Younger Americans tend to be more environmentally conscious than their parents and grandparents. This has lead science educators such as Bill Nye to argue societal attitudes toward the topic will shift as older generations die off.
Disturbing new research suggests that may be a false hope. It reports Americans grow less supportive of spending money to protect the natural environment as they age, no matter the year of their birth.
“There is no inexorable march toward greater environmentalism as younger cohorts with greater environmental awareness replace older ones,” warn Erik Johnson, professor of sociology at Washington State University, and Philip Schwadel of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Their study, in the journal Environment and Behavior,suggests organizations urging Earth-friendly behaviors may be targeting the wrong demographic.
The researchers analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a large, nationally representative sample of American adults, from 1973 to 2016. They focused on responses to one question: whether we are spending (a) too much, (b) about the right amount of money, or (c) too little on “improving and protecting the environment.”
Flipping through the pages of a dusty, yellowing paperback in his office, James “Jim” Short, Jr., WSU professor emeritus of sociology, pointed to a black-and-white photograph.
“That’s on the westside (of Chicago),” the 94-year-old gang researcher said as he pointed out several well-dressed figures in the photo. “That’s where the Vice Lords were located.”
The photo depicts several young men walking their dogs down a bustling street. All were members of one of the many street gangs Short studied in the 1950s and 1960s. His research, half a century after his historic study on the rise of supergangs like the Vice Lords, is still impacting sociology today.
Short remains as interested as ever.
“That’s why I became a sociologist,” he said. “I was curious about the world around me.”
In a US study, about one-third of youths just out of high school admitted to riding with a driver who was under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. That raises their already high risk of being in a crash—not just as a passenger, but later as a driver, too, researchers say.
“Whereas driving drunk has become more and more stigmatised since the 1980s, the social prescriptions against riding with (other types of) impaired driver are not as strong,” said Jennifer Schwartz, a sociology researcher at Washington State University in Pullman, who wasn’t involved in the study. “As researchers, we understand less about why someone would choose to ride with an impaired driver.”
Vehicle thefts in Vancouver, Wash., have increased the past two years. In 2016, vehicle thefts jumped 15.6 percent from the previous year, and in 2015 they increased 6 percent—1,007 vehicles were reported stolen in Vancouver in 2016 compared to 871 in 2015 and 821 in 2014.
Clayton Mosher, a professor in Washington State University Vancouver’s sociology department who focuses on criminology, said three years of increases in vehicle thefts may be due to the slowing pace at which police services are being expanded in the city.
A limited number of officers in Vancouver, as well as Clark County, means law enforcement patrolling the streets have limited time to follow up on things like property and vehicle thefts, said Mosher, who sits on the city’s Community Resources Team with other local residents who aim to help increase police hiring, among other goals.
“One of the things that came up (in resource team discussions) was thefts and auto thefts and not having enough officers to follow up on these things as quickly as they could be,” he said.
WSU graduate wants to change the world through policy.
Jessica Do walked away from Washington State University on Saturday with two degrees, a hefty résumé and a couple of internships under her belt. And despite the multiple tries it took to find the right majors—sociology and political science—the 21-year-old graduated a semester early.
For Do, the motivation to succeed comes from several sources: her mentors, her breathing, her mother. In fact, it was her mother’s immigration to the U.S. from Vietnam that most inspired Do to make something great of her life.
“She just wanted a better life for all her children, and I just wanted to make her proud,” Do said. “I don’t want to disregard everything that she’s worked hard for to come to America, and not contribute to society.”