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The United States has the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Although the rates of incarceration have essentially leveled off since around 2002, the United States lead the world in imprisonment: 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2015. This mass incarceration is a affects prisoners, their children, and their relatives and loved ones. In fact, at least 2.7 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent.

New research by Kristin Turney and Yader R. Lanuza explores the consequences of parental incarceration on children and their transition to adulthood. What makes this research unique is that it considers the relationship between parental incarceration and the issue of “launching” or “transitioning” into adulthood. Transition to adulthood, only conceptualized as a life stage in recent years, has been a focus for thinking about how to get stable adults in the workforce and in the habit of building families. Prior research has made it clear that incarceration reduces family income—during incarceration as well as after it. There’s instant and lasting collateral damage: It disrupts parental relationships and damages the mental health of both the children and romantic partners. How can we reduce inequality? This research helps to focus on entrenched social processes of inequality that mass incarceration yields.

Their study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to investigate the relationship between parental incarceration and the transition to adulthood, collected in four waves between 1994 and 2008. Turney and Lanuza identified 10,937 respondents who had a parent who had been incarcerated at any time between age 0 to 17. They were able to compare these youth to others who had not had that experience.

Thanks to the rich data set, they were able to look at seven indicators of adulthood for the affected youth.

  1. The respondent feels older than others his or her age (compared to feeling younger and feeling neither older nor younger).
  2. The respondent feels like an adult all of the time (compared to most of the time, sometimes, seldom, never
  3. The respondent has his/her own residence (and does not live with parents, in another person’s home, etc.)
  4. The respondent is not enrolled in school
  5. The respondent is employed full time (working at least 35 hours per week)
  6. The respondent has ever been married
  7. The respondent has at least one child (measured by affirmative responses that the respondent ever had a live birth, for women, or that the respondent’s partner ever had a live birth in the context of their relationship, for men.)

The differentiations were intriguing. Children whose dads had gone to prison were different from others in the feeling questions—like feeling older—and the behavioral ones. In essence, they were systematically quicker to transition to adulthood. Specifically, respondents who experienced paternal incarceration were more likely to report feeling like an adult all of the time, to have lived on their own, to not be in school, to have married, and to have had a child.

As for moms who went to prison, respondents who experienced maternal incarceration were also more likely to report feeling like an adult all of the time; more likely to not be in school; and more often had a child. The point: The many markers of transition to adulthood were more common among children whose parents had been incarcerated. They had to grow up faster—and without supports or a safety net that might assist in education, full time work, or pacing family life.

Parental incarceration accelerates the pathways to adulthood, and adds significant stressors to that already difficult transition. These youth have parents who have enormous disadvantages in the job market when they get out of prison, which follows their loss of income while they are in prison.

High imprisonment rates in the United States are not just alarming to note for the individual placed behind bars, but for the transformative and significant consequences it has on their children.

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

photo credit: Tumisu via pixabay

On September 9, as the first of two record-breaking hurricanes barreled down on the Caribbean, and North America, President Trump wreaked legal havoc on families through rescinding a program to help young people whose parents brought them to the United States without proper immigration documentation. He followed up on September 24 with new immigration bans that added heat and intensity to the experiences of global citizens. During this maelstrom, I have searched for links that narrate in more detail how the policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and its potential demise, affects families.

Some reading addressed Why is this happening? What could people be thinking? Work I read suggested answers: “They” are here to steal our jobs, why not get rid of them? Why don’t they just get their citizenship? Throughout September, after President Trump announced canceling DACA, these writers focused on debunking myths about this program.

  • Vox’s Dara Lind gives DACA’S history, recalling that Obama created the DACA executive order as a way to protect those who came here illegally as children, for the sake of their future. As Lind points out, it is a lot harder for people with US-born family members to get their citizenship than ever before.
  • At Rolling Stone, Tessa Stuart highlights the myths of individuals under DACA. Stuart discusses how some people believe that DACA is a gateway to citizenship, even though it is not. She also clarifies that DACA is not a shortcut to get federal benefits.
  • CNN focuses on how these DACA youth are protesting this decision and discusses how some critics view the decision as unconstitutional because of lack of due process. CNN, as many others, highlighted that the decision, if it holds, will have a negative impact on the economy over the next decade.

Other articles focused on: What will rescinding DACA mean to families economically and socially? For starters, families will be torn apart, making the U.S less diverse even as it creates an unstable environment for many immigrant families who are citizens with DACA relatives. Economic contributions from DACA are substantial. DACA recipients pay a total in $2 billion in taxes per year in the United States—the loss would be great to the government, the economy, and also to families benefiting from that productive income

  • The removal of DACA will harm 800,000 individuals and their families. On fivethirtyeight.com, Anna Maria Barry-Jester notes that removing DACA will generate unemployment for young workers who support their families and relatives. More than 200,000 people would be unemployed if this decision is made final.
  • Roque Planas, in Huffington Post, shows us the fear felt by people made vulnerable by this decision—much of it fear for the family. Karla Pérez, interviewed by Planas, noted that the removal of DACA “…always weighs heavily on my mind.” Pérez continues, “My biggest concern right now is my parents because DHS has my information… I’m not so much worried for myself as for my family.”

Still another theme in coverage of the DACA announcement is whether this is just about Latinx families. Reporters asked, why are we ignoring Asian families, the fastest growing immigrant group?

  • The Washington Post’s, Vanessa Williams brings up how the fastest growing immigrant groups are not particularly highlighted in the DACA conversation. Williams mentions that Asian immigrants have more than tripled since 2000. Asian immigrants account for 1.6 million out 11 million immigrants in the U.S.
  • Newsweek’s John Haltiwanger profiles these dreamers and discussed the nearly 15 percent of Asian immigrants in detail. His work begs the question, are we ignoring this immigrant group because of their stereotype as the “model minority”?

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

A fact sheet prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families to mark Unmarried and Single Americans Week, September 17-23, by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., Academic Affiliate, Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara. 

September 17-23, 2017 is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Today, more than 45 percent of all Americans 18 and older are unmarried (divorced, widowed, or never-married), up from 28 percent in 1970. Contrary to stereotypes, single people typically lead happy and healthy lives. They maintain vital ties to friends, family, children, and communities, often providing practical and emotional support to others.

The proportion of unmarried Americans has hit an all-time high.

  • Of adults 18 and older, 110.6 million are divorced, widowed, or have never married. Never-married people are the biggest group of unmarried Americans, accounting for 63.5 percent. Another 23.1 percent are divorced and the other 13.4 percent are widowed.
  • Half the labor force is comprised of unmarried individuals.
  • Only 14.6 million of these unmarried Americans (7.3 million couples) are cohabiting with a romantic partner. Of those, 867,000 are cohabiting with a same-sex partner. By contrast, 96 million Americans 18 and older are neither married nor cohabiting with a romantic partner.
  • The median age at which people first marry, among those who do marry, has reached an all-time high of 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. And researchers predict that 1 in 4 of today’s young adults will reach age 50 without ever having married.
  • The age at which people marry has become much more spread out than the past, so some of these folks will go on to marry, but record numbers of American spend the majority of their adult lives outside marriage. It is time to stop seeing singlehood as a temporary way-station.

Like everybody else, unmarried Americans live in many different kinds of households and communities.

  • More Americans than ever before, 35.4 million, live alone. That is more than twice the number of unmarried Americans who are cohabiting with a romantic partner. Lone households are now more common than married-couple households containing children.
  • Most unmarried Americans, though, do not live alone. Their living arrangements are more diverse than ever. Some single people, including single parents, live with family in multigenerational or extended family households. Others live with friends, or with friends and family. Single mothers sometimes share homes with other single mothers. Unmarried Americans also live in cohousing communities and other neighborhoods where people commit to being part of a community.

Single people are often stereotyped as isolated and lonely and depressed. In fact, the majority of single Americans live happy and healthy lives.

  • One of the most important protective factors against loneliness is having friends. And single people have more friends than married people. They also provide more practical help and emotional support to their parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors.
  • People who marry are typically just as healthy, and sometimes even a bit healthier, when they are single than after they marry.
  • People who marry and stay married sometimes experience an increase in satisfaction with their lives in the early years of their marriage, but that honeymoon effect usually does not last. Over time, people who marry are typically no happier than they were when they were single.
  • A study of more than 16,000 people found that only 10 percent experienced a significant increase in well-being after marriage, while 6 percent experienced a sharp decrease. The rest stayed the same.
  • Among women 57 and older, women who are married, cohabiting, dating, or single but not dating experience similar levels of loneliness, depression, and stress. For men, when there are differences, they favor those who are cohabiting rather than those who are married; men who are dating are no better off than single men without partners.

Unmarried Americans play important roles in raising the next generation.

For more information, contact Dr. Bella DePaulo at belladepaulo@gmail.com and read her blog: Living Single, at Psychology Today.


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On August 26, 2017, Women’s Equality Day Turned 44.

 A fact sheet compiled for the Council on Contemporary Families by Nika Fate-Dixon and Stephanie Coontz, The Evergreen State College. Executive summary/advisory available.

Ninety-seven years ago on Saturday, August 26, Congress certified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting American women the vote. Since 1973, August 26th has been designated as Women’s Equality Day, offering a chance to assess the current status of gender equity. The past three decades have seen continued gains in women’s educational and occupational achievements and a striking increase in egalitarian arrangements on the home front. But progress has not been the same for women of color as for white women; it has stalled for parents; and there have been serious setbacks in the political realm. Additionally, class differences among women have widened. The latest research on trends in education, work, family, and political directions raises new questions about where we are headed.

EDUCATION AND WORK: Gains in Education, Occupations, and Pay. Substantial Inequalities Connected to Race, Class, and also to Sexist Work Cultures

 Overall, the wage gap has improved significantly. In 2015, according to a Pew analysis of median hourly earnings of both full-and part-time U.S. workers, women earned 83 percent of what men earned. This 17-cent gap is half what it was in 1980 (36 cents then).

But how do we interpret these numbers? Comparisons of yearly salaries can understate roll backs in gender discrimination when they don’t take into account differences in the number of hours men and women work. Comparing hourly pay also has its limits but suggests more steady progress, particularly for young women (ages 25 – 34). In 1980, their hourly wages were just 67 percent of their male peers’. Thirty-five years later, they have reached 90 percent.

The raw ratios in some ways overstate progress. An analysis of the Current Population Survey newly conducted for this report by University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, suggests that women have made gains largely by increasing their education level relative to men. Among people age 25 to 54 who worked at least half time and half the year, 44 percent of women in 2016 have a BA or higher education, compared with 37 percent of men – an advantage for women that has opened up since 2001. His analysis of the wage gap among those same workers shows that for those with a BA or more, women earn 80 percent of men’s wages, when statistically controlling for age, race/ethnicity, marital status, and the presence of children. That is unchanged since 1992. For those with less than a BA degree, women have made slight progress during that time, from 77 percent to 79 percent. Despite important exceptions, then, the overall narrowing of the wage gap since the early 1990s is partly a function of women’s increasing education levels rather than greater equality among workers with comparable levels of education. (For details of the analysis see this.)

Additionally, despite men’s continued pay advantage, their wages have been declining since 1979 and this decline accounts for almost a quarter of the reduction in the gender wage gap. According to 2016 data of median hourly wages, women today earn almost a third more than women did in 1979, while men today earn 4 percent less. For men with a high school degree, real wages have fallen by more than 14 percent since 1979. Women’s earnings started from such a much lower base that they remain below those of men doing the same or comparable jobs and with the same levels of educational achievement. But high-earning women (discussed below) have greatly increased the gap between themselves and low earners of both sexes.

Persistence of racial inequalities means the gender wage gap is not same for all groups. The earnings of women across all races and ethnicities lag behind those of white men as well as those of men in their own racial or ethnic group, but white and Asian women have narrowed the wage gap with white men to a much greater degree than have black and Hispanic women. Between 1980 and 2015, the gap in median hourly earnings between white men and white women narrowed by 22 cents. In comparison, the gap between black women and white men declined by only 9 cents: Black women earned 65 cents for every dollar white men earned in 2015. Hispanic women fared worse, narrowing the gap by just 5 cents during that time. As of 2015, the average Hispanic woman earned 58 cents for every dollar the average white man took home. Asian women, by contrast, made 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

These patterns of racial inequality differ by gender. The wage gap between white men and black and Hispanic men, unlike that between men and women of all races combined, has not narrowed since 1980. As of 2015, black men earned the same 73 percent share of white men’s hourly earnings as they did in 1980, and Hispanic men earned slightly less — 69 percent of white men’s earnings in 2015, compared to 71 percent in 1980. On the other hand, Asian men now earn more per hour than white men, although this is largely driven by differences in the percentage of highly-educated individuals in each group.

Class and income inequality complicates the picture. Despite the huge gains high-earning women have made in comparison to people at the middle and bottom, the largest gender pay gap is between the highest earning men and women (see page 3 and Table 1 in linked document). In the early 80s, women in high-paid jobs lagged behind men less than women in middle-wage occupations. Since 2010, however, women’s pay relative to men’s among top earners has been considerably less than that of women in the middle (and bottom) of the distribution (also on page 3). These developments reflect the growing advantage among the top ten, one, and 0.1 percent of earners, most of whom are men. So even as the earnings of women in the top 20 percent have not, overall, kept up with those of men in the same earnings category, their position relative to middle-earning men has greatly improved. It used to be that the highest-earning woman earned no more than the average-earning man. Today, however, women at the top make more than 1.5 times as much as the typical man.

Gender gap among high-earners is about sexism more than choice. The gender wage gap between high-earning men and women is often blamed on the fact that women tend to major in subjects that lead to less lucrative jobs, such as those in teaching and social work. But women actually outnumber men in the biosciences and there is little to no gender difference in the social sciences and mathematics. The only STEM fields of study in which men hugely outnumber women are computer science and engineering, which are more than 80 percent male.

We cannot attribute the low representation of women in technology and engineering to women’s preferences in majors. For one thing, recent studies find that teachers start favoring boys over girls as early as first grade. These and other subtle discriminatory messages lead to early declines in girls’ confidence in their intellectual abilities.

Even more important is the pervasive culture of sexism and an exceptionally lopsided rewards system in many male-dominated occupations; women under 25 in the tech industry earn, on average, 29 percent less than their male counterparts, and women of all ages receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company more than 60 percent of the time. Such factors discourage women from persisting. While women obtain nearly 20 percent of engineering degrees, only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women. Women tech workers are twice as likely as men to quit their jobs.

Low wages follow women around. For all the attention to the glass ceiling in high-earning fields such as finance, law, and technology, the fact is that the typical woman is three times as likely as the average man to work in occupations with poverty-level wages. Women constitute 57 percent of workers paid under $15 per hour and are the majority of low-wage workers in every state.

Considerable research shows that this is not just because women are channeled into low-paying jobs. One study compared the relative pay of different jobs between 1950s and 2000, using national data on hundreds of occupations. The researchers found that when the percentage of female workers in the occupation increased, the same job paid less, suggesting that employers were assessing the job’s value not by its actual demands but by the gender of those doing it.

MARRIAGE, HOUSEWORK, SEX, AND PARENTHOOD: It got better, but inequities persist for moms

For the past 15 years, there has been much hand-wringing about the tensions in dual-earner heterosexual marriages, especially now that one in five wives comes to marriage with higher educational degrees or earnings than their husbands. Pundits have warned women that if they make too many gains in the public world or expect too much of their partners at home, they will not be able to sustain satisfying romantic relationships. For years, many researchers believed that women in dual-earner marriages worked a “second shift” when they came home, and that men who earned less than their wives compensated by doing even less around the house.

Today, however, childless couples divide household labor pretty much equally. In fact, rather than women in such couples coming home to a second shift, men average a slightly longer work week when we count both paid and unpaid hours. Marriage has ceased to have any effect in propelling men into more traditional roles. Marriages in which the wife has more education than her husband are no longer more likely to end in divorce. And, recently the added risk of divorce when women earn more than their husbands has also evaporated. Additionally, new research shows  that such women do not, as previously observed, do extra housework to compensate for any “threat” to their husbands, nor do their husbands do less housework or childcare as a reaction to gender status threat.

The gender workload gets more uneven after the birth of a child, despite the fact that fathers have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children, from 2.5 hours in 1965 to 7.3 hours per week today. This includes doubling the developmental care they do (think reading or playing games) and tripling the daily routine physical care that most dads used to leave almost entirely to mothers. Men also spend five more hours per week on household chores than their 1965 counterparts.  Furthermore, today’s dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity.

In sum, dads are pitching in more than ever, yet on average mothers still do more housework and childcare than fathers. Even couples who shared paid work and domestic work equally before having children, and thought they were sharing it equally afterwards, turn out to backslide into more traditional roles. One study of such couples found that they were fully egalitarian before parenthood, and believed they were working the same total hours of work after the birth of a child—but they weren’t. Time diaries revealed that the women had added 22 hours of childcare to their work week while maintaining the same amount of housework and paid work as before. Men had added 14 hours of childcare, eight hours less than their partners, while reducing their housework by five hours.

Ironically, however, the minority of coupled parents who do equally share childcare and housework report higher levels of sexual and marital satisfaction than couples who divide the work less equally. Overall, American couples in the early 2010s report having sex, on average, nine fewer times per year  than couples did in the 1990s. But parents who share housework are, on average, having sex more frequently than a quarter of a century ago.

Similar advantages accrue to sharing paid work more equally. Research confirms that the busiest husbands and wives, those who spend more time on housework and paid work, have the most sex. However, the lack of family-friendly work policies and affordable quality childcare in the United States leads many couples, who might otherwise prefer to share breadwinning and childrearing more equally, to fall back into more traditional arrangements.

We are getting mixed messages about how the next generation of parents will handle the tension between the widespread expectation of shared work and family duties and the restricted availability of family-friendly support systems. Some polls suggest a revival of support for traditional family and power relations among high school seniors, although others show strong support among young adults for gender equity. A poll of 14- to 24-year-olds commissioned by MTV found that 92 percent of men and 94 percent of women believed that men and women should not be treated differently because of their gender. On the other hand, women put a higher priority on sharing household responsibilities than did men, and a full 30 percent of men, compared to less than 20 percent of women, said there was little use in pursuing more gender equality because inequalities between men and women will always exist.

POLITICS AND POLICY: Setbacks in Reproductive Rights, Supports for Families with Children, Resources for Single Mothers – While Anti-Female Sentiments Get Louder and More Outrageous

A dramatic setback for women’s rights in recent years has been the steady erosion of reproductive choice. One poll taken this month found that two-thirds of voting age adults support women having access to reproductive health care in their community. Yet the Trump Administration plans to halt funding for a successful national teen pregnancy prevention program, with the 2018 budget including funds solely for abstinence-only sex education.

The August poll also found that six in ten (61 percent) adults would support a federal law, like the Women’s Health Protection Act, that would safeguard abortion care and prevent restrictions that make abortion access increasingly out of reach. Yet over the last six years, states have passed 369 laws mandating such restrictions (see page 1 of linked document).

Although the Trump administration has proposed a six-week paid parental leave program, which would help many families, the deepest cuts projected in the Trump Administration’s 2018 Federal Budget Request target programs that are especially essential to families and to women. Many of these cuts threaten the well-being of men, women, and children alike. They will be especially devastating to single mothers, who are already much more likely to be poor in the United States than in other wealthy countries. The budget slashes $1.7 trillion over the next ten years from programs that support families, including deep cuts to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Since women comprise two-thirds of all adult Medicaid recipients and almost half of American children get their health care from Medicaid or CHIP, this proposal represents a major setback.

Finally, we cannot ignore the increased visibility and volume of sexist sentiments, from the “grab them by the pussy” tape released during the campaign to the new prominence of Breitbart News, known for headlines such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Would You Rather Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?” and  “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off”.

It is still an open question as to whether such sexism will reinvigorate the movement for gender equality or encourage others to express even more hostility toward women. But it’s worth noting how extreme the newly invigorated neo-Nazis can be, as in the reaction of Andrew Anglin, editor of the Daily Stormer, to the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was mowed down by a Nazi sympathizer during the August 12 white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Anglin wrote that Heyer’s death relieved society from tolerating yet another “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut… who had failed to do her most basic duty – her only real duty, in fact – and reproduce.”

Most Americans are rightly horrified by such sentiments, but some disturbingly similar sentiments lie behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the demonization of feminists made by more cagey social conservatives. So August 26 should not be a day for complacency, even as we recognize the progress women have made.


Nika Fate-Dixon is a CCF research intern and a graduate of The Evergreen State College.

Stephanie Coontz is Professor of History at The Evergreen State College and Director of Research and Education for the Council on Contemporary Families. For further information, contact coontzs@msn.com.

Photo by krzys16 via pixabay

Recently I interviewed Debra Umberson, author of Death of family members as an overlooked source of racial disadvantage in the United States. She is a professor of Sociology and Director of the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and last week we featured her study on this page. The study examined the grief and loss in Black families and linked them to racial differences in US life expectancy. We hear frequent news accounts of Black people dying due to police shootings along with other sources of untimely deaths. The reality of these multiplied deaths affect the Black community as a whole. Looking at movements such as Black Lives Matter and how conflicts surrounding race recently can no longer be swept under the rug, I wanted to learn more about research suggesting that Black Americans die at much higher rates than White Americans due to historical racial inequalities.

Q: Your study discusses the extreme racial disparities in exposure to the death of family members in non-Hispanic Blacks compared to whites. What brought you to investigate this topic?

DU: Several things came together to lead me to this topic. First, several years ago, I conducted in-depth interviews with Black and White respondents to learn more about how early family relationships influence health habits throughout the life course. Although it wasn’t a focus of the project, the interviews with Black respondents were filled with stories of grief and loss, starting when they were children. This was especially striking in that the Black and White respondents were very similar in education and income and the stories of White respondents rarely included stories of family member loss. Around the same time, more and more stories were surfacing in the media about premature and violent deaths of young Black men in the U.S. and their devastated parents were often featured in those reports. I started thinking about the significant Black-White race gap in U.S. life expectancy and realizing how much more pervasive loss must be in Black families.

Q: Although you hypothesized that the death of family members would be more common among Black Americans than among White Americans, did you find anything that surprised you?

DU: The extent of the race gap in loss was striking. I was somewhat surprised by how big the gap was in the risk of losing a child.  Blacks are about two and half times more likely than Whites to lose a child by age 30. Between the ages of 50 and 70, Blacks are 3 times more likely than Whites to lose a child. For most family member deaths, the race gap begins to close in later life as Whites begin to more family members but that’s not the case for death of a child. Whites are much more likely than Blacks to never lose a child in their lifetime.

Q: In the context of current events such as deaths by the police, a rise in the Black Lives Matter movement, and police brutality, what is next on your research agenda?

DU: Our next step is to consider how exposure to family member deaths may contribute to racial disparities in wide-ranging life outcomes including mental health, physical health, and mortality risk. We will also consider how these effects differ for men and women across the life course. Since we know that even one family member death – whether a spouse, a child, or a parent — has significant adverse effects on health and well-being, we expect that more frequent and earlier family member losses contribute to racial disparities in health.

Bereavement rates, health & racial inequality, and criminal victimization mentioned in this research all illustrate a tragic point of view for Black Americans in the United States. With Black Americans in the news constantly this creates a sense of strain, “collective loss, and personal vulnerability” within the Black community.  If Black Americans have family members—whether that be a spouse, a child, or a sibling—dying earlier in their lives, these losses only create a lifelong ripple effect for generations and reoccurring disadvantages. Whatever can help: policies, interventions, or a simple acknowledgment of bereavement and loss in these populations must be taken into effect—and fast.

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

photo credit: Polski via pixabay

Originally posted 2/10/2017 

One consequence of racial inequalities in the United States is that black Americans die at much higher rates than white Americans. New research by UT Austin’s Debra Umberson and colleagues explores some understudied consequences of this. Umberson’s team finds that black Americans are more likely to lose their parents during childhood than white children. Furthermore, black Americans are more likely to experience the death of multiple close family members by mid-life. Along with the sheer tragedy, in the long run these losses have the potential to damage the health of black Americans. Bereavement following the death of just one family member has shown to have lasting adverse consequences for the health of the individual, with premature deaths having an even larger impact.

Using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and Health and Retirement Study totaling 42,000 people, the researchers compared non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white Americans on their exposure to death of family members and total number of deaths experienced at different ages. The study shows that black Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to experience the death of two or more family members by the age of 30. Black Americans born in the 1980s were three times more likely to lose a mother, more than twice as likely to lose a father, and 20 percent more likely to lose a sibling by age 10. The race gap diminishes slightly at age 70. At that point, whites begin to exceed blacks in experiencing loss. However, black Americans experienced more family member deaths than white Americans overall.

This racial disparity in family member death rates paints a stark picture of black health disadvantages. Death of family members puts strain on other family relationships. This strain often persists throughout a lifetime, thus adding to even more trouble. As Umberson and colleagues emphasize bereavement is a known risk factor for mental and physical health having an even greater impact if it occurs during childhood or early adulthood. The loss-upon-loss quality of this result sets up another reinforcing cycle. Racial inequalities contribute to a high death rate for black Americans. And they add another racial inequality all together; health disadvantages due to the loss of family members.

We also featured an interview with Dr. Umberson about her research.

Megan Peterson is a 2017 sociology graduate of Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.


Photo by GDJ via pixabay

Most people know that there’s a long and persistent history of racial and ethnic segregation in the United States. There’s less awareness of segregation of gays and lesbians, and gay neighborhoods often get treated as simply a matter of “choice”— much the way that queer identities have historically been treated as a “choice.”

Is it the case that gays and lesbians simply gravitate to similar areas and form gay “enclaves,” or is the segregation of gays and lesbians related to systematic inequalities? According to new work in Population Review by Dudley L. Poston Jr.D’Lane R. Compton, Qian Xiong, and Emily A. Knox, it’s a little of both.

To a degree, discrimination drives the segregation of gays and lesbians. The researchers point to religious intolerance and recent anti-sodomy laws as evidence that gays and lesbians are systematically excluded from some heterosexual communities. But Poston Jr. and colleagues don’t reject the possibility that some gays and lesbians segregate voluntarily. As homophobia decreases, gays and lesbians may still wish to take advantage of the “protective shield and social support” and “stronger political voice” afforded by self-segregation.

It’s likely that the dynamics of segregation might be different for gays and lesbians. Lesbians are more likely to have kids, and thus might voluntarily congregate in places with better school districts. But they’re also more likely to live in poverty than gay men, which leads to fewer living options.

Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox examined the relationship between factors related to racial segregation and segregation by sexuality among 100 metropolitan areas with large gay and lesbian populations, using American Community Survey data from 2008 to 2012. The researchers estimated the percentage of gay or lesbian households that would have had to relocate within that metropolitan area for the number of same-sex and different-sex households to be proportional.

In all metropolitan areas examined, gay and lesbian households were segregated from heterosexual ones. On average, about 75 percent of gay male and 69 percent of lesbian couple households would have had to relocate within their metropolitan area to eliminate neighborhood segregation. The lowest estimate of segregation was between lesbians and different-sex couples in Madison, Wisconsin. Even there, though, just over half of lesbian households would have had to relocate for there to be no segregation.

Gay male households were more segregated from heterosexual households than were lesbian couple households in most cases. Provo-Orem, Utah, had the most segregation by sexuality: More than 90 percent of gay male households would have had to relocate to be proportional to heterosexual married and cohabiting couples in the population.

Gay and lesbian households are segregated from each other, too. In El Paso, Texas, which had the most segregation of same-sex households by gender, there was almost complete segregation between lesbians and gay men.

What factors predicted increased segregation between same-sex and different-sex households? For gays and lesbians, high prevalence of gay/lesbian couple households, high rates of Republican voters and Southern Baptists, and high poverty rates in their metropolitan areamade segregation more likely.

For gay men, they also found high population density, anti-sodomy laws, and a lack of non-discrimination laws predictive of increased segregation.

For lesbian households, high racial segregation also made their segregation from different-sex households more likely.

The only factors that predicted segregation between gay male and lesbian households were the gay male prevalence rate and the poverty rate. As the proportion of gay males in an area increased, segregation between gay male and lesbian couple households decreased. Conversely, as the poverty rate in an area increased, segregation of these two groups also increased.

The salience of poverty rates in these patterns suggests that segregation by sexuality is fueled at least partially by inequalities rather than the choices of gay and lesbian couples. But, to the extent that they have the option, gay and lesbian couples might choose to live in areas where they share political ideologies with others and can avoid discrimination.

There are still unexplained factors related to segregation by sexuality. Earlier qualitative research comparing the Castro with other gay enclaves, for example, found that what draws residents toward specific areas varies by the community, often in conjunction with more specific intersecting identities of the gays and lesbians that predominate in each space. Future research could examine individual communities to better understand how inequalities may be perpetuated through the residential patterns of gays and lesbians. But amid researchers’ calls for more research on the geographic distribution of gays and lesbians, there’s currently a policy shift away from data collection on LGBTQ demographics. The findings in this research by Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox highlight that data on where sexual minorities live is crucial for understanding, and thus addressing, inequality more generally.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and will begin a doctoral program at Boston University in the fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar. 

Sociologist Joan Maya Mazelis, author of Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University-Camden. Her research examines the experiences of people in poverty and the role of social ties in their struggles to survive. In her recently published Washington Post Op-ed she critiques the idea that having the right mind-set can help poor people escape poverty, and discusses her research findings that poor people often blame themselves for their circumstances. As a family sociologist, I was interested in finding out more about the social ties that poor people have, or avoid, and how those ties (or lack thereof) can contribute to poverty or alleviate its effects. I was recently able to interview her about her work:

AK: In your recently published book Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, you interview people who are experiencing severe poverty. For some of them, a major factor in the difficulties they experience is not having family ties at all, or not having family members who are willing to help them. Some of your interviewees went on to form long term family-like ties with others that you call “sustainable ties” after joining a poor people’s organization that helped them form those ties.

What do your findings tell us about the importance of family ties or other “sustainable ties” and their connection to falling into and getting out of poverty?

JMM: Ties with others are incredibly important for those struggling financially. Social ties may not help people  escape poverty, but they can help them cope with its worst consequences. One of the most vital ways social ties protect people is helping them to avoid homelessness. For people who live from one paycheck to the next, a missed paycheck due to an illness or other crisis can lead to eviction. But people in this situation might avoid homelessness  if family members can loan them money for rent. And if no one can help with money, family members  might provide a place to stay temporarily, allowing them to avoid living on the street. Many of my research participants who didn’t have family to rely on had experienced homelessness.

Sometimes family ties aren’t as positive as we wish they would be. One participant, Rosa, told me about the time she asked to shower at a cousin’s house; the cousin wanted to charge her and her daughter money for the water they used. Alyssa lived for a time with family members but had to turn over much of her wages to them to do so.

But social ties with people who aren’t family can easily dissolve, especially given the pressure that extreme poverty places on them. Many participants described how this had happened in the past when they relied on non-kin ties. Sustainable ties are ties between people who aren’t family, but last for a long time. In my research, I found that the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), which brought poor people together in the fight to survive, fostered such sustainable ties between members. Some of these ties have lasted for decades.

KWRU provided housing for members who needed it, and thus filled a void for those who didn’t have family to rely on. As Pauline told me, “when my family didn’t give me nowhere to stay [KWRU] did, and I need somewhere to sleep for my kids. .  .  . When I came here they treated me like a family, like I was part of their little family.” Sustainable  ties people built through KWRU made an enormous difference in members’ lives.

AK: What are some of the differences you found between poor people who were able to build “sustainable ties” through the organization you studied, and poor people who weren’t members of that organization?

JMM: One of the main differences is that those in the organization felt less alone. They had a real sense of community. They also felt enveloped by social support, because they weren’t relying on just one tie. Most of those who weren’t in the organization did have family to rely on, but usually just one or two kin ties. Often those kin ties created a lot of negative feelings, in which family members helped only grudgingly, or the help came with guilt, shame, and strings attached.

People usually turned to KWRU when they were desperate, and therefore the people I interviewed who weren’t members of KWRU were generally a little bit better off—almost all of them had lived with family members as adults and many received other kinds of support from family, like free child care for their kids while they went to work or school.

AK: When doing the research for this book, what important lessons did you learn about addressing poverty and building “sustainable ties” that may be useful for other poor people’s organizations, policy makers, or the average person going through tough financial times?

JMM: One of the key lessons is the importance of reciprocity in building ties that last. Giving back—helping other members, volunteering in the office, and attending rallies—functioned like monetary dues in KWRU. This increased the number of people KWRU could help. It also made members feel better about getting help and helped to foster a sense of community. Organizations that serve poor people could ask them to do small things to invest in additional help and build ties with other clients based on this model.

Policy makers must understand, however, that fundamental needs have to be addressed first. Social ties can do a lot, but they can’t do everything. We need more income supports, child care subsidies, and widely accessible affordable housing. While KWRU members did build sustainable ties with minimal governmental support, their feelings about mutual support outside of KWRU as well as the experiences of those I interviewed who weren’t members of KWRU suggest that desperate poverty makes it very difficult to rely on one another. Positive social policies addressing fundamental needs would take the pressure off; people could be there for each other without worrying about being completely drained.

In terms of what the average person going through tough financial times can do, it’s so easy and common to want to withdraw from other people when you’re struggling financially. People feel embarrassed; they blame themselves, even when larger forces are at work, like a high unemployment rate. I found many participants in my study had done this, and it increased their desperation and depression. So to people going through tough times, I would say, remember that you’re not alone. And everyone needs help sometimes. Don’t be afraid to look for the right community and reach out to it.

Joan Maya Mazelis is Associate Professor of Sociology and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University-Camden. Her book, Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, is available from NYU Press. Follow her on Twitter @JoanieMazelis. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg.


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New research in the Journal of Marriage and Family by Hui Liu and Lindsey Wilkinson reveals that married trans people (and particularly trans women) experience less discrimination than those who are unmarried. This doesn’t mean that marriage per se is what protects trans people from discrimination. As with other work examining the benefits of marriage, the issue of “selection into marriage” – or the idea that being well-off is a precursor to, rather than a result of marriage – seems to come up for trans women as well. “Transition stage,” or the extent of a respondent’s transgender visibility, as well as income and health insurance access, was linked to perceived discrimination more so than marital status. In the end, a few differences between married vs. cohabiting vs. previously-married trans people remained, but those who were never married at all perceived nearly the same (lower) amount of discrimination as married respondents.

The data come from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a non-representative sample of 6,456 respondents collected between 2008 and 2009. The analyses are based on a sub-sample of 4,286 transgender (thus, excluding people who identify as non-binary) respondents who sufficiently answered questions about marital status and their perceptions of discrimination in the areas of work, family, public accommodations, and health care. In addition to analyzing the relationship between marital status and discrimination for the entire trans sample, the authors looked for differences by gender.

Initially, Hui and Wilkinson found the hypothesized differences by marital status: trans people who were married experienced significantly less discrimination than those who weren’t. This would make sense, according to some sociological theorizing on marriage. On the one hand, being in a “stigmatized category” generates negative effects, including discrimination (per the minority stress perspective). Yet, if one follows the marital advantage theory, that observes that there are distinct economic and social benefits to marriage, it appeared to be the case that marriage protects against transphobic discrimination. Before engaging this possibility, though, the authors accounted for other factors beyond marital status that could conceivably relate to discrimination against trans people.

Hui and Wilkinson understand that not all trans people are the same, and investigated the impact of transition stage on perceived discrimination, including how well the respondent “passed,” whether the respondent had medically transitioned, and whether they were out about their trans identity. Some of the power previously attributed to marital status was shifted after accounting for transition stage, because married people generally had characteristics that were less conducive to discrimination than those who weren’t married. Married trans women, for example, were less likely to live full-time as transgender or to be out about their trans identity than individuals in other categories, and rated their visual conformity higher than those who were never- or previously-married.  

 When taking transition stage into account, the “benefits” of marriage were still present, but they were reduced. Previously-married and cohabiting respondents still perceived more discrimination than married respondents in three out of the four areas each, but the disparities were less drastic. Never-married trans people reported nearly the same perception of discrimination as married trans respondents in all cases except for family discrimination. With family discrimination – indicated by relationship dissolution and family- and court-based restrictions on being with children – never-married respondents experienced more discrimination than those who were married. In other words, marriage for trans people was associated with also being more conventional; that conventionality—more so than marriage itself—explained the lower level of perceived discrimination, particularly for women.

There is also economics. Married trans men and women were better off, and this may have made a difference for perceptions of discrimination too. In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey sample, for example, the median family income for married trans women was at least $30,000 more than for unmarried respondents. More than 90 percent of married trans women had health insurance, compared to only 76 percent of those who weren’t married.  The greater economic and insurance advantages held by married trans women, Hui and Wilkinson found, helped to explain why they felt less discrimination. After considering economic resources, there were very few differences in discrimination by marital status. Still, cohabiters experienced more discrimination in family and public accommodations, and those who were previously married experienced more family discrimination, when compared to married trans people. There were no differences in perceived discrimination in work, family, public accommodations, or health care between never-married and married trans people.

The few remaining differences in discrimination by marital status were mostly confined to trans women. Even before considering transition stage and economic resources, there were fewer differences in discrimination by marital status for trans men, and these were mostly in the family. After accounting for socio-demographics, transition stage, and economic factors, married and unmarried trans men did not perceive differences in discrimination in work, health care, or public accommodations. In the final model, the only difference in perceived discrimination by marital status for trans men was that previously-married trans men experienced more family discrimination than married trans men. There are many possible explanations for why there were fewer differences in discrimination by marital status for trans men when compared to women. It could relate to findings that trans men generally experience less discrimination than trans women. It may also be because there were fewer differences by trans men’s marital status on other key explanatory variables. Unlike for women, for example, there were no differences for men in being out as transgender by marital status in any of the four areas studied by the researchers.

Hui and Wilkinson ask the question, “Does marriage matter?” In statistical models, and in predicting disadvantage, the answer is a qualified yes.  But it’s not quite clear, according to the authors, if marriage is responsible for reduced disadvantage, or if trans women with more disadvantage are simply less likely to marry in the first place. This means that, as with efforts to reduce disadvantage for cisgender couples, effective policy will likely require more than simply recommending marriage to trans individuals. By re-attributing much of the initial discrepancies in discrimination by marital status to economic factors, this research suggests that a fruitful avenue for reform will be addressing the economic injustices faced by trans people. In addition to transphobia, these economic injustices may actually contribute to the low ranking of trans people in the marriage market identified by the researchers.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and will begin a doctoral program at Boston University in the fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.

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Whether people are talking in 1997, 2007, or 2017, kids today are reckoned to be oversexed. In this past decade, media representation of teen mothers has hyped this idea using inaccurate stereotypes. A great rebuttal to move us beyond the “oversexed” cliché comes from Joyce C. Abma and Gladys M. Martinez. Their report for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) presents national estimates of sexual activity as well as contraceptive use among males and females.

The report summarized data collected using in-person interviews from 2011-2015 with people between ages 15 and 44. A total of 20,621 people were interviewed, including 4,134 teenagers. The teen group involved 2,047 women and 2,087 men.

They learned whether the respondent had ever had sex—and if so, whether they had had sex recently. Respondents who had ever had sexual intercourse were defined as “sexually experienced”; for these teens, researchers also learned how recently and how often they had had sex. These respondents were also asked about contraceptive methods they had used—if at all. In the report, they compared what they found to data from the 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2006 National Survey of Adolescent Males, which had been conducted by the Urban Institute. This way, they could learn really how the sex lives of kids today measure up with those of the past.

What differences were found… and were there any similarities? Rates of sexual experience across the years remained similar. In 2011—2015, 42.4 percent of never-married teen women and 44.2 percent of never married teen men were sexually experienced. And this was the same as a decade before, in the 2002 data, as well as the 2006-2010 data.

And, contraception use was up. Teen womens’ use of contraception increased from 74.5 percent in 2002 to 81 percent in 2011-2015. Teen men used condoms more, too, increasing from 70.9 percent in 2002 to 76.8 percent in 2011-2015.

Black women teens are slowing down, while white men teens speeding up. The researchers reported significant racial differences. For example, never-married non-Hispanic Black women teenagers decreased from approximately 57 percent sexually experienced in 2002 to 47 percent sexual experienced in 2011-2015. Conversely, never married non-Hispanic teen white men’s sexual experience increased from a rate of 37 percent in 2006-2010 to 43 percent in 2011-2015.

But it also looks like age plays a role.  They found that in 2011-2015, men were more likely than women to have had sexual intercourse during the ages of 15 and 16. Once they got to age 17, the probabilities were similar for both sexes. Specifically, 16 percent of men had sexual intercourse earlier compared with 11 percent of women, but by age 18, 55 percent of all teenagers were sexually experienced. Other factors included race, living situations, and parental education. The probability of having sexual intercourse by age 18 was high for non Hispanic Black teenagers when compared with non-Hispanic White and Hispanic teenagers, adolescents who did not live with both biological parents at age 14, and those who had mothers who did not attend college at all.

So, what exactly does this mean? It looks like adolescents are taking the steps they need to be protected: contraceptive use is up in both men and women. While both sexes have different rates of sexual experience and different contraceptive methods, this report suggests that “it gets better” – in the sense that teens are doing their share to promote sexual health.

Note for further consideration! It gets better might have another meaning too, not addressed in this study: in a 2014 study that looked at people starting at age 20, young people are having more oral sex and more oral sex as part of their sexual debut. This might factor into trends in teen sexual health, too.

Where do teens learn how to promote sexual health? Likely through messages provided through media, school, community, and family. Sounds like sex ed to me. To continue this good trend, this means we have to start separating the truth from stereotypes surrounding teenagers and see that sex education is valuable. Oh, and let’s make sure that sex ed addresses oral sex too!

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