Image by Manuel Alejandro Leon from Pixabay

The anniversary of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the US this March has brought many opportunities to reflect on where we were a year ago. For me, I distinctly remember just completing an invigorating keynote speech at the “Advancing the Village: Addressing disparities and connecting the dots in maternal mental health” conference hosted by Philadelphia Maternal and Infant Community Action Network. The talk was on the urgent need to address structural racism in perinatal health, and being in a multi-disciplinary, multi-sector space that centered the voices of Black birthing people and other birthing people of color, for me, signaled a much-needed shift in how to address this issue. Seeing birthing people in their entirety was a consistent thread throughout the day of speeches, panels, and networking opportunities. The connection between this work focusing on Philadelphia, PA and the work that I had been participating in through the Bridging the Chasm (BtC) collaborative at the national level was palpable and even with the uncertainty of the pandemic looming, I was excited about the way forward.

BtC is a national collaborative convened to address the longstanding fragmentation of women’s health care that consistently prevents women and birthing people from maintaining the care needed between pregnancy and postpartum to avoid long-term chronic conditions. In a two-year, consensus building process, the BtC collaborative brought together women, providers, researchers, advocates, and other policymakers to develop a comprehensive agenda to address this fragmentation, which was published with an accompanying commentary on International Women’s Day this past March. The six points include:

  1. Eliminating institutional and interpersonal racism and bias as a requirement for accreditation of health care institutions
  2. Providing infrastructure support for community based organizations,
  3. Extending holistic team-based care to the postpartum year and beyond,
  4. Extending Medicaid coverage in conjunction with new quality and pay-for-performance metrics to link maternity care to primary care
  5. Developing systems to preserve maternal narratives and data across providers, and
  6. Aligning research with women’s lived experience.

The release of the BtC policy agenda comes at an ideal moment. The tragedy of COVID-19’s impact on Black women amplifies the already disproportionate burden of adverse health that they bear, including 3-4x higher rates of maternal mortality and 20-70% higher rates of adverse cardiovascular events during and after pregnancy compared to their white counterparts. Evidence is clear: structural racism distributes disease across inequitable racial hierarchies. The agenda’s multi-pronged approach speaks to dismantling the key structures upholding these inequitable systems for Black women. However, the most important aspect of the BtC report and visioning process is how we explicitly center racism as a thread across action areas. Even beyond the first two strategic areas that explicitly address racism, all other priority areas center the role of racism in the design and discussion of recommendations. Given that structural racism is an emergent property arising from the interconnected relationships between institutions and the policies that guide them, addressing it requires a comprehensive approach that accounts for the implicit and explicit ways in which it exists.

Achieving the agenda laid out by the BtC Collective and dismantling the structural racism at the root of women’s health inequities over the life course is imperative and achievable. Initiatives such as this week’s Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17, 2021) create a clear vision of how this work should be done. However, moving forward will also require us to bridge one more chasm. That is the chasm between our intentions and our impact. The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by racial uprisings in response to continued police brutality against Black Americans. The current moment of reflection has also turned an important lens toward how the intention to dismantle racism, especially for those at the intersection of multiple identities of privilege, does not always align with the impact needed to change the system. As researchers, providers, practitioners, and advocates doing we must do the work to bridge this chasm if we are to truly advance toward a society that allows Black women and women of color to thrive.

Dr. Irene Headen, Ph.D., M.S.,  is an Assistant Professor of Black Health in the Department of Community Health and Prevention at the Drexel Dornsife School of Public Health. Her research investigates the social and structural determinants of racial/ethnic disparities in adverse pregnancy outcomes, with a specific focus on neighborhood environment. She can be reached at ieh27@drexel.edu

Image by Donna Hovey from Pixabay

Reposted with permission from the Gender & Society blog.

What do we miss when we don’t bring an intersectional lens to analyses of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we, as women of color, occupy crucial spaces and confront oppressive systems in multiple spheres of our lives on a daily basis.

Gendered and racialized inequities have unfolded in front of ours eyes, bringing to bare the harsh and unjust realities that many women of color experience. These challenges have not changed due to the current pandemic; many of these inequities have simply been amplified.  In our recent article in Gender and Society we suggest that we must look at racism and sexism in tandem to understand the root cause of health problems and inequities facing women of color in the pandemic. We focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on three (3) important settings occupied by women of color: home, health care, and work.

WOMEN OF COLOR AS DEVALUED IN THE HOME. 

With shelter in place orders starting in March 2020, home was presumed one of the safest places for people to be to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus. Despite home being a safe place for many, this privilege did not apply to all. Reports of domestic violence increased dramatically, often in the presence of children and other family members. Talha Burki reports that “Some 243 million women are thought to have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point over the last 12 months”. These instances will have lasting impacts, introducing a number of public health implications. Even in homes without physical and mental abuse, home may not be a space of refuge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, women, especially women of color have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to an overburden of labor in the home. This labor includes traditional household duties (i.e. cleaning) in addition to homeschooling responsibilities. These added expectations coupled with social isolation and resource insecurity foster an unhealthy living experience. Finally, women of color have also experienced increases in housing insecurity and homelessness due to financial constraints (i.e. loss of income) and abuse.

WOMEN OF COLOR AS DISPOSABLE IN WORK SETTINGS. 

It is evident that the pandemic has impacted jobs and employment. For example, we prioritized and encouraged workers in positions deemed essential to work outside of their homes. However, being essential was far less than equitable. For women of color, being essential did not mean increased pay, benefits, and respect; being essential often constituted increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and working under even more stressful conditions. Women of color in health care make up a large percentage of the COVID-19 deaths. For example, nurses of Filipino descent account for a shocking 31.5% of the workforce’s COVID-19 deaths, yet make up only 4% of the workforce. For women of color in non-essential positions, loss of job security, loss of income, and loss of health insurance were prominent concerns that have a direct impact on one’s physical and mental health.

WOMEN OF COLOR AS DISMISSED IN HEALTH CARE SETTINGS. 

There is a long history of women of color being mistreated, dismissed and ignored in health care settings. This has been no different during the pandemic, as we are presumed incompetent, even if we are in positions of perceived power and privilege. For example, many are again outraged after Dr. Susan Moore, a Black woman, filmed herself in the hospital and reporting on mistreatment and the rush to send her home: “This is how black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves”. Sadly, she died at another hospital after advocates pushed for her transfer—though perhaps “murdered by the system” is a more accurate description. Unfortunately, this example is one of many and we continue to see occurrences of neglect and silencing of Black women in health care settings. Access to quality and equitable health care disparities are visible on a daily basis and have been brought to light during this pandemic with testing, treatment and now vaccines.

We as a community should continue to advocate for women of color in home, work, and health care environments. We challenge scholars, advocates, journalists, and wider publics worldwide to consider how we have embedded both gender and racial inequities into the very fabric of our society and the perpetually negative implications that has for women of color.  The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed already stark inequality… what’s our next move?

Dr. Whitney Pirtle (sociology) and Tashelle Wright (public health) are researchers at the University of California, Merced (UCM). Their most recent work takes an intersectional approach to exploring and analyzing preventable health disparities among Black women and women of color. Pirtle and Wright address the implications of racism and sexism on women of color during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Whitney Pirtle was recently recognized as one of the newest John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chairs and Tashelle Wright was recently awarded a UCM Black Research Fellowship.  You can find Dr. Pirtle on Twitter at @thePhDandMe and Tashelle Wright @WrightTashelle.

Reposted with permission from the Gender & Society Blog

The closure of schools and childcare centers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified pressure on U.S. parents already struggling to balance employment and family caregiving in a country that provides little social support. The move of schooling and childcare into the home – along with the still-unfolding effects on women’s employment – has raised questions about the long-term consequences for gender equality in the U.S.

Some are optimistic that these large-scale disruptions – which, for some, have included new opportunities to work from home – offer a chance to increase gender equality in the division of care and domestic work. As remote work decreases the need for “face time” at the office, classic rationales justifying an unequal division of domestic labor may also recede. Others, however, remain skeptical, noting that if the increased unpaid work falls disproportionately on mothers, the loss of childcare and on-site schooling will only exacerbate existing gender inequalities, especially given women’s greater risk of job loss in the current “shesession.” Additionally, even if remote work offers an opportunity to increase gender equality for remote workers, access to this arrangement remains a largely white-collar privilege that limits such potential gains to a privileged few.

In our study, published in Gender & Society, we ask how families experienced and responded to sudden changes in paid and unpaid work in the early months of the pandemic, focusing in particular on how these experiences varied by parents’ ability to work remotely. Analyzing nationally representative survey data from 478 partnered parents, collected in April 2020, we examine how the loss of childcare and in-person schooling affected the division of housework, childcare, and children’s remote learning as well as how pressured parents felt about the sudden responsibility for their children’s schooling.

Findings

Our results indicate that among couples with children, the consequences of these pandemic-induced shifts in schooling and childcare largely depended not just on individuals’ own work circumstances but on their partners’ as well.

In families where both parents worked from home, the response to the increased domestic workload was generally egalitarian – mothers and fathers alike reported almost identical increases in housework and childcare and in responsibility for housework and child care as well.  Mothers and fathers in households with two teleworkers also reported feeling nearly equal amounts of pressure about their children’s schooling.  Even in the scenario where both parents worked from home, however, women still bore disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work since similar increases left pre-pandemic inequality intact. Mothers were thus more than twice as likely as fathers to say they were primarily responsible for housework and childcare during the pandemic and over 1.5 times more likely to report taking on the bulk of managing their children’s home learning.

Disparities in housework, childcare, and home education were even greater when only one spouse worked remotely. When mothers worked from home alone, they were more likely than mothers in dual remote-worker couples to have increased their housework time, absorbing the additional domestic work. In contrast, when fathers alone worked from home, they reported far less involvement in domestic work than either mothers working from home alone or fathers in dual-remote working couples.

When domestic workloads increased and neither parent worked from home, mothers mostly picked up the slack – especially when it came to housework and home learning. Among couples not working remotely, mothers were twice as likely as fathers to have increased their household time and were three times as likely to report being primarily responsible for housework. These mothers were also seven times as likely as fathers to say they did the majority of children’s home learning and, consequently, were twice as likely to report feeling pressure related to their children’s remote education.

The takeaway

We cannot yet know the longer-term consequences of the rise in remote work post-pandemic. Taken together, however, these findings suggest that gender remains a powerful force in organizing domestic work despite the greater flexibility that working remotely allows. In the most optimistic scenario, where both partners worked remotely, the gender division of labor remained relatively stable with both mothers and fathers contributing more to housework and childcare in the wake of school and childcare closures. In couples where neither parent worked from home or where mothers alone did so, mothers became the stopgap who absorbed most of the additional caring and schooling of children. For reasons that need greater exploration, fathers who work from home were generally better able to protect themselves from the incursions of unpaid care work. Going forward, our findings suggest that whether remote work fosters more equality or exacerbates preexisting inequalities will depend on the varied forms it takes in families.

Link to full article: Gender, Parenting, and The Rise of Remote Work During the Pandemic: Implications for Domestic Inequality in the United States – Allison Dunatchik, Kathleen Gerson, Jennifer Glass, Jerry A. Jacobs, Haley Stritzel, 2021 (sagepub.com)

Allison Dunatchik is a PhD student in Sociology and Demography at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research centers on gender, work and family, with a focus on how public policies affect gender and class inequalities inside and outside of the household.

Kathleen Gerson is Collegiate Professor of Arts & Science and Professor of Sociology at New York University. She is the author of “The Science and Art of Interviewing” and “The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family,” among other books. She is currently writing a book on the collision of work and caretaking in contemporary America.

Jennifer Glass is the Centennial Commission Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology of the University of Texas–Austin, and Executive Director of the Council on Contemporary Families. Her recent research explores how work–family public policies improve family well-being, and why mothers continue to face a motherhood pay penalty as their income generating responsibility for their children grows.

Jerry A. Jacobs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the co-founder and first president of the Work and Family Researchers Network. Jacobs has written extensively about women’s careers and work-family issues. His six books include The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (2004) with Kathleen Gerson and the Changing Face of Medicine: Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care in America (2008) with Ann Boulis.

Haley Stritzel is a PhD candidate in Sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Haley uses a range of quantitative and demographic research methods to study the family and neighborhood contexts of child and adolescent health. Her dissertation focuses on the geographic distribution and correlates of foster care entries associated with parental substance use.

Reposted with permission from the UT Austin Population Research Center.

Children’s health disparities have been well-documented across wealthy nations, including in the United States. Children in well-off families experience better health than those in economically disadvantaged families. These disparities widen between infancy and adolescence and if not substantially improved, they might compound to even larger inequalities in adulthood. However, the rates at which health disparities widen as children grow up vary substantially across societies, including rich countries.

Work-family conflict is consistently linked to declines in parental health and well-being, which in turn can deteriorate well-being throughout the family. In contrast, workers with ample paid time off for parenting, illness and/or vacation are better able to attend to their children’s needs. Indeed, flexible work arrangements and paid time off help to reduce parents’ daily stress. Workers who control their own schedules are better able to mesh their children’s school, sleep, and play time with their own work schedule, enabling closer supervision of children’s schoolwork, friends, and leisure activities.

While policy mandates that support reconciling conflicts between the demands of work and those of family – also known as work-family reconciliation policies – cannot eliminate all the financial difficulties of economic disadvantage, they can quite possibly provide more opportunities for quality parenting, reduce family or marital strain, and lessen economic burdens by reducing the need to take unpaid time off.

These work-family reconciliation policies – specifically parental leave, work schedule flexibility or control, and combined paid sick and vacation leave – are likely to reduce children’s health disparities. However, existing evidence is focused on workplace interventions or single countries such as the United States or Norway, leaving unclear whether national work-family policy mandates might make a difference. In many countries, including the United States, policy mandates are limited or completely absent. This makes families rely on their employers to deliver work-family support. Because these benefits are market-driven, they tend to go to advantaged families, thus widening gaps in children’s health in the absence of policy intervention.

National policy mandates may serve to benefit disadvantaged families the most by “leveling the playing field” among working parents. Paid leaves and work flexibility enable parents to continue working and supporting their children both financially and emotionally. Conversely, when mandated work-family reconciliation support is absent, families must draw on their own economic resources to parent effectively, leaving disadvantaged families behind.

State subsidization of childcare is a cash transfer policy lever that might also impact health disparities between rich and poor children. However, because parents utilize childcare in such differing ways depending on center quality, proximity, availability, and other factors, cost subsidies alone may not make a significant difference in narrowing children’s health disparities across developed nations. Moreover, while cash transfers may lower family economic strain in the short-term, they do not impact parental working conditions or hours, nor are they likely to facilitate bonds between parents and children in the same way that extended time off work might allow.

For these reasons, the authors hypothesize that children’s health disparities between disadvantaged and advantaged families will be lessened significantly in countries with more generous work-family reconciliation policies whereas cash transfer policies will not be associated with reduced disparities in children’s health.

In order to estimate the impacts of work-family reconciliation and cash transfer mandates in reducing children’s health disparities, the authors analyze child-level data from the 2006 and 2010 rounds of the World Health Organization Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study. The HBSC is a crossnational, representative survey focused on the health and well-being of early adolescent girls and boys ages 11, 13, and 15 in 20 industrialized nations: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States. Policy data are gathered from a variety of sources including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) database.

The authors analyze the impact of three policies on inequalities in young adolescents’ psychological health complaints, life satisfaction, and general health: 1) paid vacation and sick leave, 2) work flexibility, and 3) paid maternity leave. Based on the assumption that policies may operate more effectively as a complementary package of resources that consistently increase time and resources for parenting across childhood, the authors also analyze a comprehensive policy index based on the three policies listed above.

KEY FINDINGS
Across 20 OECD countries, economically disadvantaged children report more psychological health complaints, lower life satisfaction, and worse general health compared to their more advantaged peers.

  • This inequality in children’s health and well-being may be linked to national work-family policy. For example, the United States scores lowest on work-family reconciliation mandates and shows the greatest inequality in children’s self-rated health.

Across all levels of disadvantage, higher amounts of paid vacation and sick leave, work flexibility, and a comprehensive work-family policy index are all associated with better self-rated health for children. Work flexibility is also associated with higher life satisfaction.

► At the same time, these country-level policies show stronger links to the health of children within disadvantaged families, thereby reducing inequalities in children’s health and well-being.

  • For paid vacation/sick leave, the disadvantage gap in self-rated health is reduced by 69%. See Figure, below.
  • For the country policy index, the gap is reduced by 60%.
  • For work flexibility, the gap is reduced by 59%.

► Similar though weaker trends for life satisfaction were found, with the gap in children’s life satisfaction reduced by 25% in countries with the most generous work-family reconciliation policies.

► Notably, cash transfer programs, including family benefits spending and childcare costs, were not associated with the size of children’s health disparities across OECD nations, suggesting the unique importance of work-family reconciliation policies.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Taken together, these results suggest the singular value of better national work-family accommodations, rather than any generic cash allowances, for lessening inequalities in children’s health and human capital development. Because disadvantaged adolescents gain more well-being linked to work-family reconciliation than do advantaged adolescents, national work-family policies may be especially beneficial for children whose parents have less power to bargain for paid time off and consistent work schedules and hours. These policies, in turn, help to level the playing field among working parents and reduce the negative impact of economic disadvantage on children’s health.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2C HD042849) and T32HD007081, Training Program in Population Studies, both 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.

Matthew A. Andersson (Matthew_Andersson@baylor.edu) is an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University; Michael A. Garcia is a PhD student in sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin; and Jennifer Glass is the Barbara Bush Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology and a faculty research associate in the Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

For all its misery, the pandemic has offered some unexpected gifts: cleaner air, quality time spent with dogs, and, not least, the rise of online romance. Although meeting online eclipsed other ways to start a relationship as early as 2013, the pandemic cemented online dating as the most common gateway to romance.

Given the popularity of online dating and increased popular support for the Black Lives Matters movement, what does this mean for race and relationships?  While neighborhoods, schools, places of worship and other social spaces are still highly racially segregated, the digital dating market is one of the few spaces where daters have direct access to millions of others of different racial backgrounds.  Online dating has the potential to be a powerful agent for social change.

Yet in our book The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance, we find that the commodification of people in online dating markets makes it efficient and convenient to categorize—and exclude—others by their race. Every dater has a unique story to tell, yet one thing was clear as we teased out daters’ millions of interactions on a major online-dating platform and interviewed daters around the country: for all daters, straight or gay, race plays a more fundamental role in our roman­tic lives than any other social identity.

Race determines how daters approach or avoid others. It drives anxieties about the “real reasons” others pursue or reject them. It confuses. It frustrates. And some of the most racially-progressive white daters we interviewed were far less open-minded when it came to their dating choices. Over and over, the evidence shows that white daters have the most dating options, and racial minorities the least. A Caribbean-American man told us he envies the relative ease that white men enjoy on dating apps:

“They’re easily able to date faster than men who are of color. It’s a fact. Women don’t want to step up to the plate, especially white women. They’re so ‘liberal,’ ‘they’re fighting for my rights’– blah, blah, blah. They speak about ‘white privilege,’ blah, blah and all this bullshit.”

While there are many exceptions to the rule, statistically speaking, Black daters face the most pronounced exclusion in online dating, regardless of sexual identity. Race combined with gender is a force multiplier of this dynamic, earning white men universally high interest from not just white women, but also Asian, Latina and black women. Black women experience the most frequent rejections from everyone but other black daters. A dater we interviewed described being simultaneously overlooked and yet harshly scrutinized as a black woman:

Online dating makes me feel like … I’m invisible and hyper-visible. …It really is very much a White women’s market. …There’s so many different stereotypes about Black women that I feel like come to play in how people approach me and I’m guessing other Black women on these platforms. … Like, ‘I’m giving you traps and you should take it.’ Or, like, ‘you’re extra sexual and promiscuous.’ It kind of sucked, especially when you knew all these women, specifically White women, [were] talking about, ‘I have so many messages, and I just can’t do all this.’ And I’m like, “I got two messages today and one of them asked me if I like White chocolate.”

Anti-blackness was a pervasive theme running through our analyses and interviews, and we also found widespread preference by daters of all races for lighter skin tones among daters within the same race. While our book situates the popularity of online dating within the evolution of racialized patterns of courtship, it also finds that online racial discrimination is itself a distinct manifestation of racism. Even though deeply rooted in the past, this new form of racism interacts with fast-evolving technologies in ways that produce experiences and consequences distinct from traditional racism.

It is striking that dating is one of the only contexts left in modern-day U.S. society where it remains acceptable to articulate racial preferences. In education, employment, housing, and lending, racial preferences have been recognized as not only legally but also morally wrong. Yet racial categories are explicitly and unapologetically part of the selection process of many dating websites and apps. Some of the most popular dating sites ask users to specify their racial preferences in their profiles and codify them with partner searches filtered by race.

In our book we connect the evolution of online dating today to the inven­tion of dating in the early twentieth century—a new form of courtship that diminished familial and state control over intimate choice. This and the growing emphasis of individualism together paved the way for present-day acceptance of racial discrimination in dating.

As a form of courtship, dating originated in the 1900s just as the U.S. racial categories we know today were being solidified and regulated through laws and everyday practice. This meant that the birth of individual preference and mod­ern notions of romance became deeply imprinted with racialized desire and calculus.  Intimate racial sorting went from being a publicly regulated practice through anti-miscegenation policy to a modern day personal choice, one that has become obscured from the public.

Clearly, racial discrimination in dating is different from other forms of discrimination, one that could never be regulated by the kinds of policies that we’ve adopted to remedy unequal access to housing, jobs, and educa­tion.  And, indeed, for some ethnic minorities, dating within one’s own race means something very different than it does for whites, symbolizing a political and cultural choice against a backdrop of racial marginalization and racially-driven sexual harassment online.

Our intent is not to judge individuals for their personal dating preferences.  We are interested instead in the societal language of individual choice that allows daters to view intimate racial preferences as benign, natural, and idiosyncratic (like “preferring anchovies on a pizza,” as one dater described it). Yet these “random” preferences map precisely onto existing racial hierarchies that have been identified and condemned in other spheres.

White Americans are barely able to acknowledge the role of racial inequality in our public institutions; acknowledging that it also plays a role in our private, most intimate lives is even harder to admit. Many daters told us that they can’t help who they are attracted to, that their choices are simply a matter of individual taste. But if intimate preferences are so individu­alistic and mysterious, why are they so similar and predictable? Our analyses showed over and over that race is a crucial predictor of mate selection, carrying the boundaries of our racially-segregated past into the era of personal choice.

Dating companies could be a force for powerful positive change by doing away with racial filters, as some apps recently did in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.  And yet it’s complicated: the women of color we interviewed frequently told us that that filters were one way they could protect themselves from frequent exposure to sexual fetishization and even outright racial hostility. But platforms could be tweaked to create a sorting process that decenters rather than foregrounds the importance of race, creating alternative designs that emphasize shared interests and biography more than photographic data. They can make transparent the invisible role of algorithms in their matching design and they can intentionally disrupt the reinforcement of inadvertent of race bias that is often built into these algorithms based on past user behavior.

Ultimately, however, it is our own behavior that has influenced the design of these applications. As it turns out, our race preferences are profitable.

We may not have intentionally absorbed societal racial preferences, but we can be intentional about acknowledging them and deciding whether to perpetuate or dis­rupt them.  As we fight for racial justice in “public life,” it’s worth remembering that every click and swipe, no matter how trivial it seems, has last­ing implications for racial division in the United States.

Celeste Vaughan Curington is Assistant Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University. Jennifer H. Lundquist is Professor of Sociology and Senior Associate Dean in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ken-Hou Lin is Associate Professor of Sociology and Population Research Center Associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

Image by René Bittner from Pixabay

Despite the important temporary relief provided to many families by the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided $1,200 to qualifying adults and $500 to their dependent children, millions of American families are experiencing financial hardship as we enter the new year. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey reveal that as of December 2020, U.S. households with children continued to face serious financial challenges in meeting basic needs:

  • 55.7% of families have experienced a reduction in household employment income since March 13, 2020.
  • 23.1% of households with children describe paying for household expenses as “very difficult” and an additional 22.3% report that it is “somewhat difficult.”
  • In surveys conducted between December 9 and December 21, slightly more than half of U.S. households with children reported food insufficiency in the previous 7 days—a 12 percentage point rise relative to pre-pandemic times. Of these more than 40 million families, 34.6% said that their children sometimes or often did not eat enough because food was unaffordable.
  • 11.6% of Americans disclosed that they were late on mortgage payments—a figure more than double that of households without children. The situation is even worse for families who rent: 24.5% reported making late rental payments and 19.4% indicated they had no confidence that they would be able to pay next month’s rent. Of those behind on housing payments, more than 52% of renters and nearly 19% of homeowners indicated that it was somewhat or very likely that they would be evicted or experience foreclosure in the next two months.

In an earlier report, CCF noted how the chronic household stress associated with such economic scarcity and insecurity has been shown to pose long-term risks to children, including deficits in cognitive and behavioral functioning and mental and physical health that extend well into adulthood. It is clear that the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which authorized $600 payments to eligible adults and each of their qualifying children, will fall far short of improving the economic condition of families as COVID-19 cases continue to surge and job losses continue to hit mothers hard. Although both stimulus packages have provided much-needed relief, American families need more support.

Lawrence Stacey is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University, and can be contacted at stacey.37@osu.edu. Kristi Williams, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University, and President of the Board of Directors of the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at williams.2339@osu.edu

When parents experience racial discrimination do their parenting behaviors differ, and does that influence their teens? A new study in the journal Family Relations takes on the question of the effects of stresses related to race on youth – but focuses the question on stressors experienced by parents. The parenting of African American teens has been a focus of prior research on teen’s academic achievement and success, and positive as well as risk behavior. Some of the existing research has included a focus on parents’ experiences of discrimination, and how that shapes their parenting.

What prior studies haven’t done is consider how parents may anticipate discrimination or experience it vicariously, and whether that plays a role in parenting. This new study shows that personally experiencing discrimination is important, yet that racial discrimination doesn’t need to be individually experienced to influence parenting and teens’ wellbeing. In particular, when mothers witnessed or heard others’ stories of racial discrimination (which the authors call vicarious discrimination), there was an impact on teens.

Specifically, the study found that mothers who anticipated racial discrimination were more involved and vigilant with their teens, which was associated with better adjustment for their kids. For mothers who experienced vicarious discrimination, their teens had more problem behaviors – yet at the same time they were also more involved and vigilant as parents, which was related to lower internalizing problems and higher academic persistence among their teens.

These findings underscore that racial discrimination does not need to be personally or directly experienced in order to influence families. Just hearing about the discrimination of others can affect both parents as well as their kids. This is an important topic for future research, but also suggests that for teachers or counselors that work with families, racial stress doesn’t have to be a specific event to have consequences. A focus on a family’s exposure to racial stress – and their strategies to cope with it – could help parents and adolescents better manage these stressors. With so much attention to examples of racial discrimination circulating in the media, this new study shows that supporting African American parents is more important than ever.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by an infrastructure grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, P2C HD042849) awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Kathleen Holloway is a Doctoral Candidate in Human Development and Family Sciences at University of Texas at Austin. Fatima Varner is an Assistant Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at University of Texas at Austin. Stephen T. Russell is Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professor in Child Development and Director of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Texas at Austin.

In our new book, Living on the Edge: An American Generation’s Journey through the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, 2021), we follow parents born around 1900 as they navigated what Robert Gordon (2016) has called a “century of revolutionary change.” Using data from the lifelong Berkeley Study, which started in the 1920s, we set out to examine how the rapid social changes of the twentieth century were expressed in the lives of these individuals and families. This task seemed especially relevant in our own era of accelerating change and discord.

The lives of this rarely studied 1900 generation were marked by migration, two world wars, great swings in economic depression and prosperity, and unimaginable inventions and advances in science and technology. As one participant said in the 1980s, “Never again will history equal the rate of change of this period: from covered wagons to the moon!”

But what could we possibly have in common with a generation of people born 120 years ago?

A lot, actually.

The 1900 generation is what Leonard Cain (1967) called a “hinge generation,” or bridge, between past and present. Their lives were drastically different from the generations before them, and they wrestled with and instigated changes that echo through later generations. In fact, in reading the first-hand accounts of their lives, we were often struck by how modern their voices sounded.

Our research reveals many examples of their status as a hinge generation – including profound changes in the nature of work, the growing separation of workplaces and homes, the expansion of higher education, married women’s increasing labor force participation, and greater egalitarianism in marriage.

And perhaps nowhere is their hinge generation status more apparent than in the realm of parenting.

Today’s intensive parenting, it turns out, is not so new. It is founded on an approach underway since the 1920s.

This can be seen in the middle-class parents of the 1900 generation, who were at the forefront of a deep cultural shift in parenting:

* They were the first generation of parents to see revolutionary advances in the amount and quality of childrearing advice. Science related to child development emerged in the early 1920s, along with a commitment to conducting research to serve the development of children and families.

* To them, parenting was a skill to be learned and mastered. They provided opportunities to their children that they did not themselves have: music, art, and dancing lessons; clothes and toys; better nutrition, education, and health care; more involved parents, less troubled family relationships, and greater economic security.

Several parents said that their generation had actively decided to have fewer children in order to give them more. As a middle-class father noted:

Parents used to have an easier time raising children because they didn’t pay so much attention to them … They didn’t give them all kinds of special lessons and worry over their adjustments. Our children have been tied up in one thing or another ever since they were born.

* One downside to being better schooled in parenting was that they were more worried about their children’s outcomes and their own incompetence as parents. A middle-class mother observed:

There has been so much propaganda on parents, to point out our psychological responsibilities, that we are always overanxious. Previously, parents just let children grow up and hoped they turned out for the best; if they didn’t, that was due to the child. Whereas parents of our generation worry over what we have done wrong.

* Because knowledge of child development was growing, couples were more conscious of the role of fathers in the development of their children. Many of these men wanted to become better fathers and husbands.

* They struggled with how to raise kids in a new world that offered greater mobility, plentiful temptations, and a compromised ability to exert parental influence.  This was especially true in wartime, as the Berkeley parents were raising adolescents in the mobilized Bay Area. The super-charged nature of life left parents worried about youth delinquency and sexual promiscuity, especially with so many troops coming into train stations and the port. They also speak often of the moral threat of “the movies” and radio.

* Parents’ greater knowledge left them aware of the inherently ambiguous and uncertain nature of their role. Previous generations were so sure about what was “right” and consequently trained youngsters early to fit in with parents’ demands. This might not have been good for children’s development, but it was easier. In the words of one mother:

Everybody was more comfortable in knowing precisely where the lines were drawn, and now, neither the parents nor the children know.

* Parents and children alike were more open and willing to share with one another, shrinking the “generation gap.” Greater equality in the parent-child relationship brought new challenges and benefits. As one parent noted:

Today’s children may openly criticize their parents, but they don’t pile up their resentments!

The Berkeley Study archives allowed us to discover that the seeds of today’s child-focused parenting can be found in the markedly different strategies of parents a century ago.

This hinge generation reminds us that many of things we assume are unique to our own times are shared with and built upon the ideas and actions of people long before us.

Richard A. Settersten Jr. is the Barbara E. Knudson Endowed Chair and Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at Oregon State University.  Glen H. Elder Jr. is the Odum Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at UNC Chapel Hill.  Lisa D. Pearce is the Zachary Taylor Smith Distinguished Term Professor of Sociology at UNC Chapel Hill.

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

We’re all familiar with the common trope of the nagging wife who is never pleased. The media offers frequent depictions of husbands in fear of upsetting their wives or failing to please them, and enduring their nagging. Articles abound advising wives to be kinder and more pleasant. A 2014 study about nagging  found men “especially vulnerable to” the impact of their wives’ nagging, including a 50-100% higher risk of mortality when compared to those living nag-free lives .

Why do we position women as “naggers,” demanding,” and “impossible to please”? The answer lies in the social expectations of gender. Cultural expectations demand that women perform the bulk of household management and housework.

How does that lead to nagging?

Diane Boxer’s 2002 work found that women tend to nag about the completion of household chores. She explains that women nag due to their lack of power. Meaning, if the person responsible for the household chores possessed more power, there would exist no need for nagging. Why not? Because in that scenario, the “nagee” would simply honor the request at first ask. The very fact that women must nag to get tasks completed illustrates their lack of power to provoke their spouse to do chores at first ask. Boxer explains that this lack of power functions as the key to why women tend to nag. Tannen (1990) explained that men likely resist doing the task at first ask because they want to imagine that they are “doing it of [their] own free will”. Masculinity demands that men dislike having anyone tell them what to do, “especially a woman.” Thus, gendered power dynamics within marriages create the situation where women nag.

When considering the narratives of the men in my book, Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity, this understanding proves useful. These men internalized their wives’ nagging as evidence of her unhappiness and disappointment in him. However, they failed to see the connection between their refusal to complete a task at first ask and the resulting nagging. Nor did they look around and determine what needed to be done without being asked, a situation where the chore completion would, in fact, be of their own free will.

While it’s easy to blame these men, we must remember that the system oppresses all of us; it just looks different depending upon our particular statuses. Both these men and their primary partners function under this dynamic, and both suffer as a result. These men exist under a patriarchal system that teaches them to resist having anyone tell them what to do, especially women. They don’t just leave that socialization at the altar. They bring that tendency into their marriages and romantic partnerships.

Okay, that’s interesting, but how does that lead cheating?

Hochschild’s concept of the “economy of gratitude,” which refers to the central question of who is showing gratitude to whom and for what?, proves useful here. Under the economy of gratitude, if one partner performs a domestic task that they experience as a personal burden, and then they perceive a lack of gratitude from the partner who requested the labor, feelings of dissatisfaction and inequity may ensure.

These men internalized the combination of their wives’ nagging about domestic chores coupled with what the men perceived as their wives’ failure to express gratitude for having completed the chores as evidence of their disappointment in them.

No one likes to feel taken for granted. Did their wives actually fail to show gratitude for their labor? Impossible to know. Maybe the wives failed to show appreciation because they had to nag to get the men to complete the chore. Maybe they felt no need to express gratitude because the chore benefitted both parties. Maybe they did show gratitude, but the men failed to internalize it as such.

What matters is that these men believed their primary partners lacked appreciation for their contributions to the household labor, and thus believed their wives to be “impossible to please.” And then the men internalized both the nagging and lack of gratitude as evidence that they disappoint their primary partners. The men experience this dynamic as both upsetting and mysterious. They assume some failure of theirs as the root cause, but internalize that as a failure of character, manliness, and worthiness as a man.

Were men cheating because their wives nagged them about household chores? Not directly. However, men repeatedly asserted their belief that they exist as a disappointment to their wives, that their own lack of adequate masculinity provoked this disappointment, and that they deeply needed a female romantic partner who expressed enthusiasm and desire for them. Men’s conviction that their wives lacked interest in them as people, as partners, and as lovers originated from their reaction to their wives’ nagging about and lack of appreciation for their completion of household chores. Thus, their participation in affairs exists at least in part as an outgrowth of gendered power dynamics.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author ofChasing Masculinity: Men, Validation and Infidelity and  The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity. Follow her on twitter at @AliciaMWalker1

Nell Frizzell is a journalist and author who writes about gender, culture, art, and politics. She has written for The Guardian, VICE, The Telegraph, Elle, Grazia, The Pool, The Observer, Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Red and Time Out. She is also a Vogue columnist, writing about motherhood under the title Bringing Up Baby. Here, I ask her about her new book, released today: The Panic Years: Dates, Doubts, and the Mother of All Decisions.  You can find out more about Nell at nellfrizzell.com,

KM: Beyond the biological component, are there other ways that you feel like women uniquely feel the pressure from society to have a baby by a certain time and why do you think this is? What do you think society and public policy – and perhaps the men in women’s lives – can do to ease the burden of this pressure and support women both while they are deciding whether or not to have a baby and then once they actually do start child-rearing?

NF: I am amazed by how ubiquitous the expectation that girls will have babies still is today. My 16-year-old sister has a list of her favorite baby names saved onto her phone. I wonder how many boys her age are ever asked what they want to call their children? It’s there in the way we talk about female ambition (as something that will run alongside family life), the way we encourage girls to practice caring in a play setting (playing with dolls, cooking, putting toys to bed in mini cots, pushing prams, etc.), the way we ask the most fundamental and private questions as though they were breezy small talk “So, do you want a baby?” Of course all this could and should apply to people who identify as men, but I fear it is not. We still allow, even encourage, men to consider having children as something peripheral and potential, rather than a reality that they could plan for, hope for or prevent right now, in their life.

There is also the very strong cultural narrative of the ‘geriatric mother’ and the ‘cliff edge’ of fertility after 35. The truth is of course much more nuanced, much more specific to each individual’s biology and lifestyle and therefore, hopefully, less scary. We are very happy to warn women that their fertility is finite without really mentioning the correlated decrease in fertility and rise in congenital illness, quality of sperm, etc. in men.

With regards to policy, well here’s a question. Firstly, let’s actually enact the demands made at the first Women’s Liberation Conference in 1970 at Ruskin College (it’s the anniversary this year!)

  • Equal pay
  • Equal opportunity
  • Contraception and abortion on demand
  • Free 24 hour nurseries

That way, the decision to have a baby is a far less polarizing one: it will have a less damaging impact on your career, it will cost you less materially, financially, socially and personally, it will be easier to avoid getting pregnant if you’re not ready or not in the right circumstances to raise a child, it will not affect your opportunities to reenter the public world after you’ve given birth.

I would love to see free childcare for all children under 5. It doesn’t just make sense on a humanitarian level – literally making the population healthier, happier and more likely to contribute to a well-adjusted society – but it makes economic sense not to have half the workforce taken away from their job in order to look after children OR almost half the workforce’s entire income going directly to someone else looking after your children.

Better paid parental leave – for the same reasons as above. A father and mother who have the opportunity to bond with and nurture their child are far more likely to treat that job with the care and attention it deserves; their child is going to benefit from a caring environment, they will be better equipped to navigate interpersonal relationships, if their parent chooses to breastfeed their physical health will be better – the list goes on and on.

I would also like men to just think about having babies. Not to push it to one side while they concentrate on ‘the big things’ i.e. studying, work, sport, friendships, sex, money. But to have it as a question, something to prepare for, or make contingencies for from the moment they are sexually active. Let them take on the burden of contraception, particularly if they don’t want children. Side effect free, hormone-free male contraception and, until that is on the market, let’s talk again about vasectomies. If you are a man who is certain you never want a child or don’t want any more children than enact that decision in your body – have a vasectomy – don’t instead expect women to spend their lives adjusting their bodies to conform to your desire.

KM: You often leverage data and statistics in support of the topics in your articles – from a sociological point of view, in your experiences from thinking about becoming a mother to actually doing so, do you feel there are areas of research in this field that need further exploration to understand this process better?

NF: Yes. The cost of childcare should be much much more widely understood than it is now. I had no idea, until I had a child, that I couldn’t afford to have a child. Also, if more people understood that the average cost of childcare for one child, under 2 in the UK, for someone on the UK average wage, is 43% of their income, hopefully they would agitate to change that before they have a child and are already, well, trapped.

The decrease in male fertility over time. I think we need to start talking much more frankly and openly about male fertility – stop putting the blame, the decision and the burden all on women’s bodies.

Finally, please god could someone do some research – a LOT of research – into the effect of hormonal contraception (actually, hell, all contraception) on female mental health. We know that the pill is literally killing women – driving them into depression and suicide. We all know anecdotally the horrendous side effects of so much contraception. And yet there seems to be so little scientific and sociological research into it.

KM: What made you decide to write a book on this topic? What is the one lesson or advice or insight you want readers to take away?

NF: Partly, honestly, because I’d had a baby I simply couldn’t work in the way I used to as a freelance journalist. I couldn’t pitch three ideas a day while also surviving on 5 hours broken sleep and under 24-hour care of a baby. A book would give me the opportunity to work on one project over the course of months, rather than having to turn around copy every day within hours just to pay the bills.

On a more creative level, I also wanted to write this book because, having lived through The Panic Years and going through my own Flux, I knew what a bewildering, devastating, disorienting and paralyzing time it could be. I wanted to give this thing a name so women everywhere could see their own experience as part of a social and biological phenomenon, rather than a personal crisis. I wanted friends, sisters, colleagues to have a short hand with each other to explain what they were going through “Oh, I think she’s hit her Flux, so maybe we should go over with a lasagna”.

I wanted us to see the ways our gender conditioning, work culture, sexual attitudes and social care were still oppressing us. I wanted to point out the underlying injustice that still exists around fertility, childrearing and contraception.

Also, more privately and personally, I wanted my partner, friends and family to understand what I’d gone through and how it had felt.

Kim McErlean is a Ph.D. student studying Sociology, with an interest in Family Demography, at the University of Texas at Austin.