Category Archives: Demography

Duty, Honor, Country, Disparity: Race/Ethnic Differences in Health among Veterans

by Connor Sheehan

A campaign supporter’s sign at a Trump rally in Chicago. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

During the 2016 election cycle, Democratic and Republican candidates for president have consistently discussed veteran health issues and reform of the Veterans Administration (VA).   The increased attention to veterans and their health is well-warranted, as veterans are an enormous population in the United States totaling over 23 million—almost as many people as live in the entire state of Texas. Veterans, of course, also have unique health, partially due to the occupational and behavioral hazards that accompany military service. As part of this policy discussion, it is important to discuss the large racial and ethnic health inequalities that exist among veterans. As I show below, racial and ethnic minority veterans consistently report worse health and have more health related limitations to activities than white veterans. These gaps are hard to ignore, particularly at a time when the veteran population is becoming increasingly racially diverse and the share of underrepresented groups among veterans is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades (see Figure 1).

Sheehan Image 1

As a PhD student in the Sociology Department at the University of Texas, I have been conducting research that sheds some light on the extent and nature of racial and ethnic disparities in health and ultimately suggests what can be done about them. First, my findings consistently show that sizable health disparities exist. An analysis I conducted of a nationally representative survey of veterans administered by the VA showed that almost half of black veterans report “fair” or “poor” health rather than more favorable categories such as “good,” “very good,” or “excellent.” Conversely less than a quarter of whites reported “fair” or “poor” health (See Figure Two) (Sheehan et al 2015). The analysis also showed that 13% of black veterans report a severe activity limitation such as not being able to walk, get dressed, use a toilet, or eat. In contrast, less than 5% of white veterans reported having such limitations.

Not only are black veterans lives characterized by worse self-rated health, and more activity limitations, they are also shorter. In my own (unpublished) analysis using the Linked Mortality File of the National Health Interview Survey, I found that, even after controlling for age and region of residence, Black veterans were 43% more likely to die compared to white veterans from 1997-2011 (see Figure 2).

Sheehan Image 2

Imagine, so many of these veterans who once dedicated their lives to our country and sacrificed so much, are in such poor health. The American public and the presidential candidates cannot stand by and do nothing. The military, a longstanding institution that requires its members to uphold values like discipline, integrity, and loyalty should now uphold the same and do right by them. The VA, which shares similar values to the military and which also strives to provide equitable services, can also help minimize disparities.

There is a lot that can be done to reduce racial disparities in health among veterans. Any effort aimed at minimizing health disparities in later life must from the time that young recruits enter military service. My research shows that, compared to whites, a greater proportion of racial and ethnic minorities serve in combat roles, as well as also serving in branches with higher levels of exposure to combat and other dangerous experiences such as exposure to chemical or environmental hazards (Sheehan et al. 2015). Placement processes should be reviewed and such differences rectified in order to eliminate racial disparities in exposure to dangerous situations that have lifelong consequences for health.

Medalists from the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games (2013), from Houston, TX. (Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)
Medalists from the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games (2013), from Houston, TX. (Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)

Other researchers have shown that after military service, minority veterans attain lower levels of education and economic prosperity than their white counterparts – two components that are consistently linked to worse health (Teachman and Call 1996). To counter this, the VA could expand occupational training focused specifically on underrepresented groups, with the understanding that these programs may improve health.

Beyond these measures, there are also specific health interventions that could be used as models to design approaches that can help reduce disparities. One intervention which improved the overall health among a primarily black elderly veteran sample in Washington, D.C. relied on Home Based Primary Care (HBPC). HBPC emphasized the integration between social workers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and dietitians in providing care at home for the elderly population (see: Chang et al. 2009). Researchers found that those who received HBPC had 43.7% fewer hospital admissions and spent almost 50% fewer days in the hospital than those who did not.

Another intervention found that racial disparities in knee surgery outcomes were reduced when veterans were well-educated about their medical options. The black veterans who received more information on their treatment options experienced significantly less pain and greater physical function than black veterans who did not receive the information. There were little differences for the white veterans (Weng et al. 2007). These experiences suggest that integrating multiple domains and focusing on education regarding the health care system and health care options could help to minimize health disparities among veterans.

Veterans have sacrificed greatly for their country. Now it is time for their country to sacrifice for them, and work to end these health disparities. If the presidential candidates are as committed to veterans as their rhetoric claims, we should soon see policies and programs aimed at improving the health of all veterans.

Acknowledgements: I thank the Population Research Center, the Population Reference Bureau (Specifically Elizabeth and Reshma for their helpful comments), Shantel for her comments. All those working at the VA to end health disparities and all the veterans who have served. Mistakes and views are my own.



Chang, C., Jackson, S. S., Bullman, T. A., & Cobbs, E. L. (2009). Impact of a home-based primary care program in an urban Veterans Affairs medical center. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 10(2), 133–137.

Teachman, J. D., & Call, V. R. (1996). The effect of military service on educational, occupational, and income attainment. Social Science Research,25(1), 1-31.

Sheehan, C. M., Hummer, R. A., Moore, B. L., Huyser, K. R., & Butler, J. S. (2015). Duty, Honor, Country, Disparity: Race/Ethnic Differences in Health and Disability Among Male Veterans. Population research and policy review,34(6), 785-804.

Weng, H. H., Kaplan, R. M., Boscardin, W. J., MacLean, C. H., Lee, I. Y., Chen, W., & Fitzgerald, J. D. (2007). Development of a decision aid to address racial disparities in utilization of knee replacement surgery. Arthritis Care & Research, 57(4), 568–575.

Connor Sheehan is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center. His research analyzes health inequality and how institutions get “under the skin” to influence our health.  Follow him on Twitter at @ConDemography

What is the Most Interesting Thing You Hope to do: A Workshop with Dr. Randall Collins

Randall Collins

What is the Most Interesting Thing you Hope to do?

by Julie Beicken

Power, History, and Society (PHS) has for years provided an invaluable forum for faculty and graduate students interested in political sociology and comparative and historical sociology. Recently, the organization has offered graduate students and faculty the very unique opportunity of participating in workshops with esteemed members of the field, Dr. Theda Skocpol in the spring of 2014 and this past week (February 6, 2015), Dr. Randall Collins. Both Skocpol and Collins are giants in Sociology—not only in their specialty areas but the discipline on the whole. Both have straddled many divisions within sociology—from historical sociology to human behavior, from macro to micro, etc.—and utilized multiple methods in their work. The opportunity for graduate students to spend even just a couple of hours in their presence is a truly wonderful gift that PHS has given to the department and the UT community on the whole.

Collins began the workshop on Friday morning with a challenging question to the students. Rather than having us state our names and areas of study, as is often the case in these settings, Collins had us explain the most interesting thing we would like to do. While a small degree of discomfort was immediately visible on many students’ faces, the exercise prompted us to think outside of our immediate sociological worlds of comprehensive exams and dissertations and think big—what would we really like to look at/wrestle with/study/explore? The answers—from gaining greater access to elites to establishing methods to study social media—were exciting and helped us to think about our existing work within our field of study and pushing it to new depths.

Collins, like Skocpol, has been a part of sociology for a long time. Both have seen the discipline go through many changes. As graduate students, for whom the ‘now’ of sociology is very pressing, it is exciting to have the opportunity to engage with scholars who understand the constraints of the disciplinary moment but also see the possibility for innovation. For example, Collins spoke with ease about transitioning from his micro work to his macro, something that seems like a huge challenge to many of us. Similarly, Skocpol talked about matching method to her research question, and being open to multiple methodologies. Both workshops have given students at UT the chance to speak openly and frankly with experts of sociology, and we have all walked away the wiser for it.

Doing Quality Sociology: Moving Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Debate.

by Amina Zarrugh

Dr. Randall Collins posed a seemingly simple, but exceedingly thought-provoking, question to commence the graduate student workshop  – what is the most interesting thing you hope to do in your work? The question in isolation appeared simple, but as student brows wrinkled in perplexity and eyes averted upward in contemplation, it was clear that the question hadn’t been asked of us in a long time, if ever. Everyone in the room ultimately had an opportunity to share their aspirations. These intellectual ambitions ranged from learning about populations difficult to access—such as interviewing prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp or understanding the dynamics of why individuals return to their country of origin after migrating elsewhere—to making memorable interventions and contributions in our respective fields.

This introductory query, and the collective responses that followed, set the tone for the workshop, which concerned the state of sociology today and the spaces open for innovative work. A central tenant of the discussion was that the overuse of the qualitative-quantitative semantic among sociologists and erected institutionally in departments emerged a false dichotomy. Regardless of overtures to the contrary, qualitative and quantitative work is mutually constitutive.

Qualitative work, including historical sociology and ethnography, informs and delineates the very categories with which quantitative sociology deals so squarely. Despite the primacy and privilege accorded to quantitative sociology, both financially by way of funding structures and socially by way of policy relevance, some of the most dramatic and influential work in the field of sociology has been qualitative. Collins invoked Emile Durkheim, who stated that “history should be sociology’s microscope,” to emphasize how deep historical perspective can offer new variables and contexts of understanding that are mutually beneficial to advancing both qualitative and quantitative work and, ultimately, our understanding of pressing societal issues.

These discussions brought to the fore the importance of thinking creatively about methodologies, the forms of data we collect, and the assumptions we make in the process. Collins (who was trained within the school of symbolic interaction) believes in expanding data used to understand social life to include videos, social media posts, and photographs. His attention to incorporating new methodologies and materials into the fold of sociology echoes calls for innovations that have been taking place across the social sciences. It also resonates with conversations in our department over the past several years, such as the Race and Ethnicity Group’s discussion about “live methods” with Goldsmiths University of London Professor Les Back in May 2013, or the talk by University of Warwick Professor Gurminder K. Bhambra in the week that followed Collins’ visit.

The thread that binds the ongoing discussions in our departmental community is the transition from what I’ve come to call a “bigger, better, faster, stronger sociology” (i.e., more interviews, bigger data sets, exclusive networking opportunities) to a  more reflexive, thoughtful, sincere, and conscientious approach to sociology. Then, perhaps most significantly, to our own interactions with one another as colleagues. This change must start with us individually, as exemplified by the question Collins posed at the start of the workshop. However, any “statistically significant” change is made possible through genuine solidarity, and robust support for one another that simultaneously transcends and is strengthened by our methodologies, our areas, and our geographies of study.

Amanda Stevenson on the Twitter chatter surrounding Texas HB2 and Wendy Davis’ Fillibuster


by Eric Enrique Borja

On September 12th, Amanda Stevenson was kind enough to discuss the work behind her recent paper in Contraception entitled, “Finding the Twitter users who stood with Wendy.” In the paper, Amanda examines Twitter chatter surrounding the Texas omnibus abortion restriction bill (Texas HB2) before, during and after Wendy Davis’ filibuster in summer 2013.  The implications of Amanda’s results and conclusions are eloquently outlined both in the article published in Contraception, and her op-ed piece “Twitter analysis shows not all Texans want abortion rights limited,” which was published in the Houston Chronicle.

In this post I will only briefly go over some of the major takeaways from Amanda’s talk.  I highly encourage you to read Amanda Stevenson’s articles for the full story.

1) “The Citizen’s Filibuster”

Amanda discussed one of the first major events in summer 2013, now referred to as the Citizen’s Filibuster. On June 20th, a special session of the Texas legislature was held. On the agenda was a pair of bills that would ban abortions after 20  weeks of pregnancy, restrict access to medication abortions and require abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical care centers. In response to the special session abortion-rights groups such as: NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Planned Parenthood, and the Lilith Fund, quickly organized a “citizen’s filibuster.” TXPepMap

Approximately 700 people were organized in a flash, and the citizen’s filibuster was successful. Amanda showed that social media was important prior to Wendy Davis’ filibuster because it was instrumental in mobilizing people across the state of Texas.

2) Social media provided the primary coverage of Wendy Davis’ Filibuster

If it weren’t for the success of the Citizen’s Filibuster, Wendy Davis would have never had the opportunity to stage her filibuster. And if it were up to mainstream media outlets, the world would have never known what Wendy Davis had accomplished that day. Amanda discussed how mainstream media outlets failed to cover the filibuster. Therefore, social media became the primary source of coverage on Davis’ filibuster – with YouTube providing live streams for the world to see.

3) Social media data is generated through a selection process

Given the protocols that govern Twitter’s API, and the issues of access to technology, the kind of data a researcher pulls from social media is highly selective. Amanda was careful to point out that this does not mean social media data is useless, but that when you are interpreting your results you must be careful with what you think you are explaining. For Amanda, social media data is great at analyzing discussions that occur in social media, but falls short in accurately capturing public opinion. Interpreting social media data is like interpreting any kind of data a sociologist may collect; you have to take into consideration what and how much your data actually captures.

4) Hashtags can be a way to classify opinions


Trying to understand what people are attempting to convey through a tweet is a hard problem to resolve. One way this can be resolved, as illustrated by Amanda’s study, is to categorize tweets thematically using hashtags. For example, the hashtag “#standwithwendy” was a popular hashtag used through Davis’ filibuster. Users typically tag their tweets with hashtags to categorize them.

5) Social location estimates are inconclusive

In general, users do not GPS-enable their tweets. It’s been found that it is primarily younger males in urban areas who do. Therefore, to not further limit her sample, Amanda generated location estimates for users in her sample. Amanda writes, “For each account whose tweets had GPS data, I collected 100 tweets from the Twitter REST API v1.1. For all accounts, I collected location data from user profiles in the form of text strings.” By combining GPS data from GPS-enabled tweets and whatever location data she could garner from geocoded text string, Amanda was able to generate location estimates for more users than if she had solely relied on GPS data.

What impresses me the most about Amanda’s work is that she is careful (both in her talk and her paper) not to overreach in her conclusions.  Moreover, her work is a great example of a project that elegantly employs qualitative and quantitative methodologies, something I aspire to achieve in my own work on social media. We all look forward to seeing more as Amanda’s dissertation develops.

Twitter analysis shows not all Texans want abortion rights limited

Social media analysis challenges stereotype of conservative state
By Amanda Jean Stevenson
The full text of the article is available at this link to the June 24th edition of The Houston Chronicle
One year ago this week, state Sen. Wendy Davis drew national attention with her filibuster of HB2, an omnibus abortion restriction bill that has since ushered in a 50 percent decline in the number of abortion clinics in our state. For 11 hours a year ago today, she stood on the floor of the Texas Senate in her pink running shoes as thousands of Texans rallied around her at the state Capitol and 180,000 people watched online. Her filibuster also sparked the wildly popular social media hashtag #StandWithWendy, instantly offering insight into a segment of the state that isn’t so red: Not all Texans agree that restricting abortion rights is a good idea.

Most discussion of Texas in the national media focuses on the state’s extremely conservative factions. But Texas is full of principled people across the political spectrum. Thousands of them marched on the state Capitol to oppose HB2. Before Davis filibustered, 700 people registered to testify in a “citizens filibuster” that lasted late into the night of June 20, and thousands filled Capitol buildings day after day dressed in orange T-shirts, the color chosen to symbolize the fight against HB2. After Davis’ filibuster, 19,000 filed comments against the bill and they continued to fill the Capitol for each hearing and vote. Throughout, they were joined by a digital chorus on Twitter that was hundreds of thousands strong.

I have analyzed the 1.66 million tweets that comprise the Twitter discussion associated with the bill. These tweets came from 399,000 users worldwide. Roughly 44 percent of the tweets were sent from Texans in support of abortion rights, and in all, about 115,500 Texans expressed their support for abortion rights as part of the Twitter discussion of the bill. These Texans are not all Austin liberals. They live throughout the state, in rural and urban areas. In fact, tweets in support of the filibuster were sent from 189 of Texas’ 254 counties, including the majority of rural counties and all urban ones. Only 1.8 percent of the Texas population lives in counties from which no identifiable tweets of support were sent.

The full article

International remittances, women entrepreneurs, and social capital in Zacatecas, Mexico

By Anna Banchik

business_clinics_jerez Mexico receives approximately $20 billion (USD) in remittances from the U.S. annually (Rey 2013), an amount roughly equal to the total GDP1 of Nicaragua in 2010 (International Monetary Fund 2013). Remittances are a crucial source of income for many Mexican families who depend on these funds sent by migrants to cover basic needs, pay for expenditures related to health and education, and finance their investments. Indeed, due to their local injection of capital, remittances are often hailed as potential pathways to spur economic development in receptive communities (Márquez-Covarrubias 2010). However, it may be surprising to learn that only 2% of remittances sent to Mexico are estimated to be directed towards business investment (Ramírez, Pérez, and Hernández 2011). Why are so few of these remittances being used to catalyze small business formation? And, what are some of the barriers migrants and their families confront in attempting to create small businesses and keep them afloat?

A variety of factors are found to encourage or inhibit the establishment and growth of local economic projects in Mexico by migrants and their families. One study finds positive correlations between the creation of informal businesses, local economic dynamism, and the length of migrant stays abroad, as well as positive correlations between the establishment of formal businesses and the size of the community in which the business is based (Sheehan 2011). Another study (Mummert 2005) evaluates business formation by migrants through the influence of two forms of capital: 1) the human capital (i.e. skills, knowledge) they acquired while in the U.S. and 2) their social capital (i.e. their potential to accrue benefits by virtue of their participation in social networks) (Portes 2008).

A little understood aspect of this line of research, however, is the usage of household remittances by women entrepreneurs in the establishment and maintenance of their own microenterprises. The relevance of gender is significant, as women accounted for 52% of all small business proprietors in Mexico in 2012, according to the Encuesta Nacional de Micronegocios (ENAMIN), the country’s national survey on microenterprises (INEGI/STPS 2013). Like other benefits or products of social capital, the reception of remittances is a resource acquired by virtue of one’s linkages to family and social networks. Thus, the investigation of remittance reception and investment by women entrepreneurs through a lens of social capital permits a broader, systematic evaluation of the varied resources that women entrepreneurs obtain through social networks and use for the advancement of economic activities.

Existing literature on the social capital activation of women entrepreneurs indicates that social networks—particularly family relations and other strong ties—indeed play a crucial role in the formation of microenterprises and economic projects formed by women (Katz and Williams 1997, Greve and Salaff 2003). For instance, compared to their male counterparts, self-employed women have been found to derive more use from their family relationships and informal social networks in the establishment of a business (Greve and Salaff 2003). This is, in part, due to women’s relative lack of access to formal business networks (Ibarra 1993). Strong family bonds and norms of reciprocity are especially instrumental in the formation and administration of many women-run microenterprises in Mexico. Here it is common for goods, services, and credit to be circulated throughout the extended, multi-generational family (Villagómez 2003). Furthermore, family members may play an active role in the operations of the microenterprise by realizing daily tasks or performing other activities such as maintenance of the locale, often without monetary compensation (Arteaga 2003). Strong family involvement is especially present in lesser developed microenterprises and those run by women in low-income families (Suárez and Bonfil 2003).

These topics—international remittances, women entrepreneurs, and social capital—constitute the axes of my current research in Zacatecas, Mexico. In particular, the investigation focuses on the importance of household contributions of U.S. remittances, as well as the acquisition of other forms of support (monetary and non-monetary) obtained by the dueñas (women owners) through their social networks, in the establishment and maintenance of the microenterprises.

The concept of social capital comprises the foundation of my analytic framework. Consequently, I will be comparing the structures, quality of trust, and norms of reciprocity characterizing the social networks which constitute four separate “dimensions” of social capital: 1) the family (within and outside of the household unit), 2) networks of friends, neighbors, and compadrazgo (relationships of co-parenting common among families in Latin America), 3) participation in voluntary associations, and 4) links with governmental institutions. I will also consider the relationships between the women’s socio-demographic characteristics with their remittance reception, social capital activation, and the development of the microenterprise.

An important aspect of the research is its geographic focus on Zacatecas, a state which is characterized by historic emigration and significant reception of familial and collective remittances. It is calculated that currently there are more people of Zacatecan origin residing in the U.S. than in Zacatecas itself (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004). Due to a history of massive regional emigration driven by intense worker recruitment from U.S. firms at the beginning of the 20th century, this northern central Mexican state is the site of well-established international migratory networks (Durand 2010). Over the last half century, these networks have spawned Zacatecan migrant clubs and federations in the U.S. which connect migrants with their local communities in Mexico and, in some cases, enable the political participation and representation of their migrant members from abroad (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004). By leveraging collective remittances with matching government funds (as in the Three for One Program2), these clubs and federations have also succeeded in coordinating the construction of thousands of public works projects in Zacatecan sending communities (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004).

Familial remittances also play a significant role in the household economy in Zacatecas. In the year 2000, 13% of households in Zacatecas (approximately 40,000 in total) received remittances (Guerrero 2007: 13). Among these households, remittances constituted an average of 61.9% of total household income, were a principal source of income for 61.5% of households (constituting more than 50% of household income), and were the only source of income for 34.8% of these households (Delgado, Márquez-Covarrubias, and Rodríguez 2004).

In order to prepare for my investigation, I have been conducting preliminary research at the Institute for Social Investigations (Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales) at the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City. Living in Mexico City has afforded me ample opportunities to learn about and connect with grassroots organizations working with migrant-sending families and communities all over the country. I am especially excited, however, to begin my upcoming fieldwork in Zacatecas, which will consist of implementing surveys with selected women entrepreneurs and conducting in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of survey participants. In better understanding the remittance investment and social capital activation of women entrepreneurs in Zacatecas, Mexico, we will be better equipped to answer important questions evaluating the roles of migration and women entrepreneurship in local economic development.

This blog post was contributed by Anna Veronica Banchik, a current Fulbright Scholar in Mexico who will be joining the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin this fall 2014. Her current research is sponsored by a Fulbright García-Robles grant, as well as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Feel free to contact her directly with questions and/or comments at
Arteaga, Catalina. 2003. “Dinámica interna y redes sociales en micronegocios familiares: Un análisis a partir del caso de Mesa de los Hornos.” In Microempresas familiares en el contexto urbano, edited by Blanca Suárez and Paloma Bonfil, 215-241. México: Grupo Interdisciplinario sobre Mujer, Trabajo y Pobreza.

Delgado Wise, Raúl, Humberto Márquez-Covarrubias, and Hector Rodríguez Ramírez. 2004. “Organizaciones transnacionales de migrantes y desarrollo regional en Zacatecas.” Migraciones internacionales 4: 159-181.

Durand, Jorge. 2010. “Origen y destino de una migración centenaria.” In El país transnacional: Migración mexicana y cambio social a través de la frontera, edited by Marina Ariza and Alejandro Portes, 55-81. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Instituto Nacional de Migración/ Centro de Estudios Migratorios, and Miguel Ángel Porrúa.

García Zamora, Rodolfo. 2007. “El Programa Tres por Uno de remesas colectivas en México.” Migraciones Internacionales 1: 165-172.

Greve, Arent and Janet W. Salaff. 2003. “Social Networks and Entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 1: 1-22.
Guerrero Ortiz, Martha. 2007. “Percepción de remesas de los hogares y condición migratoria en Zacatecas, 2000-2005.” Revista Electrónica Zacatecana sobre Población y Sociedad 31: 1-20.

Ibarra, Herminia. 1993. “Personal networks of women and minorities in management: A conceptual framework.” Academy of Management Review 18: 56-87.

INEGI/ STPS. 2013. Resultados de la Encuesta Nacional de Micronegocios 2012. [press release] July 23, 2013. Aguascalientes: Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) and the Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social (STPS).

International Monetary Fund. 2013. “World Economic Outlook (WEO) Database October 2013.” Accessed March 2, 2014.

Katz, Jerome and Pamela Williams. 1997. “Gender, self-employment and weak-tie networking through formal organization.” Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 3: 183-198.

Márquez-Covarrubias, Humberto. 2010. “Responsabilizar a los migrantes del desarrollo: lecciones del laboratorio social zacatecano.” Economía, Sociedad y Territorio 32: 99-141.

Mummert, Gail. 2005. “Capital humano y capital social en el lanzamiento de microempresas de migrantes michoacanos.” In Remesas y Desarrollo en México, edited by Jerjes I. Aguirre Ochoa and Oscar Hugo Pedraza Rendón, 325-340. Morelia: Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Empresariales, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo/ El Colegio de Tlaxcala.

Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24: 1-24.

Ramírez Calvillo, Rodolfo, Oscar Pérez Veyna and Francisco Hernández Zavala. 2011. “Los proyectos productivos financiados con remesas y el 3X1 en los municipios zacatecanos y sus formas de organización.” Conciencia Tecnológica 41: 13-21.

Rey Mallén, Patricia. 2013. “Remittances worldwide increase in 2013, except for Mexico; Is the US crisis hurting the Mexican economy?” International Business Times. October 11. Accessed February 25, 2014.

Sheehan, Connor. 2011. “Migration and informal versus formal business creation in Mexico.” Master’s thesis, University of Colorado-Boulder. Boulder: ProQuest/UMI. (Publication No. AAT 1499953.)

Suárez, Blanca and Paloma Bonfil. 2003. “Introducción.” In Microempresas familiares urbanas, edited by Blanca Suárez and Paloma Bonfil, 9-23. Mexico: Grupo Interdisciplinario sobre Mujer, Trabajo y Pobreza.

Villagómez Valdés, Gina. 2003. “Los negocios de la pobreza femenina: Microempresa, género y familia en Yucatán.” In Microempresas familiares en el contexto urbano, edited by Blanca Suárez and Paloma Bonfil, 243-293. Mexico: Grupo Interdisciplinario sobre Mujer, Trabajo y Pobreza.

1 At purchasing power parity, or PPP.
2 In this program, each dollar sent to a community in Zacatecas by a migrant club or federation in the U.S. is matched one dollar by each level of government (i.e. the municipal, state, and federal governments). Public works projects realized through the financing of this program include the construction and repair of basic infrastructure, churches, parks, and other public spaces. From 1993 to 2005, an estimated $60 million (USD) financed 1,500 projects in Zacatecas (García 2007).

Latinos in an Aging World

by Ronald and Jacqueline Angel, July 31, 2014, Routledge.

AngelCover In 2010 during a speech in Potsdam, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the audience that the nation’s attempt to create a multicultural society had been an utter failure.  During his failed 2012 reelection campaign President Nicholas Sarkozy of France proclaimed that France had too many immigrants.  Recently, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain pledged to restrict the use of social services by immigrants.  These are only three examples of the growing rejection of foreigners and the threat to national cultures and identities that they represent that is a growing part of political discourse in Europe.  The nations of Europe are having to face the fact that they are increasingly multicultural and are heavily dependent on immigrants from the developing world, yet that reality is not easy for many to accept.  The fact that many of the newcomers are Muslim adds to the fear and rejection.

Unlike Europe, the United States has always thought of itself as a nation of immigrants, although new arrivals have not always been welcomed warmly by those who came earlier.  Immigration to the United States is not new, but its nature has changed.  Today immigrants come from Latin America and Asia rather than from Europe.  The result is a truly multicultural nation in which race and ethnicity intersect social class and other factors to influence various groups’ wealth and political power.

Although many Latinos have been in the United States for generations, much media coverage and political reporting focuses on immigrants, and many Latinos remain outside of the economic and social mainstream for generations.  As in Europe, many Americans fear the newcomer and like Political Scientist Samuel Huntington believe that Latinos are not assimilating as did previous immigrants, and that they reject the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream and are creating separate societies that threatens the nation’s cultural unity.

After thirty years of research on and writing about Latinos and other vulnerable populations we  have written our first textbook, which is scheduled for release on August 1, 2014 by Routledge.  The book consists of ten chapters that deal with all aspects the Latino experience in the United states.  It deals with demographics, education, employment, wealth, and income for the major Latino subgroups and compares them to Asians, African-Americans, and non-Hispanic whites.  The book also deals with social and psychological issues related to neighborhood quality, fear of crime, and the determinants of well-being.  It summarizes the most current and authoritative research on Latinos available and presents some of our more recent work.

The book takes a life course perspective on the welfare of the Latino population.  Low levels of education early in life lead to restricted employment opportunities, low income, little wealth accumulation, and inadequate retirement savings.  Since the Latino population is aging rapidly, the book deals with issues related to family structure and the sources of care for older parents.  Latinos depend heavily on their family for care and support in old age and tend not to enter nursing homes.  The book summarizes findings on the phenomenon of “caregiver burden,” a term that refers to the physical and psychological demands associated with caring for a seriously ill parent.

One might ask about the process of writing a book, especially a co-authored book.  This is the fourth book that we have written together, so we have some insights.  The fact of the matter is that it is not always smooth sailing.  Writing a book, or even an article with anyone requires a logical division of labor that capitalizes on everyone’s strengths, as well as a willingness not to have everything one’s own way.  Determining what those strengths are and how they complement others is a necessary first step.  Luckily, after four books and numerous articles we seem to have found the formula.  We would be happy to talk to anyone about the topic or the process of writing or finding a publisher.

If Talk is Cheap, are Tweets Cheaper?

This post was authored by Megha Arora, a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Math who is also an aspiring sociologist, and co-authored by Eric Borja, a third-year graduate student in the Sociology Department. Eric was Megha’s mentor for the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program, and this post came out of their many discussions regarding social media as a data source.


According to the World Bank, there are nearly 2.5 billion Internet users worldwide[1], and according to Facebook’s Investor Relations site[2] there are more than a billion monthly active Facebook users. With more researchers mining social media for data, it is important to explore the scope of such a data source. On November 8, Dr. Shamus Khan of Columbia University visited the Ethnography Lab to deliver a talk on his co-authored article with Colin Jerolmack, entitled Talk is Cheap: Ethnography and the Attitudinal Fallacy.

The premise of the article is simple with important implications for the field of sociology: talk is cheap. Jerolmack and Khan demonstrate that “sociologists routinely proceed to draw conclusions about people’s behaviors based on what they tell us,” committing what Jerolmack and Khan call the attitudinal fallacy. Given the concept of the attitudinal fallacy, can social behavior be deduced from analyzing data pulled from the Internet, specifically social media? In other words, if talk is cheap, are tweets cheaper?

This post is divided into three parts, each answering one of three questions. First, what is social media as a source of data? It is important to think through what kind of data is pulled from social media – is it qualitative or quantitative in nature? Second, are methods utilized to analyze social media, even quantitatively, more like ethnography or demography? A large amount of data can be pulled from social media, but does that mean we must use quantitative methods when analyzing it? Finally, what can social researchers discern from data pulled from social media? Can social behavior be discerned from data pulled from social media?

What is social media as a source of data?

In an instant, a researcher can collect a large number of tweets through social analytic sites such as Topsy, then analyze the data utilizing statistical or computational models, such as agent-based modeling. A number of demographic characteristics can be pulled from public accounts. For instance, a person tweeting or posting a major life event can be recorded and then pulled. These methods can be used to see who is participating in social media, and how. With geocoding, the researcher can spatially understand social networks and trends by pinpointing the location of a specific tweet or hashtag.

Qualitative methods could be utilized to analyze a small subset of tweets. This could involve comparing tweets before and after a specific event to be analyzed, or observing discourse between users. Directly observing people and interactions between people is a form of qualitative research in a new field: the Internet.

Are methods utilized to analyze social media, even quantitatively, more like ethnography or demography?

These methods, though mixed with parts of quantitative and qualitative research, are more similar to ethnography than demography. Demography is used to reveal shifting trends of a given population by analyzing data collected through surveys and censuses. The gaze of the researchers is present whenever a respondent answers a question in a survey or census. In ethnography, people are examined over time in a field. Instead of taking a survey of a respondent’s answer at one point in time, the ethnographer has the advantage of placing what they say in the context of what they do. In the field, the ethnographer can see people “do things” over time and across a multiplicity of contexts. The Internet, then, is a new sort of field.

The Internet as a field, of course, is not physical; but, similar to an ethnographic site, the Internet – specifically its users – can be observed from many perspectives in many different contexts over time. The amount of time you are “in the field” is indefinite because when someone uses the Internet, either through tweeting or posting, this activity is recorded.

On the Internet, people can be observed for as little or as long as necessary, both retroactively and in real time. It is a field in which the observations of this data can be made at any time, and because of the technology now available, data is being collected faster than ever before. Collecting observations where people are not being prompted to answer surveys or interviews and are behaving without recognition of a researcher is much more similar to ethnography than demography. Essentially, the researcher can place what someone says (i.e. what they tweet or post) in the context of what they do. 

What can social researchers discern from data pulled from social media?

Within the field of the Internet, data is collected and behavior is observed with mixed methods. Aggregating a large number of tweets and analyzing them statistically uses quantitative methods; however, when observing real people, in whom attitudes and behaviors can differ, when the researcher analyzes and uses that data the methods are also qualitative. These observations of and between people express behaviors because attitudes are expressed when prompted but behaviors are observed. Using the Internet can allow researchers to observe people and interactions both in real time and passed time, within different contexts and from different perspectives, and use qualitative, ethnographical methods to extract behaviors from quantitatively collected and analyzed data.


In conclusion, we claim that social behavior can be deduced through Facebook posts and tweets because what people post/tweet is a close proxy of what they do. Because the users observed are not prompted to answer a series of questions and are instead observed from a relatively outside perspective, the collected data can allow the researcher to observe discrepancies between what people say and do, and provide a more holistic view of social behavior, one similar to ethnography.

Congratulations to former longhorn Cathy Liu on her NIH Mentored Scientist Development Award

Hui Liu

One of our highly esteemed former graduate students, Hui (Cathy) Liu, (now an assistant professor at Michigan State) received an NIH K01 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award. This five-year project (2013-2018) entitled “How Does Marriage Get Under the Skin? An Integrative Social and Biological Approach” addresses the way various social, biological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms work together to forge links between marriage and health. The overall goal of this research is to develop an interdisciplinary model for studying the interactions between biological and social processes through which marital relationships affect health over the life course. This K01 award will enable Dr. Liu to acquire formal interdisciplinary training in order to facilitate her transition to an independent biodemographic researcher. This award is also valuable in helping Dr. Liu to achieve her long-term career goals to integrate interdisciplinary perspectives in research and foster dynamic collaborations across disciplines in order to enhance knowledge of interactions of the social world and biology in producing health outcomes. Congratulations Cathy!

Social Logical lens on the Canopy Art Studio complex

Canopy Studios is another example of the movement further East by Austin artists who have been priced out of more central locations.  Most have relocated in light industrial zones and have tagged on to the East Austin Studio Tour, sponsored by ArtAustin. Can we consider the move East to be part of the gentrification of East Austin or are these artists among the “victims” of rising real estate prices? It’s a hot topic, which Dr. Javier Auyero’s Ethnography students address in an upcoming co-authored publication that portrays the other side of East Austin.

West Austin Galleries are generally cast in the traditional brick and mortar mold of white walled mini museums. South Austin sports a few new spaces, but like their colleagues in the East, they tend (literally in some cases) toward the converted garage aesthetic. As a long time Austin resident, I have been part of the progressive push of the creative class from Austin’s core to destinations South and East. The myth of Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World has yet to be eclipsed by the visual art scene but with an influx of wealthy Californians, who knows? Demographic maps show Austin’s distribution of age (and wealth) has not changed much, despite gentrification. So look for most of our artists on the fringe, keeping it weird. As we can see from last week’s Canopy gallery openings, Austin still represents.


The Health Toll of Immigration

Dr Robert Hummer speaks to The New York Times about how life in the United States can lead to poor health for immigrants.

Esther Angeles, 41, with her daughter, Johanna Marisol Gomez, 7. Ms. Angeles has developed diabetes since coming to the United States and struggles to see that her daughter eats healthfully. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.
Esther Angeles, 41, with her daughter, Johanna Marisol Gomez, 7. Ms. Angeles has developed diabetes since coming to the United States and struggles to see that her daughter eats healthfully. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.


A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the parents.

“There’s something about life in the United States that is not conducive to good health across generations,” said Robert A. Hummer, a social demographer at the University of Texas at Austin.

Click here to read the full article.