Instability Among Underprivileged Families: a Cause and Consequence of Poverty

We’d like to believe that the largest difficulty in a child’s life would be not finding the exact color of crayon they’d need to finish drawing a picture. But with the rise of divorce and single parent families, children are forced to live with more and more instability in their lives. “The rate of family change that we’re seeing in the first five years of life is simply overwhelming children’s ability to cope,” stated Dr. Kathryn Edin at the 2017 Hinckley Lecture.

While levels of family instability and complexity are at an all time high, these difficult situations are disproportionately found among disadvantaged families rather than the American population as a whole. The unplanned birth of children into unestablished and young relationships are both the consequence and cause of poverty.

Learn more about the trapping impact of poverty on individuals and the consequential instability in families by watching this excerpt from Dr. Edin’s lecture.

This post is one of many in a series of videos available on our BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

Is it Okay to Abstain from Voting?

Is abstaining from voting simply giving up? Although people may believe that abstaining from voting is wasting a chance to tell politicians what you think, BYU economist Dr. Joseph McMurray found the opposite to be true. In a recent study, he found that people can express themselves with parity through both voting and abstaining.

Votes

People use votes not as a tool for change, but as a “microphone for broadcasting their opinions,” said Dr. McMurray. For example, in last year’s presidential election, third party candidate Evan McMullin won 21.5% of Utah’s vote, according to the state’s Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Despite McMullin not winning the election, he served as an outlet for people to voice their disapproval of the major party candidates.

Even though votes for McMullin did not change the election results, Dr. McMurray illustrated their effect: “The biggest takeaway might be to push back on the assertion that votes have no impact when they fail to change the identity of the election winner: if office holders look at vote totals (which they clearly do) and adjust accordingly (which they plausibly might), every vote will have an impact.” 

Abstention

But what about abstention? How do people express themselves by not voting? According to Dr. McMurray, there are two reasons a person abstains:

  • People with hunches feel like they don’t have enough information to accurately vote.
  • People believe that the correct thing to do is stay in the political middle; their abstention communicates that they don’t like/support either character.

Abstention sends a different message than voting does. Dr. McMurray provided the following graph to show that the likelihood of a person voting depends on their confidence level.

voting as communicating

The x axis represents a person’s opinion about candidates while the y axis is their knowledge about them; Negative one on either axis represents an extremely liberal perspective, 0 represents political neutrality, and positive one represents extreme conservatism. The more a person knows about a candidate, and the more liberal they are, the more likely they would be to vote for extremely liberal candidate A, but if that person had a low opinion of candidate A, they might vote for candidate B in the hopes that such a vote will influence candidate A to modify their stance. By the same token, the more a person knows about a conservative candidate, and the more conservative they are, the more likely they would be to vote for candidate D, but if they had a low opinion of that candidate, they might vote for candidate C in hopes of influencing candidate D. But, when a person abstains, they may be saying that they think the correct political stance is somewhere between the two opposites, and that, even though they might have strong beliefs, they may still abstain. Dr. McMurray shows with this graph that abstention can be utilized to communicate political beliefs.

Other Forms of Involvement

The study also showed that there are other ways for people to be involved besides voting and abstention.  These “microphones,” as he referred to them, can include trying to persuade others to vote certain ways, writing letters, endorsing candidates, donating money, attending political rallies, and working campaigns. They are more likely to be utilized by those with extreme political ideologies on either side of the liberal/conservative spectrum, as this graph shows:

voting graph

Outcomes

Regarding the hoped-for outcomes of his study, Dr. McMurray says: “I  hope that [it] will convince them to also consider which electoral systems foster the most useful communication from voters to office holders.” He also hopes that looking at voter communication will provide a window into voter and candidate motivations, which in general are difficult to know, but which are hugely important for productive political analyses.

However, understanding voting is more complicated than those results would suggest. Dr. McMurray understands this and is exploring it in future papers by studying how “logical connections between issues may explain why dozens of multi-faceted issues [are] so frequently reduce[d] simply to a left-versus-right contest” and “political polarization.”

What do you think has a bigger impact: voting or abstention?

Screen Violence and Youth Behavior: New Questions

In today’s world, many parents, educators, and policymakers are asking whether video games are good or bad for children and adolescents. Indeed, it’s a topic experts have studied and talked about here on more than one occasion, agreeing, for the most part, that violent video games and media are linked to aggressive and violent behaviors in their players. But according to a new article co-written by School of Family Life professor Sarah Coyne, the question most educators and policy makers are asking—are video games good or bad for children and adolescents?—is much too simplistic. They suggest a different, more “nutrition-based” approach.

What Research Says So Far About Violent Video Games and Their Effects

Dr. Coyne and her co-authors analyzed existing meta-analyses concerning video game aggression and violence. “A large body of evidence reveals that violent media can increase aggression,” she says, citing a census study done by Common Sense Media. “Indeed, the effects of screen violence on increased aggressive behavior have been reviewed and affirmed by numerous major scientific organizations, [and] a comprehensive meta-analysis found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiologic arousal, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavior and decreases prosocial behavior (eg, helping others) and empathy. These effects occur for male and female subjects of all ages studied, in both Western and Eastern countries.12

That being said, Dr. Coyne and her co-authors also noted that that are many potential cognitive and social benefits of video game play, and that well-designed video games can be great teachers, since they help players develop sensory processing and cognitive skills. Not all video games are violent, and of course, no risk factor taken alone can cause a child to behave aggressively.

More research is needed to truly explore the negative–and positive–effects of video games on those who play them, they say: large-scale studies of at least 50 000 participants that take into account all known major risk and resilience factors for the development of aggressive and violent behavior tendencies. The study should follow the same large sample of children from an early age through early adulthood, they recommend. They also recommend a similar large-scale, multi-site, multi-year study to further develop and test media exposure interventions to determine what works best, for policy makers and consumers to implement.

A Better Way to Think of Media Exposure?

The authors suggested thinking of media exposure as a diet. It’s important to consume media in moderation, and consumers should make sure to take in more helpful than harmful content. And, the consumer’s age has to be taken into account. In the absence of those large-scale studies, but with the evidence that has been gathered so far, they and other researchers suggest that parents can most effectively help their children and adolescents consume a healthy “diet” of video games and media by actively monitoring their use, and engaging in and conversing about media with their children, rather than strictly restricting media use. Families can also monitor media exposure by implementing simple rules and setting limits to screen time.

 

Which Historical Figure are You?

Have you ever wondered which historical figure you are? Take our quiz and find out!

What is your favorite class?

  1. Religion
  2. Clothing design
  3. Electrical engineering
  4. Business
  5. Military science

What would you do if someone disrespected you?

  1. Turn the other cheek
  2. Tell them to eat cake
  3. Think: “I’ve been called a ‘tyrant’ and an ‘uninhibited egoist,’ so I guess it’s no big deal
  4. Tweet about it
  5. Repeatedly get revenge

What is your favorite book?

  1. The Bible
  2. How to be Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Derest and Audrey Dewan
  3. Experiments and Observations on Electricity by Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Works by Leonardo da Vinci
  4. Anything I tweet
  5. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

What do you like to do most?

  1. Following God’s will
  2. Partying
  3. Inventing things
  4. Taking charge
  5. Conquering my enemies

What is your favorite film/TV show?

  1. The Prince of Egypt
  2. Project Runway
  3. Anything but The Prestige
  4. Anything on Fox and Friends
  5. The Count of Monte Cristo

What is your relationship status?

  1. Single
  2. Married, but it’s not great
  3. Married, widowed, and remarried
  4. Married with children
  5. Widowed, and I’m not getting remarried

 

If you got mostly 1’s

Congratulations! You are Joan of Arc, fearless French leader in the Hundred Years’ War. Under her command, the nation successfully repulsed the English at Orleans. Eventually, she was captured and executed for heresy. Joan claimed that she was sent by God to help put Charles VII on the throne of France; her faith in God led her to do great things.

joan

You are a deeply religious person who is not afraid to do what’s right, even when it seems impossible. People look up to you as someone who is strong and courageous. Don’t ever change!

Joan of Arc recently participated in the History Department’s Dead Queens Debate, where she debated current women’s issues. She also appeared on Between Two Ferns.

If you got mostly 2’s

Congratulations! You are Marie Antoinette, doomed queen during the French Revolution. Known for her extravagant clothing and love of parties, this monarch was eventually executed. However, her legacy as one of the most fashionable women of her time has lasted centuries.

marie a

You are a style-savvy individual who knows how to command a room and is the life of the party. People look to you for social approval and you are always on the guest list for the most posh events.

You can learn more about Marie Antoinette by taking HIST 294 The Age of the French Revolution and/or HIST 324 France.

If you got mostly 3’s

Congratulations! You are Thomas Edison, inventor of the “commercial electric light and power system,” the phonograph, and the microphone. The scientist owned 1,093 patents. Edison took advantage of the total solar eclipse of 1878 to test his new invention, the tasimeter, to detect changes of heat during the eclipse. He viewed the eclipse as his chance to prove that he was not only an inventor but a serious scientist as well.

edison

Like him, you are an extremely intelligent person who sees things differently than others and knows how innovate. People admire your ingenuity and rely on you to make their lives better.

If you got mostly 4’s

Congratulations, you are President Donald Trump! (He’s not a historical figure yet, but he will be.) You have a passion for leading and aren’t afraid to defend your beliefs. You fight for what you want and always bounce back from adversity. Furthermore, your Twitter skills are legendary.

giphy (7)

If you got mostly 5’s

Congratulations! You are Olga, princess of Kievan Rus. After her husband was murdered by a nearby tribe, she took revenge multiple times, eventually subjugating the people of that tribe. Later in her life, Olga converted to Christianity and, after her death, was canonized.

olga

You feel things deeply and are fiercely loyal to those you care about. When somebody hurts them, you are personally offended. Cunning and resilient, you are someone that everyone wants on their side.

giphy (12)

You can learn more about Princess Olga by taking History 300: The Early Middle Ages.

Gifs courtesy of Giphy

Photo credits: Marie Antoinette, Joan of Arc, Thomas Edison, and Princess Olga.

Collaborating for Champions: Students and the Senior Games

The athletes’ muscles tense as their ears ring, waiting to hear the starting buzzer. In the instant the buzzer sounds, the athletes rush from the blocks and the fans let out a roar of cheering. Sitting in the stands, you may think that you’re at an Olympics qualifying event…until you realize that the athletes are all over the age of 50. The Huntsman World Senior Games, held annually in St. George, hosts about 11,000 athletes in events similar to those of the Rio Olympics. Our own Gerontology Department helps sponsor this event because it helps students gain significant, high-quality training and learning experience while representing BYU. At this past October’s games, there were 67 students from various majors across the BYU campus volunteering at the event, producing around 3,000 volunteer hours, and of these 67 students, 16 were studying something within the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, and seven of those were Gerontology minors.

02

One of them, Oleg Mironchenko, shared that at the Senior Games he learned alot about the joy that good health can bring to an individual as they age. He said: “It has changed my perception about getting old and has served as a motivator to take care of my body while I am young.” His  fellow volunteer and Gerontology minor Tyler Brown added that “this was an incredible experience to open your eyes to another side of getting older. You see the people who care about taking care of their bodies and you gain hope in having an independent and fulfilling life throughout your lifetime.”

As Gerontology students have learned, aging is a lot more than getting wrinkles and discounts at restaurants. It’s about taking care of your health and embracing every opportunity and especially every sporting event at the Senior Games. As said by Gerontology student Sarah Rogers, “seeing older adults play at such a competitive level reminded me how important it was to stay healthy and physically active throughout my life.”

Service and Education

Volunteering at the Games is a true combination of service and education. Students provide health screenings three full days during each of the two weeks of the Games. This year, an estimated 3,000 unique athletes went through at least several aspects of the health screenings. “In some cases these health screenings have had life-saving implications for the participants,” said Hager. “Every year we are…able to identify a few of the games participants who have no idea regarding life-threatening health risks they are experiencing…. We even have participants return the next year telling students that this station saved their life based on their previous years screening results  and their follow-up with their regular doctors. That is pretty gratifying for me and even more so for the students.”

11Regarding the educational value of the service for students, BYU Exercise Science professor Ron Hager, who has helped to ensure the quality of care, services, and screenings that volunteers provide for athletes since 1990 along side UVU nursing professor Gary Measom, says that part of his dedication for the Games is connected to the quality educational experience they provide for students. “For me, there are many facets to an education,” he said. “There is traditional in-class learning and instruction, but there is also the practical application of what is being learned, and even research opportunities,” shared Hager. “I feel like the students get great hands-on opportunities when they attend the games and many are involved in data collection for research projects at the undergraduate and graduate levels. For many students it is a complete paradigm shift in terms of what it means to get older as they interact with senior athletes who are committed to an active and healthy lifestyle into their later years.”

 

Impacting Athlete (and Student) Lives

16The Games tend to become more than just excellent service and educational experience, though. Hager reports: “Nearly every student I talk to has said that the Games volunteer experience has been one of the best experiences they have had while at BYU… Students not only make lasting friendships with other BYU students and students from other universities, but also with the athletes.”

Competitions aren’t all about winning, but as Professor Hager has shared, conducting health screenings at the Huntsman World Senior Games is “a win-win-win-win for the students, the Games, the Games participants, and myself [as an educator].”

 

 

Relief and Recovery: How Do Disasters Disrupt Routine Behavior?

How do disasters affect communities? If you’ve followed the impacts of the recent Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, or Central Mexico earthquake disasters, or if you’ve ever experienced one yourself, you’ll know that the devastation varies from place to place and from disaster to disaster. It can often take years to assess the damage and to reach a new normal. Even harder to assess, though, but in some ways more important, are the effects of various disasters on the people, over time. In a recently published study, sociology professor Michael Cope found that Louisiana communities affected by the 2010 BP oil spill traversed the road to recovery in widely different ways, depending on their core industries, and that community sentiment, in general, served as a protective factor that ameliorated lifestyle disruptions.

 

oliver-paaske-410611

What happened in the BP oil spill?

The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, contracted by British Petroleum (BP) exploded in April 2010, about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The wreck killed 11 people, and the rig spewed millions of gallons of oil for months before scientists finally stopped the flow. At the time of the oil spill, Louisiana produced 25 percent of the nation’s seafood. The state was also the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas and third largest producer of petroleum. The U.S. government placed strict short-term restrictions on fishing and drilling in areas affected by the oil spill, and the fishing industry suffered for years as a result of the oil spill’s impact on the environment.

How did the oil spill affect the community?

Research on people’s general reactions to disasters shows that those disasters have to be viewed not as “single-point-in-time events, but as processes of social disruption that play out over time.” Dr. Cope’s research relied on a telephone survey administered to people living in communities affected by the oil spill. The survey was conducted in five waves, with the first wave administered while the oil spill was active and the last wave administered in April 2013.

The results suggest that the oil spill disrupted people’s routine behaviors (including sleeping and working). The extent of disruption lessened over time, as people’s behaviors normalized again, but people who worked in (or had relatives working in) the fishing industry experienced the most disruption. This makes sense, given the devastating short-term and long-term impact of the oil spill on their livelihood. Too, residents of affected communities reported disrupted lives three years after the spill.

The good news? People who demonstrated positive sentiment toward their communities (in other words, people who liked the places where they lived) experienced less disruption than others did. Their positive community sentiment buffered the effect of the oil spill on their routine behaviors.

What next?

Dr. Cope, an FHSS professor who co-authored this article with a team from Louisiana State University, wrote that issues like disaster recovery warrant continued attention and research. “This study,” they said, “adds to the chorus of researchers who have long contended that planners need to recognize disasters as social processes linked to long-term antecedents and long-term consequences.”

 

 

The Total Solar Eclipse of 1878: Lighting the Path for Science in America

david baron
Courtesy of american-eclipse.com

How do you get 100 history and astronomy students in the same room on a Thursday afternoon? You give them a lecture by awarded journalist David Baron on “Edison and the Eclipse that Enlightened America.” Baron, a science and environmental journalist and recent Charles Redd Center guest lecturer, saw an eclipse in Aruba in 1998 and has since dedicated his time and research to exploring and experiencing these astronomical phenomena and telling the stories behind them.

Eclipse Chasing Now

While there was lots of commotion about the recent 2017 total solar eclipse, a total solar eclipse passes over earth’s surface every 18 months. The path of totality, when the sun is completely covered by the moon, is only 100 miles wide, making the viewing of a total eclipse a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many individuals. In the day and age of cars and airplanes, eclipse chasing is relatively easy with the internet, a pair of glasses from Amazon, and a car ride. In the late 1800’s, however, eclipse chasing was quite the ordeal, and it was primarily this that Baron discussed at the lecture.

Eclipse Chasing 1878

14760792356_1c969e822b_zThe year was 1878. Manifest Destiny was the United States’ call to action, the transcontinental railroad was moving people across the plains, and America was striving to carve out a unique spot in the landscape of worldwide scientific discovery. Solar eclipses were critical to physical and astronomical discoveries at the time, and Europeans were monopolizing these scientific experiences and discoveries. That is, until a total solar eclipse was forecast to cross the American West in 1878.

This was an opportunity for Americans to show that they could compete intellectually with the rest of the world. The government recruited scientists, astronomers, and everyday citizens alike to “crowd source” information on the sun and its corona. Everyone in the western United States would have less than three minutes to make the most important astronomical observations of their lifetime.

Notable Participants

Three individuals in particular stood out among the group of government-recruited scholars:

  1. James Craig Watson of the University of Michigan’s Detroit Observatory was one of the most recognized “planet hunters” of his age. He discovered a number of asteroids and sought to discover a new asteroid planet during the eclipse.
  2. Maria Mitchell was the most famous female scientist and astronomer of the 1800’s and was a teacher at Vassar College in New York when news of the eclipse rang out. Mitchell organized a group of women to go west to study the eclipse and show society that women can be smart, educated, healthy, and feminine to boot.
  3. 5565714066_b7cb709e97_z
    Courtesy of cea+

    Thomas Edison had just been dubbed the “Wizard of Menlo Park” for his invention of the phonograph and was anxious to test his new invention, the tasimeter, to detect changes of heat during the eclipse. This was Edison’s chance to prove that he was not only an inventor but a serious scientist as well.

Not to be Left in the Shadows

At the end of the three minutes of darkness and scientific enlightenment, according to Baron, Edison was inspired to look into light and power (a possible influence on his future invention of the light bulb), the tasimeter was claimed as a success, Mitchell successfully advocated female higher education, Watson claimed to find the asteroid planet Vulcan (which was later proved unreal, but would give Watson something to defend for the rest of his life), and the American public came together to make what newspapers called the “most important observations ever made.”

“Eclipses inevitably reveal much about ourselves,” said Baron in American Eclipse, a book he wrote about the 1878 eclipse. “What we see in them reflects our own longings and fears.” Baron’s descriptions of America’s reaction to the 1878 eclipse, in his book and his lecture here on campus, capture a nation longing for success. The book was published earlier this year with the support of the Charles Redd Center. During his research for the book, Baron was able to visit many of the sites connected to the 1878 eclipse and see the collections of drawings and observations of the eclipse that were collected from American citizens and are now housed in the Library of Congress.

Follow the Redd Center for more events concerning the history of the American West.

How have your eclipse experiences impacted your own life?

 

 

 

 

 

How to Invest as a College Student

Many college students dream of becoming multimillionaires who split their time between philanthropic efforts and exotic travel. But the trouble is that we’re not always adept at making or saving money. Few of us will end up as multimillionaires, but learning how to make smart investments will help us live comfortably and provide for our families’ needs. In fact, according to School of Family Life professor Jeff Hill, any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps.

Investing Tips for Students

Take Advantage of Compound Interest

Professor Hill is an expert on saving and budgeting money. In fact, one of his undergraduate courses — SFL 260, Family Finance — teaches BYU students those important skills, and Dr. Hill even co-authored the textbook that the students use (Fundamentals of Family Finance: Living Joyfully within your Means). In a June 2015 BYU devotional, Dr. Hill told a story about four hypothetical students, who each had $10,000 and who each planned on retiring 50 years down the line.

 

Get rich slowly - Jeff Hill

The first student put his money in a strongbox, meaning he would still have $10,000 in 50 years. The second student put her money in a savings account, where compound interest would double its value every 25 years. She’d have $40,000 at the end of the 50-year period. The third student put his money in a government bond mutual fund, where it would double every 15 years to become almost $100,000 in a 50-year span. The fourth student put her money in a broad diversified stock market fund, where it would double every seven and a half years. In 50 years, the student would have more than $1,000,000.

“That is the miracle of compound interest,” Dr. Hill said. “When you consistently invest like the fourth student, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be able to retire in the future and that if an emergency happens now, you have a reserve.”

Start Now

Dr. Hill said that any student can invest, no matter what how tight a budget he or she keeps. Some mutual funds even cater to small investors who can only afford to put a little bit of money into the stock market. “I invite my students, and I invite you, to begin to invest now,” he concluded.

 

Take a Little Risk, and Diversify

To Dr. Hill’s tips, Economics professor Scott Condie, who has published papers describing the effects of ambiguity aversion (the preference of known risk over unknown risk) on investment. It’s common among many investors, driving them to have less diversified portfolios and to participate in the market less often. “Ambiguity averse investors will almost surely have their wealth converge to zero if there is a rational expected utility maximizing investor in the market,” Dr. Condie wrote. In other words, investors who remain sufficiently ambiguity averse will not survive.

So make sure that you have a diversified portfolio, that you participate actively in the stock market, and that you don’t entirely avoid risk. After all, what’s life without a little risk?

How do you save, budget, and spend your own money?

Take a minute to think about your own finances. If you’ve got any questions about personal finance or investing, let us know in the comments, and we’ll get a research-based response to you!

 

Instability and Complexity in American Families

Today’s families are changing, as we’ve discussed here and here. Our School of Family Life professors are studying more and more types of families with more and more complex relationships. At our college‘s 2017 Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Kathryn Edin addressed the impact of instability and complexity on many American families. As parents break up, then re-partner, then bring new children into the family dynamic, Dr. Edin explained that “the parental roster is unstable” and “the child has multiple adults in and out of his or her life, claiming the role of mom or dad.” This dynamic is both a consequence and a cause of poverty.

Learn more about instability and complexity by watching this two-minute video, and stay tuned for new videos as we continue to explore these issues.

Dr. Edin’s full lecture is available here.

This post is thirty-fourth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and your family live better lives.

Learn How to Recognize and Monitor Media’s Impact in Your Home at an Upcoming Event

Media and technology can be a blessing, but when they negatively impact family relationships in the home, they can quickly become a curse. sarah_coyneIn a society where media is present in most aspects of our lives, individuals should be informed on how media use influences their relationships and decisions and how they can manage this content in their own lives and in their homes. As a part of BYU’s Continuing Education Families at Risk lecture series, on December 13th Dr. Sarah Coyne of the School of Family Life will expound on how media affects families and how individuals can manage the media in their home with specific strategies and tools. 

Dr. Coyne is an associate professor of human development and has focused much of her recent research on media and its affect on the family. In a recent study on mothers’ media monitoring styles on adolescent technology and media use, Coyne collaborated  with Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker to study certain parental monitoring styles within the home. Research found that when monitoring strategies consisted of active monitoring, which is the promotion of educational and critical thinking about media by parents, and connective co-use, which is use of media by both parents and children in a joint experience, there is less media usage.

families at risk
Courtesy of BYU Continuing Education

Coyne has also worked on research that investigates the impact texting has on adolescent behavior. The December 13th event will be part of the Families at Risk: Issues Facing Today’s Families lecture series. To register and learn more about their classes, please visit their website.