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Sociology Department

2016 Sociology Graduates' Senior Seminar Research Findings

* = Presented at Eastern Sociological Society

Omari Spears


Omari Spears

“Religiosity and Happiness: Can Belief Keep You Blissful?”

What fills people’s lives with satisfaction? I propose that one source of happiness is strong connection with religion. I use happiness and levels of excitement in life as my dependent variables and control for total family income. I analyze subjective self reports of happiness, levels of excitement in life and religiosity to help answer this question. My sample is of 1,529, non-institutionalized United States citizens ages eighteen or older. All of the data I use comes from the 2014 General Social Survey. The stronger one’s religious affiliation the happier one is. This effect applies to levels of excitement in life as well. The effect of income on happiness has no significance when looking at my sample. These results confirm that religiosity has a positive effect on happiness and levels of excitement in life.


Nurianny Montilla-Rivas

Nurianny Montilla-Rivas**

“Differences in Levels of Parental Involvement, Parental Expectations, and School-Parent Communication between First-Generation and Non First-Generation Students”

First-generation students, students who are the first in their family to obtain post-secondary education, often lack the preparation necessary to excel in school. I propose that the levels of parental involvement, parental expectations, and school-parent communication vary between first-generation students and non first-generation students. Familial knowledge and experience in post-secondary education affects the preparedness and academic success of students. How schools choose to maintain communication with parents about their children also affects success. In this study, I investigate how parents of first-generation college students influence the academic success of their children. I analyze the reporting of the levels of parental involvement, parental expectations, and school-parent communication in a national U.S. address-based sample of 17,563 respondents surveyed from January through August 2012. The results confirm that first-generation student families have lower levels of involvement, lower expectations, and receive lower levels of communication from their child’s school than their non first-generation family counterparts. There is a need for future research that explores ways of equalizing the playing field for first-generation students so that they too can succeed academically.


Jennifer Hoffer

Jennifer Hoffer

“The Impact of Interracial Contact on Whites’ Attitudes Towards Blacks”

Does interracial contact between Whites and Blacks decrease Whites’ racial bias against Blacks? I propose that interracial contact increases development of positive race relations because, arguing using the contact theory, gaining familiarity with another group decreases fears and prejudice otherwise fostered by intergroup isolation. Using data collected in 2006 General Social Survey (1972-2014), I measure varying sample sizes (349-1378) of North American, White, non-institutionalized, English or Spanish speaking adults over the age of 18. Using multiple-regression analysis, I measure the effects of interracial contact on Whites’ racial bias against Blacks. Interracial contact is measured by having Black neighbors and by number Black acquaintances, and bias is measured by willingness to support a family member marrying a Black person, and by willingness to live in a neighborhood that is half Black.  Having Black neighbors and Black acquaintances both decrease racial bias among Whites, as do higher education and being younger in age. People from the South are significantly more likely to have higher racial bias than those from other regions in the United States. The results support the contact theory’s proposition that interracial contact decreases racial bias.


Olivia Frank

Olivia Frank

“Potential Victims or Potential Threats: Student-Targeted Security Measures and Race”

Are all high school security measures created equally? I propose that the more white students are in a school, the less schools will use student-targeted - as opposed to outsider-targeted - measures. This disparity is framed by Critical Race Theory, which contends that implicit racial bias impacts everyday institutional practices. These practices fuel the critical issue of a racialized school-to-prison pipeline. I analyze the data from the national School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), sent biennially to public school principals across the U.S. I use a survey from the 2009-10 school year, delivered in a stratified random sample to 3,476 public elementary and secondary schools - of which I limit my subset to 948 high schools. Out of the six security measures I define as student-targeted, schools with more white students used more drug-based measures, while schools with more students of color used more weapon-based. Overall, whiter student populations correlated with lower use of student-targeted measures, but this significance is overpowered by whether or not the schools were suburban. This result counters the hypothesis that whiteness of students determines a school's method of security measures; socioeconomic class and other factors relating to race are more influential.


Kaleigh Kessler

Kaleigh Kessler**

“Teaching Happiness: How Education, Class and Race Affect Wellness”

Why do some people report being happier than others? Using the basis of Aristotle’s argument that education increases the excellence of a person, I propose that education positively affects wellness. Knowledge is inherently powerful and fulfilling. Knowledge increases the likelihood for employment, which in turn affects income. People often find learning to be empowering allowing for autonomy. I analyze self-reported happiness and highest level of education in a national random sample of 2,309 non-institutionalized respondents between the ages of 18 and 89 of the General Social Survey (GSS) in 2014. There is a weak positive relationship between education and happiness. However, when controlling for income, race, gender, age and employment, the relationship disappears. Instead, education, gender and income have an effect on happiness. Income has the strongest effect on happiness as compared to years of education and gender. Therefore, my hypothesis is supported.


Haley E. Maiden

Haley E. Maiden

“Media Influence on Adult's Sexual Behavior and Activity”

What influences sexual behavior in adults? I propose that increased hours of television viewing are responsible for an individual’s increase in the number of their sexual partners. I use the General Social Survey (2012) to investigate the correlation between the number of sex partners and amount of media exposure that a sample of 980 individuals report experiencing. The survey allows for a close examination of the level of correspondence that may be found between the two variables. Although many similar studies exist, they are primarily focused on adolescent subjects and until now, adult behavior has not been a priority. Furthermore, the relationship between television consumption and sexual partners is not significant, meaning that there is no correlation between the variables. In fact, my findings report that television viewing does not have an effect on individual’s number of sexual partners. 


Greer Cohen

Greer Cohen**

“If it Bleeds, It Misleads? How Political Media Shapes Attitudes Towards Felon Disenfranchisement”

With the alarming racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, the loss of voting rights for felons is a critical social issue to explore. This study examines how frequency of political media consumption impacts public support for felon disenfranchisement. Relying on past media effects literature, I propose that increased political media consumption drives support for felon disenfranchisement. Using the 2014 General Social Survey, I analyze data collected from a representative sample of 1010 U.S. residents through phone and computer-assisted interviews. Controlling for race, gender, income, age, and political views, my findings reject my hypothesis, reporting no significant relationship between political media usage and support for loss of voting rights for felons. Instead, the data suggests that as an individual’s age increases so does their perceived importance that people convicted of serious crimes lose citizen rights. Additionally, the more conservative a person is, the more likely they are to support loss of rights for criminals. This study challenges previous literature suggesting a significant relationship between increased media consumption and punitive attitudes, implying a further need for research on both political media effects and attitudes towards felon disenfranchisement.


Rachelle Soriano

Rachelle Soriano**

“Does It Boil Down to the Water?: A Sociological Approach to the Epidemiology of Neglected Tropical Diseases”

Research documents the strong and extensive relationship between poverty and poor health. However, in the study of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), the social etiologies are largely ignored. The 1.4 billion people who live below the poverty level defined by the World Bank - the ‘bottom billion’ - are the most heavily impacted and reside in the most destitute areas of the world. Environmental risk factors play a large a role in the prevalence and persistence of NTDs. Contaminated water sources provide ideal habitats for vector-borne diseases and favorable conditions for the transmission of waterborne diseases. This paper investigates the relationship between access to clean water and sanitation with four NTDs: lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminthiases. I analyze data collected in 2005 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations in 127 tropical countries. The results do not confirm that countries with a lower percent population using improved drinking water and sanitation facilities have higher rates of disease. Further research must investigate the relationship of other social factors that affect the prevalence of NTDs in the hopes of eradicating the cycle of poverty and infectious disease.


Jessica Kong

Jessica Kong**

“Safety and Income: Predictors of Health and Stress among Individuals Employed in the United States”

Stress and health are multidimensional measures of an individual's well-being. The existing literature proposes that social factors, such as income and occupational characteristics, predict both stress and health. This study examined the safety conditions of work in the United States and the effects of such conditions on individual well-being. A random sample of 607 English or Spanish speaking, non-institutionalized, and employed adults in the United States was obtained from the General Social Survey (2010). Safety conditions were measured with three variables: risk of hazard exposure determined by the researcher, the respondents' assessment of safety conditions, and the respondents' assessment of safety priority. Although risk of hazard exposure was not significantly correlated with health or stress, both self-reported measures of safety were significant predicts of health and stress. Low safety priority and dangerous working conditions were significantly correlated with poor health and stress. Individual income was the strongest predictor of health, while perception of safety priority at work was the strongest predictor of stress. Low individual income mediated the relationship between perceived low safety priority and poor health; perceived unsafe conditions and poor health; and full-time employment and stress.


Anna Sand

Anna Sand

“Newcomers in a Nation of Immigrants: Exploring the Effect of Region on Attitudes Toward the Impact of Immigrants in the United States”

This study examines the effect of region on Americans’ attitudes toward the impact of immigrants in the United States. Specifically, it seeks to determine whether respondents living in the western region of the United States are more or less likely to agree that immigrants negatively impact U.S. culture and economy. This study analyzes data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS), which surveys a population of randomly selected, non-institutionalized English and Spanish-speaking Americans who are 18 years of age or older. The 2014 survey has a sample size of 2,358 people. This study finds that controlling for a number of independent variables, respondents living in the West are less likely to agree that immigrants negatively impact the United States. These results are contrary to Blumer’s (1958) theory on group position, which states that majority groups often feel threatened by racial or ethnic minority groups. However, the results are in keeping with Allport’s (1954) contact theory, which posits that racial prejudice can be “unlearned” through positive contact with minority groups. These results suggest that Americans living in areas with high levels of immigration may actually have more positive attitudes toward immigrants than those who do not. 


Leah Docktor

Leah Docktor

“Child of Science, Child of Faith:  A Look at Education, Religiosity, and Parenting Style”

What factors influence the ways in which parents raise their children? The literature suggests that social class and religion play monumental roles in childrearing approaches and children’s outcomes. Building upon these insights, I use the 2014 General Social Survey to investigate the influence that religiosity and educational attainment can have on the importance of five parenting values: obedience, autonomous thinking, work ethic, popularity, and helping others. The findings suggest that education is negatively related to the importance of obedience and positively related to the importance of autonomous thinking. Religiosity is negatively related to the importance of popularity and autonomous thinking, and positively related to the importance of obedience.  There is a need for future research to explore the influence of social class and race on these values to further evaluate the development and preparation of today’s youth.


Maya Obstfeld

Maya Obstfeld** 

“Exclusionary Patriotism: American Patriots and Attitudes Toward Immigrants”

To what extent does patriotism, nationalism, and ethnocentrism affect attitudes toward immigration restriction in the United States?  I propose that an individual’s attitude about immigration is dependent on their level of patriotism. I hypothesize that the more patriotic a person is, the more she believes in restricting immigration to United States. Using the 2014 General Social Survey data set, I analyze a random sample of 1064 Americans currently living in the United States. After performing a multiple regression analysis, I found that my hypothesis was not correct. However, three control variables were significant. If an individual is living in the South, or identifies as white they are more likely to want to reduce immigration. Additionally, on average, the more conservative Americans are the more they will want to reduce immigration. Using Herbert Blumer’s (1958) group threat theory, I explore the question: to what extent is whiteness, political view and living in the South implicitly tied with patriotism? This study examined the function of group threat theory and whiteness, the connection between patriotism and conservatism, as well as the economic threat of immigrants in the South, to better understand the value of these controls in understanding attitudes towards reducing immigration. Though the results do not confirm my hypotheses, they are nonetheless revealing and hold valuable lessons for future research, including raising more specific questions that reveal the nuances of patriotism. 


Shannon Reilly

Shannon Reilly

“Together in Our Loneliness: The Effects of Internet Use on Socialization and Happiness”

The social effects of Internet Use should be a major point of concern for sociologists and society alike. The Internet has engendered an uprooting of our traditional means of communication, thus shifting the medium, framing, and content of our interactions. The benefits of its accessibility, speed, and socializing capabilities cannot be underscored, but there lies a problem in an emerging society whose individuals choose to participate with the larger world from behind a screen instead of face to face. Using Durkheim’s anomie as a theoretical framework, this study investigates the effects of Internet use on happiness. Controlling for marital status, age, and work satisfaction, I predict the more time one spends on the Internet, the less happy he or she will be due to growing anomic effects. Although the findings suggest there is no relationship between Internet use and happiness, the marriage and work satisfaction control variables have positive and statistically significant relationships with happiness. Though Internet use and happiness did not yield a statistically significant relationship, the intricacies between these two rather nebulous variables beg for further investigation in the field of Sociology. 


Elizabeth Reisen

Elizabeth Reisen

“How News Media Consumption Influences Barack Obama’s Approval Ratings*”

How does consumption of news media on different platforms affect political attitudes? Media sources and political institutions have a complicated, interwoven relationship—affecting the publics opinion of political figures, structures and policies on a daily basis. By examining the relationship between media and politics on a specific scale, I explore the intricacies of how the two worlds connect. Therefore, I hypothesize that the more media an individual consumes, the more likely they are to approve of Barack Obama’s presidency. In this study, I examine how media consumption affects Barack Obama’s Approval Rating by correlating data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) from their 2010-2012 Evaluations of Government and Society Study (EGSS). By examining media consumption across different platforms and Barack Obama’s approval ratings while controlling for types of media consumed, political identity and description of Barack Obama’s race, we can try to understand what influences public political opinions. While I discovered that the amount of media consumption is not significant, the type of media an individual consumes is statistically significant. However, the strongest concept that influences people’s political opinion is their political identity. Therefore, we can understand that though consumption of different media platforms does not affect political attitudes, media bias as well as political identity shape political opinions.


Katy Pugliese

Katy Pugliese**

“Gender Inequality and Female Safety:  Examining Gender Inequality in Prostitution”

While prostitution continues to be a thriving industry, sex work is often viewed as a form violence against women, discrediting it as an option for desperate individuals.  The failure to recognize sex work as labor has caused the profession to be criminalized and deregulated. This paper explores how the sex-industry is not an exploited, violent profession but instead a form of work that is necessary for the survival of destitute women. I explore how social injustices intrinsic to society impact the mistreatment of sex workers. I therefore ask the question on how gender inequality effects the health of sex workers in their use of contraception on a country-wide level.  Using data drawn from the United Nations, my research suggests that there is a connection between low levels of inequality and decreased condom usage.


Margaret Matthews

Margaret Matthews**

“Are The Kids All Right?  The Effects of Adolescent Family Structure on Adult Psychological Wellbeing”

The prevalence of nontraditional and blended family structures is rising, creating a need for continued research into the way in which these changes impact children into adulthood. The family is the first impactful social structure that introduces an individual to society. Previous research has found that traditional married two-parent families serve the strongest support for children across elements of wellbeing, including economic, educational, and psychological fulfillment. This study investigates whether traditional family structures are the most preventative family type against psychological distress in adulthood. Data from the 2014 General Social Survey provide this study with a sample of 1,235 adult respondents in order to compare their adolescent family structure to their current psychological wellbeing. Results find that adults from traditional family structures report better psychological wellbeing than adults from nontraditional family structures. Age yielded strong predictive results in relation to psychological wellbeing as well, indicating that happiness increases with age. This research also supports the notion that older respondents have had more time to recover from the disruptions and ensuing uncertainties that result from nontraditional family structures. These results support previous findings that family structure matters, even well into adulthood.


Tashawn Nicole Reagon

Tashawn Nicole Reagon**

“Prison Privatization: The Key to Mass Incarceration of Men in the U.S”

The United States currently holds the record for the highest incarcerated population. While it makes sense to assume that high incarceration rates equate to a high rates of crime, research suggests that there is no correlation between a rise in imprisonment and an increase in crime. Almost a quarter of the US population is under some sort of legal surveillance, whether it sitting in prison cells, awaiting parole, or being on probation. Although we can acknowledge that racism and poverty has significantly affected national imprisonment rates, I propose that if a state has privatized its prisons, the state’s rate of incarceration of men will increase. The privatization of prisons is driving the dramatic increase of incarceration because of its ability to generate enormous profit. I analyzed state level data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the imprisonment rate of men from the year of 2013. Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, on state poverty rates and percent of Black/African Americans within a state, was also used to test my hypothesis. Analysis of data from the 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that when controlling for race and poverty, privatizing prisons does not have an increasing effect in imprisonment rate of men.  The results suggest that poverty and Black presence has a greater effect on male imprisonment than the privatizing of prisons.


Makeda Nivens

Makeda Nivens

“Taking Charge: The Effect of Who Pays for Healthcare on the View of the Medical Care System”

There has been a large uproar about healthcare and who should pay for this service. What I propose is that individuals who have less confidence in the medical system and do not think medical treatment is scientific want to pay for healthcare themselves, rather than the government. I used data from the General Social Survey, pertaining to questions on medicine and healthcare to analyze on average responses by the respondents on who should pay for healthcare. The data suggests that views on the healthcare system do not influence an individual’s view on who should pay, however one’s race, education, and political party are the greatest influences.