Families as They Really Are

The Council on Contemporary Families Gender and Millennials Online Symposium presents research on how Millennial men and women are changing—and how they are not changing. Countering the recent trend of ignoring inconvenient facts, this symposium makes it clear that attitudes about gender equality are more complex than either supporters or opponents of feminism often admit. Here’s a quick review of the brief reports.

The Council on Contemporary Families released a Gender and Millennials Online Symposium revealing that young adults have become less supportive of gender equality at home over the past two decades—though not in Europe, where work/family policies are more generous. Yet the benefits of egalitarian marriages, for both partners, have increased during the same time frame.

In this eight-part series, there’s the old news: women and men are more likely to endorse gender equality than ever—and they live lives that express that. Then there’s the not-so-old news: progress toward gender equality has slowed since the 1990s. Some call it a stall. And there’s new news: youthful gender attitudes are more variable than we thought, and at least among younger Millennials, a continued endorsement of equality at work has been accompanied by a dip in support for equality at home. And therein lies the complex set of reports that comprise the Council on Contemporary Families Gender and Millennials Online Symposium, released March 31.

The keynote essay, “Trending Towards Traditionalism? Changes in Youths’ Gender Ideology,” by sociologists Joanna Pepin (University of Maryland) and David Cotter (Union College), reports that when it comes to work and politics, young adults are increasingly egalitarian. But when it comes to home life, the 40-year-long move toward gender equality has stopped or reversed in recent years.

The trends: Specifically, Pepin and Cotter report:

  • In 1994, 42 percent of high-school seniors felt that the best family was one where the man was the outside achiever and the woman took care of the home. In 2014 this had gone up to 58 percent.
  • In 1994, 48 percent of high school seniors said a mother who works cannot establish as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work. In 2014, the share disagreeing went up to about 60 percent.

While young people endorse at rates of 90 percent or higher the idea that men and women should be equal at work, Pepin and Cotter see a trend in greater traditionalism at home. They call this “egalitarian essentialism”—a concept that seems to go a long way in describing the complex trends in gender attitudes presented today. In her overview essay “CCF Gender and Millennials Online Symposium: Overview,” historian Stephanie Coontz defines egalitarian essentialism as combining “a commitment to equality of opportunity with the belief that men and women typically choose different opportunities because men are ‘inherently’ better suited to some roles and women to others.” Coontz explains, “Egalitarian essentialism assumes that as long as women are not prevented from choosing high-powered careers, or forced out of them upon parenthood, their individual choices are freely made and are probably for the best.”

Nika Fate-Dixon identifies similar trends among young people in the 18-25 age group, using data collected since 1977. In “Millennials Rethinking the Gender Revolution? Long-Range Trends in Views of Non-Traditional Roles for Women,” she found that by 1994, 84 percent disagreed with the claim that a woman’s place was in the home. In 2014, however, the percent disagreeing had dropped to three-quarters. While Pepin and Cotter found that the backtracking on gender equality occurred among both men and women high-school seniors, Fate-Dixon found a sharp and growing gender gap among people in their early 20s. As noted below, this was a clear trend through 2014, but the 2016 GSS data no longer follow this pattern. Researchers await more results and analyses.

Politics: Young people—ages 18-30—were by far the strongest supporters of Clinton over Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. However, according to Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg’s “How Gender Mattered to Millennials in the 2016 Election and Beyond,” only 25 percent of the women Millennial voters and 15 percent of the Millennial men identified as feminists. Furthermore, Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director of Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), Millennials’ support for Clinton in 2016 was ten percentage points lower than their vote for Obama in 2008, further evidence for a dip in enthusiasm for gender equality.

Other political research presented by political scientist Dan Cassino (Fairleigh Dickinson University) in “Some men feel the need to compensate for relative loss of income to women. How they do so varies” suggests that some men have reacted negatively to women’s economic gains. During the primaries, male voters who were reminded of women’s growing economic clout became markedly less likely to express a preference for Hillary Clinton. When Cassino studied men who had actually lost income relative to their wives, however, Republicans and Democrats reacted in different ways. Men who were Democrats became more liberal as their share of household earnings fell, while Republican men became more conservative.

Married life: In “A View From Above: How Structural Barriers to Sharing Unpaid Work at Home May Lead to “Egalitarian Essentialism” in Youth,” Dan Carlson, assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, suspects that this backsliding on gender equality is less a product of gender threat than it is due to the absence of work/family policies that make domestic equality possible. Since the 1990s, the historically higher risk of divorce for couples where the wife earns more than her husband has disappeared. And these days, in contrast to the past, couples in which husband and wife equally divide family chores and child-rearing now report higher marital and sexual satisfaction than more traditional couples. Carlson suggests that support for domestic equality continues to strengthen among children of dual-earners when they have access to family-friendly work policies, but that youth who have seen their parents overwhelmed by economic and time pressures may have gotten discouraged.

Research on European countries—where social supports for families are stronger—backs Carlson up. Using European public opinion surveys, Professor Jan Van Bavel (University of Leuven) found no dips in egalitarianism related to home life or work life in “The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and the Continued Push towards Gender Equality.” He writes, “In the more recent round of the European Social Survey, in 2010, the responses tended to be less conservative and more gender egalitarian than six years earlier, in 2004.”

Well, maybe “Millennials” isn’t such a great category. In “The Use and Abuse of Millennials as an Analytic Category,” sociologist Frank Furstenberg (University of Pennsylvania) warns against over-generalizations about such a diverse group as the Millennials. He argues that the 18-to-25-year-olds interviewed in 2014 are not really comparable to those interviewed in 1994: They are far less likely to be married or employed in permanent jobs than this age group 20 or 40 years earlier. In her overview essay, historian Coontz notes that CCF Board President Barbara Risman’s research supports this warning against stereotyping a generation. In Risman’s interviews with Millennials for a forthcoming book, she was struck by the contradictory expectations about gender and family life expressed even within a single conversation. Furstenberg and Van Bavel suggest that as youths enter married life, and especially if they gain access to family-friendly work policies, they may well change their views. But Pepin and Cotter warn that this is by no means inevitable.

Update: After this symposium was released last Friday, 2016 data from the General Social Survey became available. The latest numbers show a sharp rebound in young men’s disagreement with the claim that male-breadwinner families are superior. GSS two-year trends are exceptionally volatile, due to the small size of the sample, and the overall decade averages still confirm a rise in traditionalism among 18-to-25-year-olds since the 1990s. But the new data shows that this rise is no longer driven mainly by young men, as it appeared to be in the General Social Survey results from 1994 through 2014. Other evidence for a Millennial gender gap still stands, so stay tuned for more updates on this moving target.

Originally prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials March 31, 2017. Previously posted at Famillies as They Really Are on April 5, 2017. 

This column was prepared for CCF by Virginia Rutter, Professor of Sociology, Framingham State University, and Megan Peterson, CCF Public Affairs and Social Media Intern, Framingham State University.

Look on Pinterest, on the front page of the newspaper, and even in our own hands as we scroll through social media feeds on our smartphones: the importance of our home objects is everywhere. I see bestselling books about how to make getting rid of our things (category by category, that is – preferably starting with those seven extra crates of shoes) joyful. I notice how there is a whole host of professions, self-help manuals, and even TV shows dedicated to dealing with the hoarding of home stuff. I see tragic reports of lead-poisoned water coming out of kitchen sinks and into cups that children drink from. I see commentary on how Millennials and Gen Xers don’t want their parents’ heirloom furniture (unless it is midcentury modern, that is). And I come across countless articles and concomitant comments articulating competing sides of the “should our kids have smartphones” debate.

As a sociologist who dabbles in anthropology, consumer studies, science and technology studies, and art and design research, I also see some important social patterns worth investigating that stem precisely from the aforementioned things. Namely:

Should we be minimalists or hoarders, especially since our stuff affects individual well-being, a family’s materialism, and even the environment? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of our values and our identities.

Which families have access to clean water? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of social inequalities.

Are our children (and us, for that matter) controlled by our objects? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of the power of objects over us, and the norms and rules in our everyday lives that we establish to deal with them.

Is all of this “stuff about stuff” about more than just psychological differences in tastes and lifestyles? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of group differences in taste, spatial arrangements, and desires for certain kinds of cherished objects that signify who we are.

In my research and teaching, I pay attention to values, identities, inequalities, the power of objects, bodies, the border between public and private, and how we relate to each other as large groups. As a homeowner and lifelong fan of home décor, I pay attention to what our objects and spaces – our material culture – say about our non-material culture.

In The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives, I pay attention to both the social underpinnings of family life as told through spaces and objects, and to the aesthetics of the spaces and objects themselves. In addition to highlighting my own research from the last two decades, I also throw in some stories about my family that I have been assured are only a little bit embarrassing.

If you read the book, you’ll take a tour of several rooms in a hypothetical home – one room per chapter – each of which loosely connects to a family life stage (from college dorm rooms to master suites, from living rooms to kitchens, from separate bedrooms in two separated parents’ homes to communal dining rooms). In each room I highlight not only what we need to know about contemporary families, but also how two objects found within that room signify and shape family roles, relationships, and inequalities.

And so, if you’ve ever wanted to read the story of contemporary family life as told through LEGO, stuffed animals, family photo albums, smartphones, heirloom dishes, power tools, and even love letters, you may enjoy reading this book and then putting it on your bookshelf next to your other cherished objects.

Michelle Janning is Professor of Sociology at Whitman College and Chair, Council on Contemporary Families. Her book The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives was released this week from Rowman &  Littlefield.

photo credit: Marc Nozell via wikimedia commons.

It is a National Day of Prayer, and we are near the six-month mark since the presidential election. As such, we revisit Sarah Diefendorf’s reflections on visiting a brainstorming and prayer meeting the day after the election.

The night after the presidential election, I went to a “brainstorming and prayer” session held in an evangelical church where I am conducting research. Church members felt it was important to come together in a season of transition for the church and the nation, both of which are experiencing a change in leadership. I sat in a circle of parishioners, notebook and pen in my lap. The first person to speak was a retired aeronautical engineer. The white, straight, 65 year-old veteran sighed in relief and bowed his head as he said “I can sleep again at night now.”

Church members discussed renewed feelings of job security. They prayed for those within their church and for the empty seats they would soon fill. They rejoiced in their happiness for what is happening in the country. One woman prayed, “We can elect a pastor, and we can elect a president, but we already have a KING.” None of the conversations focused on Trump’s religious values. Trump’s appeal lay in his secular ability to advocate for them so that they can, in turn, continue to do the work important to them as active evangelicals.

Their prayers and hopes for the next four years reminded me of Arlie Hochschild’s recent work in rural Louisiana, where she uncovered what she calls the deep story of disenfranchised rural tea-party supporters. She suggests that Donald Trump might provide what she calls a “secular rapture” for many in the United States who feel as though their economic and social world is changing. Hochschild argues that the sense of being invisible and forgotten she witnessed among white working and middle-class individuals might indeed be a major factor in Trump’s appeal.

President-elect Donald Trump had the largest share of evangelical votes of any presidential candidate. My current research suggests that members of the evangelical community feel as though they live in a different world than many of us—a world in which they perceive themselves as losing their voice (see here, here, and here). Given those feelings of disenfranchisement, what appeal did a presidential candidate with unclear, and often seemingly un-Christian values hold?

I ask this question as a nonreligious individual researching evangelicals—I think many others ask it too. People ask me what it is like to be a woman, a feminist academic, and nonreligious in these spaces, spaces in which evangelizing is the point. My first response to those queries is that my gender identity does not matter much to those I study. My religious identity—and lack of one—matters much more to them. The reason for the salience of my nonreligious identity is perhaps similar to the reasons we saw such a large evangelical voter turnout.

In my larger research project on gender and sexuality within the evangelical church, I find evidence for what I call an imagined secular heterosexuality. Members of this church community discuss and debate married life and family life in relation to, and against, what they perceive to exist in an outside secular world. These conversations transcend concerns and understandings of life in the home. As an outside member of the secular world, I am seen not only as a researcher, but also as someone who can bridge a gap between their world and the secular world in which they no longer feel they have a voice.

There’s overlap between what I call the imagined secular and what Hochschild predicted as a secular rapture. Both terms highlight a strongly felt divide in the United States. Where evangelicals feel they are living in a separate world—one in which their economic, political, and social needs and beliefs are silenced—Trump may provide the voice they want back. And whether we speak of tea party supporters in rural Louisiana or ardent evangelicals in suburban Washington state, we must attend to the intersections of whiteness, religion, and felt disenfranchisement to understand the evangelical voter turnout we witnessed, and what that turnout now means for the upcoming moral, religious and political debates our country faces.

Originally posted 11/9/16

Sarah Diefendorf is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington, where she researches constructions of gender and sexuality in religious communities. You can find more of her work here: www.sarahdief.com

The American value of individualism affects us all, but what happens when you are not able to express that value? This is a dilemma for older people subject to stereotypes of dependency. They face special challenges in striving for this ideal and feeling comfortable enough to accept help so that they can remain self-sufficient. In my last post, I explored some reasons why older people may not want to move in with their families. Given these cultural pressures, how do elders living on their own negotiate their need for care and autonomy?

Programs like Meals on Wheels help older people remain independent in their homes. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

Polls consistently show that older adults and aging baby boomers want to “age in place”—or remain in their homes independently for as long as possible. This arrangement, desired by ordinary people as a means of preserving autonomy and by policy makers who view this as a cost effective alternative to nursing homes, requires that seniors—often in conjunction with their families—patch together creative ways to support their independence.

The day-to-day managing of routine tasks like grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, and household chores, usually necessitates a little help from a supportive web that includes family, friends, neighbors, and social service agencies. Family may help older relatives with chores, coordinate medical appointments, and pay for supplemental help when possible. Network studies have found that friends are especially good at providing emotional support and a sympathetic ear when life’s travails require someone to bear witness. And neighbors can pitch in with practical help, such as picking up a few things from the store when an older person has trouble leaving the house. For years I have observed how eighty-year-old Joe’s next-door neighbor has served as his link to the outside world whenever his swollen ankles and knees leave him homebound. She brings him a copy of The Daily News and groceries whenever he needs a few days to mend.

Beyond kin and friendship networks, senior centers provide a range of services to community-dwelling elders, though they are also usually the first candidates for budget cuts. A few older people I’ve met over the years regularly took advantage of the cheap but nutritious meals offered daily by a local senior center for a dollar, which saved them the hassle of cooking for one and the cost of eating out but also provided a little companionship. Nonprofit organizations that serve older adults, such as the Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA), offer comprehensive access to services that help older people deal with the challenges of living alone in an expensive, gentrified city like New York, including benefits screening for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. As I walked past a Midtown Manhattan food pantry the other day and saw the line stretching a half-block long, filled with mostly Asian and Latino elders and their shopping carts waiting for donated potatoes, rice, and canned vegetables, I was reminded again of how crucial these stop gaps are for those struggling to remain independent in old age.

But in some cases, elders may go too far in keeping their family at bay due to fears of losing their independence if they reveal their physical or financial challenges. In my own research, I’ve found that some people feel so threatened by the prospect of moving in with family (or worse, a nursing home) and ashamed of asking for help that they sometimes go to great lengths to cover up health issues and other difficulties. It’s often only after a crisis that families learn of mounting problems. For example, after 83-year-old Dottie ended up hospitalized for a heart attack her daughter discovered that she had not seen a doctor besides her podiatrist for several years. In the absence of regular medical care, Dottie had improvised her own self-care measures such as weighing down a shopping cart with telephone books for support when she walked, rather than using a cane or walker. When Theresa, in her mid-70s, fell and twisted her ankle, her family discovered the severity of her dementia, which had eroded her ability to tell time and remember dates. Afterwards, she moved closer to where her brother lived.

How can we support elders so that reaching out for help doesn’t pose a threat to independence but rather ensures that a bad situation doesn’t get worse or become an unnecessary crisis? Perhaps the first step is recognizing that none of us can do it alone and that at every age we achieve self-reliance by drawing on a mix of social resources and supports.

Originally posted 8/4/14

Stacy Torres is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and associate at the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

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.

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 (brisman@uic.edu, @bjrisman). 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.

Photo by paulbr75 via pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Council on Contemporary Families Gender and Millennials Online Symposium presents new research on how Millennial men and women are changing—and how they are not changing. Countering the recent trend of ignoring inconvenient facts, this symposium makes it clear that attitudes about gender equality are more complex than either supporters or opponents of feminism often admit. Here’s a quick review of the brief reports.

The Council on Contemporary Families has released a Gender and Millennials Online Symposium revealing that young adults have become less supportive of gender equality at home over the past two decades—though not in Europe, where work/family policies are more generous. Yet the benefits of egalitarian marriages, for both partners, have increased during the same time frame.

In this eight-part series, there’s the old news: women and men are more likely to endorse gender equality than ever—and they live lives that express that. Then there’s the not-so-old news: progress toward gender equality has slowed since the 1990s. Some call it a stall. And there’s new news: youthful gender attitudes are more variable than we thought, and at least among younger Millennials, a continued endorsement of equality at work has been accompanied by a dip in support for equality at home. And therein lies the complex set of reports that comprise the Council on Contemporary Families Gender and Millennials Online Symposium, released March 31.

The keynote essay, “Trending Towards Traditionalism? Changes in Youths’ Gender Ideology,” by sociologists Joanna Pepin (University of Maryland) and David Cotter (Union College), reports that when it comes to work and politics, young adults are increasingly egalitarian. But when it comes to home life, the 40-year-long move toward gender equality has stopped or reversed in recent years.

The trends: Specifically, Pepin and Cotter report:

  • In 1994, 42 percent of high-school seniors felt that the best family was one where the man was the outside achiever and the woman took care of the home. In 2014 this had gone up to 58 percent.
  • In 1994, 48 percent of high school seniors said a mother who works cannot establish as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work. In 2014, the share disagreeing went up to about 60 percent.

While young people endorse at rates of 90 percent or higher the idea that men and women should be equal at work, Pepin and Cotter see a trend in greater traditionalism at home. They call this “egalitarian essentialism”—a concept that seems to go a long way in describing the complex trends in gender attitudes presented today. In her overview essay “CCF Gender and Millennials Online Symposium: Overview,” historian Stephanie Coontz defines egalitarian essentialism as combining “a commitment to equality of opportunity with the belief that men and women typically choose different opportunities because men are ‘inherently’ better suited to some roles and women to others.” Coontz explains, “Egalitarian essentialism assumes that as long as women are not prevented from choosing high-powered careers, or forced out of them upon parenthood, their individual choices are freely made and are probably for the best.”

Nika Fate-Dixon identifies similar trends among young people in the 18-25 age group, using data collected since 1977. In “Millennials Rethinking the Gender Revolution? Long-Range Trends in Views of Non-Traditional Roles for Women,” she found that by 1994, 84 percent disagreed with the claim that a woman’s place was in the home. In 2014, however, the percent disagreeing had dropped to three-quarters. While Pepin and Cotter found that the backtracking on gender equality occurred among both men and women high-school seniors, Fate-Dixon found a sharp and growing gender gap among people in their early 20s. As noted below, this was a clear trend through 2014, but the 2016 GSS data no longer follow this pattern. Researchers await more results and analyses.

Politics: Young people—ages 18-30—were by far the strongest supporters of Clinton over Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. However, according to Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg’s “How Gender Mattered to Millennials in the 2016 Election and Beyond,” only 25 percent of the women Millennial voters and 15 percent of the Millennial men identified as feminists. Furthermore, Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director of Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), Millennials’ support for Clinton in 2016 was ten percentage points lower than their vote for Obama in 2008, further evidence for a dip in enthusiasm for gender equality.

Other political research presented by political scientist Dan Cassino (Fairleigh Dickinson University) in “Some men feel the need to compensate for relative loss of income to women. How they do so varies” suggests that some men have reacted negatively to women’s economic gains. During the primaries, male voters who were reminded of women’s growing economic clout became markedly less likely to express a preference for Hillary Clinton. When Cassino studied men who had actually lost income relative to their wives, however, Republicans and Democrats reacted in different ways. Men who were Democrats became more liberal as their share of household earnings fell, while Republican men became more conservative.

Married life: In “A View From Above: How Structural Barriers to Sharing Unpaid Work at Home May Lead to “Egalitarian Essentialism” in Youth,” Dan Carlson, assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, suspects that this backsliding on gender equality is less a product of gender threat than it is due to the absence of work/family policies that make domestic equality possible. Since the 1990s, the historically higher risk of divorce for couples where the wife earns more than her husband has disappeared. And these days, in contrast to the past, couples in which husband and wife equally divide family chores and child-rearing now report higher marital and sexual satisfaction than more traditional couples. Carlson suggests that support for domestic equality continues to strengthen among children of dual-earners when they have access to family-friendly work policies, but that youth who have seen their parents overwhelmed by economic and time pressures may have gotten discouraged.

Research on European countries—where social supports for families are stronger—backs Carlson up. Using European public opinion surveys, Professor Jan Van Bavel (University of Leuven) found no dips in egalitarianism related to home life or work life in “The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and the Continued Push towards Gender Equality.” He writes, “In the more recent round of the European Social Survey, in 2010, the responses tended to be less conservative and more gender egalitarian than six years earlier, in 2004.”

Well, maybe “Millennials” isn’t such a great category. In “The Use and Abuse of Millennials as an Analytic Category,” sociologist Frank Furstenberg (University of Pennsylvania) warns against over-generalizations about such a diverse group as the Millennials. He argues that the 18-to-25-year-olds interviewed in 2014 are not really comparable to those interviewed in 1994: They are far less likely to be married or employed in permanent jobs than this age group 20 or 40 years earlier. In her overview essay, historian Coontz notes that CCF Board President Barbara Risman’s research supports this warning against stereotyping a generation. In Risman’s interviews with Millennials for a forthcoming book, she was struck by the contradictory expectations about gender and family life expressed even within a single conversation. Furstenberg and Van Bavel suggest that as youths enter married life, and especially if they gain access to family-friendly work policies, they may well change their views. But Pepin and Cotter warn that this is by no means inevitable.

Update: After this symposium was released last Friday, 2016 data from the General Social Survey became available. The latest numbers show a sharp rebound in young men’s disagreement with the claim that male-breadwinner families are superior. GSS two-year trends are exceptionally volatile, due to the small size of the sample, and the overall decade averages still confirm a rise in traditionalism among 18-to-25-year-olds since the 1990s. But the new data shows that this rise is no longer driven mainly by young men, as it appeared to be in the General Social Survey results from 1994 through 2014. Other evidence for a Millennial gender gap still stands, so stay tuned for more updates on this moving target.

Originally prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials March 31, 2017. 

This column was prepared for CCF by Virginia Rutter, Professor of Sociology, Framingham State University, and Megan Peterson, CCF Public Affairs and Social Media Intern, Framingham State University.

This is reposted from GirlwPen, where I wrote about several pieces of education and gender research in 2013.

Apples via Creative Commons by Nina Matthews

I have written previously about gender, debt, and college drop out rates–men’s and women’s different debt tolerance (women have more) is related to their early job market prospects (men have more) and helps explain why men drop out of college more.

Now, here’s a new piece of the gender gap in education puzzle. According to a new briefing report (from 2013, now) presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, “the most important predictor of boys’ achievement is the extent to which the school culture expects, values, and rewards academic effort.” Sociologists Claudia Buchmann (Ohio State) and Thomas DiPrete (Columbia University) present their in-depth findings on the much-debated reasons why women outstrip men in education—also the subject of their new book—in “The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools.” The full CCF briefing report is available here.

When did the gender gap begin? Some of the gender gap in schooling is new and some is not. For about 100 years, the authors explain, girls have been making better grades than boys. But only since the 1970s have women been catching up to—and surpassing—men in terms of graduation rates from college and graduate school. The authors report, “Back in 1960, more than twice as many men as women between the ages of 26-28 were college graduates. Between 1970 and 2010, men’s rate of B.A. completion grew by just 7 percent, rising from 20 to 27 percent in those 40 years. In contrast, women’s rates almost tripled, rising from 14 percent to 36 percent.”

Is the gender gap translating into wages? “The rise of women in the educational realm has not wiped out the gender wage gap — women with a college degree continue to earn less on average than men with a college degree.”  But because more women are getting college degrees, growing numbers of women are earning more than their less-educated men age-mates, and the gender wage gap has narrowed considerably.” But, report the authors, if men were keeping up with women in terms of education, men would on average be earning four percent more than they do now, and their unemployment rate would be one-half percentage point lower.

What should schools do? The authors debunk the notion that boys’ under-performance in school is caused by a “feminized” learning environment that needs to be made more boy-friendly. Making curriculum, teachers, or classroom more “masculine” is not the answer, they show. In fact, boys do better in school in classrooms that have more girls and that emphasize extracurricular activities such as music and art as well as holding both girls and boys to high academic standards. But boys do need to learn how much today’s economy rewards academic achievement rather than traditionally masculine blue-collar work.

Please visit here to read more about the gender gap in educational achievement and the sources of it.

“Peelers” via judygreenway.org

There are memes all over the internet proclaiming that men who do housework “get laid” more often. Google “men who do housework,” and you’ll find, “Porn for Women:” a calendar featuring shirtless men doing household chores. What’s so sexy about men doing housework? The underlying message winks at the fact that, in the US, women continue to do the bulk of household labor even though almost as many of them work for pay outside the home as do men. Even after more than a century of feminist movement, most heterosexual households are still organized along gender lines. Heterogendered tradition still valorizes (and separates) male breadwinners and female caregivers. In this context, men who relieve women of housework are seen as rare, exotic, and even “sexy.”

Of course, real housework isn’t sexy at all. Preparing meals, doing laundry, washing dishes, cleaning – these are tasks that never end. Another common internet meme asks, “Don’t you just love those 12 seconds when all the laundry is done?” We noticed that you could create a lively, acerbic Pinterest page just on gender and housework!

So what does it look like when “real men”—men who consider themselves breadwinners and heads of the household—do housework? Why would these men do housework in the first place? They might do it if they became unemployed. We interviewed 40 men who lost their jobs during the recent recession. Most (85%) of these men expressed traditional viewpoints about gender in the home, saying that men should provide for women and children. And yet, after losing work, most (85%) of these men became financially dependent on their wives or girlfriends. This caused an ideological as well as financial quandary for them. Because their beliefs about masculinity were tangled up with employment, they had to redefine manhood while they were unemployed.

So how did these men prove their manhood? They tackled housework, and they crushed it “like men.” Ben, who called himself, “Mr. Housework,” explained that he mopped, vacuumed, and steam cleaned the floors multiple times a week. Richard said, “I won’t even use a mop on a floor, just on my knees and stuff. I find it somewhat cathartic, believe it or not, but I roll the rugs up, the ones in the kitchen, shaking them outside, leaving them [to air] out.” Our subjects embraced housework to do their part in the family, and they redefined women’s work as hard work—work befitting men. As Brian said, “I would prefer to be working but I just have to step up and be a man in a different kind of manner.”

So it apparently takes a recession to blur the division of labor in traditional household. Will this blurriness last as the economy recovers and men go back to work? Maybe. If “heads of households” and “men’s men” see household labor as real work, this could elevate its worth in larger society, making it less surprising and funny when men and women cross gendered boundaries in their homes.

Originally posted 6/3/16

Kristen Myers is Professor of Sociology and Director of Center for the Study of Women, Gender, & Sexuality at Northern Illinois University. Ilana Demantas is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at University of Kansas. They write about their research in detail in “Being ‘The Man’ Without Having a Job And/Or: Providing Care Instead of ‘Bread’”—a chapter in Families as They Really Are.

Re-posted from Urban Wire

photo credit: Alicia Campbell via pixabay

Worldwide, only about one in two women work, compared with three in four men. In some low-income countries, such as Zimbabwe and Madagascar, the labor force participation rate for women has reached 90 percent, but these women are often underemployed. Hard economic circumstances often force them to be self-employed or work in small enterprises that are unregulated and unregistered.

About 83 percent of all domestic workers in the world are women, most of whom work in precarious conditions. Women also do much more unpaid work than men, including caring for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities; contributing to family farms or businesses; and performing household chores such as collecting water or gathering firewood. Improving women’s livelihoods constitutes basic human rights protection.

But could including more women in the labor force also stimulate economic growth, enhance business competitiveness, and improve well-being?

We recently conducted a review of evidence to answer that question and found that reducing the gender pay gap and equalizing access to economic opportunities and resources are good for economic, social, and business development. For example, some firms that purposefully reduced gender discrimination and supported family-friendly policies attracted more talented workers, improved retention rates, and decreased employee stress, resulting in enhanced productivity.

But women face significant barriers to improving their lives, such as fear of victimization and violence, lack of child care, and legal and informal discrimination. Removing those barriers could help draw women into higher-productivity sectors and improve family, community, and national prosperity.

We found evidence that broad-based and gender-specific policies can enable women’s economic empowerment; that is, improving women’s ability to make decisions and affect outcomes important to themselves and their families. Here are six of those policies.Broad-based policies

Broad-based policies

  • Promote economic growth: In countries experiencing rapid economic growth, increasing demand for labor and the availability of better-paying jobs ensures that women’s economic empowerment does not become a zero-sum game between men and women. When the economy demands more workers, women will not replace men if more women participate in the labor market.
  • Invest in public services, infrastructure, and women-friendly public spaces and transportation: The quality of and access to public services, including basic utilities such as water and sanitation, improves all-around well-being through greater economic productivity and growth, but may be especially beneficial for women. For example, because women do most household work, electricity and tap water can free up their time, enabling greater labor market participation. Access to speedy and reliable transportation can reduce safety concerns that discourage women from entering the labor force or limit them to working at home.
  • Promote innovation and technology: Information and communications technology can help increase women’s inclusion in the economy, particularly in high-productivity service sectors. Greater access to information and technology can also stimulate changes in social norms and attitudes toward women’s roles in society, potentially improving access to education and political involvement.

Gender-specific policies

  • Provide child care: Evidence suggests that the availability of child care is strongly associated with an increase in women’s labor force participation and productivity. Child care, particularly high-quality child care, is one of the most important enablers of women’s economic empowerment and can have a positive impact on children’s learning.
  • Change laws that limit women’s economic independence: Reforming inheritance and family law to lift prohibitions on daughters’ legacies and to reduce husbands’ power over wives’ economic activity can have positive economic effects, going beyond the specific outcomes they are intended to address.
  • Improve or reduce work in the informal sector: Women are concentrated in the informal sector, which includes jobs that are unregulated and insecure, like street vending. Policies designed to move workers from the informal sector to the formal sector can significantly benefit women. Working in the formal economy is more likely to empower women because it is associated with more control over their own incomes than they would have in informal work. Evidence suggests that strengthening the collective bargaining capacity of women workers in this sector and improving awareness of women’s rights is important to ensuring that income levels and working conditions improve in the formal economy.

Enacting these policies will not only empower women, but will also benefit their families and communities. The United Nations’ recently formed High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment will bring needed attention to these issues and, we hope, begin to bring about needed change.

Originally posted 11/14/16

Elizabeth H. Peters is a Council on Contemporary Families Board Member, Director of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, and coeditor of the book Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities