Screenshot of London Review of Books

Reprinted with permission from The Society Pages

All of us depend, in early age and often at the end of life, on the care of others. We are shaped by individual, consequential but highly contingent acts of care, or their absence. To think about care is to shuttle back and forth between social totality and the irreducible complexity of individual needs, from feeding or washing to dignity or meaningful attention, explains James Butler in a new LRB essay.

A friend shared James Butler’s recent essay in the London Review of Books, “This Concerns Everyone.” For me it was a compact UK complement to Jean Tronto’s Who Cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics. Both pieces ask readers to cut across economic, moral, emotional, and social approaches to care so we can do better at addressing the crisis of care that is everywhere and everything all at once, so to speak. And yes, I am writing a review of a review article that points you to even more articles.

“This Concerns Everyone” reviews several books and leads with worry about how aging and disabled people are cared for in England; other forms of family care are in the scope of the piece. Butler covers the harms of private equity and corporate approaches to the business of care that we should make front-and-center in the U.S. (as Rose Batt and Eileen Appelbaum are doing). He presents what one might call an inequality as policy (an oldie but goodie that helps with this idea) argument about how government austerity has reduced access to care and increased suffering, by design.

Butler writes:

It would be a failure if the only answers sought were economic. The problem of care raises questions that lie outside the typical bounds of policy work…. What degree of indignity, pain, degradation or abuse are we prepared to see the people around us suffer?

Yikes. He goes on:

And what, if we are unable or unwilling to do it ourselves, are we prepared to pay for the work most intimate and essential to human life? Politicians may not wish to acknowledge these issues, but circumstances will force them on us regardless.

In short: Care is about suffering, care is about money, and care is about labor. Butler illustrates the labor conditions for a growing UK care workforce with diminishing wages: 

One case recently investigated by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority found nine Indian care workers in the UK on student visas, sleeping in cold and cramped conditions, with evidence their recruiters controlled their wages. Coworkers had raised the alarm after noticing them eating leftovers from residents’ plates.

In the U.S. context, we understand these conditions to be a form of anti-Blackness. See, for example, a key essay on  #BlackWomenBest regarding Black women workers during COVID.

Now: hold that “systemic reliance on diminished power” of targeted groups in your mind as you turn to his next point: Butler asks us to consider seriously the existential, enigmatic place that care takes as both work and love. To face that question–the question of feeling about care work–is not easy. It is irritating. 

The irritating bit comes from the strategic and naturalized way that care is made to be sentimental and sweet:

Key [an author he profiled] cared for people with psychosis, and confesses to his naivety when he started the job. He detects a similar naivety in artists or professors for whom care is a fantasy of universal benevolence, a weakly secularised Christian caritas. Where’s the wiping up of blood or piss, the frustration and resentment, the sheer exhaustion? It would be easier if the fantasy were baseless, but the attention to the individual that care work requires does generate love, of a kind, sometimes. It isn’t a reward – that would be better pay – but a contradiction in the work itself, not something that can be reasoned out of it. ‘The love I feel in fleeting bursts at work is painful and complicated,’ Key writes, ‘and it would probably be better to not feel it. It’s a job. I scrub a lot of toilets.’

What to do?I’ve been doing this reading as a Sociology of Families professor–and as a person who needs care and gives care. I am looking for innovations to help college students know our subject beyond charts, graphs, or ethnographies. I’m also asking them to know themselves. In my Families classes, my mainly working-class students face this joint dilemma: They think about care and the realities of the double- and triple-shift lives of caring, working (often in caregiver jobs), and schooling on the one hand, and that commonplace sentimentality of care (referenced above) on the other. We can’t get anywhere without finding a way to recognize all of it.

Some students have taken the opportunity to join a photography project about wrkxfmly created by Working Assumptions. Photography allows students to go beyond the measurement of all things social that we typically do in sociology. Through photography, students are guided to see and share each unique case of the contradiction between the pain and the love of care described by Butler.

Where “This Concerns Everyone” isn’t on point for the U.S., it is often as revealing as where it is: Butler bemoans the slide away from a social safety net system in the U.K.; here in the U.S., there has hardly been one to slide away from. Despite the pandemic, we still have no federal requirement for paid leave. The toll on women is pronounced. A colleague recently asked me if there’s a chance that care can be or ever will be elevated–in economics and in culture? It was a rational question that made me sad. I think she was asking if we can get more people to see that it has never been a choice

In line with that, Butler wrote:

[Another author] counterposes the logic of care and the logic of choice, arguing that a narrow focus on choice can amount to patient neglect. The reality of care exposes our dependence on others and shows how constrained, even illusory, our choices are.

The sad part of the “will care ever be elevated?” is that we face care one way or another. Getting a glimpse of my father’s last few days in hospice last week—and sitting with his wife’s labors for him, for herself, for countless others during his long and yet sharp decline—was a reminder that the need for care and the human cost of care are as inescapable as his death was.

Will care ever be elevated and centered in our politics to reflect how it is central to our lives? Essays like Butler’s on the U.K., the monograph by Tronto on the U.S., other pieces linked here, and even my students working through it all using photography make me think: maybe? I can’t show you my students’ work today. Expert and artist visions of the enigmas of care, though, are here, where we recognize the tensions Butler describes in a 24-hour daycare center and here in an intimate portrayal of those same tensions in the ordinary care of children at home during the pandemic. To be continued.

Virginia Rutter, Professor (retired), Department of Sociology, Framingham State University, Dr. Rutter is editor, with Kristi Williams (Ohio State University) and Barbara Risman (University of Illinois at Chicago). Follow her @virginiarutter

Sandpit with shovel and pail.
“Untitled” by congerdesign licensed under Pixabay License

Parents today are trying their best to do what’s best for their children. That isn’t always easy. In many cases, making sure that your kids are safe and happy is no longer considered enough. Images in the media, pervasive consumerism, and social media all convey to parents the idea that they should do whatever they can to make sure their children are exceptional. The barrage of photos that appear in their daily Instagram feed alone could convince even a devoted parent that they should be spending more preparing exotic meals for their families, taking their children on extravagant vacations, attending as many school events as possible—and sharing evidence of their parental devotion with the world.

I am currently writing a book about the youth sports industry. To gain a better understanding of how changes to that industry are affecting families, I have attended countless practices and games, interviewed of parents of young athletes, and asked coaches to reflect on their experiences working with kids. My research indicates that rapid expansion of the youth sports industry has intensified the pressure that parents feel to increase the time, money, and energy they invest in their children’s athletic careers. Overseeing their children’s athletic careers has become more complicated and stressful.

Although my current research focuses on sports, the tendency to do whatever it takes to get ahead seems to have infected many other areas of contemporary culture. Parents of budding ballerinas, debaters, and singers are all likely to experience pressure to set their sons and daughters up for success as early as possible. This can lead parents to fork over large sums of money to pay for private lessons, specialized summer camps, and social marketing campaigns. Would it surprise you to learn an industry has emerged to meet the growing demand for coaches who prepare linguistically talented youngsters to compete in spelling bees? Or that some of those coaches charge more than $200 per hour for their services?

This emphasis on performance over development extends into the classroom as well. In my work as a professor of education, I spend a great deal of time in schools. As you have probably experienced yourself, the importance attached to test scores now overshadows many of the core responsibilities our society has traditionally entrusted to schools. Over the past two decades, I have noticed a gradual decline in attention paid to students’ social development and love for learning. As long as students receive acceptable scores on standardized tests, the system is judged a success. One by-product of this shift is that schools may prepare children to win competitions, but they lose their motivation to learn along the way. 

Parents are constantly bombarded with messages that emphasize the need to provide their children with competitive advantages—in the classroom, on the playing field, and on stage. This can create a sense of information overload that makes it difficult for parents to make sound decisions for their children. In that situation, I have observed, they tend to follow the lead of their peers, who are unlikely to be better informed than themselves. This can prompt parents to make choices that they later regret. Uniformed consumers make excellent customers.

When faced with uncertainty, parents usually opt to expand the volume and intensity of the activities their children participate in.

So, what can be done to address this situation?

Though I would like to slow that trend toward commercialization of athletics (and other extra-curricular activities), I also recognize that this would be an enormous undertaking. The business interests that profit from parents willing to pay for services with the potential to give their children competitive advantages have become deeply entrenched in our society. For this reason, I encourage parents to focus on the long-term goals they have for their children and make decisions with careful attention to those objectives. What do they ultimately hope their sons and daughters will get out of participating in extra-curricular activities?

Interestingly, when I asked parents what they hoped their children would learn through sports, they mentioned the value of “life lessons” more often than winning. Those lessons included things like persistence, the ability to work with others, overcoming adversity, and time management. Yet while almost everyone I interviewed recognized the importance of those lessons, many failed to back up their words with action. When an invitation to an elite summer camp or to try out for a highly ranked team, they found it difficult to resist those opportunities.

The most well-adjusted athletes I observed as I conducted my research invested time and energy in sports, but also participated in other extra-curricular activities. Parents of these well-rounded young women and men resisted the temptation to make decisions based on the assumption that their children would one day receive offers to play or perform at the college level. Regarding a college scholarship as one of many possible outcomes—rather than the ultimate sign of success—had a ripple effect; it allowed them to make decisions in a more holistic way, after considering many different factors. They encouraged their sons and daughters to play multiple sports, act in school plays, participate in school government, etc. In other words, parents created a sense of balance in their children’s lives.

Children’s interests and priorities shift over time. Their developmental needs evolve. A kid who seems intent on becoming a professional basketball player at age 8 might decide that playing the violin is more gratifying only a couple of years later. If parents can maintain a focus on life lessons rather than competition, they can create a solid foundation for their children’s long term physical, social, and cognitive development.

Christopher Bjork is a Professor of Education on the Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. Chair & Coordinator of Teacher Education. You can reach them on Twitter @chrisbjork6

Wedding ring makes shadow of a heart in a book. “Untitled” by Ylanite licensed under Pixabay License

The age at which adults first marry has slowly risen since the 1970’s. In 2021, the average age at first marriage in the U.S. was for 30.4 for men and for 28.6 women. Delaying marriage until the late 20’s or early 30’s has become both common and normal as a response to cultural, economic, and educational shifts. These include the decline of manufacturing and growth of knowledge and service economies, the increased importance of college degrees to opportunities for middle-class jobs, and the increasing acceptance of pre-marital sex and cohabitation. A predominant narrative around marriage today is that young adults should wait, especially if they are enrolled in college, so that they can establish themselves financially and develop maturity before forming their own families.

Still, some young adults marry in the late teens or early 20’s, notably in the U.S. South. 6.44% of 18–23-year-olds in the United States were married, separated, divorced, or widowed as of 2017, and 7.41% in the South. To understand why some marry “early,” I interviewed 45 18-23 year old engaged or married young adult college students in Mississippi. Most of the engaged students would marry in the Summer just after their college graduation.

I found that these young adults hadn’t always planned to marry as early as they did (or would). As they entered college, in fact, they had adopted the idea that marriage would take their focus away from school and had expected to wait until closer to average ages. However, they compromised this earlier marriage timeline due to a set of four factors, some of which reflect their childhood environments and others that reflect influences during college.

First, in students’ personal orientations to marriage, marriage was a central life goal and an important marker of social standing in their families, peer networks, neighborhoods, or religious communities. Students described a preference for committed relationships over casual sexual or romantic ties, with some embracing the idea that dating was intended only to explore marital compatibility.

Second, students were located within a marriage-oriented culture. All had witnessed family members, friends, or peers marry early and had met other students on campus who were engaged or married. While many of their college peers had no interest in commitment, those who did had opportunities to connect with one another, for instance through organized religious groups or sorority chapters that held ritual celebrations of engagement.

Third, the “right” relationship led students to consider marriage. These relationships were emotionally close and positive, with some describing a self-transformation that their partner had enabled. A relationship was also “right” when a partner was supportive of existing goals in school and work, which signaled that marriage was unlikely to throw a student off track. Finally, students had been in their relationships for several years, and a sense of inevitability around marriage had often crept in. For those who had lived together, the familiarity of a shared household made them feel “ready” to get married.

Finally, students had experienced social and financial support for marriage. Their families and friends were excited about the idea of their marriage, and only a very few expressed reservations. In addition, students had confirmed that the financial support their parents gave them for college would continue following marriage or, if it would not, planned their weddings for after graduation. Marriage also allowed some to access additional financial resources such as military spousal benefits or Pell grants for college. And among those who did not approve of living together outside of marriage, marriage could reduce the costs of housing.

Ultimately, marriage at a young age began to make sense to students when they were in quality long-term relationships, when they felt confident that their partner would not hinder their future goals in school or work, when their marriage had the support of family members, and when they would gain financially or at least not lose by getting married. Many said things like “why not?” or “why wait?” to express the feeling that barriers to marriage had been removed. Going forward with an early marriage was also made likely by the orientations towards relationships and marriage that had formed earlier in life in students’ families and communities, and by the prevalence of early marriage in students’ networks.

These young people were certainly aware that they were doing something somewhat unusual by getting married while in college. Yet instead of rejecting the social norm of delaying marriage, they applied it to others while making themselves an exception. Students distanced themselves from the potential stigma of marrying “too early” by talking about themselves as more mature than others, and thus more ready to get married. For instance, Natalie concluded that, “I like being married. I’m perfectly happy being married and being a student. I love it. But if you’re not ready for it, like most people aren’t, you don’t see how anybody else could be.”

Acknowledgement: This study was funded by a Presidential grant from the Russell Sage Foundation.

Rachel Allison is an Associate Professor of Sociology and affiliate of Gender Studies at Mississippi State University. You can follow her on Twitter @rallis2.

Parent with college aged child. Photo by Adrian van Stee Media

Interviews with undergraduates during COVID-19 lockdowns illuminate how social class shapes the most intimate dimensions of family life, including how we understand what we deserve from and owe to our parents.

“Once quarantine started in March, one of my first thoughts was, ‘Shit, I’m not going to see my parents for a long time,’” Lexie told me that November over Zoom. A college junior from a low-income family, Lexie was just finishing her second semester of remote instruction at an elite university in the northeastern United States.

Although many of her classmates had returned to their parents’ homes when students were ordered to vacate the dorms the previous March, Lexie had not. The risk of bringing COVID-19 to her parents was too great, she told me, explaining,

My parents are 75 and 63. They both have every single health condition you could think of: diabetes, asthma . . . they’re both really overweight . . . which means that for COVID, if they get it, they will die.

Lexie’s mom had begged her to come home. “I don’t know what [my mom was thinking], because my mom knows that I’m a very stubborn person,” Lexie told me. “When I make a decision about something, especially when it regards her safety, I’m not going to budge on that.”

Crowdsourcing information from friends, Lexie found an apartment to sublet from a classmate who had returned home. Although Lexie felt fortunate to have found a place to stay, she struggled with the isolation of living alone in lockdown. “Everyone I knew went back home and lived with their parents,” Lexie said, describing the end of the spring 2020 semester. She told me, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was the worst time in my life.”

About a month later, I interviewed Lexie’s classmate, Bella. The daughter of two Ivy-educated professionals, Bella said she occupied two empty bedrooms in her parents’ spacious suburban home – one for sleep, the other for schoolwork. “My parents were willing to do whatever would make the spring more fun for me and for them,” Bella explained, recounting that they ordered a wine subscription and meal prep kits. Bella’s parents also ensured that she was set up with the technology she needed for remote classes: “they bought me a monitor and all these other accessories to help make studying easier,” Bella said.

Although Bella was already living in an off-campus apartment when the dorms closed that March, she explained that it was more appealing to move home because she knew her parents could take care of her there. “Because it was such a scary virus, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just come home and let you guys take care of me,’” Bella explained, adding, “It didn’t hurt that [my parents] were going to pay for all of my food and stuff for that time.”

At face value, Lexie’s and Bella’s pandemic housing trajectories may be surprising. Lexie’s mother wanted her to return home, and she could have saved money by doing so. Bella was already living in an off-campus apartment, and she could have stayed put. So what explains their housing decisions?

My research demonstrates that understanding why Bella moved home—and why Lexie did not—requires understanding their underlying relationships with their parents.

Privileged dependence, precarious autonomy

Lexie and Bella were two of the 48 undergraduates I interviewed to understand how students from different social class backgrounds navigated COVID-19 campus closings. These students all attended the same elite residential university, but half were from working-class families and the other half were from upper-middle-class families. As their disparate experiences suggest, I observed striking class divides.  

When I began this study in March 2020, I expected to see inequalities in the material resources parents would be able to provide—and I certainly did. Yet the class divides I observed went beyond immediate resource constraints. As I wrote in the Journal of Marriage and Family, I found that students’ housing decisions also reflected dramatically different understandings of their relationships with their parents.

My interviews revealed class divides in students’ understandings of (a) their parents’ authority, (b) their own entitlement to parents’ resources, and (c) their obligations to their families. Together, these understandings informed how students made decisions about where to live and how to interact with their families during remote instruction. Upper-middle-class students became more dependent on their parents—what I term privileged dependence—while working-class students took on more adult responsibility than ever—precarious autonomy.


Class divides in students’ understandings of intergenerational authority came through most clearly in their initial decisions about where to live when the dorms closed in March 2020. Upper-middle-class parents tended to be highly involved in students’ housing decisions and travel arrangements. Their children typically felt they had to live where their parents wanted them to. This reflected both students’ respect for their parents’ expertise about how to stay safe and students’ feeling that the people who pay the bills call the shots.

Working-class students, by contrast, typically made decisions more independently. These students often felt they knew more than their parents. Further, working-class parents lacked financial leverage: students like Lexie were typically paying all or most of their own college expenses (here, it’s important to consider how institutional context shaped the dynamics I observed: at the highly-resourced university in my study, working-class students benefitted from unusually generous financial aid packages – this gave them financial leverage their working-class peers at other colleges wouldn’t have had).  


Second, students’ narratives revealed class divides in the extent to which they felt entitled to parents’ resources. Upper middle-class students like Bella generally viewed parents’ homes as their homes and parents’ money as their money. They typically described child-centered relationships in which both parents and students prioritized the student’s comfort, health, and academic progress. Bella’s decision to return home illustrates this dynamic well—she wanted to be at home so that her parents could take care of her.

In contrast, working-class students like Lexie actively considered parents’ needs, vulnerabilities, and constraints when making decisions about where to live and how to interact with their families. They typically felt far less entitled to parents’ resources—which were, of course, far more limited. Many working-class students (including many who moved home) expressed fears of being a health risk, a financial burden, or an inconvenience to their families.


Finally, there were class divides in students’ understandings of their obligations to their families. Whereas privileged students like Bella generally took it for granted that their parents would run the household while they focused on school, working-class students who went home typically had more responsibilities. These included running errands, driving parents to work, caring for elderly family members, and helping manage young siblings’ remote schooling. Some working-class students purposefully avoided returning home because they anticipated such responsibilities would interfere with schoolwork. Others who did return home often put academics to the side to tend to family members’ needs.

The uncertain future

My findings suggest implications for inequality, both during the immediate context of the pandemic and beyond. There were clear short-term benefits to privileged students’ greater dependence on parents during remote instruction. Privileged parents’ socioeconomic resources and the shared assumption that their young adult children would continue to rely on these resources protected upper-middle-class students like Bella from a variety of financial and academic disruptions. These protections—which were not available to less advantaged peers like Lexie—may yield longer-term payoffs, thus amplifying inequalities between students.

Comparing the experiences of Lexie, Bella, and their peers also offers a window into underlying differences in these young adults’ relationships with their parents. Students’ options for dealing with the campus closings were clearly constrained by their own and their parents’ immediate circumstances at the onset of the pandemic. But the class divides I observed extended beyond immediate resource constraints. The students I interviewed made decisions that reflected class-specific understandings of intergenerational authority, their entitlement to their parents’ resources, and their obligations to their families. My findings underscore the need to consider students’ relationships with their parents in understanding their educational decisions, experiences, and outcomes, both during the pandemic and beyond.

Elena G. van Stee is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2021-2023 Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Predoctoral Fellow. Elena’s research examines culture and inequality, focusing on social class, families, higher education, and the transition to adulthood. Her dissertation explores how social class intersects with race/ethnicity and immigration to shape young adults’ relationships with parents after college. You can read more about Elena’s research on her website and follow her on Twitter at @elenavanstee. 

Multiracial: The Kaleidoscope of Mixedness book cover

It was just over 20 years ago, in 2000, when the US Census first offered the option to identify with more than one race.  President Obama helped to amplify this message when he referred to himself as a “mutt” in reference to his parents’ Nigerian Black, White, and immigrant background. Fast forward to Kamala Harris’ election as not only the first woman but also the first mixed-race woman of color Vice President.  Harris openly identifies as South Asian and Jamaican Black, and her identity was a point of celebration for many who identify as multiracial themselves.  Interracial marriage didn’t even become legal in the U.S. until 1967 yet by 2020 the “two or more races population” was 33.8 million people, a 276 percent increase since 2010. In just a few decades, multiraciality has reshaped the ways we think about racial identification and posed challenges to strict divisions within the racial hierarchy.

Since about the 1970s, research began into what a “multiracial” identity means and the implications of multiraciality for society.  In 1993 Maria P.P Root wrote the now famous “Bill of Rights for Mixed Race People,” which lays out a series of rights related to personal racial identity for those who identify with more than one race. The scholarship on mixedness has rapidly grown since then, with work on not only the complex facets of a mixed-race identity but also on varied intersecting topics such as discrimination against multiracials, psychological and emotional development of multiracials, multiracial identity across the life course, and the presence of multiraciality in marketing and popular culture.  In my new book, Multiracial: The Kaleidoscope of Mixedness, I provide a critical synthesis of the scholarship on mixedness, from the 1970s until today.  In analyzing the “field of mixedness” I engage with how mixedness, and multiraciality specifically, present key opportunities to challenge hegemonic racial thinking as well as potentially conform to that same hegemonic racial framework.  While the book has 6 chapters that each take a different focus, in this post I am focusing on Chapter 3 that looks at the dynamics of mixedness in families. 

The institution and practices of family are essential to understanding mixedness.  There is a co-creative process between race and family wherein family creates and reproduces race and race shapes family formation.  In the chapter on family, I review three main topics: interracial relationships, racial socialization, and in vitro and adoption.

Interracial relationships are an integral part of mixed studies because at the root of mixedness is recognition of a couple as interracial.  Approval of interracial marriage is at an all-time high.  The coupling that has faced the greatest resistance are Black and White couples but a recent Gallup poll shows 94 percent of US adults now approve of marriages between Blacks and Whites, compared to 20 percent approval a year after interracial marriages were made legal.  Despite this increase in approval ratings, the celebration needs to proceed with caution.  First, some interracial marriages are much more common than others, which reveals patterns in how some racial groups are seen as more acceptable than others.  For example, relationships between Hispanics and Whites are the most common while White men with Black wives are rarer.  sSecond, marriage does not always signal an end to discrimination; this point is true both for interracial couples with a White partner and also for interracial couples among people of colorSome individuals seek an interracial relationship to increase their social mobility and/or to distance themselves from their own familial background.  Other research shows that sometimes the White partner expects high degrees of conformity from their non-White partner while others have a blending of cultures within the relationship.  Interracial marriages, thus, can continue to conform to the rules of a racial hierarchy even while crossing the color line.

A second line of inquiry among mixed families is racial socialization.  Racial socialization identifies how families teach their children about racial identity, racial discrimination, and race relations through explicit and implicit conversations and modeling behaviors. Parents of mixed-race children face the particular task of deciding upon their child’s racial identity as a child of an interracial couple could choose to have one or more racial identities that reflects their parents’ background.  Parents may have a racial identity preference for their child, which can complicate the racial identity formation for mixed children.  Some parents may want a specific monoracial identity out of group loyalty while other parents, particularly if one is White, tend to want their child to identify as multiracial.  Such messages and preferences from parents range from supportive to combative, and have been shown to have a significant effect on how mixed-race people identify as an adult.

A third main line of inquiry is how adoption and assistive technologies are creating new types of mixed families.  While these types of families are less included in the scholarship on mixedness, it’s important to recognize the formation of mixed-race families via adoption, gamete donation (sperm or ova), and gestational carriers.  In the case of adoption, the majority of mixed families are White parents who adopt children of color.  Current approximate estimates are that one in four adoptive households is transracial, one in six adopted children is foreign born, and 84 percent of international adoptions are transracial.  Children of European and Asian descent are the most desired among potential parents.  Of great concern within these families is how adopted children with White parents often reside in segregated White communities and explicit conversation around racial identity and racial discrimination is often lacking, which can lead to an unstable or complicated racial identity.  While the children in these families may be monoracial themselves, the experience of residing in a mixed-race family household can lead to identifying as multiracial.

The interactive effects between race(ism) and family are present and salient for all families, but in the case of mixed-race families some questions are more particular.  What patterns do we see among interracial couples? How do racial socialization messages shape racial identity preference? How are changes in technology and resources creating new pathways for forming mixed-race families? If the past twenty years is an indication, the amount of people choosing a multiracial identity will increase, and so we must continue to ask how multiraciality is informing our future.

hephzibah v. strmic-pawl is the author of Multiracial: The Kaleidoscope of Mixedness published with Polity Books. She is also the author of Understanding Racism (SAGE) and the facilitator for the Support Ella Baker Day campaign. Twitter/IG: @hephzibahvsp

Ten years ago, my husband and I eloped. We invited no one to observe the exchange of vows, but my family eagerly awaited the change of my surname. Three days after the ceremony, when we joined my family for a Christmas celebration, they asked why I hadn’t changed my name online. They were shocked when I told them I did not intend to change my name at all. A few minutes after the news settled, my family informed me that I was treating my husband poorly and that they really thought I should change my name. The experience left me feeling ill, and wondering whether most people in the U.S. thought women who kept their names were less than ideal romantic partners.

Researchers have shown that people view heterosexual women who change their names as more committed than women who keep their names, but it is unclear whether this is because name-keeping women don’t share a surname with their husband or because they break gender norms. To date, most studies have only compared women who took their husbands’ surnames (women who follow gender norms and sharea surname with their husband) with women who kept or hyphenated their surnames (women who break gender norms and do not share a surname with their husband), so prior research could not disentangle whether negative views of women are caused by their gender deviance or by their lack of a shared surname.

In a paper recently published in Socius, I report results from a survey experiment that asked people what they thought about the commitment and love of women and men in couples in which 1) women changed their surnames to their husbands’ surnames, 2) both partners kept their surnames, or 3) both partners hyphenated their surnames (women who share a surname with their husbands, but break gender norms). Comparing views of women across these three couples allowed me to isolate the potentially negative impact of breaking gendered marital name norms from the impact of not sharing a surname.

I found that women who break marital name norms are judged, even when they share a surname with their husband. This suggests the public (un)consciously judges norm-breaking women because of their gender deviance, not because they’ve failed to construct a family identity. The figure below shows that women who shared a hyphenated surname with their husbands were rated as 12% less committed and loving than women who changed their surnames. Women who kept their surnames were viewed as 13% less committed.

Predicted values based on linear regression models with covariates presented in Table 3 of Kelley, Kristin. 2023. “The Effect of Marital Name Choices on Heterosexual Women’s and Men’s Perceived Quality as Romantic Partners.” Socius 9:1-14.

Predicted values based on linear regression models with covariates presented in Table 3 of Kelley, Kristin. 2023. “The Effect of Marital Name Choices on Heterosexual Women’s and Men’s Perceived Quality as Romantic Partners.” Socius 9:1-14.

Are men also rated as less committed and loving when they break marital name norms? I found that men in couples in which both partners kept their surnames were viewed as 5% less committed and loving than men whose wives changed their surnames. However, men in name-hyphenating couples were viewed similarly to conventional men. It appears that women’s commitment and love is more scrutinized on the basis of their marital name choices than men’s commitment and love. However, people do perceive men as having lower social status and less power when they or their wives break marital name norms.

Norm-breaking penalties likely discourage women and men from making egalitarian marital name choices. In light of these findings, it is no surprise that  87% of heterosexual women in the U.S. still change their surnames at marriage. According to Ellen Lamont, many heterosexual couples conform to traditional gendered dating rituals due to cultural pressure. My family’s opinions of my own marital name choice did not push me to the county clerk’s office, asking to change my name after all, but the experience has made me more likely to think about how I conform to standards of femininity in their presence, i.e. my own accountability to gender norms.

How might things change? Although unconventional marital name choices may initially result in backlash, the belief that norm-breaking women are less committed and loving may weaken as more couples keep, hyphenate, and blend their names. Given their higher status in society, men may be able to fast-forward progress if they choose to hyphenate or change their own names. Same-sex and queer couples are already showing us what name change utopia might look like. Lesbian, gay, and queer couples are more reflexive, flexible, and purposefully egalitarian about their marital name choices.

Kristin Kelley is a Research Fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. You can read more about her research at here and follow her on twitter @kelleykristink and LinkedIn.

parents and child. “Untitled” by 460273 is licensed under Pixabay License

Family dynamics have become more complex and differentiated over time, generating a new context of family relationships and support structures. At the same time, individuals increasingly rely on family support. Shared values and interpersonal relationships play an important role for intergenerational exchange, but the provision of support is ultimately contingent on individual needs and resources available to exchange. Therefore, the question arises about how events altering individual needs and resources may in turn have negative implications for individual’s well-being over the life course.

In a new study, we draw from rich panel data from Germany to investigate the role of one such event, parental separation, for support exchanges between parents and adult children.

We looked at 4,340 German adults who participated in in-depth surveys conducted every other year between 2009 and 2016, which explored the extent to which parents and children gave and received support to each other. We focused on the interdependencies across multiple dimensions of support. Specifically, we looked at three types of support: emotional support, which includes things like personal advice; material support, which refers to things like financial support and gifts; and instrumental support, which includes things like helping out around the house, babysitting and eldercare. As intergenerational support is a bidirectional transfer process, in which parents support their children and children support their parents when parents get older, we examined both directions of support: from parents to children (downward) and from children to parents (upward). Furthermore, we considered mothers and fathers as separate but interdependent sources and recipients of support.

Our results suggest that the effects of parental separation, which affect the resources and well-being of parents and children, as well as their relationships, extend to their ability and opportunities of exchanging support. We find evidence of interdependence across several dimensions. Both upward and downward support are lower when parents did not separate for most dimensions and directions of support. The only exchanges which do not differ for children of separated and non-separated families are emotional support exchanges with mothers in both directions, and material support to mothers.

Differences emerge for support exchanges with mothers vs fathers, with separation being less disruptive of support exchanges between adult children and mothers, which may relate to their kinkeeper role during marriage, longer co-residence with children after separation, and lower likelihood to remarry and establish a new family.

Education makes a significant difference for mothers, but not for fathers. More educated mothers are better able they are to provide material support to their children after separation, suggesting that the socio-economic position of mothers buffers some of the negative consequences of union dissolution for intergenerational relations.  

Parental separation in childhood is associated with lower support exchanges with fathers, but not with mothers. This result aligns with those of studies showing that parental separations earlier in life are negatively associated with intergenerational contact than parental separations later in life, particularly with fathers.

Overall, our study shows that children in separated families are at a disadvantage not only as kids but also as adults, highlighting the social challenge and the need to provide additional support for separated families.

The fact that separation is associated with lower intergenerational assistance across a range of support dimensions and flows contributes to increasing disadvantage for those already disadvantaged. As the family plays an increasing role as safety net, lower intergenerational assistance among families who experienced separation may translate in increasing disadvantage for those who traditionally were in disadvantage. Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds are far more likely to be exposed to parental separation, suggesting that a gap exists for non-intact families between support exchange and need of support, which might have significant implications for how family dynamics contribute to the reproduction of social inequalities.

We welcome research to expand on our findings by addressing what explains the associations we documented between parental separation and intergenerational support. Among other factors, it would be interesting to investigate the role of resources related for example to employment status, financial situation, as well as health; family structures, such as presence of (step-) siblings or parental remarriage; and relationship quality, such as emotional closeness or frequency of contact.

Anna Manzoni is Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University (USA). Current research interests include youth transition to adulthood, intergenerational support, inequalities in college access and returns and social mobility more broadly. Her work has been published in  Advances in Life Course Research, Journal of Family Research, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Journal of Higher Education, PLOS one, Research in Higher Education, Social Forces, Sociological Methodology, among other journals. Follow them on Twitter @theitalianna

Blood pressure cuff, medication organizer “Untitled” licensed under Pixabay License

Many transgender and non-binary (TNB) older Americans face challenging social conditions when managing their health. TNB older adults, for example, disproportionately report lower socioeconomic status and higher rates of chronic illness compared to their counterparts. TNB people often face mental health challenges over the life course due to stigma, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities. TNB populations are at risk for experiencing poor mental and physical health outcomes, discrimination, and multiple health risk behaviors such as suicide ideation and attempt. Consequently, TNB older adults continue to experience health inequities in older adulthood. Overall, TNB older adults constitute a medically-vulnerable population with substantial health and healthcare disparities.

The COVID-19 pandemic also poses substantial social and health challenges for TNB older Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults (65 years or over) have a heightened risk of COVID-19-related severe illness, hospitalization, and death among older Americans compared to their younger counterparts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that about 1 in 4 older Americans had at least one potential long-COVID health problem up to a year after an initial COVID-19 infection. While prior research has notably examined TNB health and healthcare disparities during COVID-19, less is known about how TNB people manage such conditions in older adulthood. Examining such disparities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is important since COVID-19 has heightened the social and health instabilities of many TNB older communities across the globe.

At the same time, these conditions make it difficult for TNB older Americans to receive adequate social support and resources in protecting their health. For example, family caregiving of older TNB adults can assist with TNB health and healthcare management. However, researchers have demonstrated the social and health challenges LGBTQIA+ caregivers face when caring for a loved one. LGBTQIA+ family care partners, for example, frequently perform more healthcare management tasks than their counterparts. Additionally, LGBTQIA+ caregivers often report increased employment and income insecurity due to their informal caregiving responsibilities and commitments. Researchers have also established connections between chronic illness management among TNB couples and families. Most importantly, many TNB older adults do not have access to informal and formal caregiver support systems in US society. Prior scholarship is limited in addressing effective support and resource provision strategies for TNB older adults and their family care partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Present Study

Using qualitative data from 47 in-depth interviews, my primary project examines how TNB adults 65 years or over – as a medically and socially vulnerable population – navigate healthcare, advance care planning, and health inequities in US society. Recently published in Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, I investigate how TNB older adults manage and maintain their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such findings offer potential ways to improve health services and resources for TNB older Americans in protecting and maintaining their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Overall, interview respondents’ narratives revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic was an unanticipated life course disturbance that drastically impacted their health management attitudes and experiences. For example, regardless of interview respondents’ demographic and social backgrounds (e.g., political and religious affiliation), most reported socially distancing themselves from others outside of their household during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, interview respondents had various reasons why they chose to physically distance themselves from others outside of their household, aside from the US government stay-at-home orders (e.g., spending more time with family). The primary explanation for why respondents physically distanced from others was due to the fear of being exposed to and managing COVID-19 infection. This fear shaped TNB respondents’ decisions in managing their physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly all TNB older adults from my research sample described their health management decisions and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic through four, primary themes: (1) exacerbated mental health challenges, (2) disrupted social relationships and support, (3) adopting cost-effective health management strategies, and (4) incorporating family care partners in health management. In addition to worsening pandemic conditions, interview respondents’ health management decisions and experiences were heavily influenced by their privileged and marginalized social locations, such as financial security (or lack thereof), informal and/or formal care partnerships, and reliable access to technology. These broader patterns of inequity affect how TNB older Americans manage their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, I investigate how pervasive social inequity and injustice (e.g., lack of familial caregiver support) harm TNB older adults’ ability to maintain their health and well-being in later life, while pinpointing how these processes are shaped by worsening pandemic conditions and interview respondents’ privileged and marginalized social locations in US society. I further describe how trans and non-binary older adults protect (e.g., incorporating family care partnerships) and struggle with (e.g., exacerbated mental health challenges) their health management during the COVID-19 pandemic.


This study magnifies how understanding TNB people’s health management in older adulthood as a dynamic process — influenced by social inequities, privileges, and sociopolitical contexts — is a critical step toward reducing health and healthcare disparities among TNB older Americans. Integrating research findings and clinical competencies of TNB older patient populations into medical education, training, and practice is essential to fully meet the health and healthcare needs of TNB older Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there is limited research addressing health management that pays particular attention to TNB older adults and how they respond to the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic while working to maintain, protect, or better their health independently and with family care partners. This research begins to fill that gap by revealing the structural barriers (e.g., disrupted social relationships and support) to achieving TNB older adults’ health management goals during COVID-19.

Nik M. Lampe, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society and the Vanderbilt LGBTQ+ Policy Lab at Vanderbilt University. You can follow them on Twitter: @nik_lampe

adult and child crossing bridge. Adult carries load. “Untitled” by Eligrek243 is licensed under “Pixabay License”

Young adults in the United States are increasingly relying on their parents for economic support. This is due to long-term changes in the labour and housing market that have made it harder for young people to become economically independent after leaving full-time education.

Most parents, at some point, will provide some form of economic support to their young-adult children. However, the type of support that parents provide – and its consequences – depend strongly upon each family’s socio-economic position. Parents from upper-class families (that is, with higher wealth, incomes, and educational attainment) tend to support their children by giving them large sums of money. This helps children achieve financial security and independence early on, for instance by enabling them to make riskier and more rewarding career decisions, or by giving them preferential access to good-quality housing. Parents who are less well-off are instead more likely to help their children by letting them live at home, in what is known as prolonged intergenerational “co-residence.” Co-residence helps children with living expenses, allowing them for example to repay student debt while securing a stable job. The problem, however, is that co-residence is not as beneficial as direct money transfers for the economic outcomes of young adults. While receiving money that can be flexibly spent opens up the employment and housing opportunities of children, living with parents in young adulthood limits the geographic range of job searches, and it can delay the transition into economically independent adulthood. Clearly, social class differences in parental support to young adults are problematic insofar as they represent a way for socio-economic advantage and disadvantage to be transmitted along generational lines.

In the past thirty years, the United States have experienced consistently high or rising levels of income inequality. Sociological theory and research suggest that such inequality can act to exacerbate social class differences in parental support, which does not bode well for social mobility. By definition, rising inequality implies that, in real terms, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, or both. As such, inequality enables the rich to give disproportionately more money to their children than the poor. Moreover, inequality can raise the stakes of maintaining a high social status for upper-class families, by making lower social positions much less attractive. In a context of high inequality, upper-class parents may be motivated to give more money to their children to avoid them falling into lower-status occupations and housing, in what is known as “fear of falling” effect. Thus, as inequality increases, those parents who have the resources to do so may intensify their monetary support, enabling children to wait longer for the “right” position to open, or to spend long periods of time in prestigious but unpaid internships. Meanwhile, disadvantaged parents will find it more costly to transfer large sums of money to their children, because the risks associated with financial investments are higher. Instead, they may help children by allowing them to live at home while they secure a stable position. If these or similar mechanisms are at play, then high or rising inequality will make it harder for young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve independence from the parental home.

In a recent preprint, I study the relationship between income inequality across 50 U.S. states and class gaps in parental transfers of money and co-residence to young adults between 1992 and 2018. I analyse a large sample of families from the Health and Retirement Study, where children are aged 22-35 and parents are aged 50-75 and in good health, so as not to require practical assistance. I link the data on these families’ social class and transfer behaviour to indicators of state-level inequality, unemployment, and housing prices over the same period. I find that, as inequality increases within a given state, wealthier and college-educated parents give more money to their young-adult children (by around £1,000 per year for 0.1-point increase in the Gini coefficient for income inequality, see Figure 1). By contrast, poorer and lower-educated parents are less likely to give money, and more likely to provide co-residence in times of higher inequality. These changes are not explained by other state-level trends such as the spike in housing prices, giving support to the idea that they are brought about by contextual levels of inequality. The data show that upper-class families mainly intensified their money transfers in the years immediately after the Great Recession (2009-2014), as if shielding their children from the crisis. By contrast, the relationship between inequality and the shift from money to co-residence among lower-class families holds for the whole period under study (1992-2018).

Decades of high inequality and the increasing difficulties faced by young adults in the labour and housing markets in the United States make poor prospects for social mobility. My findings are suggestive of a “vicious cycle” by which inequality increases socio-economic disparities in parental transfers and, in turn, the widening disparities in transfers exacerbate inequalities in outcomes in the children’s generation. These problems are difficult to tackle from a policy perspective, because is not possible to force parents to withhold support to their children. The focus should be on equalising access to higher education, labour and housing markets instead.

Ginevra Floridi is a Lecturer in Sociology and Quantitative Methods at the University of Edinburgh. She is also affiliated with Nuffield College and the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on contextual influences on individual and family behaviours including intergenerational transfers, fertility, and the provision of care. Follow her @ginevra_floridi

Figure 1. Change in inequality within a state and predicted amount of money given to children by parents’ educational attainment

Figure 1. Change in inequality within a state and predicted amount of money given to children by parents’ educational attainment

Linked references

Fingerman, K., Kim, K., Davis, E. M., Furstenberg Jr., F. F., Birditt, K. S., & Zarit, S. H. (2015). “I’ll Give You the World”: Socioeconomic Differences in Parental Support of Adult Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 844–865.

Floridi, G. (2023). Inequality and class divides in parental transfers to young adults in the United States.

Manzoni, A. (2018). Parental Support and Youth Occupational Attainment: Help or Hindrance? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47, 1580–1594. z

Mitnik, P. A., Cumberworth, E., & Grusky, D. B. (2016). Social Mobility in a High-Inequality Regime. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 663, 140– 184.

Schneider, D., Hastings, O. P., & LaBriola, J. (2018). Income Inequality and Class Divides in Parental Investments. American Sociological Review, 83, 475–507.

Sironi, M., & Furstenberg, F. F. (2012). Trends in the Economic Independence of Young Adults in the United States: 1973–2007. Population and Development Review, 38, 609–630.

Toft, M., & Friedman, S. (2021). Family Wealth and the Class Ceiling: The Propulsive Power of The Bank of Mum and Dad. Sociology, 55, 90–109.

The cover of Creative Friendships

Family members know very well how positive it is for our children to have real friends, those who always will support them and especially in the most difficult moments of their lives. Top scientific journals publish research about the concrete contributions to the well-being of children from reading and dialogue about the book Creative Friendships. The most important result is the promotion of the motivation and capacity of children to select and take care of the best friends. This is also the main source of the development of their dimensions of beauty, goodness, truth and freedom.

The book is scientific but it is written in a narrative that catches the attention of children from eight-year-olds to adults. It is the result of a PhD thesis followed by eight more years of research by two university professors in education, mothers, who also have a lot of practical experience working with children from zero to eighteen years old. Much scientific research is focused on successful cases and their replicability in diverse contexts and individuals. This book analyzes a successful case of one individual with wonderful friendships from his birth until his sixties.

One scientific article explained some of the testimonies made by children who have read and dialogued about this book:

I’ll tell you things from the book but also things I’ve thought . . . I mean . . . that while reading the book I have also thought many things of my own, you know? Things that are not in the book, that the book has made me remember and think, things of mine … But that have to do with the book . . . Do you understand? [Luca, eight years old]

Ramón since he was a child learned to decide well, looking for the reasons for things, that means that he has spent more years than the rest knowing how to decide . . . [Pau, thirteen years old]

Readers of Creative Friendships talk and think a lot about how important it was for the main character to decide freely without submitting himself to the dominant discourses of each moment. When he was fourteen years old (1966) all his peers smoked and pressed him to do the same. Most of them recognized they did not like the first cigarette they smoked, but they continued because they considered it to be a manly thing, and something necessary to be successful with girls.

He did not want to do something that was not pleasant and there was already evidence that it was detrimental for health. He told his friends that he did not need to smoke to feel like a man or to be successful with girls. Now, at seventy, he has much better health than his peers and sadly several of them have already died. As they read and talk about this, children understand the importance of not smoking, but more importantly the significance of making the best decisions without folding to peer pressure. Diverse anecdotes clarify how that would have been impossible without having real friends supporting him and understanding that they had different positions. But the most relevant thing is the narrative’s clarification that he had those extraordinary friendships precisely because of being secure enough to not submit himself to their preferences. Many children think that they will have no friends if they do not do what their friends do, reading and talking about this book helps clarify that this is the best path to have many real friends.

The narration provides plenty of tales inspiring children to self-betterment of their relationships and their lives. For instance, how he was always active against any kind of bullying, which ensured that he never suffered it and always helped his friends to overcome those situations. Children readers become very conscious that by not accepting any kind of disdainful attitudes towards them, they will be free and happy, and that it can help them develop good relationships with family and friends, and develop their leadership in their professional lives. In fact, the main character of the book is now the director of the European report entitled “Achieving student well-being for all: Educational contexts free of violence.” He has friends from when he was seven years old, and they have weekly meet-ups. Some of them are also leaders in different professional areas including medicine, companies, engineering, and culture.

Some people think that they need to choose between prioritizing the instrumental learning of children or their well-being. Almost each page of the book includes a different anecdote and different evidence about why it is important to substitute this “or” with “and.” There is no evidence at all that being good in mathematics means you need to sacrifice your well-being or vice versa. On the contrary, your well-being is much better when it includes instrumental learning of all subjects. Instrumental learning fosters well-being. So, the priority is to have well-being and to be good in all subjects; one fosters the other. The book motivates children towards languages, physics, music, literature, mathematics and all dimensions of their lives.

Marta Soler, Former President of the European Sociological Association. Twitter: @MartaSolerUB

Ane Lopez de Aguileta, PhD candidate at the University of Barcelona. Twitter: @AneLdaEng