Families as They Really Are

Reprinted from Psychology Today

This column is another in the series of articles based on the new Handbook of the Sociology of Gender  edited by Barbara J. Risman, Carissa Froyum and William Scarborough.

What do diapers, depression, and mothers have in common? That may seem like a trick question but the answer has implications for American social policy. Middle-class parents simply take for granted that diapers cost money, one of the many expenses of having a baby. But for poor mothers, who are often single parents, diapers, or rather running out of them, becomes a crisis that can trigger psychological stress, perhaps even postpartum depression. While parents are raising the next generation of American workers, we continue to ignore their needs, and pretend that every family has enough breadwinners to cover their basic necessities. But we know that single mothers, often struggling to live in poverty, face great obstacles. Our social safety net doesn’t provide them with security, and the jobs available to women without college degrees can’t support their families, even if they work so many hours a week they barely see their children. Perhaps poor mothers are the women in our society that are most disadvantaged by gender inequality.

To illustrate this, we introduce you to Patricia, a 32-year-old mother of three. She receives cash aid on the 2nd of each month and immediately buys the 120-count box of store-brand diapers at her local supermarket for $30. “It’s the thing we buy first because it’s the thing we can least do without,” she explained. Though she is grateful that the cheapest diapers do not give her daughter Sofia a rash, she worries that they hold less and leak more. Patricia stretches the box as far as possible. She lets 18-month-old Sofia go without diapers at home, closely monitors and minimizes Sofia’s liquid intake, rarely leaves the house, and “prays she doesn’t get sick because that means more diapers.” When that box runs out, Patricia can usually scrounge up enough change for the smaller $4.25 pack by collecting cans, selling some food stamps, or breaking her four-year-old son’s piggy bank with a promise to replace it. When she cannot, Patricia uses paper towels secured with duct tape. A victim of domestic abuse, Patricia has post-traumatic stress disorder and often goes without food, toilet paper, and tampons to save diaper money because she told Randles: “The kids come first. Providing those diapers means I’m a good mother who keeps them away from my trauma and money problems.”

Patricia’s struggle is not rare. Diaper need—lacking sufficient diapers to keep an infant dry, comfortable, and healthy—is an often hidden consequence of poverty that affects one in three families in America. A Yale University study in 2013 found that mothers like Patricia who don’t have enough diapers for their children were almost twice as likely to struggle with postpartum depression. Though the Yale study could not determine if diaper need caused post-partum depression, mothers Randles recently interviewed help us understand the connection. As Trista, a 28-year-old mother of three confided, “I experience extreme anxiety when I use a diaper. It’s worse than worrying about food because I can always eat less, be creative in the kitchen, and go to food banks. But when you run out of diapers, your child can’t do one of their most basic human things in a dignified and clean way. It more than anything makes me feel like a horrible failure as a parent.” Trista sold her blood plasma twice a week for four months solely to buy diapers for her two youngest children.

Forty-five percent of U.S. children younger than three—5.2 million—live in low-income or poor families that struggle to provide diapers as a basic need of early childhood. Yet, for the most part, U.S. social policy does not recognize diapers as a necessity. Diapers are categorized as luxury “unallowable expenses” under public programs that provide food for young children, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Though parents can use welfare cash aid for diapers, the $75 average monthly diaper bill would alone use between eight to forty percent of the average monthly state benefit. Only one state—California—currently offers diaper vouchers for welfare recipients, and most states still tax diapers based on the logic that, unlike drugs such as Viagra, diapers are not medically necessary.

This oversight is not unique. Most policy in the United States ignores the bodily needs of women and children. Most states also still tax feminine hygiene products. Diaper need and how mothers like Patricia and Trista manage keeping their babies clean and dry are deeply gendered issues. Mothers do most of the physical labor of diapering. Beyond this, poor mothers are more likely to be single mothers, and so do most of the planning and emotional labor for their children. But even mothers with partners told Randles about the stress of the cost of diapers and the work of managing diaper need. When Randles talked to middle-class mothers about how many diapers they had on hand, they casually responded with answers like, “a few boxes in the closet, an extra pack or so in the car, and drawers full near each of the changing tables.” Poor mothers were more likely to respond as Patricia did when she said, “I have seven in the house, two in my purse, and one that I’ve hidden in case of a dire emergency. Based on how often my daughter goes to the bathroom and the likelihood that she’ll pee twice as often as she poops, I know those ten diapers will last me exactly two days before I run out and have to figure out how to get more.” This degree of specificity was perhaps most telling about how diaper need can cause anxiety for poor mothers. The problem is not just that they have fewer diapers, but the amount of stress involved in calculating, saving, and sacrificing to stretch limited diaper supplies as far as possible. Diapers are not a luxury. The taken-for-granted ability to buy ahead, stock up, and not give much thought to running out certainly is.

The near political invisibility of diaper need and mothers’ efforts to manage it reflect what Risman calls the gender structure, or how gender inequality affects all aspects of our of  lives. Women’s continued primary responsibility for unpaid care, including diapering, remains a linchpin of inequality. As a society we continue to devalue the care of others. For poor mothers, most likely to be single, the social, economic, and political devaluation of care creates an overwhelming burden. By failing to account for the real needs of families, parents, and children, social policies enforce gender inequality and lead to children’s suffering. In the United States, we pretend as if individual parents alone should be responsible for children. Parents are tasked with meeting all the practical and emotional needs of families. But we need a village to support today’s children, especially those born into poverty. Policies intended to support families must take into account that mothers, often by themselves, are the ones struggling to keep their children fed, dry, clean and clothed. The invisibility of the need for diapers provides a clear case of how ignoring gender inequality in social policy can have disastrous effects for women, and their children. We’ve successfully confronted similar problems before through targeted gender policies such as WIC that recognize the basic needs of mothers and their families. For the sake of Patricia, Trista, and the millions of mothers like them, it’s time we do it again with diapers.

 

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

Kwanzaa altar

 

Holidays celebrated when it gets darker earlier – like Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas – can make people feel part of something larger. Maybe because people love holidays alongside those near and dear and those who may still enjoy being sentimental. Celebrating  holidays reminds us that we are part of a group who share our beliefs. But for some, holidays are  being part of the collective of scrooges and cynics that barely tolerate the lights, songs, and other festive stuff. More importantly, are those who feel lonely and removed from the collective support system, something that feels highly individualized and yet, perhaps paradoxically, is common  during the holidays.

This time of year is when our “belonging” to something larger is paired with highly individualized stories of unique gifts, treasured mementos, and objects symbolizing good and bad things about family, past and present. Here I offer ways that seemingly individualized holiday objects tell us an important collective story about roles and relationships in today’s families, and about social processes that extend beyond any individual family story.

Values Associated with Materialism, Spoiled Kids, and “Good” Parenting are Wrapped Up in Kids’ Gifts

It’s not hard to find buying guides for parents whose children want the latest toys and gadgets. It’s also easy to find online advice columns about how best to give children gifts without spoiling them, giving in to a marketplace filled with inequalities, or damaging our natural world. But what we often escapes our thinking is how social class may influence parents’ gift-giving, and how kids’ well-being can be affected by how they talk with classmates about the presents they received (or did not receive) after winter break.

Sociologist Allison Pugh reminds us that while it’s pretty universal for parents to want to give their kids gifts, sometimes parents give in to their children’s material desires and spend more than they can afford to buy an expensive toy or other object (Pugh calls this symbolic indulgence). Importantly, in these cases, parents are trying to give kids what they need to feel as if they belong. For better or worse, consumer culture powerfully influences parents. But if we only focus on the powerful marketplace, we miss important stories about how parents use holiday gift-giving to help their children fit into a peer culture where status is highly valued and is the currency through which children’s dignity and belonging are fostered. And we may miss  how parents from different economic backgrounds vary in how much they can give their kids the gift of “fitting in.” This sociological finding adds complexity to claims about spoiled kids and materialistic parents.

Annually Displaying Cherished Items from Lost Loved Ones Reflects Family Role Expectations

Saving cherished items is a social act, partially because  decisions to cherish something is shaped by values and experiences we collect interacting with others, and by our perceptions of others’ expectations surrounding those items. When giving talks about my book The Stuff of Family Life, the most common topic in the Q & A sessions afterward is about whether adult children will cherish objects their aging parents want to give them. Sometimes children’s reluctance to be excited about antique holiday ornaments from beloved grandparents is seen as reluctance to be connected to past family. The adult child may not see the ornaments as “stand-ins” for the grandparents, but parents may see them as substitutes for grandparents rather than symbols. To preserve ornaments is to preserve memories of grandparents; to dispose ornaments is also disposing the persons. Adult children are expected to demonstrate family loyalty by desiring the ornaments. This can be hard when adult children’s values about having too much stuff or beliefs that objects are unnecessary for memories of loved ones are stronger than their values about being dutiful to parents.

Less contentiously, sometimes adult children will save holiday objects from parents who passed away because the parent loved them. An annual display of the holiday objects from deceased parents can honor past family influence on present family. A father’s menorah may be displayed during Hanukkah to remind someone of the father; the holiday is the vehicle for that memory even if it is not explicitly celebrated.

Holiday decorations have biographies. They enter our lives, are participants in life transitions, and get lost, broken, or forgotten. They can serve as mementos, whether old things from a grandparent or new things, they are meant to create an imagined future nostalgia, something I discuss in my research on the preservation of private love letters. This means they are meant to be shared with children so they know the origins of their family story.

To “hand down” a cherished holiday object entails decisions about loyalty, memory, and longevity, not to mention the object’s aesthetic beauty (or lack thereof). So, when next you hear about a baby’s first [insert winter holiday item here], remember it is not just about that object. It’s also about expectations that it may be saved for when that “baby” leaves home and needs to figure out whether to cherish or dispose of it, which may require negotiating with others’ expectations about the preservation of those memories in physical form.

Object-Centered Holiday Rituals Help Families Find Stability in a Time of Uncertainty

We live in a time of perceived uncertainty. Our everyday lives are moving fast, news headlines showcase political and economic turmoil, and our family structures are changing. Whether because of family border separations, poverty-inflicted adverse childhood experiences, or estrangement, people from varied political perspectives perceive the family and social life as more precarious than ever.

At the same time, we love rituals that offer stability. We live, however, in a time that historian Elizabeth Pleck describes as post-sentimental – a reaction,  to  over-sentimentalization of holidays and the blues that sometimes accompany them. There is also a desire to be more inclusive about what holidays and rituals may be desirable and best represent the diversity of families who are celebrating. The rituals of gift-giving, displaying or using special objects that appear only during holidays, and expanding the repertoire of “acceptable” holiday objects and their use, all strengthen the claim that we seek rituals to clarify and stabilize our lives. This search for stability can appear via use of old objects symbolizing long-held traditions as well as via new and innovative objects that create new traditions that more accurately tell the story of the varied ways that family life takes place today. In both cases, the objects serve as tools for rituals that provide glue in a climate where stable family life can seem fragile.

How Is This About More Than Just My Family?

Of course, many other ways can symbolize family roles and relationships as they manifest during holiday times, including whether digital gifts are as “real” as physical ones wrapped in shiny paper, whether some gifts violate norms about privacy (are underpants too personal a gift from my in-laws?), or how holiday décor, like any display in the domestic realm, calls to mind gendered division of household labor (do women decorate indoors and men hang the lights outside ?). I am sure you can think of objects in your family that carry deeper meanings this time of year.

Here I showcased a few ways to think about individualized experiences with holiday objects – dilemmas about spending and spoiling, attachment to relatives with or without retaining their possessions, and use of objects in holiday rituals. Holding a holiday candle is never just about the candle. It also is never just about the family that only uses it during the holidays. The candle and the person holding it are about collective topics larger than any of us or our families: the marketplace where candles are made; the collective belief system that the candle represents, the light of someone no longer alive, and the tendency to value rituals as a form of social “glue” in  times of uncertainty and perceived loss of social connectedness. Holidays remind us that our family stories are both private and public. Our unique gifts tell a collective story about today’s families.

Michelle Janning is the Raymond and Elsie Gipson DeBurgh Chair of Social Sciences & Professor and Chair of Sociology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She celebrates Christmas, and has had trouble throwing away her son’s “Baby’s First Christmas” stocking over the last fourteen years. She researches and teaches about the connection between material culture and family roles and relationships. She is the editor of the 2019 book Contemporary Parenting and Parenthood: From News Headlines to New Research, and the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (2017) and Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (2018). Her work can be perused at www.michellejanning.com.

Reposted from Psychology Today

Americans live longer than ever before, with life expectancy increasing from 60 to 80 years of age over the 20th Century. Baby boomers are living what sociologist Phyllis Moen calls a Third Act, discovering new ways to experience healthy active years after retirement. With a rapid increase in life expectancy and rising expectations for the quality of life, baby boomers are forging new ways of aging. So what does this mean for sexuality? Are we beginning to see gender equality between the sheets among the aging boomers?

Remember, it was only 40 years ago that women were considered sexually obsolete after menopause (and, many times, even earlier). Men defined their virility by their ability to get and sustain an erection. Today these may seem like ridiculous calculators of age and sexual fitness as both culture and technology has changed the ways we think about sex and gender.

Boomers pioneered the Sexual Revolution of the ‘60s and yet, they did so after having been raised with the sexual script that men pursue and women submit. This permitted men to interpret an awkward “no, thank you” rejection as a possible “yes” in the making. Still, it was a radical shift in our cultural norms for men to be able to take a woman to bed before promising marriage and for women to seek sexual pleasure outside of relationships. After all, the one night stand of the boomer generation precluded the “hook-up culture” of today’s Millennials.

While much misogyny remained, and gender inequality is still a futuristic goal, the boomers did liberate sex from marriage and made the right to sexual pleasure a human right. Now, it appears that boomers must—once again—break the gender rules set by generations before them when it comes to sex after 50.

For men, erectile dysfunction or ED (an inability to get or maintain an erection) can feel emasculating although such physiological changes are actually explained by the biology of aging. Even with the advent of Viagra and Cialis, which are impressively effective at treating erectile issues, research suggests that some men still feel uncomfortable bringing up sexual difficulties with their doctors. And doctors, too, are reluctant to ask patients over 50 about their sexual health due to old stigmas surrounding sex later in life. Gender stereotypes that men are powerful, and always ready for sex, still haunt the boomer men who were raised in an era when talking about sexual problems held negative stigmas. We do see boomer men working around some of these stigmas though, for instance, many men are ordering ED meds via online prescribers like the popular Roman website.

For women, menopause is often cited as the primary culprit affecting their sexual lives. However, research finds that social and psychological factors such as emotional well-being and a strong emotional connection with one’s partner as well as positive body image may be more predictive of sexual activity later in life than the hormonal changes associated with menopause. That’s not to say age has no physiological impacts on sex for women; discomfort during sex due to less blood circulation in the genital area (reducing vaginal lubrication) is a biological factor that reduces sexual comfort during sexual intercourse in later life. Of course, technology, here too, can come to the rescue with products to increase lubrication and blood flow. In fact, many women find menopause liberating sexually because they no longer have to worry about pregnancy every time they have intercourse. Even more promising, most women who desire to remain sexually active as they age will do so, albeit with a bit more prepping.

The boomers want fulfilling relationships as they age and our culture is beginning to reflect this. Women in their 60’s and 70’s are now being cast in leading roles involving romantic and sexual relationships. Both Jane Fonda’s and Lily Tomlin’s characters in Netflix’s, Grace and Frankie have love affairs, and of course, so do their ex-husbands… with one another. What’s more, people over 50 are the fastest growing demographic of online daters. Indeed, women over 50 who date report frequent and satisfying sex and boomer men can usually find an intimate partner if they are in the market for one.

Boomers are by far the most sexually liberal generation of older adults that we’ve ever seen.  And by pushing against the pre-existing molds of what sex after 50 looks like, boomers are showing us that they want gender equality and sexual satisfaction between the sheets in their encore adulthood, the third act of their lives.

References

Risman, Barbara J, Carissa Froyum and William Scarborough (co-editors). 2018.  Handbook on the Sociology of Gender.  Springer Publishers.

Nicholas Velotta is a Freelance writer and graduate of the University of Washington, and can be contacted at ndvelotta@icloud.com. Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.

A new article published in Journal of Marriage and Family examines the relationship of cohabitation and divorce, and claims that recent research that finds that premarital cohabitation does not impact divorce rates is incorrect. They find that in the first year of marriage, premarital cohabitation is associated with lower divorce rates compared to those who directly marry (because those who would have divorced quickly are filtered out by premarital cohabitation), but that afterwards premarital cohabitation is associated with higher divorce rates. These effects “cancel each other out,” making it appear as if cohabitation is not associated with divorce, when, according to them, it still is; just not in very early marriage.

However this research makes an important omission. They account for the age at which women married their first husband, but don’t account for the age at which they moved in together.  As my past research has shown, accounting for age at marriage but not the age at which couples moved in together artificially inflates the association between premarital cohabitation and divorce for recent cohorts, compared to statistical models that account for the age at which couples moved in together, or even statistical models that do not account for age at all.

This inflation happens because the older that couples are when they move in together with the person they will eventually marry (whether at marriage or beforehand) the less likely they are to divorce.  When accounting for age at marriage only, researchers are comparing couples who married directly at, for example, age 24, to those who moved in together at perhaps age 21 and then married at age 24.

My research argues that a more accurate comparison would compare those who moved in together at, for example, 21 (and then eventually married) to those who both moved in together and married at age 21.  When doing so, the relationship between premarital cohabitation and divorce disappears for some cohorts; and in very recent cohorts, as I show in my recent CCF report, reverses, with premarital cohabitors having a lower risk of divorce compared to couples that marry directly. In other words, the reason premarital cohabitors seem to have a higher risk of divorce is not because cohabitation causes divorce; it’s because premarital cohabitors who eventually marry select partners and move in together at earlier ages compared to other couples who marry at the same age, when they are less prepared for the roles and responsibilities that are associated with eventual successful marriages.

To demonstrate the importance of how researchers account for age on research findings, I recalculated the odds ratios for the relationship of premarital cohabitation and divorce that I present in my recent CCF report on changing cohabitation over time (which accounts for age at coresidence), in statistical models that either account for age at marriage instead, or don’t account for age at all. As you can see in Figure 1 below, models that account for age at marriage show a stronger association between cohabitation and divorce. In the most recent cohort, this effect appears neutral, but when accounting for age at coresidence instead (or even if not accounting for age at all) premarital cohabitation is associated with a lower risk of divorce.

Figure 1: Odds Ratios for the Association Between Premarital Cohabitation and Divorce in First Marriages in Four Cohorts: The Importance of Age Controls

Note: Numbers calculated from the 1988 National Survey of Families and Households (1956-1985, N=3,594) and National Survey of Family Growth (1986-2015, N=9,420) using Cox regressions and based on women <36 at first marriage. Controls for raised not religious, religious attendance, race, education at marriage, mother’s education, prior cohabitations, lived with both biological parents at age 14, birth prior to coresidence, began coresidence while pregnant. Age at Coresidence models additionally control for age at coresidence and age at coresidence squared.  Age at Marriage models additionally control for age at marriage and age at marriage squared. †p<.10, **p<.01

In my new article recently published in the journal Marriage & Family Review I show that the length of time that couples live together before marriage has grown in recent decades (See Figure 2), increasing the importance of correctly accounting for the age at which couples move in together, as it grows further and further from the age at which these couples marry.

Figure 2: Average Duration of Premarital Cohabitation with First Husband among Premarital Cohabitors who Married before Age 36 (Months)

While the overall pattern in this new research of lower divorce rates in the first year of marriage after cohabitation seems plausible, accounting for age at marriage rather than age at coresidence artificially inflates the divorce rates of premarital cohabitors across all marriage durations, calling into question whether premarital cohabitation is in fact associated with higher divorce risks at later marriage durations, as found by the authors. A comparison that accounted for age at coresidence instead of age at marriage would likely have led to significantly different findings.

Arielle Kuperberg is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology and Cross-Appointed Faculty in the Women and Gender Studies Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg and reach her at atkuperb@uncg.edu.

 

Imagine that your 75-year-old mother has fallen and broken her ankle. She lives alone in a third-floor apartment in a city not far from where you live, but this accident means that she cannot manage on her own for several weeks, if not longer. What would you do? Would you take her into your home? Would you move into her apartment to help her until she healed? Would you pay someone to come in daily to help her cook, bathe, clean house, run errands? What if your mother had broken her hip instead of an ankle? Would that change what you would do? What if she showed signs of the early stages of dementia? What would you do then?

Suppose that your mother had divorced your father when you were 10 and moved far away from you and your father. Suppose also that you and she had not been close for years. Would that affect how you answered the questions above about helping her? What if I had substituted the word stepmother for mother, would that have made a difference to you? What if this stepmother had raised you since you were 11? Would that make a difference? What if it was your aging father who broke a hip? Your stepfather?

These are the kinds of questions we have been asking Americans for over two decades in more than 20 studies about beliefs regarding intergenerational responsibilities to older (and younger) family members. The beliefs we examined may be unique to the United States, although we suspect they are not.

It might surprise you to know that in an abstract way most Americans believe that adult children have responsibilities to their aging parents and other older kin. In fact, most Americans agree with the broad statement that ‘adult children should take care of their parents when they get old’. In fact, this belief is so widespread that most states have filial responsibility laws that define younger family members’ obligations to provide care for aging parents and grandparents.

Critics of these laws, however, argue that these and other U.S. social policies about intergenerational assistance are based on outdated assumptions that family ties are always emotionally close and loving, that families are able and willing to assist older kin, and that family membership is stable. These assumptions do not reflect the experiences of many, if not most, families in the 21st Century. Families vary in the degree to which members are emotionally involved in each other’s lives and, with most adult men and women in the paid work force, there are few families with available kin to provide aid. Moreover, longer life spans and lowered reproduction has meant that there are fewer young people and more old people in extended families. Family membership is not constant; families in the United States have experienced decades of structural changes due to divorce, remarriage, and cohabitation and these changes make connections among kin more tenuous than in the past.

U.S. policy makers are therefore faced with laws and social policies that are designed for a mid-Twentieth Century extended family at a time when multi-generational family structures are becoming more complex. We began investigating whether beliefs and attitudes about intergenerational responsibilities also were becoming more complex. We began a research program to investigate how divorce and remarriage affected beliefs about intergenerational assistance to genetic and step-kin, and we examined beliefs about aid given to both older and younger family members.

Consensual beliefs about intergenerational family relationships and support are important to examine because such beliefs function as parameters within which individuals define and negotiate their responsibilities to kin, they serve as criteria to measure how well individuals are functioning as family members, and they provide a framework that people use to justify and explain their conduct to others. What people actually do in relationships is based partly on personal beliefs about appropriate actions between kin and partly on widely held expectations about what should be done regarding family responsibilities. Normative beliefs about intergenerational responsibilities also are important to understand because such beliefs influence the development and application of public policy.

Our studies were random samples drawn regionally or nationally. We used phone surveys, mailed surveys, and face to face interviews. We can’t tell you about all the findings from these studies, so instead we summarize them.

In general, genetic bonds among generations denote greater intergenerational obligations than do affinal bonds. This means, all other factors being equal, people believe that genetic kin should receive more assistance than affinal kin (step-kin or in-laws).

Genetic kinship is not enough to attribute obligations to assist. For most people genetic kinship was relevant but did not automatically mean adult children and grandchildren should help.

Relationship quality is important in attributing obligations to assist, regardless of the type of relationship (genetic or affinal). Parents and adult children were thought to be much more obligated to help each other when relationships were emotionally close. When relationships were distant or hostile, any help was discretionary and more limited than when bonds were close. Step-kin who develop emotionally close relationships were perceived to be obligated to assist each other at levels similar to genetic kin who had close bonds.

Beliefs about helping older kin are stronger when the older kin have helped family members in the past. For most people, adult children are obligated to help parents only if the parents had fulfilled parental responsibilities to children when they were young. Family obligation norms no longer applied when genetic kin had not observed the norm of reciprocity between generations. Genetic kinship had significance, but without past histories of mutual helping it was as if the responsibilities attendant to kinship were unimportant. Without a history of financial, tangible, and emotional support from parents, adult children were seen as having lesser debt to repay than they would have had if parents had provided more for them. Divorced and remarried older parents who were perceived to have broken the reciprocity “contract” lost their “rights” to receive help from adult children.

Stepparents and stepchildren who had helped each other in the past were perceived as obligated to assist each other at levels similar, but not quite equal, to older parents and adult children who had reciprocal exchanges. Stepparents who help raise stepchildren thus can “earn” assistance later in life.

Intergenerational assistance is limited for relationships formed later in life. Step-relationships formed in later-life have less time to build close bonds and exchange resources, which reduced the likelihood of them being perceived as kin and having responsibilities to help each other.

For middle-generation adults, helping children takes precedence over helping elders. There is a hierarchy of intergenerational assistance, with children at the top as targets of aid.

Intergenerational assistance is conditional for most Americans. For most of the thousands of respondents in our studies, perceptions about intergenerational obligations were not automatic, but were related to several factors – relationship closeness/quality, reciprocity, resource availability, and other demands on family members’ resources were important when making judgments about helping.

Clearly, there is a lot we don’t know yet about how structural family changes affect intergenerational obligations to assist kin. This issue is relevant in societies with loose social safety nets, such as the United States. In six of our intergenerational obligation studies, we found that attitudes about helping kin were significantly related to participants’ helping behaviors in their own family networks. Our studies suggest that the final years of older adults who were less than stellar parents, stepparents, or in-laws may be in jeopardy when they need help to care for themselves. As a nation, we seem ill-prepared to deal with the rising number of Baby Boomers who are becoming our “senior citizens.”

Lawrence Ganong is a Chancellor’s Professor of Human Development and Family Science and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at the University of Missouri. Marilyn Coleman is a Curator’s Professor Emerita of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Missouri. They have studied post-divorce family relationships and stepfamily relationships for over four decades. They may be reached at ganongl@missouri.edu and colemanma@missouri.edu

Reposted from The New York Times.

If you strolled by the playgrounds of Flushing, Queens, this summer, you would have seen throngs of Chinese immigrant women tending to their American-born grandchildren.

The moms and dads were at work, all through these long summer days. For those who cannot afford expensive day care and camps, in a country that does almost nothing to help working families care for their kids, grandparents are a lifeline. And increasingly, these grandparents are immigrants.

One of us, Xuemei, recently spent time with a Flushing family who moved here from rural China years ago. Each day the mother, father and grandfather board buses arranged by their employers to take them to work at Chinese restaurants. They leave their home around 10 each morning and return around 10 each night. In their absence, the grandmother performs all of the housework and cares for the couple’s two American-born children.

The Trump administration is now threatening those care-taking arrangements.

President Trump has been pushing for a law that would end family-based immigration — what he calls “horrible chain migration.” He even used the migrant children separated from their parents on the border as bargaining chips to try to get Democrats to agree to such a proposal, before a judge ordered them returned to their families.

In June the House defeated a plan by Representative Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, that would have restricted legal immigration through the family reunification program so that only the spouses and minor children of American citizens could immigrate — barring grandparents. A week later, the so-called compromise G.O.P. bill on immigration was also defeated. It would have effectively cut the sponsorships of spouses, minor children and parents of American citizens by about 215,000 over the next two decades, according to analysts at the Cato Institute. But Republicans haven’t given up.

The Trump administration’s determination to separate families has formed the backbone of its immigration policy since Day 1. These proposals reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of 21st-century American families and contradict the principle of family unity that has guided American immigration policy for the last 50 years. (In fact, a few weeks ago President Trump’s in-laws became American citizens thanks to the family reunification program.)

According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of legal permanent residents admitted as parents of United States citizens rose to about 174,000 in 2016 from about 56,000 in 1994, an increase to 15 percent from 7 percent of all admissions.

America needs these late-life immigrants. Older parents serve as valuable resources, often helping with the down payment on homes and with child care and household chores as younger immigrants juggle tight work schedules. Their assistance is free and reliable, allowing adult children to work, improve their English and further their educations, thus integrating faster into American society.

Another woman Xuemei spoke to, a retired doctor in her 80s from Fujian Province, hardly fits the Trump administration’s pernicious stereotypes of immigrants as threatening or burdensome. When her daughter-in-law gave birth here 20 years ago, she left her job in China so that she could come to help the young couple with child care. Her son, who had stayed in the United States after receiving a scholarship to medical school, sponsored her visa.

“I have only one son; how can I not help him?” she said.

Immigrant elders also help transplanted families maintain a sense of continuity. They may serve as cultural intermediaries by teaching grandchildren about their home country’s language, religion, food and cultural traditions. Their accounts of family histories can serve as a source of ethnic pride and personal empowerment for younger generations searching for their identities as racial and ethnic minorities.

Instead of narrowing our conception of what a family is, we should broaden it. When one of us — Stacy — was 16 and the oldest of four children, her mother died. Her father wanted to bring his niece from Chile to help the family out. But nieces didn’t count as eligible family members under the reunification program. So the family struggled along.

The support of family caregivers may be invisible to outsiders, but it is essential for the well-being of transnational families, especially in a country that lacks a system of affordable child care. The Republican plans to restrict family-based migration won’t help Americans — they will hurt Americans, by depriving many of our youngest citizens of the social, psychological and economic benefits of strong extended family ties.

Stacy Torres is an assistant professor of sociology at the University at Albany, where Xuemei Cao is a doctoral student.

Reposted from Psychology Today

This is adapted from my keynote essay for the CCF Gender Matters Online Symposium.

How and Why Gender Matters In Even More Ways Then You Knew

You cannot pick up a newspaper today without seeing an article about who can use which bathrooms, and the choice of “category X” for Driver’s licenses. Why are young people today so dissatisfied with their gender categories? Are they rejecting the label of male or female? Or are they rejecting the stereotypes that demand boys to be tough and never cry, and girls wear sparkles as they take care of everyone’s feelings? Or are they rejecting the wage gap and sexual harassment? To understand what’s happening, we need to talk about what we mean by the word “gender.” You may think you know, but I am betting you do not know the half of it.

In my new book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure (Oxford, 2018), I explore the meaning of gender to young people today. In interviews with 116 mostly Chicagoland Millennials, I identify some trends among the generation soon to age into leadership in American society. First, women are never going back to the home. While women’s workplace participation is as high as it has ever been, at the moment, the trend is stalled. But mothers are still far more likely to work for pay then in the past. There is not now, nor has there ever been an opt-out revolution, although sometimes women are pushed out of the labor force but inflexible workplace demands and culture. Almost no one I interviewed, not even the most religious “true believers” think that mothers belong at home with their children. While women may be forced out of the workplace by inflexible policies, American Millennials do not presume motherhood involves leaving the workforce. Second, feminism is no longer just a women’s movement. Among young men, there is a great deal of support for gender equality. In my interviews, there were men who sounded every bit as feminist as any woman, and far more than many women even in this sample of young adults. Both women and men feminist “innovators” expect to change the world by how they live their lives rejecting gender expectations and stereotypes.

I also interviewed some Millennials who rejected not only sexism and gendered expectations, they also reject the gender binary itself. Perhaps there is something new under the sun! These genderqueer respondents do not want to switch their sex category—instead, they reject the belief that they must be gendered at all, even in how they adorn and inhabit their body. Some genderqueer Millennials are quite content to identify as a sex category (e.g. as female) but reject the gender category “woman.” Others don’t use a sex category either. With this new kind of gender fluidity afloat, it makes sense that there are others in this generation who are simply confused. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same. As I have written about elsewhere, what has changed, and remarkably quickly, is the legal status for those who reject categories, with state after state, and now country after country, allowed a neither (or X box) for those whose identity is neither male nor female.

Still, there are some patterns among the chaos of a diverse generation. Nearly all young adults today are libertarian about gender, or at least they claim to be. They refuse to judge people who are different from themselves in terms of gender identity or expectations. Indeed, my colleagues and I have presented survey research that shows most of today’s young adults believe women and men should be equal both inside the home and outside of it. My interviews suggest that while beliefs have changed, there is still much confusion about gender when it comes to live our lives, and what to expect from others. There are shades of grey, beyond 50, when women and men are confused by a changing gender structure. In today’s world everything is in flux. Research on Millennial’s has been contradictory, with some finding that high school seniors today are more conservative about mothers remaining in the workplace while other research – like mine — suggests a generation that takes for granted gender equality as a goal. Will these new trends among Millennials turn the tide and bring us closer to the shore of equality? Is there really change afoot? Or is it the case that the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. As any social scientist, my answer is, let’s do more research  to make gender more visible and find out.

What we know for sure is that our gender structure is changing, unevenly, and without any clear guidelines. We also know that while most Americans think gender is an identity, something deeply felt internally, gender is far more then that. Gender doesn’t begin nor end with individual feelings of authenticity. In our new Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, my co-editors Carissa Froyum and William Scarborough, and the authors of individual chapters, show just how much gender matters for every aspect of our social lives.

Gender matters to individuals, of course. But gender is very much alive in the expectations we have for one another, what it means to be a good mother versus a good father, a girlfriend versus a boyfriend.  Gender matters because of all those stereotypes, conscious and not, we all hold. But gender matters beyond even beyond those stereotypes because we have quite literally built those stereotypes into our schools, workplaces, and the economy. And to justify all the inequities involved, we have developed beliefs that explain, and justify sexist institutions. Gender matters not just as identity, or stereotypes, but is also at the core of how our social world is organized. Just like every society has an economic and political structure, so too, every society has a gender structure.

First, for those of you far past college age, let me share some language now widely used on campus. Sex is the (presumably) biological category you were labeled at birth, male or female. The biological categories are not always clear-cut, as some children are born intersex, with internal female organs, but an extended clitoris that appears to be a micro-phallus. Even intersex people (who actually have both male and female body parts) are usually, if mistakenly, labeled male or female at birth. This is a good example of how even our definition of biological facts are shaped by an ideological assumption that there are two and only two possible sex categories. Gender as a social structure includes one’s individual sex category, but is far more than simply that. Gender is also a social construct that is used to display and claim one’s sex category. Few of us actually can judge someone’s sex by inspecting naked bodies, but all of us assess each other’s gender identity during interaction. At the same time, we are all evaluated by how well we ‘do gender.’ Some of us may be in social contexts where we are evaluated more positively if we reject doing gender traditionally, but the expectations remain in both conservative or progressive settings. Whatever our ideologies, we must all adapt to organizations and institutions that are based on the presumption that  “ideal” workers should be entirely and uniquely committed to the business at hand, policies that reward the typically male life course, and historically masculine privilege of having a domestic wife. In the next few weeks, I will be writing about concrete examples from everyday life with the authors from the Handbook.  Stay tuned…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reposted from Psychology Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture by CC0 Creative Commons

Originally published in the Harvard Business Review

Few people today call a doctor when they feel a bout of nostalgia coming on. But for 200 years, nostalgia was considered a dangerous disease that could trigger delusions, despair, and even death. A 17th-century Swiss physician coined the word to describe the debilitating algos (pain) felt by people who had left their nostos (native home). In the U.S. during the Civil War, Union Army doctors reported 5,000 serious cases of nostalgia, leading to 74 deaths. In Europe, physicians anxiously debated how to treat home-sickness and contain its spread.

Alarm waned toward the end of the 19th century, as experts came to believe that “modern industry” and “rapid communications” were making people more open to change and hence more resistant to the disease. And by the 20th century, researchers had begun to recognize a milder form of nostalgia that is actually quite healthy: a longing to reproduce a feeling once experienced with friends or family, rather than to literally return to another place or time. This kind of nostalgia makes people feel warmer themselves and act more warmly toward others, including strangers.

In recent decades, however, we have seen a revival of the more pernicious form of nostalgia, what we might call past-sickness. This is the longing to reproduce an idealized piece of history. When people are collectively nostalgic about their past experiences as members of a group or as inhabitants of an era, rather than individually nostalgic for their personal experiences, they start to identify more intensely with their own group and to judge members of other groups more negatively. They become less optimistic about their ability to forge new connections — and more hostile to people perceived as outsiders. When such nostalgia gets politicized, it can lead to delusions about a mythical, magical Golden Age of the homeland, supposedly ruined by interlopers.

Collective nostalgia invariably involves a denial of the racial, ethnic, and family diversity of the past, as well as its social injustices, creating romanticized myths that are easily refuted by anyone willing to confront historical realities. But the cure to the pathologies of past-sickness does not lie in the equally romanticized vision of modernization and innovation we have been offered for the last 40 years — something that might be called future nostalgia, or modernization-sickness.

For much of the 20th century, it was possible to argue that the inequities of life stemmed from the incomplete expansion of technology, industry, and the market, and would be resolved by further modernization. But for several decades it’s been clear that the gains of modernization for some have produced substantial losses for others. While the innovations of the past 40 years have opened more opportunities for professionals and affluent entrepreneurs than they have closed off, that’s not the case for many working-class, small-town, and rural men and women. The failure of policy makers and opinion leaders to acknowledge their losses has left the pain of the “losers” to curdle into a toxic mix of nationalism, racism, and conspiracy theories across Europe and the U.S.

Despite institutionalized discrimination, working-class Americans of all races made significant economic progress in the 35 years following World War II. While it’s true that white male workers were given preference over minorities and women in hiring and pay, most of the gains made by white working-class men in that era came not from their advantages over minorities but from their greater bargaining power vis-à-vis employers. The greater prevalence and power of unions was a huge factor, and although minority and female workers were only gradually admitted to those, strong unions tend to pull up wages in other sectors of the economy and act as a counterweight to business influence over government policy.

In that environment, labor took home a much larger share of economic growth than it does today. From 1947 to the start of the 1970s, every successive cohort of young men earned, on average, three times as much in constant dollars as their fathers had at the same age. And in every single economic expansion in those same years, 70% to 80% of the income growth went to the bottom 90% of the population. Economic disparities between big urban centers, small towns, and rural areas steadily narrowed.

Since the late 1970s, a very different set of trends has prevailed. Between 1980 and 2007, even before the Great Recession hit, the median real earnings of men age 25 to 34 with a high school diploma declined by 28%. Since 1980 every cohort of young men has earned less, on average, than their fathers did at the same age. Meanwhile, in periods of economic expansion the top 10% of earners have taken 95% or more of income growth. Similar increases in inequality have occurred in Europe and elsewhere. A new Oxfam study reports that the richest 1% of the world cornered 82% of the wealth created in 2017.

The reaction of the “creative classes” to these trends has been cavalier to say the least. Despite the clear signs of working-class distress in the 1980s and early 1990s, most pundits insisted that the real story of the era was “the explosion” of new and ever-cheaper consumer conveniences produced by technological advances and globalization. Economist Robert Samuelson dismissed worries about job losses and wage cuts as “alarmist hype” that had American families “feeling bad about doing well.” Conservative columnist George Will speculated that modern affluence had produced so much “leisure, abundance, and security” that our brains, which evolved to deal with constant hazards, had gotten “bored.” Even the socially conscious Microsoft founder Bill Gates was complacent: “Entire professions and industries will fade. But new ones will flourish….The net result is that more gets done, raising the standard of living in the long run.”

During the Great Recession, pundits briefly discovered that “average” increases in income often mask serious inequalities, but that went out the window as soon as the economy started growing again. Last fall the chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley brushed aside worries about job losses due to automation, arguing that “when new technology destroys, it leaves behind a layer of ash in which new jobs grow.” This January, after yet another year of global job gains without wage gains, a writer in Bloomberg News breezily announced that “brisk growth that’s not shared by all is better than no growth at all.” Besides, “there’s basically no country in the world where the consumer is not doing well,” added Bart van Ark, chief economist at The Conference Board.

As for the people who actually provide those affordable consumer goods and services? In the U.S., the “recovery” exacerbated the 40-year rise in economic inequality and insecurity. A survey of the job and business gains in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015 found that most were confined to the wealthiest 20% of zip codes in the country. The bottom 60% of zip codes together got just one in four of the new jobs created in those years. And the 20% of zip codes that were most distressed before the recession continued to lose jobs and businesses throughout the “recovery.” In 2007 the bottom 90% of the population held 28.6% of America’s total wealth. As of 2016, that had fallen to 22.8%.

 Despite futurist predictions that the information revolution would lead to the “death of distance,” a few coastal enclaves and political or technical centers have continued to garner a disproportionate share of resources, reversing the 40 years of economic convergence among regions that occurred after 1940. The average per capita income advantage of Washington, DC and New York City over the rest of the country doubled between 1980 and 2013. Average airfares per mile to “loser” regions are now often nearly twice as high as to the “winners,” while many towns have lost rail service altogether.

Like nostalgia epidemics of the past, our recent outbreak was triggered by an understandable sense of loss and disorientation. But there’s an interesting difference between past and present in the groups most vulnerable to the disease. From the 17th to the 19th century, pathological nostalgia was seen most often among people who moved away from the communities in which they had been raised — often bettering themselves materially but feeling lost and isolated in their new surroundings. Today the upwardly and geographically mobile have easy access to new technologies, professional networks, and flexible work and consumption techniques that allow them to navigate unfamiliar territory and make themselves at home wherever they go.

Those same innovations, however, have marginalized individuals whose identity, security, and livelihood depend on their familiarity with a particular place and set of skills, and their placement within long-standing personal networks that involve relations of mutual dependence and reciprocity. These include industrial workers who get jobs at a local factory because a relative puts in a good word with the foreman; farmers, feed suppliers, and farm equipment mechanics who rely on clients or employees who are also neighbors; and local businesses that depend on personal connections with their customers.

Today the most debilitating nostalgia is found among those who cannot or do not want to move — and should not have to — but see the traditional sources of security that their native land, or nostos, once provided being dismantled or relocated, while their habits, skills, and social relationships are devalued. Instead of leaving their homes behind, they feel left behind in their homes.

As always, working-class African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans suffer disproportionately from job losses, wage cuts, and increased volatility. Zip codes where most residents are racial or ethnic minorities are twice as likely as predominantly white zip codes to be in economic distress. Still, whites account for a significant portion — 44% — of the more than 52 million Americans in the most distressed communities. This shared exclusion from the rewards of modernization ought to be a source of solidarity, not division, but division is what happens when one group romanticizes where we’ve come from and another romanticizes where we’re going, instead of carefully examining the gains, losses, and hard trade-offs of the here-and-now.

To cure this outbreak of past-sickness, the winners in this system must stop pretending that the answer is more of the same, with a little more diversity at the top. To make modernization work for all, we must take a more critical look at how we measure economic and technological progress. Self-driving cars and delivery drones may save some people time and money, but they take away other people’s livelihoods. To stem the contagion of pathological nostalgia, we need to inoculate ourselves with a dose of the healthy nostalgia that spurs us to integrate the best values and ideas of the past into the improvements and advances we promote.

One of those values is the traditional democratic belief that the people who grow our food, make our coffee, fix our cars, educate our children, nurse our sick, and pick up our garbage are at least as essential to a healthy society as the people who invent new algorithms for stock trading, social media, and marketing. They deserve to live in thriving communities, send their kids to good schools, earn a living wage, and get home in time to enjoy dinner with whomever they count as family.

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