There are two major sources for national data on rape and sexual assault: the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program. While both can be used to gauge rape trends in the U.S., they use different methodology and are best seen as complementary rather than parallel data collection systems. Both show declines in sexual violence over the past decades. more...
Jennifer Barber, Yasamin Kusunoki, and and Jamie Budnick on November 16, 2017
Originally posted 5/14/2015
Recent months have seen a dramatic increase in media and government attention to gender-based violence, particularly sexual assault. Unfortunately, that attention has largely focused on a relatively elite group of young women – those enrolled in 4-year colleges. Much of the discussion has focused on the prevalence of a so-called “rape culture” in such settings, characterized by widespread tolerance of sexual violence. This essay presents evidence that sexualized violence and tolerance of such violence are actually more prevalent among youths who are not enrolled in college. more...
The term “millennial,” according to Frank Furstenberg, is an overly simplistic blanket term frequently used to describe the generation born anywhere between 1980 and 2004. This leads to confusion when we see debates in the media about where millennials fall on either side of the conservative or liberal binary, even when research shows significant complexity in millennial attitudes and behaviors. This month, I asked Barbara Risman, Professor of Sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago and President of the Board for the Council on Contemporary Families, about new research for her forthcoming book Where Will the Millennials Take Us: Transforming the Gender Structure? The research is in Social Currents. Risman’s findings suggest that as gender itself challenges binaries, so do millennials’ negotiations with the gender structure. Rather than a clear-cut conclusion about “millennial” approaches to gender, Risman finds four unique typologies that situate millennials within the gender structure: the true believers, innovators, rebels, and straddlers.
Q: In your typology, I was intrigued by the gender rebels: This is the millennial group that seems most different from previous generations. They emerged in your investigation when you demarcated material and cultural dimensions of the gender structure. Can you tell us more about how you came to recognize the gender rebels?
BR: I agree with your assessment that these gender rebels are perhaps the one group in my research that appear to be an invention of the millennial generation. Gender rebels are very much like a group I call the innovators; both could be described as trying to walk the walk of feminism, even if feminism is so in the air they breathe, they sometimes do not use the word. At the individual level of analysis, both groups reject being constrained to stereotypically feminine or masculine personality traits, both reject the cultural expectations that men and women should live different kinds of lives, and both are ideologically opposed to gender inequality. They are very similar in their cultural rejection of gender at the individual, interactional and macro ideological levels.
But when it came to the material aspects of gender, not ideas, but bodies and the class between their bodily presentations and the organization of social life, rebels and innovators couldn’t have been more different. The rebels rejected the notion that just because they were born female (or in one case, male) that meant they should present their bodies as feminine (or in one case, masculine). These rebels rejected the material expression of gender with their bodies. At the individual level they were androgynous, or if female, they presented their bodies in ways traditionally associated with masculinity. This had repercussions for how people treated them, with gender policing especially dramatic for men who challenged gender norms, but also for women who challenged how they presented their bodies once they reached puberty. At the macro level of organizational design, anyone who falls between the binary of male and female faces constant oppression as they do not fit within standard social categories. As you suggest, my distinction between cultural and material dimensions of the gender structure helps us to understand why the experiences of rebels are so different from those of innovators.
Q: What do you see as the practical/policy implications of your findings about the complexity of millennial gender typologies for the advancement of gender equality?
BR: There was one response that didn’t differ across groups. It didn’t matter if someone was a true believer in essential gender differences or a rebel, everyone, male or female, or somewhere in between, expected to work throughout their lives. That has great policy implications. We need to change our workplace policies to reflect the reality that all people in this generation expect to work in the paid labor force, and thus, workplaces have to be re-designed to be more family friendly. In this and no doubt future generations, employed adults will also be caretakers of young children, sick relatives and aging parents. We must use social policy to re-design the world of paid work to make this possible. Every society needs both economic activity and caretaking, and if the same people do both, social organizations have to reflect that reality.
A second policy implication reflects the needs of the rebels. Now that we have people who refuse the label of man or woman, and gender categories themselves are under siege by at least a small group of millennials, we have to begin to allow for gender variation in our social world. If there are people who are neither women nor men, then we need bathrooms that anyone can use. One policy implication is to move beyond single-sex bathrooms. Why not continue to require all stalls to have doors, and perhaps add curtains for urinals, and allow everyone to use every bathroom, and wash their hands next to people who are their same sex and those who are not? Why gender products? Why do we need different colored razors for men and women? At the end of my book, I call for a fourth wave of feminism that seeks to eradicate not just sexism but the gender structure itself. Only then will people who are constrained by gender, all of us, will be free.
Q: Your qualitative research makes a strong argument for the heterogeneity of millennials’ relations to the gender structure. That heterogeneity is very important to understanding things as they are, but sometimes in media the message gets lost. What advice do you have for researchers communicating nuanced findings to public audiences, when many in popular media depict millennials as falling on one side of a progressive/not progressive dichotomy?
BR: This is a problem for both qualitative and quantitative researchers. For qualitative research, I suggest creating catchy names for groups that differ, and insisting that the range of responses be covered. For quantitative researchers, I think a suggestion often given by Stephanie Coontz is right on target, and that is to discuss both means and standard deviations, especially when there is great variation around the average, and so people are really having different experiences.
Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire; he is currently in the doctoral program in sociology at Boston University and serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.
Most people know that there’s a long and persistent history of racial and ethnic segregation in the United States. There’s less awareness of segregation of gays and lesbians, and gay neighborhoods often get treated as simply a matter of “choice”— much the way that queer identities have historically been treated as a “choice.”
To a degree, discrimination drives the segregation of gays and lesbians. The researchers point to religious intolerance and recent anti-sodomy laws as evidence that gays and lesbians are systematically excluded from some heterosexual communities. But Poston Jr. and colleagues don’t reject the possibility that some gays and lesbians segregate voluntarily. As homophobia decreases, gays and lesbians may still wish to take advantage of the “protective shield and social support” and “stronger political voice” afforded by self-segregation.
It’s likely that the dynamics of segregation might be different for gays and lesbians. Lesbians are more likely to have kids, and thus might voluntarily congregate in places with better school districts. But they’re also more likely to live in poverty than gay men, which leads to fewer living options.
Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox examined the relationship between factors related to racial segregation and segregation by sexuality among 100 metropolitan areas with large gay and lesbian populations, using American Community Survey data from 2008 to 2012. The researchers estimated the percentage of gay or lesbian households that would have had to relocate within that metropolitan area for the number of same-sex and different-sex households to be proportional.
In all metropolitan areas examined, gay and lesbian households were segregated from heterosexual ones. On average, about 75 percent of gay male and 69 percent of lesbian couple households would have had to relocate within their metropolitan area to eliminate neighborhood segregation. The lowest estimate of segregation was between lesbians and different-sex couples in Madison, Wisconsin. Even there, though, just over half of lesbian households would have had to relocate for there to be no segregation.
Gay male households were more segregated from heterosexual households than were lesbian couple households in most cases. Provo-Orem, Utah, had the most segregation by sexuality: More than 90 percent of gay male households would have had to relocate to be proportional to heterosexual married and cohabiting couples in the population.
Gay and lesbian households are segregated from each other, too. In El Paso, Texas, which had the most segregation of same-sex households by gender, there was almost complete segregation between lesbians and gay men.
What factors predicted increased segregation between same-sex and different-sex households? For gays and lesbians, high prevalence of gay/lesbian couple households, high rates of Republican voters and Southern Baptists, and high poverty rates in their metropolitan areamade segregation more likely.
For gay men, they also found high population density, anti-sodomy laws, and a lack of non-discrimination laws predictive of increased segregation.
For lesbian households, high racial segregation also made their segregation from different-sex households more likely.
The only factors that predicted segregation between gay male and lesbian households were the gay male prevalence rate and the poverty rate. As the proportion of gay males in an area increased, segregation between gay male and lesbian couple households decreased. Conversely, as the poverty rate in an area increased, segregation of these two groups also increased.
The salience of poverty rates in these patterns suggests that segregation bysexuality is fueled at least partially by inequalities rather than the choices of gay and lesbian couples. But, to the extent that they have the option, gay and lesbian couples might choose to live in areas where they share political ideologies with others and can avoid discrimination.
There are still unexplained factors related to segregation by sexuality. Earlier qualitative research comparing the Castro with other gay enclaves, for example, found that what draws residents toward specific areas varies by the community, often in conjunction with more specific intersecting identities of the gays and lesbians that predominate in each space. Future research could examine individual communities to better understand how inequalities may be perpetuated through the residential patterns of gays and lesbians. But amid researchers’ calls for more research on the geographic distribution of gays and lesbians, there’s currently a policy shift away from data collection on LGBTQ demographics. The findings in this research by Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox highlight that data on where sexual minorities live is crucial for understanding, and thus addressing, inequality more generally.
Braxton Jones eearned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and has begun a doctoral program at Boston University this fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.
Recessions, student debt, and the prerogatives of other people with prior accumulated wealth are a few of the things getting in the way of millennials and their families owning a home. While millennials are the up and coming age group in need of supplying their families with a roof over their head, their options are slim.
So, in familiar and unfamiliar ways, family building begins. While they are finding and being hired into better-paying jobs and building their new families, this is when the home search begins. One problem: though they are ready to buy, few houses are on the market. And another: The homes for sale are priced too high for first-time buyers so millennials are renting for longer periods of time. Since the prices are so high, older people have the advantage over millennials, snatching up what’s available. This leaves millennials with a hazy vision for their future. Homeownership is one of the first and primary ways of creating wealth despite economic changes. If millennials can’t buy their first home, how can they build their own wealth? No property means they stay in a lower economic status with no way of moving up the ladder.
What do millennials have to fall back on when trying to gain wealth if even getting their first house isn’t an easy task? Jobs aren’t enough—and working millennials face a housing market with rising prices, fewer options, and feverish competition. Homeownership—historically the American path to wealth and security—is more and more out of reach. What needs to be done? More entry-level homes and communities. If we have more of these homes this creates easier access for millennials who in the future will be experienced homeowners. Won’t this be better for the economy now and in the future? Improving housing and homeownership will certainly be better for millennials.
Originally posted 4/12/2017
Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, a resident assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.
Recently I interviewed Sociologist Alicia Walker, whose book The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity (Lexington Books) will be released on November 15, 2017. She is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University. In her book, she reports on the results of interviews with 46 heterosexual married or partnered women who used the website Ashley Madison to intentionally seek out and form affairs with other men. The book develops a sociology of infidelity, examining issues related to the meaning of marriage, power, social norms in affairs, and why women have them.
AK: You found that the women in your book often had affairs because they were trying to preserve their marriage. How could an affair help preserve a marriage?
AW: For the women of the study, these outside partnerships served as a release valve for the resentment, hurt feelings, and deprivation they experienced in their primary partnerships (marriages, or pre-existing long-term relationships). The women talked about being able to better to overlook the challenges in their relationships, as well as the daily irritants of shared living quarters because they had this secret source of pleasure in their lives. Additionally, for women whose primary partnerships were sexless and/or orgasmless, these outside partnerships function as a space of sexual freedom and sexual pleasure, which is sorely missing in their “real lives.” These women reported that without the relief these outside partnerships provide, they would be forced to exit their primary partnerships. For most of the women I interviewed, remaining in their primary partnerships was a chief goal. Thus, the relief provided by these outside partnerships proved crucial for these women to stay in primary partnerships, where their own sexual pleasure and needs were not being addressed.
AK: One of the things I find fascinating about the book is how social norms (informal social rules) are completely upended in affairs compared to other romantic or sexual relationships. Women avoided forming emotional ties with their partners, and were not seeking to form long-term romantic partnerships, which counteracts narratives we normally hear about gender and relationships. What were some of the ways you found the norms about affairs differ from other relationships?
AW: What is really fascinating about these outside partnerships is that there are no established expectations for how the women are supposed to behave. As a result, women could step out of typical expectations of gender around dating and sex. Even in traditional online dating, we take those expectations with us online. Without established norms and procedures, the participants in these outside partnerships make them up as they go along.
The women of this sample reported an extensive vetting process designed to protect themselves–and their families by extension–and to find a suitable partner without wasting a lot of time and energy. The amount of care and calculation applied stood out as different from partnering initiated face-to-face, where we often walk blindly into relationships under the magical influence of chemistry.
The freedom the women felt to set boundaries struck me as interesting as well. Frank discussions of preferred sexual acts, stamina, and scheduling take place as soon as the initial exchange. If those details do not match up, the conversation does not continue. There is none of the “oh, we have so much in common, I should overlook the other stuff” because these women don’t get that far with men who don’t fill the bill. The women had the freedom to create outside partnerships where the sole focus was their own pleasure. That’s very different than the other relationships in their lives. Overall, the amount of power and freedom the women exercise in their outside partnerships is much more than what we often see them employ in their marriages.
AK: Your sample – women who used Ashley Madison – allowed you to explore some behaviors that may be common to any sexual relationship formed with partners met online. What are some of the things women in your study did specifically because they met their partners through an online website? How might this experience differ from people who have affairs but don’t actively seek them out on the internet?
AW: Women specifically vetted for sexual preferences and skills, which we do not typically do in relationships initiated face-to-face. We rarely see this among folks who meet at work, through friends, or social settings. We do not habitually ask new suitors about their genital size before we have invested a lot of time in the relationship. We simply find out in the moment, at which point we may already be so invested in that relationships that we are unwilling to walk away.
But these women dismissed any potential partners whose sexual desires, stamina, scheduling, or physical traits did not mesh with the women’s preferences. Compatibility in all areas drove the associations.
While an outside partnership formed with a coworker, neighbor, or family friend may be heady and exciting to the point that we set aside our good sense, outside partnerships formed online override the exhilaration of flirtation to make decisions based solely on the man’s potential to bring the pleasure the women sought.
Pilar Gonalons-Pons and Christine R. Schwartz on October 26, 2017
Assortative mating – the tendency of people to marry those similar to themselves – has become a popular explanation for increased economic inequality across American families (see the NYT, the Economist, or the NYT Upshot).
The idea is that if people are increasingly matching with partners who have similar economic prospects, families will be increasingly divided between those who pool two large paychecks and those who pool two small paychecks. More assortative mating increases spouses’ economic similarity, which in turn increases inequality.
Our research, however, shows that assortative mating has played a minor role in the increase of spouses’ economic similarity and its impact on inequality. More important than changes in whom people marry are changes in what happens after they marry. In particular, the well-known and dramatic increase in wives’ employment within marriage are responsible for the bulk of the effects of increased spousal economic resemblance on inequality.
That is, the rise of spouses’ economic similarity increased inequality not because there are more “power couples” who match with one another, but because both wives and husbands today are more likely to realize their economic potential during marriage, whereas in the past only one (usually the man) would do so.
Explaining increased spousal economic resemblance
The appeal of assortative mating as an explanation for spousal economic resemblance and inequality is based on well-known social and economic shifts. Declines in gender inequality in education and the workplace mean that women’s socioeconomic standing is increasingly similar to men’s. For instance, it is easier for a man with a PhD to match with a female PhD today than in 1970. These compositional shifts alone may drive increases in assortative mating.
In addition, men’s and women’s preferences for partners have shifted towards valuing similarities rather than differences, rising income gaps between college and non-college workers imply that individuals can lose more by “marrying down”, and growing residential segregation by income restricts opportunities to meet partners outside ones’ own income bracket.
This focus on assortative mating, however, has tended to overlook what happens after couples match, that is, how families organize their economic life: who is bringing money in, how much, who is dropping out of the labor force, and for how long? Overlooking these questions is surprising given the magnitude of changes in the economic organization of families.
The rise of wives’ and mothers’ employment since the 1960s shifted the modal division of paid labor from breadwinner/homemaker to dual-earner. As women are participating in the labor force for more time than in the past, their earnings are closer to men’s for more of their married lives. These shifts have the potential to increase the economic similarity of spouses, even without any increase in assortative mating.
The importance of these changes suggests that the rise of spouses’ economic resemblance could largely be a function of what happens after marriage, not the sorting process that happens before marriage.
And this is exactly what our study finds.
Contrary to what has often been assumed, we show that the contribution of assortative mating to the inequality-generating effects of spouses’ economic similarity is very small. This is because there is no evidence that economic assortative mating has substantially increased in the last four decades; newlyweds are not more economically similar today than they were in the 1970s.
Instead, couples have become more economically similar during marriage, due to the increase in wives’ labor force participation. This shift in couples’ division of paid labor is the driving force behind the rise of spouses’ economic similarity and its impact on inequality.
We underscore two implications of this finding. One is that more attention should be paid to the effects of the economic organization of families on inequality. There is a lot more to be unpacked about how and why shifts in the division of paid labor during marriage can increase inequality. For instance, is it about “power couples” being more able to sustain the dual-earner model during parenthood? Is it because those with more education tend to have fewer children than those with less education?
Another implication is that it is necessary to follow couples through their married lives to distinguish what family-level processes contribute to inequality. Researchers often measure assortative mating using averages across all couples in the population, thereby lumping together variation that exists at the time of marriage and variation that evolves during marriage. This might not be problematic for measures that do not change much over individuals’ lives, like education or race, but it is clearly misleading for measures that vary systematically over time, such as labor supply or earnings.
In sum, the division of paid labor within families is key to understanding the future of inequality across American families. Assortative mating on earnings has been the focus of prior work, but has played only a small role shaping the economic resemblance of spouses and its contribution to inequality.
Pilar Gonalons-Pons is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Christine Schwartzis a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
If you’ve followed threads on tax cuts and the math of averages–see this one for example–maybe you want to take note of this 2013 CCF series (.pdf) on “the trouble with averages.”
All those advice books that tell you what to expect when you get married or divorced, lose a spouse, or experience a trauma may be leading you seriously astray. That is the clear implication of a new report to the Council on Contemporary Families. Report authors Anthony Mancini (Pace University) and George Bonanno (Columbia University) have been studying many of the topics on which experts often dole out generic advice–from marriage and divorce to death of a loved one and military PTSD. They keep finding the same thing: “Our research confirms—in study after study—that people respond in surprisingly diverse ways to a wide variety of life events and acute stressors.” The research, discussed in Mancini and Bonanno’s report, “The Trouble with Averages: The Impact of Major Life Events and Acute Stress May Not Be What You Think,” suggests that there is no one “normal” response to getting married or divorced, losing a spouse to death, or experiencing military deployment.
Marriage ≠ happiness, divorce ≠ unhappiness, and bereavement doesn’t end life as you knew it
There are an infinite number of clichés about marriage, divorce, and the death of a spouse. These clichés put a lot of pressure on people to conform to those hyped expectations, and cause anxiety if they don’t. But Mancini and Bonanno’s report demonstrates that those clichés—often derived from statistically “average” responses to major life transitions—hide the diversity of ways people react to both good and tragic turns in life. Consider the following findings:
Does marriage really make you happy? 80% of people who marry are happy, but they were equally happy long before they got married. In other words, marriage doesn’t make you happy, it makes you married.
Just under 10 percent of people who married were changed for the better. This group showed decreasing well-being in the years before the marriage, followed by gradually increasing well-being afterwards.
Some changed for the worse. Another 6 percent demonstrated a sharp decrease in well-being after the marriage.
How traumatic is the loss of a spouse as a result of death or divorce?
72% of divorcing people had relatively high levels of life satisfaction before they divorced and maintained those levels afterward, while nearly one in 10 divorcing people showed substantial increases in well-being. Less than one in five had the “expected” decline in life satisfaction following divorce.
Sixty percent of those who lost a spouse to death reported stable levels of life satisfaction both before and after the loss of a loved one, despite their sorrow, and five percent reported an increase in life satisfaction.
Mancini and Bonanno’s research also counters stereotypes about traumatized veterans. For example,
More than 80 percent of returning soldiers displayed normal levels of functioning before and after deployment
Only about 7 percent showed substantially elevated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
A small group of veterans showed elevated distress both before and after their initial deployment, indicating their distress predated their war experiences.
Mancini observes, “These results should reassure people who hesitate to hire returning veterans, but they offer no support for cutting back treatment programs for veterans. In fact, our findings suggest that more attention should be paid to evaluating soldiers’ well-being and providing treatment when needed before as well as after deployment.”
Who cares? (Those concerned with first do no harm.)
Mancini makes the relevance unambiguous: “Our research has real life consequences. Reliance on average responses has led to the cultural assumption that most people experience considerable distress following loss and traumatic events and that everyone can benefit from professional intervention. After 9/11, for example, counselors and therapists descended on New York City to provide early interventions, particularly to emergency service workers, assuming that they were at high risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder.” In the report Mancini and Bonanno discuss the harm sometimes done by interventions—such as grief therapy or critical incident tress debriefing—that are based on these assumptions. Mancini continues, “In fact, most people—even those who experience high levels of exposure to acute stress—recover without professional help.
“My loved ones matter more than the dining room table that washed away in the flood.”
This is what you say if you lose your home or its ingredients and are interviewed by a reporter who wants to show the human side of natural disaster. After all, it’s just stuff. In fact, to focus too much on the importance of stuff can make people seem materialistic or somehow immoral. Imagine the outcry if someone said, “We lost Grandma, but thank goodness her table was salvaged in the storm.”
Despite the absurdity of this scenario, I want to make a case for why the stuff in our homes matters, especially in light of the stories we’re seeing about our friends and families in the throes of disaster and evacuation. Our home stuff impacts us when we have it, to be sure. But it also impacts us when we lose it. Socioeconomic inequalities play an important role, too – as in, stuff matters differently depending on your access to the stuff in the first place.
We seem to be in the midst of visible large-scale disaster after disaster from coast to coast and beyond. I spent the last part of the summer avoiding the outdoors because I live in a spot in the inland Pacific Northwest that was surrounded by wildfires with wind blowing the smoke into our valley from all directions. My husband and I shared stories of burning eyes and sore throats with friends as we ensured our children were having athletic practices indoors, moved our backyard dinners inside, and kept our windows shut. I stayed glued to my TV and social media feeds to track the safety of friends and family in the Columbia River Gorge, Montana, Houston, Puerto Rico, Santa Rosa, and all of Florida. Seeing the “marked safe” button from Facebook friends brought a sigh of relief. Admittedly, I was more concerned about the well-being of friends and family than about the well-being of their dining room tables.
But what about the stuff? There are a lot of articles floating about regarding the children of baby boomer parents not wanting their home possessions. The old wobbly oak table that made it through the Depression seems cumbersome, out of style, and indicative of an outdated era when the sturdiness of putting down roots in one spot mattered more. Now the narrow tapered legs of midcentury modern furniture – easy to move, easy to see under, easy to replicate inexpensively – are preferred. These reports include mention of aging seniors spending thousands of dollars to enlist the time-consuming help of professional organizers and move management companies. What’s not mentioned much is the fact that the process of getting rid of stuff in many of these cases includes the element of choice. Of course for many it’s a constrained or challenging choice, where ailing health, emotional pain of parting with cherished possessions, or the geographic dispersal of family members to claim items in a timely manner create stress. But these are not necessarily situations where the wobbly oak table owners have less than two days to figure out whether that table matters. And the passing down of valuable possessions requires at least some affluence in the first place.
The difficult work associated with getting rid of things that present or future family members may or may not want cannot happen when there’s a disaster, because there’s no time. The emotional work that is needed to suddenly say goodbye to something you may have hoped would outlive you is punching you in the face. Gone is the work of having to sort through your things, but gone also is the opportunity to do so.
People in precarious economic situations are already at a point where losing objects and the homes that house them can be immanent. Environmental scholar Nicole Youngman wrote in the 2014 book Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology that “disasters exacerbate rather than ‘even out’ the preexisting social inequalities in devastated regions.” Perhaps there is a table to be passed down, but probably not. Add disaster (both huge and small) and the loss is assured. The recipe includes: homes that would never pass building code muster; no flood insurance, let alone money to hire a company to organize the stuff that remains; extended family and friends limited to local areas so there’s no trusted home to go to in an evacuation; no reliable means of transportation; and jobs that don’t have the permanence needed to pick up the pieces left when all you have is what you’re wearing or carrying. The loss lasts longer for those in precarious economic conditions – weeks and months of wondering, wandering, and trying to rebuild while starting in a worse spot than before. In some cases, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, some may not return to rebuild at all.
A natural disaster carries with it a confusing emotional journey. Losing a table in a tornado doesn’t allow blame toward an individual person. Loss due to forced evacuation elicits different coping compared to loss due to disloyalty and estimation from a child that your stuff doesn’t matter. To paraphrase one of my friends’ sentiments in the heyday of late 1990s disaster movies (remember “Twister,” “Deep Impact,” and “Dante’s Peak?”): “You just can’t turn a natural disaster into an antagonist the same way you can turn a living breathing person into an enemy to fight.” The loss of home stuff in either case requires figuring out its meaning, but the meaning cannot be detached from the way it was lost in the first place. It’s sad to lose a table, but it’s also sad to lose confidence in your child’s love because she refuses to take that table. Both cases involve grieving the loss of family connection. And both cases are harder when financial resources are limited.
This year I’m doing an interview project on the meaning of home (in this case, second homes, broadly defined) in which I ask interviewees, “If you lost your second home, what would you be losing besides the financial part?” It may seem surprising that these interviews have helped me understand the meaning of loss that may happen if someone’s only home is destroyed in a flood or a fire, given that these people have not just one home, but two (or sometimes three). But their responses – time, family, memories, connections with those near and dear – matter for everyone regardless of the status of their home ownership.
Now, imagine if I asked the same question of the person being interviewed by a reporter about losing her only home – a home for which she has no insurance, a home near a support network of friends and family who also lost their homes and who do not have the energy or resources to offer needed support. Now, multiply the loss – financial, emotional, relational – by a thousand. All of a sudden, her stuff does matter. To focus on the importance of stuff in this instance calls to mind not materialism or immorality, but the necessary recognition of the material nature of our livelihoods, our ability to offer and seek support, and our love for others.
Michelle Janning is Professor Sociology at Whitman College and the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives. In this book, she talks about how home spaces and objects tell the story of contemporary family life, including what happens in individual home disasters such as a burst pipe, and what happens when families need to deliberate what to do when home stuff is passed down to, or refused by, the next generation.
The United States has the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Although the rates of incarceration have essentially leveled off since around 2002, the United States lead the world in imprisonment: 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2015. This mass incarceration is a affects prisoners, their children, and their relatives and loved ones. In fact, at least 2.7 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent.
New research by Kristin Turney and Yader R. Lanuza explores the consequences of parental incarceration on children and their transition to adulthood. What makes this research unique is that it considers the relationship between parental incarceration and the issue of “launching” or “transitioning” into adulthood. Transition to adulthood, only conceptualized as a life stage in recent years, has been a focus for thinking about how to get stable adults in the workforce and in the habit of building families. Prior research has made it clear that incarceration reduces family income—during incarceration as well as after it. There’s instant and lasting collateral damage: It disrupts parental relationships and damages the mental health of both the children and romantic partners. How can we reduce inequality? This research helps to focus on entrenched social processes of inequality that mass incarceration yields.
Their study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to investigate the relationship between parental incarceration and the transition to adulthood, collected in four waves between 1994 and 2008. Turney and Lanuza identified 10,937 respondents who had a parent who had been incarcerated at any time between age 0 to 17. They were able to compare these youth to others who had not had that experience.
Thanks to the rich data set, they were able to look at seven indicators of adulthood for the affected youth.
The respondent feels older than others his or her age (compared to feeling younger and feeling neither older nor younger).
The respondent feels like an adult all of the time (compared to most of the time, sometimes, seldom, never
The respondent has his/her own residence (and does not live with parents, in another person’s home, etc.)
The respondent is not enrolled in school
The respondent is employed full time (working at least 35 hours per week)
The respondent has ever been married
The respondent has at least one child (measured by affirmative responses that the respondent ever had a live birth, for women, or that the respondent’s partner ever had a live birth in the context of their relationship, for men.)
The differentiations were intriguing. Children whose dads had gone to prison were different from others in the feeling questions—like feeling older—and the behavioral ones. In essence, they were systematically quicker to transition to adulthood. Specifically, respondents who experienced paternal incarceration were more likely to report feeling like an adult all of the time, to have lived on their own, to not be in school, to have married, and to have had a child.
As for moms who went to prison, respondents who experienced maternal incarceration were also more likely to report feeling like an adult all of the time; more likely to not be in school; and more often had a child. The point: The many markers of transition to adulthood were more common among children whose parents had been incarcerated. They had to grow up faster—and without supports or a safety net that might assist in education, full time work, or pacing family life.
Parental incarceration accelerates the pathways to adulthood, and adds significant stressors to that already difficult transition. These youth have parents who have enormous disadvantages in the job market when they get out of prison, which follows their loss of income while they are in prison.
High imprisonment rates in the United States are not just alarming to note for the individual placed behind bars, but for the transformative and significant consequences it has on their children.
Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.
About Council on Contemporary Families
The Council on Contemporary Families is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. CCF seeks to enhance the national understanding of how and why families are changing, what needs and challenges they face, and how these needs can best be met.