Tag Archives: gender

Marriage and the Market: How Economic Inequality and Gender Equality Shape Marriage Trends

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Couples who share housework and have equal levels of education are as likely to stay together as couples following traditional gender roles.

In a recent New York Times oped, Stephanie Coontz cites a plethora of sociologists in her discussion of the tug-of-war between gender equality and economic inequality over current marriage trends in America. In her piece, Coontz argues that families have become more egalitarian and stable due to increased gender equality, with women increasingly gaining equal access to education and employment. However, because of the recent recession and the increased income gap, the inequality between families continues to rise. Both forces, she argues, push and pull on the rates of marriage and divorce in American society. She writes:

Sometimes these trends counteract each other, with women’s work gains partly compensating for men’s losses in low-income families. Sometimes they reinforce each other, since the new trend for high-earning men to marry high-earning women increases the relative advantage of such couples over low-income or single-earner families. For all Americans, these trends have changed the rewards, risks, and rules of marriage.

Citing sociologists Christine Schwartz and Hongyun Han, she details how couples who share housework and have equal levels of education are just as likely to stay together as those who subscribe to more traditional gender roles. Husbands have doubled the time they spend doing housework, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the “male-breadwinner” family arrangement has declined significantly. However, these increases in gender equality are counteracted by growing economic instability among families. She cites research by sociologist Philip N. Cohen, as well as a Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin, to show how, while the more educated are more likely to get married and stay married, the return on a college education continues to decrease, increasing income inequality and marriage instability. Coontz argues:

While the sexes have become more equal, society as a whole has become far less, producing especially deep losses for young men. In 1969, by the time men reached age 25, three-quarters were earning wages that could support a family of four above the poverty line. By 2004, it took until age 30 for the same percentage of men to reach this income level. And while in 1969 only 10 percent of men ages 30-35 were still low earners, by 2004 almost a quarter of men in that age range remained low earners.

Coontz then turns to sociologist Andrew Cherlin’s book Labor’s Love Lost to discuss the implications of these findings. Cherlin’s book details how two important factors have lead to a decrease in marriage rates among younger generations. First, the decrease in blue-collar work that requires only a high school diploma has significantly affected the ability of lower-income males to fulfill the historical role of bread-winner. Second, the increase in gender equality detailed above has made it so females no longer need a breadwinner in the first place, allowing them to wait for a mate with a stable income or to make that income themselves. Coontz summarizes Cherlin:

Women’s expectation of fairness and reciprocity in marriage has been rising even as men’s ability to compensate for deficits in their behavior by being “good providers” has been falling. Low-income women consistently tell researchers that the main reason they hesitate to marry – even if they are in love, even if they have moved in with a man to share expense, and even if they have a child – is that they see a bad marriage or divorce as a greater threat to their well-being than being single.

However, our very own Doug Hartmann qualifies findings that indicate a decline in marriage rates in an interview with CBS Minnesota, saying that even though younger cohorts, especially women, are waiting to pay off their student loans and build their careers before marriage, the desire to get married has not declined. Hartmann says, “When you ask people about their attitudes about marriage, their desires to get married, that doesn’t seem to be in decline. It’s just the timing of it and when it’s happening is getting put off.”

Sociologists across the country are invested in understanding the changing trends in marriage and American family life, and their research has detailed important factors contributing to these trends. Coontz ends her article with an important insight, urging us to consider the stability and equality of the marriage landscape Americans are so often nostalgic for.

If women lowered their expectations to match men’s lower economic prospects, perhaps marriage would be more common in low-income communities. But it would most likely be even less stable, and certainly less fair. Turning back the inequality revolution may be difficult. But that would certainly help more families – at almost all income levels – than turning back the gender revolution.

See more of Coontz, Cohen, and other sociologists of family life, including Coontz’s piece on how religious affiliation affects marriage rates, at the Council of Contemporary Families’ blog Families As They Really Are.

 

Stephen Colbert Welcomes Trans-Caucasians

What do you get when you cross University of Minnesota Sociology professor Carolyn Liebler, census data, and issues of identity? This segment on the Colbert Report.

The Colbert Report               The Word – A Darker Shade of Pale

 

In this segment, the Comedy Central satirist pulled a quote from Liebler’s research:

“2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” in 2000…a decade later, told the census they were Hispanic and white.”

Of course, Colbert went on to explain his version of these findings, that Hispanics were voluntarily becoming white. Colbert points out that white people live in the best neighborhoods and get the best jobs, among other things. With that logic, the pundit suggests, why not “choose” to be white?

From a sociological perspective, he might have something there. Issues of identity are fluid and ever-changing in society. Looking at such a large change in the census data provokes questions as to why this variation in identity exists. In an interview with NPR, Liebler drew a parallel to her work studying Native American identity.

 “Between 1960 and 1970, nearly a half-million more Americans identified themselves as Native American — a number that was too large to be explained by mere population growth, she said. Something else had to explain it.”

Liebler says there’s more work to be done to understand these changing numbers. In the meantime, though, sociologist-in-training Stephen Colbert wants everyone to know that anyone is welcome…to identify as white.

Pantene Urges Women to Stop Being Sorry—But Were They in the First Place?

It seems that female empowerment is an advertiser’s new best friend. Just look at Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, Always’ #LikeAGirl, and CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan, each boasting millions of views: now Pantene is getting in on the action with its new commercial, Not Sorry.

The ad challenges women to stop apologizing reflexively. In general, viewers have reacted positively, but, as one article in The Atlantic suggests, there may be more to the story of “sorry.” The author suggests:

“One of the major problems with all this—besides the one embedded in the insistent equation of apology with weakness, and stubbornness with strength—is that “sorry” is, at this point, pretty much meaningless.”

So, is “sorry” meaningless or misunderstood? Take sociologist Erving Goffman’s characteristics of an apology: “expression of embarrassment or chagrin; clarification that one knows what conduct has been expected and sympathizes with the application of negative sanction; verbal rejection, repudiation, and disavowal of the wrong way of behaving along with vilification of the self that so behaved.” The Atlantic points out that these qualities aren’t present in the average, off-hand apology, like the ones featured in the video.

Of course, the author continues, the reflexive apology may just be an additional use of the word, rather than a constant expression of patriarchal oppression. In 1997, Deborah Levi proposed four types of apologies:

  • “‘Tactical” (acknowledging the victim’s suffering in order to gain credibility and influence the victim’s bargaining behavior)
  • “‘Explanation” (attempting to excuse the offender’s behavior and make the other party understand that behavior)
  • “Formalistic” (capitulating to the demand of an authority figure)
  • “Happy-ending” (accepting responsibility and expressing regret for the bad act)

Still, Pantene’s commercial doesn’t seem to show any of these kinds of “sorries.” Instead, one New York Times article specifies these apologies as “gestural.” Linguist Deborah Tannen tells The Times,

“Language almost never means what the dictionary definition says; it’s used the way others use it — as a ritual. But those who don’t share the ritual tend to take the words literally. Since American men don’t tend to use ‘sorry’ this way, they mistakenly take women’s use of it literally, as an apology.”

It seems sorry might be misunderstood by both apologizers and the recipients of those apologies—heartfelt or tossed-off. Ending women’s casual response apologies might promote empowerment, sure, but the very concept of the over-apologizing woman may actually be nothing more than a stereotype,as The Atlantic asks, is the notion of women as being overly apologetic could be “yet another label, yet another double standard that sticks, stubbornly, to women?”

No Rest for the Weary

first step to success

Photo by CJ via Flickr CC.

College students are tired of sleeping, according to a BBC interview with Catherine M. Coveney. She’s a British sociologist who recently explored the sleeping practices and subjective sleep experiences of two notoriously sleep-deprived groups: shift workers and college students. After conducting 25 semi-structured interviews with individuals dispossessed of rest, she concludes that our social context impacts how we understand the meaning of sleep and how we manage our sleeping schedules as a result.

The hospital-based doctors, nurses, police officers, call center employees, and other shift workers Coveney interviewed describe actively managing their sleep schedules around work patterns, finding childcare, and spending time with their partner. It is something that is constantly at the back of their mind. To illustrate why they view “broken sleep” as part and parcel of the job, Coveney explains how sleeplessness is built-in to the work structure:

There are some occupations where nothing is sanctioned…. The two nurses that I spoke to, they had to work waking nights. So even on their break, they weren’t allowed to go to sleep during the night. That’s not to say it didn’t occasionally happen, but that it was not a sanctioned practice. That was something that was seen as going against the rules of their profession.

On the surface, the sleep patterns of the college students look identical to the shift workers: “They did describe a kind of similar pattern; they did describe taking naps during the day, having a shorter sleep at night, having a two hour nap the next day.” Yet because they see sleep as an  “expendable luxury,” they don’t view their own erratic sleep as “broken.” According to Coveney, for the college students,

…it was more flexible, it was more their choice, so in a sense they were customizing their sleep patterns to fit around their social activities…. I suppose it was seen as disposable in a sense, they could cut back on sleep if they chose to, they could indulge in sleep if they chose to.

Although both groups thought of sleep in functional terms—the necessary amount determined by what was needed to get them through what they had to do the next day—Coveney reports, “None of the students I spoke to said they would prioritize a night in bed because they thought they hadn’t had enough sleep. If there was something else they wanted to do, they‘d do that. And they’d catch up later, they’d sleep longer the next day, they’d take a nap…. Some of them did go as far as to say if they could get rid of their need for sleep, it would give them much more time to do other things.” Even the value of sleep depends on supply and demand.

To learn who else is getting more sleep than you are, check out these TSP classics on the gender sleep gap and on segmented sleep.

Abortion and Cinematic Calamity

m_350_oc_1sht_V1.inddThe comedy Obvious Child hit theaters last Friday, and it’s been praised as “the most honest” abortion movie Slate‘s Amanda Hess has ever seen. Honest, in that the film’s protagonist Jenny Slate decides to have an abortion and goes through with it. Her relationship does not implode, she does not suffer crippling guilt, and she survives. Her life goes on. It turns out that this kind of straightforward portrayal is a rarity in American film and television, though millions of women have abortions every year (the Guttmacher Institute pegs the number of worldwide procedures at about 42 million per year). In a recent Contraception article, a pair of sociologists report that pre-Roe v. Wade era plotlines disproportionately featured the death of women characters who even thought about abortion. After abortion’s legalization, portrayals came to suffer from a different distortion: “These movies tell us that it was wrong [before Roe] for laws to dictate what a woman ought to do with her body, but now that she has the choice, she should choose to give birth except under the most extenuating of circumstances,” Hess writes. Obvious Child rejects, well, the obvious.

Watch the trailer for the film here.

Reproducing Reality in Fantasy-Land: Online Gaming and Offline Behaviors

Photo by Eduardo Hulshof, Flickr CC.

Photo by Eduardo Hulshof, Flickr CC.

Ubisoft has been trying to find out what makes its gamers tick. Nick Yee, a researcher fronting the company’s internal “Daedalus Project,” now has a new book, The Proteus Paradox, bringing together some of the major findings from the years of interviewing and observing gamers. Perhaps most interesting, as Bryan Alexander points out in Reason, is that, no matter how otherworldly the games might be, players tend to import their offline behavior and attitudes.

For instance, Yee explains in a chapter called “The Labor of Fun,” many gamers come to see gaming as a second job, demanding hours of boring drudgery contributing to fleeting achievements. Some even exploit other gamers to do the “grinding” work of leveling-up and repay it with racism toward those willing to do the work.

Gender figures interestingly, too:

Proteus outlines how male players denigrate, harass, and drive off female players. But Yee offers two twists to this sadly familiar story. First, women report wanting to play for the same reasons men do—achievement, social interaction, and immersion—going against essentialist expectations of gender behavior difference. And second, MMOs [massively multiplayer online games] offer a pedagogical benefit of sorts to male gamers who play under female avatars.

Males do this switching with some frequency… mostly to enjoy the eye candy of an attractive female avatar displayed in a game’s third-person perspective. That gaze is then reversed, as it were, as other players ogle the same avatar from their avatar’s perspectives. It’s a surprising opportunity to experience the kinds of sexual harassment that real-world women know to well.

Love, death, and helping others all come into play. “For all the criticisms that can be made of gamers’ behavior,” Alexander writes after reading Yee’s book, “these worlds are not bleak places entirely devoid of pleasure and fellow-feeling.” Between levels, it seems, some Putnam, Goffman, and Addams have snuck into the online realm.

For more in the Reason series on gaming, click here. For more on race in gaming, check out “The Whiteness of Warcraft,” here on TSP.

The Internet Knows When You’re Pregnant

Photo by J.K. Califf via Flickr.com

Photo by J.K. Califf via Flickr.com

In this era of social media, increasingly, our lives are being lived on the internet. Advertisers are taking note and mining our status updates and internet searches for information about our personal lives, targeting online advertising to our interests and identities.

Janet Vertesi, an assistant sociology professor at Princeton, has attempted the impossible: she tried to hide her pregnancy from the internet. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Jezebel.com details her attempt to keep information out of the hands of advertisers while also explaining how this phenomenon is affecting women.

The tiniest bits of information, an Amazon order or an internet search, contribute to the web of data that companies are buying to target individuals. Data about pregnant women is fifteen times more valuable to companies than information about the average person, as parenting has increasingly become a consumer market. (See previous Citings about the economic investments of parenting and the luxury market for baby goods.)

In order to keep her pregnancy a secret, Vertesi and her husband paid for everything in cash or gift cards, asked their friends and family to keep all news off social media, and even searched for baby products using private browsing. The steps they took to avoid discovery could be seen as ‘suspicious.’ They even ended up paying cash for gift cards to spend online, a strategy that can trigger alarms when the prices get higher.

Jezebel.com discusses her experience saying, “In short, if you want to hide your pregnancy from big data, you’ve got to operate like a drug dealer.”

One concerning factor is what this means for pregnant women. Pregnancy status can be very personal and women can choose not to divulge their pregnancy for a wide range of reasons. If pregnancy is no longer private, what is?

“Brown Eggs” and the Hush-Hush Infertility Gap

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons.

According to the New York Times, research from everyone from the Department of Health and Human Services to the CDCP, National Survey of Family Growth, the Tinina Q. Cade Foundation, and black women themselves shows that, despite centuries’ old stereotypes and even fears that black women are particularly fertile, well, they’re not. In fact, married black women have twice the odds of infertility than white married women, but it’s rarely talked about.

Regina Townsend of thebrokenbrownegg.org tells the Times:

“With women of color, specifically Hispanic and African-American women, the stigma attached to us is that it’s not hard to have kids, and that we have a lot of kids,” she said. “And when you’re the one that can’t, you feel like, ‘I’ve failed.’”

Some of the disparity in seeking treatment for infertility comes from differing health networks (see our recent piece with Brian Southwell for more on that) and some from differing financial positions (see decades upon decades of research on the wealth gap between black and white U.S. citizens). That is, black women seem less likely to talk to other women, their gynecologists, and their faith communities about fertility (or a lack thereof), and they’re less likely to have the resources—financial, medical, and network-wise—to seek infertility treatment.

Part of the problem, said Arthur L. Greil, a sociologist at Alfred University in western New York who has studied infertility and women of color, is that middle-class white women tend to have the confidence and connections to navigate the health care system better than less affluent minority women.

Even further, since fibroids (benign tumors that can significantly affect fertility) are more prevalent among black women and black women take longer to reach out for fertility advice, problems are compounded by time. Fertility drops naturally over the years, of course, but Dr. David B. Seifer said:

…fibroids [are] just one of various “cultural issues, biological issues and social issues” black women face that can affect their fertility. He said black women often waited longer to seek a diagnosis of or treatment for infertility, which “gives all of these other biological factors more time to become more severe.”

As Cariesha Tate Singleton told the article’s author, she knows she’s up against a stereotype that women like her are naturally “baby-producing machines.” Groups like Fertility for Colored Girls are working to change that notion.

Not Your Typical June Cleaver

Image made available by James Vaughan via Flickr Creative Commons

Image made available by James Vaughan via Flickr Creative Commons

“Stay-at-home mother” evokes black and white images of well-coiffed women in starched aprons. Rather than a vestige of a bygone era, stay-at-home moms are on the rise, according to the findings of a new Pew Research study. In 2012, 29% of women with children under the age of 18 stayed home, a number that has been on the rise since 1999 and is 3% higher than in 2008.

However, while more women are staying home with their children, the face of the stay-at-home mom has changed dramatically since the 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” days. Stay-at-home moms today are less educated and more likely to live in poverty than working moms. Younger mothers and immigrant mothers also make up a good portion of stay-at-home moms.

The story of why mothers are staying home is more complex than you may imagine and has more to do with the poor labor market, the exorbitant price of child care, and the contemporary structure of work. In a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Barbara Risman, a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke about how this report has been picked up by the mainstream media:

What’s surprising to me is the headlines and how it’s portrayed in the news. Although the numbers are going up, when you look at what mothers say, 6% of the mothers in this study say they are home because they can’t find a job. When you take those 6% of mothers out, the results are rather flat. Part of the real story here then is that it’s hard to find a job that allows you to work and covers your child care, particularly if you have less education and your earning potential isn’t very high.

These days stay-at-home moms, who are more likely to be less educated, are not be able to make enough money for working to even be worthwhile. Many times, their pay wouldn’t actually cover the cost of child care. Beyond these important financial considerations, lower wage shift work makes it extremely difficult to coordinate child care in the midst of work schedules that change on a weekly basis.

For highly-educated, formerly-professional stay-at-home moms, it’s not that they’re “opting out” from the labor force, but they’re being pushed out by the “all-or-nothing” structure of professional jobs with 24/7 demands for worker availability. The nature of these jobs makes it very hard to be both a worker and a parent.

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Young Girls Consider Sexual Violence Normal

"I'm Here for You" at Loyola University Chicago offers support to victims of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

“I’m Here for You” at Loyola University Chicago offers support to victims of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Good sociological research illuminates how individuals in society interact with social institutions and with one another. Sometimes, this research can uncover some of the feel-good aspects of social life. Other times, it can leave you despairing for humanity and raging against social structures.

A new report by Marquette University sociologist Heather Hlavka evokes the latter feelings. Analyzing over 100 interviews with girls aged 3 to 17 who may have been sexually assaulted, Hlavka found that the majority of these young women didn’t see themselves as victims because they considered sexual harassment a “normal” part of everyday life and male behavior.

For years, politicians, pundits, academics, and community advocates have been troubled by the staggering statistic that 60% of sexual assault and harassment goes unreported. Hlavka’s research speaks to some of the reasons behind this figure. Beyond the normalization of sexual harassment and assault, she finds that assaults go unreported out of shame, fear of retribution, and mistrust of authority. This mistrust extends to male authority figures, including police officers, to whom many of these women and girls would report an assault.

Hlavka sees her study as a call to action. Changing the way we think about sexual assault and sexual harassment might be a big step toward stopping it.

You can watch Hlavka discuss her research on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.