Picture via Loyola University Chicago

To improve the well-being of families in urban communities, it is important to understand how violence exposure can have an effect on the development of youth. Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden is valuable for understanding community violence as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden is clinical psychologist and an associate professor of Psychology at the Loyola University of Chicago. She is also a Council on Contemporary Families expert—and board member. Her current research focuses on community violence exposure in African American youth. I recently asked her several questions about her research and perspective on it.

EO: How did you become interested in the mental health of African American youth and families?

NGH: There were a number of seemingly unrelated factors that occurred around the same time to generate my interest in the mental health of African American youth and families. In one of my courses in graduate school, we discussed the impact of stressful life events on psychosocial development in children, and one study that we discussed found that, for each additional stressor experienced by a child, the likelihood of negative psychosocial outcomes increased exponentially. At the same time, I was working as a graduate research assistant on an intervention to reduce aggressive behaviors and increase prosocial behaviors in children, and the project was being implemented in one of the most impoverished school districts in the area. Through this experience, I witnessed how societal inequalities resulted in limited resources and opportunities for success for African American children and families, and I was struck by the number of stressors experienced by the children in the intervention.

Each day, I left the intervention sites thinking about the research study we discussed in class, and wondering how to enhance the well-being of African American youth exposed to disproportionate levels of stressors. Around this time, child coping was emerging as a research area and gaining a great deal of momentum in clinical and developmental psychology. Starting with my dissertation, I began to pursue a program of research on stress and coping in African American youth. I began to conduct research to better understand the impact of stressful life events on psychological functioning in African American youth, how adaptive coping behaviors may buffer the negative impact of stressors, and how African American parents support or enhance adaptive coping in their children.

EO: Your research focuses on community violence exposure as a stressor for African American youth and families in urban communities. What is the impact of community violence exposure on the well-being of African American youth and families? What helps to minimize the negative impact of violence exposure?

NGH: My early work on stress and coping focused on African American youth’s experience of stressors in multiple domains, including peer stressors, family stressors, school stressors, community stressors, etc. Due to attention on violent crime in Chicago, our more recent work hones in on community violence exposure as a stressor. We are learning that, in comparison to other stressors, community violence is unique in regard to both its impact on well-being and the factors that buffer its impact. Our work demonstrates that higher levels of community violence exposure predict higher levels of aggression, delinquency, and post-traumatic stress symptoms, in African American male adolescents, similar to other stressors.

However, we were surprised to find that the association between violence exposure and depression is curvilinear in a number of our studies. This finding means that as the level of community violence exposure increases, levels of depression increase to a point, and then depression begins to decrease as even as community violence continues to increase. This pattern suggests that youth may become emotionally desensitized or emotionally numb to community violence exposure as levels increase. At the same time, these youth are experiencing more trauma symptoms, such as hyperarousal, as violence levels increase. Further, we found that both emotional numbing and hyperarousal mediate the association between violence exposure in early adolescence and aggressive and delinquent behavior in late adolescence in African American males.

We were also surprised to find that coping strategies that were helpful for others forms of stress were not helpful for community violence exposure. Instead, our work has shown that the one coping strategy typically regarded as maladaptive, avoidant coping, is helpful in reducing negative outcomes for African American youth exposed to violence. Finally, we found that parental support does not impact on how youth cope with violence, which is inconsistent with our findings for other stressors. Interestingly, another factor—positive future orientation—has emerged as a stronger and more consistent protective factor that coping. Positive future orientation means that youth are optimistic about their future and expect to achieve their goals. Our findings with African American high school students suggest that positive future orientation buffers the impact of violence exposure on delinquent behavior. We believe that future orientation holds promise as a malleable target for intervention efforts with youth exposed to community violence. We are now interested in exploring how parental behavior may influence youth’s future orientation. We believe that future orientation may be more easily influenced by parents than youth’s coping behaviors, and if we can demonstrate this, we can endorse future orientation as a target in family-based interventions for youth exposed to violence.

EO: In order to better the well-being of African American youth and families exposed to community violence, what are some policies or conditions that contribute to making matters worse for them? In other words, what just isn’t working? What are policies or conditions that are needed to make things better?

NGH: Of course, the most effective policies would be those designed to reduce violent crime, thereby minimizing opportunities for youth to be exposed to violence in the first place. Policies that focus on economic investment in under-resourced communities to improve school conditions, create high quality mixed income housing, and provide job opportunities and workforce development will likely help to reduce violence.

In the meantime, we believe that treating community violence as a criminal justice issue is ineffective. Due to the traumatic nature of violence, community violence exposure is a health issue and should be treated as such. Our work shows that youth who have been exposed to community violence are at higher risk for additional exposure, as well as perpetration of violence. We have also demonstrated that symptoms of PTSD and emotional numbing help to explain this risk. Thus, rather that responding to youth’s behavior in punitive ways, which may further traumatize them, policies should work to ensure that systems and programs in the lives of young people are trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. We believe that reducing symptoms of hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and emotional numbing in youth exposed to violence can help to reduce the risk of subsequent exposure and perpetration and enhance well-being.

Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a senior sociology major at Framingham State University.

We know quite a lot, statistically, about Millennials, the up and coming young adult generation. Those who are employed are more likely than any previous generation to have a college degree. And yet, they are also more likely to live with their parents for longer stretches as adults.  The Pew Research Center Fact Tank  shows that 15 percent of Millennials live at home between the ages of 25 and 35, far more than generations before them. Their moving home continued even as the unemployment rate decreased, although those without a college degree are far more likely to boomerang home to their parents than are their college educated peers. Millennials appear to be less likely to move around the country to follow job opportunities, perhaps because so many jobs no longer carry the wages and benefits that would justify relocation. One trend very clear is that Millennials are far more likely to lean Democratic than any other generation. These left-leaning college educated young adults, some slow to fly away from the nest, are now the largest generation in America. And among women, Millennials are most likely to see the advantages men have over women, over half of them think men have it easier, far more than any previous generation. And twice as many women than men report having been sexually harassed at work, making this younger generation as aware of women’s victimization as any other.   Their mothers’ feminism hardly ended women’s problems in the workforce.

This is what we know from nationally representative statistics. But I wanted to know more, particularly about how college educated Millennials, our future leaders, felt about gender politics, not only in the workforce but how they experienced sex-based opportunities and constraints in their own lives. My colleagues and students and I interviewed 116 Millennials. Our sample was minority majority, with most of the respondents having been raised in working class, many in immigrant households. Most were now in college or recent college graduates.  In addition to recruiting a sample with much race and ethnic diversity, we also recruited a gender diverse sample, including those who rejected the gender binary entirely (some of whom identify as genderqueer) and some transgender young people. We asked these people to tell us their life history, with a specific focus on their experiences where gender was particularly salient. In the process, we sought to explore whether this new generation will change the face of gender politics at home or at work.

The answer is both yes, and no.  We could identify no one-size-fits-all generational experience.  What we did find was a complicated gender structure that some Millennials endorsed, some resisted, others rebelled against, and that left many simply confused. America continues to be a society with incredible religious diversity, and in my interviews, I quickly noticed that the men and women who were proud of their being girly girls and tough guys, wanted others in their social networks to follow sex-based traditions, and endorsed world views where men and women should have different opportunities and constraints were often raised in literalist faiths where the religious text was taken as gospel, and not metaphorical.  These true believers in a traditional gender structure came from many faiths, Evangelical Christian, orthodox Jew, Greek Orthodox, and Muslim. What they shared was a belief that god intended men and women to be complementary, not with equal opportunities to all social roles. These were young adults following in their parents’ footsteps, conserving the past for the future. In our sample, we talked to many of these young traditionalists, but in a national sample, they would be a small minority.  Still, they exist and complicate any picture of Millennials as movers and shakers of tradition.

But then, of course, many Millennials are also critical of sexual inequality. In our research, we identified two different patterns among young people with these attitudes. Some are innovators who simply ignore and reject any rules that apply only to women or men. They are proud to integrate aspects of masculinity and femininity, toughness and caring, into their own identities, reject expectations that force them into sex-specific roles, and want women and men’s lives converge so that everyone has the rights and opportunity to share the work of caring for others, and earning a living. What seems new in this generation is that this feminism isn’t a women’s only movement. These innovators are men as well as women. But some of those we interviewed went far beyond simply rejecting sexism, they rejected gender categories themselves, particularly the way social norms require us to present our bodies. These rebels reject the need for the category of woman or man. Some use the language of genderqueer, others simply say they are between the binary. A few are comfortable with remaining women but present themselves so androgynously as to be commonly presumed to be male. All reject the notion that women and men need to carry their bodies differently, or dress distinctly. These rebels have a tough time in everyday life. If you do not fit easily into a gender binary, you find yourself an outsider everywhere you turn, with no obvious restroom, no clothing designed for your anatomy, and no box to check on many surveys. While people with these problems are no doubt a very small proportion of American Millennials, they are having a tremendous cultural and political impact, with both California and Oregon now allowing people to choose a gender category other than woman or man.  These new laws provide more accurate identifications for genderqueer Millennials, as well as for intersex people. Rebels may be small in number but are clearly re-shaping cultural ideas about gender identity.

Of course, many of the young adults we interviewed were not so easily categorized. I call them straddlers because they have one foot in traditionalism and one in gender criticism.  It’s hard to know if this inconsistency is a moment in the lifecycle or will characterize their adult lives. After all, being a young adult today is confusing, and psychologists have labeled this stage of life emerging adulthood.  It is indeed a long and winding road, according to Jeffrey Arnett, from the late teens through the twenties to arrive at an adult identity and lifestyle. Many of the young people we interviewed held inconsistent  their ideas about themselves, their expectations for others, and how society should operate. They are as confused, and as in transition, as is the gender structure itself.

Millennials are a diverse group. When it comes to the gender structure, I identified four categories, traditionals, innovators, rebels, and straddlers, of Millennials with very different orientations. Does nothing, then, make this generation distinctive? Yes, some patterns do indeed provide a generational marker that transcends their differences. All these Millennials talked of women as employed workers whether they were mothers or not. The belief that the world of work and politics is for men, and the hearth and home the sole province of women is a 20th Century memory that now sits in the dustbin of history. Even women that endorse more freedom for men than women expect and desire to spend most of their adult lives in the labor force. But beyond the changing expectations for women’s lives, my research suggests the most defining feature of Millennials is their gender and sexual libertarianism.  Whatever they choose for themselves, they have no desire to impose their choices on anyone else.  What this means for America is that as the Millennials become the largest voting block, they are unlikely to cast their ballots for laws that require anyone to become just like them when it comes to gender or sexuality. And in that way, the Millennials may just take us to a more open and society.

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently she is a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK.   She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.

What’s happening with kids today?  A few years ago, liberals were confidently–  and conservatives dejectedly– predicting that millennials were blurring traditional distinctions between the sexes both in the workplace and at home, operating on “the distinctive and historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles in society. While 55% of the youth vote went to Hillary, that is five percent  less than voted for Obama.  More important, over a third of Millennials voted for Donald Trump despite his having bragged about harassing women on tape.   The #MeToo movement’s amazing popularity, with the women involved chosen as 2017 Person of the Year at Time Magazine,  suggests that feminism has risen again.  Is this feminism a youth movement or still led by Millennials’ mothers? Are young people on board with today’s feminism?

Some sociologists are arguing that today’s young people may be getting more conservative when it comes to gender equality.  They  noticed that between 1994 and 2014 high school seniors had become more traditional in their ideas about how to organize family life and decision making in the home (Pepin and Cotter 2017). Another report  published by the Council for Contemporary Families (Fate Dixon 2017), showed that similar slippage  between 1994 and 2014 but only for young men. This led to a New York Times headline asking worriedly whether millennial men now wanted stay-at-home wives, and a WA Post oped assuring conservatives  that the rediscovery of “gender specialization” is a natural development that reflects the way most families actually work, replacing the egalitarian feminist vision of sharing caregiving and breadwinning responsibilities equally.

So what are the Millennials’ gender politics?  My colleagues and I examined the results of a nationally representative sample, the General Social Survey, which asks the same questions every year, allowing us to track tends over time analyzing data from 1977 to 2016. What stood out to us was the virtual collapse of support for the traditional notion that women are suited only for motherhood and homemaking and should be “protected” – or excluded — from the public sphere. Our analysis suggests that the major change in our society is that those who used to believe women belonged in the home and did not deserve equality at work no longer believe that (or at least they no longer admit to doing so on surveys).  But those people still do believe that mothers should be primarily responsible for children.

The most important division today is not between feminists who champion women’s right to do everything in the public sphere that men do and traditionalists who endorse men’s dominance in the world of work and politics, something supported by most Americans for more than 150 years. Today’s debate is between the minority of people who believe mothers are primarily responsible for children and those who wholeheartedly support the sharing of duties in both private as well as public life. Even the most conservative Republicans accepted Sarah Palin’s right to be a vice-presidential candidate, although they did not necessarily accept the feminist premise that marriage itself should be egalitarian and husbands should be equally responsible for the housework and child care.

Where the Millennials stand on these questions is still being debated.  In my forthcoming book (January 2018, Oxford University Press,)  Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A  New Generations Wrestles with the Gender Structure I argue that the Millennials are a generation with as divided gender politics as the rest of the country. In interviews with 116 Millennials, I found that gender stereotypes, and discrimination still shape their experiences. The fear of being stigmatized for  challenging gender stereotypes is still widespread, but far more among young men than women.  Nearly everyone felt the powerful constraint of gender stereotypes when it came to how display their bodies, from the clothes they wore to the mannerisms they used, to what they weighed and where they had muscle.

Beyond that similarity, there was great diversity in how Millennials wrestled with the gender structure. But that diversity wasn’t really based on the sex of whom I was talking too. Some were very traditional, both women and men, especially those who subscribed to literalist faith traditions. They supported different norms, opportunities and constraints for men and women as family members. Others were innovators, feminists in belief. They talked the talk, and walked the walk or claimed to.What makes these innovators different from 2nd wave feminists is that this does not seem to be a women’s movement, but rather a feminist one that includes men. Perhaps even more distinct, an emergent trend in this generation is a small but vocal group of young adults who reject gender entirely, refusing to “do gender” in how they present their bodies.  Some adopt a genderqueer identity, between the binary of man and woman, and dress accordingly. I interviewed several female-bodied, genderqueer Millennials who felt their female body dressed in male clothes became androgynous. Others mixed feminine and masculine styles, such as male bodied person donning high heels with his beard, or a female bodied person wearing combat boots and short cropped hair,   long earrings and a feminine lacy scarf. There is no accurate count of how many such rebels exist nationally, but a new study from the Williams Institute, a think tank within the UCLA school of law, found that a quarter of California youth were gender non-conforming.

The majority of the young people I interviewed, however, were somewhat unsure about what gender means for them today.  Their answers were full of inconsistencies, as full of chaos as the world they are trying to navigate. Girls today are told they can be anything they want to be, but still feel pressure to be thin, accessorized and attractive to men. Perhaps this paradox between freedom of career choice and continued expectation to be eye candy  helps to explain the continued sexual harassment they face.  Gender equality has meant opportunity, including the opportunity to remain an object for male gaze. Boys continue to be stigmatized for doing anything that even hints at femininity, from playing with dolls, to studying to be a nurse. And yet, those same boys are expected to be involved fathers and nurturing fathers. The result is much confusion of just who expects what, and why.

Millennials are as divided in their beliefs about gender as is the rest of America.   But while some Millennials may be ambivalent about how far to push the gender revolution, this is not your grandparents’ ambivalence. My data suggest one more commonality among this generation.  Whatever they want for their own lives, they are not interested in forcing other people into gendered boxes, or condemning them for choices that violate traditional beliefs about what males and females should do. They seem to have an unprecedented acceptance of the choices other people make to either meet or reject the constraints of gender expectations. What was very clear is that even Millennials who make traditional choices are unlikely to accept a political agenda that penalizes people who do not.

Barbara J. Risman is a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.   She is currently a  2018 Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Durham University in the UK.

Our understandings of women’s sexuality is focused on love. We embrace the idea that women have sex when they’re in love, and when they are not in love they are disinterested in sexual activity. For women, the claim that they love someone validates their sexual behavior.

The women I spoke to while doing research for my recent book on women’s infidelity challenge this notion. These women approached cheating and their sex lives with pragmatism rather than sentimentality. The women spoke of vetting potential affair partners specifically to avoid emotional entanglements on the spectrum of “love.” They opted instead to seek out partners whose interest in an affair was purely sexual. Doing so permitted them to maintain appropriate boundaries that enabled them to keep their priorities aligned.

These women weren’t cheating to find a Prince Charming or a Mr. Right. They weren’t mate shopping, or looking for a love affair. They were looking for Mr. Now and Then. They were cheating to stay married.  So, their entire approach to vetting partners and designing their affairs was geared toward preserving their marriages and families.

Most of the women in the study–all of whom used the website Ashley Madison to seek out affairs–reported sexless marriages, or marriages in which the sex was orgasmless—at least for them. After enduring years of living in a sexual desert, the women made the decision to put up a profile online and seek out a like-minded partner. Many spoke of it as akin to finding a subcontractor, outsourcing a task to a temporary party. And that’s how they approached it. They weren’t looking for a permanent fixture in their lives. They were happy with their marriages with the exception of their sex lives. So, why replace the whole relationship when you can simply outsource the sex to someone whose sole purpose in your life is to provide sexual pleasure?

The appeal of Ashley Madison for these women was obvious. It is a site specifically for married people to find other married people for affairs. For a woman for whom the preservation of their marriage is their primary concern, a site like Ashley Madison is just another practical decision in her pragmatic approach to cheating. Rather than getting involved with someone in her social circle–a situation ripe for discovery–meeting someone online provided a level of protection for her “real life.” If she gets involved with a neighbor, for example, there are ample opportunities for shared social contacts to observe them interacting and pick up on subtle body language that could reveal their intimacy. But a partner met online is removed from her life. There is no risk of a casual neighborhood barbeque resulting in the upending of her marriage. Additionally, when the sexual relationship ends, the partner met online disappears from her life. No mess, no fuss. By contrast, the ending of a sexual affair with a neighbor means that man is still in her life, an ever-present threat of detection.

The vetting process involved frank and graphic discussions of compatibility. Rather than getting to know someone as a person before discovering their sexual preferences, skills, availability, size, or stamina was not well-matched, and then having to make a tough decision, the women opted to establish compatibility first. As one woman pointed out, “He can be a nice guy all day, but that doesn’t bring me to orgasm.” Thus, their process lacked sentimentality, and instead focused on skills and availability. The concept of their affair partners as subcontractors is evident here as well. When you are outsourcing a job, you hire solely based on how well the candidate can meet your job demands, and not based upon how much you like them. These women employed the same strategy.

With that same mindset, many women reported maintaining multiple affair partners simultaneously. As they pointed out, they had already learned from marriage that relying on one person to meet all of your needs was a recipe to be let down. So, they kept multiple affairs going at once to ensure their satisfaction was never dependent upon a single partner. They spoke of this candidly, referring to those men as a “roster,” “herd,” or “team.” They described their practice as “keeping the candy jar full.” There was nothing sentimental or sappy in their perceptions of their practices with regard to their participation in affairs.

Matter-of-factness punctuated these women’s affairs. Avoiding “love” in their affairs, partnering with men detached from their “real” lives, and matching only with compatible partners, these women focused solely on their mission, which was to have satisfying sex. These women’s experiences challenge our commonsense understandings of women’s sexuality and women’s infidelity. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider our ideas about how women regard sex, how they partner, and how they manage sexual relationships that don’t meet their expectations.

Alicia M. Walker is an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University, and the author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity. Follow her on Twitter at @AliciaMWalker1

Picture by hvz_westfalen_de via pixabay

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has protected many young undocumented immigrants from deportation. This program has been highlighted in the media and has been discussed nationwide – why? Because President Donald Trump has determined to remove it. Although this decision impacts immigrants individually, we also want to focus on immigrant families. I had the opportunity of interviewing Luis H. Zayas, Dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin, regarding the impact of the removal of DACA on immigrant families. Zayas’ research focuses on Hispanic families and children. This is what he had to say about the DACA decision:

TC: On September 5, President Donald Trump announced he was ending DACA in six months—that means March 5, 2018. Perhaps Congress will legislate for DACA, perhaps not; but there is much uncertainty that accompanies this process, and it seems like it creates an added hostile environment for many. What impact do you see this having on immigrant families?

LZ: I see this having a significant impact on immigrant families. I mean, we are talking about the ruptures that could happen in countless families if DACA is not extended. We are talking about kids who are Americans, for all intents and purposes, and who will be subject to deportation. That’s simply going to be a very painful thing for many people.  And it will cut across generations because some young adults with DACA status are the parents of U.S. citizen-children.  What will become of those Americans?  It also will be hard for the government to enact a policy of deporting due to the very fact that that it means deporting and displacing millions of children, millions of parents, and families.  Logistically, that will be virtually impossible.  If this Administration has to round up the hundreds of thousands of DACA youth and millions of their undocumented parents and siblings, it will have to create detention centers and processes.  It will be a nightmare for the undocumented, for government officials, and for taxpayers.

TC: I know you study depression and Latinx teens. Can you tell us more about how the threat to DACA is affecting teenagers — especially Latinx teenagers?

LZ: I haven’t studied [DACA teens] directly so I don’t have data.  But I have spoken to DACA youth and I know it’s been very difficult for them, and students here [in Texas] and across the country are really feeling betrayed: First, they trusted the government by signing up for DACA. Now they’re feeling that the information they gave can be used against them. They’re promised one thing, and this President is taking it away from them. There is a real sense of instability, but I haven’t been able to speak to enough of them directly to be able to make an informed judgement about their situation or their mental/ psychological condition. But I can tell you that the psychological and emotional harm inflicted on their siblings who are citizen-children is almost bottomless, and it is immoral

TC:  How can people/groups/organizations help?

LZ:  I think each of us has to be able to help in our own way. In other words, we can’t do it all. One person just cannot do it all. There are people who are clinicians and practitioners who can help advocate for their clients. They can teach DACA clients how to advocate for themselves and they can use their experiences with clients to show the harm that can be done. If we collect as much as is possible and bring it together, we’ll make a difference. Those same clinicians can write to newspapers and contact their representative in Congress and apply pressure and say, “Look I treat these DACA youth and I’m serving these kids and their families and this is what you’re doing to them.”

University officials have been doing a lot to protect DACA students and so they too can continue to do that and talk to people who represent [their university]. Big institutions will have an impact on the thinking of Congressional representatives in their area both at the state level and at the federal level. In addition, there are those of us who do research–we can speak up and I think researchers have to have the capacity to translate their research into information that can be understood by the general public. It can’t be all of the scientific jargon. One has to break down the information so that way it is understandable to the average person, the average Member of Congress, the legislative aide, and people like that. It is really about what each of us do, and if each of us does something, I think we can really get this administration to back down from the stance that they have taken. And I think it’s beginning to show that people from both parties– Republicans and Democrats–want to protect DACA. I think that’s a good sign.  There are 17 state attorneys general suing the Administration to prevent it from rescinding DACA.  They need our support.

The removal of DACA is a call to step up. We may believe that we are unable to help when the government is the one enacting the policy, but we all have a voice. We are capable of advocating for those who are being deported—these are our peers, our classmates, and our friends. The elimination of this program is a very painful thing but it is painless to stick up for the people who are having their rights taken away from them. The families who are hurting from this deserve the support from a country in which they have spent their time building their lives, building families, and building homes.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior Sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.


Originally posted 6/01/2015 

Flickr user/Devon Buchanan / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There are two major sources for national data on rape and sexual assault: the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program. While both can be used to gauge rape trends in the U.S., they use different methodology and are best seen as complementary rather than parallel data collection systems. Both show declines in sexual violence over the past decades.

The Uniform Crime Reporting Program collects data from police departments throughout the country. The NCVS, by contrast, asks household members throughout the states directly about crime victimizations they may have experienced, whether they reported them or not. Because sexual assaults and rapes are often not reported to the police, self-reports from NCVS are at present our best national source, and the two tables that follow are drawn directly from the NCVS and have been checked with staff members at NCVS.

The first table excludes sexual assault because the NCVS did not originally ask participants about any form of sexual violence but rape.[i] However, sexual assault is a recognized form of sexual violence, and the NCVS revamped its questioning in the early 1990s to include sexual assault as well. The next chart shows trends for this more comprehensive survey, displaying rates for both rape and sexual assault from 1993 to 2010 according to self-reports given to NCVS survey takers. The rates are based on the number of incidents per 1,000 persons age 12 and up, female and male.

Both tables demonstrate downward movement in the rate of rapes since the survey began in 1973. But there are important limitations. NCVS does not survey certain populations, such as those living on military installations or those who are currently incarcerated. Furthermore, the questions about rape are posed in the context of words such as violent or forcible, which may lead survey respondents to omit some forms of non-consensual acts. Even with these limits, however, the downward trend in physical violence seems clear.

Trends in Rates of Rape Graph


Trends in Rates of Rape and Sexual Assault Graph

This was part of the CCF Online Symposium on Intimate Partner Violence

For a discussion of definitions of rape and sexual assault and how they have changed visit, slate.com/blogs.

Originally posted 5/14/2015 

Recent months have seen a dramatic increase in media and government attention to gender-based violence, particularly sexual assault. Unfortunately, that attention has largely focused on a relatively elite group of young women – those enrolled in 4-year colleges. Much of the discussion has focused on the prevalence of a so-called “rape culture” in such settings, characterized by widespread tolerance of sexual violence. This essay presents evidence that sexualized violence and tolerance of such violence are actually more prevalent among youths who are not enrolled in college.

In 2008, we began a study – the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life (RDSL) study – to observe the intimate relationships of a population-representative sample of 1,003 18- and 19-year-old women who resided in a single county in Michigan. The study began with a 50-minute face-to-face interview, conducted by professional interviewers at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center. Ninety-five percent of the young women interviewed (for a total of 953) agreed to participate in a 2.5-year study where they completed short, weekly online interviews reporting about their intimate relationship experiences. The primary aim of the study was to observe the types of intimate relationships that produced early and/or unintended pregnancies. Ninety percent of the women reported having some form of partnership during the study. Because we hypothesized that violence would predict early pregnancy, we collected weekly data from the women involved about experiences with intimate partner violence (IPV).

Image by smile_kerry via Flickr CC
Image by smile_kerry via Flickr CC

Each week, we asked the young women, “Did you and [Partner Name] fight or have any arguments” during the period since the last journal. Respondents who answered yes were then asked about three specific types of conflict: 1) whether the partner swore at the respondent, called her names or insulted her (disrespect), 2) whether the partner threatened her with violence (threats), and/or 3) whether the partner pushed, hit, or threw something at her that could hurt (physical violence).

Only 29 percent of the women who reported their experiences with partners were enrolled in a 4-year college. Some were still in high school, some were enrolled in 2-year or vocational programs, and some of them were not enrolled in school at all, having either completed or dropped out of high school.

Approximately 40 percent of the young women reported experiencing disrespect in their relationships, but there were few differences among the college-enrolled and the non-college enrolled in this regard. When it comes to threats and physical violence, however, we found dramatic differences between the women enrolled in 4-year colleges and those not enrolled. While 7 percent of the women at 4-year colleges experienced threats in their intimate relationships, nearly twice as many – 13 percent – of the non-enrolled women experienced threats. Similarly, 14 percent of the students not enrolled at a 4-year-college reported one or more incidents of physical victimization, compared to 9 percent of the 4-year students. This is a difference of 56 percent.

Our study also included a series of questions about young women’s past history of IPV victimization. Fourteen percent of the college students reported being forced to have sex against their will at some time before age 20, not significantly less than the 15 percent of non-college students who did so. But the non-4-year-college-enrolled women had much higher past lifetime rates of IPV victimization than the 4-year-college-enrolled women – 21 percent (vs. 13 percent) for threats, and 26 percent (vs. 16 percent) for physical violence. They also reported seeing higher levels of violence among friends and family.

Image by Andy via Flickr CC
Image by Andy via Flickr CC

This greater exposure to physical and sexual violence was accompanied by greater tolerance for sexual violence. Both groups of women agreed with the idea that no woman deserves to be raped, disagreed that when women go out in sexy clothes they are “asking for trouble,” and disagreed that when things have gone “too far” it isn’t rape even when the woman says no. However, non-4-year-college women were more likely to agree that there is a point when a guy gets so aroused that he can’t stop himself, and that many women who claim rape probably initially agreed to have sex but later changed their minds. They were also more likely to believe that women who were hit by their boyfriends probably did something to deserve it. In an extreme example, one woman told us about her cousin who was raped by her brother.

Respondent: It wasn’t really her getting molested ’cause she was letting him do it. She never told.

Interviewer: Do you think it’s her fault ’cause she didn’t tell?

Respondent: No. ’Cause I’m pretty sure she was kind of scared. She was only 13.

  • RDSL respondent, not enrolled in school, graduated from high school

In another indication of differential tolerance for IPV, women who were not enrolled in 4-year colleges thought their parents and friends would react less negatively if they “found out that your partner pushed, hit, or threw something at you,” compared to the 4-year college women. Although both groups expected parents and friends to condemn the partner’s actions and to support them, the non-4-year-college-enrolled women expected their friends and family’s reactions to be about twice as supportive as the 4-year-college-enrolled.

In her essay, our colleague Elizabeth Armstrong argues that sexualized violence has not increased over time, contrary to alarmist accounts that paint it as rapidly rising. On the one hand, as Dr. Armstrong argues and our own research confirms – rates are unacceptably high. But our point here is that the care and consideration we are giving sexual assault on college campuses must be extended off campus. Clearly, IPV is not something that only happens to disadvantaged women. On the other hand, there appears to be a higher incidence of, and tolerance for, such violence among the disadvantaged than among the privileged.Women Both 4-year-college-enrolled and non 4-year-college-enrolled agree with the idea that no woman deserves to be raped.

Further, in our RDSL study, young women who experienced IPV had more frequent sex with their partners, used contraception less consistently, and got pregnant at higher rates. Violent men were different than the non-violent men – they tended to be older, to already have children with other women, and to be less educated. But, most importantly for pregnancy risk, the young women in our study perceived their violent partners as wanting them pregnant, significantly more so than the non-violent partners. One young woman in our study who told us about her violent boyfriend also told us that she did not want to tell him about her very recent miscarriage. We suspect that violent men demonstrate their control over their girlfriends by demanding sex and by discouraging effective birth control (e.g., oral contraceptive pills) in favor of male-controlled methods like condoms and withdrawal. Those methods are both harder to use effectively and more susceptible to last-minute sabotage by men who want their girlfriends pregnant.

Other researchers have linked IPV to headaches, back pain, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal infections, pain, urinary tract infections, appetite loss, abdominal pain, and digestive problems, as well as more general health problems (see Campbell et al. 2002). Because disadvantaged young women experience more IPV than advantaged young women, and because these experiences contribute to poor health outcomes and further disadvantage, IPV contributes to perpetuating inequality. Knowing these patterns should motivate more attention to research and policy on this important topic.

This was part of the CCF Online Symposium on Intimate Partner Violence


Jacquelyn Campbell; Alison Snow Jones; Jacqueline Dienemann; Joan Kub; Janet Schollenberger; Patricia O’Campo; Andrea Carlson Gielen; Clifford Wynne. 2002. Arch Intern Med. 162(10):1157-1163.

Originally posted 6/20/2017

The term “millennial,” according to Frank Furstenberg, is an overly simplistic blanket term frequently used to describe the generation born anywhere between 1980 and 2004. This leads to confusion when we see debates in the media about where millennials fall on either side of the conservative or liberal binary, even when research shows significant complexity in millennial attitudes and behaviors. This month, I asked Barbara Risman, Professor of Sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago and President of the Board for the Council on Contemporary Families, about new research for her forthcoming book Where Will the Millennials Take Us: Transforming the Gender Structure? The research is in Social Currents. Risman’s findings suggest that as gender itself challenges binaries, so do millennials’ negotiations with the gender structure. Rather than a clear-cut conclusion about “millennial” approaches to gender, Risman finds four unique typologies that situate millennials within the gender structure: the true believers, innovators, rebels, and straddlers.

Q: In your typology, I was intrigued by the gender rebels: This is the millennial group that seems most different from previous generations. They emerged in your investigation when you demarcated material and cultural dimensions of the gender structure. Can you tell us more about how you came to recognize the gender rebels?

BR: I agree with your assessment that these gender rebels are perhaps the one group in my research that appear to be an invention of the millennial generation. Gender rebels are very much like a group I call the innovators; both could be described as trying to walk the walk of feminism, even if feminism is so in the air they breathe, they sometimes do not use the word. At the individual level of analysis, both groups reject being constrained to stereotypically feminine or masculine personality traits, both reject the cultural expectations that men and women should live different kinds of lives, and both are ideologically opposed to gender inequality. They are very similar in their cultural rejection of gender at the individual, interactional and macro ideological levels.

But when it came to the material aspects of gender, not ideas, but bodies and the class between their bodily presentations and the organization of social life, rebels and innovators couldn’t have been more different. The rebels rejected the notion that just because they were born female (or in one case, male) that meant they should present their bodies as feminine (or in one case, masculine). These rebels rejected the material expression of gender with their bodies. At the individual level they were androgynous, or if female, they presented their bodies in ways traditionally associated with masculinity. This had repercussions for how people treated them, with gender policing especially dramatic for men who challenged gender norms, but also for women who challenged how they presented their bodies once they reached puberty. At the macro level of organizational design, anyone who falls between the binary of male and female faces constant oppression as they do not fit within standard social categories. As you suggest, my distinction between cultural and material dimensions of the gender structure helps us to understand why the experiences of rebels are so different from those of innovators.   

Q: What do you see as the practical/policy implications of your findings about the complexity of millennial gender typologies for the advancement of gender equality?

BR: There was one response that didn’t differ across groups. It didn’t matter if someone was a true believer in essential gender differences or a rebel, everyone, male or female, or somewhere in between, expected to work throughout their lives. That has great policy implications. We need to change our workplace policies to reflect the reality that all people in this generation expect to work in the paid labor force, and thus, workplaces have to be re-designed to be more family friendly. In this and no doubt future generations, employed adults will also be caretakers of young children, sick relatives and aging parents. We must use social policy to re-design the world of paid work to make this possible. Every society needs both economic activity and caretaking, and if the same people do both, social organizations have to reflect that reality.

A second policy implication reflects the needs of the rebels. Now that we have people who refuse the label of man or woman, and gender categories themselves are under siege by at least a small group of millennials, we have to begin to allow for gender variation in our social world. If there are people who are neither women nor men, then we need bathrooms that anyone can use. One policy implication is to move beyond single-sex bathrooms. Why not continue to require all stalls to have doors, and perhaps add curtains for urinals, and allow everyone to use every bathroom, and wash their hands next to people who are their same sex and those who are not? Why gender products? Why do we need different colored razors for men and women? At the end of my book, I call for a fourth wave of feminism that seeks to eradicate not just sexism but the gender structure itself. Only then will people who are constrained by gender, all of us, will be free.

Q: Your qualitative research makes a strong argument for the heterogeneity of millennials’ relations to the gender structure. That heterogeneity is very important to understanding things as they are, but sometimes in media the message gets lost. What advice do you have for researchers communicating nuanced findings to public audiences, when many in popular media depict millennials as falling on one side of a progressive/not progressive dichotomy?

BR: This is a problem for both qualitative and quantitative researchers. For qualitative research, I suggest creating catchy names for groups that differ, and insisting that the range of responses be covered. For quantitative researchers, I think a suggestion often given by Stephanie Coontz is right on target, and that is to discuss both means and standard deviations, especially when there is great variation around the average, and so people are really having different experiences.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire; he is currently in the doctoral program in sociology at Boston University and serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.

Photo by GDJ via pixabay

Originally posted 8/8/2017

Most people know that there’s a long and persistent history of racial and ethnic segregation in the United States. There’s less awareness of segregation of gays and lesbians, and gay neighborhoods often get treated as simply a matter of “choice”— much the way that queer identities have historically been treated as a “choice.”

Is it the case that gays and lesbians simply gravitate to similar areas and form gay “enclaves,” or is the segregation of gays and lesbians related to systematic inequalities? According to new work in Population Review by Dudley L. Poston Jr.D’Lane R. Compton, Qian Xiong, and Emily A. Knox, it’s a little of both.

To a degree, discrimination drives the segregation of gays and lesbians. The researchers point to religious intolerance and recent anti-sodomy laws as evidence that gays and lesbians are systematically excluded from some heterosexual communities. But Poston Jr. and colleagues don’t reject the possibility that some gays and lesbians segregate voluntarily. As homophobia decreases, gays and lesbians may still wish to take advantage of the “protective shield and social support” and “stronger political voice” afforded by self-segregation.

It’s likely that the dynamics of segregation might be different for gays and lesbians. Lesbians are more likely to have kids, and thus might voluntarily congregate in places with better school districts. But they’re also more likely to live in poverty than gay men, which leads to fewer living options.

Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox examined the relationship between factors related to racial segregation and segregation by sexuality among 100 metropolitan areas with large gay and lesbian populations, using American Community Survey data from 2008 to 2012. The researchers estimated the percentage of gay or lesbian households that would have had to relocate within that metropolitan area for the number of same-sex and different-sex households to be proportional.

In all metropolitan areas examined, gay and lesbian households were segregated from heterosexual ones. On average, about 75 percent of gay male and 69 percent of lesbian couple households would have had to relocate within their metropolitan area to eliminate neighborhood segregation. The lowest estimate of segregation was between lesbians and different-sex couples in Madison, Wisconsin. Even there, though, just over half of lesbian households would have had to relocate for there to be no segregation.

Gay male households were more segregated from heterosexual households than were lesbian couple households in most cases. Provo-Orem, Utah, had the most segregation by sexuality: More than 90 percent of gay male households would have had to relocate to be proportional to heterosexual married and cohabiting couples in the population.

Gay and lesbian households are segregated from each other, too. In El Paso, Texas, which had the most segregation of same-sex households by gender, there was almost complete segregation between lesbians and gay men.

What factors predicted increased segregation between same-sex and different-sex households? For gays and lesbians, high prevalence of gay/lesbian couple households, high rates of Republican voters and Southern Baptists, and high poverty rates in their metropolitan areamade segregation more likely.

For gay men, they also found high population density, anti-sodomy laws, and a lack of non-discrimination laws predictive of increased segregation.

For lesbian households, high racial segregation also made their segregation from different-sex households more likely.

The only factors that predicted segregation between gay male and lesbian households were the gay male prevalence rate and the poverty rate. As the proportion of gay males in an area increased, segregation between gay male and lesbian couple households decreased. Conversely, as the poverty rate in an area increased, segregation of these two groups also increased.

The salience of poverty rates in these patterns suggests that segregation by sexuality is fueled at least partially by inequalities rather than the choices of gay and lesbian couples. But, to the extent that they have the option, gay and lesbian couples might choose to live in areas where they share political ideologies with others and can avoid discrimination.

There are still unexplained factors related to segregation by sexuality. Earlier qualitative research comparing the Castro with other gay enclaves, for example, found that what draws residents toward specific areas varies by the community, often in conjunction with more specific intersecting identities of the gays and lesbians that predominate in each space. Future research could examine individual communities to better understand how inequalities may be perpetuated through the residential patterns of gays and lesbians. But amid researchers’ calls for more research on the geographic distribution of gays and lesbians, there’s currently a policy shift away from data collection on LGBTQ demographics. The findings in this research by Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox highlight that data on where sexual minorities live is crucial for understanding, and thus addressing, inequality more generally.

Braxton Jones eearned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and has begun a doctoral program at Boston University this fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar. 

Recently I interviewed Sociologist Alicia Walker, whose book The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity (Lexington Books) will be released on November 15, 2017. She is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University. In her book, she reports on the results of interviews with 46 heterosexual married or partnered women who used the website Ashley Madison to intentionally seek out and form affairs with other men. The book develops a sociology of infidelity, examining issues related to the meaning of marriage, power, social norms in affairs, and why women have them.

AK: You found that the women in your book often had affairs because they were trying to preserve their marriage. How could an affair help preserve a marriage?

AW: For the women of the study, these outside partnerships served as a release valve for the resentment, hurt feelings, and deprivation they experienced in their primary partnerships (marriages, or pre-existing long-term relationships). The women talked about being able to better to overlook the challenges in their relationships, as well as the daily irritants of shared living quarters because they had this secret source of pleasure in their lives. Additionally, for women whose primary partnerships were sexless and/or orgasmless, these outside partnerships function as a space of sexual freedom and sexual pleasure, which is sorely missing in their “real lives.” These women reported that without the relief these outside partnerships provide, they would be forced to exit their primary partnerships. For most of the women I interviewed, remaining in their primary partnerships was a chief goal. Thus, the relief provided by these outside partnerships proved crucial for these women to stay in primary partnerships, where their own sexual pleasure and needs were not being addressed.

AK: One of the things I find fascinating about the book is how social norms (informal social rules) are completely upended in affairs compared to other romantic or sexual relationships. Women avoided forming emotional ties with their partners, and were not seeking to form long-term romantic partnerships, which counteracts narratives we normally hear about gender and relationships. What were some of the ways you found the norms about affairs differ from other relationships?

AW: What is really fascinating about these outside partnerships is that there are no established expectations for how the women are supposed to behave. As a result, women could step out of typical expectations of gender around dating and sex. Even in traditional online dating, we take those expectations with us online. Without established norms and procedures, the participants in these outside partnerships make them up as they go along.

The women of this sample reported an extensive vetting process designed to protect themselves–and their families by extension–and to find a suitable partner without wasting a lot of time and energy. The amount of care and calculation applied stood out as different from partnering initiated face-to-face, where we often walk blindly into relationships under the magical influence of chemistry.

The freedom the women felt to set boundaries struck me as interesting as well. Frank discussions of preferred sexual acts, stamina, and scheduling take place as soon as the initial exchange. If those details do not match up, the conversation does not continue. There is none of the “oh, we have so much in common, I should overlook the other stuff” because these women don’t get that far with men who don’t fill the bill. The women had the freedom to create outside partnerships where the sole focus was their own pleasure. That’s very different than the other relationships in their lives. Overall, the amount of power and freedom the women exercise in their outside partnerships is much more than what we often see them employ in their marriages.

AK:  Your sample – women who used Ashley Madison – allowed you to explore some behaviors that may be common to any sexual relationship formed with partners met online. What are some of the things women in your study did specifically because they met their partners through an online website? How might this experience differ from people who have affairs but don’t actively seek them out on the internet?

AW: Women specifically vetted for sexual preferences and skills, which we do not typically do in relationships initiated face-to-face. We rarely see this among folks who meet at work, through friends, or social settings. We do not habitually ask new suitors about their genital size before we have invested a lot of time in the relationship. We simply find out in the moment, at which point we may already be so invested in that relationships that we are unwilling to walk away.

But these women dismissed any potential partners whose sexual desires, stamina, scheduling, or physical traits did not mesh with the women’s preferences. Compatibility in all areas drove the associations.

While an outside partnership formed with a coworker, neighbor, or family friend may be heady and exciting to the point that we set aside our good sense, outside partnerships formed online override the exhilaration of flirtation to make decisions based solely on the man’s potential to bring the pleasure the women sought.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg.