For several years, researchers affiliated with the Council on Contemporary families have been charting the gains and the setbacks experienced by proponents of equal rights for all, irrespective of race, ethnicitygender, and sexual orientation or identity.

From a historical perspective, dramatic progress has been made toward acceptance of interpersonal diversity. Most people now agree in principle that individuals should not be denied rights or recognition on the basis of their gender, race, or sexual identity. But in practice there are also significant fluctuations in attitudes and behaviors. Many people hold contradictory or ambivalent positions about what is appropriate in putting egalitarian principles into practice, which makes them prone to shift their views in response to new political and economic circumstances or how issues are presented to them by contending parties. Furthermore, some arguments for egalitarian reforms that are very powerful when clear-cut legal barriers to equality exist can produce divergent reactions when such barriers are overturned.

Recent polls on same-sex marriage and LGBT rights illustrate this point. The shift from condemnation to acceptance of same-sex marriage has been extraordinarily rapid. In 2004, only 30 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. By 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, support had risen to 55 percent. And in July the Public Religion Research Institute found that an all-time high of 64 percent of Americans supported marriage equality.

But that last poll also revealed a recent decrease in public support for combatting discrimination against same-sex couples in the marketplace. A year ago, 53 percent of Americans said that caterers, bakers, and other wedding-based businesses should be required to serve same-sex couples, whatever their personal religious views. Today just 48 percent endorse that view, even as acceptance of a right to marriage equality has risen.  One possibility is that the very arguments used to win support for same-sex marriage now cut two ways. The idea that individuals have a right to control their own bodies and choose their own mates helped garner majority support for contraception and abortion rights and for same-sex marriage. But it can also produce sympathy for people who believe they should not have to enable behaviors of which they disapprove.  To win people over on this issue, we need to make a nuanced argument that does not immediately reject as reactionary their respect for others’ individual consciences. For example, if I were a baker, I would refuse to make a cake to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. How do we explain the difference to the general public?

Or consider the ambiguities and contradictions we find in surveys about the public’s support for gender equality. In 2012, David Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman reviewed all the General Social Survey (GSS) questions about gender attitudes between 1977 and 2010. They found that after strong increases in egalitarian sentiments through the 1980s, support had plateaued and stalled in the 1990s and early 2000s. One explanation, they suggested, might be the emergence of a mindset that supports women’s right to equality in the public sphere but views any continuation of traditional gender arrangements after the establishment of anti-discrimination laws as reflecting women’s distinctive preferences and capacities for homemaking and child raising.

By the time the results of the 2014 GSS were published, the same researchers were able to report a significant rebound in support for gender equality since 2006. But when Cotter and Joanna Pepin looked at the 2014 results of a different survey, which had been tracking the attitudes of high-school seniors over almost exactly the same years as the GSS, they saw a different trend. Between 1976 and 1994, high-school seniors greatly increased their support for gender equality in both the public and the private realm. From 1994 to 2014, they maintained their egalitarian views about women in public life, including an expanded acceptance and approval of working mothers. But during that same period, their endorsement of dual-earner arrangements and equal decision-making in the home dropped significantly, suggesting a revival of traditionalism.

The 2016 GSS — the latest available — seemed to confirm that support for the gender revolution was firmly “back on track” – at least for people aged 18 and up. Indeed, Cotter found that the answers to every question, whether about private family relationships or about the public realm of work and politics, revealed greater endorsement of gender equality than at any time in the survey’s 39 year history.

Sociologists Barbara Risman, Ray Sin, and William Scarborough, in a separate analysis of the GSS, argue that the long-term story is actually quite straightforward. Old school traditionalists have basically abandoned their opposition to equal rights for women in the public sphere but continue to advocate gender-specialized roles at home: “Americans who have a carte-blanche objection to gender equality in both the workplace and the home have become almost extinct.”

Still, we have yet to see what trends will emerge when the 2016 survey of high school seniors is analyzed – or how the views of the high school seniors interviewed in recent years will evolve as they grapple with their own work and family realities.

Meanwhile, there are other confusing discrepancies. In the 2016 GSS, Cotter reports, the gender gap in attitudes about equality had narrowed to its smallest point ever, with most of the change “attributable to men’s catching up with women’s egalitarian attitudes.” Yet according to an August 3, 2018 report by the respected polling group FiveThirtyEight, the gender gap among voters is now larger than it has been in decades – perhaps ever. The gap between women’s preferences for Democrats and men’s preferences for Republicans ranges from 26 to 36 points in several states.

In a future piece I’ll look at research that might explain some of these shifting and occasionally contradictory findings. But my point here is that there is a substantial middle group between people who unequivocally support equal rights under all circumstances and people who unequivocally oppose them. The traditional opposition to gender equality as a matter of patriarchal principle seems to have been largely overturned. However, many people experience specific challenges in their work or family lives that can undermine their egalitarian impulses. Others hold conflicted feelings and competing ideals. It’s important to remember that a large section of the population is “up for grabs,” so to speak. Few are such committed feminists or anti-feminists that they can’t be swayed by personal experience or powerful arguments. We can’t count on those who say they support gender equality to always practice equality, and we should not assume that everyone who is skeptical about egalitarianism is a dyed-in-the-wool sexist. It’s up to us to provide experiences and arguments that help people work through their ambivalence and see the benefits of social equality for men as well as for women — and for society at large.

Stephanie Coontz is the CCF Director of Research and Education and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.

Tey Meadow has a new book  Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the 21st Century  that looks at transgender and gender creative children with supportive parents.  I recently had the opportunity to interview Tey about this fascinating new research.

What was the most surprising aspect of your ethnographic work?   Was there something you reported in the book that you hadn’t expected to find but did?

Two things surprised me about my research. First, there was no hypothesis I could make about what kinds of families would be most likely to support or facilitate gender nonconformity in their kids that held true. Some of the most radically supportive families were deeply religious, or from ultra-conservative, rural areas. And some politically liberal families in major urban centers were among those who struggled the most. The notion that there is any sort of monolithic gender culture in any of these areas is far too simplistic an idea to encapsulate the complex and competing desires and emotions these families experienced.

I was also surprised and heartbroken to learn how vulnerable some families were to violence, harassment and censure, even by the state, for simply allowing their children to be gender nonconforming. I detail a number of these stories in the book. Families with children of color, gay and lesbian-headed families and those with pre-existing relationships of surveillance with the state were the most acutely vulnerable, even in socially liberal areas. I met parents who faced false accusations of sexual or emotional abuse, or temporary custody loss and threats of physical violence; many who were too terrified to participate formally in the research, but desperately wanted other people to know this was happening. While media attention on these topics is on the rise, so too is a pernicious backlash that is worth our attention, as well.

One of the most surprising things for me reading this book was the complicated relationships between the social movement organizations founded by parents to advocate for their children and the LGBTQ social movements run by and for LGBTQ folks.  Can you explain that somewhat for our readers?

The contemporary moment for trans children simply would not be possible without the interventions of older LGB-and especially-T activist communities. The adults who pushed for visibility and acceptance at a time when being trans was unthinkable outside of tabloid journalism, who struggled to control the terms of their own engagements with psychologists and physicians, who fought the state for the right to be recognized in their affirmed genders, all of their work set the terms by which parents could recognize children as trans and secure their rights to live openly.

But the political movement around transgender children now is largely a cisgender movement, a vicarious movement of parents and adult allies, who don’t necessarily connect the worlds of these children to the idea of trans that came before. Today’s trans kids will have earlier access to transition than their predecessors, and will, as the reach adulthood, have to decide whether or not their identify with those earlier movements, or whether they want to live outside of them. Some parent I met found the imagery of earlier transgender rights abject, worried that their children would be forced to live marginal lives, or simply felt that the world had changed so much that earlier trans people’s experiences were no longer instructive. Some of these parents chose to limit their children’s access to trans adults, or to carefully curate that access, selecting out the transpeople they felt offered the most assimilable genders for their children to emulate.

I detail this at length in the book and the novel questions it raises for these communities. Trans children whose parents have access to early medical transition will be able to pass unnoticed in most situations and will have greater latitude to disidentify with trans identities and communities. How they negotiate these new questions and options will be fascinating to watch.

What is the most important societal implication of this research project?  Are there specific social policies that your evidence about transgender children and their families suggests local or state governments should implement in the near future?

This is a crucial national policy moment for trans kids, as it is for many vulnerable populations. There are republican-sponsored bills in several states that directly target these youth in ways that could be catastrophic. For example, a piece of legislation that was recently introduced in Ohio, would force school teachers and administrators to “out” youth exhibiting gender nonconforming behavior at school to their parents, even if they know that doing so would be harmful to the child. This is an unprecedented intervention into family life that could have devastating consequences for youth with unsupportive parents.

On a smaller level, my work with children and families showed me how deeply concrete policies can shape institutional cultures. Schools with well-articulated expectations for climate, with curricula that incorporate gender diversity (or at the very least don’t exacerbate it), with teacher and administrator populations that are themselves diverse, create the best learning environments for trans and cisgender students alike. Organizations around the country have compiled useful resources for educators who want to bring their schools in line with best practices in this area.

Tey Meadow is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.

Cheating makes us uncomfortable. No one wants to find out they’ve been cheated on. It’s a betrayal that cuts like no other. At the same time, we’re fascinated by reports of the infidelity of others.

In a new study, recently published in Sexuality and Culture, I surveyed more than 1000 people using the website Ashley Madison to find potential affair partners to find out whether their participation in affairs increased their happiness. I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Perhaps cheating makes you unhappier. After all, there is the guilt, the expense, the lying. What I found surprised me.

Participants did report they were happier during their last affair than before it. That wasn’t so surprising. Recall bias may cause us to rewrite history in an effort to justify our choices. More surprising was that participants said their perception of their life satisfaction was higher even after their affair ended than before they cheated.

However, this wasn’t true of everyone. There were specific traits and conditions correlated with participants’ report of increased happiness. If they believed they wanted to remain married, affairs made them happier. If they believed that to stay in their marriage, they needed to have an affair, then their cheating made them happier. In other words, if they were cheating because they believed this was the only way to keep their families together, affairs helped. However, if they wanted to leave their marriages, cheating actually decreased their happiness.

If they reported that their primary reason for seeking out and participating in an affair was to get sexual needs met, affairs made them happier. On the contrary, if they reported that what was missing in their marriages was something emotional—intimacy, emotional support—affairs decreased their happiness. Thus, a sexual deficit may be entirely easier to resolve than an emotional one—at least through cheating. The happier and more fulfilling the primary partnership, the more satisfying the experience of an affair.

People who said they saw their affair partner twice a week or more for sexual encounters were made happier by their affairs than those who saw their partners once a week or less. So, resolving an unmet sexual need through an affair is easier than an emotional one, but it has to be worth it. And apparently the cutoff for “worth it” is twice a week. If you can’t see your affair partner that often, it may not be worth the effort.

Interestingly enough, how much the person loved their spouse had no effect on their happiness with regard to affairs. But if they believed their loved their outside partner, happiness was increased. At first glance, this may seem curious. But if we take a step back, it makes sense. We can get our sexual needs met outside of a marriage, but not with just anyone. And it only makes us happier if we’re not planning to leave the marriage, and we’re getting our emotional needs met in our marriage. So, we can’t just plug-in any warm body for this.

There was also a gender effect.  Specifically, being a woman increased happiness through affairs. This could be explained by Dietrich Klusmann’s research showing that over time in long-term monogamous relationships, women’s sexual desire for their partner drops. However, if she takes on a new partner, her sexual desire returns to its high level. In other words, the reason women are made happier by cheating may be a result of what I call the “monogamy malaise” women experience in long-term partnerships.

We cannot take these findings and generalize them. We can’t use this to say, “Everyone should cheat! It makes you happier.” These people aren’t representative of everyone who’s married, or even everyone having affairs. The folks in this study specifically sought out affair partners online through a site geared to that goal. They didn’t meet someone and “fall into” an affair. No one should read this study and think, “I never considered it, but I should have an affair!” However, this does shed light into the motivations and dynamics influencing people seeking affairs, especially women who participate in cheating. More inquiry is warranted into this topic. But the findings certainly challenge traditional views of women and sexual satisfaction.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity.

Reposted from Psychology Today

Tammy Duckworth is the first senator to give birth while in office. And she did so with great fanfare and a demand that her breastfeeding infant be able to accompany her to the Senate floor. The mayor of DC adopted a baby, and almost immediately began juggling motherhood and politics, with barely any time away from the public eye. Millennial mothers are running for office and  advertising their breastfeeding babies in campaign photos. Women are demanding that their status as mothers, with babies, be accommodated. It’s about time.

And yet, why now?  Professional women have been in careers for over 50 years. What is new now?  A sociological concept of “the economy of gratitude” helps explain these newly vocal demands by today’s mothers. The demands of employed mothers have definitely changed since the 20th Century. Women like me, middle class white baby boomers who fought to join the ranks of the professionally employed, were happy that we had broken into the boys club. We were grateful to be there. As Gloria Steinem so aptly explained, we wanted to be the men we were supposed to marry. We wanted was to influence the world, to make our own way, to be independent. In my generation, we wanted to be someone in our own right, not somebody’s wife, but to be that somebody. To do that, we put up with sexual harassment, lower wages, and the mommy wars. We were breaking new ground for married middle class women, who had been raised to be wives. My parents wanted me to train to be a nurse or a teacher just, as they would say, “in case your husband ever leaves you.” With that kind of parental ambition, I was grateful to have fought to carve out a life that included my work and my family. I felt lucky to have escaped the domestic life my mother and her friends lived.

Today’s young mothers, Millennial women, are not grateful for being allowed to be in their jobs, to be somebody. They take that for granted, thanks to their grandmothers and mothers who fought those battles. In my new book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure (Oxford, 2018), I interviewed 116 Millennials and nearly all of them, including very conservative “true believers” in gender differences, expected women to spend their adult lives in the labor force, whether or not they were mothers. There is simply no endorsement for the idea that in heterosexual marriage husbands are breadwinners and women wives. And the quantitative data agree. There is almost no one left that doesn’t believe women should have equal rights in the public world of politics and work.

So today’s young mother doesn’t feel any gratitude, as we did, for being allowed into the workplace. And the daughters of working class women and women of color have always had role models who were both mothers and workers. So nearly all American women today take it for granted that paid work is the responsibility of women and men, mothers and fathers. Women just presume they have a right to be at work. Thank goodness for that! Today’s new mother has usually been in the workplace for several years, and is used to competing with men as equals, knowing, of course, that she’s more than equal since women are held to higher standards and presumed incompetent until we prove otherwise. Motherhood now comes with a shock to many successful women. For the first time, perhaps in their post-feminist era lives, the rules are so clearly, so obviously, stacked against them.

We have no male/female job listings but we still have schools that dismiss small children at 3:00 pm, and workplaces that presume workers are available full-time during the day and 24/7 online, with just a few weeks off per year. Such school hours clearly presume children have one parent (read mother) at home. And workplaces that reward workers who have no competing care-taking  demands are affirmative action programs for (usually) white men with wives. The next step in feminism is to create a world where men, as well as women, have moral and practical responsibilities for caring for other people. Perhaps then our society will begin to root out the patriarchy upon which it has been built, and workplaces will begin to realize that all workers also have someone to take care of, if only themselves.

But for now, let’s hear this generation of Millennial women roar. Let’s applaud as they demand our workplaces accommodate women’s role in reproduction, so that infants can breastfeed while their mothers rule the world. But this too is only one more step forward. Let’s hope in the near future their husbands — maybe that’s daydreaming, perhaps instead it will be their sons — will lead the charge for paid parental leave for all Americans, to allow fathers and mothers more time at home with infants, so no one has to bring their baby to the office. Such radical change may just take generations but no one ever promised that the feminist revolution would be easy.

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.

Efforts to level the playing field in education typically start at the bottom. They focus on less-privileged students and on figuring out what those students lack that prevents them from getting ahead.

That deficit-based, bottom-up approach is problematic because it ignores how privileged families hoard opportunities for themselves. As I have found in my research, privileged parents teach their children to “be their own advocates” in school. Privileged children learn to ask for resources and support in excess of what is fair or required. They also keep asking until well-meaning teachers give in and grant their requests. As a result, privileged students get the bulk of teachers’ support and attention, even when they are the students who need it the least.

Those patterns were particularly apparent one morning at Maplewood Elementary (all names have been changed), where I spent three years observing and interviewing students, parents, and teachers.

Mr. Cherlin was checking homework on his clipboard.  Lucy, a working-class, white student, sat low in her seat. Stopping beside her, Mr. Cherlin glanced at Lucy’s empty desk and asked: “Do you have your homework?” Lucy shook her head, not looking Mr. Cherlin in the eye. Mr. Cherlin sighed, explaining matter-of-factly: “You’ll be coming in for recess since you forgot.” Lucy nodded, slumping lower in her chair. Mr. Cherlin continued around the room, stopping next to Sarah, a middle-class, white student whose desk was also empty. Before Mr. Cherlin could say anything, Sarah launched into a breathless explanation, telling Mr. Cherlin: “I couldn’t do my homework ‘cuz I couldn’t find my journal.” Mr. Cherlin chided Sarah, saying she should have written her journal entry on a piece of paper and put it in her journal when she found it. Sarah nodded, then asked hopefully: “So, do I have to stay in for recess?” Mr. Cherlin thought for a moment and then conceded: “Just get it done tonight and show me tomorrow.” Ultimately, Lucy stayed in for recess, and Sarah did not.

Privileged students like Sarah (i.e., those with college-educated, professional parents) asked teachers to check their answers on tests. They asked for extensions on assignments. They asked for exemptions from snack policies and playground rules. They asked teachers not to punish them when they ran in the hallways or forgot their homework at home. Privileged students like Sarah also challenged teachers’ authority. Rather than sit patiently with their hands raised, they called out, got up from their seats, and even interrupted with questions. When teachers tried to deny their requests, privileged students kept asking until teachers said “yes,” instead.

If self-advocacy—or what I call negotiating advantages—helps students succeed, is it really a problem? And couldn’t we just teach less-privileged students to advocate for themselves? I would argue that, yes, negotiated advantages are a problem, and no, teaching less-privileged students to negotiate advantages is not the best way to reduce inequalities in school.

First, negotiated advantages reinforce the notion that rules don’t apply to the privileged. School discipline disproportionately affects poor and minority students. Starting as early as preschool, those students receive harsher and more frequent punishments from teachers. Those punishments undermine the success of less-privileged students and create a “school-to-prison pipeline.” It is easy to assume from those disparities that privileged students are just better behaved. What I found, however, was that privileged and less-privileged students both broke school rules—where they differed was in how they responded when they got caught. Less-privileged students accepted the consequences. Privileged students negotiated their way out of punishment, instead.

Second, negotiated advantages are problematic because they are unfair to teachers and other students. Teachers are already burdened by soaring class sizes, scarce resources, and stacks of material to cover. Allowing students to negotiate advantages wastes time and resources. It also ensures that teachers’ support disproportionately benefits students who demand it—and not necessarily students who need it most.

Third, negotiated advantages are problematic because less-privileged students cannot use them to get ahead. In the classrooms I observed, students’ success in negotiating was directly linked to their (and their parents’) privilege. Teachers relied on privileged parents. Through their donations and volunteer efforts, privileged parents supported arts programs, after-school sports, classroom technology, library renovations, and field trips. Privileged parents also advocated for teachers when politicians threatened to cut benefits or teacher pay. For teachers, saying “no” to privileged students meant jeopardizing that support.

Educators and policymakers have tried to level the playing field, but those efforts often start at the bottom. They aim to help less-privileged students by increasing choice or by teaching less-privileged students to act like their more-privileged peers. Those efforts have merit, but they have failed to reduce growing inequalities in school.

If we truly want to level the playing field, we have to start at the top. That could mean limiting privileged parents’ ability to bolster the budgets of their children’s schools, to use public funds for private tuition, or to influence students’ placement in advanced classes.  Essentially, we need clear policies that prevent privileged families from finding new ways to get ahead. Because the playing field can’t truly be level if one side gets to negotiate the rules.

Jessica Calarco, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University, is the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School.

In Time to Join #MeToo, Research Highlights Men’s Growing Support for Gender Equality

Two recent studies, presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, reveal that despite the serious obstacles still standing in the way of achieving full gender equality, progress continues. Married men are expanding their contributions on the home front, and data from the General Social Survey show men at their highest levels yet of support for gender equality.

Dan Carlson of the University of Utah reports on a new study with co-authors Amanda Miller and Sharon Sassler that expands on their earlier research: It had shown that sharing housework now increases happiness for heterosexual couples. The new work finds sharing housework is good news for the bedroom, though how good depends on what you’re sharing.

Carlson’s report on housework underscores what David Cotter (Union College, New York) indicates about trends in attitudes: When looking at men’s and women’s roles at home and at work, a stall in support for gender equality in the 1990s was followed by advances in the 2000s, and mixed results in the 2010s. But in 2016, support for all aspects of gender equality reached new highs. While men have consistently been less egalitarian than women since the 1970s, the gap between their attitudes has narrowed in recent years. “History seldom proceeds in a straight line,” notes Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s director of research and education, “but when you even out the ups and downs, the increase in approval of gender equality, at home and at work, over the past 40 years has been truly dramatic.”

Highlights

In Not All Housework is Created Equal: Particular Housework Tasks and Couples’ Relationship Quality, Carlson shares a couple of intriguing findings:

  • By 2006, the proportion of lower and moderate income parents sharing house cleaning had nearly doubled, to 22 percent, and the proportion sharing the laundry had risen to 21 percent, an increase of 129 percent.
  • In 1992 the division of tasks mattered little for couples’ well-being. But, by 2006, couples who equally shared tasks demonstrated clear advantages in relationship quality over couples where one partner shouldered the load.
  • Which tasks partners shared made a difference. Men who shared the shopping for their household reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction than men who did either less or more shopping than their partner.
  • And for women? Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women. Lack of sharing in this task was the single biggest source of discontent with their marital relationship.

In Patterns of Progress? Changes in Gender Ideology 1977-2016, Cotter provides four graphics that chart change.

  • Overall, people have become more egalitarian about such issues as support for working mothers, whether men should be in charge at home, and whether men are superior to women in politics. The upward lines in Figures 1 and 2 tell it all.
  • The change has more to do with generational replacement than anything else, as you’ll see in Figure 4. The younger generations—groups referred to as Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials–all trend together towards high levels of egalitarianism.
  • The biggest news is that men are catching up to women, as seen in Figure 3. Men are still less egalitarian than women, but the gap between men and women has declined significantly in the past four years.

Where do we stand today?

Discussions about gender equality tend to invite that “glass half full / glass half empty” response, notes Stephanie Coontz, who reviewed these reports. “As we know from #MeToo, we have a long way to go. But to reach gender equity, we started with a very tall glass that had sat empty for thousands of years. The fact that we’ve filled it this far in just forty years should give us confidence to keep pouring.”

Following the Second World War, fertility in the United States began to rise sharply from a low point established in the Great Depression. During the 1950s and early 1960s, marriage and childbearing began to occur at what now seem to be unimaginably early ages. Aided by a robust economy and an unbridled sense of optimism, half of all women were married by the time they turned twenty, mostly to husbands who were barely older. Most couples had children soon after marriage if they were not already pregnant by their wedding date. The marriage rush, as it was referred to at the time, created a brief era when most young adults marched confidently into adulthood by their late teens or early twenties.

The regime of early adulthood came to an abrupt halt in the final third of the last century. The rapid loss of manufacturing jobs, the decline in labor unions, the rising demand for higher education, the oil crisis of the early 1970s, the rapid spread of new and more effective contraceptive methods, and the emerging movement for gender equality all likely contributed to ending the early schedule of family formation. Young adults began to move more slowly and more deliberately into the economy, restrained by the need to spend more time in school and by the unavailability of well-paying jobs providing enough to support a family.

The most disadvantaged Americans were initially slow to respond to the emergence of a “skills and knowledge” economy. Marriage remained a strong ideal and the practice of early and often unplanned parenthood continued to propel women into wedlock even when they and their partners were ill-prepared to support a family. But by the mid-1960s, African American women who became pregnant in their teens began to eschew marriage, creating a new social problem: teenage parenthood! In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Black family was becoming ensnared in “a tangled web of pathology” by the pattern of early and unmarried parenthood.

For a brief period, the retreat from marriage was believed to be a special problem for African Americans. Some argued wrongly, that early and unwed pregnancy was a distinctive holdover from slavery or Ante-Bellum discrimination and marginalization.  However, such explanations did not stand the test of time. By the 1980s, marriage was rapidly declining among young whites who, like their African American and Hispanic counterparts, began view early marriage as a bad bargain even in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.  Abortion or even single parenthood appeared like a more promising strategy than marrying an unsuitable partner.

Led by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research and policy arm of Planned Parenthood, a nationwide effort was launched to expand reproductive health services to low-income, unmarried women, teenagers in particular. In the middle of the last century, contraception had not been legally available to these populations. But as sexual and marriage practices changed and marriage, many policy makers argued that providing unmarried women with birth control services was needed to address the growing number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. In 1965, reproductive health services first became available to unmarried women. By 1970, a unanimous Senate and nearly unanimous House sent legislation known now as Title X to President Nixon to establish a network of health and reproductive services to low-income women.  Over the years, Title X has been expanded; by 2014, over 4,000 clinics across the nation provided reproductive health care to young women who could not afford a private physician.

After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion, Title X explicitly prohibited clinics from offering abortions in publicly funded sites. Accordingly, Planned Parenthood a leading provider of abortions, was compelled to divorce its abortion services from reproductive health clinics that were funded by Title X. This compromise has been under attack by abortion opponents for decades who contend that Title X is covertly supporting abortion because Title X provided many to Planned Parenthood clinics even though they did not offer abortion services. Planned Parenthood contended that its reproductive health care services, in fact, prevent the need for abortion and deserve credit for helping to reduce the rate of abortion in the United States.

This contention may well be tested in the next few years because The Trump Administration, with the backing of most Republicans, has recently proposed to defund Planned Parenthood clinics. Already, states are poised to eliminate the largest national provider of reproductive health services in the nation. Like so many of the Trump policies, this proposed change has largely flown under the radar.

Childbearing to teenagers and women in the early twenties dropped steadily and precipitously over the past 25 years, and so have rates of abortion among younger women. The rate of teenage childbearing is less than half of what it was in 1991. Of course, this result is not only due to the growing availability of effective methods of contraception. Sexuality activity has leveled off if not slightly declined during the teen years. Norms have changed: an early and unplanned birth during the teen years has become anomalous with the later schedule for entering adulthood. Still, the widespread availability of birth control, especially as it comes in more user friendly and effective methods, has made it possible for sexually active teens and young adults to avoid becoming pregnant. If enacted, the defunding of Planned Parenthood would have a disastrous effect, probably reversing the trend of the past quarter of a century.

The state of Texas previewed the hardline policy of killing Planned Parenthood services only to find that pregnancies and health problems immediately soared. Texas was quickly compelled to revise these draconian measures. Yet, it appears that the federal government wants to carry out what happened in Texas on a national level.

In last year’s budget resolution, Congress rejected the entreaties of the Administration to remove Planned Parenthood funded services, but the fight undoubtedly will continue into next year’s budget deliberations. Whether this effort succeeds or not will depend— as so many things do— on the elections this year and in 2020.  Reproductive rights for women is just one more reason to join the effort to defeat President Trump and his congressional allies.

Frank Furstenberg is The Zellerbach Family Chair, emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania where he remains an Associate in the Population Center.   He most recently authored Behind the Academic Curtain: How to Find Success and Happiness with a Ph.D.

Inevitably when I tell people that I study love letters and technology, someone participating in the conversation laments the way that texting and instant messaging have lessened the depth and thoughtfulness of love letters in today’s romantic relationships. A text is not a substitute for a handwritten note that takes time to write and symbolizes dedication to a relationship, they argue. But then another voice chimes into this conversation, offering something like this: “I love that my girlfriend and I can text each other little love notes. It’s quick, it’s in real time, and it makes me feel close to her even if she’s far away.”

A few years ago I was cleaning out a basement cabinet and found a box of old paper notes and love letters from high school, college, and graduate school. I brought the box upstairs and began rifling through the paper. My husband walked into the living room, saying to me as I sat amidst a pile of spiral notebook paper bits, “We started college before there was email and we ended college when the World Wide Web came into existence. I wonder if we’re the last generation of letter writers.” Around the same time I talked with a couple women about their love letters – one woman in her twenties who had saved texts from romantic partners in a memo folder on her smartphone, and one woman in her forties who had saved paper letters from her (now) husband that they had exchanged while studying abroad in college. Because of these conversations, I began to wonder whether gender and generation mattered in how people thought about the role of technology in romantic communication.

It is precisely these varied reactions – lamenting the loss of thoughtfulness, praising the access to real-time communication, and wondering about the role of rapidly changing technology on relationships for people from different groups – that my new book, Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (Routledge 2018), dissects.

Through my own survey data, stories, and a rich weaving together of others’ research from a variety of academic disciplines, I tell the story not of the content of love letters exchanged on paper and via digital devices, but rather what people do with the love letters once they have them, and whether their format as digital or paper matters in terms of their meaningfulness to their owners. In other words, I study the curatorial practices of saving, storing, revisiting, organizing, and throwing away love letters. I do this because the objects in our lives – our material culture – not only impact our behaviors (think about how your smartphone shapes your behavior when it rings or dings during a class or concert); they also symbolize what we cherish or despise. More importantly, our actions surrounding these pieces of material culture require different kinds of bodily and emotional work depending on the relationship and on the digital or paper format – labor that I discuss in this podcast from The Verge. To save a thousand texts in a special folder requires not only the physical work of creating that folder by swiping and typing or by folding and stuffing, but also the emotional labor of discerning whether these saving practices are worth it given the type of relationship they symbolize.

My research reveals a few important findings. First, people overwhelmingly prefer saving paper love letters over digital ones, a pattern that spans all age groups (even among younger individuals for whom digital communication is more prevalent). But despite the preference for paper, people are more likely to use digital means to communicate to lovers. Thus, there is a mismatch between what people do and what they prefer their partners do. For people of different ages, this may stem from different causal mechanisms: for older individuals, they may prefer something from their past that they witness lessening; for younger individuals, they may prefer something they imagine as better despite not having experienced it much in their own lives. In both cases, there is a calling forth of a past image of love letters that is used to judge today’s practices.

Second, men and women differ in their love letter curatorial practices, especially with paper letters. Women are more likely to save love letters than men, but men look at the love letters they save more frequently than women. Women tend to store their love letters in, under, and behind things (e.g., in a drawer, under a bed), while men tend to store them on things (e.g., on a desk or bulletin board). Men and women are similar, as are people of varying ages, in the reasons why they may revisit love letters: people are as likely to look at a saved love letter intentionally (to reminisce fondly or remind themselves of what to avoid in the case of a negative relationship) as they are to stumble upon them accidentally (which is what I did when I found my box of old paper letters in my basement). And people across age and gender categories who get rid of love letters may do so for several reasons: to rid themselves of bad memories, to declutter, or to prevent others from seeing what they perceive to be highly private (often sexual) messages.

Most importantly, the underlying message of these and other findings in the book must be understood in light of social inequalities that move beyond individual preferences. In particular, the calling forth of a nostalgic image of handwritten paper love letters sent and received through the mail not only must be historically situated, as lots of epistolary research shows (mail delivery as we know it in contemporary society is not really that old; people have always adjusted to newer and quicker modes of communication exchange), but also must be understood in terms of privilege. To write, send, receive, and read a love letter that looks like those images found in popular culture and the marketplace began among those with tremendous privilege: those who were white, affluent, educated, literate, and geographically located in the Global North. This image of love letters was reserved for those who were among the most elite in Western society. If there’s one thing family scholars know, to mythologize past nostalgic images of family relationships as if they were universal not only fails to be historically accurate, it also becomes the basis for inaccurate and unfair judgment of today’s varied relationships. To label someone as unromantic because they send a text message rather than sitting down at a desk for an hour to handwrite a love letter upholds an image that historically was reserved for those who had plenty of time, money, and education.

When people lament the loss of paper handwritten love letter writing, they are really lamenting the loss of a nostalgic image of romantic love that has never been universal, and that has become part of a collective view of romance that is ahistorical, inaccurate, and was available only to privileged groups. What people do with their love letters – digital or paper – depends not only on individual preferences regarding orderliness, clutter, or sentimentality, but also on people’s access and attachment to powerful cultural values that make up contemporary views of romance such as individualization, taking time in a hectic world, longevity, privacy, and keeping cherished things in a safe place. These values are not accessible equally across groups. Ultimately, I contend, despite acknowledging that digital communication has changed how we view connectedness and the type of work we have to do to manage a huge amount of information, the cultural values that tell us how romantic love should be defined are more powerful than the format our love letters take.

Michelle Janning is Professor of Sociology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She studies the intersection between intimate relationships, domestic objects, and spaces and places, usually while cleaning out basement cabinets or looking under couch cushions. She enjoys nice pens and stationery, as well as inside jokes in texts from her husband. She is the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (Rowman & Littlefield 2017).

Reposted from Psychology Today. 

The majority of Americans today believe in equality. Nearly three-quarters of American adults (73%) say the trend toward more women in the workforce has been a change for the better. And 62% of adults believe that a marriage in which the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the house and children provides a more satisfying life than one in which the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the home. But despite real progress in men’s participation in family life, Moms usually remain the default parent while Dads help out but do not take charge. Women’s income, not men’s, is often seen as what pays for the childcare. Another recent study of American families shows that mothers multi-task more than fathers, do it more often at the office, and feel more burdened than men by having to always be doing two things at once time.

So what is going on here? Is there an international plot to maintain patriarchy, as conspiracy theorists might argue? Or are women naturally suited to housecleaning and men are just not up to the task, as so many anti-feminists claim? Are today’s husbands really Neanderthals that come home from a long day’s work, drink beer, and expect their wives to wait on them?

Perhaps my own experience loading the dishwasher a few months ago can provide some clues. I don’t do housework very often. As a university professor, researcher, and author who always has writing deadlines looming while I travel to conferences and lectures, both in the US and overseas, I’m ridiculously over-scheduled. My husband is semi-retired, works from home and so with his flexible schedule, spends a lot of his time following me around the world. He doesn’t pick up the slack in our home; he runs our household. One Saturday morning after being served fabulous French toast, I insisted on cleaning up for a change. Within minutes, I was lecturing him on how the dishes already in the dishwasher weren’t rinsed well enough, or stacked neatly. He smiled at me and said, “So when was the last time you ate on a dirty dish?”

If I can find myself, without thinking twice about it, lecturing my husband on how to load a dishwasher, when I haven’t touched a dirty dish in months. How hard must it be for women who’ve been doing the dishes and the meals and taking care of the kids to accept their husbands as competent partners? Or even as partners who might become competent once they were responsible for the tasks?

I have no doubt there are men out there who are simply sexist self-serving narcissists who want wives to do the second shift so they drink beer, play golf, and watch TV. But are there not also some women who just cannot stop themselves from lecturing our partners on how to launder clothes, stack the dishes, put away the groceries and dress the children. Many moms I have talked with even leave lists of what to put into the lunch box when they travel for business–as if their husband isn’t smart enough to figure out what to put between two slices of bread. Why would these successful women have married men they can’t trust to make a sandwich or pick out a toddler’s outfit? The assumption of male incompetence at home has the same result as expecting women to be incompetence at work. It makes the recipients less likely to take on responsibility, to do the job well, or to show initiative.

Perhaps part of why men aren’t stepping up to the plate as equal partners is because women don’t let them. It’s not that women don’t want their husbands to share the job and the joys of parentingResearch shows clearly that they do, and that there are even benefits in the bedroom when people feel their marriage is fair. But we women have set the rules for how housework is done for so long, and often take so much pride in our mothering identities, that we don’t leave enough room for fathers to be equal players. Perhaps mothers are worried about what the neighbors will think if their son’s outfits are not matching, or their daughter’s shirts have stains? Is such shame worth undercutting men’s responsibility for domestic labor? Surely, if a man was worth marrying, he’s talented enough to wash dishes, make play dates, and clean the toilet.

So for Father’s Day, let’s show dad’s some respect. The best gift might just be to respect your partner enough to let him load the dishwasher without comment, and take care of the kids without fearing his your evaluation. Here ’s a gift idea for wives on this Father’s Day: stop giving directions, stop running the show and then resenting that you carry the load of the family work. Give Dads a break this year for Father’s Day. Trust them enough to lean out at home. And if you have to occasionally eat from a dirty plate, as I do, it’s worth it. Let your guy lean in for a change.

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.

Even in the most affluent societies, many young people grow up in families that are poor and/or unstable in some way, and the evidence is clear that this experience can lead to behaviors that put their futures at risk. That risk, however, is not necessarily going to be same across societies, and figuring out where it is most and least pronounced is an important task for family researchers.

The U.S., as is often noted, has a much less generous social safety net for families and children than many other countries; less generous than Scandinavian countries, of course, but also compared to the other wealthy, English-speaking countries that it is often grouped with in the broad category of “liberal welfare regimes”. As a result, children who grow up in the U.S. are much more likely than their peers in these other countries to experience some key risks to positive development, such as family poverty and instability. There is just not enough protection for their families and communities, and so they are more likely to enter adolescence in dire straits. Indeed, based on research from a range of interdisciplinary scholars, including Timothy Smeeding, Jane Waldfogel, Barbara Bergman, and Patrick Heuveline, we know that kids in the U.S. are worse off, but is being worse off worse in the U.S.?

My students and colleagues in the U.S., U.K., and Canada have been trying to provide some answers to this question. This research reflects some key lessons of contemporary family and developmental research. Specifically, we are viewing family poverty and family structure not as single and static states but rather as a long-term pattern of continuity and change. We also are focusing on adolescence, a period in which complicated patterns of brain development, parent-child relations, and peer orientation lead to behaviors with heightened potential for harm. Doing so has revealed that, although the odds of growing up in poor and/or unstable families and engaging in adolescent risk-taking are both generally greater in the U.S., the link between these two things is not always stronger in the U.S.

For example, in a study that came out this year in the journal Social Science and Medicine, Michael Green, Haley Stritzel, Chelsea Smith Gonzalez, Frank Popham, and I compared longitudinal population datasets in the U.S. and U.K. to examine adolescent health and health behavior. We categorized young people in terms of their histories of family poverty since birth (e.g., early poverty only, persistent poverty, later downward mobility). The results clearly show that the accumulating experience of poverty over time is much more prevalent in the U.S., that this accumulating experience is associated with smoking and health limitations in both countries, but that this association does not really differ across countries.

As another example, in a forthcoming study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Chelsea Smith Gonzalez, Lisa Strohschein, and I compared longitudinal population datasets in the U.S. and Canada to examine teen pregnancy. We counted how much of girls’ lives since birth they had spent in poverty and how many family structure changes they had experienced.  Similar to the other study, the results clearly reveal more long-term exposure to poverty and instability in the U.S. and that such exposure is associated with greater odds of a girl getting pregnant as a teen. This study, however, also revealed a country-level difference in this association. In the U.S., prolonged experiences of family poverty and family structure were associated with teen pregnancy, but, in Canada, any experience of family poverty and family structure change was. In other words, there was a dosage effect of family poverty and instability in the former and a threshold effect in the latter.

To be clear, we are not saying that family poverty and instability do not matter to adolescent behavior. They do. We are also not saying that social policies do not protect young people from harm. They do. We are also not saying that the circumstances of young people in the U.S. are the same as those in the U.K. and Canada. They are not. What we are saying is that the ability of social policies to buffer against the risks of family poverty and instability—once they have arisen—is not as neatly straightforward as one might assume.

Our work represents the comparison of three relatively similar countries, only two family variables, and only three adolescent outcomes.  As such, it is just a drop in the expanding bucket of population research comparing family contexts of child and youth development across countries. There is more to know here. How is family poverty and instability experienced by young people across countries in which it is more or less normative? Which domains of adolescent development are most and least reactive to family disadvantages across countries? Are there differences in patterns for children, adolescents, and young adults? Expanding the comparison pool to countries with much more generous welfare regimes than the U.S. and much less economic development than the U.S. is also important. What we offer here, therefore, is encouragement to keep this conversation going.

Robert Crosnoe is the Rapoport Professor of Liberal Arts and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and President of the Society for Research on Adolescence.