What do Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and the United States have in common? None of them have a federal paid parental leave policy. The US is clearly out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to this issue. In Fixing Parental Leave: The Six Month Solution (2020, NYU Press), I look to the UK and Sweden for lessons about what might work and what might not work in the US.

I started with Sweden because that seemed like the obvious starting place. Sweden was the first country to introduce parental leave back in 1974. And gender equality, or jämställdhet, is a huge part of the cultural fabric in Sweden. But I was also worried that the US wouldn’t go from 0 to 480 days of paid parental leave. So I turned to the UK, our closest ally and fellow liberal market economy. I was also hopeful that the UK could offer some ideas after introducing shared parental leave in 2015. Unfortunately, their policy hasn’t panned out, with very low rates of take-up among British fathers. All the same, I learned a lot from closely examining the policies in Sweden and the UK, and I think these lessons pointed me toward the six month solution.

My book discusses 6 main points:

  1. The US is way behind the rest of the world

The US is the only industrialized country with no paid parental leave at the national level. We are literally in a category by ourselves. There are a handful of states that offer paid family leave, and these may offer insights into how to pay for a federal policy. There are also an increasing number of (mainly large) companies that offer parental leave, but many of these policies are gendered; I created a classification of policies – gender equal, gender modified, gender unequal, gender neutral gendering.

2. Parental leave is good

There are so many benefits of parental leave for mothers, fathers, children, and business. And it has the potential to promote gender equality in the home and workplace, if shared more equally.

3. Too much parental leave is not good

There is a catch. When leave is too long or taken mainly by mothers, it may actually discourage gender equality. It gets more difficult to return to work and mothers often face wage and career penalties. Another downside of too much leave is postpartum depression. Based on a number of studies, it looks like 6 months of leave is the “sweet spot.”

4. Fathers as partners, not helpers

It’s imperative that fathers are equal partners and not simply helpers. When fathers are given very short leave, they often use their limited time at home to support their partner who, by default, become the primary caregiver.

5. The UK is not a good model

When I first went to the UK, I thought surely any policy is better than no policy. Yet, the UK has a track record of a highly gendered model of parental leave with 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 weeks paid) and 2 weeks of paternity leave. Under this system, mothers are assumed to, and generally do, take at least nine months of leave, often returning to work part-time. It’s not surprising then that men don’t do much at home and women struggle to advance in the workplace. Shared Parental Leave, introduced in 2015, hasn’t been effective, mainly because it’s still attached to maternity leave (mothers have to give it up for fathers to take it) and is low paid.

6. The Swedish model is great – but not perfect

Sweden could be the closest to perfect (though Finland’s new policy is dreamy). With 240 days of leave for each parent, it’s clearly a generous policy. In an effort to get fathers to take more leave, Sweden has what’s known as pappamånader, or “daddy quota” of 90 days, meaning that it can only be used by fathers (though the actual policy uses gender-neutral language to apply to any two parents). It’s not really a question of whether Swedish fathers will take parental leave but how much leave, going so far as to say only “oddballs” don’t take leave. But it’s still not equal.

All this suggests the US needs to get its act in shape.

The good news is that the US has a clean slate (I’m a glass half full kind of person). So when we create a paid parental leave policy – and we should do this sooner rather than later – we can do our best to make sure it not only helps workers balance having a new kid with their job but also promotes gender equality at home and work.

Gayle Kaufman is Nancy and Erwin Maddrey Professor of Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Davidson College. Find out more at https://gaylekaufman.com/ and follow her on twitter @gakaufman22.

A working-class family’s struggle to get enough to eat amid school closures and job layoffs as a result of Covid-19 is the topic of a recent New York Times article. With schools closed, many children no longer have access to the free or reduced-price meals provided through the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 30 million children a day. And their families may have lost important sources of income as businesses have closed or scaled back operations. The mother of six in The New York Times article described reducing her meals to one a day while making sure her kids were eating three times a day. She could eat more, but the uncertainties of tomorrow impel her to give up her food needs today in case things get worse next week.

It’s good The New York Times is showing its readers the incredible sacrifices people are making and the unequal effects the novel coronavirus is having on American households. But worrying about not having enough food is a pressing issue for 1 in 9 Americans every single day. And, like the mother in The New York Times article, women in households with children bear the brunt of food insecurity.

Much has been written about how Covid-19 is affecting Americans differently across the class spectrum. (Illustrating the diverging class responses to the coronavirus, a recent breezy column in The New York Times offers readers advice on how to survive self-isolation “with a delicious meal, some self-care and a riveting read”. The piece includes DIY tips such as how to brighten your skin, declutter your life, and prepare for sandal season.) But the effects of Covid-19 aren’t just classed, they are also gendered (and racialized as others have noted).

As a sociologist who studies family, I have been writing about social inequalities within and between families for over a decade. A major theme in my research with low-income mothers is the sacrifices they make daily on behalf of their children. Mothers go without so their children can have, whether it’s going without food so their children can get athletic shoes for gym class or giving up on higher education and better job prospects in the future in order to meet their children’s needs today.

Poor mothers make these sacrifices willingly. It’s what good mothers do, they say. One mother I interviewed described going to extreme lengths to make sure her daughters were able to attend a track meet that required an entrance fee, ending by simply stating, “You know. Sacrifice.”

Low-income mothers also feel held accountable for performing sacrificial motherhood. Mothers spoke of the judgmental gaze of their communities and the punitive arm of the welfare state. Poor, racialized mothers feel the monitoring of their mothering especially keenly and described encountering high levels of regulation. For example, a low-income Black mother interviewed said she was reported to Child Protective Services by a staff member at her children’s school based on a perception that her sons seemed too hungry and therefore must not be getting enough to eat at home.

Low-income mothers’ status as good mothers is precarious in part because they don’t have all the trappings that Americans equate with good mothering. Good mothering today is often synonymous with intensive mothering and requires large amounts of time, money, and cultural capital. Yet everyday low-income mothers take extraordinary measures to prioritize their children’s needs and well-being. They shouldn’t have to.

Covid-19 has laid bare the paltry social safety net in the United States. Far too many families are surviving day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck with no savings, no stores of food, and no healthcare. Within many of those families, mothers may be making the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that their children stay healthy and have enough to eat. In doing so, they are risking their own health and well-being.

The low-income mothers I have gotten to know over the years are resourceful. They will make a coronavirus stimulus check stretch if given the opportunity. But a one-time payment is not going to fix the long-term problem of an inadequate safety net. The current Covid-19 crisis presents an opportunity to fundamentally overhaul the US social safety system so that mothers and children—and all families—have what they need to thrive today and into the future. A great deal of evidence shows that American parents—and families—are happier and healthier when they live in a country with supportive policies.

Sinikka Elliott is an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia. Her work focuses on families, social inequalities, and social policy. She can be reached by email: Sinikka.elliott@ubc.ca and on twitter: @SinikkaElliott




Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Public and private schools across the nation have closed their doors as everyone scrambles to protect themselves from the COVID-19 viral disease pandemic.

With little or no time to prepare for this disruption, families from Seattle to the New York City suburbs are suddenly having to figure out how to help their kids learn at home. This is an unprecedented effort.

Indiana University, where I teach, recently announced that we’ll stop offering in-person classes and move all instruction online after spring break ends on March 22. On top of setting up live-streaming channels for the 250 students in my Introduction to Sociology class, I revamped the course requirements for students who can’t connect online.

Another step: I put locks on my home office door so I don’t end up like this professor in South Korea whose interview went viral when his kids wandered into the camera’s line of sight. My 5-year-old and 2-year-old are cute, but I don’t want them barging in and disrupting my classes now that their school and day care center are closed.

My concern with these disruptions, however, isn’t for professors and parents like me – it’s for elementary, middle and high school students from low-income families. They rely on schools for food and health services while their parents are at work. Those students also face significant barriers to academic success, and their families can’t easily set up a school-like environment – with computers, quiet spaces to work and hands-on support – to keep them learning while they’re stuck for weeks at home.

Relying on parents

While it’s unclear what most schools will expect of students during this health crisis, I suspect that teachers will depend on parents to help kids do their schoolwork.

That would be consistent with my own findings from spending nearly three years observing and interviewing students, parents, teachers and administrators in a socioeconomically diverse, suburban public elementary school outside of a large, East Coast city.

Even on routine schooldays, teachers expect parents to be their partners in helping children learn. That includes pitching in with homework and staying in touch with the school. Teachers also criticize parents who provide less support, despite acknowledging that those families might be struggling to make ends meet.

“I feel like there’s a pocket here – a lower-income pocket,” a fourth-grade teacher I’ll call “Mr. Cherlin” to protect his privacy told me. “If they don’t have that support at home, there’s only so far I can take them. If they’re not gonna go home and do their homework, there’s just not much I can do.”

A struggle for some parents

While it’s hard to predict how families will deal with this situation, evidence suggests that low-income parents will have a harder time helping their children keep learning if schools remain closed for weeks or longer.

Encouraging kids to complete their homework, for example, is often tough for families managing full-time work and family obligations on a tight budget. That’s true no matter what’s going on.

Consider the situation faced by “Ms. Marrone,” a low-income white mother, who works as a home day care provider and also cares for her ailing father. Her son Shawn, who just finished fifth grade, “does know how to do the homework. It’s just finding the time,” she explained, sighing. “I can’t even blame him completely. It’s the way our household is. It’s a little crazy.”

Homework is also hard for low-income parents who never excelled at school.

“Sometimes you just feel…stupid,” said “Ms. Compton,” another low-income white mom who didn’t finish high school but later got her GED. Close to tears, she told me how difficult it is to help her fifth-grade son with math h

Digital divide

Low-income families might also have trouble keeping their children learning because they can’t afford the necessary technology. That digital divide – a measure of inequalities in access to reliable computers or tablets and high-speed internet – becomes much more problematic when kids need digital devices to learn at home.

While some schools give students laptops or tablets to use, those programs are far from universal. Instead, low-income students are significantly less likely to have the equipment and bandwidth they need to livestream classes from home.

About 15% of all U.S. families with school-age children lacked high-speed internet as of 2015. Among families with incomes of US$30,000 or less, the share without that access was more than twice as big.

Meanwhile, even elementary-aged children who have access to digital technology may need considerable help from parents to use those devices for learning at home.

Consequences for students

Although closing schools may slow the spread of the new coronavirus, widespread, prolonged closures may deepen inequalities in students’ test scores and in how teachers treat individual students.

It’s often challenging for low-income students to get their homework done correctly and turned in on time. Those students are also more likely than more affluent kids to face consequences related to homework – losing points due to missed or late assignments, being deprived of recess, being chastised in front of their classmates and getting their grades docked.

Similarly, low-income students without access to technology lag behind their wealthier peers in reading and math. Those students are also more likely to fail to complete their homework because they lack a reliable computer or internet connection at home.

As school leaders decide how to proceed, I encourage them to be mindful of the unequal burden closures will place on students and their families. That means accepting that not all parents are equally able to help their kids keep up academically during this disruptive time.

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

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Kids are out of school, parents are working from home, couples are working side-by-side, and grandparents may be further isolated from family and loved ones. Social distancing and sheltering in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is changing all of our lives. But, especially how we are interacting with family and loved ones.  Some people may be struggling with feeling isolated while others are struggling with an overwhelming feeling of everyone being in the same house for hours, days, and seemingly weeks on end – as if it is some cosmic test of our true capacity to work-life balance. In this dichotomy, we can feel both isolated and overwhelmed by our current family situation.

You are not alone! We are all feeling a lot of emotions right now and struggling to adjust. But, being intentional about staying connected to the family during this time is critical to our long-term health. In fact, Mental Health America has found that since February anxiety has increased by 19%. And social distancing may only exacerbate the loneliness epidemic across the US. Maintaining healthy family relationships during this time can mitigate these mental health concerns and help us get through this time together.

Here are some ideas that may help us all stay connected with family:

Checking in: You and others could be struggling right now. But, because we are all social distancing it may be difficult to know how to ask for help. Remember to check-in with friends and family who you haven’t heard from or who you know might be prone to loneliness or anxiety. A simple text or phone call is all it takes. Remember to ask specific questions about what they did today, what things help them feel better, and what they are planning to do. Try to avoid general questions like, “How are you doing?” because they tend to elicit less meaningful conversations. Also, these check-in calls are not one-way beneficial, they will also help you feel more connected to family and friends who you cannot see.

Creative online connections: With technology readily available for many families, finding creative ways to connect with friends and family are good for children and adults. Here are some ideas:

  1. Virtual playdates: Children are likely missing their friends they get to see in school every day. And, let’s face it, parents probably need to get some work done. Using video conference software (Face time, Skype, Gchat, Zoom, Messenger Kids by Facebook) children can play with their friends. For example, kids can play charades together (parents email play items before), color or paint together, or just talk. Children are creative so you can try to give them the space to come up with something they want to do.
  2. Virtual adult playdates: Once the kids are sleeping, connecting with friends and family (who aren’t currently living with you) can help relieve feelings of anxiety or isolation. Grab a glass of wine or some herbal tea and join a group chat. Laugh about silly things that have happened, share ideas about how to cope, and tell each other you miss them.
  3. Online Communities: Several online communities and activities are popping up that can help break up the day and give parents reprieve in planning home school activities and feel connected to the outside community. For example:
  • Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton is hosting daily drawing lessons live on Instagram (@wendymac) for children of all ages.
  • Josh Gadd (@JoshGadd) is reading children storybooks every day on Instagram live.
  • Debbie Allan (@therealdebbieallen) is hosting online dance classes on Instagram live.

Also, several phone apps are offering free services during this time to help reduce stress and anxiety including Down Dog (guides you and your family through yoga practice) and Calm (provides guided meditations or sleep stories).

Creative Offline Connections: Not everyone has access to broadband internet or is tech-savvy enough to use the internet to help reduce loneliness and anxiety. This may be particularly true from grandparents and older adults who are already prone to loneliness. There are many things to do, here are some examples:

  1. Phone calls: Make regular phone calls (like checking in) but engage the entire family including children. Intergenerational relationships are very important for both grandparents’ and grandchildren’s health. Phone calls are a simple way to encourage these relationships.
  2. TV Shows: You can also watch shows or listen to the radio together. While the idea of live television might be a historical concept to many of us, it still exists! We can watch live tv with grandparents and other family members over the phone and chat about the show during the commercial break (I KNOW, some people still have to endure commercials).
  3. Phone Games: Engaging grandparents over the phone with kids through games. Maybe play a treasure hunt where the grandparents tell the kids clues (given by the parents) to go find toys (they already have) or clothing items for getting dressed that morning. Or less planning intensive games like “Mother May I,” “Simon Says,” and “Freeze Dance”.
  4. Reading: I know, a novel concept! But, reading aloud over the phone to grandparents or distant family members is a great way for emerging readers to practice reading. This can also work in the other direction. Family members can read to children at any time of the day.
  5. Letter Writing: Consider writing letters to loved ones. Even though this isn’t an instantaneous connection, it could be a good pay off if we are in our separate home for a while. Also, this could just be a good habit to form for maintaining long-term intergenerational connections.

Mental Health Resources: For those who are concerned that these techniques might not be sufficient for their current mental health or the mental health of loved ones. There are several resources you can reach out to:

  1. Counseling: Many mental health professionals are moving online or providing online resources: findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator/
  2. Suicide Prevention: If you are worried about your safety or the safety of a loved one please call national suicide prevision hotline: 800-273-TALK
  3. Domestic Violence: Some people are being confined to unsafe homes with abusers. If this is a concern for you or a loved one please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE.

During this time, our lives may look much different than they typically do and we all might be feeling more lonely or anxious than usual. Connecting with friends and family may look a lot different than it typically does but we can all learn to adapt together. The key is to surviving during this time together is being creative and intentional in maintaining connections with loved ones, reaching out to those who are prone to loneliness or anxiety, and remembering we are all in this together!

Do you have more ideas for connecting with loved ones from a distance?  Share them in the comments!

Patricia N. E. Roberson, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee and the host of the Attached Podcast.

Raising the next generation has always been a group project that involves not just parents but also grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and the larger community.  But today’s working parents find themselves increasingly isolated from the support systems they need. And although working fathers and mothers too often feel overwhelmed, isolated, and somehow to blame for the difficulties they encounter in trying to manage it all, this is a large-scale problem for all of us, whether or not we have children of our own. Society depends, of course, on the next generation and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that all American children have what they need so that they can grow up to be strong and healthy stewards of our planet and our institutions. Raising children is not merely a vanity project – it is our project.

But what are we, as a society, doing to help young parents to rear the next generation? Far, far too little.  While we struggle to produce necessary structural changes in social policy to provide real support for working families, those in the trenches need help now.  Parents in today’s fast-paced, disorienting world can easily lose track of who they are and what really matters most. But it doesn’t have to be this way.   Working parents can learn how to harness the powerful science of leadership in order to thrive in all aspects of life.

In our new book released today, Parents Who Lead, we draw on the principles of Total Leadership – a bestseller and popular leadership development program used in organizations worldwide – and on our experience as researchers, educators, consultants, coaches, and parents, to bring the science of leadership to the art of parenting. We offer a robust, proven method that helps working parents gain a greater sense of purpose and control. The book includes tools illustrated with compelling examples from the lives of real working parents that show you, as a working parent, how to:

  • Design a future based on your core values
  • Engage with your children in fresh, meaningful ways to build trust and understanding
  • Cultivate a community of caregiving and support, in all parts of your life
  • Experiment in the laboratory of life to find new ways to live and work that align better with core values, improve performance and health, and teach children how to lead.

What many participants find particularly powerful is identifying their values, first, individually, and then, together as partners in parenting, and their vision of the future.  We ask them to imagine it’s 15 years from now and to describe an ideal day – morning, noon, and night – including what they’re doing, with whom, and most importantly, why they’re doing what they’re doing.   There are always differences, of course, and dialogue about them leads to new discoveries and forms the basis for a clearer grasp of the common ground they’re walking.   Decisions about how to invest attention – in their careers, in their family, in their community, and in themselves – about issues large and small, become easier to make because they are assessed in light of whether or not any given choice is aligned with their collective vision.

Parents Who Lead is a practical, evidence-based guide to forge a better future, foster meaningful and mutually rewarding relationships, and design sustainable solutions for creating a richer life for yourself, your children, and our world.

Stewart D. Friedman is an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, where he has been since 1984. He founded Wharton’s Leadership Program and its Work/Life Integration Project. Bestselling author, award-winning teacher, former head of Ford’s leadership development center, consultant, policy advocate, radio show host, and in-demand speaker, Friedman is widely recognized for his impact in the fields of leadership, work/life integration, and talent.

Alyssa F. Westring is Associate Professor of Management at Driehaus College of Management at the Driehaus College of Business, DePaul University.  In addition, she is Director of Research at Total Leadership.  An award-winning educator, Westring shares her expertise on work/life integration and women’s careers in leading academic and popular outlets, and is a frequent speaker at Fortune 500 companies. 


A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Defining Consent Online Symposium (.pdf).

Writing in 1962, the editor and author Helen Gurley Brown controversially admonished her readers to think again about the aphorism that “nice girls don’t.” “Get it straight in your head,” Brown wrote in Sex and the Single Girl, “that anyone who wants to kiss you or sleep with you isn’t handing you a mortal insult but paying you a compliment.” Working women should make themselves as physically attractive to men as possible, she explained, the better to lure sexual partners and advance their careers. Brown praised “a dandy game called ‘Scuttle,’” in which male employees “select a secretary or file girl, chase her up and down the halls…catch her and take her panties off.” Thanks to the game, more single women now wore “their prettiest panties” to the office; “nothing wicked ever happened,” she insisted. This confusing message, giving women permission to enjoy sex but portraying heterosexuality as a game of male force and female submission, was a 20th century twist on earlier messages about gender and sexuality.

Lusty to pure and back again

Brown challenged an older view of heterosexuality that assumed that women had few sexual desires and that indulging them would lead to their “ruin.” That older view took shape in the era of the American Revolution, when stereotypes of women as “lusty” temptresses and fertile mothers gave way to ideals of white female purity and a sensibility of sexual decorum. Men, on the other hand, were thought to have little sexual self-control. The Founder’s generation argued that male citizens needed virtuous women to motivate them to control their otherwise ungovernable impulses toward sexual license.

The assumption that men had to struggle with innate and immensely powerful sex drives inspired reform movements in the 19th century, but it also offered a justification for men’s aggression under certain circumstances, especially against women who did not or could not conform to the white, middle-class definition of “true womanhood.” On the one hand, advice manuals warned husbands as well as wives to practice “marital continence,” which meant sexual intercourse no more than once a month, lest their health deteriorate. On the other hand, a married woman had no legal right to refuse sex with her husband. For men whose sexual passions exceeded the marital bed, there were “other” women—white working-class women, servants, and free and enslaved African American women. None of these women benefited from the presumptions of sexual purity that surrounded white middle- and upper-class women.

White middle-class women were expected to act as if they had no sexual knowledge or inclinations even as 19th-century Americans participated in a growing urban culture of commercial sex, in which thousands of working-class women found temporary or longer-term employment. Health reformer Sylvester Graham originally marketed his bland crackers as a digestive aid that would dull otherwise overly-excitable carnal urges. Reformers gradually admitted, however, that women needed to eat Graham Crackers as much as men did.

In the 20th century, popular culture and sexual advice authorities began to encourage sexual intimacy within marriage and to acknowledge women’s sexual needs, but women continued to be seen as responsible for men’s behavior. The result was a mass of contradictory messages that recognized women’s erotic impulses but blamed their rapes on women’s inability to hide those impulses. In 1914, for example, a Ladies Home Journal advice columnist claimed that “girls are largely responsible” when boys cross the line. Or as a Senior Scholastic columnist put it in 1946, “a man is only as bad as the woman he is with.”

And those subconscious urges. This was an actual theory.

Popular advice echoed these professional opinions. A 1960 Cosmopolitan magazine answered the question of its title, “Do Women Provoke Sex Attack?” with a resounding “yes.” Reflecting widely-held Freudian theories of sexual desire, the author blamed women’s “subconscious urges” for provoking the “different but equally neurotic” fantasies of their attackers. Women learned that they should scrupulously monitor their own behavior, lest they arouse a man “past the point of no return” after which, “when the girl resists, he seeks gratification by force.” The threat of violence pervaded these descriptions of heterosexual sex. But it was women’s own desires and responses that supposedly unleashed this violence. Even advice that celebrated women’s sexual desire, like Helen Gurley Brown’s advice in Sex and the Single Girl, urged women to be coy about showing it. Men needed sex more than women did, she explained, and knowing that gave women power.

If women were supposed to act like they didn’t want sex, even when they did, how were they supposed to convey consent? More to the point, how were their partners supposed to tell the difference? Men learned to view dating as a process of wearing down a woman’s resistance. Dr. Albert Ellis, a widely regarded psychologist and the author of the 1963 best-seller, Sex and the Single Man, described foreplay as a man’s opportunity to make it impossible for a woman to say no. Once partially disrobed, Ellis explained, a woman feels “that she has been sort of unmasked,” and is much less likely to try to reverse course. Above all, he advised, the man must assert dominance: “Show her that you are determined to have her as nude as possible, even though you are not going literally to rip the clothes off her back and begin to rape her.”

Still with us: Incoherent representations of women’s and men’s desires

Representations of women’s sexuality in American popular culture over the last several decades continue to perpetuate these incoherent representations of women’s sexuality. From horror films that portray the brutal murders of unmarried young women who had enthusiastic sex a few scenes before, to dating guides like The Rules that implore women to see sexual refusal as seductive, to popular songs about “blurred lines” of consent, American youth continue to receive mixed messages about the differences between desire, consent, and predation.

That confusion is inextricably intertwined with definitions of sex as a masculine prerogative. Privileging men’s sexual needs extends men’s political and economic power, giving them rights over women’s bodies. It also justifies abuses of that power, rationalizing assault as an inevitable consequence of the “natural” differences between men and women. The 20th century celebration of women’s right to sexual pleasure failed to displace older ideas about men’s entitlement to sexual gratification. For decades, Americans learned that men needed sex and that it was women’s responsibility to help men control themselves. This logic treated rape as a failure of a man’s self-control, a failure for which his female partner bore significant responsibility. Recent attempts to redefine consent around ideas of mutual pleasure, forthright communication, and egalitarian expectations for erotic self-expression thus represent something fundamentally new—and long overdue.

Rebecca L. Davis is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Delaware, www.rebeccaldavis.com. Professor Davis is author of More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss (Harvard) and the forthcoming Sex in America (Liveright).

The Defining Consent Online Symposium (.pdf) was convened for the Council on Contemporary Families by Stephanie Coontz and Paula England, who prepared this overview of the seven-part series. Their takeaway: Let’s reject simplistic answers and deal with the complicated realities of sex on campus.

The articles in the CCF Defining Consent online symposium address two complex and emotionally-charged issues: How college communities can most effectively reduce the incidence of non-consensual sex; and how to define consent (or determine lack of consent). The contributors offer no easy solutions. Indeed, in different ways they all demonstrate that there are no easy solutions. But their research can help people reject seemingly easy answers based on flawed data or on misunderstanding of the context in which campus sexual interactions take place.

Our contributors point out that far from being over-reported, incidents of sexual assault on campus are seriously under-reported. There is no evidence that false accusations are a significant problem, but our researchers explain the gender myths and sexual fallacies that lead some perpetrators of sexual harm — and even some victims — to rationalize, or fail to recognize, the extent of the wrong-doing that has occurred. That is why all the reports emphasize the importance of defining consent and educating students about what symposium contributors Hirsch and Kahn term “sexual citizenship.”

The #MeToo movement revealed that rates of nonconsensual sex of nonconsensual sex—whether or not they meet a legal definition or rape and sexual assault—are much higher across all sectors of American society than many people realized. Some observers claim they have reached epidemic proportions. But “epidemic” implies an intensifying and growing problem. Sexual coercion may be endemic in America, but most evidence suggests it was far more common — and generally far more tolerated — in the past than it is today.

Rape and nonconsensual sex have a long history

For 300 years, the rape or sexual coercion of enslaved people, servants, working-class women, poor women, Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and children was largely ignored. Until the late 19th century, the legal age of consent for girls was only 10 to 12 in most states. In 1871 Delaware lowered its age of consent to just seven years.

As University of Delaware historian Rebecca Davis explains in her essay, 19th-century cultural arbiters promoted a new ideology of (white middle-class) female sexual purity. Although repressive in many ways, this ideal offered some protection to women who were able to signal by their clothes, manners, and abstention from work or unchaperoned social interactions beyond the home that they were asexual “ladies.” Once married, no group of women had protection against sexual assault by their husbands: Until the 1970s, the legal definition of rape was forcible sex by a man with a woman who was not his wife. This not only closed off legal recognition of the possibility that a man could be raped but meant that a husband could not be charged with raping his wife, no matter how “lady-like” she was. Still, during the years before marriage, middle-class men were encouraged to direct their sexual overtures to women who could not or would not live up to the tenets of “true womanhood.”

All this changed in the 20th century, with increasing acceptance of practices such as men and women going out on dates, meeting up to dance and drink together, and even kissing or “petting.” But as Davis shows, the new acceptance of eroticized courting did not eliminate the gendered double standard. It gave men new permission to be pushy about sex while intensifying the pressure on women to “contain” erotic interactions and set boundaries. Davis challenges the myth that middle-class Americans of the past had better sexual mores. It’s not that there are newly bad sexual behaviors and values, but that we have newly recognized many long-tolerated behaviors and mores as bad. In fact, forcible rapes and sexual assault, as well as sexual violence within marriage, have all declined significantly since the 1970s, when feminist activists began a concerted campaign against these crimes.

Counting — and discounting — rape

Still, as prior research shows, rape remains seriously under-reported. One study of the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that only 45 percent of those who told survey takers they had been raped, 39 percent of those who described attempted rape, and 30 percent of those who had experienced other sexual assaults in 2004 or 2005 had reported the assault to the police.

Even anonymous surveys such as the NCVS undercount assault cases. Tolerance for male sexual aggression and notions about women’s responsibility for “leading men on” are so widespread that many women do not even recognize when an unwanted sexual experience constitutes what would meet a legal definition of rape in many states. An analysis of 28 studies, covering a total 5,917 women who at some point in their lives had submitted to a sexual experience as a result of force or the threat of force, or who were subjected to sex while incapacitated, found that 60 percent of these women didn’t describe this as rape. They used terms such as a “serious miscommunication” or a “bad experience.”

Campus rape and assault patterns differ in some ways from those in the larger population, but non-consensual sex is clearly widespread. According to a number of estimates, 15 to 25 percent of college women have experienced rape or sexual assault on campus. In a 2015 analysis that excluded coercive grabbing or fondling, Elizabeth Armstrong and Jamie Budick estimated that between 7 and 10 percent of college women experienced forcible rape and 14 to 26 percent experienced sexual assault.

An important piece of background information for this symposium is that college women are even less likely to report sexual assault to the police than other groups of women. This may be because intoxication is a factor in a disproportionate number of cases. When drinking renders women (or men) incapacitated, they are seen in many state laws as incapable of giving consent, so someone initiating sex with an incapacitated partner may be legally guilty of rape or sexual assault. However, the informal culture often views women as responsible for sex if they were drunk and men who were drunk as not responsible. This may be why rates of reporting assault are especially low among college women. Campus victims, men as well as women, are also more likely to experience assault by someone they know, sometimes a member of a mutual friendship network, or at least someone they cannot easily avoid encountering afterwards in shared classes, living spaces, or eating areas; this may also discourage reporting. These factors put extra pressure on college administrators to deal with issues of nonconsensual sex outside the criminal justice system.

Complications of consent in law and everyday campus life

Our second contribution, by Stanford legal scholar Deborah Rhode, discusses how hard it has been to come up with a definition of consent that is fair both to survivors of assault and to people unjustly accused of sexual assault. She points out that any policy to reduce nonconsensual sex needs to take into account the university context, where one or both parties are highly intoxicated in many casual sexual encounters. Rhode argues that it may not be drinking itself that increases the likelihood of rape but drinking in party subcultures where sexual aggression is normalized.

Other studies show that for some men, alcohol tends to activate implicit rape-supportive attitudes that otherwise lie dormant, leading them when they are drunk to misperceive a woman’s willingness to have sex in ways they do not when sober. A further complication is that, because the new freedom to act on one’s sexual urges is still colored by old notions that sex is shameful or dirty, students often use alcohol to lower their inhibitions or assuage anxieties about not having had the amount of sexual experience they think everyone else has.

Some universities have responded to the association between drinking and sexual assault by outlawing drinking on campus, but this may just drive it off campus to even more dangerous locations. It can also mean that a person who brings a rape charge after having consumed alcohol on campus may be subject to discipline just for reporting the circumstances of the rape.

Rhode is skeptical of many rape prevention and reduction initiatives, which have not been shown to be especially effective. She does, however, see promise in emphasizing the need for consent while developing risk-reduction/self-defense and bystander intervention programs. Several studies of bystander interventions have shown participants to subsequently have significant increases in intent to intervene, compared to people who had not taken the training, and in one study of two college campuses, participants’ increased intent to intervene and confidence about doing so remained significantly higher than the control group’s a year later.

Myths and realities about university consent policies

University of Michigan sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong and her colleagues address widespread misconceptions about the content of university consent policies. In 1992 Antioch College issued an elaborate formula for establishing consent to sex.

  • “The person who initiates sexual conduct is responsible for verbally asking for the affirmative consent of individual(s) involved.”
  • “The person with whom sexual conduct is initiated must verbally express affirmative consent or lack of consent.”
  • “Each new level of sexual activity requires affirmative consent.” [i.e. Things like touching a more intimate part of the body; taking off a new piece of clothing, etc.]

To many, this blueprint seemed so out of touch with how sexual encounters usually proceed as to practically invite unfounded charges of rape. It probably did little to reassure such critics to read that “Use of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is acceptable but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties before sexual activity occurs.”

Skeptics about the seriousness of sexual assault issues on campuses often point to the Antioch policy as evidence that colleges are demanding unrealistic behaviors and punishing people unfairly for not following them. But Antioch’s policy is an outlier. After studying the policies in place as of 2016 at 381 campuses, Armstrong’s research team found that most policies are far less demanding. Indeed, they found that only three percent of the schools required verbal consent for sex. While some policies use the term “affirmative consent,” it is almost never clearly defined. Many policies make numerous statements about what consent is not (for example, that consent to sex with a person on one night does not imply consent to sex with that person on future nights). Armstrong and her colleagues conclude that the main problem is not that the regulations are unreasonably stringent, but that they are often ambiguous or even incoherent in defining what constitutes consent or what constitutes incapacitation. Such ambiguity, they say, is fair to neither the accuser nor the accused.

Other scholars agree. For example, University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Bagenstos likewise rejects the idea that the Obama-era consent guidelines on which most campus policies are based are unfair. The few but widely-publicized miscarriages of due process that have occurred, he points out, have not been due to overly stringent definitions of consent but to bureaucratic fiats that ignored or went well beyond any existing consent standards.

The articles by Rhode and Armstrong et al. describe the culture that administrators are trying to regulate and what the existing policies are. The rest of the symposium essays demonstrate that an important part of that culture turns out to be a lack of clarity about the norms and protocols of youthful sex in a world where most college students will not marry until several years after they graduate. These students no longer live in a culture where premarital sex is widely stigmatized; they have many opportunities to engage in erotic encounters. But they do not yet live in a culture where the sexual “rules of engagement” – and disengagement — are clear, or where there is a common understanding of the obligations, rights, and social niceties that sexual interactions, even casual ones, entail.

“Consensualish”: Why some students engage in unwanted sex in the absence of coercion

Columbia University research scientist Jessie Ford’s interviews uncovered a range of sexual experiences described as unwanted, but none involving physical force and only a minority involving the fear of such force. Often the individuals didn’t express their disinclination aloud, and later did not label the sex as an assault. It was sex they didn’t want but went along with. Why did they go along? Mundane concerns about feeling awkward or embarrassed were prominent in the stories told by the students she interviewed. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the main factors that discourages saying a clear no is that people don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. Unfortunately, this usually commendable social impulse interacts with persistent gender norms, such as the idea that men “need” sex and cannot stop themselves after a certain point and that women are responsible for “making nice” and smoothing over people’s feelings, to produce unhappy experiences. Women reported worrying about being seen as a “bitch” if they said no. Others reasoned that if they might be seen to have “led” a man to expect sex — by going into his room, for example — it wouldn’t be right to decline.

Some heterosexual men also reported having had unwanted sex with women. In some cases, as with women, they did it in order not to hurt feelings. But they also reported thinking that they’d be ridiculed, or seen as gay, if they said no to an opportunity for sex—so the belief that all men want sex all the time was a problem for them as well.

“Sexual citizenship”: A public health approach

The articles by David Karp (University of San Diego) and by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Kahn (Columbia University) caution against assuming that all cases of non-consensual sex are driven by sexual predators. While there are indeed serial rapists, Karp suggests that some portion of men honestly don’t realize when they have crossed a line and caused hurt, in part because cultural norms about gender and sexuality allow them to rationalize their behaviors. Some assault victims do not want the perpetrator punished, but simply to acknowledge what he did and how it harmed them. A segment of anti-rape activists has therefore advocated establishment of an opt-in restorative justice track for survivors who wish to avoid the Title IX process. Karp describes how this might work in his essay and in a Q and A with us.

Restorative justice is just one part of a much larger initiative advocated by Hirsch and Kahn. Working from their ethnographic research at Columbia University and Barnard College, they argue that we should approach sexual assault on campus as a public health problem, employing an ecological model that explores the broader context in which these problem behaviors occur. They analyze how the physical spaces, social groupings, drinking patterns, and power dynamics on campus create specific patterns of sexual interaction and risks of nonconsensual sex. They recommend particular changes in the overall environment in which college students negotiate their social and sexual relationships. But they also remind us that the solution must begin years before college. On average, young Americans have sex for the first time at about age 17. A recent analysis of the 2011-2017 National Survey of Family Growth, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that of more than 13,000 women interviewed, 6.5 percent, or one in 16, reported that their first experience of vaginal intercourse was nonconsensual. No wonder Hirsch and Kahn advocate for a comprehensive public health campaign that fosters “sexual citizenship” among youth, teaching them to recognize their “own right to sexual self-determination” while acknowledging and respecting “the equivalent right in others.”

Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research and Public Education, Council on Contemporary Families; Professor Emerita, The Evergreen State College. Contact her at coontzs@msn.com.  Paula England is Silver Professor of Sociology, New York University. Contact her at pengland@nyu.edu


We have seen enormous changes in how people construct relationships in 21st century America. Yet, at the same time, contemporary understandings of romance, desire, and intimacy remain firmly rooted in assumptions of gender difference. In my new book published today, The Mating Game: How Gender Still Shapes How We Date, I explore why, even as we see ever more focus by young adults on building egalitarian relationships, most people want dating and courtship to proceed in gender stereotypical ways.

I interviewed 105 college-educated young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area about their dating lives and romantic relationships and found the following:

  • Heterosexual men and women express a desire for egalitarian relationships, where both partners are educated, have a career, and share the labor at home. But they still continue to crave old-fashioned dating rituals—the man asks for the date, plans the date, and pays for the date. The man asks for commitment and proposes marriage.
  • Although these rituals are viewed as romantic, chivalrous, and fun – and of little long-term consequence – they actually lay the foundation for relationship inequality. The result is: Gender inequality gets disguised as romance.
  • LGBQ individuals tend to construct more creative relationships by questioning ingrained norms. Their flexibility makes space for more equal relationships in both the short and long term and may offer a potential model or inspiration.

How we date matters. The heterosexual women and men in this study wanted egalitarian relationships and had the educational credentials to meet each other as equals in their households. Yet they did not. Instead, they continue to believe that men and women are innately different. This belief was used to justify (and even celebrate) gendered dating practices, but then spilled over into their long-term committed relationships in less welcome ways. Heterosexual men and women believe that they have different interests, different skills, and different availability for their personal lives. These assumptions of “difference” limit their ability to question and challenge gendered preferences and arrangements. The result is that women end up with the lion’s share of the care work and household labor, in spite of everyone’s professed egalitarian goals.

On the other hand, LGBQ respondents emphasize egalitarian and flexible relationship practices right from the get-go. Payment for dates wasn’t the sole responsibility of one partner, nor was it expected to be. Nor was it the job of just one person to ask for a date. LGBQ people instead focused on communication, negotiation, flexibility, and building balanced relationships that made space for each individual’s often changing needs. This approach had a real effect on the types of relationships they built. Challenging old norms and drawing on new ones didn’t mean they never struggled with problematic relationship practices, but it did give them a different set of tools with which to work, and their relationships were more equal as a result.

The Mating Game is an accessible and engaging read for undergraduate students and general readers interested in gender, families, sexualities, and intimate relationships. The voices of the participants shine through and the empirical questions that drive the work reflect those that readers will often be considering in their own lives. Not only does the book provide readers with the tools to analyze gendered dating practices, it provides a model for how to creatively reimagine our personal lives.

Ellen Lamont is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University. She can be reached at: lamontec@appstate.edu or on Twitter @EllenCLamont

CCF Research Director Stephanie Coontz discusses sharing your research with the media (Photo by Arielle Kuperberg)

Last Friday, the Council on Contemporary Families convened for our biennial conference in Austin Texas.  The theme was “Raising Children in the 21st Century.

The morning keynote speaker Dr. Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist, started off the conference by speaking about gender development in the 21st century and how parents are helping or exacerbating gender inequalities among children. She noted that despite increases in women in STEM fields and sports, there is persistent inequality in confidence in math ability and political representation. Girls are sexualized in the media and taught to focus on appearance, while boys are pressured to conform to rigid and narrow masculinity expectations. A new challenge is that adolescents spend a lot of time on social media and have access to the internet almost constantly, which can help to reinforce these gender binaries.

Her research finds that after showing a picture of non sexualized vs. a sexualized girl to children, they interpreted the sexualized girl as more popular and the non-sexualized girl is rated as more athletic and smarter. Girls tended to highlight these differences- boys made fewer distinctions.  Girls who bought into these stereotypes felt they did worse in school, made less effort to learn in school, and were more likely to say they hide their intelligence (for instance, saying they do not raise their hands even if they know the answer).  Many adolescents, especially boys, admitted to sexually harassing other young adults, and the more they endorsed sexualized stereotypes, the more they were likely to also sexually harass their peers.

Next, a panel of speakers discussed how their research has been put into practice. Dr. Cynthia Osborne discussed a “prenatal-to-3” program to strengthen policies aimed at children in the important early years of childhood development. Dr. Julie Maslowsky discussed her outreach to health care providers to help develop family planning programs for teen mothers in order to prevent “repeat” teen motherhood (having multiple children as a teen).  Dr. David Yeager discussed his research on adolescent mindsets and belief systems (such as their beliefs about their own abilities) and how it impacts motivations. His research found that teaching students that the brain as a muscle that can grow (a “growth mindset”) can change how adolescents approach learning and lead to an increased GPA. Finally, Dr. Delida Sanchez talked about efforts to increase academics’ and practitioners’ knowledge about Black and Latinx youths’ experiences around sexual health.

We next heard from Rachael White who works in public affairs at UT Austin, and CCF research director Stephanie Coontz, who discussed strategies for taking your research public and translating research for a public audience.  Rachael emphasized starting with the ‘why’ of your research before going to the ‘how’ (you did it) and ‘what’ (you found). The why tells you- why should we care? What is the impact? She also emphasized that discussing stories is more compelling than discussing facts (so use stories to display your facts), and to keep your message to 1-3 points.  She also recommends being concise and using visuals.

Stephanie suggested drawing on research to show how your research fits in to a larger story, but cautioned that everything you draw on should be about a single organizing idea.  She advises to find a way to frame your research that is interesting to others. If it’s data driven, you also need to humanize that data- and you can draw on other research to do that. Tell them your point right up front, don’t bury the lead under a lit review.  If you are going to disagree with someone make it very obvious (“The big lie about x”). Avoid jargony words like intersectionality, postmodern, agency, heteronormativity, logistic regression, correlation, “net of”, hazard, and  words that end with “ity” “ism” and polarizing words like “microaggression” and “privilege” which can alienate people in your potential audience. Don’t try to tell too much- you should have a single sentence that can be a takeaway. It has to be interesting and repeatable.  Good sentences will put a spin on conventional wisdom (“what people get wrong about…”) or will help form an interesting headline. Come in at an angle- try to find a new take on a familiar issue. Use short declarative sentences and find simpler words. “Due to the fact” can become “because.” You can start with anecdotes about yourself. Above all, accept editing.

During lunch a number of researchers gave short presentations about their research for a “flash session.” Topics covered included an educational program for homeless parents, stepfamilies, the higher child death rate of boys and how it’s related to parental supervision of boys, parenting in the “experience” economy, in which consumers value memorable experiences over products, and how parental employment instability impacts children.

After lunch, the afternoon keynote speaker, Dr. Cecilia Menjivar addressed how immigration law can impact immigrant families.  She outlined the current detainment and family separation policies, noting that these systems do not only impact Latino families; Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 1.7 million of 11 million undocumented immigrants, and are the fastest growing group being detained. The expansion of enforcement of immigration rules creates fear, which in turn reduces contact with institutions such as the police and health care. The stress of potential deportation can impact prenatal health; one study found that Latina women who experienced an immigration raid had children with a reduced birth rate. Children of immigrants and immigrant children experience increased bullying, and decreased parental involvement at schools.

The next panel had three papers addressing raising children in difficult circumstances.  Dr. Kathleen Roche discussed her research on Latinx adolescents in the new immigration environment, finding that their parents have high psychological stress and often experienced discrimination. Adolescents with a foreign born parent had an increase in suicidal ideation, e-cigarette and alcohol use, and depressive symptoms and anxiety in response to recent immigration news. Dr. Lori Holleran Steiker discussed youth substance misuse and rising drugs deaths in the US, and her efforts to educate and prevent overdoses in schools.  Dr. Germine Awad addressed prejudice towards Arab/MENA Americans, a group that is “othered” in US society and US media.  She notes that Muslim Arabs experience more discrimination than Christian Arabs, and that Arab American students have the highest rates of depression among racial minorities in the US.

During the last panel of they day Dr. Karen Fingerman discussed her research on young adults, finding that intense support from parents and “helicopter parenting,” while disparaged in the media, leads to better results for children, and is not as common as described. Many young adults live with parents and receive income help, but many pay rent and help in return. Dr. Stephen Russel discussed parenting of LGBTQ youth, and that while parental acceptance does not alleviate all the harms of growing up in a prejudiced society, parents matter greatly in terms of making permanent policy change in schools. Dr. Ellen Wartella discussed how many adolescents have experienced violence, and while social media is often cited as a problem, it is not the cause of the problems among the respondents she interviewed.  A lively discussion followed the panel.

After the speeches ended we gathered for a reception, where the award for the 2020 CCF Media Award was presented to USA Today for outstanding coverage of family issues.

Arielle Kuperberg, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at UNC Greensboro, and the editor of the CCF Blog, which you are currently reading. Follow her on twitter @ATKuperberg or email her at atkuperb@uncg.edu.  

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

January 26 was National Spouses Day, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  If you’re looking for a spouse — or hoping to become a better one — here are a few things you might want to know, including why you shouldn’t panic if no one is on the horizon.

Get a College Education

  • As late as 1970 more than 80% of US women age 40-45 were married, with few differences by education but a slight advantage for women with a high school degree. In the last two decades, however, a different and much larger educational marriage gap has emerged. As of 2014, 75% of women aged 40-45 with a Bachelor’s degree or more were currently married, compared to only 65% of those with some college, 59% of women with a high school diploma, and just 56% of women who had not completed high school.
  • In the 20th century, women with PhDs or professional degrees were the least likely women to marry. Today, women with such advanced degrees are the MOST likely to marry. More than 80% of women age 40-45 with professional degrees or PhDs were married in 2014.  
  • A college education is especially protective against divorce. The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2015, college-educated women had an 80% chance of their marriage lasting more than 20 years. For women with a high school education or less, the chance of a marriage lasting that long is only 40%.

Take Your Time

Get by with a little help from…the internet?

  • The most common way heterosexual adults met their future marital partners in the latter half of the 20thcentury was through friends. However, after peaking at 35% in 1990, the percent of heterosexual adults who met their partner through friends had fallen to 20% by 2017. Meanwhile, the number of adults who met their partners online had soared to nearly 40%, up from just 1% in 1995. For heterosexuals, the internet is now the most common way of meeting a marital partner. Bars and restaurants are the second most common place to meet a partner, with 27% reporting they met their partner there, up from 19% in 1990. Yet most of these initial in-person meet ups were actually precipitated by online connections, making the number of couples who owe their start to online dating even greater! Heterosexuals who meet on line tend to enter marriage more quickly than their counterparts who meet in other ways, but they do not have a higher risk of breakup.

Don’t be afraid to buck outdated rules

  • As of 2016, one in ten marriages involved partners of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, a more than three-fold increase from 1980. Among newlyweds, approximately one in six is married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Many researchers believe these trends reflect an erosion of the traditionally rigid boundaries between different faith communities and racial-ethnic groups.
  • In the past, marriages where women had higher education or higher earnings than their husband had an elevated chance of divorce. But in recent decades women’s advancements in education and the work force have ceased to threaten marital stability. Couples where men and women are educational equals are the least likely to divorce and those in which women are more educated than their male partners are no more likely to divorce than those where the man is more educated than the woman. Since the 1990s, couples where women earn as much or more than their husbands no longer have a higher risk for divorce.

When making marital wishes, don’t forget the nightly dishes

  • It turns out the best predictor of a happy marriage is not how good-looking, talented or rich your spouse is, but how much you share – in your conversations, your interests, and especially the daily routines of life, such as housework. Gender egalitarian and same-sex couples have some big advantages here, since they tend to share more equally. Sharing housework and childcare, especially, is associated with greater relationship quality – including more satisfying and frequent sex. But have a conversation about who is going to do what, because when it comes to sharing housework, some tasks matter more than others. If you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship and your partner won’t share the dishwashing, this could mean your relationship is headed in the wrong direction. 41% of women who do the majority of dishes say their relationship is in trouble, compared to just 20% of those who share dishwashing equally. Meanwhile, men are three times more satisfied with their relationships when their partner trusts their judgment enough to share the shopping.
  • Talk it out. For women who want their partner to share responsibilities for domestic labor, communication is key. Men who report higher quality communication with their partner are more likely to do an equal share of housework and childcare.

And always remember, single doesn’t mean second-best

  • Only 16% of men and 17% of women say that having a spouse is essential to their fulfillment. What IS essential for a fulfilling life, according to 57% of men and 46% of women, is having an enjoyable job or career.
  • Once you have an education and a secure income, you do have a better chance of getting married. But you also have a better chance of enjoying health, happiness, and a wide range of friendship networks if you stay single. In fact, at the highest income levels, never-married individuals actually report more supportive friendship networks then their married counterparts.
  • This is an important advantage, because having supportive and numerous friendships is a stronger predictor of mental and physical health than being married or living with a partner.

Daniel L. Carlson is Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Studies, at the University of Utah, and a Board Member of the Council on Contemporary Families He can be reached at daniel.carlson@fcs.utah.edu; 614-286-4104. Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA and is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at coontzs@msn.com; 360 556-9223.