Listening Topic: Social Studies – interview with a sociologist

A. Listen to an interview with a sociologist. As you listen, check your answers to the items below.

1   People in the United States are more / less involved in their communities than they were 50 years ago.

2   People are more / less interested in politics than they used to be.

3   Americans visit with friends and family more / less than they used to.

B. Listen to the interview again. As you listen, choose the correct answer to each question. Listen again if necessary.

 Which example of involvement in the local community is NOT mentioned?

      a   membership in the PTA

      b   attending a church, synagogue, or mosque

      c   attending meetings about local issues

 Which example of interest in the political process is NOT mentioned?

      a   reading the newspaper

      b   voting in elections

      c   working on political campaigns

 Which example of informal social activity is NOT mentioned?

      a   going out to restaurants

      b   having friends to dinner

      c   visiting neighbors

4   Which point is NOT made about social involvement?

      a   Places where there is a lot of social involvement have less crime.

      b   People who are socially connected are happier and healthier.

      c   People who are socially connected work harder and earn more.

 Which suggestion is NOT made?

      a   People should get more involved in local elections.

      b   People should volunteer more.

      c   People should get to know their neighbors.



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2 less

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1 b   2 c   3 a   4 c   5 a


A = Host, B = David Lee

A:   According to sociologists, American society has changed dramatically over the last two generations. Statistics show that we are much less involved in our communities than we used to be, and here to discuss what this might mean for our society is sociologist David Lee. Welcome to the program.

B:   Thank you.

A:   First of all, can you summarize the issue for us?

B:   Well, as you say, Americans – in the United States – they are less involved in their communities than they were in say, 1960. There’s less participation all around. We get together a lot less, even with friends.

A:   Can you give us some examples?

B:   Well, one statistic that comes up a lot is membership in the PTA: the National Parent Teacher Association. In the 1950s, almost half of parents with children under eighteen were members of the PTA. They got together and attended meetings and raised money for their children’s schools. Well, membership in the PTA went from fifty percent in the 1950s to under twenty percent in 1995. And that’s just one example. The number of people who attend other kinds of public meetings – meetings about local affairs, such as, I don’t know, improving bus service, or crime in a neighborhood – has gone down by about 60 per cent.

A:   It’s like people are less interested in the community.

B:   Yes, that’s what it looks like. There’s less interest in the political process as well. Look at newspaper readership, for example. Only about 25 percent of people aged forty and under read a newspaper every day. That contrasts with 80 percent of older Americans. That’s a big difference.

A:   It sure is. And what about the number of people that vote? That’s down too, isn’t it?

B:   Yes, voting is a really very basic measure of political participation. And voting is way down. At the turn of the century – I mean the last century, so in 1900 – about 85 percent of eligible adults turned out to vote. In the last presidential election, less than 50 percent turned out.

A:   Yeah, I see the problem. But, you’re talking about political involvement and involvement in local organizations but what about our social lives? You mentioned that we socialize less as well?

B:   Yes. We socialize less than we used to. In the 1950s, people had friends over to dinner more often. They visited with their neighbors more often. Generally, people seemed to have a much better social life back then, than they do now!

A:   That’s really interesting. So we’re becoming more isolated from each other.

B:   Yes.

A:   But is this such a big deal? I mean, you might say, “So what?” Are these kinds of social connections between people really important? I mean, these days, we have the telephone, we have the Internet…

B:   Yes. The telephone has replaced face-to-face contact a lot. But informal social connections are actually very important.

A:   Why?

B:   There’s a high correlation between social connections in a community and crime, for example. The more people know one another’s name in a community, the less crime there is.

A:   I suppose that makes sense. Everybody knows who you are.

B:   Yep. And people living in communities where there are a lot of social connections tend to live longer. They have better health, and they’re generally happier.

A:   Wow. So I guess there is a need to make people feel more connected to their communities. But how would you do that?

B:   That’s the million-dollar question! Well, one way would be to encourage people to volunteer more. Volunteering is a great way to get involved in the world around you and build connections with other people.

A:   Maybe we should just all hold block parties and get to know our neighbors!

B:   Absolutely. Why not?

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