday interaction. This section reminded me of Anderson’s extended story of John Turner in Code of the Street where the ethnographic data really tells us about the current state of American race.

2a. It would also be interesting to get the stories of the whites involved in these examples.

3. The emphasis of the book is Philadelphia but I would have enjoyed reading about the flavor of this particular city opposed to other large cities. Would cosmopolitan canopies work the same in other places? Does the interaction depend on the mix of groups and races? What happens in newer large cities where there may be fewer public spaces and established neighborhoods? Are spaces like Rittenhouse Square or The Gallery unique or similar to other spaces?

On the whole, I think Anderson contributes to our knowledge by exploring how race still matters in American lives today. The part about cosmopolitan canopies is intriguing but could be better developed.

The decline of men in the American workforce

The Economist examines some recent figures showing that men, particularly less-skilled workers, have lower levels of participation in the labor force:

The decline of the working American man has been most marked among the less educated and blacks. If you adjust official data to include men in prison or the armed forces (who are left out of the raw numbers), around 35% of 25- to 54-year-old men with no high-school diploma have no job, up from around 10% in the 1960s. Of those who finished high school but did not go to college, the fraction without work has climbed from below 5% in the 1960s to almost 25% (see chart 2). Among blacks, more than 30% overall and almost 70% of high-school dropouts have no job…

The main reason why fewer men are working is that sweeping structural changes in rich economies have reduced the demand for all less-skilled workers. Manufacturing has declined as a share of GDP, and productivity growth has enabled factories to produce more with fewer people. Technological advances require higher skills. For the low-skilled, low demand has meant lower wages, both relative and absolute. This in turn reduces the incentive to find a job, especially if disability payments or a working spouse provide an income.

Men have been hit harder than women by these shifts. They are likelier to work in manufacturing; women have been better represented in sectors, such as health care and education, where most job growth has taken place. Women have also done more than men to improve their academic credentials: in most rich countries they are likelier than men to go to university.

There is a lot to think about here. One reason that the article cites for this trend is the numbers of women (compared to men) who are getting college degrees. This has been noted by others (with some interesting data from the White House here) and it really does seem to be a sizable shift in American society.

A few other questions come to mind:

1. Could politicians promote policies that specifically target less-skilled male workers?

2. What are some of the broader consequences of this trend, such as the impact on community life or family life?

3. How could schools, particularly high schools and colleges, tackle this issue?

Study of over 5,000 children’s books from 20th century shows gender bias

A team of sociologists looked at “nearly 6,000” of children’s books from the 20th century and found that there were patterns of gender bias throughout the entire period:

“We looked at a full century of children’s books,” McCabe said. “We were surprised to find that books did not become consistently more equal throughout the century. They were most unequal in the middle of the century, with more male-dominated characters from 1930 to 1969, than those published in the first three decades of the century and in later decades.”…

The study, “Gender in Twentieth–Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters,” was published in the journal Gender & Society. The study found that:

•Males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books published per year, while only 31 percent have female central characters.
•No more than 33 percent of children’s books published in any given year contain central characters that are adult women or female animals, but adult men and male animals appear in up to 100 percent of books.
•Male animals are central characters in more than 23 percent of books per year, while female animals are in only 7.5 percent.
•On average, 36.5 percent of books in each year studied include a male in the title, compared to 17.5 percent that include a female.
•Although books published in the 1990s came close to parity for human characters, a significant disparity of nearly 2 to 1 remains for male animal characters versus female.

This may not seem terribly important in the grand scheme of the world but at the same time, children’s books can play an important role in the socialization process. I would be interested to see how the authors discuss the changing role of children’s book with the advent of mass publishing, television, movies/DVDs, etc. And is there any way to assess the impact of such texts on children who read them?

Just off the top of my head, I’m struck by the number of children’s books examined. Over a 100 year stretch, this would average out of 60 per year but this seems like an unusually large qualitative data set.