American Sociological Association

2015 Presidential Address: Sometimes the Social Becomes Personal: Gender, Class, and Sexualities

All sociologists recognize that social constraints affect individuals’ outcomes. These effects are sometimes relatively direct. Other times constraints affect outcomes indirectly, first influencing individuals’ personal characteristics, which then affect their outcomes. In the latter case, the social becomes personal, and personal characteristics that are carried across situations (e.g., skills, habits, identities, worldviews, preferences, or values) affect individuals’ outcomes. I argue here for the importance of both direct and indirect effects of constraints on outcomes. I disagree with the tendency among sociologists to avoid views highlighting the role of personal characteristics because of the perception—incorrect in my view—that these explanations "blame the victim" and ignore constraints. To illustrate the importance of both types of mechanisms, I explore two empirical cases involving how gender and class structure sexualities. First, I show that young men engage in same-sex relations less than women and have more heterosexist attitudes, and I ask why. Second, I provide evidence that people from disadvantaged class backgrounds are especially likely to have unintended pregnancies and nonmarital births, and I explore why. In each case, I provide evidence that both kinds of mechanisms are operating—mechanisms entailing direct effects of constraints on outcomes, and mechanisms in which constraints shape personal characteristics, which, in turn, affect outcomes.

Download PDF


Paula England





Starting Page


Ending Page


Get Involved


ASA needs you to serve the discipline

Join a Section

Explore ASA's community of specialists in the discipline

Join ASA

Join or renew your membership