Families as They Really Are

Have you ever wondered how your living conditions might change if you moved? Maybe you have asked yourself what your living conditions are like compared to a relative or friend. The Economic Policy Institute developed a family budget calculator with answers (currently using data from 2014). The family budget calculator measures what one’s household income would need to be to achieve an adequate standard of living for 10 different family types in 618 locations across America. Essentially, this budget tool paints a picture of where families stand economically in America today.

This goes beyond personal reflection: As economist Elise Gould and colleagues explain in their accompanying report, What Families Need to Get By, “[their report] and the Family Budget Calculator itself measure(s) the income families need in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard where they live by estimating community-specific costs of housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes.”

What I can see right now. As I explored EPI’s family budget calculator I thought of some of the ways I could use it pulling on two parts of my identity, recent college graduate on the job hunt and a sociologist. As a recent graduate, I have been applying to jobs in various states and cities. EPI’s family budget calculator is a good resource for mapping out what my salary would need to be and if I would need a roommate, or two. For instance, using EPI’s calculator I found out in Washington, DC, my housing cost would be about $1,176. If I stayed in the Boston, MA, area my housing cost would be about $1,042. Looks like I’ll need a roommate either way.

How students can use this tool. It is also easy to see how this tool can be used for students in various classes. For example, it can be used to discuss public policy. One of the costs measured with the EPI family budget calculator is childcare. A policy class could compare how different state childcare policies affect a family’s budget using the EPI calculator. EPI is due to update their family budget calculator this fall, and I am looking forward to seeing what new costs they will consider. With Devos rewriting student loan forgiveness rules how might EPI measure education costs? Students especially may be interested in looking into variances in the cost of education. I start paying student loan in about a month so I know I’m curious.

EPI has even more to consider approaching the update of their family budget calculator given the current state of health care. In the 2015 update, EPI made adjustments to account for the premiums available under the Affordable Care Act. With health care up in the air as I write this, how will EPI measure this? It is a task, we all have come to understand, that is rather complicated when there is no saying what will or will not happen to health care in America. Students can take this puzzle and run with it, investigating additional concerns that will likely be on their minds—and that are relevant for understanding the social world.

But about the bigger picture. Of course, EPI made this calculator to link specific, personal cases to larger policy concerns. That’s a core activity for the “sociological imagination.” The family budget calculator points to policy questions such as what an adequate minimum wage would be, what are appropriate levels of social insurance like unemployment insurance or TANF? It offers ideas about the kinds of wages and benefits that would make private sector jobs livable for all families, too. EPI’s calculator gives students, researchers, and all with a curious mind and a family budget a good tool: Examining the impact of context reminds me of how much policy isn’t about me, but it affects me, and all of us, personally.

Megan Peterson is a 2017 graduate in sociology from Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

In light of Beyond the Stereotype: The Nurse is a Man letter to the editor and related NYT article recently, we’re revisiting this report on Gender & Society research from Girlw/Pen.

Recent headlines such as “Men, Who Needs Them?” and “Why Fathers Really Matter” showcase a growing debate about the importance of including men in discussions of gender inequality. Two new studies from Gender & Society turn attention to areas in which men have long been ignored: at home, in the study of conception, pregnancy and childbirth, and at work, in the caregiving professions—particularly nursing. New research demonstrates under what conditions men’s contributions are slowly becoming more visible and what the benefits are (and can be).

Reproduction: Let’s start at the beginning…or before the beginning, before conception

In the Gender & Society study, “More and Less than Equal: How Men Factor in the Reproductive Equation,” Yale and Princeton University researchers uncovered widely varying views of men’s contributions to reproduction. Clinicians and scientists perceive men as incredibly important when it comes to conception; equally important to women when it comes to genetics; and incredibly unimportant when it comes to pregnancy.  Even now in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, basic information about how men’s own health status matters for reproductive outcomes, such as birth defects, is lacking.

About the study. Sociologists Rene Almeling (Yale) and Miranda Waggoner (Princeton) brought together their respective studies of professionals involved with sperm banks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PHHCI). The sample includes data from Waggoner’s interviews with 57 experts involved with the CDC’s Initiative and from Almeling’s interviews with 18 people involved with sperm banks, including founders of sperm donation programs, clinicians, researchers, and staffers from four sperm banks. The investigators recognized that sperm banks are a unique site for pre-conception practices, complementing the PHHCI.

Men left out. The standard of care in preconception health is to ask “every woman, every visit” about her health and fertility intentions, but preconception researchers interviewed for this study believed it was not “feasible” to ask such questions of men. Despite giving lip service to the idea that “men are equally important” in reproduction, Almeling and Waggoner’s interviewees admitted that men’s contributions are “sometimes left out of the discussion.”

In a comprehensive analysis of research on preconception care, the study reported that a majority of journal articles did not discuss men at all or mentioned them only briefly. A striking example was in the introduction to an issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG) on preconception health. In it, the AJOG authorsdiscussed 84 different risk factors and components of preconception care. Rather than including men in categories such as alcohol or illicit drug use, they were segregated. This means that everything pertaining to men was addressed in a single catch-all category at the end labeled “men,” report Almeling and Waggoner.

Why does it matter? Almeling and Waggoner explain that medical knowledge about reproduction matters, not only for men and their children, but also for how we as a society think about reproductive responsibility. An important step is making sure that men’s contributions to reproduction—not only to conception but to successful, healthy pregnancies–are observed, tested, investigated and discussed.

Calling on the Affordable Care Act. The authors note that paying attention to how reproductive equations influence policy can suggest new and different avenues for improving public health.  Specifically, they point to the Affordable Care Act, which stipulates that women with private insurance are no longer required to pay a co-payment for a preconception health appointment.  “Excluding men from such coverage continues to obscure their role in reproduction,” argue Almeling and Waggoner.

Invisibility Continued: New Research on Nursing

One way of improving public health and men’s involvement in healthy families would be to recruit more men into nursing, so that men’s experiences, concerns, and values are more visible among the front line providers of family care. Yet only seven percent of the nurses in the United States are men, as discussed in a new study, just released online at Gender & Society.

In her Gender & Society article, “Recruiting Men, Constructing Manhood: How Health Care Organizations Mobilize Masculinities as Nursing Recruitment Strategy,”  Marci Cottingham, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Department of Social Medicine, discusses ways that health care organizations attempt to overcome the disconnect between “caring” – defined as the feminine sphere of nurses — and “curing” – defined as the masculine sphere of doctors.

Cottingham’s unique study examined the recruitment messages of healthcare organizations, including the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN). She conducted a systematic, in-depth analysis of 32 videos, brochures, and posters, as well as 286 pages of text from campaign reports, nursing webpages, and newsletters. A total of 124 men were featured in these materials. These materials included a YouTube channel dedicated to recruiting men into nursing. (Check it out to see individual men nurses discussing their perspectives on joining the profession.)

Cottingham finds that many campaigns attempt to redefine nursing in traditionally manly terms – such as an occupation that involves risk-taking, courage, and adventure. This YouTube video, promoting travel nursing, opens with men nurses engaging in extreme snowboarding and driving all-terrain vehicles as part of what travel nursing can look like.

A minority of recruitment efforts, by contrast, center on redefining manhood to encompass caring—this video highlights men’s stories of helping vulnerable people. “Encouraging men to engage in more caregiving—at work and at home—may decrease the burden of carework that typically falls on women and may increase equality between men and women,” reflects sociologist Cottingham.

Originally posted 12/3/2013

How do multiracial daters fare in a mainstream online dating website? A study presented to the Council on Contemporary Families by scholars at the University of Texas and University of Massachusetts reports that online daters prefer mixed-race over mono-racial individuals. The authors of “Dating Partners Don’t Always Prefer ‘Their Own Kind’: Some Multiracial Daters Get Bonus Points in the Dating Game” challenge the common belief that people with a white parent and a parent of a different racial-ethnic group, especially ones with a black parent, are always treated as “minorities.

Mixed Summer Flowers via RGBstock

Sociologists Celeste Curington, Ken-Hou Lin, and Jennifer Lundquist used 2003-2010 data from one of the largest dating websites in the United States to examine nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual women and men. They found that the historic preference for whites in the dating market has been replaced in some cases with a preference for multiracial individuals. Read their American Sociological Review abstract here.

Three groups received what the authors call a multiracial “dividend effect”:

  • Asian-white women got the most positive response by white and by Asian men alike. They were preferred to both mono-racial whites and Asians.
  • Asian and Hispanic women preferred Asian-white and Hispanic-white men (respectively), responding more frequently to the multiracial men than to either their co-ethnic men or to whites.​
  • White women responded the least frequently to mono-racial Asian men and to blacks, but being Asian-white bumped a man way up in white women’s preferences. They responded favorably to this group as frequently as they did to white men.

Still a persistent hierarchy: More detailed evidence in the report demonstrates further how racial barriers to dating are shifting, echoing the Pew Research Center’s report this month on the topic. Yet the authors found considerable evidence of a persistent color hierarchy—especially between blacks and whites. For example, white men and women remain less likely to respond to an individual who identifies as part black and part white than to a fellow white person. In related research, the investigators found that black women send few messages to men who are not also black but are more responsive when non-black men reach out to them, leading the authors to conclude that black women expect rejection if they initiate contacts with men of other ethnicities.

Explanations for multiracial dividend effects: “Some cases,” the authors argue, “seem to be closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness.” They also suggest that the preference of white and Asian men for white-Asian women may reflect “the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic. Likewise, Asian and Hispanic women may have been influenced by the media’s increasing portrayal of multiracial men as attractive, chic, and trendy.” Alternatively, Asian and Hispanic women may believe that a man who is part white and part Asian or Hispanic may represent an especially attractive mix of both worlds when it comes to gender and cultural norms.

Historical and demographic context: The authors propose that their findings suggest a growing blurring of romantic racial boundaries. Despite powerful historic, demographic and cultural patterns perpetuating such boundaries, the changes these authors detect may portend coming shifts in future interracial relationships.

After a U.S. history of legal prohibitions on interracial coupling that ended formally in 1967 with the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision, approval of interracial marriage has reached unprecedented highs, according to Gallup. Even so, interracial dating and marriages have increased at a slow rate, and many have demonstrated that this is related to colorism—that is the discrimination against people with darker skin and preferences for people with lighter skin—and to other institutional barriers, such as racially-based economic inequality.

At the same time, the slow and yet growing rate of interracial romance has produced a growing number of children of multiracial parentage. In 2013, according to Pew, 6.3 percent of marriages were mixed-race—nearly a quadrupling of the proportion in 1980. Ten percent of children under one (who lived with two parents) had parents of different races. As these changes lead to a growing multiracial population, is it possible that the multiracial dividend will be extended, or at least begin to counter some of the racial penalties that have existed in the dating and marriage market? Or will individuals perceived as mono-racial blacks fall even further behind?

Originally Posted 7/13/15

Families at all levels of income are struggling in our economy simply because it does not allow congenial coexistence of work and family life. Lives have become busier and busier and policies have not changed to reflect that. In her book, Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict (Harvard University Press), Heather Boushey thoughtfully and comprehensively explains the problems with work-life conflict for women. Her book presents a set of solutions, too, that could make work-life conflict a thing of the past. While the story leads with the tale of what happens to women, Boushey takes the very issues that working women with families face and shows how these dilemmas are not about being a woman, they are about economics, and are shackling our entire economy. A valuable contribution is her portrait of contrasting work-life conflicts across income groups and family composition. She uses data as a skilled economist—which is her discipline—yet builds sensitively from history and social theory in a compelling book. Ultimately, her grounded arguments deliver detailed explanations as to why family policy needs to change and change quickly. Boushey, who is Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, has decades of work bringing careful research to bear on key policy issues—and is successful at making the research and policy issues understandable to people who are really affected by the policies.

DUAL EARNING FAMILY DEPENDENCE

Boushey sets the table with locating economics in social context. The deal with capitalism is that by design the economy is ever-changing. Since the 1970s it has become heavily dependent upon women’s earnings. Families can no longer get by on the earnings of just one parent as they could before around 1979. So if our economy is so dependent upon a dual income family, then why aren’t there policies that support families’ need to manage work and family care? In Boushey’s words: “The hodgepodge of work and family policies that has evolved over the years does not address how people can have the time to deal with conflicts between work and home life” (p. 250). Finding Time explains the factors that determine what needs to change and how that change can happen.

COMPOSITION OF THE FAMILY IS CHANGING

The composition of families, Boushey reminds readers, are a lot different now than they used to be. While in the past families typically consisted of a mother, a father, and children, families now are more complex and could be classified in a burgeoning array. Single parent families make up about 27 percent of families today, for example. While in the past families could survive off of one parent being the breadwinner, that is nearly impossible now, especially for single parent families. She explains that single parent families are more likely to be low-income than families that have two (married) parents. Where are U.S. policies that make single-parent families able to thrive? Yes, they are already at a disadvantage with only one income, but policies that work will empower single parents to earn money and do the carework, which are two key things parents need to do.

WHO WILL BE THE “SILENT PARTNER” NOW?

Boushey makes a great point when she explains that women have always been the “silent partner” to businesses. Starting with the 19th century “family wage” and ending somewhere after the 1950s boom, men could go to work and not have to worry about their family because they knew their wives would be taking care of it. Businesses never had to take family into account because men never had to worry about theirs. In Boushey’s phrase, women were the “silent partners” to business. However, now that women’s incomes are key to family survival, the country is still not doing anything to lessen the burden of the work-family conflicts. Meanwhile, businesses reap benefits from having more capable workers in a larger labor pool, for whom wages are stagnant.

HOW CAN WE BE HERE, THERE, PROVIDE CARE, AND MAKE SURE ITS FAIR?

Women do not have a “silent partner.” But Boushey has a recommendation to fix this. She found that there is not one sure-fire way to fix the work-life conflict that families are facing. She argues that we need solutions in four areas that she calls Here, There, Care, and Fair.

Here: Policies for when women need to be Here (in the home). These policies include paid sick leave for medical needs and other time that would need to be spent with children.

There: Policies to make sure that the amount of hours that women are working leaves room for managing their family so that they do not always need to be There (at work).

Care: Policies regarding high-quality Care for children and aging family members.

Fair: Overall, policies need to be fair for everyone. This means that no matter what your income or familial composition is, you are still afforded the same work-family policies and no added responsibilities should hinder that.

Not only would adding this support make it less stressful for families to balance work and life, but such supports decrease costly turnover rates and increase productivity.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Women (and men!) need family policy as our silent partner to help us provide for our families. The “family policy” men had in the past was a housewife—and this policy is out of date. The economy has grown with the growth of women’s participation in the work force. It is time, Boushey demonstrates, that this growth should extend to benefits for women and their familial responsibilities.

This book was a great read. Along with clear explanations of economic concepts, Boushey uses her personal experience growing up in a working-class, union family in Washington State along with her knowledge of economics and history to show that to grow our economy and bring us out of the doldrums, working women need family-friendly policies. As a young woman looking ahead to a life of work-life conflict, I gained clarity and direction for my own work. Work-life conflict is a topic that needs recognition and Boushey is helping to spread knowledge and awareness. Boushey’s book still left me wondering how race may factor into this work-life conflict, maybe in a future addition we will be given some insight!

Originally posted 7/29/2016

Molly McNulty is a former CCF public affairs intern at Framingham State University. She graduated in May, 2017, as a Sociology and Education major.

east view of the Bastille, via wikimedia.

It is still June, still “wedding month,” still the month of Bastille Day, too. Here’s a revisit to a GirlwPen column from a few years ago.

Mary Wollstonecraft, a founding grandmother of liberal feminism who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), focused on how to improve the status of women (middle-class, white British women, that is) by revising education and transforming marriage. She writes of love,

Love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation take place of choice and reason, is, in some degree, felt by the mass of mankind; for it is not necessary to speak, at present, of the emotions that rise above or sink below love. This passion, naturally increased by suspense and difficulties, draws the mind out of its accustomed state, and exalts the affections; but the security of marriage, allowing the fever of love to subside, a healthy temperature is thought insipid, only by those who have not sufficient intellect to substitute the calm tenderness of friendship, the confidence of respect, instead of blind admiration, and the sensual emotions of fondness.

Down with romance, says Wollstonecraft. To liberate women and men, marriage should be stripped of passion. She argued, in effect, that doing so would offset the way that marriage starts as a cartoon of manly men adoring delicate women of great beauty and not much more (because of the limits of women’s education that Wollstonecraft deplored). To wit, the hero of her unfinished novel, Maria; or the Wrongs of Woman, is remembered above all for her line, “marriage has bastilled me for life.” (Bastille being the 1790s equivalent of Occupy today.)

Now to my story: Today [9/30/2012] in the New York Times, Matt Richtel develops his thought experiment for how to liberate marriage from that bastille experience. He proposes to a set of family researchers the notion of a 20-year marriage contract in “Till Death, or 20 Years, Do Us Part.”

Seems like everyone he interviewed thought marriage—and ideas about marriage—could use some revision. Pepper Schwartz ripely noted, “We’re remarkably not innovative about marriage even though almost all the environmental conditions, writ large, have changed…We haven’t scrutinized it. We’ve been picking at it like a scab, and it’s not going to heal that way.” The upshot was that marriage still is Occupied, and in important ways a prison for our imaginations.

My own proposal focused on getting rid of a lot of marriage fantasies that are represented in the commercial hype around marriage—very Wollstonecraft-ish, right? There might be something to that: wedding hype seems to bring out a lot of the gender cartoons that Wollstonecraft railed against. But is that anti romantic? Not in the way that I mean it.

I don’t think that getting rid of old-school marriage fantasies means not being romantic, not being hopeful, not being tender, committed, loyal, tolerant of bad days, exuberant about good days. What interests me are ways to cultivate romance and commitment in a context where partners recognize that the choice to participate in marriage, to remain, day in and day out, is something that makes it more fantastic, not less. Marriage, in this view, becomes mindful. And the reality is that marriage is a choice day in and day out, for a lot of reasons cogently reviewed in Matt Richtel’s column.

Same-sex partners, who until recently haven’t had access to marriage, have often been forced to forge more imaginative, more mindful unions. Now, as we edge towards marriage equality, everyone gets to see unions that take the sweet traditions of marriage, the fun, the legitimacy, and the somber commitment of it, but perhaps less often encumbered with the baggage of the bastille Wollstonecraft spoke of in heterosexual marriage.

As for me: I’m not married. When I was married, my vows included none of that “till death do you part” stuff; instead we pledged to remain interesting to each other. And we did. Till the day my husband died. And then some.

-Virginia Rutter

Photo by Zazzle via pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Marko Lovric via pixabay

When a person is sent to prison they leave a community behind. And few of the studies of mass incarceration in the U.S. examine the prison system and families. Consider, for example, how incarceration triggers the termination of an incarcerated parent’s parental rights.

What is the extent of the problem? Data on the punitive impact of child welfare policies on families of incarcerated parents are either overly broad or just plain old and outdated. For example, some of the most recent research states that there are between 29,000 and 51,000 children in foster care who have incarcerated parents. But seek more information and the picture gets hazy. More research, even just constructing a database from data kept in separate state systems, would help.

I discovered this when I started to study the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act. From 1995, before the Act, to 2004 adoption rates in the U.S. doubled. This may be due to the financial incentives offered by the federal government to states that had increased their number of adoptions. But the provision in the Act stating that if a child has been in state care (i.e. foster care) for 15 of the last 22 months the state must move to terminate the parent’s parental rights has had a harsh effect on incarcerated parents, leading to untold numbers of family termination.

You see, non-incarcerated parents (“outsiders”) have access to exemptions to the time-based termination provisions. For instance, outsiders, who can regularly visit their child, are empowered to use that as evidence of connection. But incarcerated parents are not in control of whether or not they see their child.

The Act’s time limit provisions that trigger adoption were passed at the same time that incarceration rates were growing. The War on Drugs that began in the 1970’s turned drug abuse, which was once a public health issue, into a law enforcement issue. Cue the rise of mandatory minimums. In the early years of mandatory minimums, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (a drug that happened to be more common in low-income areas, which often have a large minority population) got you a minimum of five years.

Today, under federal policy 100 grams of a substance containing heroin results in a mandatory minimum of five years. However, if a defendant meets certain criteria (e.g. fully cooperated with the government and is a first time offender, etc.) they could get a reduced sentence. Yet, even a reduced sentence would still be between twenty-four to thirty months. If parental rights are challenged when a child is in state care 15 of the last 22 months, and the mandatory minimum is five years (24 to 30 months if you’re lucky) what chances have these policies given families?

As of March 2016 2.3 million people were in some form of corrections facility in the United States. New policies, aiming to create more reasonable sentencing laws, have been introduced in Congress such as the Mandatory Minimum Act of 2015. However, such bills still need to get through the House, the Senate, and the President. Given the uncertainty of the President elect’s intentions, and the clear racial animosity he and his coalition have displayed throughout his campaign, sentencing reform is now precarious. Meanwhile families remain and continue to become separated. Early commentary suggests that sentencing reform is dead. My question is what steps, if any, will we take to help mend the families separated due to the combination of The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and unabated mass incarceration? Because it is clear that mass incarceration is family policy.

Megan Peterson is a 2017 graduate in sociology from Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

Fact Sheet via diversitydatakids.org

The birth or adoption of a child, the serious illness of a parent, one’s own health emergency. There are health and medical occasions, both joyous and difficult, which require workers to take time off to care and heal. Yet not all people can take the time they need.

Nearly all industrialized nations recognize the necessity of time by guaranteeing paid family and medical leave. The U.S. does not. Paid family and medical leave policy provides extended partially paid time off from work in the event of workers’ own or a close family member’s serious medical condition. A growing number of U.S. workers have access to paid family and medical leave from state or local polices or through their employers. However, most workers do not have access to any paid family or medical leave.

Although the U.S. lacks national paid family and medical leave policy, it does have national unpaid leave. In 1993 the U.S. passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an important law which guarantees twelve weeks of unpaid family and medical leave for qualifying employees who need to provide care for themselves or a close family member.

In the event they need to take family and medical leave, the FMLA provides eligible employees with two primary protections: retention of health insurance (if insurance is provided by the employer) and job protection, meaning that upon return from leave employees are restored to the same or an equivalent position. A key caveat of the FMLA is that most workers do not meet the eligibility requirements necessary to gain access to these protections. At diversitydatakids.org, our research finds that that less than half (45 percent) of all workers (including the self-employed) are eligible for FMLA and that there are inequities in eligibility.

Beyond eligibility, for many families, forgoing pay for up to 12 weeks, even in the midst of serious health needs, is highly unrealistic. Workers may rely on sick days, vacation time, or other types of paid time off, but not all workers have access to these benefits, which are not designed to provide workers with extended time off. Research shows that the financial cost of family and medical leave is a primary barrier workers face as they make leave choices.

Our new fact sheet from diversitydatakids.org explores how paid family and medical leave policy could reduce cost barriers to leave for U.S. working families. This research answers several important questions related to the affordability of family and medical leave.

How much does unpaid family and medical leave cost families in the event they need it?

Taking unpaid family and medical leave, in the event that it is needed, results in a large financial burden for families. Six weeks of unpaid family and medical leave results in a 27 percent loss of family income over a three-month period (i.e. quarterly income) for U.S. full-year workers. The financial shock of family and medical leave is even greater if a worker needs to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave: on average he/she loses well over half of quarterly family income.

Are there alternatives to unpaid family and medical leave that could be implemented in the U.S.?

As an alternative to national unpaid family and medical leave that would bring the U.S. in line with other industrialized nations, the U.S. could offer paid leave through a social insurance policy approach (similar to the approach taken by Social Security programs). Employers and workers would jointly finance an insurance fund which workers would then draw from if they experienced a qualifying health condition and needed to take family and medical leave. While on leave, workers would receive partial wage replacement (maximums would be set for both the benefit amount and the number of weeks of leave). While social insurance does impose a cost on employers in addition to employees, studies of existing state paid family and medical leave insurance programs have found minimal perceived negative impact on businesses.

As proposed in pending federal legislation, a paid family and medical leave social insurance approach that based eligibility on the parameters set by Social Security Disability Insurance would increase eligibility rates for paid leave in the U.S. to 89 percent of the working-age population.

How would paid family and medical leave help families?

Currently four states and the District of Columbia have paid leave insurance laws. If we apply the New Jersey family and medical leave policy to U.S. workers (66 percent wage replacement up to a maximum of $633 per week) income losses would be reduced by half. Rather than lose 27 percent of income for six weeks of unpaid family and medical leave during a three month period, families would lose just 12 percent. Loss of income for 12 weeks of family and medical leave would be reduced from 55 percent of quarterly family income to 23 percent of family income. For middle-income workers the benefits of paid family and medical leave are even greater: it would reduce affordability constraints by almost two-thirds.

Public Policy Options

Recent public opinion surveys indicate broad public support for a social insurance paid leave policy in the U.S.: over three quarters of voters support a federal law establishing a fund that would offer all workers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Paid family and medical leave is a popularly supported program and there is pending legislation in the U.S. Senate that would establish a family and medical leave insurance program to provide for families in times of health crises.

People need support to maintain employment during health crises or when they become parents; it’s about time the U.S. provides it.

Maura Baldiga is a Research Associate and Pamela Joshi is Associate Director and Senior Scientist at the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Their research focuses on family economic security and access to work and family policies.  

Barbara Risman via UIC.

A debate about just how gender progressive Millennials are has been created by a CCF online symposium. In it, Joanna Pepin and David Cotter report that attitudes toward gender equality are not always consistent: There are different trends in attitudes toward gender equality for the public world of work and the private world of the family. They suggest that while Millennials’ attitudes toward women’s rights in the world of work remain feminist, they are less likely to support equality at home than did the last generation. They use nationally representative data from surveys of high school seniors to support their argument.

We use different data and replicate their argument about the complexity of gender attitudes. But we find no evidence that Millennials are moving backward on their commitment to gender equality. Our analysis is based on attitudinal survey questions on gender questions in the General Social Survey pooled from 1977 to 2014. We then draw on just released 2016 data from the same survey to illustrate the results about Millennials today. In the analysis using data from 1977 to 2014, we measure attitudes toward women in the public sphere with a question that asked whether men are better suited emotionally for politics than are women. We measure attitudes towards women’s role in families with three questions: Is it better if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family; whether a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work; and whether a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.

We use a different method than did Pepin and Cotter. We let social groups emerge empirically from the data, without pre-determining who would show up in each group (statisticians call this latent class analysis). We label the groups based on their answers to these questions about gender equality and then describe what kinds of people hold what attitudes. We traced the kinds of people in each group over decades and can describe them by race, educational status and sex. Our analysis confirms that there are indeed distinct differences between gender attitudes toward equality in the public sphere and equality within families. But we show this is not a new split. It’s one that is decades old, and our results suggest the split emerged by the 1990s.

Three major groups were formed by how people’s answers clustered (see Table 1). There were egalitarians who approved of equality in the workplace and the home. There were traditionalists who rejected equality in both the workplace and the family. And then there were the ambivalents who approved of gender equality in the workplace but not in the family. (In our actual analyses each of these groups was furthered divided into those with strong beliefs and those with moderate beliefs and the table below is presented to show that distinction.)

Where have all the Traditionals gone? The big historical story is that there are no more traditionalists. From 1977 to about 1990, about a third of Americans were traditionalists and did not believe women and men should have the same rights and opportunities at work or at home. In that era, there were almost no ambivalents. Everyone was either traditional or egalitarian. But what changed after 1990 was that the traditionalists became ambivalents. That is, by the early 1990s those who used to reject equality totally had accepted women’s right to equality at work but still resisted equality in the family. Americans who have a carte-blanche objection to gender equality in both the workplace and the home have become almost extinct. Score one big win for the feminist revolution. But the victory is partial because those traditionals have not become egalitarians, they have become ambivalents, and this is a reminder that feminist have much work to do before everyone believes in gender equality within the family.

Table 1. Are Millennials Rejecting the Gender Revolution?

(Authors’ Analysis from General Social Survey data, 1977-2014.)

Our next step was to analyze what demographic characteristics were more likely to be associated with being egalitarians vs. ambivalent for each year in the data from 1991 to 2014. We do not include traditionals here because they are almost extinct. To do this, we conducted a multinomial logit latent class regression (the analysis is available upon request). Millennials are as likely to be egalitarians as the generation immediately before them (often called Gen X). We find no retreat from equality but also no statistically significant change toward feminist attitudes among Millennials. Rather, attitudes have leveled off. The biggest generational shifts remain between Baby Boomers and their parent’s generation.

While Americans who believe in gender equality in the workforce but not at home still exist, they are most likely to be pre-Baby-boomer men, without a college education. In the General Social Survey data we find no evidence that Millennials have ambivalence to gender equality, nor that they are more likely to endorse traditional family forms than those in the past. We illustrate this argument with a descriptive summary of the data from the year 2016 (in Figure 1).

Conclusion. The traditionalist who believes women do not belong in the public sphere is now a dinosaur. Almost no one in American society believes women do not deserve equality in the public sphere. But those traditionals did not become egalitarians, rather they held on to traditional beliefs about women’s place in the family.

This is not a new story. The big swing toward more egalitarian attitudes toward women in the family can be traced to the era of the Second Wave of feminism. Our evidence shows that while Baby Boomers were the pioneering feminist birth cohort who experienced a generation gap with their own parents, those after them have inherited egalitarian attitudes but have not pushed the envelope, at least not as represented in this national dataset. Still, there is no evidence in these data of a backward slide among Millennials. It is the oldest generation, the parents of Baby Boomers, who remain the most likely to be ambivalent about gender change. These national survey data suggest that Millennials may not be pushing boundaries on gender attitudes but they do continue the slow march trend toward egalitarianism that Baby Boomers began.

Originally posted 4/18/2017

Barbara J. Risman is Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and President of the Board of the Council on Contemporary Families. Ray Sin is a behavioral science researcher at Morningstar Inc. and a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. William Scarborough is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

At college graduation season, when grad ceremonies involve messages to honor and appreciate the parents, we revisit Laura Hamilton on some of the trolling of those parents that can occur.

Move-in day at four-year residential colleges and universities around the U.S. marks a parenting milestone. But what happens next? Although most parents of college students do not have an embodied presence on their child’s dormitory floor, some provide so much financial, emotional, and logistical support that it seems they never left.

The media refers to these parents as “helicopters” and they are among the most reviled figures of 21st century parenting (see this recent Washington Post article for an example). They are derided as pesky interlopers in the postsecondary system, who unnecessarily intervene with university programming, test the patience of college officials, and create needy students. Because intensive parenting is a task that falls mostly on the shoulders of women, many critiques also have a mother-blaming bent.

Do involved parents burden the university? In Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College Women’s Success, I followed 41 families as their children moved through a public flagship university between the years of 2004 and 2009. I conducted a year of ethnographic observation in a women’s residence hall, interviewed both mothers and fathers, and conducted five years of annual interviews with their daughters.

The university I studied, like many other public schools, lacked the deep pockets and rich resources of elite privates. Rather than evading helicopters, the school actively cultivated a partnership with involved parents. Out-of-state parents were considered a real asset, as they were typically both affluent and well-educated. In the face of steep state budget cuts and mounting accountability pressures, the institution relied on parents to fill numerous financial, advisory, and support functions. It is not unique in adopting such a strategy.

Net tuition now rivals state and local appropriations as the primary funder of public higher education. In this equation, parents become a crucial source of funds. Four-year schools also structure their classes, activities, and living options around traditional students and expect parents to do the work of maintaining them. Many parents in the middle to top stratum of the class structure readily accept these tasks. They have come to believe that a college experience is something that “good” parents offer, no matter the cost.

The sheer diversity of academic and social options on today’s college campuses means that there are many ways for students make costly mistakes. Yet, as advisor to student ratios steadily rise, tailored advice is typically not coming from public university staff. Students are expected to seek guidance from home. Affluent, well-educated parents—typically mothers—dive headlong into the roles of academic advisor, career counselor, therapist, and life coach. They have flexible careers that allow for emergency visits, a savvy understanding of higher education, the ability to interface with university staff, and money to smooth over every hurdle.

Parents even help translate college degrees into jobs. Elite companies look for markers of status that parents cultivate in their children—for example, skill in upper-class extracurricular activities, a narrative of self-actualization, and delicately honed interactional skills. Universities rely on families to embed these traits, as the degree alone is not enough to get a good job. Internship and job placement services are also outsourced to parents, who craft resumes, tap their networks for opportunities, and enable moves to urban locations.

This arrangement takes a toll on all families. Adults extend parenting responsibilities further into their own life course, undermining their own financial security and draining emotional and psychological reserves. There is also some truth to the notion that the helicoptered children are slow to adapt to adulthood; their academic success can come at the cost of self-development in other spheres.

But families of modest means stand to lose the most ground. University outsourcing to parents increases the salience of family background for academic and career success, exacerbating existing inequities. Well-resourced parents are advantaged when parental labor is built into the very form and function of the university. They can out-fund, out-strategize, and out-network the competition. In contrast, less privileged parents are reliant on what the university offers. They are often deeply disappointed.

The helicopter parent blame game distorts the real issue: Public universities are growing dependent on private family resources for their existence. As parents become more central to the operation of higher education, the social mobility mission of the mid-20th century public university gradually slips away.

Laura T. Hamilton is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Hamilton’s new book, Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College and Beyond, was recently released by the University of Chicago Press. In this book, Hamilton vividly captures the parenting approaches of mothers and fathers as their daughters move through Midwest U and into the workforce.