Families as They Really Are

Picture by CC0 Creative Commons

Originally published in the Harvard Business Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following the Second World War, fertility in the United States began to rise sharply from a low point established in the Great Depression. During the 1950s and early 1960s, marriage and childbearing began to occur at what now seem to be unimaginably early ages. Aided by a robust economy and an unbridled sense of optimism, half of all women were married by the time they turned twenty, mostly to husbands who were barely older. Most couples had children soon after marriage if they were not already pregnant by their wedding date. The marriage rush, as it was referred to at the time, created a brief era when most young adults marched confidently into adulthood by their late teens or early twenties.

The regime of early adulthood came to an abrupt halt in the final third of the last century. The rapid loss of manufacturing jobs, the decline in labor unions, the rising demand for higher education, the oil crisis of the early 1970s, the rapid spread of new and more effective contraceptive methods, and the emerging movement for gender equality all likely contributed to ending the early schedule of family formation. Young adults began to move more slowly and more deliberately into the economy, restrained by the need to spend more time in school and by the unavailability of well-paying jobs providing enough to support a family.

The most disadvantaged Americans were initially slow to respond to the emergence of a “skills and knowledge” economy. Marriage remained a strong ideal and the practice of early and often unplanned parenthood continued to propel women into wedlock even when they and their partners were ill-prepared to support a family. But by the mid-1960s, African American women who became pregnant in their teens began to eschew marriage, creating a new social problem: teenage parenthood! In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Black family was becoming ensnared in “a tangled web of pathology” by the pattern of early and unmarried parenthood.

For a brief period, the retreat from marriage was believed to be a special problem for African Americans. Some argued wrongly, that early and unwed pregnancy was a distinctive holdover from slavery or Ante-Bellum discrimination and marginalization.  However, such explanations did not stand the test of time. By the 1980s, marriage was rapidly declining among young whites who, like their African American and Hispanic counterparts, began view early marriage as a bad bargain even in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.  Abortion or even single parenthood appeared like a more promising strategy than marrying an unsuitable partner.

Led by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research and policy arm of Planned Parenthood, a nationwide effort was launched to expand reproductive health services to low-income, unmarried women, teenagers in particular. In the middle of the last century, contraception had not been legally available to these populations. But as sexual and marriage practices changed and marriage, many policy makers argued that providing unmarried women with birth control services was needed to address the growing number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. In 1965, reproductive health services first became available to unmarried women. By 1970, a unanimous Senate and nearly unanimous House sent legislation known now as Title X to President Nixon to establish a network of health and reproductive services to low-income women.  Over the years, Title X has been expanded; by 2014, over 4,000 clinics across the nation provided reproductive health care to young women who could not afford a private physician.

After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion, Title X explicitly prohibited clinics from offering abortions in publicly funded sites. Accordingly, Planned Parenthood a leading provider of abortions, was compelled to divorce its abortion services from reproductive health clinics that were funded by Title X. This compromise has been under attack by abortion opponents for decades who contend that Title X is covertly supporting abortion because Title X provided many to Planned Parenthood clinics even though they did not offer abortion services. Planned Parenthood contended that its reproductive health care services, in fact, prevent the need for abortion and deserve credit for helping to reduce the rate of abortion in the United States.

This contention may well be tested in the next few years because The Trump Administration, with the backing of most Republicans, has recently proposed to defund Planned Parenthood clinics. Already, states are poised to eliminate the largest national provider of reproductive health services in the nation. Like so many of the Trump policies, this proposed change has largely flown under the radar.

Childbearing to teenagers and women in the early twenties dropped steadily and precipitously over the past 25 years, and so have rates of abortion among younger women. The rate of teenage childbearing is less than half of what it was in 1991. Of course, this result is not only due to the growing availability of effective methods of contraception. Sexuality activity has leveled off if not slightly declined during the teen years. Norms have changed: an early and unplanned birth during the teen years has become anomalous with the later schedule for entering adulthood. Still, the widespread availability of birth control, especially as it comes in more user friendly and effective methods, has made it possible for sexually active teens and young adults to avoid becoming pregnant. If enacted, the defunding of Planned Parenthood would have a disastrous effect, probably reversing the trend of the past quarter of a century.

The state of Texas previewed the hardline policy of killing Planned Parenthood services only to find that pregnancies and health problems immediately soared. Texas was quickly compelled to revise these draconian measures. Yet, it appears that the federal government wants to carry out what happened in Texas on a national level.

In last year’s budget resolution, Congress rejected the entreaties of the Administration to remove Planned Parenthood funded services, but the fight undoubtedly will continue into next year’s budget deliberations. Whether this effort succeeds or not will depend— as so many things do— on the elections this year and in 2020.  Reproductive rights for women is just one more reason to join the effort to defeat President Trump and his congressional allies.

Frank Furstenberg is The Zellerbach Family Chair, emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania where he remains an Associate in the Population Center.   He most recently authored Behind the Academic Curtain: How to Find Success and Happiness with a Ph.D.

Inevitably when I tell people that I study love letters and technology, someone participating in the conversation laments the way that texting and instant messaging have lessened the depth and thoughtfulness of love letters in today’s romantic relationships. A text is not a substitute for a handwritten note that takes time to write and symbolizes dedication to a relationship, they argue. But then another voice chimes into this conversation, offering something like this: “I love that my girlfriend and I can text each other little love notes. It’s quick, it’s in real time, and it makes me feel close to her even if she’s far away.”

A few years ago I was cleaning out a basement cabinet and found a box of old paper notes and love letters from high school, college, and graduate school. I brought the box upstairs and began rifling through the paper. My husband walked into the living room, saying to me as I sat amidst a pile of spiral notebook paper bits, “We started college before there was email and we ended college when the World Wide Web came into existence. I wonder if we’re the last generation of letter writers.” Around the same time I talked with a couple women about their love letters – one woman in her twenties who had saved texts from romantic partners in a memo folder on her smartphone, and one woman in her forties who had saved paper letters from her (now) husband that they had exchanged while studying abroad in college. Because of these conversations, I began to wonder whether gender and generation mattered in how people thought about the role of technology in romantic communication.

It is precisely these varied reactions – lamenting the loss of thoughtfulness, praising the access to real-time communication, and wondering about the role of rapidly changing technology on relationships for people from different groups – that my new book, Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (Routledge 2018), dissects.

Through my own survey data, stories, and a rich weaving together of others’ research from a variety of academic disciplines, I tell the story not of the content of love letters exchanged on paper and via digital devices, but rather what people do with the love letters once they have them, and whether their format as digital or paper matters in terms of their meaningfulness to their owners. In other words, I study the curatorial practices of saving, storing, revisiting, organizing, and throwing away love letters. I do this because the objects in our lives – our material culture – not only impact our behaviors (think about how your smartphone shapes your behavior when it rings or dings during a class or concert); they also symbolize what we cherish or despise. More importantly, our actions surrounding these pieces of material culture require different kinds of bodily and emotional work depending on the relationship and on the digital or paper format – labor that I discuss in this podcast from The Verge. To save a thousand texts in a special folder requires not only the physical work of creating that folder by swiping and typing or by folding and stuffing, but also the emotional labor of discerning whether these saving practices are worth it given the type of relationship they symbolize.

My research reveals a few important findings. First, people overwhelmingly prefer saving paper love letters over digital ones, a pattern that spans all age groups (even among younger individuals for whom digital communication is more prevalent). But despite the preference for paper, people are more likely to use digital means to communicate to lovers. Thus, there is a mismatch between what people do and what they prefer their partners do. For people of different ages, this may stem from different causal mechanisms: for older individuals, they may prefer something from their past that they witness lessening; for younger individuals, they may prefer something they imagine as better despite not having experienced it much in their own lives. In both cases, there is a calling forth of a past image of love letters that is used to judge today’s practices.

Second, men and women differ in their love letter curatorial practices, especially with paper letters. Women are more likely to save love letters than men, but men look at the love letters they save more frequently than women. Women tend to store their love letters in, under, and behind things (e.g., in a drawer, under a bed), while men tend to store them on things (e.g., on a desk or bulletin board). Men and women are similar, as are people of varying ages, in the reasons why they may revisit love letters: people are as likely to look at a saved love letter intentionally (to reminisce fondly or remind themselves of what to avoid in the case of a negative relationship) as they are to stumble upon them accidentally (which is what I did when I found my box of old paper letters in my basement). And people across age and gender categories who get rid of love letters may do so for several reasons: to rid themselves of bad memories, to declutter, or to prevent others from seeing what they perceive to be highly private (often sexual) messages.

Most importantly, the underlying message of these and other findings in the book must be understood in light of social inequalities that move beyond individual preferences. In particular, the calling forth of a nostalgic image of handwritten paper love letters sent and received through the mail not only must be historically situated, as lots of epistolary research shows (mail delivery as we know it in contemporary society is not really that old; people have always adjusted to newer and quicker modes of communication exchange), but also must be understood in terms of privilege. To write, send, receive, and read a love letter that looks like those images found in popular culture and the marketplace began among those with tremendous privilege: those who were white, affluent, educated, literate, and geographically located in the Global North. This image of love letters was reserved for those who were among the most elite in Western society. If there’s one thing family scholars know, to mythologize past nostalgic images of family relationships as if they were universal not only fails to be historically accurate, it also becomes the basis for inaccurate and unfair judgment of today’s varied relationships. To label someone as unromantic because they send a text message rather than sitting down at a desk for an hour to handwrite a love letter upholds an image that historically was reserved for those who had plenty of time, money, and education.

When people lament the loss of paper handwritten love letter writing, they are really lamenting the loss of a nostalgic image of romantic love that has never been universal, and that has become part of a collective view of romance that is ahistorical, inaccurate, and was available only to privileged groups. What people do with their love letters – digital or paper – depends not only on individual preferences regarding orderliness, clutter, or sentimentality, but also on people’s access and attachment to powerful cultural values that make up contemporary views of romance such as individualization, taking time in a hectic world, longevity, privacy, and keeping cherished things in a safe place. These values are not accessible equally across groups. Ultimately, I contend, despite acknowledging that digital communication has changed how we view connectedness and the type of work we have to do to manage a huge amount of information, the cultural values that tell us how romantic love should be defined are more powerful than the format our love letters take.

Michelle Janning is Professor of Sociology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She studies the intersection between intimate relationships, domestic objects, and spaces and places, usually while cleaning out basement cabinets or looking under couch cushions. She enjoys nice pens and stationery, as well as inside jokes in texts from her husband. She is the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (Rowman & Littlefield 2017).

Reposted from Psychology Today. 

The majority of Americans today believe in equality. Nearly three-quarters of American adults (73%) say the trend toward more women in the workforce has been a change for the better. And 62% of adults believe that a marriage in which the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the house and children provides a more satisfying life than one in which the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the home. But despite real progress in men’s participation in family life, Moms usually remain the default parent while Dads help out but do not take charge. Women’s income, not men’s, is often seen as what pays for the childcare. Another recent study of American families shows that mothers multi-task more than fathers, do it more often at the office, and feel more burdened than men by having to always be doing two things at once time.

So what is going on here? Is there an international plot to maintain patriarchy, as conspiracy theorists might argue? Or are women naturally suited to housecleaning and men are just not up to the task, as so many anti-feminists claim? Are today’s husbands really Neanderthals that come home from a long day’s work, drink beer, and expect their wives to wait on them?

Perhaps my own experience loading the dishwasher a few months ago can provide some clues. I don’t do housework very often. As a university professor, researcher, and author who always has writing deadlines looming while I travel to conferences and lectures, both in the US and overseas, I’m ridiculously over-scheduled. My husband is semi-retired, works from home and so with his flexible schedule, spends a lot of his time following me around the world. He doesn’t pick up the slack in our home; he runs our household. One Saturday morning after being served fabulous French toast, I insisted on cleaning up for a change. Within minutes, I was lecturing him on how the dishes already in the dishwasher weren’t rinsed well enough, or stacked neatly. He smiled at me and said, “So when was the last time you ate on a dirty dish?”

If I can find myself, without thinking twice about it, lecturing my husband on how to load a dishwasher, when I haven’t touched a dirty dish in months. How hard must it be for women who’ve been doing the dishes and the meals and taking care of the kids to accept their husbands as competent partners? Or even as partners who might become competent once they were responsible for the tasks?

I have no doubt there are men out there who are simply sexist self-serving narcissists who want wives to do the second shift so they drink beer, play golf, and watch TV. But are there not also some women who just cannot stop themselves from lecturing our partners on how to launder clothes, stack the dishes, put away the groceries and dress the children. Many moms I have talked with even leave lists of what to put into the lunch box when they travel for business–as if their husband isn’t smart enough to figure out what to put between two slices of bread. Why would these successful women have married men they can’t trust to make a sandwich or pick out a toddler’s outfit? The assumption of male incompetence at home has the same result as expecting women to be incompetence at work. It makes the recipients less likely to take on responsibility, to do the job well, or to show initiative.

Perhaps part of why men aren’t stepping up to the plate as equal partners is because women don’t let them. It’s not that women don’t want their husbands to share the job and the joys of parentingResearch shows clearly that they do, and that there are even benefits in the bedroom when people feel their marriage is fair. But we women have set the rules for how housework is done for so long, and often take so much pride in our mothering identities, that we don’t leave enough room for fathers to be equal players. Perhaps mothers are worried about what the neighbors will think if their son’s outfits are not matching, or their daughter’s shirts have stains? Is such shame worth undercutting men’s responsibility for domestic labor? Surely, if a man was worth marrying, he’s talented enough to wash dishes, make play dates, and clean the toilet.

So for Father’s Day, let’s show dad’s some respect. The best gift might just be to respect your partner enough to let him load the dishwasher without comment, and take care of the kids without fearing his your evaluation. Here ’s a gift idea for wives on this Father’s Day: stop giving directions, stop running the show and then resenting that you carry the load of the family work. Give Dads a break this year for Father’s Day. Trust them enough to lean out at home. And if you have to occasionally eat from a dirty plate, as I do, it’s worth it. Let your guy lean in for a change.

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

Even in the most affluent societies, many young people grow up in families that are poor and/or unstable in some way, and the evidence is clear that this experience can lead to behaviors that put their futures at risk. That risk, however, is not necessarily going to be same across societies, and figuring out where it is most and least pronounced is an important task for family researchers.

The U.S., as is often noted, has a much less generous social safety net for families and children than many other countries; less generous than Scandinavian countries, of course, but also compared to the other wealthy, English-speaking countries that it is often grouped with in the broad category of “liberal welfare regimes”. As a result, children who grow up in the U.S. are much more likely than their peers in these other countries to experience some key risks to positive development, such as family poverty and instability. There is just not enough protection for their families and communities, and so they are more likely to enter adolescence in dire straits. Indeed, based on research from a range of interdisciplinary scholars, including Timothy Smeeding, Jane Waldfogel, Barbara Bergman, and Patrick Heuveline, we know that kids in the U.S. are worse off, but is being worse off worse in the U.S.?

My students and colleagues in the U.S., U.K., and Canada have been trying to provide some answers to this question. This research reflects some key lessons of contemporary family and developmental research. Specifically, we are viewing family poverty and family structure not as single and static states but rather as a long-term pattern of continuity and change. We also are focusing on adolescence, a period in which complicated patterns of brain development, parent-child relations, and peer orientation lead to behaviors with heightened potential for harm. Doing so has revealed that, although the odds of growing up in poor and/or unstable families and engaging in adolescent risk-taking are both generally greater in the U.S., the link between these two things is not always stronger in the U.S.

For example, in a study that came out this year in the journal Social Science and Medicine, Michael Green, Haley Stritzel, Chelsea Smith Gonzalez, Frank Popham, and I compared longitudinal population datasets in the U.S. and U.K. to examine adolescent health and health behavior. We categorized young people in terms of their histories of family poverty since birth (e.g., early poverty only, persistent poverty, later downward mobility). The results clearly show that the accumulating experience of poverty over time is much more prevalent in the U.S., that this accumulating experience is associated with smoking and health limitations in both countries, but that this association does not really differ across countries.

As another example, in a forthcoming study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Chelsea Smith Gonzalez, Lisa Strohschein, and I compared longitudinal population datasets in the U.S. and Canada to examine teen pregnancy. We counted how much of girls’ lives since birth they had spent in poverty and how many family structure changes they had experienced.  Similar to the other study, the results clearly reveal more long-term exposure to poverty and instability in the U.S. and that such exposure is associated with greater odds of a girl getting pregnant as a teen. This study, however, also revealed a country-level difference in this association. In the U.S., prolonged experiences of family poverty and family structure were associated with teen pregnancy, but, in Canada, any experience of family poverty and family structure change was. In other words, there was a dosage effect of family poverty and instability in the former and a threshold effect in the latter.

To be clear, we are not saying that family poverty and instability do not matter to adolescent behavior. They do. We are also not saying that social policies do not protect young people from harm. They do. We are also not saying that the circumstances of young people in the U.S. are the same as those in the U.K. and Canada. They are not. What we are saying is that the ability of social policies to buffer against the risks of family poverty and instability—once they have arisen—is not as neatly straightforward as one might assume.

Our work represents the comparison of three relatively similar countries, only two family variables, and only three adolescent outcomes.  As such, it is just a drop in the expanding bucket of population research comparing family contexts of child and youth development across countries. There is more to know here. How is family poverty and instability experienced by young people across countries in which it is more or less normative? Which domains of adolescent development are most and least reactive to family disadvantages across countries? Are there differences in patterns for children, adolescents, and young adults? Expanding the comparison pool to countries with much more generous welfare regimes than the U.S. and much less economic development than the U.S. is also important. What we offer here, therefore, is encouragement to keep this conversation going.

Robert Crosnoe is the Rapoport Professor of Liberal Arts and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and President of the Society for Research on Adolescence.

Picture by Pexel

Reposted from Psychology Today 

Enough already. Aziz Ansari is not a rapist nor necessarily even a liar. Nor is “Grace” the woman who had the worst night of her life either a victim or a vixen. They are both casualties of our gender structure. Let me explain.

Most people think that gender is an identity, some authentic knowledge about the self. But identity is really only a small part of how gender structures our lives, our society. If we want to understand what happens in heterosexual hook ups, we have to understand the gendered meanings of the hook up culture. Every society has an economic structure, and so too every society, including ours, has a gender structure which has implications for our personalities, our expectations of others, our ideology about what should be, and our acceptance (or rejection) of sexual inequality.

Gender is part of how we define ourselves. Most of us are still raised to be good little boys and girls.  Good boys don’t cry, but they do get notches in their belts from peers for objectifying women, and pursing them sexually.   Girls are told they can be anything they want to be, you go girl, but when it comes to their bodies, they should accessorize fashionably and please men. Girls may ‘rule’ but they are still expected to be nice when doing so.  And of course, women remain the sexual gatekeepers, deciding when boys get that notch on their belt. There is strong evidence that gender gets inside us, that socialization helps create feminine girls and masculine boys.  Socialization shapes how we behave. Girls like “Grace” are taught to be nice, to be subtle and polite in their rejection of men, to give off non-verbal cues rather than causing a scene or using a four letter word. Boys learn that they are entitled to get what they want, but only if they go for it.  They are taught to tackle, to score. No one has to do anything to encourage women and men to behave this was as adults, gender is internalized into who we are.

But that’s only the beginning of the explanation for the he said/she said sexual drama, the overt and covert coercion that the #MeToo movement has illuminated. Gender isn’t only how femininity cripples women, nor how toxic masculinity empowers men. It is also the expectations we take for granted, when we interact, and the unconscious scripts that have problematic outcomes, including  during heterosexual casual sex. Erotic imagination in male-centric. Take this date in question.  The woman spent time discussing an outfit with friends; she is attempting to appear desirable. Aziz controlled the very existence of the encounter (doing the asking) and orchestrated it (choosing the wine, the restaurant, and paying the bill). Without conscious reflections, cultural expectations and scripts are followed: the man’s agency creates the date, the man is the sexual aggressor, the woman sought after, and paid for. This is still the lay of the land in 2018, the script that “Grace” describes of her evening with Aziz. Has he bought just dinner, or the expectation of sexual intercourse?

What men and women expect from one another is not just a part of their relationship, but part of a societal story  about sexual desire, desirability, nudity, and power. Does a woman who goes to a man’s home, undresses, and acquiesces to receiving  oral sex providing non-verbal cues that she intends to have penetrative sex? No woman should ever be pressured into any kind of sex. And yet, the narrative of heterosexual seduction at the core of our romantic myths includes  a reluctant woman won over by a persistent suitor. Pair that with the material wealth and status advantage most men have over their dates (and the super star quality of this particular man) and you get an explosive potion for coercion, under the cover of erotic play. And a prescription for male privilege: research shows clearly that men are far more likely to orgasm in a hook up then are their dates. Our heterosexual script has desirable women seduced by powerful, sexual men.  If you disagree, explain how the movie 50 shades of grey made such a fortune.

Sexual coercion, non-consensual sex, is always wrong. Any form of assault is a crime. And still, there are shades of grey, beyond 50, when women and men are confused by a changing gender structure. In today’s world everything is in flux. As my forthcoming book suggests, some young adults totally reject their socialization as feminine male-pleasing women and chauvinistic men and instead try to incorporate both masculinity and femininity into their personalities.  Others fully endorse a world where men are expected to be the pursuers of feminine woman.   Our gender structure is changing, but unevenly, and without any clear guidelines.  When it comes to casual hetero sex, gender is embedded in our own desires, our expectations for partners, and acceptance of cultural norms, and power differentials. And desire, expectations of acceptable norms may contradict one another.

Perhaps half way thru the encounter a woman decides she’s had enough, and doesn’t care any more about being desirable for a powerful man she does not desire.  She can, and should, dress and walk away. But her socialized internal gendered self, however, may scream: be nice.  And so she politely tries to indicate non-verbally, she’s not into it. He should get the hint.  But then again, his training for masculinity, toxic as it may have been, screams keep trying, that she’ll get into it eventually, if he is just seductive and persistent enough. She feels pressured, he becomes a predator. Neither plans on the transformation of a date into a #MeToo moment.

The only way out is to smash the gender structure entirely. Let’s stop arguing about whether she should have been more assertive (less girly) and walked away earlier, or whether he should have understood her signals.  It’s both/and not either/or.  Let’s stop raising masculine boys and feminine girls. Stop teaching girls to be nice, even to men who pressure them.  Stop raising boys who feel entitled to sex even if their partner is not enthusiastic. Let’s raise boys to have empathy for others, to cry when they feel pain.  Let’s raise good people, not women and men.  We must shatter gender stereotypes, including those about dating and sex. All people experience desire and arousal, seek orgasms, and love. No one should wait to be desired, nor be expected to give more then they get, whether sex or love.  Can this happen when men still hold the power outside of the bedroom? Probably not.  The male privilege deeply embedded in our gender structure must end everywhere: how we raise our children, what we expect from one another, and the distribution of power and prestige at work, in government, in Hollywood, including between the sheets.

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

Will Meghan Markle be welcomed in the royal family? The recent wedding of Markle, a biracial woman of Black and White heritage, and Prince Harry, a White male member of the British royal family, marks a social milestone. More than fifty years out from the Supreme court decision that legalized interracial marriages across all 50 states in the U.S., this wedding has inspired a new conversation about racial inclusivity infusing “bicultural Blackness” within a traditionally white elite. The celebratory tone makes sense as mixed-race couples represent 17 percent of recently married couples in the United States. This increased demographic prominence also coincides with broad based approval. According to the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of millennials say they would be “fine with a family member’s marriage” to any racial group.

But is true acceptance solely being “fine” with a racially different in-law? While crossing racial lines has reached broad-based acceptance, do mixed-race families have access to the same supports from kin as their single-race peers? Families also routinely provide a range of vital resources, such as financial help, sharing residence, or child care.

The story on this front is considerably more complicated. A new short report, authored by myself and Ellen Whitehead and recently published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, reveals that White mothers of biracial infants are less likely than White mothers with White infants to report that they can rely on friends or family for help if needed. Interestingly, differences were not uncovered for either Black or Latina mothers.

How can interracial couples experience nearly universal acceptance and be more likely to perceive isolation from family resources? First, sociologists often note that approving of something in principle does not always translate into practice. This extends to interracial marriage, as sociologists Mary Campbell and Melissa Herman identify clear differences between Whites approval of interracial marriage and their likelihood of forming interracial relationships. Whites therefore may continue to hold, while not explicitly disclosing, negative attitudes toward interracial coupling.

Beyond, the broader context of race and class inequality needs to be more central to how we talk about and understand the dynamics of racial mixing. Differences in support between Whites with biracial and single race infants reveal the endurance of a white/non-white divide that can be found in nearly every social sphere – where we live, whom we call our friends, and where we go to school. How can interracial couples seamlessly traverse boundaries that remain intact?

In addition, race does not solely divide our associations, it also divides our access to resources, significantly influencing what families may be able to give. According to Pew, Blacks and Latinx families are more than twice as likely as Whites to be poor as of 2014. This broadly aligns with findings on absent resources. While a large share of White mothers of biracial infants reported having absent resources, their levels were quite close to perceptions reported by Black and Latina mothers, nearly 30 percent of whom report that family and friends could not help them in some way if needed. White women with white (single-race) infants were the most privileged, with only 10 percent reporting lack of support.

Experiences of interracial families lie at the nexus of race and class divides. While the expansion of mixed-race family formation signals the growing normalizing of interracial coupling, how families fare is more telling in how, or if, barriers are truly crossed.

Jenifer Bratter is a full professor of sociology at Rice University.  She is a sociologist and demographer whose research explores racial mixing and its implications for unequal racial outcomes.  She has recently published articles in Journal of Marriage and Family, Ethnicity and Health, Social Science Research, and Race and Social Problems. Email her at jbratter@rice.edu

Picture by Surdumihail via pixabay

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.

Picture by Pexels via pixabay

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