Correlation, Causation, & Teen Moms

High school sex ed, popular TV shows, and national PSAs would all have us believe that becoming a parent as a teenager (especially if you’re a girl) will cause tragic outcomes for both you and your child. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter helps explore the difference between causation and correlation to help in understanding how addressing social problems like teen pregnancy can get really complicated, really quickly.

Pregnant Woman in Swimsuit

“You’re supposed to be changing the world… not changing diapers.” “I never thought I would be a statistic.” These sayings, paired with pictures of coyly posed celebrities, are the crux of the Candie’s Foundation’s most recent campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. NYC’s approach is similar, replacing the celebrity photos with images of crying children beside tag lines like, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”

Coupled with images from popular shows like MTV’s 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, at this point most Americans would take for granted that being a teen parent is the cause of a long list of poor social outcomes from dropping out of high school to living in poverty to raising kids who have their own set of problems. However, social researchers would caution that just because a relationship exists between teen parenting and negative social outcomes doesn’t mean that one is necessarily causing the other. As we’re about to explore, proving that something caused something else isn’t as simple as it may seem at face value….

Read More


Who the Heck Am I Anyway?

Just who do you think you are? Chances are the answer depends on where you are and who you’re with. Confused yet? Well, in this piece, Bridget Welch will help you make sense of all of this by exploring how many people are living in her head (and yours).

As we stepped into my son’s daycare for the first time, the director of childcare center stopped us to introduce us to another family and their son. “This is David and his mom, Cathy, and his dad, Rupert.” Turning her head toward David, Cath’, and Rupert she continued, “And I’d like to introduce you to Stormaggedon[1] and… um… Stormaggedon’s mom and dad.”

As the daycare provider stuttered and then improvised, I realized that she didn’t remember what my name is. We were introduced to “David’s mom and dad” (no names given) then tried unsuccessfully to peel my clutching toddler off of my legs so he could interact with the other children.

After a while my husband turns to me and says, “Hun, we’ve got to go.” Looking at the clock, I saw he was right. We gave up the always useless endeavor of attempting to control the behavior of toddlers and headed to campus. There I was greeted by colleagues as “Bridget” and the assistant Dean I saw in the hallway greeted me with the same. Some student’s hailed me with a “Hey Doc!” or “Hi Dr. Welch.”

Within a twenty minute timeframe I went from “Stormaggedon’s mom” to “Mommy,” to “Hun”, to Bridget, to Dr. Welch. What happened was that with each new interaction partner, who I was in that moment slightly changed….

Read More


Egypt, Social Control, & Social Cohesion

What happens when people realize the police aren’t coming? What happens when people decide that their political leaders are unjust and must be removed from power? What happens when you realize that there is no formal authority that you can count on to keep you safe? In this piece Nathan Palmer uses the current crisis in Egypt to try and answer these questions and discuss the concepts of social control and social cohesion.

Damietta Protests
Protests on July 5th in Egypt

As I write this Egypt is in conflict. On July 3rd the democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power and jailed by the Egyptian military. Since then Morsi’s supporters and supporters of the military’s forced change in leadership have been having fighting. Hundreds of Egyptians who support Morsi have been killed in clashes with the military and much of the rest of the country is in disarray. There are multiple reports of bands of vigilantes turning violent across the country and multiple Coptic Christian churches have been destroyed.

Egypt gives us a window into what happens when a nation-state partially loses it’s formal authoritative control. While it would be wrong to use one anecdotal case to make a broad generalization about all societies, this one case does suggest that in the absence of rock solid formalized authority violence, death and destruction can emerge. The crisis in Egypt brings up many sociological questions, but I’d like to focus on just one of them today: What are the social structures that keep a society from falling into violence and chaos? To answer this question, we will need to discuss the concepts of social control and social cohesion.

Read More


Deviant Me: Child Public Shaming as Social Control?

In March, a Florida couple made headlines after forcing their 13 year-old daughter to stand at a busy intersection for an hour and half, holding a sign that described her many sins, including poor grades and lack of respect for authority. In this post, Ami Stearns uses the increasingly popular practice of public shaming to illustrate informal social control of minors.

Boy in Stocks

Are you in on the adorable pet shaming trend (e.g. Dog owners pose their dogs with signs that describe the pet’s most recent bad behavior, such as “I just rolled in cow poop so now I can’t come inside” or “I ate all Mom’s Girl Scout cookies” and post the photo on the Internet for all the world to see. Public shaming is a type of informal social control that seeks to not only bring shame to the deviant but also to warn others that the type of behavior being punished is inappropriate. While it’s mildly amusing to see a cat being publicly shamed for its Cheetos-binge and ensuing orange vomit, when it the shaming is of a child, the dynamic changes.

Read More


Learning Demography with the Guess Who? Board Game

What can a board game teach us about demography and the U.S. population? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the board game Guess Who? fails to accurately reflect the U.S. population.

I realize that board games are supposed to be “fun” (at least that is what non-sociologists say), but as a sociologist, I feel the need to ruin everything.

My child was super-excited to find Guess Who? at the thrift shop last week. I recall this game existed when I was child, but I don’t recall ever playing it. So when we got home, my daughter immediately showed me how to play. My first observation about the game was that while it does a  semi-acceptable job of portraying racial diversity, it does an especially poor job at portarying gender or age as it actually exists in the United States.

As I examined the people on the board, I began thinking about how representative this board game is of America. While my daughter asked me if any of my people had “eyeballs looking to the side,” I was busy doing a census of the demographics portrayed on the board.

Here’s how race, gender and age demographics (or characteristics) are represented in the game:

  • White = 19 (79.17%)
  • Black = 5 (20.83%)
  • Men = 19 (79.17%)
  • Women = 5 (20.83%)
  • Elderly (or those who have gray hair) = 5 (20.83%)
  • Children = 0
  • Adults (18-65) =19 (79.17%)

Based on this board game, the typical American is a white man aged 18-65. Hmmm….sounds a lot like Hollywood. So how far off is Guess Who? from the American population?…

Read More