photo credit: John Schmitt

Scientists stepped out of their offices and labs to make a statement. On Saturday, April 22, the March for Science took place in Washington, D.C. along with over 600 satellite marches. With funding and facts under threat by the new administration, scientists from a wide range of disciplines and supporters of science filled the streets to advocate for the importance of scientific research and evidence. To get a better understanding of the significance of the March for Science and the threat of the current administration’s proposed policies, we spoke to Dr. Philip Cohen who marched in D.C. on Saturday. Cohen is a professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and a senior scholar at Council on Contemporary Families. What did we learn? The March for Science is positive, but there is more to be done.

Q: What kind of impact (if any) do you think the March for Science could have on policy and public opinion?

PNC: We are at an amazing moment when the forces against science and reason and the public appreciation of science both seem to be peaking, which implies a heightened state of conflict. Like the Women’s March and the protests against Trump’s immigration and tax policies, I hope the March for Science helps to coalesce the movement against Trumpism and build solidarity for the long difficult times to come. Whether it will yield tangible policy results in the short run I have no idea.

Q: The American Sociology Association and other social science groups endorsed the March for Science. What do you think such groups are hoping to gain from their participation in the march? What would you like to see as a result of the March?

PNC: In addition to ASA, I was glad to see the Population Association of America, to which I also belong, sign on to the March. We have immediate concerns, especially around support for social science research through NSF, NIH, and other agencies — and also the federal data collection agencies, principally the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Health Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, and others. Even without aggressive manipulation of their work, or opposition to their specific projects, just the budget slashing they’re talking about could be extremely bad. On the plus side, those agencies employ a lot of people, and their work has direct applications in all Congressional districts and for a lot of important constituencies, so I’m optimistic that mobilizing support for government data might yield positive results at the federal level. And the professional associations, including ASA and PAA, can play an important role in that. But it’s too early to tell.

Q: The new administration has shown that science programs are not a priority for them. More specific to social sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities is on the chopping block in the administration’s proposed budget. What effect does this have on your research and others like you, and what would you recommend those who oppose such cuts do after the March for Science?

PNC: For social scientists, NSF and NIH are the most important agencies. Other research is funded by smaller agencies like NEH, and also by research divisions in other agencies, such as the Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, and so on. Anyone whose research is federally funded right now has to be very concerned and thinking about alternative avenues for funding. Some philanthropic agencies will step in, but they can’t replace the big federal budgets.

One key area I’ve been very involved in, which is directly relevant here, is the open scholarship movement. This was already important, but with the assault on science and reason, and the potential slashing of research budgets, it’s even more vital to make our research more efficient, to reach more people more quickly, to maximize the potential for collaboration and information sharing — all the outcomes we hope to achieve through open scholarship. That’s why I’ve been involved in the SocArXiv project, which seeks to drive social science toward openness. American academia wastes billions of dollars propping up an exclusionary publishing system that is slow, inefficient, and deleterious to the cause of science and knowledge creation. We can do better with less, and now is the time to make that happen. I hope social scientists, in particular, will take the simple steps necessary to make their research freely available, which can be an important piece of building public support and trust in our efforts.

Megan Peterson is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

“Millennials” is a term coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss to refer to the cohort of young people who were entering adulthood at the beginning of the 21st Century. In two best-selling books, these authors described youths born in the 1980s and 1990s as qualitatively different from – and superior to – the preceding Generation X. In fact, in their second book about Millennials, Howe and Straus equated Millennials with the GI generation—also known as the Greatest Generation–labeling both “hero” generations. Millennials, they opined, had seven core traits. Treated as “special” and “sheltered” while growing up, they became confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.

Strauss and Howe initially drew the Millennial cohort’s boundaries as the two decades of births spanning from 1982 through the 1990s, but the early boundary has been pushed back to the late 1970s by some writers, and Howe and Strauss later extended it to people born up through 2004.

In other words, the Millennial birth cohort has become larger and larger over time and so have the adjectives used to describe them. A recent Google search produced nearly 40 million references to Millennials, but even the most casual reading of the literature quickly reveals just how promiscuous the term has become and how contradictory are the generalizations made about what they are like and how they will drive social and political change.

What is a cohort, anyway? Demographers and sociologists make an important conceptual distinction between age cohorts and age categories. There is a simple way of understanding the difference: Birth cohorts have a life span while age categories are a slice of the population at a point in time. People move out of age groups but they remain in their birth cohort.

Karl Mannheim, the eminent political sociologist, conjectured that a birth cohort shares a specific historical experience and may form a common identity or consciousness in early adulthood as age peers try to make sense of or adapt to critical political, economic, and social events. This idea was picked up and widely adopted by social scientists in the middle of the last century as the Baby Boom generation emerged.

But Howe and Strauss, and many pundits since, have gone a step further, attributing to each particular age group a unique “personality,” worldview, and set of attitudes or psychological characteristics that is distinct from previous cohorts and common to most members. While this makes for good copy, the assumption that all members of a cohort share some commonality is far from settled.

For example, why should we expect that young adults now in their teens and early twenties share much in common with those in their late-thirties? The oldest of these young adults entered the labor market during the Great Recession while the youngest have yet to even complete their schooling; the oldest witnessed first-hand the tragic events of 9/11 while the youngest were infants or not yet even born on that date. As sociologist Philip Cohen points out, youths born between 1980 through 1984 were in their late twenties when the 2009 recession hit, and many had already begun their childbearing careers. By contrast, youths born between 1990 and 1994 started their childbearing years at the height of the economic crisis, and at least so far have dramatically lower birth rates.

About Baby Boomers. Similarly, sociologists debate whether it is meaningful or useful to ascribe such commonalities to the Baby Boomers, commonly defined as people born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest of these spent their early years in the politically repressive and rigidly gendered 1950s while the youngest spent their childhoods surrounded by the Civil Rights movement and the early feminist movement of the 1960s, and both groups had significantly different same racial-ethnic, class, or regional experiences. The marriage rate has fallen fairly steadily since its high point in the 1950s and early 1960s. But the sharpest drop, a full 22 percent decline, occurred within the Baby Boom generation rather than being pioneered by Millennials.

The belief that birth cohorts have particular identities has become popular in marketing and consumer research because young people are especially receptive to adopting new styles of dress, music, and social practices in language and communication. There is no doubt that such tastes are shared among age peers; but there is some doubt about whether these stylistic commonalities persist in later life (probably not), and even more about whether they extend to widely shared world views about politics that are maintained for life (unlikely).

Think, for example, about whether Baby Boomers, who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, have generally held onto to their views of the world as they entered mid- or later-life. On many issues, some have become more conservative, with a disproportionate share supporting Trump. But, a larger majority of Baby Boomers now support gender equality than did their 18-to-25 year old selves in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Another way to look at generations and cohorts. Yes, new values and new behaviors often emerge among younger age groups as they encounter different social, political, technological, and economic conditions from those experienced by people who grew up ten, 20, or 50 years earlier. Some of the new conditions recent cohorts have experienced, different from those of their elders, may help explain why, on average, Americans born in recent decades have different attitudes than older cohorts on issues such as climate change. In a June 2015 survey, 60 percent of 18-29 year-olds said that human activity was causing global warming, almost twice as many as the 31 percent of Americans 65 and older. But, it is not clear whether this change is a distinctive view of the Millennial cohort. Only time will tell.

Another new development that has undoubtedly affected the beliefs and behaviors of younger Americans is that the timetable for growing up was dramatically altered in the second half of the 20th century. It now takes much longer for people to complete their education and attain full economic independence than it did 50 years ago (Furstenberg, 2010).

Young adults these days tend to flock to urban environments more than they once did, in part because of this postponement. Values about living arrangements, the pursuit of romantic and sexual relationships, and the timing of marriage have also been affected. But, these changes have been coming about gradually (since the 1980s) with each age group experiencing a later age of entry to adulthood and a larger share of residents in central urban areas. It is not obvious that these preferences are distinctly expressed by Millennials and that they will subside as a new cohort succeeds them.

It is often difficult to make the case that changing attitudes and behaviors are confined to a particular age group or that they will persist over time. Rather, a succession of age groups has responded to the new realities of the need for extended education to find a more secure footing in the labor market. In my recent research with Sheela Kennedy, we found that the timetable in expectations for coming of age changed not only among young adults but their parents and grandparents. Demographers would call this a “period effect” (influencing all age groups) rather than a “cohort effect” that is experienced by a single age cohort.

As the briefing papers by Pepin and Cotter and by Fate-Dixon show, attitudes about male-breadwinner families and working mothers have shifted away from an egalitarian direction among a significant section of the younger generation, even though acceptance of equal rights as a principle has continued to grow. It remains to be seen whether this trend represents a broader view in the general population that reflects new experiences in family life or whether it is a temporary expression of experiences or challenges occurring during a “stage of life” that is confined to an age grouping. Will it persist as young adults who are not yet in families move into partnership and parenthood? Will it abate if advocates for family-friendly work policies make gains? Or will it spread up the age ladder if economic and political developments make it even harder than it already is for men and women to share breadwinning and parenting? We simply don’t know, but answering these questions will tell us more about what is in store in the coming decades than fanciful generalizations about the identity of “the” Millennials, who are every bit as divided by race, ethnicity, religion, region, gender and sexuality as their elders.

Frank Furstenberg is Professor of Sociology and Research Associate in the Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania.

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

As Pepin and Cotter’s new work shows, attitudes towards gender equality across different domains have diverged. Although young people hold increasingly egalitarian views about women’s role in the workplace, the increase in their support for egalitarian attitudes about women’s role in the household has stalled and even seems to have slid.

Why the lag? Old masculinity scripts, perhaps. Part of the reason for this divergence may be that changes in the labor force have driven changes in how men view women’s roles at home. As women get closer to equal footing outside of the home, men may be compensating by stressing the importance of traditional women’s roles in the home. In essence, saying that women should be the primary caregivers in the household may be a powerful way for young men to assert their masculinity and for women to assert their support of traditional gender roles in a world in which the dominant economic role of men is no longer a given.

In a 2012 article, Yasemin Besen-Cassino and I showed that men who earned less money than their wives did less housework than those men who earned the same or more than their wives. Interestingly, and in a twist on other research in the same area, we found that this behavior was conditional on total rather than relative income – men were threatened only by high-earning wives, regardless of their own income – and that the reduction occurred in only one type of housework — cleaning. They made up for their cutbacks in cleaning by an increase in cooking, a behavior that has become effectively de-gendered in recent years.

We theorized that this was likely the result of men’s adopting symbolic masculinities in response to a gender role threat: In this case, the threat was the loss of their traditional economic dominance within the household, and the symbolic response was a reduction in the amount of time spent on cleaning. Men who experienced income loss relative to their wives did not cut back on the total time they spent on housework but only in the type of housework most traditionally associated with the feminine role.

Our finding that relative income only mattered when a wife had relatively high earnings may have implications for the recent slippage in support for male breadwinning families noted by Pepin and Cotter. A wife who earns more than her husband only constitutes a threat if she actually earns what is an objectively high amount of money. All of this means that, until recently, direct economic threat to men was limited to a relatively small group. However, as women gain standing in the workplace, and men increasingly view the world as being slanted towards women economically (whether it is or not), that small group has been growing. Of course, high school seniors are unlikely to have been directly threatened by women’s higher earnings, so they may be absorbing the message that male privilege is under assault from media accounts or the experiences of others in their family or community.

Refusing to clean the house is just one way in which men can symbolically express their masculinity in response to earning less money than their spouses: The political and social realms may offer men an even more potent way to display their masculinity to themselves and others, something that we may be seeing in the exit polls analyzed by Kawashima-Ginsberg. In a survey experiment carried out last year, my colleagues at the PublicMind poll and I primed men to think about how, in an increasing number of households, women now earn more money than their husbands. Men who were made to think about this sort of gender threat became dramatically less likely to support Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head match-up with Donald Trump, though no less likely to support Bernie Sanders. This suggests that when men are nudged to think about situations in which they lose traditional economic sources of masculine prestige, they become less willing to accept women’s political leadership, at least from women who embrace non-traditional gender roles.

However, qualitative research shows that that not all men adopt traditionally masculine roles in response to gender role threat. Some men may instead go the other way, creating new masculine roles. For instance, instead of seeking alternative ways to buttress traditional masculinity, they may begin to stress their roles as fathers, or craftsmen, or activists as alternative sources of masculinity. Still others, as Sullivan (2011) has argued, may not feel threat at all.

Men’s political views polarize more when it seems like they are losing ground. Men might also be more or less threatened because of their pre-existing social and political outlooks. To examine this, I made use of the 2006-2008-2010 General Social Survey Panel Study, which contacted 2000 Americans up to three times during those years, and looked for changes in men’s political and social views that were associated with changes in their relative earnings within the household. The panel design is ideal for this sort of study, as it means that we’re not looking at whether men support or oppose abortion rights, for instance, but whether they’ve become more or less supportive over the last two years. The period is also perfect for this sort of analysis, given the economic disruptions suffered by many households over the course of the 2008 recession.

I expected that men would feel the greatest gender role threat – and therefore, the greatest need to compensate for it by expressing symbolic masculinities – when they had lost larger amounts of income relative to their spouses. For example, I found that over a period of two years, 10 percent of respondents ended up contributing about 40 percentage points less towards the household income than at the start of the period, dropping, say, from 60 percent of the household income to 20 percent. Such men, I reasoned, were far more likely to feel a great deal of gender role threat arising from their economic status than men who maintained or improved their share of household income over the two-year period. This is slightly different than the sort of threat induced in the survey experiment above (where we primed respondents to think about women getting ahead) – men here were threatened by their loss of earnings, rather than the gains of women, but the type of economic threat to breadwinner status is the same in both cases.

To test the effects of this sort of gender role threat on men’s political and social views, I looked for changes in their views on two issues that have a significant liberal-conservative divide: support for abortion rights and support for government financial aid to African-Americans.

Republican and Democratic men changed in different ways. For one group of respondents, the results confirmed the long-standing belief that men who experience gender role threat become more supportive of traditional ideals and conservative politics. Men who started the period as Republicans but ended up contributing less to their household income compared to their wives at the end of the two years become significantly less supportive of abortion rights over the period. While other Republican men also tended to become less supportive, the decline was largest for men who lost the most income relative to their spouses. (See Figure 1.)

But among Democratic men, the results were strikingly different. Those who lost income relative to their wife over the period became, on average, 0.5 points more supportive of abortion rights. While conservative men came to hold more conservative views on abortion under conditions of economic gender role threat, liberal men come to hold more liberal views.

To add to the complication, Democratic men who gained income relative to their spouses actually became less supportive of abortion. Among liberal men, it seems, those who came to fill the traditional role as a breadwinner became more conservative in their views as well as their economic role in the household.

Similar effects hold for views on government aid to African-Americans in the same GSS panel data. The specific question asked respondents whether African-Americans should “work their way up,” rather than receiving “special favors,” an item that has frequently been used to measure support for government aid to African-Americans[1]. In general, Democratic men became a little less supportive of such aid over a two-year period, and Republican men became a little more supportive, a result indicative of expected reversion to the mean. However, men who lost income relative to their spouses moved in a direction different than the rest of their fellow political thinkers. Republican men who lost income became even less supportive of government aid to African-Americans, while Democratic men in this position became even more supportive. (See Figure 2.)

[1] The questions used in the GSS panel survey ask respondents: “Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with the following statement: Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors.” Responses range from “Agree Strongly” (27percent in first year) to “Disagree Strongly” (4 percent in first year), along a 5 point scale, in which higher responses indicate more support for aid to African-Americans, and lower responses indicate less support. Overall, the sample in the GSS panel was 73 percent white, 14 percent African-American, and 13 percent belonged to other racial categories.

Results like this suggest a few conclusions. First, a variety of political and social views, not limited to those involving gender, can serve as symbolic masculinities, allowing men to bolster their gender identities by adopting certain attitudes. They may become less supportive of abortion rights, or parental leave laws, or less likely to support a woman candidate for high office.

Second, instead of uniformly making men more conservative, gender role threat seems to lead to attitude polarization, with men who start off with more liberal views becoming more liberal, and those who start off holding more conservative views becoming more conservative. Men who have a more generally liberal worldview seem to react to threats to traditional masculine identity by further rejecting traditional masculinity, while conservative men react by becoming embracing it more.

Third, this sort of compensating mechanism doesn’t work equally well for all men. Men without strong political views to start with (political independents in the results described above) don’t seem to change their political attitudes very much in the face of economic gender role threat. It seems that if politics isn’t very important to you, you can’t compensate for a loss of relative income by embracing one set of political views or another. This isn’t to say that these men aren’t compensating in some way – but they may be doing it in some fascinating new way that we just haven’t noticed or yet recognized as compensatory behavior.

Dan Cassino is Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences and History at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Keynote brief prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials March 31, 2017.

Overview. We often think that each generation becomes more modern, egalitarian, and tolerant than the last. And frequently this is correct—as it generally has been with changing attitudes about gender, work and family. Recently, though, our research has shown a surprising twist to that pattern. Looking at a survey that for nearly 40 years has asked high school seniors a series of questions about how men and women should be treated at work, what responsibilities at home should look like, and whether mothers’ employment harms their children, we see that on some of those questions the answers have indeed continued to become more egalitarian. But on others, what had been a trend toward equality stopped or even reversed in the mid-1990s.

We focused on youth because their values are important for predicting future trends. Youths’ attitudes capture changing cultural ideals that are less likely to have been reconciled with adulthood realities, such as unpaid maternity leave and the expenses of childcare, making their opinions of gender unique views from below. Although these adolescents have not yet entered the labor force full-time, the youth in our analyses had diverse experiences with their families, including witnessing their mothers’ work pathways and, for many, the dynamics of their parents at home.

The data in three charts. When we looked at the changing patterns of responses among high school seniors from the mid-1970s to today, we found that trends in attitudes about gender equality in the public realm increasingly diverged from those regarding gender relations within families (see Figure 1). In reference to the public sphere—employment opportunities and leadership abilities—youth have indeed become more egalitarian, increasing their support for the idea that men and women have equal abilities and should be afforded equal opportunities. In 1976, 82 percent of high school seniors already agreed or strongly agreed that “women should be considered as seriously as men for jobs as executives or politicians.” By 1994, that had risen to 91 percent, a high that was sustained for the next two decades. Similarly, in 1976, 76 percent agreed that “A woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man.” This rose to 89 percent in 1994 and has remained stable through 2014. Essentially, starting in the mid-1970s, youth’s attitudes became more egalitarian and plateaued at a high level of egalitarianism since the mid-1990s.

Young people’s attitudes with regard to employed mothers’ relationship with their children show greater variability over the period (see Figure 2). We observed high school seniors becoming more supportive of employed mothers from 1977 through 1994, with their support slowing for a period thereafter, and then becoming more supportive again in the mid-2000s. When asked whether “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” only about half (49 percent) of high school seniors agreed in 1976, but this had risen to more than two-thirds (68 percent) by 1994 and three-quarters (76 percent) by 2014. In 1976, about three-quarters of high school seniors agreed that “a preschool child is likely to suffer if the mother works.” By 1994, however, nearly half (48 percent) disagreed, and by 2014 about 60 percent disagreed. This dramatic change suggests that the “mommy wars” and similar controversies seem to have abated. There appears to be broad and growing acceptance of mothers’ employment.

But a very different and surprising trend is evident in attitudes about gender dynamics in families (in Figure 3). After becoming more egalitarian for almost twenty years, high school seniors’ thinking about a husband’s authority and divisions of labor at home has since become substantially more traditional. In 1976, when they were asked whether “it is usually better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family,” fewer than 30 percent of high school seniors disagreed. By 1994, disagreement with the claim that the male breadwinner–female homemaker family is the best household arrangement had almost doubled, rising to 58 percent. By 2014, however, it had fallen back to 42 percent—a decline of 16 percentage points since its peak in 1994. In 1976, a majority of high school seniors (59 percent) disagreed with the statement that “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family.” This rose to 71 percent by 1994 but fell back to 63 percent by 2014.

In our analyses of these trends, we found that while young men have consistently been less egalitarian than young women, the relative difference between them has not narrowed on any of the attitudes covered in the surveys. Also, Black youth have consistently been more egalitarian than their White counterparts, but again we saw no evidence of either convergence or divergence between White and Black youths’ beliefs about gender. Black high school seniors exhibited the same initial trend toward more equality in household arrangements and later trend toward more traditional views.

These results are puzzling because population demographics are changing in ways that might be expected to produce greater support for egalitarian principles. The population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and at the same time, religiosity is declining overall. Families are increasingly likely to count on mothers’ employment for economic stability, whether youth grow up in dual-earner households or single-mother families. We expected that as women’s educational attainment and married women’s labor force participation increased in the 1980s and early 1990s, youths would be increasingly exposed to feminist beliefs, leading them to adopt egalitarian attitudes even if their own families maintained conventional arrangements. Yet our findings showed an initial rise in egalitarian beliefs, followed by slippages that we could not explain by accounting for demographic and background factors such as race, region of the country, religiosity, family structure, or the respondent’s mother’s education and employment, as well as contextual factors such as aggregate mothers’ employment and education. Even though youth with more highly educated mothers and/or consistently employed mothers were more egalitarian than their peers, and the percentages of youth with these educated and employed mothers increased over time, this population change did not fully account for the attitude trends.

We are left, then, searching for explanations in the realm of culture. For this we turn to the concept of “egalitarian essentialism” as an emergent framework for understanding shifts in gender ideology. Back in the nineteenth century, as the worlds of “work” and “home” were increasingly spatially separated, a doctrine of “separate spheres” developed to ideologically justify, and reinforce, the division between the masculine public sphere and feminine private sphere. It is telling here that what was considered “work” included only that which took place in the public sphere—waged employment, politics and the like—excluding all of the labor that took place in the home. The tasks of caring for children and maintaining a household were seen as an extension of love and motherhood, with a built-in intrinsic reward for women. This “separate spheres” ideology experienced a resurgence in the post-WWII era and was the primary ideology against which the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s reacted.

But the question became what would replace that ideology? Some feminists pushed for a more androgynous conception of equality, disrupting beliefs about the oppositeness of men and women. In the 1980s and early 1990s, people seemed to be moving toward the idea that women and men could work equally well in both the public and private spheres. Yet the narrative that eventually emerged became a hybrid of the two approaches, promoting women’s choice to participate in either sphere while trying to equalize the perceived value of a home sphere that was still seen as distinctively female. The egalitarian essentialist perspective mixed values of equality (men and women should have equal opportunities, gender discrimination is wrong) alongside beliefs about the essential nature of men and women (men are naturally or inherently better suited to some roles and women to others).

The revised kind of egalitarianism that rapidly increased after 1994 is rooted in ideology compatible with American cultural ideals of individualism, beliefs associated more with the public sphere than rooted in families. Tellingly, the pattern of increased though incomplete equality in the workplace and persistent though lessened inequality at home is present not only in the realm of attitudes but also when we look at objective measures like occupational segregation and housework. The percentages of men and women who would have to change occupations for all occupations to have equal numbers of men and women declined from about two-thirds (64 percent) of workers in 1950 to about 50 percent by the 1990s, and has been stalled ever since (authors’ calculations from Census PUMS/ACS). Similarly, the gender gap in time spent in core housework activities (e.g., cooking, cleaning, laundry) steadily declined from the 1960s to the mid-1990s and then stagnated.

One possible reason egalitarian ideology is highly endorsed in the marketplace is that occupational segregation permits the embrace of equal opportunity ideals without challenging beliefs that men and women are innately and fundamentally different. Even though “a woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man,” women may be thought to choose different types of work because those occupations feel more consistent with their identity as women. The path to blending a belief in equality with a belief in inherent differences between men and women at home is less obvious, which may explain the return to non-egalitarian gender attitudes within families. For example, arriving at gender parity in time spent in housework may require redefining what counts as “men’s chores” and “women’s chores.” It is notable that most of the narrowing of differences in time spent on chores noted above came from reductions in women’s time spent on these tasks. Achieving equity within families requires men to take on tasks that are culturally devalued (cleaning, laundry, and to a lesser extent cooking). In other words, women entering the workforce felt they were gaining something valuable, just as fathers stepping up participation in parenting felt they were gaining something valuable, but everybody hates housework.

A potential argument against our cultural explanation could be the fact that gender equalization appears to be continuing apace with regard to child-rearing. As noted above, fathers continue to increase their time spent with children  (see Figure 4), even as they lag behind in matching women’s housework time. Mothers’ earnings are increasingly thought of as essential to the family, rather than considered supplemental income. Although we can only speculate, these developments may be better explained by rising economic insecurity than by a continued progression of commitment to androgynous parenting. Economic necessity may be associated with increased support for mothers’ employment, even as more young people began to report a preference for the male breadwinner–female homemaker model starting in the mid-1990s.

It has long been assumed that progress for women in the public sphere would result in improvement for women in the family. However, our findings, along with other scholarship, suggest that advances for women in the public sphere may increase many people’s desire to reinforce gender essentialist ideology in the family. Perhaps surprisingly, we didn’t find a pairing of egalitarian and essentialist ideology among survey respondents, where high school students endorsed the male breadwinner arrangement but also equal decision-making at home. Instead, the increase in agreement with the statement “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family” suggests that a significant minority of youths have reverted to an endorsement of male supremacy, at least within the family realm. So long as essentialist beliefs about innate differences in men and women persist, efforts to equalize women’s standing with men may remain stalled.

Joanna R. Pepin is in the Department of Sociology, University of Maryland. David A. Cotter is Professor & Chair, Department of Sociology, Union College.

Today, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs convenes an open hearing on “Fostering Economic Growth: The Role of Financial Companies.” This spurred us to revisit research on how economic opportunities for African Americans has unfolded in the United States. This brief was originally prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Civil Rights February 4-6, 2014.  


In 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, the momentous demonstration that helped spur passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year. He described African Americans as living “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” A half-century after the Civil Rights Act we can assess how much progress African-Americans have made in key areas such education, employment, income, health, and longevity.

Certainly, many African Americans have moved into positions of power that were scarcely imaginable when Dr. King gave his speech. In 1964 there were only 100 Black elected officials in the country. By 1990 there were 10,000. Since then there have been two Black Secretaries of State, and America’s first African-American president is now in his second term.

The number of Black households earning $100,000 a year or more has increased by 500 percent in the past 50 years, to about one-in-ten of Black households. African Americans have even headed several Fortune 500 companies. Examples include Dr. Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, Ursula M. Burns, Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp., Kenneth I. Chenault, Chairman and CEO at American Express, and Kenneth C. Frazier, President and CEO of Merck & Co. Inc. Many African Americans have also attained unprecedented wealth, status, and respect in the news, entertainment, and sports industries.

Yet despite these individual attainments, African Americans remain heavily underrepresented in the highest ranks of the business world, comprising barely one percent of the CEOs of the Fortune 500. Oprah Winfrey is the only African American on the Forbes 400 richest Americans list. And in the lower echelons of the income ladder, racial economic disparities have been remarkably persistent and gotten worse in a few respects.


Over the past 50 years, there has been considerable progress in the educational attainments of African Americans, although they still lag behind the levels of Whites. In 1966, the high school completion rate of African Americans was just a little more than half that of White Americans. By 2012 it was almost 95 percent that of Whites. In 1966, fewer than four percent of African Americans, compared to more than ten percent of Whites, had college degrees. By 2012, the percentage of African Americans with college degrees had risen to 21.2, compared to 31.3 percent for Whites (U.S. Census, Education and Social Stratification Branch, 2013). See figures below (click to expand).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 1947, and 1952 to 2002 March Current Population Survey, 2003 to 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (non-institutionalized population, excluding members of the Armed Forces living in barracks); 1950 Census of Population and 1940 Census of Population (resident population).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 1947, and 1952 to 2002 March Current Population Survey, 2003 to 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (non-institutionalized population, excluding members of the Armed Forces living in barracks); 1950 Census of Population and 1940 Census of Population (resident population).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 1947, and 1952 to 2002 March Current Population Survey, 2003 to 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (non-institutionalized population, excluding members of the Armed Forces living in barracks); 1950 Census of Population and 1940 Census of Population (resident population).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 1947, and 1952 to 2002 March Current Population Survey, 2003 to 2012 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (non-institutionalized population, excluding members of the Armed Forces living in barracks); 1950 Census of Population and 1940 Census of Population (resident population).

But after declines in school segregation during the 1970s and 1980s, progress leveled off and even reversed in some areas. In 1968, 76.6 percent of African American children attended segregated schools. In 2012, 74 percent of African American children were in segregated schools, 15 percent of them in schools where less than one percent of the student body was White (Orfield, Kucsera, & Siegel-Hawley, 2012). Majority Black schools are generally characterized by lower funding, lower teacher quality, and higher drop-out rates than majority White schools (The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 2013).

Employment and Income.

There have been significant improvements in employment opportunities for African Americans over the past half century. In 1960, only 6.7 percent of African Americans in the labor market were in professional and managerial positions, compared to 26 percent of Whites (Smith & Welch, 1977). By contrast, in 2012, 30 percent of employed African Americans were in professional and managerial positions, compared to 39 percent of employed Whites (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). African American women have made especially significant gains and are now more likely than their male counterparts to occupy professional and managerial positions.

However, African Americans professionals earn significantly less than their White peers, and African American women in such occupations earn less than their male counterparts. In 2012, the median weekly earnings for African American women who worked in “management, professional, and related occupations” were $838, compared to $958 for White women, $1,021 for African American men, and $1,339 for White men (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). See bottom of page for charts on median household income in historically and recently by race.

Overall, despite absolute progress in Black earnings, the income gap between Blacks and Whites remains large. In 1963, African American workers earned 55 cents for every dollar earned by Whites. By 2012, that had risen to 78.4 cents, leaving Blacks still more than 20 percent behind (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013).

The wealth gap is even higher, due to the lower value of homes in predominantly black communities and the much smaller access of African Americans to any accumulated wealth of parents and grandparents. The median wealth of White households is ten times as large as that of Black households.

Educational disparities may explain some of the remaining gap in pay equity. We have come some distance from the 1960s, when African Americans with a four-year college degree earned less than White men with only a high school diploma (Katz & Stern, 2006; Taylor, 1981). Today, by contrast, being college graduate counts for more than being a White man in determining earnings.

Yet as late as 2012, African American men and women still earned less than their White peers with the same level of education. For male college graduates over age 25, Whites’ weekly earnings were $1,399, compared to $1,086 for African Americans. College–graduated Black women, aged 25 years and older, had weekly earnings of $913, compared to $1,012 for White women with similar educational attainment. White men with a high school diploma earned over $150 more a week than similarly-educated African American men — $760 vs. $604 per week. In fact, a Black man with an associate’s degree earns, on average, $15 per week less than a White man with only a high-school diploma (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013).

Unemployment and Poverty.

African Americans are also more likely to lose their jobs during economic downturns (see figures below; click to expand). Despite ups and downs in unemployment for all racial and ethnic groups, the Black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as that of Whites since the 1950s.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table B-35 & Table B-37. Data related to persons 16 years of age and over.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table B-35 & Table B-37. Data related to persons 16 years of age and over.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2013). Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2012.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2013). Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2012.
 And since 1964, the poverty rate of African Americans has consistently been morethan twice that of Whites. Worse, Blacks are far more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty. Among Americans born between 1985 and 2000, 31 percent of Blacks, versus only one percent of Whites, live in neighborhoods where 30 percent of the residents are poor (see figures below; click to expand).
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Information on poverty and income statistics: A summary of 2012 current population survey data.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Information on poverty and income statistics: A summary of 2012 current population survey data.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Information on poverty and income statistics: A summary of 2012 current population survey data.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Information on poverty and income statistics: A summary of 2012 current population survey data.

Social and Institutional Disparities.

African American children are at greater risk than their White counterparts for numerous problems associated with growing up in poverty, (e.g., poor prenatal health care, malnutrition, poor quality housing, and exposure to environmental toxins). This helps explain why African Americans are disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and, because of lack of access to quality health care, are more likely to die from these illnesses and diseases (Mead, Cartwright-Smith, Jones, Ramos, Woods, & Siegel, 2008). Blacks are three times as likely to die from asthma as Whites. Black women are less likely than White women to develop breast cancer, but more likely to die from it (Mead et al, 2008). And Black maternal mortality rates are three to four times higher than rates for Whites. (See end of paper for charts of racial and ethnic health disparities by race.)

While life expectancies for all Americans have greatly improved over time, African Americans continue to have a shorter life expectancy than Whites. In 2008, there was a 5.5 year gap between African American and White men, and a 3.8 year gap between African American and White women (U.S. Census, 2010). African American men have the shortest life expectancy at birth of all Americans across racial and ethnic groups (see figure below; click to expand).

Source: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Preliminary data for 2008, Vol, 59, No.2.
Source: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Preliminary data for 2008, Vol, 59, No.2.


The rate of imprisonment is one area where there has been significant deterioration for African Americans in the past half-century. Incarceration rates among African American men are three times higher than 50 years ago and the disparity between incarceration rates for African Americans and Whites has continued to grow. African American men are more likely to be arrested and receive longer sentences for nonviolent drug crimes than Whites committing similar or more serious offenses. In consequence, African Americans, who are just ten percent of the overall U.S. population, represent 35.4 percent of the prison population, with an incarceration rate more than six times higher than Whites. One in three African American men can expect to go to prison at some point in his life time, compared to one in 17 White men. (Pettit & Western, 2004).


As we reflect on the state of African Americans 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it is clear that despite the progress made in many arenas of life, African Americans are still burdened by the legacy of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. In fact, it may be that the dramatic successes of a minority of Blacks have made it harder for Americans to recognize the continuing disparities and injustices facing the remainder.

Originally posted 1/21/15

For further information, contact Velma McBride Murry, Professor and Betts Chair, Human and Organizational Development Dept., Vanderbilt University;


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). National Center for Health Statistics. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Eggebeen, D. J., & Lichter, D. T. (1991). Race, family structure, and changing poverty among American children. American Sociological Review, 801-817.

Gabe, Thomas (2013). Poverty in the United States: 2012. Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on U.S. Census Bureau 2012 and 2011 American Community Survey (ACS) data.

Katz, Michael and Stern, Mark, One Nation Indivisible (2006). Russell Sage, p. 95.

King, Martin Luther; King, Coretta Scott (2008). The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Second Edition. Newmarket Press. p. 95.

Lichter, D., ZHENCHAO, Q., & Crowley, M. (2006). Race and poverty: Divergent fortunes of America’s children?. Focus24(3), 8-16.

Loeber, R., Pardini, D., Homish, D.L., Wei, E.H., Crawford, A.M., Farrington, D.P., et al. (2004). The prediction of violence and homicide in young men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 1074–1088

Mead, H., Cartwright-Smith, L., Jones, K., Ramos, C., Woods, K., & Siegel, B. (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in US health care: A chart book. Commonwealth Fund New York.

Orfield, G., Kucsera, J., & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2012). E Pluribus… Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students. Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles.

Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race and class inequality in U.S. incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69, 151-169.

Roscigno, V. J., Williams, L. M., & Bryon, R. A. (2012). Workplace racial discrimination and middle class vulnerability. American Behavioral Scientist, 56, 696-710.

Sawhill, I., Winship, S., & Grannis, K. (2012). Pathways to the middle class: Balancing personal and public responsibilities. Washington, DC: Brookings.

Smith, J. P., & Welch, F. R. (1977). African American/White Male Earnings and Employment: 1960-70. In Distribution of Economic Well-Being (pp. 233-302). NBER.

Taylor, D. E. (1981). Education, on-the-job training, and the African American-white earnings gap. Monthly Lab. Rev.104, 28.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (2013). Still segregated: How race and poverty stymie the right to education.

Washington, James M. (1991). A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. HarperCollins. Pp. 365–67.

Wolff, Edward N. (2010). Recent trends in household wealth in the United States: Rising debt and the middle-class squeeze-An update to 2007, working paper, Levy Economics Institute, No. 589

U.S.Census of Bureau, Education and Social Stratification Branch, (2013). CPS data on educational attainment:

U.S. Bureau of the Census (1974, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998). Current Population Reports: Income, Poverty, and valuation of Noncash Benefits.

U.S. Bureau of the Census, (2012). Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2012.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, (2012). ASPE issue brief: Information on poverty and income statistics: A summary of 2012 current population survey data.

U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, (2010). National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Preliminary data for 2008, Vol, 59, No.2.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2013). Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2012.

Additional Charts

Source: Historical Statistics of Black America: Agriculture to Labor & Employment. Table 987: Median Family Income 1950-1973. Original source: "Median Income of Families: 1950 to 1974," Current Population Reports, Special Studies, Series P-23, No. 54. The Social and Economic Status of the Black Population in the United States, 1974, 1975, p. 25. Primary source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Social and Economic Statistics Administration Bureau of the Census.
Source: Historical Statistics of Black America: Agriculture to Labor & Employment. Table 987: Median Family Income 1950-1973. Original source: “Median Income of Families: 1950 to 1974,” Current Population Reports, Special Studies, Series P-23, No. 54. The Social and Economic Status of the Black Population in the United States, 1974, 1975, p. 25. Primary source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Social and Economic Statistics Administration Bureau of the Census.
Source: Black Americans: A Statistical Sourcebook, 2000 Edition. Table 7.01: Money income of Households, 1980-1998. Original source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports: Income, Poverty, and valuation of Noncash Benefits: 1994, Series P-60, #189, pp. B-2-Table B-1. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports: Money Income in the United States: 1996
Source: Black Americans: A Statistical Sourcebook, 2000 Edition. Table 7.01: Money income of Households, 1980-1998. Original source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports: Income, Poverty, and valuation of Noncash Benefits: 1994, Series P-60, #189, pp. B-2-Table B-1. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports: Money Income in the United States: 1996
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2012:
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2012:
Source: Following charts are drawn from this resource: Mead, Holly, Cartwright-Smith, Lara, Jones, Karen, Ramos, Christal, Woods, Kristy, & Siegel, Bruce (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: A chartbook. The Common Wealth Fund.
Source: Following charts are drawn from this resource: Mead, Holly, Cartwright-Smith, Lara, Jones, Karen, Ramos, Christal, Woods, Kristy, & Siegel, Bruce (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: A chartbook. The Common Wealth Fund.
Source: Following charts are drawn from this resource: Mead, Holly, Cartwright-Smith, Lara, Jones, Karen, Ramos, Christal, Woods, Kristy, & Siegel, Bruce (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: A chartbook. The Common Wealth Fund.
Source: Following charts are drawn from this resource: Mead, Holly, Cartwright-Smith, Lara, Jones, Karen, Ramos, Christal, Woods, Kristy, & Siegel, Bruce (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: A chartbook. The Common Wealth Fund.
Source: Following charts are drawn from this resource: Mead, Holly, Cartwright-Smith, Lara, Jones, Karen, Ramos, Christal, Woods, Kristy, & Siegel, Bruce (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: A chartbook. The Common Wealth Fund.
Source: Following charts are drawn from this resource: Mead, Holly, Cartwright-Smith, Lara, Jones, Karen, Ramos, Christal, Woods, Kristy, & Siegel, Bruce (2008). Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. health care: A chartbook. The Common Wealth Fund.
photo credit: Steve Buissinne via pixabay

The opioid epidemic may be about to get worse. Under the new Republican administration, the Affordable Care Act and other policies to support families are under fire. To understand the impact Republican policy changes could have on the opioid epidemic we sought to learn more from someone who has studied it. Eliza Schultz is a Research Assistant for the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress. One of Eliza’s most recent reports (with Katherine Gallagher Robbins) is How Republican Budget Cuts Would Make the Opioid Epidemic Even Worse. The report takes a more inclusive perspective on the impact of the opioid epidemic by addressing how it affects families and communities. When I spoke with Eliza she expanded on the opioid epidemics connection to family and community, what policymakers should be doing, and the threats to well-being that these Republican policies create.

Q: I know that you do policy research. So how did opioid addiction come up as a topi­­c––and how did you recognize it as a family and community issue (as opposed to a personal one)?

ES: Opioid use has escalated into a full-blown crisis in the United States—more than 30,000 people died from overdoses in 2015, and, in some pockets of the country, particularly rural ones, it’s ushered in mass trauma—so it’s hard to ignore. It’s been covered so widely in the media and on the campaign trail, but what makes this coverage noteworthy is that, for the first time, the consensus is that the epidemic has been spurred by factors outside the control of people struggling with addiction, like economic insecurity.

Historically, drug use has been framed as a personal failure. Take, for example, the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The reaction was to incarcerate people, which, of course, decimated families and communities, compounding whatever havoc the drugs themselves wreaked. It’s fair to say racism played a huge role in these different responses because now that the face of a drug epidemic is white, the country is more sympathetic. This moment presents an opportunity to understand drug addiction in general—not just the opioid epidemic, and no matter who is most affected—not as a personal failure but as a symptom of larger issues, like the lack of good jobs, and address those root causes.

To me, it’s hard not to recognize substance abuse as an issue that impacts families and communities. A phenomenon like opioid use does not happen in isolation to individuals—it inevitably affects the people around them. Adequate solutions to drug epidemics need to acknowledge and support those families and communities. Mass incarceration did precisely the opposite.

Q: What should policymakers do to address issues raised in your study?

ES: Well, the first key step is to do no harm. Under the American Health Care Act, health care costs will jump to the tune of $1,400 on average, but Americans who face the biggest cost increase—about $5,000 annually—are those ages 55 to 64, the same cohort that has seen the biggest rise in fatal opioid overdoses. We also know that rural communities—which, again, are disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic—face severe unmet needs for medical care, with more than 30 million people in counties that have not one licensed provider of medication-assisted drug treatment. The Affordable Care Act has helped to address that gap in services, in part because it incentivizes providers to serve rural counties. Under the current replacement plan, the existence of those 1,300 community health centers—many in rural areas—is threatened. Similarly, we can’t afford to roll back Medicaid expansion, or institute per capita caps, as the replacement bill proposes. All that will do is leave low-income people without insurance, or with significantly worse coverage.

As for a proactive agenda to address opioid addiction, a robust safety net is essential. Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of addiction medicine at Stanford School of Medicine, attributed part of this epidemic to the fact that, in the absence of adequate economic supports, painkillers have become a stop-gap for people with not only physical problems, but also psychological and economic ones.

Q: There’s serious potential for repeal of ACA and elimination of supports for families faced with opioid addiction. What can be done for the foster care system that, as you report, is heavily impacted by opioid addiction?

ES: By way of background, substance abuse now accounts for why about one in three children end up in foster care, and that figure is on the rise, in large part because of the opioid epidemic. State foster care systems have not been able to keep up with the increased demand, forcing states to turn to outside organizations for assistance. While it’s great that a lot of non-profits and religious institutions have stepped up in some parts of the country, reliance on volunteer organizations to plug holes like those in state foster care systems is so far from an adequate long-term solution. These systems need more financial support, but, unfortunately, the primary revenue sources for foster care are under attack. It’s hard to wrap my mind around how an administration can vow to support a population and then threaten to make budget cuts that really just exacerbate the problem at hand.

Megan Peterson is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

Photo by Damian Gadal, Flickr CC.

On the 20th anniversary of Welfare Reform, it is worthwhile considering the economic conditions facing today’s low-income individuals and families, and the welfare programs they can utilize for assistance. By many accounts, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—the nation’s primary welfare program for the poor resulting from Welfare Reform—was unresponsive during the 2001-2003 recession as well as the Great Recession. For families facing instability in today’s job market, cash welfare could provide an income floor during difficult economic times, but for most it does not. Instead, today’s TANF program funds areas including job search, state refundable tax credits, and even marriage promotion activities. Meanwhile, spending on cash assistance has fallen dramatically since 1996—the beginning of the TANF program. Amid these spending changes, my research suggests that socio-economically disadvantaged families differ from the “typical” American family in that their incomes are, on average, not only lower but highly unstable between weeks, months, and years. This “income volatility” tends to rise during recessions, and is attributed to short-term economic shocks such as job loss as well as permanent structural changes throughout the economy (e.g. the decline of blue-collar manufacturing jobs) and the emergence of part-time and contingent work arrangements.

TANF could do more to provide a basic income floor for families with low and fluctuating income.

For such families, there is often no adequate substitute for cash assistance to pay bills—near-cash programs providing important food and housing assistance will not buy a coat, bus fare, or emergency auto repairs. Other programs providing cash are, while effective on some grounds, ill-equipped to serve as an income buffer for America’s poor families. For example, many policymakers agree that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) lowers poverty, providing large cash refunds subsidizing earnings for the working poor during tax season. That said, the EITC is not designed to address the needs of the jobless poor. Collectively, this is less of an indictment of the EITC, food stamps (SNAP), and housing assistance, but instead an acknowledgement that TANF could do more to provide a basic income floor for families in need—families with low and fluctuating income throughout the year.

I close with three points as we consider the 20th anniversary of Welfare Reform:

  1. First, my work confirms that the poorest families generally face the highest income volatility over the past 30 years. While TANF could perform better, the full set of transfer programs aid low-income families by reducing poverty and income volatility. Still, today’s poor families receive far less direct cash assistance than in 1996.
  2. Second, many poor families have limited credit market access and savings. In the absence of TANF, many low-wage workers and their families also lack access to savings and face limited access to loanable funds. Such families may be denied loans or credit cards that allow households to absorb a drop in earnings—perhaps the first solution many households pursue when faced with an unanticipated expense or income shortfall. Whether due to displacement from employment altogether or unpredictable hours, credit and loan denials can lead to far costlier alternatives such as payday lenders. Such financial streams provide financial assistance for low-income families facing liquidity constraints, but they do so at interest rates that can exceed 100 percent and cause longer-term damage to borrowers.
  3. TANF reform resulted in a weakened cash-based safety net. Low-income workers with children face higher income volatility on average and are less likely to have affordable access to credit markets. These families are underserved by TANF in that they generally receive little if any cash assistance today. The evidence suggests that Welfare Reform and the resulting TANF program likely reduced the effectiveness of the safety net to insure and buffer families from negative economic shocks. The reform occurred amid a strong economic expansion, and today’s program should reflect new realities—namely by providing greater cash benefits and support for those who wish to gain additional skills and training within a riskier labor market.

Originally posted 9/27/16


Hardy, B. (2016). “Income Instability and the Response of the Safety Net.” Contemporary Economic Policy doi:10.1111/coep.12187.

Hardy, B., and J.P. Ziliak. (2014). “Decomposing Trends in Income Volatility: The ‘Wild Ride’ at the Top and Bottom.” Economic Inquiry 52(1): 459-476.

Bradley Hardy is a professor of public administration and policy at American University. For more information, Dr. Hardy can be contacted at

Years ago, the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) gave the United States a “Gentleman’s C” in terms of family policy, and not much has changed since then. CCF scholars have used the international variation in work-family policy to look at how families are doing – inside and outside of the United States. For International Women’s Day, here is a review of CCF research using international populations and the international media that reported on the research.

Supportive work-family policies foster women’s entrepreneurship

UC-Santa Barbara sociologist Sarah Thébaud’s investigation into “What Helps Women Entrepreneurs Flourish?” found that women in countries with more generous work-family policies like subsidized childcare and paid parental leave have more successful entrepreneurial endeavors: they “employ more workers, express more ambitious growth intentions, and are more likely to report introducing a brand new product or service to the market” than in countries without such benefits. There are higher numbers of women entrepreneurs in countries without progressive work-family policies, like the United States, but they don’t really succeed like those in the more generous countries. Their lack of success led Thébaud to conclude that these were cases of entrepreneurship as a “fallback” option in situations where balancing work and family was not possible otherwise.

Supportive work-family policies help men and women split up housework and childcare:

Economist Ankita Patnaik reports in “’Daddy’s Home!’ Increasing Men’s Use of Paternity Leave,” that in Quebec, after the implementation of a new non-transferrable, paid five-week paternity leave policy that paid parents seventy percent of their income (Quebec Parental Insurance Plan), fathers were more likely to take advantage of paternity leave than were fathers in Quebec before the policy implementation in 2006 or in provinces without the new policy. Eighty percent of fathers eligible for the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan utilized it, compared to less than twenty percent of those taking advantage of the previous policy, which paid fifty-five percent of income and was transferrable from fathers to mothers. After participants’ paid paternity leave had finished, participating fathers and mothers had a more egalitarian division of household and market labor than couples in which the father did not take the paid paternity leave. This research was profiled to Canadian readers in the National Post, and to Sri Lankan readers in Viva Lanka.

Patnaik’s encouraging finding is important, because in the United States – where paid paternity leave is not guaranteed—parents tend to revert to “traditional” family roles after the birth of a child. Arielle Kuperberg’s research, outlined in the CCF brief “First comes love, then comes…housework?” was profiled in the Australian edition of the International Business Times. Kuperberg, a sociologist at UNC-Greensboro, reported that it was not the transition to marriage, but the transition to parenting that increased gender inequality in household labor among couples.

Balancing market and non-market work leads to happier couples and families:

What are the implications of policies that allow parents to share work and family obligations? Well, for one, couples who share housework have more sex, and couples who share childcare have better sex, according to Cornell’s Sharon Sassler in her CCF brief, “A reversal in Predictors of Frequency and Satisfaction in Marriage.” This report was covered by The Daily Mail in the U.K., The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, and Edizione Italiana in Italy, among others.

More broadly, variation in work-family policy accounts for the “happiness gap” between parents and non-parents. Jennifer Glass (UT-Austin), Robin Simon (Wake Forest University), and Matthew Andersson (Baylor University), in “Parenting Happiness in 22 Countries,” review that in the United States, where work-family policies are lacking, the happiness gap is wide – parents tend not to be as happy as non-parents. But in countries with “good parental policy ‘packages,’” made up of paid parental leave, guaranteed time off, affordable childcare, and “work schedule flexibility,” the differences are less stark. In Norway and Hungary, where there are generous parental policy packages, parents are even happier than non-parents. In addition to many English language articles around the world, this report was covered in a Spanish-language article entitled ““La paternidad y la infelicidad” at Proexpanción, and in “Un buon welfare può rendere felici i genitori,” in the Italian news outlet Internazionale.

Braxton Jones is a graduate student in sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.

If you are interested in families, the most recent presidential election brings a trail of troubles. A lot of Americans fear what is in store in the near future and are anxious about the clear division in popular attitudes that now exists in what is supposed to be the United States. Family policy will be deeply impacted as a result of this division. For direction, Kate Gallagher Robbins and Shawn Fremstad offer a light in the darkness in a recent brief—using evidence to clarify uncertainty. Robbins is the Director of Family Policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at American Progress, and Fremstadis a senior research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a consultant on policy issues to multiple national nonprofits. They are also CCF Senior Scholars. If you want to hear more, also read this short interview with them on “Now What?”

In their brief, 4 Progressive Policies that Make Families StrongerRobbins and Fremstad detail key progressive policies that will strengthen working class families.

  1. Increase Minimum Wage

Families fare better when making more money because they have more certainty and fewer financial worries. Marriage rates help to portray that a low minimum wage is hard on families: Explain Robbins and Fremstad: “The greatest declines in marriage rates since 1970 are for working-class men, who have experienced the greatest declines in real wages, and for working-class women, who have seen little wage growth.” They argue that if the minimum wage were raised to $12 per hour, there would be increased financial resources for young, unmarried workers and even more for working parents.

  1. Strengthen Collective Bargaining

Unions strengthen families because they bring security and stability for those in the union—and even for those in industries where the unionization rate is higher. “Researchers find that the connection between unions and marriage is ‘largely explained by the increased income, regularity and stability of employment, and fringe benefits that come with union membership,” report Robbins and Fremstad. Workers in states that have “right to work”—a policy that limits unions’ ability to organize workers–have lower wages and fewer benefits, and states without these laws have higher rates of unionization. And that leads us back to the takeaway here: States with more unionization have better wages and benefits for all.

  1. Expand Medicaid

“Unfortunately, while the nation’s uninsurance rate is at an all-time low, nearly 3 million adults still lack health insurance because 19 states have yet to expand Medicaid to eligible low-income adults,” write Robbins and Fremstad. Despite the availability of federal funds to people across the country, some states deny people Medicaid who could be personally eligible. Expansion of Medicaid—health insurance for people with low or no income–would lessen stress levels, financial burdens, poor health outcomes, and family instability, all of which are heightened when Medicaid is lacking.

  1. Support Reproductive Rights

They write: “Policies that support reproductive rights increase people’s ability to decide when and if to have children and are linked to higher levels of educational attainment and lifetime earnings for women.” When people are not given the control over when they have children, they note, it is harmful to their economic security. Robbins and Fremstad suggest that an expansion in Medicaid to cover birth control and other reproductive health options would help economic security and in the end help to strengthen families.

Together, these four policies are a compelling baseline for a progressive, pro-family agenda. As Robbins and Fremstad note, states that are promoting these four policies have “higher levels of educational attainment and lower levels of incarceration.” Their brief offers strong, clear recommendations. We will work… and see what 2017 brings.

Originally posted 1/2/17

Molly McNulty is a CCF Public Affairs Intern at Framingham State University. She is a senior Sociology and Education major.

photo credit: Taco Hoekwater via Wikimedia Commons

This month in the media, Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) scholars made some good points about how social context contributes to the diversity of families and relationships in the United States and abroad.

TIME: Marriage rate decline over time yet strong relationships increase

The University of Texas Daily Beacon covered a popular issue – Millennial sex and dating. Media often latches on to (decontextualized) statistics about lower marriage rates of millennials, tsk-tsk-ing all the way. But the UT Daily Beacon pointed out some less-talked-about generational differences. More millennials are “sexually inactive” at age twenty, for instance, than those born in the 1980s. And, even though millennials might have lower marriage rates, there is reason to believe that they have closer relationships than those of previous generations with higher marriage rates. Stephanie Coontz suggests (as she has elsewhere) that this is in part due to rising gender equality that has empowered many women to resist coercive relationships.

PLACE: Around the world and around the U.S. great varieties and change in divorce

The BBC recently discussed the current state of “Divorce in the Islamic World,” where divorce activists are pushing for reform because of the inherent gender inequality in many divorce laws. To unfamiliar listeners, thinking about divorce in the Islamic world may be exotic. But Stephanie Coontz shows that there has been variation in divorce practices – and their impact on family life – by place within the United States, too. States adopted no-fault divorce individually starting during the 1970s, and up until 2010 in New York. This makes it possible to determine that despite initially high divorce rates following the adoption of no-fault divorce, divorce rates tend to decrease in the long-term. Fewer instances of domestic violence and suicides by wives are also related to the adoption of no-fault divorce. Coontz suggests that many of the problems people associate with divorce are not necessarily caused by divorce as much as caused by the stigmatization of divorce.

RACE & CLASS: Not family structure

NPR further illustrates the way that immutable contextual factors can impact family outcomes: “Black and Latino Two-Parent Families Have Half the Wealth of White Single Parents.” The report discussed on NPR references a CCF brief report by Philip Cohen, Heidi Hartmann, Chandra Childers, and Jeffrey Hayes. In “Moynihan’s Half Century: Have We Gone to Hell in a Handbasket?” Cohen, Hartmann, Childers, and Hayes discussed how, since 1965, anti-poverty efforts have mistakenly focused on changing individual behaviors, like getting black single mothers to get married. The much larger source of much economic inequality, find these studies, is racial inequality. Poor families often have lower rates or marriage because of economic inequality. Coontz, in her BBC interview, cautions against using blanket statements that almost half of married couples divorce. Those who are highly educated and who put off marriage – who tend to be wealthier – have significantly lower divorce rates.

The take-away? The theme is family diversity and family change. The evidence supports it. Ignore at our peril. Policy that draws on the “mythical” traditional family is not going to work if the goal is to reduce inequality in all these elements of family: generation, place, race, and class (and many others, too!)

Braxton Jones is a graduate student in sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.