Families as They Really Are

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

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. more...

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Recessions, student debt, and the prerogatives of other people with prior accumulated wealth are a few of the things getting in the way of millennials and their families owning a home. While millennials are the up and coming age group in need of supplying their families with a roof over their head, their options are slim.

So, who are millennials? According Pew Research, “millennials” are born during the years of 1981-1997–though the definition keeps expanding, as Frank Furstenberg noted in his recent brief for the CCF Gender & Millennials symposium. This cohort is at the stage in life when they are seeking housing or even aiming to own a home–but that path is challenging. Using old-fashioned definitions, millennials are doing “everything” right. Recent employment data shows that the percentage of 25-to-34 year olds in the labor force is the largest it has been in eight yearsMillennials are earning more than the generation that came before it. Though millennials are delaying marriage (or declining to get married), this is the age window for marriage—median age of marriage in 2016 was around 28 to 30 years old. The age of first child—usually born to couples, not always married–is around 26.

So, in familiar and unfamiliar ways, family building begins. While they are finding and being hired into better-paying jobs and building their new families, this is when the home search begins. One problem: though they are ready to buy, few houses are on the market. And another: The homes for sale are priced too high for first-time buyers so millennials are renting for longer periods of time. Since the prices are so high, older people have the advantage over millennials, snatching up what’s available. This leaves millennials with a hazy vision for their future. Homeownership is one of the first and primary ways of creating wealth despite economic changes. If millennials can’t buy their first home, how can they build their own wealth? No property means they stay in a lower economic status with no way of moving up the ladder.

This affects a lot of people. The census assumes that household formation—all those people who are going ahead and having a child, moving in, or getting married–will average to about 1.5 million per year through 2020 which is up from the annual average of 900,000 it has been for the last five years. There are more and more new families, but fewer affordable homes for them. These staggering numbers give you a sense of how the generation’s needs fuel competition and push prices up, too.

What do millennials have to fall back on when trying to gain wealth if even getting their first house isn’t an easy task? Jobs aren’t enough—and working millennials face a housing market with rising prices, fewer options, and feverish competition. Homeownership—historically the American path to wealth and security—is more and more out of reach. What needs to be done? More entry-level homes and communities. If we have more of these homes this creates easier access for millennials who in the future will be experienced homeowners. Won’t this be better for the economy now and in the future? Improving housing and homeownership will certainly be better for millennials.

Originally posted 4/12/2017

Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, a resident assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

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Assortative mating – the tendency of people to marry those similar to themselves – has become a popular explanation for increased economic inequality across American families (see the NYT, the Economist, or the NYT Upshot).

The idea is that if people are increasingly matching with partners who have similar economic prospects, families will be increasingly divided between those who pool two large paychecks and those who pool two small paychecks. More assortative mating increases spouses’ economic similarity, which in turn increases inequality.

Our research, however, shows that assortative mating has played a minor role in the increase of spouses’ economic similarity and its impact on inequality. More important than changes in whom people marry are changes in what happens after they marry. In particular, the well-known and dramatic increase in wives’ employment within marriage are responsible for the bulk of the effects of increased spousal economic resemblance on inequality.

That is, the rise of spouses’ economic similarity increased inequality not because there are more “power couples” who match with one another, but because both wives and husbands today are more likely to realize their economic potential during marriage, whereas in the past only one (usually the man) would do so.

Explaining increased spousal economic resemblance

The appeal of assortative mating as an explanation for spousal economic resemblance and inequality is based on well-known social and economic shifts. Declines in gender inequality in education and the workplace mean that women’s socioeconomic standing is increasingly similar to men’s. For instance, it is easier for a man with a PhD to match with a female PhD today than in 1970. These compositional shifts alone may drive increases in assortative mating.

In addition, men’s and women’s preferences for partners have shifted towards valuing similarities rather than differences, rising income gaps between college and non-college workers imply that individuals can lose more by “marrying down”, and growing residential segregation by income restricts opportunities to meet partners outside ones’ own income bracket.

This focus on assortative mating, however, has tended to overlook what happens after couples match, that is, how families organize their economic life: who is bringing money in, how much, who is dropping out of the labor force, and for how long? Overlooking these questions is surprising given the magnitude of changes in the economic organization of families.

The rise of wives’ and mothers’ employment since the 1960s shifted the modal division of paid labor from breadwinner/homemaker to dual-earner. As women are participating in the labor force for more time than in the past, their earnings are closer to men’s for more of their married lives. These shifts have the potential to increase the economic similarity of spouses, even without any increase in assortative mating.

The importance of these changes suggests that the rise of spouses’ economic resemblance could largely be a function of what happens after marriage, not the sorting process that happens before marriage.

And this is exactly what our study finds.

Contrary to what has often been assumed, we show that the contribution of assortative mating to the inequality-generating effects of spouses’ economic similarity is very small. This is because there is no evidence that economic assortative mating has substantially increased in the last four decades; newlyweds are not more economically similar today than they were in the 1970s.

Instead, couples have become more economically similar during marriage, due to the increase in wives’ labor force participation. This shift in couples’ division of paid labor is the driving force behind the rise of spouses’ economic similarity and its impact on inequality.

Implications

We underscore two implications of this finding. One is that more attention should be paid to the effects of the economic organization of families on inequality. There is a lot more to be unpacked about how and why shifts in the division of paid labor during marriage can increase inequality. For instance, is it about “power couples” being more able to sustain the dual-earner model during parenthood? Is it because those with more education tend to have fewer children than those with less education?

Another implication is that it is necessary to follow couples through their married lives to distinguish what family-level processes contribute to inequality. Researchers often measure assortative mating using averages across all couples in the population, thereby lumping together variation that exists at the time of marriage and variation that evolves during marriage. This might not be problematic for measures that do not change much over individuals’ lives, like education or race, but it is clearly misleading for measures that vary systematically over time, such as labor supply or earnings.

In sum, the division of paid labor within families is key to understanding the future of inequality across American families. Assortative mating on earnings has been the focus of prior work, but has played only a small role shaping the economic resemblance of spouses and its contribution to inequality.

Pilar Gonalons-Pons is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Christine Schwartz is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This article summarizes findings fromTrends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?in Demography. For a free, pre-publication version of the article, click here. This post was published on 10/17/17 at Work in Progress.

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“These are just things.”

“At least nobody was hurt.”

“My loved ones matter more than the dining room table that washed away in the flood.”

This is what you say if you lose your home or its ingredients and are interviewed by a reporter who wants to show the human side of natural disaster. After all, it’s just stuff. In fact, to focus too much on the importance of stuff can make people seem materialistic or somehow immoral. Imagine the outcry if someone said, “We lost Grandma, but thank goodness her table was salvaged in the storm.”

Despite the absurdity of this scenario, I want to make a case for why the stuff in our homes matters, especially in light of the stories we’re seeing about our friends and families in the throes of disaster and evacuation. Our home stuff impacts us when we have it, to be sure. But it also impacts us when we lose it. Socioeconomic inequalities play an important role, too – as in, stuff matters differently depending on your access to the stuff in the first place.

We seem to be in the midst of visible large-scale disaster after disaster from coast to coast and beyond. I spent the last part of the summer avoiding the outdoors because I live in a spot in the inland Pacific Northwest that was surrounded by wildfires with wind blowing the smoke into our valley from all directions. My husband and I shared stories of burning eyes and sore throats with friends as we ensured our children were having athletic practices indoors, moved our backyard dinners inside, and kept our windows shut. I stayed glued to my TV and social media feeds to track the safety of friends and family in the Columbia River Gorge, Montana, Houston, Puerto Rico, Santa Rosa, and all of Florida. Seeing the “marked safe” button from Facebook friends brought a sigh of relief. Admittedly, I was more concerned about the well-being of friends and family than about the well-being of their dining room tables.

But what about the stuff? There are a lot of articles floating about regarding the children of baby boomer parents not wanting their home possessions. The old wobbly oak table that made it through the Depression seems cumbersome, out of style, and indicative of an outdated era when the sturdiness of putting down roots in one spot mattered more. Now the narrow tapered legs of midcentury modern furniture – easy to move, easy to see under, easy to replicate inexpensively – are preferred. These reports include mention of aging seniors spending thousands of dollars to enlist the time-consuming help of professional organizers and move management companies. What’s not mentioned much is the fact that the process of getting rid of stuff in many of these cases includes the element of choice. Of course for many it’s a constrained or challenging choice, where ailing health, emotional pain of parting with cherished possessions, or the geographic dispersal of family members to claim items in a timely manner create stress. But these are not necessarily situations where the wobbly oak table owners have less than two days to figure out whether that table matters. And the passing down of valuable possessions requires at least some affluence in the first place.

The difficult work associated with getting rid of things that present or future family members may or may not want cannot happen when there’s a disaster, because there’s no time. The emotional work that is needed to suddenly say goodbye to something you may have hoped would outlive you is punching you in the face. Gone is the work of having to sort through your things, but gone also is the opportunity to do so.

People in precarious economic situations are already at a point where losing objects and the homes that house them can be immanent. Environmental scholar Nicole Youngman wrote in the 2014 book Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology that “disasters exacerbate rather than ‘even out’ the preexisting social inequalities in devastated regions.” Perhaps there is a table to be passed down, but probably not. Add disaster (both huge and small) and the loss is assured. The recipe includes: homes that would never pass building code muster; no flood insurance, let alone money to hire a company to organize the stuff that remains; extended family and friends limited to local areas so there’s no trusted home to go to in an evacuation; no reliable means of transportation; and jobs that don’t have the permanence needed to pick up the pieces left when all you have is what you’re wearing or carrying. The loss lasts longer for those in precarious economic conditions – weeks and months of wondering, wandering, and trying to rebuild while starting in a worse spot than before. In some cases, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, some may not return to rebuild at all.

A natural disaster carries with it a confusing emotional journey. Losing a table in a tornado doesn’t allow blame toward an individual person. Loss due to forced evacuation elicits different coping compared to loss due to disloyalty and estimation from a child that your stuff doesn’t matter. To paraphrase one of my friends’ sentiments in the heyday of late 1990s disaster movies (remember “Twister,” “Deep Impact,” and “Dante’s Peak?”): “You just can’t turn a natural disaster into an antagonist the same way you can turn a living breathing person into an enemy to fight.” The loss of home stuff in either case requires figuring out its meaning, but the meaning cannot be detached from the way it was lost in the first place. It’s sad to lose a table, but it’s also sad to lose confidence in your child’s love because she refuses to take that table. Both cases involve grieving the loss of family connection. And both cases are harder when financial resources are limited.

This year I’m doing an interview project on the meaning of home (in this case, second homes, broadly defined) in which I ask interviewees, “If you lost your second home, what would you be losing besides the financial part?” It may seem surprising that these interviews have helped me understand the meaning of loss that may happen if someone’s only home is destroyed in a flood or a fire, given that these people have not just one home, but two (or sometimes three). But their responses – time, family, memories, connections with those near and dear – matter for everyone regardless of the status of their home ownership.

Now, imagine if I asked the same question of the person being interviewed by a reporter about losing her only home – a home for which she has no insurance, a home near a support network of friends and family who also lost their homes and who do not have the energy or resources to offer needed support. Now, multiply the loss – financial, emotional, relational – by a thousand. All of a sudden, her stuff does matter. To focus on the importance of stuff in this instance calls to mind not materialism or immorality, but the necessary recognition of the material nature of our livelihoods, our ability to offer and seek support, and our love for others.

Michelle Janning is Professor Sociology at Whitman College and the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives. In this book, she talks about how home spaces and objects tell the story of contemporary family life, including what happens in individual home disasters such as a burst pipe, and what happens when families need to deliberate what to do when home stuff is passed down to, or refused by, the next generation.

Originally posted on scatterplot on 10/9/17

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mark Regnerus argues that men aren’t getting married because “sex has become rather cheap” (the op-ed is behind a paywall, but you can read excerpts here), and he elaborates the argument in a book he recently published (full disclosure: I haven’t read the book and don’t plan to). You may remember Regnerus from his article “Gay parents are bad, mmmkay?” the now-infamous study in which he used seriously flawed methods to conclude gay parenting has negative effects, by comparing the kids of gay people (many of whom had gotten divorced from the child’s other-sex parent, had never parented with a same-sex partner, or had never even lived with their child), to kids of people in intact heterosexual marriages. Turns out when comparisons are instead made between kids of people in intact heterosexual marriages and kids of those in intact same-sex couples, the kids turn out pretty much the same.

Now he’s back to tell us that the reason the marriage rate is so low these days is that these darn women keep giving it away for free and don’t face any consequences, or as multiple journalists have put it; “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” That is, sex is too easy to get these days with the rise of loose morals, internet hookup websites and even pornography, and not costly enough in consequences now that we have reliable contraception and legal abortion access (good thing the government is making it more expensive then). As a result, men don’t have to bother with commitment or fidelity or even with trying to be an appealing partner.

What is the underlying assumptions of this argument? You got it: Men like sex. A lot. Casual sex though, not relationship sex. They only wanted relationships and commitment because that was the only way to get sex. Now that they can have sex without it, they’d rather just go with the sex and not the relationships.

I had the opportunity to test out some of these ideas using a survey of over 24,000 students at 22 different colleges and universities around the United States, and recently published the results. The survey asked whether students wished they had more opportunities for hooking up, going on dates, or finding someone to have a relationship with at their college.

Our results counteract the idea that men want sex and not relationships. Yes, men want hookups more than women- more than twice as many men as women said they wanted more opportunities for hooking up. But they were much more likely to wish they had more opportunities for going on dates than for hookups, and even more likely to say they wanted to find someone to have a relationship with. In fact, they were even more likely than women to say they wanted opportunities for relationships (although the difference was small).

Our sample was only college students, who may be unique in several ways. For one, more educated people are more likely to eventually get married – the decline in marriage rates since the 1980s is largely driven by lower marriage rates among the less educated. What about the less educated men – the ones who are actually less likely to marry in recent decades?

As it happens, a few years ago I did another study focusing on educational differences in marriages in 20 cities, and why less educated men and women don’t marry as much as the highly educated. We focused on the type of couples most likely to have a good reason (and social pressure) to get married- parents who have children outside of marriage. We found that by the time their child was 5 years old, over 30% of these fathers with a college degree were married to their child’s mother, versus only 14% of fathers with a high school degree or less.

We also found that local labor market conditions explained the gap. Those with lower education had poorer job prospects, facing higher unemployment rates than those with more education. Regardless of whether an individual parent was employed, in cities where those with low levels of education had better job prospects (and lower unemployment rates), they were more likely to marry, and the marriage gap was smaller than in cities where they had worse job prospects.

Women’s employment prospects mattered for those with low levels of education (maybe because those with low levels of education were more likely to expect to depend on both spouses’ incomes), but men’s employment prospects were important at every level of education. If men had better job prospects, they were more likely to get married.

The real reason for the decline in marriage isn’t loose morals – it’s worsening economic conditions. The well-paying jobs that men could get at lower levels of education have eroded away, as have the unions that fought for and protected those wages. Although women have gained more equality in the workplace and at home, many retain traditional ideas about not “marrying down”, which for highly educated women may include not marrying men with lower levels of education or excessive student loans they can’t quickly pay off. For less educated women, that includes the many unemployed or underemployed men without a college education.

Meanwhile, the ‘transition to adulthood’- full time employment, financial independence, and a stable living situation – has been prolonged in recent years for both men and women. More and more young adults attend college, and graduate school, often moving in pursuit of education. Many then continue to move, sometimes multiple times, to build towards a well-paying career attractive to potential marriage partners, and stable enough to set down roots that can accommodate families in which both partners have careers. Many have student loans, which limits the financial stability they hope to achieve before marriage. Instead, they move in together, taking advantage of recent more liberal social norms in that regard, while building towards financial stability before entangling themselves legally. These patterns underlie drops in marriage rates, as couples wait until older ages to settle down and marry until they feel stable enough to do so.

Stability is the key feature of this equation. In his op-ed, Regnerus dismisses the idea that men’s wages underlie marriage trends, by citing a recent study finding that areas that have had a fracking boom have not had a subsequent increase in marriage rates. But fracking, a process that extracts local resources and then by necessity requires a move to new areas with new resources, hardly seems the type of long-term stable career that can underlie a 40 or 50 year marriage. The uneven sex-ratio in areas that have seen a fracking boom – 1.6 men for every woman in areas where the fracking boom is heaviest according to the New York Times – probably doesn’t help either.

The good news is that marriages that form at older ages tend to be more stable, and have lower divorce risks- leading to an overall lower divorce rate among young adults today. On the other hand, couples are more likely to have children outside of marriage, leading to less stable family situations for those children, which are associated with a number of disadvantages compared to the children of married parents.

The solution is not to tell women to shut their legs, or to make birth control more expensive. The solution is to build an economy in which young adults can get established in stable, well-paying jobs. The solution is to build an economy in which the jobs that are necessary for society to run, but don’t require a college degree, still pay a living wage. The solution is to properly fund higher education, so that graduates aren’t spending hundreds of dollars a month paying off their debt to the government until they are in their 40s. The solution is to build opportunity. If the opportunity is there, marriage rates will follow.

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.

Reprinted from Equal Pay for All – the Official Website administered by the State Treasurer of Massachusetts – See more here:

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June is traditionally LGBT pride month, and Massachusetts has a lot to be proud of. In 1989, we became the second state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation (gender identity took longer). In 2004 we became the very first state to have marriage equality for same-sex couples. In spite of these victories for legal equality here and elsewhere, though, LGBT people continue to face wage gaps and other forms of economic inequality.

Employment discrimination still happens and is disturbingly common in the United States. In a 2013 national survey, 21% of LGBT people reported experiences of unfair treatment by an employer. Studies that send identically-qualified LGBT and non-LGBT people’s applications for jobs find that LGBT applicants have to apply for many more jobs just to get an interview.

These kinds of discrimination are likely contributors to the gay wage gap. A recent review of studies found that gay and bisexual men earned 11% less than heterosexual men with the same age, education, and other qualifications.

Perhaps surprisingly, lesbian and bisexual women earn about 9% more than similar heterosexual women. A lesbian wage advantage?  Not exactly–it’s more like a slightly smaller gender wage gap, since lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women all earn less than straight or gay men.

Lesbians do some things differently from heterosexual women, which might reduce the gender disadvantage. Mainly we see higher earnings for lesbians who were never married to men. Lesbians who were married to men at some point have earnings more like heterosexual women’s, maybe because they made similar kinds of childrearing or labor market decisions while living with a male spouse.

Lesbians also work more hours and weeks, so they might be accumulating more experience over time, which helps to raise wages. And lesbians appear to be less deterred by male dominance in an occupation, holding jobs that have more men in them than heterosexual women do.

The gender wage gap bites into lesbians’ economic resources, though. Lesbian couples have two women’s incomes, and studies show they have less income to live on than a male-female couple or a gay male couple. That’s one big reason why lesbian couples have higher poverty rates than different-sex couples and gay male couples. The poverty gaps are even larger for African American same-sex couples and for transgender people.

Interestingly, we’re learning that gay men are also affected by gender inequality. For example, one study shows that anti-gay discrimination is particularly pronounced in jobs looking for applicants with stereotypical male characteristics, like assertiveness, aggressiveness, or ambition.

So how can we move LGBT people closer to actual equality in economic outcomes?

Businesses have been allies in promoting policies and practices to reduce discrimination and to make workplaces more welcoming of LGBT employees. Some examples include putting sexual orientation and gender identity in the company nondiscrimination policy, discussing LGBT issues in diversity training, supporting LGBT employee groups, and developing clear gender transition guidelines.

Employers make a business case for LGBT equality—they need to recruit and retain the best employees, including LGBT people and non-LGBT people who want to work at companies that value diversity. Research backs up the business case claims, showing that companies with LGBT-supportive policies have higher stock prices, productivity, and profits.

Strengthening the scope and enforcement of nondiscrimination policies would help, too. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to be a form of sex discrimination, so LGBT people can file employment discrimination charges everywhere in the U.S. But it would also be transformative to have a comprehensive federal law like the proposed Equality Act, which would ban discrimination not only in employment, but also in credit, housing, public services, and other areas.

Some other policies would help lift LGBT people out of poverty, in particular. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cut gay men’s poverty by a third and cuts lesbians’ poverty in half. Finding a way to eliminate the gender wage gap would erase the gap in poverty for lesbian couples, and cutting racial wage gaps would reduce the poverty gap for African American and Hispanic people in same-sex couples. Plus those policies have the advantage of helping everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Finally, we need more data and research on LGBT people to better understand what’s making LGBT people economically insecure. Massachusetts and other states should join California in moving toward more inclusive data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity within state agencies, including health and human services, education, and employment.

While we have reasons to be proud of LGBT people’s victories in the push for legal equality, we will all be prouder when we’ve also achieved economic equality.

M. V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics and the former director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also a Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute and a board member of the Council on Contemporary Families. Her latest book is The Public Professor:  How to Use Your Research to Change the World.

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Reposted from CNN with headline “Nixon was Right about Women.”

In 1973, when President Richard Nixon proclaimed August 26 Women’s Equality Day — commemorating the day in 1920 that women won the right to vote — a woman could still be denied housing by a real estate broker or credit by a bank, simply because of her gender.

Employers could fire a woman who became pregnant. Many states had “head and master” laws giving husbands final authority in the family, and in no state was marital rape a crime. As late as 1977, two-thirds of all Americans still believed that men should earn the money and women should take care of the home.

So it was something of an understatement when Nixon noted that “much remains to be done” to attain “full and equal participation of women” in society. Indeed, the events of the last year and a half — from the “Access Hollywood” video in which the man who is now president uses vulgar words about women’s genitals, to challenges to women’s reproductive rights, to the routine, vicious online attacks on women by what sometimes seems to be an army of trolls — suggest that, 44 years later, much still remains to be done.

But a review of the changes in gender relationships since the 1970s suggests good reason for confidence in our ability to move forward, though certainly not for us to become complacent.

Today the blatant discrimination described above, for example, is illegal, and Americans overwhelmingly support, at least in principle, the ideal of gender equality. In one recent survey, 93% of adults said women should have equal rights.

But the very popularity of the ideal of gender equality, combined with the fact that inequalities are now perpetuated in more subtle ways than in the past, has led some people to conclude that there is nothing more to strive for. The same poll above found that fully 20% of respondents believed gender equality has already been achieved and no more work is needed.

This view ignores the minority of Americans who deeply resent the women’s movement, falsely claiming that women’s gains have come at men’s expense. And it overlooks some serious recent setbacks for women.

Still, it’s worth emphasizing the good news

Some of the most dramatic improvements for women have been in personal relationships. Rates of intimate partner violence have fallen steadily since the early 1970s, a decline that has accelerated since the early 1990s. Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are still too widespread, but women have new options to expose the perpetrators and fight for justice.

Marriages are more equal. In the 1970s, a woman with more years of formal education or higher earnings than her husband faced an increased chance of divorce. Today, the extra divorce risk associated with women’s higher achievements has disappeared.

Fathers have doubled the time they spend interacting with their children, and tripled the routine physical care, such as changing diapers, that many men used to shun. That carries a bonus for both sexes: Couples who share housework and childcare equally now report the highest levels of marital and sexual satisfaction.

More remains to be done

Ivanka Trump has proposed a paid parental leave policy, but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as the work-family policies that are standard in most advanced nations and include flex time, universal health care, and affordable, quality child care. In the absence of such support systems, it’s no accident that American parents report much lower happiness compared with non-parents than in any other of 22 countries recently studied.

Similar limits exist to the very impressive gains American women have made in education and earnings. In 1973, women earned just 57 cents for every dollar earned by men — a gap of 46 cents. By 2015, the gap had fallen to 17 cents — even lower for childless women, who earn 96 cents for every man’s dollar.

Not yet equal

Indeed, women have “caught up” in their earnings largely because of their high rates of college completion, which allow them to pull ahead of less-educated men and women. But they still lag behind men with the same education.

Today, according to sociologist Philip Cohen, the average female with a BA makes much more than a male high school graduate, but 28% less than the average man with a BA.

This reversal is confusing to many men who grew up seeing their low- or middle-earning fathers making more money than almost any woman. As a result, some men blame their economic plight on the increase in gender equality rather than on the real culprit — the acceleration of wage inequality.

Meanwhile, although women on the higher rungs of the pay ladder are doing much better than middle and low wage-earners of both sexes, they actually face a wider gender wage gap in comparison to their male counterparts than in the past. In consequence, some high-powered women focus on the glass ceiling rather than the sinking floor that holds back so many men and women alike.

Racial disparities add more complexities to the gender equality picture. Despite the rise of an affluent African-American and Hispanic middle class, minorities continue to fare worse than their white counterparts, even as white low wage workers also lose ground.

Between 1980 and 2015, white women narrowed the gap in hourly wages with white men by 22 cents, but black and Hispanic women narrowed the gap with white men by only 9 and 5 cents respectively.

And the wage gap between white men and black and Hispanic men didn’t budge at all.

Nixon called it

There’s no question that women’s lives and options are better than when Women’s Equality Day was first proclaimed. But progress has been slow on the earnings equality front, and there have been some recent big setbacks in politics and culture.

In 1964, two former presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, were proud to co-chair a fund-raising committee for Planned Parenthood. Today, the very existence of Planned Parenthood is under attack. And even though two-thirds of voting age adults support wide access to reproductive health care and pregnancy prevention, the Trump administration plans to defund a national teen pregnancy prevention program, returning to abstinence-only sex education.

I1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy included a woman’s right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Yet over the last six years, states have passed 369 laws aimed at restricting women’s access to abortion.

The new administration has seemed singularly uninterested in recruiting and promoting women, and it recently repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, scrapping two rules that are essential protections for women workers.

The Fair Pay order required wage transparency, so people can actually see if they are being paid less for the same job than a colleague. The Safe Workplaces order prohibited forced arbitration for sexual-harassment cases, which often protect perpetrators by keeping proceedings out of the public eye.

And our President has used “the bully pulpit” more to encourage than to stop bullying. On top of this comes the surfacing of a newly-invigorated white supremacy movement, which is also a male supremacy movement that claims the “only real duty” of a white woman is to reproduce, while black and Hispanic women should be discouraged from doing so.

The good news here is that this retrograde movement is small and, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, most Americans (64%) realize it poses a threat to the US. Unfortunately, more than a third (34%) believe it does not — representing yet another way in which it is abundantly clear that, as Nixon said, much remains to be done for women’s equality.

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

My desk top

Posted originally on November 18, 2016, at Girl w/ Pen. This week, we are thinking about attention to what is said and done, and preparing for Women’s Equality Day on August 26.

Sex gets used a lot of ways–and a number of them are not about shared pleasure and connection. I have written about political sex scandals and the way generations of youth get shamed about their sexual norms. Though it may be facile, I find myself noting “the more things change, the more they remain the same” — the issues change a little bit but the use of sex as a tool of power and control, not so much.

This is sex as political football. Sometimes the games have the veneer of lightness, like a game you play after Thanksgiving dinner. Today, though, I was writing about the use of rape as tool of war.

In 1996 the International War Crimes Tribunal focused on rape  in the Bosnian war, and prosecuted people involved. Discussion of one of those prosecutions was here, and this quotation gripped me:

In a reply to his accusers, Mr. Mejakic, who along with others under indictment remains safely in Serb territory, described Ms. Cigelj as being old and unattractive; he added that he wouldn’t have leaned his bicycle against her, much less raped her.

And then I looked at this, from 20 years later, last month (October 2016):

Donald Trump on Thursday adamantly denied claims he forced himself on a People Magazine journalist more than a decade ago, responding to her accusation of sexual assault by saying, “Look at her … I don’t think so.”

That’s today’s brief reflection on normalization, 1996-2016.

Photo by qimono via pixabay

My husband and I recently spit in tiny tubes just after watching an Ancestry.Com commercial where “Kyle” recounted his ethnic transition. In the commercial, we saw Kyle dancing vigorously in lederhosen, and then heard him say he had discovered that, after years of assuming he was German, he and his family were “not German at all.” They were, in fact, Scottish. This led him to trade in his lederhosen for a kilt, at which point the commercial showed him standing – not dancing – in a kilt, presumably to avoid any vigorous knee kicks. I imagined Kyle and his family discussing over dinner how all of the fabric choices for celebratory outfits would need to be changed to include homage to the new pieces of the ethnic pie chart that science had spit back at him. Ditch the lederhosen! Tartans for everyone!

For a mere $100 (which my biochemistry wizard friend assures me is supercheap for science projects involving DNA), I spit into a tube and added the magical “who am I” solvent that also summarily eliminated the possibility for my DNA to come back as “100% bean soup.” I then shook the tube, sealed the envelope, and mailed it to a place I later read may, in fact, be cataloging and declaring the rights to my DNA for the forever future. (How cool would it be to have new Michelles roam the earth in the year 2786, and then again in the year 2986? Okay, not cool.)

My husband did the spitting project, too. Admittedly, we were doing this not only to see where we stood in relation to our own “where did our family come from” stories, but also to be able to see where our combined-DNA-son may fit. So it was a parenting project that linked the past with the future. Plus, for me, there was always the question of that one great-great-relative whose ethnic origins have been as unknown to all of his descendants as the secret ingredient in his wife’s Norwegian krumkake recipes was. Note to reader: the secret ingredient for krumkake recipes is always cardamom.

The website differentiates those with whom we share DNA from thousands of years ago from those who are probably related to us from just a few generations ago. The recent ones are more connected to things like contemporary languages, clustered immigration across national borders, and krumkake recipes – you know, the stuff that our great-greats talked about over dinner as making us who we are in terms of our imagined ethnic past.

Even though the percentage of DNA-shared lands from thousands of years ago for me centered in England more than I thought it would, my results from just a few generations ago were fairly close to how I envisioned my grandparents and their grandparents moving from there to here. This consisted of my German grandparents (Oma and Opa) landing in Chicago, and my other European ancestors landing in other parts of the upper Midwest a couple generations earlier. The results for my husband mostly situates his DNA ancestors in lands we know today as Italy, Greece, Turkey, Central Asia, and Scandinavia. And we both have about twelve other European lands listed. Our son thus shares genetics with people from geographical locales made up of at least fourteen places that have everything from mead to beer to wine to chai to arak to vodka to ouzo at their dinner parties.

Perhaps the most surprising news for me was that my results came back with a tiny percentage that said “Greek,” which immediately resulted in a new type of bond with my Greek-American mother-in-law, with whom I was staying when I got my results. Along with this revelation came some tongue-in-cheek references to other traits – utterances that included “no wonder she likes feta,” or “that’s why she doesn’t sunburn easily.” Utterances that I’ve probably used to refer to my son to connect him to his Yía Yía.

Importantly, my mother-in-law and I already have a great non-ethnic bond regardless of my new status, mostly due to the fact that her husband is the father of my husband, and they have many things in common. Like the fact that they’re both sociologists, they both are the oldest sons of the oldest sons who were born when their dads were thirty years old (guess how old my husband was when our son was born), and they married women who make fast decisions that, fortunately, included the decisions to marry them. But now we have an added Greek connection.

So, what does all of this do to our understanding of family? Who are our relatives? Who are we supposed to feel close to?

Family can be defined lots of ways. Sometimes it involves blood relations, but any who have adoptive families or people who don’t fit some legal definitions of family may grimace at that. Sometimes family involves lineage and inheritance rules, and worrying whether one’s line will continue for more generations. But the way that families are constructed today increasingly defies straight lines and rules.

Kinship lines and the meanderings that created them from thousands of years ago are immensely varied. We add girth to lines whenever we hear our great-greats talk about why our family is the way it is because we come from those people over there who were a certain way. We add girth to lines when we learn, through our spit, that we share some kind of blood connection to people from a long time ago in a land far away. Just like family can be defined lots of ways, we now have more ways to define lineage. Or at least to investigate it and figure out what to do with it.

The line between me and Greece didn’t used to exist except that I gave birth to a son who descends from my husband’s Greek family. Now it’s a line of mysterious genealogy for me. Maybe a dotted line. Lines can be thickened because we decide so based on new information that has been revealed in a tiny tube of spit. Science stuff. But socially we decided that it matters all of a sudden. Even if it’s based on blood, lines thicken because we decide that this particular blood matters.

By defining something as real, it develops real consequences. Take Ancestry.com’s latest ad, in which descendants of many races from the signers of the Declaration of Independence are featured, posing in the places of their ancestors as depicted in John Trumbull’s famous 1818 painting. The ad’s closing line is “Unlock your past. Inspire your future.”

Isn’t it interesting that, all of a sudden, a little spit in a tube can redefine everything from a family’s connections to a nation’s racial-ethnic imagery? The process of redefining who we come from and where our children will claim to come from is a social process, even when it involves bloodlines. Our family stories have a fabric pattern that tells others who we are, until we learn that we need to change fabrics because our biochemical story has been socially attached to a different fabric. The fabrication of family ethnicity, as it were.

That is not Greek to me.

Michelle Janning is a sociologist and author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives. She aims to point out the “between-ness” of our social lives, evident in her essays featured in the collection Between: Living Life in Neither Extreme. She lives in Walla Walla, Washington.