Tags: aging/life course, demography/population, methodology/statistics, demographic transition, fertility, mortality, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In an earlier video post from The Economist I introduced the population pyramid, which is a type of graph used by demographers to interpret population characteristics and project how those characteristics will change in the future. Using these pyramid graphs, it's possible to discern whether a given population is growing rapidly, growing slowly, or in decline, and whether the country has undergone a demographic transition. Few graphs are more useful than population pyramids, for they allow policymakers to establish tax structures, based on projections of the number of working-age people who will be able to pay taxes and the number of people who will be dependent on social services. Knowing characteristics of a population is also essential if one hopes to prevent food shortages, avoid ecological threats, and lesson the blow of chronic poverty. This video lesson prepared by Kim Preshoff is a nice primer on reading the graphs, as it compares the population distributions of a number of different countries, including Russia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Canada, Japan, China, and the United States. After watching the video and discussing the potential challenges each country faces, it's useful to ask students to find or create population pyramids for other countries and report on the challenges their chosen country faces based on its population characteristics.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: aging/life course, demography/population, health/medicine, methodology/statistics, demographic transition, fertility, mortality, total fertility rate, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The population pyramid is a visualization of a society's age structure and is so named because of its shape. A thick base at the bottom indicates that the largest share of the population is young, and the pyramid's steep slope, which vanishes to a point, represents the cold fact that the mortality rate increases as people age. In countries around the world, the shape of this pyramid age distribution has been observed to change, a process demographers call a demographic transition. The traditional pyramid shape is common in less industrialized societies, which is an indication that fertility and mortality rates are high and life spans are short. However, with the diffusion of medical advancements, the reach of health care services, and improvments in drinking water and sanitation mortality rates typically drop and life spans increase. And with more children surviving the first decade of life and contraception becoming more widely available, fertility rates typically plummet. The result is that the pyramid-looking age distribution begins to resemble a column. Since each successive bar represents the size of an age cohort, it follows that in a society with a stable fertility rate and a low mortality rate, the bars resist sloping inward until the older age cohorts where mortaility seems to overcome advancements in health. • As the above video from The Economist explains, demographic transitions have been observed to happen on a country-by-country basis, but if one pools data from countries around the world, it appears that the age structure of the global population is slowly undergoing one big demographic transition. In 1970, the world's population could be represented as a pyramid, but in 2015 the the pyramid more closely resembles the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building. By 2060, demographers project that the dome-like structure will give way to columns, and it may be difficult to remember why demographers ever called it a population pyramid in the first place. • It is important to keep in mind that creating these graphs is more than an exercise in data visualization, and such graphs can be useful tools for policymakers. For instance, whether the age distribution resembles a pyramid or a column has important implications for answering questions about society's tax structure and resource allocations. It is essential to know the number of people who comprise vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly. Population pyramids and the calculations they represent can also become a catalyst for more philosophical ponderings, such as what it will mean that for the first time in human history the world will have just as many older people as children.
Submitted by: Lester Andrist
Tags: emotion/desire, media, methodology/statistics, ethics, facebook, institutional review board, irb, social media, stanley milgram, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This is a useful video from DNews for getting students to begin thinking about the importance of ethical questions in social scientific research. Hosts Laci Green and Trace Dominguez discuss a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers reported to have found evidence that emotions can be transferred to others via an emotional contagion. Basically, the design of the study involved manipulating the timelines of 689,003 Facebook users. The researchers found that when they filtered people's timelines to only include negative content for a week, people were more likely to post morose status updates. Positive content, on the other hand, seemed to produce positive status updates. The findings of the study aside, the research certainly puts a new spin on longstanding questions regarding ethics in social science. • Back in 1961 social psychologist Stanley Milgram began a series of controversial experiments intended to investigate obedience to authority, and today one can flip through any introductory sociology textbook to learn of Milgram's results. It turns out that under the right circumstances a substantial number of people can be persuaded to kill, or at least electrocute, others with very little coercion. Milgram's research on obedience was timely and interesting, but it was also controversial. Unbeknown to the research subject, no one was actually on the receiving end of the electric shocks, but the experiment forced the subjects who delivered the shocks to confront an unsettling truth about their own morality. For ethicists, herein lies the ethical dilemma. Many have argued the study was unethical, since the subjects may have been psychologically harmed by the realization that they would kill another person simply because a man in lab coat instructed them to do so. • Is the Facebook study, then, similarly unethical? One person framed the concern nicely when he sardonically tweeted "probably nobody was driven to suicide. #jokingnotjoking." The fact is Facebook effectively flexed a substantial muscle when it allowed researchers to tweak its timeline algorithm. The company proved it could change the mood of hundreds of thousands of people. One wonders how many of the users were struggling with depression at the time of this experiment, and if they happened to be included in the group that received a steady diet of negative content, what role did Facebook play in quickening their downward spiral?
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: culture, demography/population, globalization, immigration/citizenship, methodology/statistics, multiculturalism, race/ethnicity, australia, japan, migration, multiculturalism, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this video, Professor Yoshikazu Shiobara of the Keio University Department of Political Science (Faculty of Law) discusses his research on multiculturalism in Japan and Australia. As noted by Dr. Shiobara, "I study various changes in societies associated with globalization, changes in industrial structures, multi-ethnic and multicultural developments in nation-states, migration of people, and growth in immigration. In particular, I specialize in the concept and policies of multiculturalism, and I investigate how they affect people in the host society which accepts ethnic minorities, in the form of immigrants, social minorities, and indigenous peoples. I research these issues in terms of both theory and evidence." His work compares multiculturalism in Australia, which was one of the first to implement a policy of multiculturalism, and Japan, which has yet to systematize policies at the national level. This approach identifies social policies of migrants in these two countries, and their impacts on dominant cultures, migrating cultures, and indigenous populations. This is a useful example of comparative research methods, cross-cultural studies, migration, and global sociology. A full transcript of the short clip is available in the video's description on YouTube.
Submitted By: Bhoomi K. Thakore
Tags: community, methodology/statistics, groups, network analysis, social networks, strength of weak ties, strong ties, structural holes, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The benefits of weak ties have been strongly established in the sociological literature. Weak ties, as defined by Granovetter (1973), are “indispensable to individuals' opportunities and to their integration into communities” (1378). In this clip from the TV show Breaking Bad, Walt needs the services of a person who can make people "disappear" because Gus Fring, the leader of the drug ring in Albuquerque, has threatened to kill him and his family. Only Saul Goodman, Walt’s less than scrupulous lawyer, has the contact information for this person. Throughout the show, Saul calls on his network of contacts to deal with situations that Walt and his partner Jesse find themselves in, but don’t have the knowledge or resources to solve themselves. Without Saul, Walt has no way of getting in touch with these people. In sociological terms, there is a structural hole between Walt and the network of fixers and associates that help Walt achieve his objectives, and that structural hole runs through Saul. It’s through a relatively strong tie with Saul that Walt has access to a whole host of knowledge, skills, and resources he might not otherwise have. Also, because Walt’s brother-in-law Hank, who is a DEA agent, is being threatened as well, Walt wants to warn Hank that he’s in danger. But because Walt is embedded in a network of DEA agents (“I go to their Christmas parties. They know my voice.”), he needs Saul to set up the phone call to warn Hank that he’s in danger. This is an example of the way being embedded into networks sometimes prevents us from accomplishing things we might otherwise be able to do. This clip pairs up well with Dalton Conley’s explanation of the concept.
Submitted By: Wesley Shirley
Tags: community, demography/population, marriage/family, media, methodology/statistics, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, fatherhood, larry wilmore, parenting, racism, stereotypes, subtitles/CC, 21 to 60 mins
Access: The Nightly Show
Summary: When people hear the majority of Black babies are born “out-of-wedlock,” most either feel dismay or distrust at the statistic. However, Larry Wilmore and his panel of artists, authors, and activists confront the accuracy of this statistic and Black fatherhood more generally in a roundtable discussion. In Part 1, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow explains how context matters, and the rate of births to unmarried Black women reflects the decline in fertility for married Black women, the mass incarceration of Black men, the diminishing importance placed on the traditional nuclear family, and the embracement of more flexible parental roles in our cultural more generally. Part 2 begins with a discussion about how media figures and politicians utilize deeply embedded racial (or racist) stereotypes to explain this statistic (and many others) in prejudicial ways. Part 2 then closes with the panelists offering their own experiences with their fathers and being dads themselves, thus revealing how in the interpreting of statistics many people (perhaps sociologists even more so than others) reify and over-generalize numbers, forgetting every “case” in a sample is actually a unique person, with their own unique experiences that is not readily apparent in macro data.
Submitted By: Jason T. Eastman
Tags: durkheim, emotion/desire, methodology/statistics, organizations/occupations/work, science/technology, theory, adam smith, agency, artificial social network, centrality, collective identity theory, emergence, georg simmel, human capital, methodological holism, methodological individualism, natural social network, nicholas christakis, obesity, social capital, social network analysis, structure, suicide, transitivity, subtitles/CC, 21 to 60 mins
Summary: In this nice introductory lecture to the discipline of sociology, physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis explodes the popular myth that people are masters of their own destiny. As the YouTube blurb states, "If you think you're in complete control of your destiny or even your own actions, you're wrong. Every choice you make, every behavior you exhibit, and even every desire you have finds its roots in the social universe." 1. This insight is an expression of a fundamental tension explored in the discipline—that between the power of individual agents (i.e., agency) and the power of supra-individual forces (i.e., structure), such as the neighborhood in which one lives or one's location within a social network. 2. The second big idea Christakis explores in his lecture is emergence, or that society is something more than simply the sum of its individuals and that collective phenomena are not mere aggregations of individual phenomenon. To illustrate the concept of emergence, Christakis embarks on a discussion of social networks and other central concepts to the discipline, such as social capital. He then concludes his lecture by pointing out that while many scientific disciplines have broken up phenomenon into smaller and smaller bits, and are now engaged in an effort to put the pieces back together in order to discern how their assembly gives rise to new, emergent properties, this pattern of disassembly and reassembly has always been a central feature of sociological work.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: economic sociology, education, inequality, methodology/statistics, organizations/occupations/work, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, aapi, asian american, income inequality, institutional discrimination, racism, white privilege, white supremacy, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Here's an empirical fact that isn't acknowledged nearly enough: the United States is a white supremacist state. It has been a white supremacist state from the late 18th century right up to the present day, and while this conclusion may strike many as provacative or vulgar, it is not controversial among those who rely on empirical data to inform their views. To put it in different terms, there is a racial hierarchy in the U.S. and whites are at the top. White folks—myself included—receive the lion's share of power, privilege, and resources. Needless to say, whites are not inherently better or more deserving; nor have we received a disproportionate share of assets and resources because we have worked harder than People of Color. Our privileged position is because the institutions Americans navigate each day have been built to favor whites. Borrowing from writer John Scalzi's video game metaphor, whiteness affords those who have it the ability to play the game of life on the lowest difficulty setting. Metaphors are useful, but where is the evidence? In short, the evidence is everywhere. One need only look at patterns of housing discrimination, employment discrimination (and here), racial profiling (and here), incarceration, various health outcomes, poverty, wealth inequality, and income inequality, to name a few. But look once more at that last link on income inequality. Did you notice that in 2011 among full-time wage and salary workers in the United States, Asian Americans took home $872 on average compared to whites, who took home nearly $100 less? In a recent essay regarding Asian American discrimination, sociologist Tanya Maria Golash-Boza reported that by 2013 the pattern hadn't changed. Asians’ median weekly earnings were $973, as compared to $799 for whites. If Asians earn more, then why don't sociologists argue the U.S. is actually an Asian supremacist state? Or as the right-wing commentator Bill O'Reilly suggests in the above video, isn't it more accurate to talk about Asian privilege rather than white privilege? The video is useful for spurring discussion on this important topic, and I will conclude this post by suggesting a sociologically-informed "talking points" reply to O'Reilly. First, the average earnings statistic conceals the enormous variation found among different Asian subgroups. Given the disparity in earnings between Asians whose families immigrated from Southeast Asia and those from China, it is arguably misleading to lump these subgroups together. Second, education is a confounding variable, which is a shorthand way of saying that the income graph is misleading in yet another way. Asians look like they earn more than whites, but this is only because Asians have more education on average. The reason why Asians have higher average levels of education is a topic The Sociological Cinema has tackled elsewhere, but what O'Reilly's narrative of Asian privilege cannot explain away is the fact that when one compares whites and Asians who are in the same field, live in the same place, and have the same level of education, whites earn more (see Kim et al., 2010). Third, just as the election of Barack Obama did not suddenly end racism in the U.S., the determination of whether the United States is white supremacist does not hinge on a single measurement of well-being. Even if one makes the incredible leap of faith and believes Bill O'Reilly is competantly grasping the available data, it is important to remember that the labor market is but one dimension of human experience and only one place where racism has been measured. For instance, O'Reilly has not even begun to address cultural dimensions of white supremacy, such as white standards of beauty and masculinity.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: community, globalization, methodology/statistics, duncan j. watts, networks, six degrees of separation, stanley milgram, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: "It's a small world" is something we say all the time, but is it really? In 1967 Stanley Milgram set out to test the small world hypothesis by recruiting people to get a letter to a distant stock broker they had never met. The catch was they could only send the letter to people they already knew, who would in turn send it along to people they knew, with the ultimate aim of getting it to the stock broker. Of the 296 letters sent, 64 made it to their destination. Milgram found there were approximately six people in each of the successive letter chains, giving credence to the notion that any single person on the planet is connected to any other person by only 6 degrees. More recently, Duncan J. Watts revisited the Milgram experiment in his book Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. By tracking emails in massively large networks, Watts found that one individual can be connected to any other individual in just a few steps. In this video, sociologist Nathan Palmer of Sociology Source reflects on how these findings relate to his own life. He discusses how he lost his GoPro camera in a river, then against all odds got it back. He concludes that it's not really a small world. In fact, it's a very big world with over seven billion people in it, but the research suggests our large world feels small to us because it is so highly connected.
Submitted By: Nathan Palmer
Tags: crime/law/deviance, methodology/statistics, organizations/occupations/work, prejudice/discrimination, rural/urban, ethnography, poverty, qualitative methodology, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In Sudhir Venkatesh's book, Gang Leader for a Day, he's billed as a "rogue sociologist," but the truth is his ethnographic method of research is anything but rogue. Sociologists have been conducting ethnographies for quite some time, as this method has long been recognized to have several distinct advantages over other research methods. In this video, which is based on the book, Venkatesh explains that he started the research by tracking down a number of gang members in a poor community and asking them questions about their everyday lives. At first, the gang believed he was a member of a rival Mexican street gang, and held him hostage for a day, before finally letting him go and ultimately agreeing to let him tag along as they went about their daily lives. The clip is useful as a rather vivid explanation of an ethnographic research design. In addition to touching on many of the distinct characteristics of ethnographic work, the clip can serve as a launching pad for discussing many of the method’s strengths. For instance, working in this tradition, Venkatesh was able to build trust with gang members, allowing him to work out a number of the details of gang life that likely would not have been disclosed in a survey or interview. Unlike other research designs, by spending a long period of time in the community the gang controlled, Venkatesh was able to bear witness and analyze emergent, often unanticipated phenomena. Similarly, the ethnographic method allowed Venkatesh to acquire more of a processual understanding of the interactions between the gang and community, and in many ways, exploded the myth that the gang’s interactions with the community were strictly coercive. As Venkatesh recounts, the gang often gave people small gifts of cash to help people get by and ultimately win their favor. As for weaknesses, while it is tempting to conclude from the video that ethnography is an inherently dangerous method, there are no protocols forcing ethnographers to choose dangerous research sites or put themselves in harm's way. Instead, the findings from ethnographies tend to be limited to the local group or population being studied. In other words, the findings often lack generalizability. Note that this is the second video on The Sociological Cinema featuring the ethnographic field work of Sudhir Venkatesh.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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