Much of the current conversation about work in the United States focuses on recent gains in workers’ rights, power, and working conditions. In the past year, workers elected to create unions at several Starbucks location, an Amazon warehouse, and an Apple store, and are working to create unions in other retail spaces such as Trader Joe’s. Workers are also witnessing an increase in wages after decades of wage stagnation. However, the overall landscape of work in the 21st century would not be described as an era of favorable working conditions.
In fact, work is increasingly characterized by a lack of job security, little control over work schedules and work hours, frequent job changes and instability, and limited social benefits from employers. In a recent study, I documented how these aspects of work – often referred to as precarious work – can impact the health of workers. While prior research has found that precarious work can impact the mental well-being and health of workers, I addressed a gap in the research by demonstrating the lasting health consequences of long-term exposure to precarious work.
In the study, I examined the health trajectories of 8,283 adults over age 65 to understand how their exposure to precarious work from age 50 to 65 shaped their health outcomes after age 65. I considered the number of chronic conditions they developed, how many functional limitations impacted their daily lives (e.g., getting up from a chair, climbing a flight of stairs), and their risk of dying after age 65.
What I found is that individuals who were frequently exposed to adverse work experiences such as unemployment, job insecurity, and insufficient work hours experienced more chronic conditions and functional limitations after age 65 compared to individuals who were not frequently exposed to these conditions. These workers also experienced a higher risk of dying after age 65. Thus, long-term exposure to precarious work can take a lasting toll on a person’s health and shorten their life.
Although the specific reasons for the lasting health effects remain unclear, I suspect that the chronic stress from long-term exposure to precarious work can take a toll on workers’ bodies over time. For example, constantly experiencing job insecurity or insufficient work hours can lead to feelings of hopelessness and psychological distress, which can ultimately “get under the skin” to affect chronic conditions and other physical health problems, as evidenced by prior research.
The findings from my study are particularly concerning in light of the persistence of precarious work in the 21st century. Insecurity and instability at work have seeped into all sectors of the economy over the past several decades, with no sign of abating. Given stark linkages between precarious work and health, precarious work should be considered a public health crisis. If work is causing more health problems and a greater risk of premature death, precarious work will have significant consequences for individuals, their families, and society as a whole.
Although recent improvements in wages and union representation have the potential to help workers and (hopefully) to improve their health outcomes, we have a long way to go. In the United States, we lack protections for workers and social safety net policies that have the potential to alleviate some of the health consequences of precarious work. For example, the United States remains the only high-income country lacking paid leave for workers. Moreover, a number of states have enacted policies to limit the scope and power of unions, at the detriment of workers. We will need a seismic shift in the policy arena to improve the lives of workers in the United States, and my study points to this as a necessary endeavor for public health.
Rachel Donnelly is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on health and health disparities across the life course, with an emphasis on how work and family relationships contribute to disparate health outcomes.
In May 2022, Johnny Depp fans heckled Amber Heard and called her a “gold digger” as she left the courthouse in her defamation trial. Depp also called her a gold digger during her 2020 libel trial. Accusations of gold digging in one of the most publicized celebrity conflicts of the twenty-first century is not an accident, and this seemingly minor insult carries tremendous baggage. The history of the “gold digger” stereotype—and its power to shape perceptions of romance, marriage, and family—deserves our close attention.
The term “gold digger” refers to women who pursue romantic relationships for financial gain. To be sure, men have sometimes been accused of being gold diggers but, over the last century, it’s a label overwhelmingly applied to women. From its origin as chorus girl slang in the early 1900s it grew as a popular misogynistic slur. My book American Gold Digger: Marriage, Money, and the Law from the Ziegfeld Follies to Anna Nicole Smith (University of North Carolina Press) traces the history of the gold digger stereotype in the twentieth century. The book shows how depictions of gold diggers distort the conditions surrounding courtship and marriage. Alleged gold diggers absorb blame rightly directed toward structural and historical forces.
Moral panics about gold diggers emerged when American families experienced rapid social change. During the worst years of the Great Depression activists led a campaign to outlaw breach of promise litigation, a legal remedy available to women who were betrayed by their potential suitors. Inside movie theaters, millions of Americans watched stars like Mae West and Joan Blondell portray gold diggers who used so-called “heart balm” laws to con gullible men out of their hard-earned money. Inside courthouses and statehouses, crusaders successfully eliminated breach of promise laws (despite a steady decline in breach of promise lawsuits since the late-nineteenth century). What was once embraced as a remedy to restore a woman’s good name in a cutthroat marriage market now was regarded as a tasteless ploy from lower-class women to marry above their social station. The anti-heart balm campaign drew strength from popular representations of gold diggers, and gold digger narratives created a ready-made scapegoat for economic struggles.
In the 1990s, the American public fixated on the marriage between Anna Nicole Smith, a twenty-six-year-old model, and J. Howard Marshall, an eighty-nine-year-old oil tycoon. After Marshall’s death, his son and Anna Nicole Smith fought over the multi-million-dollar Marshall estate, a decade-long battle that involved two trips to the Supreme Court. During these years, the media’s characterization of Smith as a gold digger destroyed her reputation as a path-breaking fashion model. She became a joke in popular culture, with headlines that referenced popular gold digger movies from the 1950s. Few questioned Marshall’s wealth, evidence of his alleged involvement in criminal tax avoidance, or his connection to far-right figures like the Koch brothers. Marshall was remembered as a victim. Smith was remembered as a punchline. The gold digger trope worked its social magic. Complex legal and economic issues were simplified. Blame and anger were redirected toward an allegedly greedy woman.
For the past 100 years the gold digger trope has allowed structural problems confronting American families to be seen in an individualized, personalized, and stylized way. The effects of legal and economic change on American families are often hard to grasp, but the gold digger is an easily accessible and understandable figure. The durable popularity of the gold digger trope shows how law and popular culture merge together to create powerful stereotypes that have lasting consequences.
There have been growing calls for greater attention to intersectionality in queer spaces and mobilizing. Yet, many queer disabled people still feel like they are being left behind and invisible within the queer movement. This is what I have found in my recent study focused on the romantic and sexual experiences of 31 queer people labeled/with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Alberta, Canada.
Disabled people, especially those labeled/with intellectual disabilities, are so commonly de-sexualized in their everyday lives that it is often believed that conversations about sex and sexuality are irrelevant to this social group. Not only that, but it is also the case that some non-disabled people assume that disabled people simply cannot identify as queer. Sometimes, talking about sexualities (in the plural) among disabled people, is seen as “going too far.” I have personally encountered service providers who referred to the intersection of disability and queerness as being “too much” or “too nuanced” to be addressed. Many struggle to find resources to support queer disabled people when they come out. The needs of queer people with disabilities are rarely considered in service provision and community supports. In fact, none of the participants had access to sexuality education in their schools and communities that addressed questions of sexual orientation in ways that would be relevant to disabled people.
By living at this intersection, queer disabled people often have to navigate both experiences of ableism and queerphobia. As one bisexual autistic participant shared, “Being on the spectrum, in my mind was already bad enough. If people knew I was bisexual, too, I feel like that make me just even more of an outcast. So, I just followed what everyone else did. And I tried to keep my head down low.” In addition, many must decide whether to “come out” as queer and/or disabled at different occasions. For those receiving direct care from family members and care workers, the fear of potentially losing those relationships and supports can discourage them from being open about their sexual identities. Some disabled people are even ridiculed, criticized, or punished for expressing their sexual desires. This might mean, for instance, increased surveillance from family members and direct care workers, which further prevents intimate relationship from being formed.
More and more disabled people now live in the community rather than in segregated care and it is important to ensure that people with disabilities can be active participants in the community. Yet, queer spaces, and even some Pride-related events, can be inaccessible to disabled people. It is worth mentioning that accessibility is more than merely building ramps at the back of the club. What participants have importantly pointed out is that accessibility is also about being meaningfully invited into queer spaces and offered spaces that are not overly sensory stimulating. For instance, for some queer disabled people, queer spaces, especially those involving loud music and other forms of sensory stimulation can be inaccessible: “I have to be like in a headspace where I can deal with the sensory stuff with it.” Instead, people shared their desire “sensory friendly place[s] where there’s like, good lighting, um not really too much noise. And you can just kind of hang out.”
Many participants also commented on the lack of representation of queer disabled people, which led some to feel like “outsiders” in their own communities. As one participant simply put, “I didn’t really want to participate in queer spaces because I felt like an interloper. I felt like I did not belong.” According to many participants, it is hard navigating queer spaces that do not consider disability and accessibility while they attempting to find disabled spaces that are thinking about questions of gender identity and sexualities. Not having a community that fully embraces both their queer and disabled existence, many participants feel stuck in the middle, feeling like an outsider in both communities.
Reprinted from Deadric T. Williams blog September 26, 2022
Critical and comprehensive theoretical frameworks connecting racism, race, and racial inequality are absent in family research. For instance, conventional research on racial variations in family formations and family processes is often reduced to simple average differences without contextualizing racialized groups as political, social, and historical categories. Even more, the term “family” in family scholarship appears to be shorthanded for “white families” whereas the use of “race” is shorthanded for “minority families”. Family scientists must abandon this logic because it limits fruitful and more accurate discussions about racial inequality. Instead, family scholars should view racial inequality as a two-sided coin with Black families’ disadvantage on one side and white advantage on the other side.
The purpose of this blog post is to present a brief note on racial inequality, racism, and race to family scientists. To help organize this brief note, I focus on three general questions: (1) What do we know about racial inequality? (2) How can centering race and racism better inform our understanding of racial inequality? (3) How can family scholars move racial inequality research forward?
How Can Centering Race and Racism Better Inform Our Understanding of Racial Inequality?
Advertisements about:blank Report this ad
Most reasonable people would not debate whether racial inequality exists. The debate tends to emerge when explanations are given about why racial inequality exists and persists. Some explanations focus on individual behaviors (e.g., the rise in nonmarital childbearing among Black women); and some explanations center on structural conditions (e.g., laws, policies, discrimination, etc.). The explanations—individual behaviors or structural conditions—make assumptions about race and racism that are taken for granted.
I highlight the assumptions undergirding these perspectives to provide a more holistic approach to the study of racial inequality, especially for scholars who study families.
The “individual behaviors” and “structural conditions” dichotomy falls within two broader theoretical camps—(1) essentialism (emphasizing individual behaviors) and (2) social constructionism (emphasizing structural conditions). These two camps are well known among scholars who study race and racism. They provide the rationale for why racial inequality persists. For a more comprehensive understanding, see here and here.
In the sections below, I first elaborate on the assumptions of both camps and provide examples of how these perspectives guide our understanding of racial inequality. Next, I end this blog by discussing a new conceptual model for understanding racial inequality.
Contemporary studies do not make explicit arguments about race as biology but cultural essentialism in family research refuse to die. In fact, the lack of conceptualization of race can lead to misconceptions that racialized groups are inherently biological (or culturally) different. This is especially important given that scientific racism persists in the U.S. One of the biggest limitations of contemporary research on racial inequality in families is that many studies run the risk of reproducing an essentialist logic of race by (1) presenting race as an ahistorical demographic variable, (2) assuming racism is episodic–or a relic of the past, and (3) framing individual-level behaviors as central explanations for racial inequality.
First, treating race as an ahistorical, demographic characteristic of the population reifies race as an essentialist characteristic. This happens when scholars begin studies with racial variations in a given outcome but does not explain what race is. This approach is limiting because Black families’ disadvantage becomes hyper-visible whereas white families’ advantage becomes hyper-invisible. Moreover, this approach treats Black disadvantage and white advantage as unrelated, and the point of emphasis in research is figuring out what mechanisms can make Black families “like” white families.
Second, the idea that racism is episodic draws attention to the belief that racism is a thing of the past and no longer a cause for racial inequality. Consider Figure 1 below. From an essentialist perspective, Black families’ adverse conditions are understood in the context of overt racism (slavery and Jim Crow laws). In the post Civil-Rights era, however, racism is no longer an issue. Thus, racism is era-specific and only happened during certain “episodes” of American history.
Third, given that racism is viewed as a thing of the past, individual-level “behaviors” are now the reason racial inequality persists in the United States, especially in the post Civil-Rights era (see Figure 2). This logic mirrors the post Civil Rights explanations of inequality. Contemporary research tends to over-invest in using individual-level characteristics or behaviors. For instance, family structure (marriage vs. non-marriage) is one of the most used individual-level behaviors to explain the Black-White gap across indices of wellbeing. This logic dates back to the 1960s. The general idea is that racial variations in these behaviors (e.g., unmarried childbearing) may help to understand variations in the outcome of interest (i.e., racial inequality). This approach has proven to be ineffective in addressing racial inequality (see here and here).
The challenge here is that there is usually no argument for addressing why racial variations exist in the so-called behaviors in the first place. Family formations is a great example of this. For example, decades of research on understanding racial variation in family formations relied on deficit approaches or economic reductionist arguments. Yet, scholarship on how Black mothers create adaptive strategies for dealing with omnipresent white supremacy and patriarchy has been largely ignored in conventional research–see Franke 1999; Frankel 1999; Hill 2006; Hunter 2017; Lenhardt 2014).
Ironically, contemporary research continues to operate from a “backdoor” essentialist approach. Figure 3 represents a typical conceptual model used in contemporary research. The conventional approach “mirrors” an essentialist perspective because the point of interest tends to focus on individual behaviors as mechanisms to account for racial inequality. For example, most scholars examining “racial differences” fall into the trap of (1) failing to fully conceptualized race at the onset of their studies, (2) treating individual-level characteristics as race-neutral in explaining the racial gap, and (3) employing race-comparative analyses that position white families as the standard against which people of color are measured. I have written about this here.
Social Constructionism. Social constructionists recognize race as a social invention—created to justify and maintain racial oppression, domination, and exclusion. From this perspective, racism makes race possible. Below, I elaborate on social constructionism to chart a path forward to studying racial inequality in family research. Specifically, I draw on three central tenets from Critical Race Theory: (1) race is socially constructed, (2) racism is a permanent feature in the U.S., and (3) ideas about individualism serve a new set of racist ideologies to maintain the status quo—colorblind racism.
How Can Family Scholars Move Racial Inequality Research Forward?
Adequately understanding race and racism matters for family scholars studying racial inequality. I discuss three interrelated ways family scholars can move racial inequality research forward. I offer a new conceptual model (Figure 4) that centers racism and race to provide a more adequate explanation for racial inequality than conventional approaches. This model is an updated version of my previous model published in the edited volume, Africana Demography.
First, Panel A (Figure 4) is an illustrative example of the social construction of race. This section of the conceptual model makes apparent that racism is composed of both ideology and structure. The ideology begins with the premise that human groups are biologically real and can be hierarchically ordered (Fields and Fields 2014; Shelby 2014). The structure component of racism refers to the micro- and macro-level practices that subordinates so-called inferior racialized groups (Golash-Boza 2016). Ideology and structure are mutually reinforcing.
Second, the path from Panel A to Panel C (Figure 4) illustrates the idea that racial inequities are measurable manifestations of racial stratification in the United States via racism. This path reflects the second CRT tenet, the permanence of racism. This tenet recognizes that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational” (Delgado and Stefancic 2017) and is sensitive to stability and change. For instance, although racism changed from overt (e.g., genocide, slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc.) to covert (e.g., color-blind racism), racial inequalities persist (Bonilla-Silva 2017; Feagin 2013; Mills 1997; Omi and Winant 2014). The racial hierarchy is resilient to social change by adjusting and altering the mechanisms responsible for racial inequality.
Last, Panel B (Figure 4) addresses the mechanisms maintaining racial stratification. Critical race scholars reject the idea of meritocracy and “colorblind” as explanations for contemporary racial inequality. Instead, scholars from this line of reasoning point to racism as responsible for persistent racial inequality. Thus, instead of focusing on individual-level behaviors as mechanisms to reduce or “account for” racial inequality, critical scholars tend to demonstrate how racism is embedded in the state and spatial dynamics maintaining and perpetuating racial inequality.
Moreover, this approach also highlights how focusing on individual-level characteristics contributes to the maintenance of racial inequality. Family structure is a great example. For instance, given that Black marriages were tied to citizenship laws, and marriage is a gendered institution, Black women have always created alternative family forms. The state interpreted these adaptive strategies (e.g., nonmarital childbearing) as deficiencies, resulting in out-of-wedlock childbirths becoming a central explanation for racial inequality. Thus, the state superimposed Eurocentric (or white) logic on Black families’ lived experiences while rendering white supremacy invisible–this is the recipe for maintaining racial subjugation. Instead of focusing on structural racism, policies concentrated on marriage as a way to reduce inequality. Yet, racial gaps in several indices of well-being have stayed the same and some even grew wider.
In the end, how, and in what ways, scholars approach racism, race, and racial inequality has real implications for how research studies are designed, what research questions are considered important, how data are analyzed, and what conclusions are drawn.
This blog post serves as a brief note to family scholars studying racial inequality. My central argument is as follows: to adequately address racial inequality requires a more critical and comprehensive understanding of racism and race. How scholars approach racism and race matters. Sadly, critical discussions on racism and race in family inequality research are largely absent. Scholars have, however, critiqued family scholarship more broadly (see here and here and here and here and here). Scholars should be clear about racism, race, and racial inequality in family research because it can help move studies away from maintaining the status quo by charting a path towards a family science of Black emancipation.
Kathleen Holloway and Fatima Varner on June 28, 2022
Reprinted from The University of Texas at Austin Population Center
African American parents commonly socialize their adolescent children about race, ethnicity, and interracial relations. These racial socialization messages include communications about potential racial barriers – known as preparation for bias – and messages about African American culture, history and heritage – known as cultural socialization.
Cultural socialization has been linked to adolescents’ academic achievement, fewer problem behaviors, and better psychological functioning. Though the evidence is somewhat weaker than for cultural socialization, preparation for bias has been linked to reduced problem behaviors, increased self-esteem, and increased wellbeing in the presence of racial discrimination.
African American individuals can experience racial discrimination directly or vicariously. In addition, they can fear future discrimination, also known as anticipated discrimination. These race-related stressors may, in turn, influence African American parents’ racial socialization messages (see figure). For example, after parents are exposed to others’ racial discrimination experiences (e.g., the death of Trayvon Martin), they may prepare their children to cope with racial stressors. Moreover, parents’ worries about experiencing future racial discrimination may lead them to communicate about race with their children.
How parents view their race and think others view them (i.e., their racial identity), as well as whether they are a mother or father, can influence the relationship between race-related stressors and the racial socialization messages that they give their children (see figure). For example, previous research has found that parents who believe others view their race negatively (i.e., they report low public regard for African Americans) are more likely to communicate with their children about racial discrimination. Similarly, parents who hold positive views of their own race (i.e., they report high private regard for African Americans) share more positive messages about being Black with their children.
This research brief reports on a recent study that examined how parents’ race-related stressors, racial identity, and gender shape the racial socialization messages they give their adolescents. The researchers analyzed online survey data from a national sample of 567 African American parents of adolescents.
Levels of discrimination: African American parents reported moderate levels of personal racial discrimination and vicarious racial discrimination experiences. They reported moderately high levels of anticipating future racial discrimination.
Personal and vicarious racial discrimination experiences were related to the messages parents gave their adolescent children about African American culture, history, and heritage. However, anticipated racial discrimination was not associated with these cultural socialization messages.
Among mothers who held positive views about African American people (i.e., reported high private regard), higher reported experiences of vicarious racial discrimination were associated with more cultural socialization messages for their adolescents.
The following groups had higher preparation for bias messages; that is, they did more to prepare their adolescent children for bias:
Parents who believe that others view their race negatively (i.e., reported low public regard) who also experienced high vicarious racial discrimination;
Mothers who reported higher anticipated racial discrimination; and
Fathers who hold positive views about African American people who also had high levels of personal racial discrimination experiences.
Race-related stressors, particularly those associated with vicarious and anticipated racial discrimination, are common among African American parents and likely influence how they socialize their children about race. Reducing discrimination and helping African American parents cope with these race-related stressors would benefit parents and their children. Ways to achieve these goals include increasing resources available to schools, mental health providers, and institutions that serve African American families.
African American parents often relay messages about race to their adolescents that promote pride in their ethnic-racial group and that warn of possible racial barriers. The colorblind approaches (e.g., “I only see one race, the human race”) that are sometimes emphasized in schools are in conflict with these racial socialization messages that African American parents share with their children. Therefore, schools should strongly consider curricula that include racial socialization messages to both instill students’ pride in their racial-ethnic group and prepare them for bias.
Finally, African American parents’ racial messages to their children vary based on personal characteristics such as gender and racial attitudes, as well as based on their exposure to different race-related stressors. More funding for culturally-relevant training and interventions is needed to support African American families with attention to how exposure to and processing of racialized experiences may differently influence Black mothers and fathers.
Holloway, K., & Varner, F. (2021). Parenting despite discrimination: Does racial identity matter? Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Online ahead of print.
Holloway, K., & Varner, F. (2021). The messages African American mothers and fathers give adolescents about race are shaped by their own experiences with racial discrimination as well as their observations and fears of racial discrimination. PRC Research Brief 6(10). DOI: 10.26153/tsw/15673.
About the Authors
Kathleen Holloway (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a PhD candidate and graduate research assistant in the department of Human Development & Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin and Fatima Varner is an assistant professor in the department of Human Development & Family Sciences and a faculty scholar in the Population Research Center at UT Austin.
This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2C HD042849), awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Why is there a gender gap in orgasms in heterosexual sex? Research has long shown a gender gap in orgasms between men and women in heterosexual sexual encounters. They have also shown that sexual practices that focus on clitoral stimulation reduces the gap. Since we know this, why are couples not engaging in the types of sexual activities that might reduce the orgasm gap?
In my recent research with Tina Fetner and Melanie Health in Gender & Society, we examine data from the nationally representative Sex in Canada survey and find that 86% of men had an orgasm in their most recent heterosexual sexual encounter compared to 62% of women. We found that women whose most recent encounter included receiving clitoral stimulation via oral sex are more likely to have had an orgasm than those who did not. Other recent studies have documented similar gender discrepancies in orgasm rates, but since many focus on a particular group, such as undergraduate students, it has been unclear until now whether this was a problem across heterosexual couples more generally. Our study shows that it is.
To better understand why the gender gap in orgasms persists despite all we know about what increases women’s likelihood to orgasm during heterosexual partnered sex, we conducted in-depth interviews with women and men across Canada. Our interview participants drew on traditional beliefs about gender to justify men’s orgasms as natural and expected and women’s orgasms as time-consuming work.
Three different perspectives stood out. Our participants voiced essentialist views of gender and sexuality that naturalized differences between men and women to explain why men prioritize physical pleasure, while women are expected to prioritize emotional intimacy during sex. Another theme was that many of the people we interviewed defined what counts as “regular” sex as equating to penile-vaginal intercourse. Through this narrow, phallocentric understanding of sex, stimulation of the penis (and consequently men’s pleasure) inherently becomes a part of “regular sex.” Alternatively, sexual behaviors focused on clitoral stimulation, like oral sex, were considered to be “special,” “separate” from the main event, and “extra work.” Finally, some of those we talked to relied on the sexual double standard to justify why women self-regulate their sexual expression. In these instances, women’s sexual desire and sexual practices focused on women’s pleasure were understood as dirty or wrong, and their bodies were considered simply too difficult to please. These narratives were produced by both men and women, revealing how heterosexual couples reinforce traditional, essentialist gender norms during sex.
Our participants’ explanations for the orgasm gap made men’s orgasms appear natural and expected and women’s orgasms as extra, more work, and more difficult. Their understandings contribute to the normalization that penile-vaginal intercourse is what constitutes “regular sex” and this itself privileges men’s pleasure and orgasms. Although women’s lack of orgasms compared to men may feel like an individual, intimate problem, we demonstrate that the gender gap in orgasms takes work. It is enabled by the gender essentialist beliefs embedded in the institution of heterosexuality. These findings help us move beyond essentialist “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” justifications that women simply do not care about orgasm to how gender beliefs deprive women of an equal opportunity to orgasm in heterosexual sex.
Nicole Andrejek (@NicoleAndrejek) is a qualitative researcher on the Sex in Canada project at McMaster University and at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. Her research interests include analyses of Canadians’ sexual practices, sexual health, and sexual pleasure. Her forthcoming book, Dating in the Digital Age (Routledge), examines undergraduate women’s experiences navigating sex, friendships, dating, and consent in university hookup culture.
September 27th, 2021 kicked off the tenth annual Diaper Need Awareness Week in the United States where one in three families with infants and toddlers cannot afford enough diapers. City, state, and federal legislators across the country endorsed proclamations recognizing diaper deprivation as a problem and applauding the work of a growing national network of diaper banks and pantries that distribute free diapers to families and partner organizations. Privately funded diaper banks have proliferated in the United States since the 1990s and now number in the hundreds. Collectively they distribute millions of disposable diapers a year, and yet meet only about five percent of the estimated need. Diaper bank staff on the front lines of diaper advocacy face consistent criticism. What could possibly be controversial about providing financially strapped families with a basic need every baby has?
For starters, diapers are not officially recognized as a need. Diapers are not covered by existing public aid policies, including SNAP and WIC food assistance programs. Categorized along with hygiene and cleaning products, diapers are an “unallowable” non-food expense. Like other items deemed discretionary rather than medically necessary, diapers are still taxed in most states. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find any parent or caregiver who considers diapers optional. Although welfare cash aid can be used to purchase diapers, it’s not coincidental that the number of diaper banks in the United States has grown exponentially since 1990s welfare reform. Many fewer families now receive cash aid, and the value of that aid has dwindled. The average $80 monthly diaper bill for one child would alone use 8 to 40 percent of the average state benefit through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
But there’s another important reason that diaper bankers face consistent criticism and stalled efforts to pass policies that would provide public diaper support: cloth diapers. In my recent article in Gender & Society based on interviews with 40 diaper bank staff, most of whom were involved in diaper policy advocacy, and 70 mothers who experienced diaper need, I discovered a key case of how gender, class, and race inequalities intersect to impede policies promoting access to basic needs. Many diaper bankers shared stories of policymakers, community members, and other stakeholders who responded to requests for diaper support by asking Why don’t they just use cloth?
Embedded within this seemingly simple retort are numerous sexist, classist, and racist assumptions about easy individual solutions to structural problems like diaper need. Whereas policymakers are still predominantly white, affluent, older men unlikely to change many diapers, much less struggle with diaper need, the parents I interviewed were mostly mothers of color living in poverty who had tried cloth diapering but found it to be more expensive, labor-intensive, and time prohibitive. As Leslie, a Black 28-year-old mother of one, explained to me, “That’s probably why programs don’t cover diapers, because they think cloth are free. But then you have to spend on washing, detergent, water, electricity, and all the work and worry. You still have to pay for it in some way.” For these reasons, cloth is the diaper type used by a very narrow segment of American families – typically married middle-class homeowners with an in-house washer and dryer and a stay-at-home parent. Most daycare facilities will not accept cloth diapers, and many states have laws prohibiting washing them in public laundry facilities.
Disposable diapers became almost universal during the last three decades of the twentieth century, the same time period when the labor market participation rates of mothers with children three and younger doubled from around 35 to over 70 percent. Now that over 95 percent of babies in the United States wear disposables for most or all of their diapering needs, mothers of color feared that having their children seen in public in anything but a “normal” disposable diaper – such as a cloth diaper presumed to be a “rag” – could invite suspicion about their parental fitness. As it turns out, parents most likely to struggle with diaper need can’t just use cloth diapers because the ability to do so is now profoundly influenced by middle-class, white, androcentric privileges.
This is a case of what I call gendered policy vacuums, which refer to when gender disparities and ideologies result in policy gaps around caregiving and provisions needed to satisfy basic human needs for sustenance, health, cleanliness, and dignity. Gender policy vacuums have emerged around numerous related struggles, including food insecurity, housing instability, and most recently, childcare deficits in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The American ideology of individualism tasks mothers with responsibility for ensuring their children’s well-being through labor-intensive and time-consuming parenting practices, such as breastfeeding, home-cooking, and cloth diapering. But such directives devalue and render invisible feminized care labor, especially that performed by low-income mothers of color.
As mothers shared with me, the same social, economic, and political conditions that intersect to create their diaper need also prevent them from using cloth diapers as a way to meet that need. But the assumption that poor women’s labor can readily solve problems of gender inequality – as the Why don’t they just use cloth? retort suggests – rationalizes lack of public redress for gendered inequalities and resultant policy gaps around caregiving. As one diaper bank founder, Janine, said of her continued efforts to advocate for diaper policies: “We expect so much more of poor mothers, so why not cloth, many ask. For families for whom that works, great! But why do we expect the poorest parents to do the most work? I want people to have what they need. Most of them need disposable diapers.” Let’s hope that our policies will eventually acknowledge that need, paving the way for public support for this basic need so easily taken for granted – unless your baby doesn’t have one.
Jennifer Randles (@jrandles3) is Professor and Chair of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. She is the author of Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America and Essential Dads: The Inequalities and Politics of Fathering. She is currently writing a book on diaper insecurity, the diaper bank movement, and diaper politics.
Debra Umberson and Rachel Donnelly on June 7, 2022
Reprinted from The University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center February 2022
Hundreds of studies have documented the adverse psychological consequences after parents experience the death of a child. However, most of these studies are based on White populations, despite evidence that Black parents are more likely than White parents to experience a child’s death in the United States. Indeed, Black parents are about 2.5 times more likely than White parents to experience the death of a child by age 20. This disadvantage grows with age – Black parents in their 70s are about four times more likely to have experienced a child’s death.
Hispanic populations in the U.S. generally exhibit lower mortality rates than non-Hispanic Whites. However, mortality rates are higher for some Hispanic subgroups, particularly young adults and U.S.-born Hispanics. These patterns suggest that some groups of Hispanic parents may be at greater risk of experiencing a child’s death compared to White parents. But this risk has not been documented in previous research.
Therefore, very little is known about racial/ethnic variation in life course experiences following the death of a child. These gaps in knowledge are striking in the American context of systemic racism and recent public attention to grief associated with premature mortality in racial and ethnic minority communities.
The death of a significant other is a highly stressful life event, and the death of a child is often considered the most devastating type of bereavement. A child’s death at any age is associated with significant adverse effects on parents’ health and psychological well-being.
When considering the link between the death of a child and parents’ subsequent psychological distress, overall patterns of distress across racial/ethnic groups must be considered. A consistent epidemiologic finding is that Black and U.S.-born Hispanic Americans experience more psychological distress than White Americans. In addition, depressive symptoms are more prevalent for U.S.-born than foreign-born Hispanic adults in the United States. This last finding highlights the importance of considering where a person was born when exploring similarities and differences across Hispanic populations.
Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative sample of the United States population over age 50, this research brief reports on a recent study1 in which the authors consider whether experiencing a child’s death is associated with parents’ subsequent psychological distress in mid to later life.
The authors document variation in life course exposure to the death of a child for Black, White, U.S.-born Hispanic, and foreign-born Hispanic parents. Next, in recognition of systemic racism that contributes to racial/ethnic disparities in mortality and bereavement, they focus on racial and ethnic disadvantage in exposure to child death as a traumatic life course event that may add to racial/ethnic disadvantage in psychological distress. Finally, in light of greater stress and discrimination experienced by Black and Hispanic populations, they explore whether the death of a child has stronger effects on psychological distress for Black and Hispanic parents than for White parents.
Among mid to later life parents, Black and U.S.-born Hispanic parents have the highest likelihood of experiencing a child’s death in their lifetime: 21% of non-Hispanic Black parents and 20% of U.S.-born Hispanic parents have experienced the death of a child compared to 15% of foreign-born Hispanic parents and 13% of non-Hispanic White parents.
A child’s death at any point in the life course is associated with increased psychological distress in mid to later life for Black, Hispanic, and White parents, further underscoring the lasting effects of the death of a child on parents. See Figure.
These findings add to growing evidence of the lifelong effects of experiencing the death of a child. Other recent studies from the authors show that the death of a child also increases mortality2 and dementia risk3 during the life course.
Black and Hispanic parents who have experienced the death of a child have the highest levels of psychological distress. See Figure.
Black and U.S.-born Hispanic parents are doubly disadvantaged by their greater likelihood of child bereavement and higher distress levels regardless of bereavement.
Foreign-born Hispanic parents are also disadvantaged by their greater vulnerability to high levels of distress in response to a child’s death.
The effects of losing a child on later psychological distress persist beyond the effects of other major life stressors. This finding underscores the profound and lasting impact of a child’s death and the disadvantages experienced by racial and ethnic minority parents and communities.
Higher exposure to stress among Black and Hispanic Americans compared to White Americans is central to the production of health disparities in the United States. The death of a child is a uniquely stressful life event with lasting consequences that add to racial/ethnic disparities in the health and well-being of mid to later life adults.
Currently, the significant health consequences of bereavement remain largely invisible and untreated in diverse older populations. Given the prevalence of child death – particularly in racial/ethnic minority populations – along with the lasting consequences of loss, greater attention should be directed toward screening and intervention. Routine doctor visits as well as emergency medical visits provide an opportunity to screen for bereavement-related risks. A national bereavement leave policy would bring attention to bereavement as a public health problem and make it possible for bereaved parents to receive needed care and time off work.
In addition, future studies should identify the pathways through which bereavement affects psychological distress. It will be by disrupting these pathways that future policy and practice efforts may help to reduce the long-term adverse effects of bereavement on psychological distress across diverse populations. Future data collection should also address racial/ethnic differences in the risks and consequences of bereavement so as to be able to better design policies and interventions to close the gaps between racial/ethnic minority and White populations.
1Umberson, D. & Donnelly, R. (2021). The death of a child and parents’ psychological distress in mid to later life: racial/ethnic differences in exposure and vulnerability. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences Published online ahead of print.
2Donnelly, R., Umberson, D., Hummer, R.A., & Garcia, M.A. 2020. Race, death of a child, and mortality risk among aging parents in the United States. Social Science & Medicine 249:112853.
3Umberson, D., Donnelly, R., Xu, M., Farina, M. & Garcia, M.A. 2020. “Death of a child prior to midlife, dementia risk, and racial disparities.” Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 75(9):1983-1995.
Umberson, D. & Donnelly, R. (2022). The unequal burden of child death adds to disadvantage in psychological distress for Black and Hispanic parents. CAPS Research Brief1(1). DOI: 10.26153/tsw/23477.
About the Authors
Debra Umberson (email@example.com) is a professor of sociology; Christine and Stanley E. Adams, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts; co-director of The Center on Aging and Population Sciences and a faculty scholar in the Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Rachel Donnelly is an assistant professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University.
This research was supported by grant P30AG066614, awarded to the Center on Aging and Population Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin by the National Institute on Aging, grant R01AG054624, awarded to Debra Umberson, principal investigator, by the National Institute on Aging and by grant P2CHD042849, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
This brief is published in partnership with UT Austin’s Population Research Center, which provides CAPS with high-quality services and resources to facilitate large-scale, population-based aging research.
Reprinted from The University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center March 2022
Most students in the United States attend racially segregated schools. The average White student’s school is 70% White. Latinx and Black students typically attend schools in which 50% of students are from their own racial/ethnic group. And, although about 5% of the U.S. public school population is made up of people of Asian descent (hereafter described as “Asian” in this brief), the average Asian student’s school is 24% Asian.
To explain school racial segregation, researchers often highlight structural factors, particularly school assignment based on racially segregated neighborhoods. And while these structures contribute to segregation, schools in cities without residential school assignments are also segregated. Research has demonstrated that school segregation is actually intensified in communities that have adopted policies allowing for more school-choice options. For example, White families often enroll in schools with more White students than their neighborhood schools and charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools.
Understanding families’ school preferences, particularly if they are motivated by race, is necessary to evaluate the impact on racial segregation of expanded school-choice policies.
Here, race is conceptualized as a historically and socially situated construction that categorizes individuals based on their phenotype and ancestry. Latinx people can be of any race. Given the race-based stereotypes and discrimination associated with Latinx people in the U.S., the author refers to Latinx as a racial category.
The U.S. racial hierarchy positions people on a continuum with White people at the top, Black people at the bottom, and Asian and Latinx people in the middle. The U.S. education system reflects, reinforces, and shapes the country’s racial hierarchy through multiple racialized mechanisms.
Prior research has shown that many people hold academic stereotypes that White students are smart and peaceful, and Black students are lazy, violent and low income. Latinx students are sometimes seen are hardworking and other times as unintelligent or criminally inclined, and Asian students are seen as both intellectually superior and perpetual foreigners. White and Asian students have also been shown to receive preferential treatment (for example, receiving more referrals to advanced classes and less harsh discipline) compared to Black and Latinx students in the same school. In addition, on average, schools attended by White and Asian students have more resources than schools attended by Black and Latinx students.
Within this larger context of race in U.S. schools, school preferences are likely guided by several factors related to race. Parents’ and students’ choices may be guided by their understanding and endorsement of the racial hierarchy operating in U.S. society. They may also be guided by their affinity toward their own racial/ethnic group, known as in-group affect. Finally, Black and Latinx families could be influenced by vulnerability to racism, or apprehension toward attending majority White schools because of the potential for racially biased interactions and policies.
This brief reports on a recent study1 in which the author asked eighth-grade students and their parents who were actively choosing New York City (NYC) high schools to examine hypothetical schools with randomized majority White, majority Latinx, majority Black, and racially diverse compositions and other school characteristics. The 431 students and 403 parents evaluated five randomly assigned school profiles and then indicated their willingness to attend the schools. Across profiles, schools’ racial demographics, school safety rating, neighborhood safety rating, graduation rate, and metal detector presence were experimentally manipulated. The author then compared the experimental findings with administrative data on the full population of NYC families’ actual high school choices.
Schools’ racial composition affects New York City families’ (parents + students) school preferences. Among schools with similar graduation rates, safety ratings, and other factors, school racial demographics affect White, Asian, Latinx, and Black families’ willingness to attend schools. See Figure
White families’ aversion to attending the majority Back and Latinx schools is twice that of Black and Latinx families’ aversion to attending the majority White school.
Racial composition is an important factor for most parents, above and beyond other school characteristics. See Figure
White and Asian parents rate majority Black and Latinx schools lower than majority White schools, and Latinx parents prefer to avoid Black schools compared to other schools.
White, Asian, and Latinx parents’ internalization of the racial hierarchy could guide their preferences.
Black parents do not express race-based preferences for schools.
White, Latinx, and Black students’ race-based school preferences differ from parents’ preferences. See Figure
White and Latinx parents are much more avoidant of Black schools than White and Latinx students.
Potentially influenced by in-group affect, White and Latinx students prefer schools in which their racial group was in the majority.
While school racial demographics do not influence Black parents’ school preferences, Black students desired to avoid the majority White school.
Asian students’ preferences are similar to Asian parents: they rated White and mixed schools as the most desirable.
Actual school choices are similar to the hypothetical school choices. The patterns of NYC families’ race-based school choices on their actual applications to high schools are similar to the patterns of families’ race-based preferences in the study experiment.
Although policymakers often frame school choice as a race-neutral policy, school racial demographics are central to how families choose schools. School attributes related to race cannot fully explain racial sorting and segregation within and across school districts. Instead, families’ preferences to associate with or to avoid particular school racial demographics likely contribute to contemporary patterns of school and neighborhood racial segregation.
Families’ race-based school preferences stem from a racial-educational structure that is made up of racial stereotypes and racist policies within and across schools. To increase racial equity and integration in schools, policymakers must dismantle educational practices, such as racially biased academic tracking and disciplinary practices, that perpetuate negative stereotypes and marginalize student populations.
1Hailey, C.A. (2022). Racial preferences for schools: Evidence from an experiment with White, Black, Latinx, and Asian parents and students. Sociology of Education. Published online ahead of print.
Hailey, C.A. (2022). White, Asian, Latinx, and Black families express race-based school preferences. PRC Research Brief 7(2). DOI: 10.26153/tsw/31961.
About the Author
Chantal Hailey is an assistant professor of sociology and a faculty scholar in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2C HD042849), awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under Grant No. DGE1342536, the Institute of Education Sciences–funded Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training (IES-PIRT) Program at New York University, and a Ford Foundation Dissertation Grant. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the other funders.
Joan Maya Mazelis and Arielle Kuperberg on May 24, 2022
The month of May means graduation. This is the time of the year to celebrate accomplishment, take pride in completing degrees, and look to the future. In fact, college graduation is called “commencement,” signaling the beginning of something—for many, it’s what they hope is the beginning of independent adulthood.
But in our recently published research, we found that college graduation doesn’t always bring the commencement of “adulthood” if adulthood is defined as financial or residential independence. Especially among college graduates with loans.
To find out about how students and college graduates with and without loans rely on family for housing and financial help, what kinds of help they give to their families in return, and how they feel about it, we interviewed and surveyed students and graduates at two public universities. Our data were all collected before the pandemic-spurred loan pause started in March 2020, allowing us to examine how student debt repayment obligations shaped young adults’ experiences of relying on and helping family before and after graduation.
Our research suggests rising student debt is reshaping the experiences of young adulthood for college graduates. Graduates often must live with parents or other family members to be able to afford other expenses and student loan payments. We found that financial support from family and living with family were both common, and graduates with loans were more likely to rely on regular financial help from parents, even though they had been less likely to have that support while they were still in college. After graduation, Alice was living with her mother and contributing to some household bills in exchange, and told us “It’s definitely saving me money, and I have to place a live, so I’m thankful for that.”
At the same time, research participants felt that living with family kept them from crossing a threshold to adulthood. Ava, who was living with her parents, told us, “I just feel like you can’t be grown up living with your parents.” Yet, delaying residential independence also positioned graduates better for loan repayment, a major obstacle in reaching financial stability—another marker of the transition to adulthood. Participants Leo and PJ were both able to pay off all their student loans while living with their parents rent-free!
Sharing housing and pooling resources with family members helps graduates with loans. But it also often feels like an obligation, since their resources help their families, too. Some interview participants shared that they faced expectations of reciprocity—obligations to help family members in return for help they received—that were sometimes quite burdensome. In our survey, both students and graduates with loans were significantly more likely to give money to their families compared to those without loans, deepening their financial difficulties.
Two years after graduation, Monique was giving $300 a month to her mother and did a lot around the house. Monique’s romantic partner was also staying there and contributing $300 a month. Monique reported feeling overwhelmed at times: “I do a lot around the house, like besides work. I come home and I’m cooking because I have three younger siblings. I’m cooking dinner, I’m getting kids home from school and giving baths and getting them to bed. I take them to school in the morning, I get them dressed…I’m doing a lot.”
But Monique reported mostly feeling like the arrangement was working well, even if there were days her contributions felt weighty, and she knew she did a lot around the house because she hadn’t always been able to contribute financially.
We found that it is common for graduates to contribute monetarily to their households, and over half of graduates with loans reported giving money to family (compared to 28% of graduates without loans). But among those who gave money to their family, over half of graduates with loans (and over 70% of graduates without loans) also lived with their families. The financial contributions they gave usually amounted to less money than they would have to pay for housing if they were living independently. Ashley said it would be “cheaper than it would be if I was living by myself.” Noah told us that his decision to live at home and pay his parents several hundred dollars each month was “just the smartest thing financially.” He explained that “I can save my money, pay my loans, and then help my parents too.” He added, “the fact that I can contribute, it just feels more like a partnership more or less…. We help each other out.”
The changing funding structure for higher education—coupled with steeply rising college costs over the last several decades—has made college far more expensive for students and their families. The majority take out thousands of dollars in loans to fund their education. Completing their degrees positions graduating students to be much more likely to pay off their student loan debt, but it can take years or even decades. The pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections has now been extended through August 31, 2022 after being repeatedly extended. People are wondering now, will student loan payments resume September 1, be paused again, or might student debt even be canceled? We’ve written before about how college students and graduates would approach their futures if their student debt were forgiven.
Our new findings suggest that if debt payments resume, college graduates will increasingly rely on their families for help, affecting multiple generations. If public higher education were adequately funded, college costs would be lower, loans would be less burdensome, and the experiences of college students and graduates would depend less on family resources. In the current higher education funding system, the outsized role that family resources play in paying for higher education instead contributes to persistent and deepening inequalities.
But given the current system, family help can be vital in enabling some graduates with loans to pay down their debt and eventually transition to independence—even if that independence is a bit delayed. So this commencement season, if you or someone you love is approaching college graduation: remember that it’s now common for graduates to live with family after completing their degrees. Given the high cost of college and the difficult burdens loans create, it’s often the best—or only—option that graduates have.
Arielle Kuperberg is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. Follow her @ATKuperberg
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.