These days—perhaps as in every generation—relationships between grown children and their parents have changed. Parents and grown children expect to be friends. Many have that experience. But, remarkably, Joshua Coleman finds that perhaps thanks to this closeness there also are profound falling-outs. Coleman works with families where parents and adult children have been estranged and his book, When Parents Hurt, is a resource for those isolated parents who wonder “am I the only one?”

Coleman is a psychologist at San Francisco Bay and a past Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families.

LG: How common is parental estrangement? Do you see trends? So, for instance, is it more common? Or are there patterns–like does it happen in some groups more than others to the best of your understanding?  

JC: A recent meta-analysis on the topic by Lucy Blake notes that while the research on estrangement has grown significantly in the past five years, it is still new and sparse. Therefore, getting a clear assessment of whether estrangement has become more common is challenging.

Based on my clinical experience though, I believe that it is widespread and growing for the following reasons:

  • In the United States, today, and in some other developed Western nations, nothing binds grown children to their parents beyond whether or not the adult child wants that relationship. In the same way that marriages increasingly succeed or fail on the basis of how satisfying or meaningful the relationship, adult children may estrange themselves from a parent based on similar principles or ideals. However, while successful marriages require a somewhat equal level of investment between the partners, typically it’s more incumbent on the parent to be attuned to the needs of the adult child than the other way around.
  • According to a recent Culture of American Families Survey, today’s parents hope to be best friends with their children for life. While many are succeeding, others may suffer in part because of high parental expectations of meaning and closeness with their children since these feelings occur in tandem with a decrease in social supports and activities for the parents. As a result, some adult children today complain about feeling too needed by their parents, in contrast to earlier eras where parents had richer, more varied networks of support. This is likely why the issue of boundaries is a frequent topic that I hear from adult children (wanting more boundaries) and from their parents (wanting less). Estrangements are sometimes the result of parents and adult children being unable to negotiate those very different needs and perspectives
  • The use of therapeutic narratives (the language of psychology and self-help) as a way of making sense of life means that now, more than ever, young adults may blame “dysfunctional families” and poor parenting for the state of their lives rather than other contexts such as lack of decent paying jobs, health care, affordable colleges, etc.
  • The American culture of adversarial individualism, where identity and autonomy are developed in opposition to parental authority, may also increase the risk of estrangement. Family relationships succeed or fail primarily based on whether they are a platform for individuality, growth, and self-actualization. From this vantage point, estrangement can be experienced as an act of existential courage on the part of the adult child.
  • A rise in the power of children to set the terms of family life, both when children are in the home and out of it means that parental authority to compel contact over the life course has diminished. While it used to be the child’s job to earn the parent’s love and respect, today it’s the parent’s job to earn (and keep earning) that of the child’s
  • While divorce rates have stabilized, parental divorce at any age may increase the risk of estrangement for the following reasons:
    1. It may cause the child to view one of the parents as the cause of breaking up the family.
    2. It may cause one of the parents to overtly or covertly poison the relationship to the other parent.
    3. Remarriage and dating after divorce may bring in new people to the child’s life with whom they must compete for emotional or financial resources.
    4. In a highly individualistic culture like ours, it may cause the child to view the parents more as individuals with their own relative strengths and weaknesses rather than as a family unit to which they also belong.

LG: What are some of the biggest hurdles that estranged parents have to get over to live with–or change–the situation?

JC: There are several common obstacles to resolving conflict with an estranged adult child:

  • An inability on the part of the parent to see that the use of guilt or demands for a return on parental investment in the form of time or attention will backfire. Most adult children raised in the past 3 decades or so are likely to have been socialized with the belief that relationships, including those with parents, should be a platform for personal growth and the maintenance of happiness. From that perspective, the organizing principle is based more on those themes rather than historically earlier ones around obligation, respect, and duty.
  • It’s important for parents to be able to take responsibility and empathize with the adult child’s perspective, even if it’s at odds with their own.
  • Marriage of the adult child is also a common source of estrangement when the parent or parents don’t get along with the new spouse of their adult child.

In general, most reconciliations require the parent to take the initiative. However, there are many reasons why an adult child might not be willing, despite the parent’s efforts:

  • He/she may have been successfully poisoned against the parent by the other parent after divorce.
  • The adult child’s spouse may prevent the adult child from reconciling either because they feel too threatened by the adult child’s attachment to the parent or because of their dislike of them.
  • The adult child, or a parent, may have a subtle or overt form of mental illness which makes the relationship too challenging, despite the relative health of one or the other.
  • The adult child may know no other way to feel separate from the parent than to engage in estrangement. This sometimes occurs in homes where the child felt overly dependent on or enmeshed with the parent.
  • The adult child may feel too hurt or mistrustful of the parent as a result of the parent’s earlier problematic behavior.

The following are some common obstacles to reconciliation on the part of the parent:

  • The parent may not be psychologically able to express empathy for the adult child’s complaints because of their own emotional challenges. Thus, they may experience the adult child’s reasonable complaints as an unfair attack against them.
  • The parent may be unwilling to change in ways desired by the adult child- for example, to be willing to accept their sexuality, religion, career path, partner choice, parenting style; or their requests to criticize less or demand less.
  • The parent may not be able modify their demands for time and attention to be more in line with those of the adult child. Therefore, the adult child may eventually choose estrangement as a way to stop feeling chronically guilty or misunderstood.

LG: Is there such a thing as “recovery” from estrangement? I think it might take your whole book to describe, but can you tell us a little bit about what recovery might look like?

JC: In general, reconciliations are the most likely when parents can do the following:

  • Empathize with the adult child’s complaints and take responsibility for whatever mistakes were made
  • Avoid being defensive, qualifying, or explaining
  • Show commitment to working on the relationship
  • Accept the adult child’s terms for frequency and length of contact
  • Accept the ways that the adult child is different from the parent without shaming or criticizing them.

On the part of the adult child, reconciliation is more likely if they can:

  • Show compassion for the parent’s limitations as a person or parent
  • Acknowledge that expectations of parents and parenting have risen and therefore, what seems like ineffectual or problematic parenting today, may have constituted reasonable parenting during their childrearing years
  • Accept that the more attuned and psychological form of communication common today is relatively recent in parent-adult child relations and therefore learning this may take some time and practice on the part of the parent.

Joshua Coleman is a clinical psychologist, author, and media expert on individuals, couples, and families. Twitter: @drjcoleman. For more information about estrangement, visit 

Luilly DeJesus Gonzalez is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

Trevor Hoppe is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY-Albany, and recently published the book Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness. The book traces the rise and application of criminal laws used to prosecute people living with HIV in the United States, typically for failing to disclose their status to a sexual partner.  I recently interviewed him about his book.

AK: Besides HIV and related behavior that you focus on, have other sexual behaviors and diseases been criminalized in recent United States history, and are these laws disproportionately enforced among certain populations?

TH: The book traces the rise of HIV-specific criminal laws in the 1980s and 1990s, linking that shift towards criminalization to the broader war on crime and particularly the war on drugs. AIDS unfortunately coincided with a massive expansion of the carceral state through Ronald Reagan’s presidency and it was seized upon by evangelical conservatives as a harbinger of moral decline. That made for a unique and deeply punitive response to this epidemic that has no parallel in history or in the years that have followed. During World War II, many states did pass venereal disease statutes, mostly to target prostitutes who were viewed mistakenly as responsible for the spread of syphilis. However, those laws featured misdemeanor penalties and there’s no evidence I could find that that they were widely used.

Recently, states have been moving to expand their felony HIV-specific criminal laws to include other diseases, particularly Hepatitis C. To date, only a handful of states have done so and it’s not clear that they will be widely utilized by prosecutors, as that disease is spread primarily through the sharing of needles, and drug users are not especially likely to call the police to report a needle-sharing partner. By comparison, the sexual transmission aspect of HIV more readily lends itself to a criminal justice response, since the HIV-negative partner can more readily claim victimhood in a criminal courtroom.

AK: You found that lawyers and judges often had very little medical understanding of HIV and how it is transmitted, leading to legal arguments that were inaccurate, but compelling. Did these inaccuracies allow for anyone to appeal their convictions?

TH: As is the case in the criminal justice system more broadly, most defendants charged under these statutes plead guilty. Once you plead guilty, it’s difficult if not impossible to turn back and show cause for an appeal. Defendants take pleas to avoid the much harsher penalties that come with taking your case to trial. My analysis finds, for example, that male defendants at trial received an average prison sentence of 153 months versus an average of 77 months for male defendants who plead out. Further, there is no evidence that any defendant charged under a felony HIV-specific criminal law in the United States has ever been acquitted at trial. The only cases that do not result in conviction are the rare few that are dismissed, usually because the accuser does not show up to testify. In this context, appeals are few and far between and those that have proceeded are almost universally unsuccessful.

That said, there are many cases I encountered that would appear to a casual onlooker to be ripe for appeal—such as the case of a Michigan stripper convicted for giving a lap dance (the prosecutor claimed the prohibited sexual penetration involved the client’s nose). But in her case and countless others, defendants chose to plea.

AK: If someone does not know their HIV status at the time they expose somebody else, can they be prosecuted under these laws, and if not, do these laws then encourage avoiding HIV testing so that individuals can avoid legal issues? What would be a better policy that could more effectively encourage testing and disclosure of HIV to sexual partners?

TH: No. HIV-specific laws require that a person be aware of their HIV-status. Advocates often criticize these laws on the basis that they discourage HIV testing. I don’t think there’s good social science evidence to support that claim. Most people who are not currently living with HIV do not know that these laws exist. There are far stronger arguments for demanding legal reform. For example, these laws are extremely broad and can be used to prosecute harmless behaviors, such as spitting, biting, or in at least once case, even a lap dance. The crime is failing to disclose before any sexual contact, whether or not that contact posed a risk of transmission. To this point, less than 10 percent of cases involve an allegation that defendant transmitted the disease to their partner. This is a dangerous precedent. Should partners suffering from noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, be required to disclose? No. We can obviously recognize that policy intervention as ludicrous. The only reason we can’t say the same for HIV laws is that our vision is clouded with stigma and, too often, obfuscated by ignorance. It is terrible policy to send people to prison for years or even decades for nothing more than causing a sexual partner to experience irrational and, in most cases, unwarranted psychological duress. The best science we have today says that people living with HIV who are on treatment and have a suppressed viral load cannotcannot—transmit the disease. It’s time for most Americans to wake up and rethink everything they know about HIV. The disease has changed. The laws, unfortunately, have not.

Trevor Hoppe is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY Albany. He is the author of Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, published by University of California Press, and co-editor of The War on Sex, published by Duke University Press. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg

In preparation for the Council on Contemporary Families’ March 2 Annual Conference, Conceiving Families in the 21st Century, the Council asked speakers and CCF Senior Scholars to submit recent research related to the facts and dilemmas of the legal, medical, and social creation of families. The result: Unconventional Wisdom, vol. 7 (out today!) is a highly readable, non-technical survey with fifteen research updates, edited by Joshua Coleman and Stephanie Coontz. Psychologist Coleman and historian Coontz edited the first edition of Unconventional Wisdom in 2007. Eleven years later, the CCF’s new report concludes with a focused, annotated resource list of recent trends and useful facts related to reproductive health and policy.

Coleman, who with Adina Nack (California Lutheran University) is co-organizer of CCF’s upcoming conference, notes that, “Technology, medical advances, health policies, and social change have shaped the new frontier of reproductive health care. Those who receive and provide services face new possibilities and uncharted risks.” As Unconventional Wisdom highlights, the concepts and realities of sex, gender, sexuality, parenthood, and family in the U.S. reflect increasingly complex and inclusive definitions.

For example:

·      As reported by Mary Ann Mason (University of California-Berkeley), a 2013 international study determined that five million babies had been born from assisted reproductive technology. Hard figures, not to mention outcomes for surrogates and infants, are hard to track, with dire consequences for all, including the children who are created. Professor of Law Lisa C. Ikemoto, notes that global businesses evade restrictions enacted by governments to move ova, sperm and embryos, infertility specialists, egg donors and surrogate mothers across national boundaries.

·      Research shared by Caroline Sten Hartnett (University of South Carolina) shows that categories of “intended” versus “unintended” pregnancy don’t capture how women think of their births.

·      A less-considered way of making families includes those who are not having children: Amy Blackstone (University of Maine) advances information about how well those families are doing.

·      Not all can rely on families to advance for well-being. Rutgers (Camden) sociologist Joan Maya Mazelis’s brief highlights community organizations aimed at helping impoverished people with no family to help out.

·      What does college debt have to do with making families? Arielle Kuperberg (The University of North Carolina-Greensboro) reports on how debt influences how and when women (but not men) have children.

Background data to support fresh stories

This year, Unconventional Wisdom also features an annotated list of sources with research highlights from each study, produced by CCF intern Selena Walsh Smith (The Evergreen State College). Topics covered in this section include: studies that show how difficult life is for mothers and children when the pregnancy is experienced as unintended; the benefits of contraception; racial disparities in infertility and maternal mortality; how the U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate among 19 of the world’s richest countries; and other facts about the gains, losses, and gaps in reproductive and child health.

Below is the full table of contents for this easy-to-use report.

Reproductive Tourism: Opportunities and Cost….2

New Babies of Technology: Where is the Voice of the Child?…. 2

Banning Surrogacy Can Be Harmful to Women and Children…. 3

Women in Affairs: Cheating to Save the Marriage…. 3

10 Common Questions of Intended Parents through Egg or Sperm Donation…. 4

Adoption: Are Genes More Powerful Than Parents?…. 4

Women’s Experiences of Intended and Unintended Births…. 5

Reproductive Health Services in the U.S.: Too Much or too Little?…. 5

Where the Millennials Will Take Us: Gender Policies among Young Adults…. 6

LGBTQ Grief over Miscarriage and Failed Adoptions Increased by Discrimination…. 6

More People than ever are not having Babies and They’re Doing Just Fine…. 7

The Opposite of a Shotgun Wedding – Getting Pregnant and Moving Out…. 7

Not Everyone can Rely on their Families when they are Desperate, and for Poor People, it Matters…. 8

Student Loans are Changing our Families in Surprising Ways…. 8

If You’re Infertile, Why Use Condoms?…. 9

U.S. Reproductive Health and Policy Facts…. 10-14

Intended and Unintended Pregnancy – 10

Benefits of Contraception; Consequences of Unintended and Unwanted Births – 10

Infertility and Miscarriages – 11

                 Maternal Mortality – 12Infant and Child Mortality Rates -13

Gains, Losses, and Gaps in Reproductive and Child Health 13-14

The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) presents its Thirteenth Annual Media Awards at 5:30 pm on Friday, March 2nd at the DoubleTree Hotel, Austin, TX, at the CCF annual conference, “Conceiving American Families in the 21st Century: Reproductive Policies, Practices, and Technologies.”

The 2018 Award for Outstanding Media Coverage of Family Issues goes to Nina Martin for her body of work on abortion, pregnancy, and maternal health. Ms. Martin has a long history of reporting on these issues since beginning with ProPublica in 2013, including at least 45 articles, nearly half of which were published in 2016 and 2017. Her piece entitled “Nothing Protects Black Women from Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth” is a salient example of the outstanding quality of her work. This article expertly marries the personal and specific to the national and typical, drawing the reader into the story of one woman while drawing attention to the often-overlooked plight of the whole. Another high-impact piece, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth,” combines careful reporting on the staggering details of a vital issue – the U.S.’s  shockingly poor record of preventing maternal mortality – with the powerful details of a heartrending story that serve to make the abstract very concrete and real, and piercing.

About the CCF Media Awards: The CCF media awards were established in 2002 as part of the Council’s commitment to enhancing the public understanding of trends in American family life. “All too often, changes in U.S. family patterns are painted in stark, better-or-worse terms that ignore the nuanced and complex realities of family life today. The Awards Committee looks for articles that put individual family issues in larger social context. This kind of coverage offers the public a balanced picture of the trade-offs, strengths and weaknesses in many different family arrangements and structures,” explained Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s Director of Research and Public Education.

The CCF media awards committee will call for nominations for the 2020 awards in the fall of 2019. Please visit for information. This year, I chaired the committee and worked with committee members Arielle Kuperberg, Allison Pugh, and Alicia Walker to select the recipient.

The CCF media awards honor outstanding journalism that contributes to the public understanding of contemporary family issues. Honorees are invited to speak for five minutes on emerging issues affecting American families and how CCF members and supporters can help the media cover these stories effectively.

The Council on Contemporary Families’ 19th Annual Conference: “Conceiving American Families in the 21st Century: Reproductive Policies, Practices, and Technologies,” convenes leading scholars and practitioners who are experts on US reproductive health topics and reproductive rights in a global contextThe conference will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Austin, TX, and is hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. Follow CCF at @CCF_Families to get live updates from the conference.

Christie Boxer, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Criminal Justice, at Adrian University, has been Chair of the CCF media awards committee since 2012. She first joined the committee in 2010.

Picture by katlove via pixabay

Underrepresented groups are often silenced, oppressed, ostracized, and neglected. Suppression can happen overtly–but it gets reproduced and extended even in sociological research. I don’t think this is happening on purpose. We don’t collect the data, so how can we learn more about them? When thinking about underrepresented groups, race is a big topic. A variety of races are underrepresented, yet we must also acknowledge different genders that are swept under the rug. To wit: there is a troubling lack of research about transgender individuals: Who are they? Where are they? What affects this community and their strategies towards living happy, healthy lives, safe from violence and cruelty?

To learn more, I interviewed Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, an assistant professor of sociology at Framingham State University. His research focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV) within LGBTQ+ communities. He sheds light on the nature and extent of harmful effects IPV has on the transgender community and shares the resources that are provided:

TC:  What made you focus your research on intimate partner violence? Specifically, what made you focus on transgender intimate partner violence?

XGD:  After a few years of researching same-gender (lesbian, gay, bisexual) IPV as a graduate student, it became very clear to me that transgender experiences were almost completely absent from the available literature. It’s common to see the absence of transgender samples listed as a limitation or a call for future research – even in some of my own studies, I typically did not garner enough transgender respondents to make any claims about their IPV victimization. Given that gender is so central to how we understand and study IPV, the absence of the trans lived realities made some of the theories seem incomplete to me. I wanted to not only reach transgender samples but also to complicate the ways in which we think about gender and other identities as they relate to IPV.

TC: Even though transgender people have been part of society for quite some time, why do you think there is little research focused on transgender individuals and their involvement in IPV?

XGD:  Unfortunately, the reality is that our culture is predominately cisgenderist and transphobic in how we construct, do, and think about gender. Partly because we have made the explicit (and erroneous) assumption that links physical sex with gender identity, trans experiences are often erased. We assume that physical sex automatically denotes social identities and gender expressions (masculine, feminine). We know this is not an accurate reflection of how gender has always been experienced – gender is much more socially informed, individually performed, and meanings and categories have changed throughout time and space. Early IPV research was predominately focused on ciswomen and heteronormative perspectives. While they made many important critiques on how patriarchal culture fosters violence against women, they largely failed to incorporate a non-binary way of thinking through gender.

TC: What differences between cis-gender IPV and transgender IPV have you found? Has race played a part in these differences?

XGD: The transgender IPV literature is very scarce compared to the available knowledge on cisgender victimization; as a result, all of the differences are not entirely known. Some key differences focus on trans vulnerability to abuse in a cisgenderist culture, the tactics of abuse, and the high rates of self-reported victimization. Our broader cisgenderist culture makes IPV a more common reality for transgender people. A hostile society often make trans people more susceptible to abuse by intimate partners. This happens in a number of ways. abusers can manipulate trans identities in ways that don’t happen for cisgender people: undermining gender transition or making trans people feel undesirable, often citing the hostile world around them as reason for them to just put up with the abuse. Especially for transgender people who are early in transition, identity can be a major site of emotional and psychological exploitation. What’s worse is that many of our help-seeking avenues (i.e. shelters) are structured largely around a cisgender experience with rigidly gendered or gender-segregated spaces. Race, ethnicity, and other identities certainly intersect with gender-and they matter.

We don’t yet know the racial differences across transgender IPV, but some points of interest look at how race complicates structural access to resources and how some immigration statuses may prevent trans victims from getting the help they need and deserve. Just last year, a Latinx transgender woman was arrested by ICE in court while attempting to secure a restraining order against her abusive partner. While its only speculated, the abuser is believed to have made the call to officials. This is especially problematic because victims of IPV have protections regardless of citizenship status.

Bonus/Extra! TC: What are the resources provided for transgender individuals and have those resources recently grown?

XGD: FORGE is a national organization that provides services to trans and gender non-conforming and The Network/La Red also operates 24/7 hotlines (617-742-4911 (voice) • 617-227-4911 (TTY) • 800-832-1901 (Toll-Free) and also provide connections to services for LGBTQ survivors. Similarly, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) also operates a hotline (212) 714-1141 in addition to resources, information, research, and more for the LGBTQ community. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a page dedicated to listing the rights transgender victims of IPV have when accessing legal and social services help.

So, here we are. We are fully aware this community exists and they have real problems like all real people do. As Dr. Guadalupe-Diaz stated, transgender experiences are absent from most of the literature and dismissed from conversations. This has left us unfamiliar with people who we see in our everyday lives. With the lack of discussion, this has wiped out the experiences of an entire part of our society. These are our co-workers, our peers, our educators, and so many more established people within each and every community. It is time to shift the focus from cisgender individuals and realize we must also include this population in our research, in our community, and in our lives. If IPV does not discriminate, our research and resources should not either.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

Picture by GDJ via pixabay

Social institutions powerfully impact how children move throughout the world—even if the institution is indirectly affecting them. Such is the case with parental incarceration and its effect on children and their transition to adulthood. And, of course, education is a major site of indirect inequalities. The research article, “Paternal Incarceration and Children’s Schooling Contexts: Intersecting Inequalities of Education Opportunity,” by Anna R. Haskins, describes the type of schools that children with incarcerated fathers attend. Her article highlights the ways in which mass incarceration has transformed schooling in the United States. What are the types of schools that children with incarcerated fathers attend? Who exactly teaches at these institutions? How do those learning conditions compare to the learning conditions of children with fathers who are not incarcerated? Haskins’ new study answers these questions.

The article uses data on children’s early elementary environments from a longitudinal birth-cohort sample of urban families. Specifically, The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is the longitudinal study that follows 4,898 children and their parents. A reminder of how this amazing data set was established: Data were collected from twenty large U.S cities between 1998 and 2000. Marital and non-marital births were randomly sampled within hospitals across cities. Mothers were interviewed in these hospitals 48 hours after the child was born, and the interviews for the fathers took place soon after. After these interviews, there were five additional follow-up waves of phone interviews that took place when the child was approximately 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15 years old. Specifically, these waves included interviews of the parents, in-home assessments of the child and their home environment (starting at wave 3); and when the child was 9 years old and had entered what the other called “formal schooling”, this was around wave 4, a teacher survey a large range of educational assessments, and administrative data from the child’s elementary school were collected.

And what we already know: Having an incarcerated parent already creates a disadvantage across a range of social, economic, behavioral and health outcomes. Therefore, since these students are possibly but in lower-income schooling, some research has demonstrated that schools that serve predominantly low-income and minority families disproportionately employ teachers with lower levels of education, nonstandard certifications, and fewer years of teaching experience. It was found that Black and Hispanic children in the Fragile Families Study are more likely than whites to experience paternal incarceration. Specifically, for Blacks, this reaches 57 percent by year nine, Hispanics at around 40 percent and Whites at nearly 30 percent. This means that nearly two-thirds of the Black children in the sample have had a father incarcerated at some point by the time they are only nine years old.

Focusing on the profile of the schools attended, there are significant differences in the types of schools and teachers at schools where children with incarcerated fathers attend. Children with incarcerated fathers by age nine are significantly more likely to attend a school that receives Title I funding. Title I funding is for schools with high rates of poverty. Their schools also have higher percentages of the student body eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, larger concentrations of minority students, and more students in their classroom repeating the current grade. These are all indicators of poor school quality and show that children who have not had incarcerated fathers attend higher quality school systems. In addition, per the study, children with incarcerated fathers are significantly more likely to be in public school, but less like likely to have white teachers.

But, what is unique about this study was that even though prior research found that lower-income schools employ teachers with less experience—this research didn’t exactly find that. Interestingly enough, none of the teacher quality indicators, such as years of teaching experience, highest level of education, or elementary certification, differed between the paternal incarceration groups, nor did class size or school reports of student-teacher ratios. In other words, the teachers were up to the task, but the context the children lived in made things especially difficult for them.

Pertaining to schooling and behavior, there was strong evidence that showed children that experienced paternal incarceration attend schools in neighborhoods with more disorder, harsher disciplinary climates, and lower rates of a positive school climate, as reported by teachers.

So, what does all of this mean for children with their fathers separated from them and trapped behind bars? Paternal incarceration not only impacts children’s transition at home—but it also dictates their overall schooling experience. Set aside their behavior, paternal incarceration has a heavy correlation to the type of school they go to compared to their peers without incarcerated fathers. When reading this research, we find a serious the impact of just having one parent, the father, incarcerated—think about what this can do to a child if it was both of their parents. The transformative experience a child has to go through, not just in their home but at their school, should speak loudly about the enormous costs of hyper-incarceration in the U.S.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

Picture via Loyola University Chicago

To improve the well-being of families in urban communities, it is important to understand how violence exposure can have an effect on the development of youth. Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden is valuable for understanding community violence as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden is clinical psychologist and an associate professor of Psychology at the Loyola University of Chicago. She is also a Council on Contemporary Families expert—and board member. Her current research focuses on community violence exposure in African American youth. I recently asked her several questions about her research and perspective on it.

EO: How did you become interested in the mental health of African American youth and families?

NGH: There were a number of seemingly unrelated factors that occurred around the same time to generate my interest in the mental health of African American youth and families. In one of my courses in graduate school, we discussed the impact of stressful life events on psychosocial development in children, and one study that we discussed found that, for each additional stressor experienced by a child, the likelihood of negative psychosocial outcomes increased exponentially. At the same time, I was working as a graduate research assistant on an intervention to reduce aggressive behaviors and increase prosocial behaviors in children, and the project was being implemented in one of the most impoverished school districts in the area. Through this experience, I witnessed how societal inequalities resulted in limited resources and opportunities for success for African American children and families, and I was struck by the number of stressors experienced by the children in the intervention.

Each day, I left the intervention sites thinking about the research study we discussed in class, and wondering how to enhance the well-being of African American youth exposed to disproportionate levels of stressors. Around this time, child coping was emerging as a research area and gaining a great deal of momentum in clinical and developmental psychology. Starting with my dissertation, I began to pursue a program of research on stress and coping in African American youth. I began to conduct research to better understand the impact of stressful life events on psychological functioning in African American youth, how adaptive coping behaviors may buffer the negative impact of stressors, and how African American parents support or enhance adaptive coping in their children.

EO: Your research focuses on community violence exposure as a stressor for African American youth and families in urban communities. What is the impact of community violence exposure on the well-being of African American youth and families? What helps to minimize the negative impact of violence exposure?

NGH: My early work on stress and coping focused on African American youth’s experience of stressors in multiple domains, including peer stressors, family stressors, school stressors, community stressors, etc. Due to attention on violent crime in Chicago, our more recent work hones in on community violence exposure as a stressor. We are learning that, in comparison to other stressors, community violence is unique in regard to both its impact on well-being and the factors that buffer its impact. Our work demonstrates that higher levels of community violence exposure predict higher levels of aggression, delinquency, and post-traumatic stress symptoms, in African American male adolescents, similar to other stressors.

However, we were surprised to find that the association between violence exposure and depression is curvilinear in a number of our studies. This finding means that as the level of community violence exposure increases, levels of depression increase to a point, and then depression begins to decrease as even as community violence continues to increase. This pattern suggests that youth may become emotionally desensitized or emotionally numb to community violence exposure as levels increase. At the same time, these youth are experiencing more trauma symptoms, such as hyperarousal, as violence levels increase. Further, we found that both emotional numbing and hyperarousal mediate the association between violence exposure in early adolescence and aggressive and delinquent behavior in late adolescence in African American males.

We were also surprised to find that coping strategies that were helpful for others forms of stress were not helpful for community violence exposure. Instead, our work has shown that the one coping strategy typically regarded as maladaptive, avoidant coping, is helpful in reducing negative outcomes for African American youth exposed to violence. Finally, we found that parental support does not impact on how youth cope with violence, which is inconsistent with our findings for other stressors. Interestingly, another factor—positive future orientation—has emerged as a stronger and more consistent protective factor that coping. Positive future orientation means that youth are optimistic about their future and expect to achieve their goals. Our findings with African American high school students suggest that positive future orientation buffers the impact of violence exposure on delinquent behavior. We believe that future orientation holds promise as a malleable target for intervention efforts with youth exposed to community violence. We are now interested in exploring how parental behavior may influence youth’s future orientation. We believe that future orientation may be more easily influenced by parents than youth’s coping behaviors, and if we can demonstrate this, we can endorse future orientation as a target in family-based interventions for youth exposed to violence.

EO: In order to better the well-being of African American youth and families exposed to community violence, what are some policies or conditions that contribute to making matters worse for them? In other words, what just isn’t working? What are policies or conditions that are needed to make things better?

NGH: Of course, the most effective policies would be those designed to reduce violent crime, thereby minimizing opportunities for youth to be exposed to violence in the first place. Policies that focus on economic investment in under-resourced communities to improve school conditions, create high quality mixed income housing, and provide job opportunities and workforce development will likely help to reduce violence.

In the meantime, we believe that treating community violence as a criminal justice issue is ineffective. Due to the traumatic nature of violence, community violence exposure is a health issue and should be treated as such. Our work shows that youth who have been exposed to community violence are at higher risk for additional exposure, as well as perpetration of violence. We have also demonstrated that symptoms of PTSD and emotional numbing help to explain this risk. Thus, rather that responding to youth’s behavior in punitive ways, which may further traumatize them, policies should work to ensure that systems and programs in the lives of young people are trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. We believe that reducing symptoms of hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and emotional numbing in youth exposed to violence can help to reduce the risk of subsequent exposure and perpetration and enhance well-being.

Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a senior sociology major at Framingham State University.

We know quite a lot, statistically, about Millennials, the up and coming young adult generation. Those who are employed are more likely than any previous generation to have a college degree. And yet, they are also more likely to live with their parents for longer stretches as adults.  The Pew Research Center Fact Tank  shows that 15 percent of Millennials live at home between the ages of 25 and 35, far more than generations before them. Their moving home continued even as the unemployment rate decreased, although those without a college degree are far more likely to boomerang home to their parents than are their college educated peers. Millennials appear to be less likely to move around the country to follow job opportunities, perhaps because so many jobs no longer carry the wages and benefits that would justify relocation. One trend very clear is that Millennials are far more likely to lean Democratic than any other generation. These left-leaning college educated young adults, some slow to fly away from the nest, are now the largest generation in America. And among women, Millennials are most likely to see the advantages men have over women, over half of them think men have it easier, far more than any previous generation. And twice as many women than men report having been sexually harassed at work, making this younger generation as aware of women’s victimization as any other.   Their mothers’ feminism hardly ended women’s problems in the workforce.

This is what we know from nationally representative statistics. But I wanted to know more, particularly about how college educated Millennials, our future leaders, felt about gender politics, not only in the workforce but how they experienced sex-based opportunities and constraints in their own lives. My colleagues and students and I interviewed 116 Millennials. Our sample was minority majority, with most of the respondents having been raised in working class, many in immigrant households. Most were now in college or recent college graduates.  In addition to recruiting a sample with much race and ethnic diversity, we also recruited a gender diverse sample, including those who rejected the gender binary entirely (some of whom identify as genderqueer) and some transgender young people. We asked these people to tell us their life history, with a specific focus on their experiences where gender was particularly salient. In the process, we sought to explore whether this new generation will change the face of gender politics at home or at work.

The answer is both yes, and no.  We could identify no one-size-fits-all generational experience.  What we did find was a complicated gender structure that some Millennials endorsed, some resisted, others rebelled against, and that left many simply confused. America continues to be a society with incredible religious diversity, and in my interviews, I quickly noticed that the men and women who were proud of their being girly girls and tough guys, wanted others in their social networks to follow sex-based traditions, and endorsed world views where men and women should have different opportunities and constraints were often raised in literalist faiths where the religious text was taken as gospel, and not metaphorical.  These true believers in a traditional gender structure came from many faiths, Evangelical Christian, orthodox Jew, Greek Orthodox, and Muslim. What they shared was a belief that god intended men and women to be complementary, not with equal opportunities to all social roles. These were young adults following in their parents’ footsteps, conserving the past for the future. In our sample, we talked to many of these young traditionalists, but in a national sample, they would be a small minority.  Still, they exist and complicate any picture of Millennials as movers and shakers of tradition.

But then, of course, many Millennials are also critical of sexual inequality. In our research, we identified two different patterns among young people with these attitudes. Some are innovators who simply ignore and reject any rules that apply only to women or men. They are proud to integrate aspects of masculinity and femininity, toughness and caring, into their own identities, reject expectations that force them into sex-specific roles, and want women and men’s lives converge so that everyone has the rights and opportunity to share the work of caring for others, and earning a living. What seems new in this generation is that this feminism isn’t a women’s only movement. These innovators are men as well as women. But some of those we interviewed went far beyond simply rejecting sexism, they rejected gender categories themselves, particularly the way social norms require us to present our bodies. These rebels reject the need for the category of woman or man. Some use the language of genderqueer, others simply say they are between the binary. A few are comfortable with remaining women but present themselves so androgynously as to be commonly presumed to be male. All reject the notion that women and men need to carry their bodies differently, or dress distinctly. These rebels have a tough time in everyday life. If you do not fit easily into a gender binary, you find yourself an outsider everywhere you turn, with no obvious restroom, no clothing designed for your anatomy, and no box to check on many surveys. While people with these problems are no doubt a very small proportion of American Millennials, they are having a tremendous cultural and political impact, with both California and Oregon now allowing people to choose a gender category other than woman or man.  These new laws provide more accurate identifications for genderqueer Millennials, as well as for intersex people. Rebels may be small in number but are clearly re-shaping cultural ideas about gender identity.

Of course, many of the young adults we interviewed were not so easily categorized. I call them straddlers because they have one foot in traditionalism and one in gender criticism.  It’s hard to know if this inconsistency is a moment in the lifecycle or will characterize their adult lives. After all, being a young adult today is confusing, and psychologists have labeled this stage of life emerging adulthood.  It is indeed a long and winding road, according to Jeffrey Arnett, from the late teens through the twenties to arrive at an adult identity and lifestyle. Many of the young people we interviewed held inconsistent  their ideas about themselves, their expectations for others, and how society should operate. They are as confused, and as in transition, as is the gender structure itself.

Millennials are a diverse group. When it comes to the gender structure, I identified four categories, traditionals, innovators, rebels, and straddlers, of Millennials with very different orientations. Does nothing, then, make this generation distinctive? Yes, some patterns do indeed provide a generational marker that transcends their differences. All these Millennials talked of women as employed workers whether they were mothers or not. The belief that the world of work and politics is for men, and the hearth and home the sole province of women is a 20th Century memory that now sits in the dustbin of history. Even women that endorse more freedom for men than women expect and desire to spend most of their adult lives in the labor force. But beyond the changing expectations for women’s lives, my research suggests the most defining feature of Millennials is their gender and sexual libertarianism.  Whatever they choose for themselves, they have no desire to impose their choices on anyone else.  What this means for America is that as the Millennials become the largest voting block, they are unlikely to cast their ballots for laws that require anyone to become just like them when it comes to gender or sexuality. And in that way, the Millennials may just take us to a more open and society.

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently she is a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK.   She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.

What’s happening with kids today?  A few years ago, liberals were confidently–  and conservatives dejectedly– predicting that millennials were blurring traditional distinctions between the sexes both in the workplace and at home, operating on “the distinctive and historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles in society. While 55% of the youth vote went to Hillary, that is five percent  less than voted for Obama.  More important, over a third of Millennials voted for Donald Trump despite his having bragged about harassing women on tape.   The #MeToo movement’s amazing popularity, with the women involved chosen as 2017 Person of the Year at Time Magazine,  suggests that feminism has risen again.  Is this feminism a youth movement or still led by Millennials’ mothers? Are young people on board with today’s feminism?

Some sociologists are arguing that today’s young people may be getting more conservative when it comes to gender equality.  They  noticed that between 1994 and 2014 high school seniors had become more traditional in their ideas about how to organize family life and decision making in the home (Pepin and Cotter 2017). Another report  published by the Council for Contemporary Families (Fate Dixon 2017), showed that similar slippage  between 1994 and 2014 but only for young men. This led to a New York Times headline asking worriedly whether millennial men now wanted stay-at-home wives, and a WA Post oped assuring conservatives  that the rediscovery of “gender specialization” is a natural development that reflects the way most families actually work, replacing the egalitarian feminist vision of sharing caregiving and breadwinning responsibilities equally.

So what are the Millennials’ gender politics?  My colleagues and I examined the results of a nationally representative sample, the General Social Survey, which asks the same questions every year, allowing us to track tends over time analyzing data from 1977 to 2016. What stood out to us was the virtual collapse of support for the traditional notion that women are suited only for motherhood and homemaking and should be “protected” – or excluded — from the public sphere. Our analysis suggests that the major change in our society is that those who used to believe women belonged in the home and did not deserve equality at work no longer believe that (or at least they no longer admit to doing so on surveys).  But those people still do believe that mothers should be primarily responsible for children.

The most important division today is not between feminists who champion women’s right to do everything in the public sphere that men do and traditionalists who endorse men’s dominance in the world of work and politics, something supported by most Americans for more than 150 years. Today’s debate is between the minority of people who believe mothers are primarily responsible for children and those who wholeheartedly support the sharing of duties in both private as well as public life. Even the most conservative Republicans accepted Sarah Palin’s right to be a vice-presidential candidate, although they did not necessarily accept the feminist premise that marriage itself should be egalitarian and husbands should be equally responsible for the housework and child care.

Where the Millennials stand on these questions is still being debated.  In my forthcoming book (January 2018, Oxford University Press,)  Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A  New Generations Wrestles with the Gender Structure I argue that the Millennials are a generation with as divided gender politics as the rest of the country. In interviews with 116 Millennials, I found that gender stereotypes, and discrimination still shape their experiences. The fear of being stigmatized for  challenging gender stereotypes is still widespread, but far more among young men than women.  Nearly everyone felt the powerful constraint of gender stereotypes when it came to how display their bodies, from the clothes they wore to the mannerisms they used, to what they weighed and where they had muscle.

Beyond that similarity, there was great diversity in how Millennials wrestled with the gender structure. But that diversity wasn’t really based on the sex of whom I was talking too. Some were very traditional, both women and men, especially those who subscribed to literalist faith traditions. They supported different norms, opportunities and constraints for men and women as family members. Others were innovators, feminists in belief. They talked the talk, and walked the walk or claimed to.What makes these innovators different from 2nd wave feminists is that this does not seem to be a women’s movement, but rather a feminist one that includes men. Perhaps even more distinct, an emergent trend in this generation is a small but vocal group of young adults who reject gender entirely, refusing to “do gender” in how they present their bodies.  Some adopt a genderqueer identity, between the binary of man and woman, and dress accordingly. I interviewed several female-bodied, genderqueer Millennials who felt their female body dressed in male clothes became androgynous. Others mixed feminine and masculine styles, such as male bodied person donning high heels with his beard, or a female bodied person wearing combat boots and short cropped hair,   long earrings and a feminine lacy scarf. There is no accurate count of how many such rebels exist nationally, but a new study from the Williams Institute, a think tank within the UCLA school of law, found that a quarter of California youth were gender non-conforming.

The majority of the young people I interviewed, however, were somewhat unsure about what gender means for them today.  Their answers were full of inconsistencies, as full of chaos as the world they are trying to navigate. Girls today are told they can be anything they want to be, but still feel pressure to be thin, accessorized and attractive to men. Perhaps this paradox between freedom of career choice and continued expectation to be eye candy  helps to explain the continued sexual harassment they face.  Gender equality has meant opportunity, including the opportunity to remain an object for male gaze. Boys continue to be stigmatized for doing anything that even hints at femininity, from playing with dolls, to studying to be a nurse. And yet, those same boys are expected to be involved fathers and nurturing fathers. The result is much confusion of just who expects what, and why.

Millennials are as divided in their beliefs about gender as is the rest of America.   But while some Millennials may be ambivalent about how far to push the gender revolution, this is not your grandparents’ ambivalence. My data suggest one more commonality among this generation.  Whatever they want for their own lives, they are not interested in forcing other people into gendered boxes, or condemning them for choices that violate traditional beliefs about what males and females should do. They seem to have an unprecedented acceptance of the choices other people make to either meet or reject the constraints of gender expectations. What was very clear is that even Millennials who make traditional choices are unlikely to accept a political agenda that penalizes people who do not.

Barbara J. Risman is a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.   She is currently a  2018 Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Durham University in the UK.

Our understandings of women’s sexuality is focused on love. We embrace the idea that women have sex when they’re in love, and when they are not in love they are disinterested in sexual activity. For women, the claim that they love someone validates their sexual behavior.

The women I spoke to while doing research for my recent book on women’s infidelity challenge this notion. These women approached cheating and their sex lives with pragmatism rather than sentimentality. The women spoke of vetting potential affair partners specifically to avoid emotional entanglements on the spectrum of “love.” They opted instead to seek out partners whose interest in an affair was purely sexual. Doing so permitted them to maintain appropriate boundaries that enabled them to keep their priorities aligned.

These women weren’t cheating to find a Prince Charming or a Mr. Right. They weren’t mate shopping, or looking for a love affair. They were looking for Mr. Now and Then. They were cheating to stay married.  So, their entire approach to vetting partners and designing their affairs was geared toward preserving their marriages and families.

Most of the women in the study–all of whom used the website Ashley Madison to seek out affairs–reported sexless marriages, or marriages in which the sex was orgasmless—at least for them. After enduring years of living in a sexual desert, the women made the decision to put up a profile online and seek out a like-minded partner. Many spoke of it as akin to finding a subcontractor, outsourcing a task to a temporary party. And that’s how they approached it. They weren’t looking for a permanent fixture in their lives. They were happy with their marriages with the exception of their sex lives. So, why replace the whole relationship when you can simply outsource the sex to someone whose sole purpose in your life is to provide sexual pleasure?

The appeal of Ashley Madison for these women was obvious. It is a site specifically for married people to find other married people for affairs. For a woman for whom the preservation of their marriage is their primary concern, a site like Ashley Madison is just another practical decision in her pragmatic approach to cheating. Rather than getting involved with someone in her social circle–a situation ripe for discovery–meeting someone online provided a level of protection for her “real life.” If she gets involved with a neighbor, for example, there are ample opportunities for shared social contacts to observe them interacting and pick up on subtle body language that could reveal their intimacy. But a partner met online is removed from her life. There is no risk of a casual neighborhood barbeque resulting in the upending of her marriage. Additionally, when the sexual relationship ends, the partner met online disappears from her life. No mess, no fuss. By contrast, the ending of a sexual affair with a neighbor means that man is still in her life, an ever-present threat of detection.

The vetting process involved frank and graphic discussions of compatibility. Rather than getting to know someone as a person before discovering their sexual preferences, skills, availability, size, or stamina was not well-matched, and then having to make a tough decision, the women opted to establish compatibility first. As one woman pointed out, “He can be a nice guy all day, but that doesn’t bring me to orgasm.” Thus, their process lacked sentimentality, and instead focused on skills and availability. The concept of their affair partners as subcontractors is evident here as well. When you are outsourcing a job, you hire solely based on how well the candidate can meet your job demands, and not based upon how much you like them. These women employed the same strategy.

With that same mindset, many women reported maintaining multiple affair partners simultaneously. As they pointed out, they had already learned from marriage that relying on one person to meet all of your needs was a recipe to be let down. So, they kept multiple affairs going at once to ensure their satisfaction was never dependent upon a single partner. They spoke of this candidly, referring to those men as a “roster,” “herd,” or “team.” They described their practice as “keeping the candy jar full.” There was nothing sentimental or sappy in their perceptions of their practices with regard to their participation in affairs.

Matter-of-factness punctuated these women’s affairs. Avoiding “love” in their affairs, partnering with men detached from their “real” lives, and matching only with compatible partners, these women focused solely on their mission, which was to have satisfying sex. These women’s experiences challenge our commonsense understandings of women’s sexuality and women’s infidelity. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider our ideas about how women regard sex, how they partner, and how they manage sexual relationships that don’t meet their expectations.

Alicia M. Walker is an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University, and the author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity. Follow her on Twitter at @AliciaMWalker1