May/June 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 5

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Core and Diversity in Sociology Section Membership in 2010

Janene Scelza and Roberta Spalter-Roth, Research and Development Department

The American Sociological Association sections provide for members to interact with those who have the same specialized interests in specified areas of sociology. In 2010, 69 percent of ASA’s 13,708 members belonged to at least one of the 49 established sections (see for a list of sections).

Joining sections is a major way that sociologists become engaged with the discipline and with the ASA. Sections are a means of increasing communication and interaction among persons of similar interests within the framework of the larger Association. The growing diversity of ASA members and their intellectual interests resulting from greater specialization within the discipline and has led to new sections. Looking at 2010 section membership, the largest share of all members joined the Culture section (8.3 percent), closely followed by the Sex and Gender section (8.2 percent). Figure 1 shows that medical sociology; organizations, occupations, and work; race, gender, and class; economic sociology; theory; sociology of education; and sociology of the family are among the top section choices.

Although sociology appears to have a common core of interest across membership types, there are differences in section choices between regular members (the great majority of whom are sociology faculty members) and student members. There are even greater differences between male and female members (fig. 2). As students complete their degrees and become regular members, and as the regular membership becomes increasingly female (53 percent of the total membership in 2010), section choices may change. This article compares the 10 most popular sections of regular and student members and male and female members in 2010 (see
for the 10 most popular sections in 2001 and 2005).

Regular and Student Members


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About 72 percent of the 7,337 regular members and 68 percent of the 4,511 student members joined one or more sections in 2010. There is considerable overlap between the top 10 section choices between these two groups, although rankings vary. The Culture section drew the largest share of student members (9.4 percent), while the Sex and Gender drew the largest share of regular members (8.8 percent). Along with these two sections, common choices included Medical Sociology; Organizations, Occupations, and Work; Racial and Ethnic Minorities; and Economic Sociology. The tenth largest share of members in both groups belonged to the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section. The Section on Teaching and Learning in Sociology, number five among regular members, is not currently a top choice among students (it ranks as number 18), but this may change for individuals as students become faculty members, at least among women faculty. Sociology of the Family and Theory are not among the top 10 student choices (although Theory is number 11). Intersectionality appears to be of more interest to student than to regular members with the Race, Gender, and Class section, the second choice among students, but not on the top 10 among regular members.



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There are clear differences between women’s and men’s choices of sections in 2010, although these disparities are partly an artifact of the ranking system. Culture; Medical Sociology; Organizations, Occupations, and Work; and the Sociology of Education were the sections common to the top 10 sections of both males and females. Outside of these, there was little comparability; the top sections of each group ranked much lower among the other.

The remaining top 10 sections of female members included sections that focused on structural, demographic, and identity issues. These sections included Sex and Gender; Race, Gender, and Class; Race and Ethnicity; Sociology of the Family; and Aging and the Life Course. For male sociologists, these sections were not among their top 10 choices. Almost all of these ranked 19 or lower among male members.

The Sex and Gender section not only represented the largest share of female membership (13.4 percent), but also the largest share of members in any other group (the highest-ranked sections typically drew between 8 and 9 percent of members). Only about 2.3 percent of males joined this section and it ranked number 30. The largest share of male members belonged to the Culture section in 2010 (8.4 percent).

Outside of the top 10 sections shared with women, sections that were most popular among men included Economic Sociology; Theory; Political Sociology; Sociology of Religion; Comparative and Historical Sociology; and Collective Behavior and Social Movements. These sections fell just outside women’s top 10, ranking 11 (economic sociology), 12 (collective behavior and social movements), 13 (religion) and 14 (political sociology). Theory was the only section not among women’s top 20.

Currently, there is less variation in the top 10 choices of sections between regular and student members than between male and female members. If the trends described here continue, we may expect that issues of structure and intersectionality such as Race, Gender, and Class may become a more central part of the sociological core, differences between men and women may decline, and perhaps medical sociology will continue as a top section with the growth of health care as an issue and an industry.

Additional Data

Visit the Trends Data section of the Research on Sociology webpage at to see the entire table of distribution of section membership among regular and student members and male and female members in 2010. Also, download the new research brief, Decade of Change: ASA Membership, 2000 –2010 at

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