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March 2009 RNR

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Below is the newest installation of Research News Reporter (RNR) Online. Previous editions can be viewed in the Archives.

March 2009

IWPR’s Research News Reporter is distributed to highlight informative, innovative, and sometimes controversial research related to women and their families.

Research Making News
1 . “New Berkeley Law Study Finds Formerly Incarcerated Women Face High Hurdles to Employment”
2. “Sex Objects: Pictures Shift Men’s View of Women”
3. “Perceptions of Gender, Leadership Shift for Girl Scouts”
4. “Study Finds No Benefits from Daily Multivitamin”

Research Reports
1. Valuing Good Health in Massachusetts: The Costs and Benefits of Paid Sick Leave
2. Contraceptive Needs and Services, 2001 - 2006
3. "The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States"

Research Making News

Each selection includes a short excerpt, link to the news article, and link to the research cited:

1. “New Berkeley Law Study Finds Formerly Incarcerated Women Face High Hurdles to Employment”

AScribe Newswire
By Rose French, Associated Press
February 20, 2009

Citing:  A Higher Hurdle:  Barriers to Employment for Formerly Incarcerated Women, a report by the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at Berkeley Law. 

“In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law have documented the challenges faced by formerly incarcerated women in securing a job. Although women comprise the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population, until now research about the effects of incarceration on employment opportunities has been limited to men.

Authors of the new report, “A Higher Hurdle: Barriers to Employment for Formerly Incarcerated Women” found that formerly incarcerated women were 31 percent less likely to receive a positive response from an employer compared to women with no criminal history. ‘The results of this study confirm anecdotal evidence; formerly incarcerated women have a harder time finding work,’ said study co-author Michael Sumner, Ph.D., research manager at the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law.

In conducting the study, researchers created similar resumes and sent them in pairs to Bay Area employers who had advertised job openings. For each job listing, one resume in the pair included a period of incarceration, the other did not. When the resume indicated a recent period of incarceration, the positive response rate was 5.5 percent. For resumes that did not reveal recent incarceration, the positive response rate was 8 percent.

The pairs of resumes sent to the employers also hinted at the race or ethnicity of the applicant. Resumes submitted by African American women received the lowest positive response rate.

Researchers conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups with 40 formerly incarcerated women, both employed and unemployed. During those sessions, the women expressed frustration that current laws barred them from holding jobs in nursing or childcare. A criminal record was also a bar to securing public housing or student loans, support that formerly incarcerated women particularly needed to stretch their limited resources and give them opportunities to learn trades and skills.

[…] Because finding and keeping a job are central to avoiding recidivism, researchers say that the findings of “A Higher Hurdle” should prompt policymakers to re-examine laws that bar formerly incarcerated individuals from holding jobs in nursing and child care-jobs that have traditionally been held by women.

‘Many formerly incarcerated women want to find legitimate jobs and care for their children and families,’ says the study's lead author Monique W. Morris, former director of research at the Henderson Center for Social Justice. ‘It is unfair, discriminatory, and against our collective interest to allow criminal records to prevent women from rebuilding their lives.’

The report's authors encourage policymakers to consider adopting and strengthening laws that permit criminal records to be sealed and expunged under certain circumstances, ban discrimination based on criminal history alone, and restrict the use of background screening to only the most sensitive occupations.

The women who participated in the study expressed a desire to have an opportunity to show how they had changed for the better. As one woman said: ‘I was young, I got caught. I needed some money and made a bad mistake. I'm trying to change my life right now, and I'm asking for this opportunity.’[…]”
To read the full article, click here.

To download a free PDF of the report or to learn more about the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, click here.

2. “Sex Objects: Pictures Shift Men’s View of Women”

The Guardian
By Ian Sample
February 16, 2009

Citing:  “Women as Sex Objects,” a presentation by Susan Fiske at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

“[…] Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, said the changes in brain activity suggest sexy images can shift the way men perceive women, turning them from people to interact with, to objects to act upon.

The finding confirms a long-suspected effect of sexy images on the way women are perceived, and one which persists in workplaces and the wider world today, Fiske said.

‘When there are sexualised images in the workplace, it's hard for people not to think about their female colleagues in those terms. It spills over from the images to the workplace,’ she said.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago yesterday, Fiske said the findings called into question the impact of sexualised images of women that might be pinned on workplace walls or sent around offices where there was a strong locker-room culture.

‘I'm not saying there should be censorship, but people need to be aware of the associations people will have in their minds,’ Fiske said.

In the study, Fiske's team put straight men into an MRI brain scanner and showed them images of either clothed men and women, or more scantily clad men and women. When they took a memory test afterwards, the men best remembered images of bikini-clad women whose heads had been digitally removed.

The brain scans showed that when men saw the images of the women's bodies, activity increased in part of the brain called the premotor cortex, which is involved in urges to take action. The same area lights up before using power tools to do DIY [“Do-It-Yourself”]. “It's as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies,” Fiske said.

In the final part of the study, Fiske asked the men to fill in a questionnaire that was used to assess how sexist they were. The brain scans showed that men who scored highest had very little activity in the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions that are involved with understanding another person's feelings and intentions. ‘They're reacting to these women as if they're not fully human,’ Fiske said.”

To read the complete article from The Guardian, click here.

To listen to a podcast about the research presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, click here.

3. “Perceptions of Gender, Leadership Shift for Girl Scouts”
Staff Report
February 15, 2009

Citing: The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say About Election 2008, a report by the Girl Scout Research Institute.

“[…] A new study launched by the Girl Scout Research Institute titled The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say about Election 2008 finds that the presidential election, and the intense campaign season that preceded it, generated an unprecedented level of interest and engagement in civic participation and community service among young people ages 13-17. The survey also reveals that girls in particular have not only gained an increased awareness of the barriers that face women, but also an improved sense of their own abilities and potential to overcome those obstacles.

The GSRI, building upon its 2007, comprehensive study of girls' leadership conceptions and aspirations, ‘Change It Up! What Girls Say About Leadership,’ spearheaded this post-election survey to determine the impact that this historic election had on girls' leadership goals. The survey consisted of online interviews conducted with a sample of 3,284 respondents between the ages of 13 and 17. The data are weighted to produce a final sample representative of the general population of young people in the United States.

[…] The survey consisted of 3,284 respondents between the ages of 13 and 17. In the effort to capture diverse reactions the sample design included boys and girls; Girl Scouts and non-Girl Scouts, as well African-American, Hispanic and Asian youth. Here are some highlights from the survey:

[…] The majority of girls (59 percent) say the election has increased their confidence in being able to achieve their goals in the future.

[…] When questioned about the role of gender, both boys and girls have substantially increased their appreciation for the difficulties that women face in our society. Forty-three percent of girls today strongly believe that ‘girls have to work harder than boys in order to gain positions of leadership,’ a statement that just 25 percent of girls agreed with just a year ago.

[…] The most significant impact the election has had is on youth's desire to engage in the political process: the overwhelming majority (71 percent) intend to vote when they reach eligible age. Additionally, about one in two (49 percent) report an increased interest in politics; and 44 percent gained an interest in social and political activism.

[…] ‘The results of the post-election survey are revealing,’ remarked Judy Schoenberg, Director of Research and Outreach for GSRI. ‘It's clear that this election season has encouraged girls to re-examine their ideas about leadership, civic participation and their own ability to influence the world around them as future leaders. While girls are aware that women face challenges, they have also gained confidence and were energized by the 2008 election.’”

To view the full article, click here.

To read about the report or download a free PDF, click here.

4. “Study Finds No Benefits from Daily Multivitamin”

New York Times
By Tara Parker-Pope
February 9, 2009

Citing: Multivitamin Use and Risk of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Cohorts, a report by the Women’s Health Initiative and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“Multivitamins are the most commonly used diet supplement, but new research shows that daily multivitamin use doesn’t ward off cancer or heart disease.

In a study of 161,808 women who were part of the government-funded Women’s Health Initiative research effort, doctors from 40 centers around the country collected data on multivitamin use. While research shows that people who eat nutrient-rich diets filled with fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease and cancer, it hasn’t been clear whether taking a daily supplement results in a similar benefit.

After following the women for about eight years, they looked at rates of various cancers and heart problems among the 42 percent of women who were regular multivitamin users, and compared them to those who didn’t take vitamins. The researchers found no evidence of any benefit from multivitamin use in any of 10 categories studied, including no differences in the rate of breast or colon cancer, heart attack, stroke, blood clots or mortality. The findings were published in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The finding that multivitamins produced no benefit in such a large, well-regarded study is disappointing, given that some earlier research has produced mixed results. While some earlier studies failed to show a benefit of daily multivitamin use, other research has suggested a possible benefit for colon and breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, those data were collected from less rigorous studies, and researchers say the lack of a benefit measured in the Women’s Health Initiative is a “robust finding.”
In the tightly controlled W.H.I. trials, data from women were copiously collected, and participants actually brought vitamin bottles to W.H.I. centers so supplement use could be confirmed by researchers.

‘We have very detailed information on what people were taking measured over a period of many years,’ said Marian Neuhouser, the lead author and associate member in cancer prevention at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. ‘We thought there could be a modestly reduced risk, but there is nothing. There is no helpful benefit, but they’re not hurting either.’

About half of all Americans use some form of vitamin or dietary supplement, spending $20 billion annually on the products. In a statement, the vitamin industry trade group, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said the study shouldn’t dissuade consumers from using multivitamins, since many of them aren’t getting essential nutrients in their diets.

[…] Dr. Neuhouser said she realizes that many people who are devoted vitamin users will be skeptical of the finding that they are receiving no benefit from a daily multivitamin.

‘I don’t want to disparage people who take multivitamins — it’s their choice as a consumer,” Dr. Neuhouser said. “What we’re presenting is the science showing it’s neither beneficial nor harmful. If they want to choose to spend their dollars elsewhere this might be a good place to do so. Perhaps they can buy more fruits and vegetables.’”

To read the full New York Times blog post, click here.

To read the results of the study or download the report, click here.

Research Reports

Each selection includes a short excerpt from the research and a link to the report:

1.Valuing Good Health in Massachusetts: The Costs and Benefits of Paid Sick Leave

Vicky Lovell, Ph.D., Kevin Miller, Ph.D., and Claudia Williams
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
February 2009

“Policy makers across the country are increasingly interested in ensuring the adequacy of paid sick days policies. In addition to concerns about workers’ ability to respond to their own health needs, there is growing recognition that, with so many dual-earner and single-parent families, family members’ health needs can be addressed only by workers taking time from their scheduled hours on the job. Paid sick days policies also allow workers with contagious diseases to avoid unnecessary contact with co-workers and customers and, thus, are a fundamental public health measure. Paid sick days protect workers from being fired when they are too sick to work and offer substantial savings to employers by reducing turnover and minimizing absenteeism.

Massachusetts lawmakers are now considering the Paid Sick Days Act. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has estimated the costs and benefits of the Paid Sick Days Act, using government-collected data, peer-reviewed research literature, and a thoroughly vetted methodology.”

To download a free PDF of the full report, click here.  To learn more about paid sick days initiatives, visit the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

2.Contraceptive Needs and Services, 2001 – 2006

Guttmacher Institute
February 2009

“Women between the ages of 13 and 44 who are sexually active and able to become pregnant, but do not wish to become pregnant, are in need of contraceptive services and supplies. Those who are poor or low-income, as well as teenagers, may need subsidized care. These tables report on the current status of contraceptive needs and services in the United States as a whole, for the 10 federal regions and for each state and county.”

To read the tables available from the Guttmacher Institute, click here.

3.The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States”

By Valerie M. Hudson, Mary Caprioli, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill,
Rose McDermott, and Chad F. Emmett
February 2009

“Does the security of women influence the security and behavior of states? Existing evidence linking the situation of women to state-level variables such as economic prosperity and growth, health, and corruption is fairly conclusive. Questions remain, however, concerning the degree to which state security and state security-related behavior is linked to the security of women. The ‘women and peace’ thesis draws upon evolutionary biology/psychology for ultimate causes of this linkage, and sociological theories of social diffusion and psychological theories of social learning for more proximate causal mechanisms. Together, a new data resource—the  WomanStats Database—and conventional methodology find a robust, positive relationship between the physical security of women and three measures of state security and peacefulness. In addition, a comparison of this proposition to alternative explanations involving level of democracy, level of economic development, and civilizational identity shows that the physical security of women is a better predictor of state security and peacefulness. Although these results are preliminary, it is still possible to conclude that the security of women must not be overlooked in the study of state security, especially given that the research questions to be raised and the policy initiatives to be considered in the promotion of security will differ markedly if the security of women is seriously considered as a significant influence on state security.”

To read a free PDF of the full report, published in International Security (vol. 33, no. 3), click here.

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