Recently The Wall Street Journal published an article about a new type of online matching site. It’s not for people interested in finding their future spouse, soul mate, or next hook up. It’s for people who want a coparent, someone they can conceive and perhaps raise a child with absent any romantic entanglements or expectations for marriage. Coparenting websites like and promise that prospective parents can skip the dating and matrimony and go straight to what they really want: finding like-minded adults to share children now. Pitched primarily at affluent singles whose biological clocks are ticking after years spent investing in their careers, these sites claim to meet a growing family-formation need in an era when many don’t want or don’t have time for love and marriage before the baby carriage.

Critics claim that this “coparenting movement”—families that start with the primary intention to raise shared children—is an affront to marriage, denies children the benefits of having coupled parents, and ignores the vast research finding that kids do best when raised by a married mom and dad. If these critiques sound familiar, they are. They are the very same concerns raised about low-income families trying to forge cooperative coparenting relationships in the aftermath of breakups or unplanned pregnancies. Poverty, unemployment, low wages, racism, and other disadvantages make it less likely that low-income parents will follow the marriage before childbearing script. Children born into poverty are much less likely to be born to married parents and more likely to experience their parents’ breakup.

It could be argued that these families, not the relatively privileged ones able to afford online services seeking coparents, are at the forefront of our society’s real coparenting movement. Middle-class families tend to experience parenting as a “package deal,” a clearly defined script that links parenthood to marriage. Yet many mothers and fathers in poverty tend to experience relationships with their children’s other parents as secondary. Dads especially see connections with moms as conduits to primary relationships with their kids. U.S. family policy does not always reflect this reality.

Addressing coparenting challenges has been a primary aim of anti-poverty policies since the federal government first funded marriage education and “responsible” fatherhood initiatives—also known as “family strengthening” policies—over two decades ago. Targeting coparenting makes a lot of sense given that low-income dads cite strained relationships with the mothers of their children as one of the biggest barriers to their involvement. Research also shows that when dads are positively involved, children benefit academically, socially, emotionally, and economically. Simply put, when moms and dads get along, coupled or not, dads are more likely to stick around, and kids do better. Policy certainly has that much right. The problem is assuming that promoting marriage and two-parent homes is an effective way to strengthen families.

Based on my research with more than 60 poor fathers of color in a government-funded responsible fatherhood program I call “DADS”, presuming that moms and dads are together romantically and want to get married can be counterproductive. Only about a third of the fathers I studied were in romantic relationships with the mothers of their children, and many of these were unsure about the future of these partnerships. Most men were not in DADS to improve their couple relationships based on package deal views of committed coparenting as a route to greater father involvement. Half even described how focusing on their relationships with mothers distracted them from their children, especially when persistent conflict over couple issues threatened to derail otherwise cooperative coparenting. They were in DADS to learn how to navigate and negotiate complex coparenting relationships with no hope for romantic reconciliation or marriage. They needed a new script that reflected their family realities.

DADS offered paid job training, a high-school completion program, and fathering and relationship skills classes. These resources gave economically vulnerable men—most of whom were persistently unemployed and struggled with the stigma of criminality—opportunities to prove to themselves and their children’s mothers that they were committed to becoming better fathers. They learned to see their children’s other parents, not as adversarial exes or potential romantic or sexual interests with whom they might reconcile, but as supportive allies equally invested in the well-being of their shared children. “Ricky,” a 22-year-old Black single father of one, told me that he learned: “When it’s just about my son, [his mom] and I talk, and everything is really good. Like she told me, ‘We got to get rid of everything you and me.’ I’m single because I got to have it be all about my son.” Worrying about the likely fighting had they gotten back together would have been a diversion from his fathering.

Other fathers described to me how DADS helped them realize that breaking up was the best way to improve their coparenting relationships. “Jeremiah,” 24, Black, and a single father who shared three children with two women, confided: “We’re a lot better now as parents that we have space from each other. I don’t get how some people, they’re not with their mate, so they don’t be with their children. They’re with somebody else and not paying attention to the kids. I would never do that. I want to be with the baby’s mother, but it’s harder being without the baby.” Like Jeremiah, many men learned through DADS that their best hope for cooperative coparenting was disentangling their romantic attachments, especially any related jealousies and hostilities, from fathering. The classes they took taught them to empathize with mothers and prioritize their shared children’s welfare over anything else. Fathers realized that what they often saw as mothers’ “gatekeeping” were well-intentioned efforts to protect and provide for kids.

Fathers’ financial constraints contributed to their coparenting challenges as much as any interpersonal conflicts and romantic quarrels. This made the school and job components of DADS just as valuable for managing coparenting challenges. Housing and food insecurity, unreliable transportation, and struggles to provide financially all compromised fathers’ abilities to be and be seen by mothers as reliable, responsible coparents. As “Christopher,” a 22-year-old Black father of one, told me: “Me and his mom have separated many times. I absolutely love her. We spend a lot of time together, but I have to float around. I don’t have a place to live right now. You just work it out with what you’ve got going on the next day. If things are going well with her, I have a place to live that day, and I get to see my son. But one time they left me, and she would not deal with me until I tried to better myself. She wouldn’t talk to me, so I went back to the streets and went to jail. I was making more money, but I realized I want to be with this woman. I agreed with her, so I came here. It’s keeping me straight.” Christopher saw DADS as his only chance to make legal money, stay out of jail, afford stable housing, get his on-again-off-again girlfriend to commit, and therefore regularly see his son.

Ricky, Jeremiah, Christopher, and their classmates saw DADS as a rare opportunity to overcome how relational and financial barriers intersected to complicate coparenting. Few of them, however, discussed plans to marry their children’s mothers in the near future. They had much more pressing family goals, including providing for themselves and their children and managing the interrelated strains of poverty and family complexity. DADS may not have gotten them any closer to the altar, but it gave them a way to prove to themselves, mothers, and others that they were capable and dedicated parents. Given that mothers’ views of fathers’ parenting abilities is highly predictive of fathers’ engagement with children, this is a huge success for any policy focused on increasing fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. Fathers who were married or desired marriage still found support for their family-formation goals. But the more explicit focus on couples working together for the sake of children resonated for everyone in the program.

What about those critiques that prioritizing coparenting over marriage ignores research and denies children the benefits of married parents? What the research really finds is that kids do best when raised by parents and caregivers who get along, cooperate in children’s best interests, and have the resources and support to provide for all their needs. More programs like DADS that reflect how many parents prioritize bonds with children over partner relationships will go a long way in meeting the needs of families as they really are. That means accepting that many families rightly choose to forgo romance and marriage for the sake of the baby carriage. Family strengthening policies will be more effective when they do, too.

Jennifer Randles is Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Follow her on Twitter at @jrandles3 and reach her at



Reposted from the University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center

While it is well-established that marriage benefits physical and emotional well-being, it is not marital status alone that matters but also marital quality. Substantial evidence demonstrates that marital strain increases psychological distress for married people. Most of this evidence is based exclusively on people’s own reports of the strain they feel in their marriages, referred to by researchers as “self-reported marital strain.” However, most research has not considered how a spouse’s perceptions and feelings about the marriage, known as “spouse-reported marital strain,” may also contribute to an individual’s distress.

Obtaining information from spouses is important because even if an individual is generally happy with the marriage, his or her spouse might be unhappy. The individual can then pick up on and be negatively affected by the spouse’s unhappiness. Dyadic data, which obtains appraisals from both spouses, may therefore provide important insights into the association between marital strain and psychological distress.

Prior research, based almost exclusively on different-sex couples, also suggests that marital strain may lead to more psychological distress for women than for men. This gender difference has been theorized by some to be the result of women’s greater interpersonal connections, which may increase their awareness of and reactivity to relationship strain. Others argue that gendered power dynamics, in which women are seen as subordinate to men, explain this difference.

Same-sex couples typically adhere less strongly to gendered norms and expectations and are more egalitarian than different-sex couples. A gender-as-relational perspective – which argues that the way women and men enact gender differs depending on whether they are interacting with a woman or a man – would suggest that the relationship between self- and spouse-reported marital strain and psychological distress might operate differently for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages.

Conducting research on different- and same-sex couples could shed light on competing theories of why women generally experience more distress as a result of marital strain. On the one hand, if women are more aware of interpersonal dynamics within marriage, they may be more susceptible than men to psychological distress as a result of marital strain regardless of whether they are in a different-sex or same-sex marriage. On the other hand, if women in different-sex marriages are more likely to be in relationships that reflect gendered power dynamics in which they are subordinate to men, they may be especially vulnerable to distress as a result of marital strain.

To examine whether and how self-reported marital strain and spouse-reported marital strain are associated with psychological distress and whether differences exist for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages, we analyzed ten days of dyadic diary data from 756 U.S. women and men in midlife.

►►People who report higher levels of their own marital strain (“self-reported marital strain”) have more psychological distress. In addition, people whose spouses report higher levels of marital strain (“spouse- reported marital strain”), also experience more psychological distress.

►►However, there are notable gender differences in these relationships: women in different-sex marriages suffer more compared to women in same-sex marriages and men in same- and different-sex marriages. (See figure)

►►The association of self-reported marital strain with psychological distress is stronger for women in different-sex marriages compared to all other union types.

►►The association of spouse-reported marital strain with psychological distress is stronger for women in different-sex marriages when compared to men in same- and different-sex marriages.

Implications for research on marital dynamics and health
Research on marriage needs to consider the perspectives of both spouses when exploring linkages between marital dynamics and well-being. Data from both spouses is especially useful because it allows researchers to explore how perceptions, behaviors, and characteristics of each spouse may independently impact the health and well-being of either one or both spouses.
To fully capture the range of marital dynamics and their impact on health – especially for gender differences in these linkages – future studies should include same-sex couples as well as different-sex couples.

Research would benefit from taking a gender-as-relational approach to studying marital relationships. As this research clearly shows, it is not an individual’s gender but rather an individual’s gender in combination with his or her spouse’s gender that plays a key role in the link between marital strain and psychological distress, with women married to men showing a unique disadvantage compared to other union types. Thus, research must look beyond the individual to consider how gendered relational contexts shape processes of health and well-being.

Implications for mental health professionals
Clinicians would also benefit from considering the gendered relational contexts of marital relationships. In other words, counseling and other professional interactions with couples would be strengthened by thinking of the individual in combination with their spouse’s gender.

Indeed, when mental health clinicians move beyond an exclusive focus on the individual and expand their approach to also consider the gender of their patient’s spouse, they can better understand and thus provide better care to their patients across all marital contexts. This is especially vital for women in different-sex marriages. Given the higher rates of depression and anxiety for women, a focus on improving the marital experiences of women in different-sex marriages may help to reduce mental health disparities.
Study findings also point to the importance of considering how either spouse’s perceptions of marital strain and conflict can undermine the psychological well-being of both spouses. Thus, clinicians should make every effort to collect information about both the patients’ and spouses’ marital experiences.

Michael A. Garcia ( is a PhD student in sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and Debra Umberson is a professor of sociology and director of the Population Research Center, UT Austin who holds the Christine and Stanley E. Adams, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts.

This research was supported, in part, by Grant R21AG044585 from the National Institute on Aging (PI, Debra Umberson); Grant P2CHD042849 awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); and Grant T32 HD007081, Training Program in Population Studies, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by NICHD. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Friendships and romantic relationships are universal experiences, but we know relatively little about them, especially using population-based nationally-representative samples. In The Company We Keep: Interracial Friendships and Romantic Relationships from Adolescence to Adulthood (2019, Russell Sage Foundation), we use The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to examine interracial romance and friendship among adolescents aged 12-17 and when they are adults aged 25-32. We wrote this book for a broader readership, so we tried our best to only present graphs. There is one table in the entire book, which is pretty good given that we are all social demographers! I think the entire book or single chapters (probably Chapter 1 with any of the substantive chapters) could be assigned to any undergraduate classes on race and ethnicity, youth and adolescence, sociology of education, or marriage and the family.

Kara and I had worked on these topics starting about 20 years ago (our first paper from this work came out in 2000), but when Wave IV of Add Health was released about 10 years ago, we began talking about going back and linking adult relationships with childhood experiences. We were fortunate enough to work with one of Kara’s colleagues, Kelly. We have been working on this book for 6 or 7 years.

Our book has several major findings:

  • Interracial friendships are quite rare for white and black youth, but more common for Latinx and Asian youth. Some of these differences stem from the fact that whites and blacks are much more likely to attend schools that are primarily white or black, respectively. Asian and Latinx students are much more likely to attend schools with children of other races.
  • Interracial friendship and romantic relationship patterns reveal multiple color lines – not only are race, ethnicity, gender, immigrant status, and socio-economic status important to determining these patterns, but that their relative importance depends on the groups that we analyze.
  • Socio-economic status plays a more minor role in determining friendship choices compared to race.
  • Adolescent experiences of having friends of another race, a romantic partner of a different race, and/or attending schools with larger shares of individuals who are of a different race each has a positive association with the likelihood that individuals have interracial romantic relationships in adulthood. These effects are durable and persist even with controls for individual background characteristics and current neighborhood racial composition when they are adults.
  • We also explored friendships choices by race of Hispanics, multiracials as well as whether there was any homophily by socio-economic status or immigrant status. We also examine same-sex relationships in a few places.

We were also disturbed by the larger numbers of students who did not report having a single friend at school. This was true for less than 10% of white girls, but closer to 30-40% of Black, Hispanic and Asian boys did not have a friend at school. We argue that isolation or marginalization of certain minority gender groups is troubling, and that we should not simply evaluate whether children are earning high grades or test scores, but also whether they are accepted socially at school.

Overall, I think that the book does offer some signs of optimism as well – early interracial experiences via even the most casual contact, has long-lasting consequences on relationships later in life.

Grace Kao is IBM Professor and Chair of Sociology at Yale University. She is also Faculty Director of Education Studies and Direct of the Center for Empirical Research on Stratification and Inequality (CERSI). She is also affiliated with the Ethnic, Race, and Migration Program at Yale University. She is the Past Vice President of the American Sociological Association. Follow her on twitter @Prof_GraceKao.

Reposted with permission from the blog of Chinyere Osuji

When I was studying at Harvard in the early 2000s, I had a black immigrant professor who had built part of his career gas-lighting anti-black discrimination in favor of 1990s-style black cultural inferiority tropes. My grad school girlfriends and I awkwardly giggled over “the sex parts” of his book on black assimilation. He cited statistics saying that black women did not perform oral sex as often as white women, making them less desirable sexual partners. Sexual incompatibility on this sex act was part of the motor driving black men to date interracially more than black women. I was struck by how he ignored scholarship showing how white women are lauded as the essence of beauty, domesticity, and ideal womanhood. Instead, in a reversal of the Jezebel stereotype, he explained this race-gender imbalance as due to black women being prudes. I remember that when we stopped laughing, we speculated on which black woman might have hurt him and whether this was scholarly revenge porn against black women. We also questioned how his much paler wife felt about this discussion.

Over a decade later, I noticed the increasing popularity of a similar dynamic: “Black women need to be more open!”

How many black women have heard this in reference to our dating and marriage prospects?

Black women’s inability to “open up” to dating non-blacks (presumably whites) was curtailing our attempts at finding long-term love. Oprah even emphasized this point to her best friend, Gayle, trying to convince her to date non-black men. Once more, statistics showing black men being more likely to interracially marry were used to show how our actions were deficient.

According to the US Census, close to 90% of all marriages take place within the same ethnic or racial group, with whites being the least likely to inter-marry. However, black women’s intra-racial preferences, not anti-blackness and misogynoir, were the cause of our lower likelihood for marriage in comparison to other similarly situated women.

Research by demographers shows that most non-black men, even those open to interracial dating, discriminate against black women in their online dating profiles. At the 2018 American Sociological Association annual meeting, Belinda Robnett (UC-Irvine) presented research showing white men were open to dating black women for interracial sex, but not interracial dating. Together, their studies suggested that, as in all pairings, it takes two to tango and, unless it is solely horizontally, black women indeed have better odds at finding long-term romantic partnerships with black men.

In my book, Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Race, I conducted over 100 interviews with people in black-white couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. I had the privilege of listening to men and women across racial pairings share the monotony, excitement, struggles, and joys of being married to a person on the other side of the ethnoracial hierarchy. Almost all couples seemed content in their relationships. Several were parents navigating how to raise children who were comfortable with the black, white, multiracial, and multi-ethnic sides of their extended families.

One thing that struck me about the black women whom I interviewed was how several of them complained about their white husbands who “just didn’t get it.” As people on the top of gender, racial, and often class hierarchies, these white men often could not make sense of the privileges they accrued in a society that fought very hard to occlude them. The work often fell on their black wives to teach them how they navigated the world as white middle class men. A few white husbands were “woke” to these dynamics. When I interviewed them individually, we laughed about their couple tactic of wives “tagging” them for interactions with customer service representatives and other outsiders. This strategy ensured that they used their race and gender privileges for the good of the family. Still, black women in other relationships described the emotional labor of explaining intersections of disadvantage to their oblivious white husbands.

I asked all of the husbands and wives about their experiences in their “romantic career”— how they understood their desires for spousal characteristics through prior romantic experiences. Unlike the white women whom I interviewed, black women in both Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro described the slights and microaggressions that they had experienced in the past. Several admitted to having been the “black girl in the closet” to nonblack men they had dated. For example, Lana was a 35-year old black woman whom I interviewed in Los Angeles. She recalled a previous relationship with a white guy when she was in college.

Lana: …. I don’t think he ever told his grandparents, for example, that I was black.  And when he told a group of his friends… they were like, “Oh what does your girlfriend look like?” and he kind of described me and was like “Dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin.” They were kind of like “What?” and it was very like “Oh…” like very, very surprised I guess. So there was definitely some of that and it was kind of difficult for me that if the relationship had gotten more serious that I was gonna have to worry about his family would perceive me or if they’d have – obviously they would have had a problem with me if they’d met me…. just because of me being black.  Not his parents but his grandparents because I had met his parents and I got along really great [with them] actually, but I think he was worried his grandparents just wouldn’t be very tolerant.

Lana’s story was similar to several black women that I interviewed in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. Like Lana, some black wives saw these experiences as a tactic that their previous white boyfriends used to protect them from anti-black relatives or to avoid white shock. Several black women were surprised at how long it had taken them to meet the friends and families of their white husbands. None of the white wives in either setting described similar experiences with previous same- or different-race partners. Other black wives, especially in Rio de Janeiro, described prior non-black partners being ashamed to be seen with them in public. For obvious reasons, black women who had these experiences expressed discomfort with these previous dynamics.

As Jessie Bernard famously articulated, in every (heterosexual) marriage, there are two relationships: “his” and “hers.” For this reason, it is reasonable to expect that partners were having different experiences in these relationships. When I interviewed white husbands in both places, several described having absolute autonomy to their relationships, both current and past. For them, their relationships were none of anyone’s business. As a consequence, they did not echo their black wives’ sentiments of feeling exceedingly excluded from white family and friend networks before they married. Nevertheless, when white husbands “just did not get it,” it was a source of tension in the relationships.

From a research standpoint, Boundaries of Love shows it is unrealistic and unfair to blame black women for their challenges in finding love when misogynoir is embedded in dating and marriage markets in both the United States and Brazil. In addition, this research shows that interracial dating and marriage may involve its own particular sets of issues. At the same time, since no marriage is without its issues, it also shows that black women can form happy, loving relationships with white men.

On a personal note, as someone who dates black men as well as men of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, being open-minded to love should be a goal for everyone, not just black women. Unfortunately, that is far from our social reality and may decreasingly be the case in the Trump era. Still, when it comes to interracial dating and marriage, it’s time to end arguments of black female deficiency. As Marcyliena Morgan, another black professor at Harvard, advised, it is time to love us or leave us alone.

Chinyere Osuji is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University at  Camden. In her book, Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Race (2019, NYU Press), Osuji compares how interracial couples in Brazil and the United States challenge, reproduce, and negotiate the “us” versus “them” mentality of ethnoracial boundaries.Boundaries of Love is based on over 100 interviews with black-white couples to reveal the family as a primary site for understanding the social construction of race. 
Image by giselaatje from Pixabay

Friends are important because they help us when we are in need, they make us feel supported, and they make happy events even more enjoyable by sharing those good times with us. Fortunately, almost everyone knows how to make friends with a new acquaintance – you look for common interests, you do nice things for the other person, you hang out with them by engaging in their favorite activities or sometimes by participating in mutually-enjoyable activities. You might help your new acquaintance by giving them advice when it is sought, by listening to them, or by sharing with them things they need or want. Often, just showing an interest in a person is an important step in building a bond of friendship with them.

For over twenty years our research team has been studying a particular kind of friendship, that between a stepparent and stepchild. Stepfamilies are a sizable portion of American families; in a 2011 Pew Center survey, 42% of respondents reported having at least one stepfamily member, and younger adults had more step-relatives than older ones, so the numbers will continue to grow. We have been studying stepparent-stepchild relationships because family clinicians and researchers suggest that stepparents’ ability to develop close bonds with stepchildren may be critical to the well-being of couple and family relationships in stepfamilies.

In our first study of what we called “affinity-seeking,” we examined 53 stepparents’ efforts at building friendships with their stepchildren by doing in-depth interviews with stepparents, their spouses, and stepchildren. We found that stepparents who purposefully made friends and tried to build close bonds with their stepchildren before remarriage, and who continued to maintain those bonding activities after remarriage, felt closer to their stepchildren and reported less conflicts. Stepparents who befriended stepchildren when they were dating, but then stopped after remarriage, were not as close with their stepchildren and had more conflicts. Perhaps not surprisingly, stepparents who never made efforts to build affinity with stepchildren had the most emotionally distant stepfamily relationships. We also found, in another in-depth study of dozens of young adult stepchildren, that stepchildren had to notice what their stepparents were trying to do and respond affirmatively to those affinity-seeking efforts; it was not enough for stepparents to try to build bonds, stepchildren had to recognize their efforts, interpret them in a positive way, and respond in kind. In addition, we learned that stepchildren believe that the initial efforts to build a bond are the stepparents’ responsibility, not theirs.

More recently, we gathered survey data online from 291 heterosexual remarried couples in which we asked them about stepparents’ affinity-seeking with stepchildren, marital quality, stepfamily conflict and cohesion. Information was obtained from husbands and wives separately, which allowed us to look at how stepparent affinity seeking related to both the stepparents’ and the biological parents’ perceptions about their marriage and family relationship quality. To assess stepparent affinity-seeking, we asked the partners individually to select the oldest child in their household who was from one of the partners’ previous relationships, and we asked them to think of that stepchild when responding to questions about stepparents’ efforts to build a friendship.

First, we explored factors related to stepparents’ efforts to befriend their stepchildren. Specifically, we evaluated how biological parents’ efforts at controlling stepparents’ interactions with their children (also known as “gatekeeping”) and stepparents’ self-perceptions of how they viewed close relationships with others (also known as “attachment orientations”) were associated with stepparents’ friendship-seeking behaviors with residential stepchildren. Stepparents who felt confident in their close relationships and, perhaps surprisingly, stepparents who felt anxious when interacting with others to whom they wanted to be close, engaged in more friendship- seeking behaviors with their stepchildren than did stepparents whose orientation was to keep their distance as a way to protect themselves in intimate relationships. We also found that both stepparents and their partners reported that the biological parents’ restrictive gatekeeping was strongly associated with fewer friendship-seeking behaviors by stepparents.

Next, we looked at whether the stepparent-stepchild relationship or marital relationship was more closely linked to overall stepfamily functioning. We did this because a researcher years ago had suggested that step-relationship quality was the most important predictor of stepfamily quality; some stepfamily therapists agree, while others contend that marital quality is key to family functioning. In our study we found that both relationships are important, although couples’ confidence in the future of their marriage was slightly more strongly associated with better stepfamily functioning (i.e., emotional closeness, communication, harmony) than was the quality of the stepparent-stepchild bond.

Finally, in a subsample of 234 stepfather-mother dyads, we found, after accounting for duration of mothers’ previous relationships, duration of the stepcouple relationship, the selected child’s biological sex and age, number of children in the household, and mothers’ report of household income, stepfathers’ perceptions of affinity-seeking with the child significantly predicted both partners’ perceptions of stepfather-stepchild conflict, marital quality, marital confidence, and stepfamily cohesion.

The results of these studies suggest that there are benefits associated with stepparent affinity-seeking – less conflict with stepchildren, better couple relationships, and closer stepfamily ties. Our findings provide evidence for encouraging stepparents to focus on building friendships with stepchildren. Our findings also illustrate that this is not always a simple thing to do. For these efforts to work, stepparents should engage in friendship-building behaviors early in the relationship and continue them as the bond builds. Additionally, the stepchildren must notice those efforts and respond affirmatively to them. Biological parents also need to allow opportunities for stepparents and stepchildren to engage with each other. When these things happen, then everyone in the stepfamily benefits. Stepparents and their partners (the parents of the children) need to think about this as an ongoing, long-term project – we found that some stepchildren disliked their stepparents and resisted any efforts to bond for some time, often months or years, before deciding that their stepparents’ efforts should be reciprocated.

Lawrence Ganong is an emeritus professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. Marilyn Coleman is a Distinguished Curator’s Professor Emerita of human development and family science at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. They have been studying stepfamily relationships for over 40 years.

The recent CCF Symposium, Parents Can’t Go It Alone, introduces you to important new work about what parents need to meet their goals and successfully raise the next generation. The essays range from a comparison of social supports across nations to what worries Latinx parents for their children’s safety.. Other essays highlight the strengths of community support for mothering in the African-American community and the need for change in how we structure low-wage work to support parents who work in those jobs. The symposium also provides evidence that most Americans want to live in families where both parents share the work of making a living and raising the children, so it is vitally important that we don’t leave fathers out of our demands for workplace flexibility.

We have so much in this country, so why is parenting so hard? An online symposium convened by the Council on Contemporary FamiliesParents Can’t Go It Alone—illustrates that parenting today is harder because working mothers and fathers are going without the help they need. We are neglecting parents.

Why now? CCF asked scholars who study families to write about the most current research on the needs of parents. We heard that parents have diverse priorities, and that many parents worry about how racism is affecting their children. Some worry about the lack of time for their kids, and others struggle with jobs that seem to demand their attention 24/7 jobs and so interfere with giving children enough attention. These problems are significant, and we see their consequences: The birth rate is falling throughout much of the world.

The symposium offers descriptions of how hard parenting is—and potential solutions to reduce the consequent discouragement for diverse American parents. Each essay suggests possibilities for how our society might come to the aid of today’s parents.

How do families “do it all?” They don’t.

New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson busts the myth that there is such a thing as “having it all.” On the basis of interviews with 120 young adults (33–47 years old), she found four patterns for managing the conflicts between the workplace and child rearing. Some workers are hyper-traditional, while others remain single or childless. In some families, women “do it all” rather than have it all. A third of her sample can be described as egalitarians, experimenting with building an equal partnership at both work and home despite the obstacles. Only the egalitarians prefer the choice they have made; most of the others would prefer egalitarian relationships but have not found a way to achieve them in today’s world.

It isn’t just time or just autonomy. Both matter for parents.

Maureen Perry-Jenkins from University of Massachusetts Amherst interviewed 360 low-income working families and found that a shortage of time is nearly everyone’s complaint. Parents needed time to sleep, care for babies, and connect with their partner, but they also needed predictability in their schedules. Control over their time makes it possible to have last-minute doctor appointments or a needed sick day. Beyond that, Perry-Jenkins reports that conditions at work affect parents’ mental health and their relationships with their children and partners. One way to support the next generation is to improve the conditions of work for their parents. Work matters.

Parents report fear of violence (from police as well as gangs).

University of Illinois at Chicago’s Lorena Garcia interviewed 68 middle- and upper-middle-class Latinx parents in the Chicagoland area. She found both optimism and worry: The parents had the knowledge and financial resources to help their children pursue their dreams; yet they worried, especially about their sons. They worried about the vulnerability of Black and Latino boys to gun violence in the city. They gave their sons a version of “the talk,” to help them reduce their vulnerability to police racism. Despite economic privileges, the Latinx parents in her study had serious concerns about their sons’ physical safety. Garcia shows us that good family policy must include reducing gang violence and police racism.

African-American communities support employed mothers

Dawn Marie Dow, from the University of Maryland and author of Mothering While Black, offers a view of African-American mothering that contradicts the presumption that all mothers feel a conflict between paid work and parenting. In interviews with middle- and upper-middle-class African-American mothers, Dow found that for African-American mothers, working outside the home is part of mothering work. Unlike other American mothers’ view that parenting is at odds with work, they felt supported by their families and communities for their paid labor. In their communities, being a strong, independent woman is seen as a virtue. Dow’s research reminds us that not only must we change the structures of workplaces to support parenting, but we must support cultural expectations and communities that validate parents’ ability to combine earning a living with caring for others.

Fathers are parents too.

Although some of the essays in this symposium are all about mothering, Stephanie Coontz reminds us that dads count too. She suggests that a major obstacle to the successful coordination of work and family life is the assumption that the problem belongs only to mothers. If fathers were not expected to focus solely on earning a living, mothers would never be required to “do it all.” Coontz provides data on the kinds of parental leave available to U.S. fathers and shows the inequity of providing more or better leave to mothers. Coontz suggests that feminists must work as strenuously for fair and generous paternal leaves as we do for maternal leaves.

How and why work–family policies matter

Caitlyn Collins, author of Making Motherhood Work, takes us on a deep dive into the social policies that make it easier or harder to be an employed parent. She interviewed 135 middle-class working mothers in Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States, and learned that while European countries have wide-ranging approaches to social policies, all have more substantial family-related policies than does the United States. Those policies make employed mothering less stressful in those countries than in the United States. Collins suggests that the lack of such policies in the United States sends the message that our families are on their own—that the community owes nothing to those raising the next generation of citizens.


FULL SYMPOSIUM PDF: CCF Parents Can’t Go It Alone Online Symposium 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  Children Are Now Back at School, Time to Focus on What Their Parents Need by Barbara J. Risman,



Why No One Can “Have It All” and What to Do About It by Kathleen Gerson,

Work that Works for Low-Wage Workers by Maureen Perry-Jenkins,

Fears of Violence: Concerns of Middle-Class Latinx Parents by Lorena Garcia,

Mothering While Black by Dawn Marie Dow,

Dads Count Too: Family-Friendly Policies Must Include Fathers by Stephanie Coontz,

Raising a Village: Identifying Social Supports for All Kinds of Families by Caitlyn Collins,

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Resposted with Permission from This Chair Rocks.

We’ve known for a while that ageism—negative beliefs and stereotypes about aging—make us vulnerable to disease and decline, and also that the opposite is true. People with fact- rather than fear-based attitudes towards aging walk faster, heal quicker, live longer, and are less likely to get Alzheimer’s—even if they’re genetically predisposed to the disease.

Until recently, though, we didn’t know much about whether strategies to reduce ageism actually worked. That changed on June 21, when a report published in the American Journal of Public Health showed for the first time that “it is possible to reduce ageist attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes.” Boom! The results are far more definitive than a single study. Scientists at Cornell University conducted a “systematic review and meta-analysis”  of 63 studies conducted over the past forty years with a total of 6,124 participants. After evaluating three types of interventions designed to curb ageism, they found that the most successful  programs encourage intergenerational contact and educate people about the facts of aging.

“The most surprising thing was how well some of these programs seemed to work,” observed co-author Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell and gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “The findings really suggest that these interventions had a very strong effect on outcomes, attitudes and knowledge” about aging, concurred study author David Burnes, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Toronto.

Not only that, experts agree that these kinds of interventions shouldn’t cost much money and are easy to implement. Possibilities include after-school mentoring or tutoring programs; college classes on aging and age bias; and activities that involve all ages, like a community garden or putting on a play or organizing around a shared cause.

Author and activist Ashton Applewhite has been recognized by the New York Times, the New Yorker, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She blogs at This Chair Rocks, speaks widely at venues that have ranged from the United Nations to the TED mainstage, has written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and is the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist?  The author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton is a leading spokesperson for a movement to mobilize against discrimination on the basis of age.

A briefing paper prepared  for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Symposium Parents Can’t Go It Alone—They Never Have.

A major obstacle to the successful coordination of work and family life in today’s world is the assumption that this is primarily a woman’s issue. Critics of U.S. social policy often point out how far we lag behind the rest of the world in providing maternity leave. That’s true enough. Of 41 high- and middle-income countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU), the United States is the only one that does not have nationally mandated paid maternity leave.

But many other countries are just as neglectful as the United States when it comes to enabling fathers to integrate work and family life. Ten of those 41 countries fail to mandate any paid leave for fathers. Less than a handful make any serious effort to break the pattern whereby even fathers who have access to leave typically take very little, thus forgoing the opportunity to spend time bonding with their infants and to gain the skills associated with being a primary caregiver.

This exemption—or exclusion—of men from the routines of domestic life is not at all traditional. For millennia, fathers and mothers shared the duties of provisioning the family and organizing its daily activities. Involvement in production and exchange outside the household were seen as a central part of a wife’s duties and household chores as a central part of a husband’s. When a man referred to himself as a sole provider, that was not an affirmation of his masculine identity but a plea for sympathy because he was widowed or his wife was unable to contribute to the family’s subsistence.

Premodern families made no pretense to egalitarianism, but men were not relegated to the sidelines of domestic life. In fact, the very word “domestic” was originally gender-neutral, referring to the industriousness expected of both sexes. Fathers were actively involved in home life, feeding the wood stoves in the kitchen, helping to fetch and carry water, teaching their children to read, and nurturing ties with kin and neighbors in order to sustain the wider social networks of reciprocity on which family well-being depended. Not until the 19th century did fathers begin to be conceptualized as uniquely responsible for earning money and mothers as uniquely responsible for parenting and for processing the goods purchased with the man’s money. And not until the 1920s and 1930s, when children of working-class families started going to school instead of out to work, did a majority of children actually grow up in female-homemaker families.

Today, most children live in households where every adult works for pay, yet in dual-earner families it is women who generally take time off for family needs. This not only perpetuates gender inequality in the workforce but also promotes a division of domestic labor that fosters marital discord, preventing heterosexual couples from achieving the kinds of egalitarian relationships that are now associated the greatest marital satisfaction.

Our challenge is not just to reintegrate women into productive activity, but to reintegrate men into reproductive activity—raising children, caring for the ill and elderly, and tending to the kinship and friendship networks that we all depend upon for services and benefits that can’t be purchased in the marketplace.

The benefits of maternal leave for the well-being of mothers and children are well established. When such leaves are the norm, they also lessen or even eliminate “the motherhood penalty” whereby mothers are paid and promoted at lower rates than childless women. In Norway between 1979 and the mid-1990s, a combination of paid family leave, subsidized child care, and more flexible work policies completely eliminated the motherhood penalty for female employees in workplaces where people did the same work for the same employer. It reduced that penalty by 75 percent in the workforce overall.

But maternal leave policies do not eliminate the pay and promotion advantages that accrue to husbands and fathers. In fact, maternal leaves, paid or unpaid, can perpetuate the pattern whereby wives essentially subsidize their partners’ greater investment and rewards at work by freeing them from most routine weekday housework and child care.

The expectation that men will increase their work commitment after marriage, especially after a child arrives, has become so entrenched that even when paternal leave is available, men seldom take all or even most of the time to which they are entitled. In part, they fail to do so because they fear being stigmatized as an uncommitted employee. But it is also eminently practical, given that most men earn more than their female partners. Forfeiting a substantial portion of the higher salary seems risky to parents facing the increased financial pressures of a new child. Yet when women reduce their work efforts to allow men to sustain or increase their labor market commitment, that not only contributes to the “motherhood penalty”; it increases the “fatherhood bonus,” which we might also call the “nonparenting incentive.” Such behaviors reinforce women’s secondary position in the workplace and men’s secondary position in the family.

Many men and women would like to break this cycle of gender specialization and inequality. And the good news is that when communities or governments offer generous pay replacement combined with use-it-or-lose-it policies that normalize the practice of paternal leave-taking, couples make different choices.

In Iceland in 2000, for example, men accounted for only 3 percent of all parental leave days taken. By 2007, after full implementation of a father’s quota instituted in 2003, they took almost a third. By 2006, after Norway extended the father’s leave quota to 6 weeks, 70 percent of eligible Norwegian fathers were taking almost all the time for which they were eligible. And when Quebec reserved a use-it-or-lose-it 5-week quota for fathers in 2006, men’s take-up rates increased by 250 percent. By 2010, 80 percent of eligible men were using the leave, and the duration of their leaves had increased by 150 percent.

Paternal leave-taking reduces the degree of gender specialization in families. In Quebec, fathers who took leave increased their core domestic cooking and shopping even after returning to work, while mothers increased their paid labor hours. Norwegian couples who had a child after the introduction of more generous paternal leave policies were more likely to share domestic duties—and significantly less likely to report conflicts over housework—than those who had their last child just before the reform.

Change never comes without cost. A father who takes parental leave may miss some of the promotions and raises associated with uninterrupted work, lowering the marriage and fatherhood bonus that most men now receive. Nevertheless, a recent study in Denmark suggests that when fathers’ leaves allow mothers to develop a more consistent work history, this can lower the motherhood penalty enough to result in increased total household wages.

Furthermore, paternal leave-taking paves the way for further progress in the next generation. In Norway, girls born after men started taking longer paternity leaves were assigned fewer household chores as teenagers—many years after their fathers had returned to work—than their counterparts born just before. Such a change could make a real difference in the United States, where teenage girls rehearse their futures by spending twice as much time cleaning and cooking as teenage boys while receiving less than half as much in allowances!

For their part, boys who see their fathers share housework and child care with their mother are much more likely to do the same when they grow up. One U.S. study found that the extent to which fathers participated in routine, stereotypically female tasks when their sons were very young had a strong influence on the sons’ likelihood of sharing such tasks in their own households 30 years later—and it did so pretty much independently of the gender attitudes their parents espoused. Kids pay more attention to what parents practice than what they preach.

Feminists who believe in equal rights at home as well as work must practice what we preach, working as strenuously for fair and generous paternal leaves as we do for maternal ones.

Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, and Professor Emeritus of History and Family Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington,    



Reposted from CalMatters

The recent shooting death of Miles Hall, a 23-year-old African-American man in Walnut Creek who struggled with mental illness, reminded me of why I didn’t call an ambulance during my sister, Erica’s, psychotic break.

Mr. Hall’s family called 911 for help, as he ran around with a pointed metal object. The family described it as a garden tool and police called it an iron bar. The day before, his mother,

Taun Hall, notified the police department about their son’s worsening schizoaffective disorder, which can cause delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech. Police advised the family to call the police in an emergency.

Despite the family’s outreach, something still went horribly wrong.

Two officers trained in crisis intervention, Tasers on hand, arrived on scene first and fired bean bag rounds to get Mr. Hall to drop the object. When he ran in their direction, which the family explains as an attempt to “run past” officers and toward home, they used a gun, instead of a Taser.

The family filed a civil claim in June and a federal wrongful death lawsuit in September. Mr. Hall’s survivors and their attorney John Burris, said they want this case to serve as an example to California law enforcement of how not to respond to a mental health crisis.

“We are betrayed by a system that failed us, that we had no other option (but) to use,” Taun Hall said as quoted by KPIX in San Francisco. “What else are we supposed to do? We have no other options but to call the police.”

These dangers have dissuaded my family from feeling comfortable calling an ambulance if Erica has another psychotic break.

Eight years ago a security guard at my family’s housing complex in New York City found my sister, Erica, wandering in a daze. She rambled about witchcraft and vampires and said she was going to Alaska.

My sister had no known history of mental illness, but I knew she needed psychiatric help. I called the nearest hospital’s mobile crisis team and asked how quickly help could arrive. The dispatcher said someone would arrive within 48 hours. What kind of crisis intervention can wait two days for a response?

I asked about an ambulance. She warned me that if I called 911, the police would attend.

“Something to keep in mind,” she said.

Erica had never shown aggression before, but that morning, overcome by fear and her delusions, she hit my father and threw objects at me.

She wanted to leave the apartment, and my father and I tried to prevent her from going outside again in her confused state. I pictured a struggle with police, given her uncooperativeness and desire to flee.

She angrily told me there was nothing wrong with her.

At 304 pounds, her size coupled with her agitation made her especially imposing that day. Instead of calling 911, I spent hours cajoling Erica to seek medical help before we finally managed to get into a cab to the hospital.

We’re lucky no police showed up that morning, since Erica’s out-of-character behavior the next day suggests she might have presented in a way that would have caused a police officer to use force in subduing her.

She fought with hospital staff when people there to help tried to prevent her from leaving the ER. They tied her down in restraints and drugged her so heavily that she slept through the weekend.

“I don’t remember anything,” Erica says, of the events from that morning and the days afterward.

Erica spent three months involuntarily committed in a psychiatric unit, followed by years of treatment. Eventually she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Thankfully her medication has controlled the psychotic symptoms. Her own efforts and family and program support has helped Erica avoid inpatient psychiatric re-hospitalization.

She attends a psychosocial clubhouse in New York City, which provides volunteer, work, and educational opportunities and social activities, along with low-cost nutritious meals and caseworkers. Fountain House has given Erica continued support to weather the bumps.

Charleena Lyles, a pregnant African-American mother of four in Seattle, wasn’t so lucky. Neither was Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old black woman in New York. Both women had a history of mental illness and died in officer-inflicted shootings within minutes of police arrival.

Last year, officers armed with Tasers killed three unarmed people with a diagnosed mental illness in a 10-month period in San Mateo County. These represent just a handful of deaths of people with mental illness or disability by police within the last few years.

Attributing these tragedies, whether gun or Taser-inflicted, to human error ignores systemic problems with how we address mental illness in the community. We’ve failed as a society when police are the primary responders to mental health crises.

This shift in care for citizens with a mental illness, with the criminal justice system taking over mental health services, dates to the failures of the 1970s and 80s when people were moved from confinement in large public hospitals and released without adequate healthcare, social services and supportive housing.

Today, jails and prisons provide much of the inpatient psychiatric care in the United States.

Absent a major overhaul in psychiatric services, police will continue to play a frontline role in mental health emergencies. Police departments need to ensure officers can recognize a mental health crisis, receive adequate training in de-escalation techniques, and assess behavior that seems threatening with informed evaluation and not fear.

Urban police departments have begun increased training for handling interactions with emotionally disturbed people, modeled on the nationally recognized crisis intervention training—CIT—program used by nearly 3,000 law enforcement agencies.

But the efforts are uneven and inadequate. While increasing, only about half of the San Francisco Police Department’s 1,869 full duty officers have completed the program.

All Los Angeles police officers receive 15 hours of mental health training, which is a good start but far fewer hours than a full CIT course.

Given the vast needs of diverse urban populations across the state, every officer needs CIT. But the programs remain underfunded and understaffed, as a recent Los Angeles County Sheriff Department report outlined.

And even that may not be enough, as the presence of CIT-certified officers has not prevented some of these recent shootings.

In the case of officer-involved deaths, the question of whether officers should have used Tasers instead of guns isn’t the main discussion we should be having. Weapons shouldn’t be the first method of addressing a health crisis. And Tasers kill, too. They can cause cardiac arrest and death even when used “properly.”

With Taser-related deaths on the rise, communities across the United States have begun to reconsider their usage.

Given the unpredictability of interactions with someone in a psychotic state, police departments need to implement better safeguards to avoid heat-of-the-moment breaking of police procedure. Emergency 911 calls with any hint of emotionally disturbed behavior should require the presence of medical personnel from the beginning, with emergency service units arriving first and patrol officers as back-up.

Calls from households with a record of prior police contact for emotionally disturbed behavior should be rigorously tracked and flagged, with CIT-trained officers required to respond.

Officers need to focus on slowing down the interaction and buying time to ensure everyone’s safety, the hallmark of CIT training for encounters with emotionally disturbed people.

Developing listening skills and empathy will lower the odds of violent outcomes to mental health emergencies and benefit all communities when emphasis shifts from aggression to de-escalation.

The bigger challenge is helping officers not to presume people with mental illness are a threat or problem. Stigma is powerful, and psychosis is frightening for everyone involved.

Continued anti-bias efforts, coupled with crisis intervention training, is crucial, considering that many of these deaths involved members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Until we have a more humane, medically-informed system of police response, we will do whatever we can to avoid calling 911 for Erica in a crisis.

Stacy Torres is an assistant professor of sociology at UC San Francisco, Her sister, Erica Torres, contributed to this commentary. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Policymakers, academics, and the general public are increasingly interested in parental leave policies. The increased interest in parental leave is particularly notable in the United States – the only high-income country without a national statutory paid parental leave policy – indicating some potential for progress. Indeed, many 2020 U.S. presidential campaigns have discussed potential paid leave policies, several states have adopted state-level paid family leave policies, and large companies are adopting and increasingly publicizing their paid parental leave policies.

The increased attention to paid parental leave policies stems from their perceived benefits. Most notably, scholars and policymakers believe parental leave is a key policy that can help to promote greater gender equality, particularly when these policies make fathers eligible to take leave and encourage fathers to take leave. Paid leave for fathers provides men with time to participate in childcare and housework tasks that are traditionally performed by mothers, helps parents learn how to share tasks more equally, and establishes expectations for shared parenting. Getting fathers more involved in domestic labor helps to reduce the burdens typically placed on mothers – and closing the gap in domestic labor between men and women is key to achieving greater gender equality both at home and in the public sphere.

Current evidence suggests that fathers who take leave (especially those who take longer periods of leave) are more involved in childcare and housework than fathers who do not take leave (Almqvist and Duvander 2014; Bünning 2015; Petts and Knoester 2018; Tamm 2019). Couples that share childcare and housework more equally report greater satisfaction in their relationships than couples in less egalitarian relationships, as sharing in domestic labor promotes feelings of equity between parents and reduces the burdens placed on any one parent (Carlson et al. 2016). Indeed, there is also evidence that parents – mothers in particular – report being more satisfied in their relationships when fathers take leave after the birth of a child (Kotsadam and Finseraas 2011; Petts & Knoester 2019a; 2019b).

In a new study published this month, we extend previous work on the benefits of fathers’ leave-taking by looking at whether fathers’ leave-taking (and how much time fathers take) is associated with relationship stability in the United States. Because taking leave may foster more involvement in domestic labor by U.S. fathers and reduce burdens placed on U.S. mothers, parents – especially mothers – may feel more supported and satisfied in these relationships and thus better able to manage the stresses involved with raising a child. Reduced strain and higher relationship quality portends a lower likelihood of relationship dissolution.

We find evidence that fathers’ leave-taking is associated with more stable parental relationships. Specifically, couples were 25% less likely to end their relationship in the first six years following the birth of a child when fathers took leave compared to couples where fathers did not take leave. Thus, results suggest that increasing access to parental leave for fathers – and encouraging fathers to take this leave – may help to increase family stability.

If fathers’ leave-taking reduces the risk of relationship dissolution, does this mean that longer leaves are even more likely to promote relationship stability? Not exactly. We find that taking two weeks of leave or less is most likely to reduce the risk of relationship dissolution; couples were 29% less likely to end their relationship when fathers took 1 week of leave, and 25% less likely to end their relationship when fathers took 2 weeks of leave (compared to couples where fathers did not take leave). Taking longer periods of leave (3 weeks or more) was unrelated to relationship stability (although this may be due to small sample sizes, as the number of U.S. fathers who take longer leaves is quite low).

This may seem counterintuitive. If taking leave provides fathers with time to learn to be an engaged parent, and parents’ time to establish equitable coparenting relationships, it seems logical that more time on leave would be better for parents and help to strengthen parental relationships. However, it is important to consider the cultural norms surrounding parental leave and the implications of taking more time off than is expected, or accepted, within a society. In the U.S., most fathers take a short period of time off work when a child is born and it is widely accepted that fathers should be present for the birth of their child. It is uncommon for fathers to take longer than a couple of weeks off work when a child is born, and there are actually career penalties and stigmas associated with taking longer periods of leave (Rudman and Mescher 2013; Wayne and Cordeiro 2003; Williams et al. 2013). Thus, relatively short leaves may be most likely to promote relationship stability by providing some time at home for fathers while minimizing any negative career consequences. These findings are consistent with European studies which show that fathers’ leave-taking is most likely to promote parents’ relationship stability when fathers follow the cultural norms of leave-taking within a particular country (Lappegård et al. 2019; Viklund 2018).

Overall, our study suggests that fathers’ leave-taking may help to promote more stable parental relationships in the U.S., identifying an additional benefit of fathers’ leave-taking for families. Given the numerous benefits of parental leave, the increased attention on expanding parental leave policies in the U.S. is warranted. American parents need greater access to paid parental leave in order to take advantage of the benefits that parental leave provides (such as more stable parental relationships). But, our findings regarding variations in relationship stability by length of leave suggest that norms regarding parental leave-taking also need to change. For the full benefits of parental leave policies to be realized, U.S. culture needs to be more accepting of fathers taking leave. By doing so, we may be able to work towards greater gender equality by encouraging – and providing opportunities for – mothers and fathers to share more equally in childcare.

Richard Petts is Professor of Sociology at Ball State University. Follow him on Twitter @pettsric and reach him at  Daniel L. Carlson is Assistant Professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah. Follow him on Twitter @DanielCarlson_1 and reach him at