Institutional Drift of the Working Class

Has something happened to our working class? While much of my research has focused on racial inequalities in America, these investigations usually don’t leave me too far from the broader matter of social class inequalities. When sociologists talk about social inequalities we usually are referring to those who are making low wages or those who are classified in poverty. In class I tend to refer to them as a vulnerable population since many students are working minimum wage jobs and don’t always connect their experience with the concept of being part of the working class.  For the most part the “returns on education,” particularly college education, is still better than no college education-so for many of these students they intuitively know, or hope, that their job at Ann Taylor or as library assistant is temporary until they land a “real job,” the one that their college degree promises.

The message regarding those in poverty and the working poor is usually the same: life is pretty hard, as this online experiment shows (very useful by the way in teaching). Your pay is just sufficient enough to get by as long as you never get sick, don’t get your hours cut, or have a major transportation problem that leaves you showing up for work late (and potentially fired as a result). You’re more often exposed to natural elements, harsh chemicals, and dangerous machinery which can cause bodily harm if you’re not careful. Typical examples include: migrant agrarian workers, waste management, restaurant staff, valet parking workers, fast food employees, building custodians. Millions of Americans who won’t attain a college degree earn their livelihood from these jobs.

When I read about the recent finding that more than 50% of births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage, (which fellow blogger Mark Regnerus described), [Read more…]

Religious Affiliation in the United States by State (Interactive Map)

One of the joys of studying religion is how much high-quality data are available. For the latest “wow, that’s cool” source of data, check out this interactive map of religion in the United States. Put a cursor over a state and you see the religious distribution of its population. Want to see trends by region? Just move your cursor slowly across groups of states and watch how the bars change.

Thanks David Mimms and Kyndria Brown for the link.

What does Lent tell us about Markets and Morals?

What does Lent, which starts today, have to do with a topic I’m very interested in: markets and morals? Last week I wrote that in order to reform a system, it’s good to have concrete alternatives, often tied to concrete traditions of thought. Through my classes in economic sociology and in social theory, I introduce students to scholars they may not encounter elsewhere in college, such as Friedrich Hayek or Amartya Sen. I use those readings, and this series of video interviews with scholars about markets and morals created by the Templeton Foundation, to teach students that markets are good but they also need to be regulated by morals.

Although I don’t directly teach Catholic social teaching, my reading of papal encyclicals on development and charity undoubtedly influence why I generally support free markets but am also concerned about economic inequalities. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out, Catholic Church’s social teaching grows out of its moral teachings and its understanding of the human person. Lent is a time when Christians engage in particular practices to remind ourselves of our nature as persons and our duties towards others.

For example, during Lent, Catholics and other Christians are reminded to practice almsgiving. For Christians, charity is a duty, not a choice. As Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is love) reminded us, giving alms must be accompanied by compassionate love for the other, or else it is not Christian charity.

During Lent, the Catholic Church calls its faithful to conversion. [Read more…]

James Naismith Meet Jeremy Lin

by John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

(Earlier this week, Jerry Park explored the fascinating role of basketball in the lives of second-generation Asian Americans.)

More than any other player, Knicks superstar Jeremy Lin connects the game of basketball with its religious origins. Christened the “Taiwanese Tebow” for his outspoken evangelical Christianity, Lin would make basketball inventor James Naismith proud.

The story of Naismith’s peach baskets is a well-told tale. So is Lin’s religious testimony.

Less obvious is the connection between Naismith’s “muscular Christianity” and the campus ministry that nurtured Lin during his years at Harvard University.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Naismith studied theology at Montreal’s McGill University. There he encountered North America’s first YMCA chapter. Convinced that “there might be other effective ways of doing good besides preaching,” he took a position at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Influenced by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, he joined the school’s football team. Before each game, Stagg prayed for “God’s blessing on our game,” [Read more…]

Contraception, Cheap Sex, and the Nonmarital Birth Rate

Every once in a while something in the New York Times will bring a smile to my face and offer hope. Well, that wasn’t this week, yet again. In Saturday’s edition came the discouraging news that over half of babies born to American women under age 30 are being born to unmarried mothers. Since the overall total is 41 percent, it means women over age 30 are more apt to be married when childbearing. But I think most reasonable people can still agree that it’s better—on average—when fathers are engaged in their children’s lives than when they’re not.

Now, I haven’t come down too hard on contraception in my previous writings and two books, but it boggles my mind to think that the logical answer to slowing the skyrocketing nonmarital fertility rate is to pump more (and free) birth control into the relationship system (which is also called the mating market, and once was called the marriage market, back when the pursuit of sex and the timing of marriage were more tightly connected). It’s a little like printing money to stimulate an economy: it sounds like a helpful thing, it could work, but it may backfire, and it’s hard to know with confidence what exactly will happen, and whatever happens may well generate unintended consequences, but it sounds noble because at least it’s doing something.

To be sure, contraceptive usage prevents very many pregnancies—duh—but what it doesn’t prevent is all of them, given normal contraceptive failure rates (which vary) and the fact that many people don’t use them correctly (due to lots of reasons, ignorance being only one of them). But what I think typically gets left out of discussions about contraception—because it’s challenging to accurately discern it [Read more…]