Families as They Really Are

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Re-posted from Education Week

The #MeToo movement has brought to the forefront what has been a long-standing concern for women across various communities: sexual harassment and, more broadly, gender inequality.

It’s critical that we implement sanctions against perpetrators of sexual harassment and that we increase men’s awareness of what is and is not acceptable. But this movement also highlights the need for thinking more seriously about how we teach children and teens about these issues.

Sexual harassment is not merely something that young people will need to contend with sometime in their distant future when they are adults in the workforce. Rather, it is something many of them, especially girls, are experiencing right now and right in their schools. Like it or not, schools are formally and informally communicating lessons to their students about expectations for men’s and women’s sexual conduct. Thus, we should look to education as a significant avenue to tackle sexual harassment and gender inequality.

In particular, we need to rethink what is typically referred to as “sex education.” First, we need to change the very word we use for it from “sex” education to “sexuality” education. This education must address not just “the birds and the bees,” but sexual harassment, including the ways in which it sometimes affects different groups of women and girls.

The conventional wisdom about sexuality education in schools is that there are two choices: an abstinence-only curriculum or a comprehensive curriculum that includes both abstinence and other topics, such as options for preventing pregnancy and protecting individuals from contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

While research has largely established that the latter approach is more effective than abstinence-only education in delaying sexual activity and reducing adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, comprehensive sexuality education would be even more effective if it were even more comprehensive.

One way to do this is to expand sexuality education curricula to incorporate lessons about sexual harassment and gender inequality. A 2011 nationally representative survey commissioned by the American Association of University Women found that nearly half of middle and high school students surveyed reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment during the 2010-2011 academic year. Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed, but the problem was widespread across genders: 56 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys reported experiencing sexual harassment. This included in-person sexual harassment, such as unwelcome touching or sexual jokes, as well electronic sexual harassment, such as unsolicited pictures or videos.

I have encountered this high rate of sexual harassment in my own research as well. When interviewing Latina girls in Chicago on their sexual experiences, I heard repeated stories of boys groping them in the hallway or making sexual comments about their bodies in school.

Teachers and other school employees need better training in how to identify and stop sexual harassment. In her 2007 book Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, sociologist C. J. Pascoe found that teachers frequently witness the harassment yet fail to do anything about it, or they may minimize the seriousness of the incident.

It is also important that school employees become aware of how unconscious racial biases may influence their perceptions of such incidents. Research shows that black and Latinx students face more disciplinary action and are assumed to be more adult-like and less innocent, and thus in less need of protection. Researchers, including Monique Morris and Jody Miller, have documented how school personnel routinely label black girls as “loud,” or “unladylike” when they are perceived to fail to conform to white, middle-class expectations of femininity.

Such research demonstrates how racial and gender stereotypes of girls of color can inform some school personnel’s understanding of their harassment. It can even lead educators to punish these girls’ attempts to protect themselves or to assume they provoked their own sexual harassment.

The prevalence of sexual harassment in schools also suggests that sexuality education should be made more comprehensive in terms of when it is taught. Instead of treating it as a discrete topic limited to health class, it should be incorporated into other aspects of school.

In rethinking sexuality education to address the issue of sexual harassment, for instance, schools need to think about dress-code policies. By focusing almost exclusively on girls’ attire, school officials often reinforce the sexual double standard that permits boys more freedom than girls, thereby reinforcing gender inequality. Instead, schools should concentrate on training school personnel and students on identifying, preventing, and addressing sexual harassment.

These lessons can also be incorporated into classroom discussion, where students could learn and dialogue about relevant topics in an age-appropriate manner. For instance, students can explore Title IX through history class assignments. Students’ familiarity with the federal law—which prohibits sex discrimination in educational activities and programs by institutions that receive federal funds—can empower them to demand gender equity in their schools, as well as in the larger society. Gender equity can also be examined in the social studies classroom, where teachers can facilitate student discussions of gender stereotypes in the media, for example. These types of classroom activities can also assist students in developing media-literacy skills, such as understanding how our engagement with media relates to social interactions.

Young people are already facing sexual harassment in their lives, including their schools. Why not help them take it on now in a more structured context? It’s time to start these conversations earlier, help youths recognize harassment, call it out, and demand that something be done about it. Maybe this can help us move in a more concerted effort to stop making sexual harassment and gender inequality a “normal” aspect of our culture. It’s gone on too long. It’s about time we figure it out.

Lorena Garcia is an associate professor of sociology and Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a sociologist who studies the intersections of gender, sexuality, and race and the author of Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself: Latina Girls and Sexual Identity (New York University Press, 2012).

On April 24, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services rang the death knell on work authorization for spouses of high-skilled immigrant workers. Under the direction of the White House, the USCIS conducted an audit of the H-1B guest worker program, specifically to see if it complies with the President’s Buy American, Hire American executive order. In a report submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the director of the USCIS proposed sweeping changes to the program, including removing regulations that would allow the spouses of H-1B workers to obtain work permits.

Despite being an established program for almost thirty years, the H-1B program has become a target for the current administration. The H-1B visa program first came into existence after the passage of the 1990 Immigration Act.  As the tech boom of the 1990s and rising fears about “Y2K” created a demand for technically-trained labor, U.S. companies began to seek workers from around the world.  The H-1B is given to workers in “specialized and complex” jobs. Typically issued for three to six years, the visa allows employers to hire foreign workers.

While the visa has always been classified as a “temporary nonimmigrant visa,” employers can sponsor the visa holders for permanent residency. The program also created the H-4 family reunification visa, which go overwhelmingly to the women spouses of workers. Children under the age of 21 years are also eligible for the H-4 visa.

The H-4 visa has real benefits for foreign workers, as it allows hundreds of thousands of family members to migrate to the U.S. along with the primary visa holder. Employers have supported the H-1B and H-4 visa, arguing that companies can bring the “best and brightest” to work in the U.S., particularly if they can also bring their families along. However, the visa also comes with restrictions: H-4 visa holders can’t work legally, apply for a social security number, or qualify for many federal education programs.

In my ethnographic study of H-1B and H-4 visa holders, I document the long-lasting negative impacts of these work restrictions on women’s careers, emotional health, and economic well-being. Many spouses of H-1B workers are also well educated and have advanced degrees, but after moving to the U.S., they become housewives. Their dependency creates other problems as well. In cases of domestic violence, H-4 visa holders have difficult leaving their partners without putting their own visas at risk.

There has been some relief for H-4 spouses who were already in the process of applying for their green cards. In 2015, the Obama administration issued an executive order that allowed H-4 visa holders employment authorization. But that authorization is contingent on the good standing of the primary H-1B visa holder. In other words, if their partner loses the H-1B, the spouse also loses her work authorization.

Even with this risk, the ability to work has provided welcome respite for tens of thousands of dependent spouses.  After spending years stuck at home, the chance to join the workforce is important both psychologically and economically vital. As my study and recent reports have shown, many families delay making major life choices or even having children until both partners are able to work. Having two incomes also offsets the high cost of living in regions where H-1B workers are concentrated. In addition, women’s participation in the workforce can translate into greater gender equity at home.

However, with this most recent report by the USCIS, we not only see a mandate to severely curtail the number of H-1B visas granted, but also to eliminate rights for their family members. As my research has shown, when immigrant women are given opportunities to become economically productive, they are more likely to stay in the U.S., and receive numerous other benefits. Ending the ability of immigrant spouses to work will undoubtedly reduce the amount of highly skilled workers willing to move to and stay in the U.S.

Amy Bhatt is an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Contact her at abhatt@umbc.edu.

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50 years ago a student was expelled from Barnard College for living with her boyfriend. In March 1968 an article published in The New York Times discussed a young unmarried couple that was living together but not married, sparking a national scandal and debate about morality. It was quickly discovered that the woman in question was Linda LeClair, who was later expelled from Barnard College over the matter; this incident was later dubbed “The LeClair Affair.”

In the years after The LeClair Affair, premarital cohabitation became trendy, and by the early 1970s every women’s magazine had published articles about celebrities living with unmarried partners. Rates of cohabitation skyrocketed; in the late 1960s less than 7% of first marriages among young women aged 18-35 began in premarital cohabitation. By the early 1980s over 40% of first marriages in this group were among couples that lived together beforehand, and rates rose to nearly 70% in the early 2010s*.

In the 1980s concern grew over this increase and debate raged over whether cohabitation was the reason for a recent increase in divorce. Some said it was the type of people who cohabited that had a higher divorce rate because of their lower levels of financial preparedness, lesser religiosity, and higher likelihood of having divorced parents, while others argued it was the act of living together itself that caused couples to later divorce. More recently, research (including mine) has found cohabitation is not associated with a higher risk of divorce once factors like the ages at which they form their unions are taken into account, and that this is true even if couples have a child prior to marriage.

But even though it doesn’t cause divorce, there is still a problem with premarital cohabitation: as cohabitation went from new trend to the new normal, it has also increasingly been undertaken by those who don’t have the financial means to marry directly. Gaps in education between premarital cohabitors and couples that marry directly have been growing steadily since the 1970s. In 2010-2015, nearly 50% of young women marrying their first husband without living together first had a college degree; this rate was only 34% among women marrying after living together first*.

This growing gap positions cohabitation as a new facet of family inequality. Young adults want to pay down debt and become financially stable before entering marriage; this is an increasingly elusive goal, especially for those who do not complete a degree, so they enter cohabitation instead of marriage while waiting for more financial stability. Those with less education also are more likely to rush into cohabitation to make ends meet, some before they are ready, or with a less-than-ideal partner that a longer courtship would have revealed.

Today’s Linda LeClair wouldn’t be living with her boyfriend because it is trendy, but because she is up to her eyeballs in student loan debt, driving an Uber to survive, and struggling to establish herself in a career that could bring some stability and health insurance. After decades of disinvestment in public higher education by state governments, a minimum wage that has not kept pace with inflation, and an increasing number of young adults working in the “gig economy” that offers no stability and few benefits, it’s no wonder that young adults today have the highest rates of premarital cohabitation in U.S. history – and also have the lowest rates of marriage and childbearing. More affordable public higher education and more stable job opportunities that pay a living wage for young adults at all levels of education would allow more to shape their relationships according to their desires, instead of out of financial necessity.

*Numbers based on author’s analysis of the 1988 National Survey of Families and Households (N=3594) and multiple waves of the National Survey of Family Growth (1995, 2002, 2006-2010, 2011-2015, N=9420), examining women who married between age 18 and 35.  

Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.