Embarrassing Sociology

Moose Equivalent of Washington Post Op-Ed

Well, right-wing Christianist sociology strikes again in the public square. Now, as we should have predicted, Christianist arguments supporting the benefits of godly heterosexual marriage are being used as an explanation for why inequality has increased in the United States. Yes, Jesus said to get married early, have that woman at home barefoot and preggers, and that will allow families to accumulate income and wealth. After all, Jesus Freak Sociology shows that there is a small positive effect of being married on minor league indicators of well being, and married people make more money–because they are married. Marriage causes you to be successful, and not getting married is your own damned fault and leads to poverty. So there. And, the homos are a part of the problem, too, even, probably.

When I started out in the mid 1980s, cultural sociology was in the toilet just because of such vile reasoning. Yes, it’s the culture that drives why some groups make millions for playing golf with their buddies and hookers, and other people work a couple of 30 hour a week minimum wage jobs. It’s the culture that leads people away from educational attainment when kids who have shitty schools and not enough teachers and books (or food) fail to attain much education.  Indeed, in the structuralist environments of the 1980s, cultural sociologists were viewed with skepticism. Bourdieu and DiMaggio changed that but even their view of cultural agency is limited by structural positioning.

In contrast, more recent scholarship has theorized about how religious values and commitments might influence stratification processes. In particular times and places, religious and other cultural values can have an impact on the development of knowledge, formal educational attainment, occupational choices, income, and wealth attainment. Most current research  shows that the prescriptions of Christian Right sociologists are in contradiction with what scholarship shows about stratification outcomes.  First, marriage only helps for the attainment of status if it occurs at an   appropriate point in the life course, and there are sizable gender differences in the effect of marriage by age. Generally, religious fundamentalists, sectarians, and other religious conservatives advocate early marriage and childrearing, which limits educational attainment (especially for women),  hinders job mobility, and undermines the potential for savings. Add to this an idealistic impulse mandating sacrifice for religious organizations, and you have a people who are uneducated, underemployed, and using their credit cards to tithe. No wonder Lisa Keister finds the sectarian Protestants worse off than any other group….It’s the patriarchy, stupid!




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