Families as They Really Are

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“These are just things.”

“At least nobody was hurt.”

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

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

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

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

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 The old wobbly oak table that made it through the Depression seems cumbersome, out of style, and indicative of an outdated era when the sturdiness of putting down roots in one spot mattered more.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on scatterplot on 10/9/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it’s worth emphasizing the good news

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

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

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

More remains to be done

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

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

Not yet equal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nixon called it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My desk top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is not Greek to me.

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

Harvey Finkle Photography

You can also read an interview with Joan Maya Mazelis at CCF@TSP regarding Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor.

Approximately 47 million people in the United States live under the poverty threshold. The erosion of the public safety net has made their struggle to survive more difficult in recent decades, and cuts currently under consideration that would weaken programs which help make medical care, food, and housing affordable and accessible to the poor would worsen this.

Those in desperate poverty often have to turn to a private safety net, frequently made up of family members, to meet basic needs, as many jobs fail to pay a living wage. But in my research on people living in poverty in Philadelphia, I found that many of the most vulnerable had no family members they could turn to, which meant any crisis could lead to homelessness. Others had family ties, but those relationships were often negative, characterized by long histories of unsupportive, mistrustful behavior.

As a child, Betty (note: all names here are pseudonyms) was a victim of sexual abuse by an older male relative, and when she told her parents, they didn’t believe her. Once she reached adulthood their relationship wasn’t better. While her mother allowed Betty and her daughter to live with her for a year when they had nowhere else to go, she made Betty’s husband sleep in his van outside their home. The couple had moved to Philadelphia in part to escape this arrangement, and Betty sometimes skipped meals to ensure their daughter got enough to eat.

When Rebecca and her son were homeless, her mother and sister sought custody of her child instead of inviting her to stay with them, citing Rebecca’s lack of a place to call home as evidence of her unfitness as a parent. For CC, fleeing her abusive husband meant fleeing the only family who could provide her and her two young children a place to live. Bebe had left her abusive, violent mother who did not allow her to go to school. Her aunt wanted to help her, but was homeless herself.

In my research, I found that some desperately poor people without supportive family ties joined together in a unique organization, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). This group of and for poor people allowed many of them to provide each other the support they lacked from their families. This organization essentially substituted for family, fostering ties between members that provided housing, food, moral support, and a real sense of community. Many members built ties with one another that lasted for years, even decades.

Members often see each other as the family they never had or the one they wish they had. Pauline, who had moved to Philadelphia from out of state to live with her father and then became homeless when they had a conflict, had no other family to turn to for support when she came to the organization. She recalled: “When my family didn’t give me nowhere to stay [KWRU] did. . . .  When I came here they treated me like a family, like I was part of their little family.” James, said, “I got mad love for KWRU and KWRU family. . . . People in KWRU, I see them as like my brothers and sisters all the way around the board.”

Severe cuts in programs that help those in poverty means those who are struggling will need to lean on social ties more than ever. For those without family to rely on, KWRU served as a rare and meaningful substitute. But the organization’s ability to provide substantial help like housing weakened after its foundation grants expired in 2009. What they really require in an era of deeper needs is funding. Rather than slashing benefits to the poor and assuming family will fill the void, politicians and policy makers should make sure poor families have what is required to meet their needs—stable and affordable housing being the most fundamental among them and often the most difficult to acquire. And especially in a context of reduced government aid to the poor, organizations like KWRU need support so they can fill the voids that absent or destructive family ties create for those in very tenuous circumstances.

Joan Maya Mazelis is Associate Professor of Sociology and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University-Camden. Her book, Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, is available from NYU Press.

Reposted from CNN

Photo by jarmoluk via pixabay

In a letter to The Wall Street Journal this week, Ivanka Trump gave a robust defense of the Trump administration’s proposed paid family leave program. The Journal’s editorial board had denounced it as a government “entitlement” that “could create another disincentive for work and advancement.”

Ms. Trump indignantly denied that paid leave was an “entitlement,” a word that has become an epithet in American politics. Rather, she said, it’s “an investment in America’s working families.”

But whether consciously or not, Ms. Trump’s defense represents a stinging rebuke to the combination of lofty rhetoric and callous policies emanating from the new administration and Congress. She frankly admits that the unregulated market, hailed by so many politicians as the ultimate creator of jobs and prosperity for all, has failed “those who need these benefits the most.” She added, “The poorest, most vulnerable workers in our society get left behind” by business-provided work-family policies.

Fewer than 10 percent of individuals in the lowest 25 percent of earners have access to paid family leave. As a result, they often lose or are forced to quit their jobs after having a child. And this, Ms. Trump notes, results in far greater damage to their prospects for future work and advancement, and “a far greater cost to society over the long term,” than the government funding required to support “healthier children and parents in more tightly bonded families” with a “stronger attachment to the labor force” in the long run.

Of course, however Ms. Trump frames it, paid leave would indeed be an entitlement — and an investment. A new mother or father is entitled to paid leave; the child is entitled to bond with its parents. And government makes an investment in parents’ ability to put food on the table while they are at home and to return to work without having sacrificed their prospects for advancement.

Americans should be entitled to live in a society that invests in the jobs, education and infrastructure they need to attain a comfortable standard of living now and to be confident their children and grandchildren will have equal or greater opportunities to succeed.

Responsible businesses can help with that. But on their own, private enterprises can’t create the conditions that ensure our children get the safe drinking water, quality childcare and early education programs that make it possible for them to navigate a path to a healthy, productive life.

Ivanka Trump endorses this essential principle in her letter. We need entitlement programs that invest in and enhance our human and natural resources. Paid family leave is one. Here are others:

  • Nutrition programs, such as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps 16 million children get the food and vitamins they need for healthy brain development and school achievement. A long-term study found that low-income children whose families got food stamps were as adults much less likely than non-recipients to suffer health problems that produce disability dependence (obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes), and girls in particular were more likely to be economically self-sufficient.
  • Access to maternity care and follow-up, now under severe threat under this administration, is a tremendously cost-effective investment entitlement. A study showed that mothers of children enrolled in the Nurse Family Partnership spent less time on welfare and had significantly fewer arrests and convictions well into their 20s than the control group.
  • The Abecedarian Project, a preschool program in North Carolina, followed participants from early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood. At age 30, 75 percent of participants had worked full time for at least 16 of the previous 24 months, compared with just 53 percent of the control group. They were five times less likely to have used public assistance in the previous seven years.
  • The Michigan HighScope Perry Preschool Study compared adults at age 27 and 40 who had graduated from the preschool program with a control group that had not. By age 27, the former had half as many teen pregnancies as the control group. At age 40, they were 26 percent less likely to have received food stamps or welfare in the past 10 years and were half as likely to have served any time in jail.

Unfortunately, not only does Donald Trump’s budget fail to embrace such initiatives, but it makes massive cuts in entitlement programs that are vital investments in our human infrastructure: It calls for cuts of 25 percent to the SNAP, or food stamp, program13.5 percent to education, and 16.25 percent to health and human services.

The Senate health care bill removes the guarantee of maternity care for pregnant women. Funding for Head Start, child care assistance, job training and domestic violence prevention, as well as food safety, environmental protection, transportation and medical research are all at risk.

Now, there are in fact some policies that DO perpetuate dependency and poverty while depleting our national treasury and natural resources. But these are the very programs the current budget would expand. Under the current tax plan, the top one percent of earners would receive annual tax cuts averaging out to at least another $250,000 per household.

The extra money these lucky recipients would save per year is seven times as much as the entire annual salary of a working adult with only a high school diploma, and six times that of a worker with some college but no BA degree. So much for Trump’s promise to put the interests of less-educated workers first.

It gets worse. The 400 highest-income taxpayers — who average more than $300 million a year — would each get a tax cut of at least $15 million a year, which works out to more than five times as much as the typical college graduate earns over a lifetime, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Do we really expect this group of the very rich to create jobs or educational opportunities for the rest of us with their windfall?

Of course not. These entitlement policies for the wealthy have drastically reduced the benefits of citizenship for middle and low-income Americans alike, producing lower rates of social mobility and higher rates of poverty than in most advanced industrial countries.

So whatever differences we may have over particular policies and programs, I heartily endorse Ivanka Trump’s argument that the real test of an entitlement program is whether it is an investment in the security and prosperity of all Americans. From my point of view, that is a far better use of resources than adding to the nest eggs of the children of the super-rich, who are already quite entitled enough.

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

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