I am “in a relationship”

Culture is, among other things, the power of legitimate naming. Or so says James Hunter, sociologist of culture at the University of Virginia. Makes sense to me. In his book To Change the World, he notes that culture change is most enduring when it penetrates the structure of our imagination, our frameworks of discussion, and our perceptions of everyday reality.

This became evident to me the other day when, while on Facebook, I noticed that a kid (age 10 or so, I think) whom I once knew was a Facebook “friend” of a “friend” of mine. I don’t think I have “friends” that are kids, and so the sociologist in me quickly wondered what kids do and say on Facebook, and how is it different from what adults do and say. So I took a look. The first thing I noticed was that another friend of this child was someone I had also once known (as their basketball coach). I took a look at his profile and wall. It was noted there that he had recently changed his status from “in a relationship” to “single.”

That struck me as odd, and rather adult-like. Which of course it is, because Facebook apparently doesn’t use old-fashioned kid terms like “going with” to describe childhood romances. (Never mind the “going where” questions…). And it hammered home to me the reality that, as children uptake Facebook, that the latter will have a great deal of say over the terms—and more importantly, the ideas and norms and expectations behind the terms—in which youth describe lots of things.

Facebook has—via our active participation and ample passivity—done exactly that in the domain of relationships. But I don’t really think of a 12-year-old as “single.” (Do you?) I have historically thought of singles as unmarried persons. Now apparently singles are persons who are not “in a relationship.” I am in a relationship, for the record. At least Facebook allows me to say that I’m married. Imagine the hullaballoo if FB were to drop the married status and simply use “in a relationship.” But imagine if they stuck to their guns about it. FB has real power in cultural naming, and with it legitimation. Far too much, to be sure.

I am not actually problematizing the relationship play of kids. Been there done that, didn’t come away from it warped or traumatized. But when you imprint adult-like statuses on children, the latter come to seem and act more like the former (and arguably vice versa). But with Facebook, one size fits all.

Except that it doesn’t.


Green is Go(o)d

Let’s start with an admission: I’m a fan of new urbanism. And old urbanism, for that matter. It sort of makes sense as a sociologist and someone who is invested in long-term strategies for growing families and cities while retaining permeable cover for farmland, etc. I’m always impressed with old stories about big families in small houses. Ergo, I live in an overpriced townhouse in a high-density neighborhood not far from the middle of Austin. And I generally like it, if mostly for lazy reasons: no yard to mow; low maintenance; feeding off my neighbors’ energy usage—via shared walls—to reduce the cost of my own. (Some) decent kids nearby for the young’uns to play with. Good stuff.

But the green movement which thrives in this new urbanist community is, from my angle, not just another interest group. It bears characteristics of what sociologists of religion would call a “new religious movement,” a subject of longstanding interest to scholars I used to hang out with. To be sure, the green movement is not a religion in the way we typically understand the term, and doesn’t have worship services per se. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t worship going on.

Borrowing from Christian Smith and others whom I cannot immediately recall, think about the ways in which the environmental movement fits this definition of religion: it’s a group phenomenon; concerned with the sacred; has a body of beliefs; has a set of practices; and it includes moral prescriptions. We do things for the things we worship, which technically is a term that means to “affirm the worth of.” We pay them a lot of attention. We offer up time and talents to them.

So when my neighbors hold an annual “hug the lake” event, outdo each other to (ironically drive long distances in order to) buy up the available Chevy Volts, serve as ground zero for Earth Day in Austin, and exhibit sustained one-upmanship about their personal environmental efforts, I start to feel like I’m a bad environmentalist and that I need to confess my sins–a full trash can, no bicycle, two cars, no solar panels–and return to affirming the beliefs and practicing the rituals, no matter the cost. (But I draw the line well short of a compost toilet.) Can’t I just be a new urbanist? Not really, because that is settled simply by living there (that is, by being in the same “congregation” of sorts). To be truly devout, I would need to set myself apart from my fellow congregants by exhibiting greater sacrifices. I need to be part of the 20 percent of the congregation that does 80 percent of the work. Free riding, after all, is a classic problem in religious organizations.

It all sounds like religion to me. Which is not surprising, given the claim I just made about what religion is and does. It need not be about the supernatural. It’s about the super-empirical: humans treat many things in life as sacred that are immanent, that have nothing to do with unseen beings.

We all worship something. It’s in the design.

More fun with statistics

Back by popular demand—and because frankly some weeks (months?) it is just plain challenging to pull new material together—are another dozen curious statistics about today’s young adults, from a new nationally-representative study of just under 3,000 18-39-year-olds.

1. Here’s an interesting one. We asked respondents whether their biological parents were ever married to each other. I got clever (I think) with the responses and acquired more than just a yes or no response. It turns out that 42 percent of this sample said that yes, there biological parents were and are still married today. An additional 29 percent said that yes they were, but are no longer due to separation or divorce; 10 percent said that yes they were, but that one or both of them is now deceased.

2. Another one on the basics—we asked about full siblings: 21 percent said they had no full brothers or sisters; 34 percent said one, and 24 percent said two. From there it drops dramatically: just under 10 percent said they had three siblings; half that said four, etc.

3. Just over 70 percent of the sample agreed that their family relationships “were safe, secure, and a source of comfort.”

4. One in three agreed that “there are matters from my family experience that I’m still having trouble coming to terms with.”

5. We asked a question that (sort of) tapped mentoring: “When you were growing up, was there an adult (other than a parent or step-parent) who did NOT live with you, but who you felt very close to, spent considerable time with, and who you think made an important positive difference in your life?” Just over 55 percent of the sample said no.

6. Among those that said yes to that question, we asked about the gender of that person or persons. For those who selected only one person, 65 percent said their mentor was a woman. Thus men are less likely to have a mentor, and less likely to be one to those who have had one.

7. When asked how hard they’d been hit financially by the recent economic recession, 22 percent said “extremely hard,” 27 percent said “somewhat hard,” 35 percent said “a little bit,” and 14 percent said “not at all.”

8. Just under 14 percent of 18-23-year-olds said they spent “4 hours or more” on social networking sites on a typical weekday. An additional 16 percent reported between two and four hours on them. That’s a fair chunk of time, I’d say. If people are so interesting, they should become a sociologist and get paid to pay attention to other people’s silly behavior.

9. When asked about attendance at religious services (not counting weddings, baptisms, and funerals), 29 percent of women and 34 percent of men said “never.” On the other end of the scale, 7 percent of women and 5 percent of men said “more than once a week” and 16 percent of each said “once a week.” I was expecting a slightly more skewed gender story there.

10. More women than men (17 vs. 10 percent) said it was “very characteristic of me” when asked if they “find it difficult to trust others completely” in romantic relationships.

11. More women than men (27 vs. 21 percent) said yes when asked if they think they have a bad temper.

12. More women than men (8.5 vs. 4.6 percent) said yes when asked whether they have seriously thought (in the past 12 months) about committing suicide.

Now, don’t get me wrong—the gender distinctions aren’t off the charts here, and I’m not testing for statistically significant differences in a quick blog post, but between these and other outcomes I haven’t listed here, it would appear that young women are expressing a bit higher levels of stress, anxiety, and emotional challenges than young men.

And last but not least, the obligatory sex statistic. When asked whether they’d ever had anal intercourse, 20 percent of the youngest group (18-23-year-olds) said yes, while 37 and 39 percent of the older cohorts (24-32 and 33-39) said yes. Given the miniscule difference between the older two groups on what is an age-graded behavioral experience, it looks like the early-mid 20s are ground zero for this one. If you haven’t done it by age 30, it appears unlikely that you will.

12 Curious Statistics about Today’s Young Adults

I hope to blog next week, or sometime thereafter, on the subject of affordable housing. But it’s just not on paper yet, so in lieu of that, I decided to just crunch some numbers from a very recent nationally-representative survey of 18-39-year-olds in America. Here are 12 interesting (to me, at least) statistics from that survey. What you read below is what a large population-based, random-selection survey says about young adults today. Why these 10? No particular reason. I just sat down with the questionnaire and started crunching away. Survey nerds love to do this sort of thing. We’re learning about America, after all. These are simple statistics, by the way. They’re not meant to imply causation, but rather to arouse your attention.

1. Bullying appears to be diminishing: whereas 31 percent of 18-23-year-olds reported having been bullied during their youth, the same is true of 36 percent of 24-32-year-olds and 41 percent of 33-39-year-olds.

2. Just over 20 percent of the sample said that they were currently receiving some form of public assistance.

3. Just over 31 percent of the sample said that during the past year there was a time when they did not have health insurance.

4. Only 26 percent of young adults said that their current or most recent primary job “is achieving my long-term career or work goals.”

5. The modal answer to a question about how much sleep do you get on an average night was “7 hours.” Indeed, 78 percent of young adults said they get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep a night. Good to hear, I guess.

6. Just under 15 percent of young adults said they were “nothing/atheist/agnostic” when asked about their religion. That’s pretty much in keeping with General Social Survey estimates of the same, if I recall.

7. When asked to compare their activity level in organized religion today with while they were growing up, 51 percent said they were less active than before, while only 13 percent said more active. The rest reported a comparable level.

8. When asked whether “single mothers do just as good a job raising children as a married mother and father,” 44 percent of young adults agreed, 29 percent were unsure, and 23 percent disagreed.

9. But when asked whether “it is better for children to be raised in a household that has a married mother and father,” 65 percent agreed, 20 percent were unsure, and only 11 percent disagreed, indicating that while younger adults continue to think that this arrangement is optimal, they’re also quite comfortable saying it’s not necessary (or something like that).

10. While there may indeed be a Democratic party preference at work today among young women, the inclination doesn’t show up when asked, “In terms of politics, do you consider yourself very conservative, conservative, middle-of-the-road, liberal, or very liberal?” When sorted by gender, the results are nearly indistinguishable. The parties should fight over the middle-of-the-road folks, because 50 percent of the respondents selected that category, compared with only four and five percent (respectively) who selected “very conservative” and “very liberal.” Perhaps this is why it feels like there is more “spin” these days, since so many moderates are at stake.

11. The modal category of “number of Facebook friends you have” is between 100-200. Only about 10 percent say they have more than 500, while 19 percent said they weren’t on Facebook at all.

12. Finally, 15 percent of young men, when asked when they had last masturbated, said “today.” Which is an answer category that is distinctive from “yesterday,” which was selected by an additional 19 percent of men. I guess that tells us at least one thing: that most of the men who completed the survey probably did so at some point in the evening. If most had completed the survey before noon, one should expect the “today” number to be much closer to, say, 10 percent.

What would a Regnerus blog be without some reference to sex, right? There you have it.