New Work

Sociologist Arielle Kuperberg conducted new data analysis exclusively for this CCF briefing report that shows how cohabitation has changed from 1956 to the present. This new brief also includes findings from her forthcoming journal article in Marriage and Family Review. Historian Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s research director, reflects on what Kuperberg’s discoveries tell us about the state of close relationships in this interview on American Intimacy in Times of Escalating Inequality.

The most common path to marriage these days includes cohabitation, according to research presented to the Council on Contemporary Families by sociologist Arielle Kuperberg (UNC-Greensboro). In “From Countercultural Trend to Strategy for the Financially Insecure: Premarital Cohabitation and Premarital Cohabitors, 1956-2015,” Kuperberg reports how cohabitation raised eyebrows forty years ago. She shows that in the past decade, though, an overwhelming majority of Americans approve of it. There’s an asterisk: For a highly religious minority for whom “direct marrying” might be preferable, living together before marriage has as much to do with economic resources as with values. Kuperberg’s report offers three big findings:

Cohabitation before marriage is the norm. Kuperberg reports that 70 percent of marriages start with living together. Furthermore, only 17 percent of Americans disapprove of “premarital cohabitation.” And it is with good reason, she shows, since cohabitation has ceased to be a risk factor for divorce.

Since it’s so common, who is least likely to cohabit least before marriage? College graduates—who married directly 40 percent of the time between 2011 and 2015, twice as often as people without a college education. To be clear: A majority within all educational groups—including college graduates—cohabit before marriage. Not only do less-educated people cohabit more; Kuperberg notes that “working-class couples move in together earlier in their relationships than college-educated couples, often because of financial difficulties or housing needs.”

More religiously observant people are the most likely to be direct marriers—but only if they can afford it.Among highly religious college graduates, only 35 percent cohabited before getting hitched (versus 60 percent overall). Yet, equally religious people who did not have a high school degree lived together before marriage 97 percent of the time. The greater practice of premarital cohabitation among people with less education—and most likely lower incomes—may have to do with access to resources.

Cohabitation is no longer a countercultural trend, but instead is an unremarkable practice. In the past, worry about propriety and reputation created strong cultural pressures against living together before marriage. That is no longer the case. Now, economic inequality seems to shape the choices of religiously observant people with low levels of education, who tend to have lower incomes than equally observant people who have completed college. What Kuperberg’s study adds up to is that there may be less choice about close relationships than meets the eye today.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Arielle Kuperberg, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology and Cross-Appointed Faculty in the Women and Gender Studies Program, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; atkuperb@uncg.edu.

Stephanie Coontz, Professor of History and Family Studies, The Evergreen State College, coontzs@msn.com; 360-556-9223.

Is cohabitation the new conventional model of family?

Marriage rates today are at an historic low, as couples tie the knot less frequently (and at older ages) than in the past. Other trends portend a “liberalizing” of the American family as well. There are currently high rates of births outside of marriage, support for decoupling parenthood from marriage is at an all-time high among millennials, and divorce is up among those in mid-life. Couples who have children without being married, get divorced, or delay or forego the institution or marriage are not living lives of solitude, however. They are living together outside of marriage. In fact, as of 2016, 18 million people lived together in cohabiting unions.

At one point in time, cohabitation was considered to be the union choice either for those too poor to marry or the avant garde who eschewed marriage. Now, however, the majority of recent marriages were preceded by cohabitation.  With so many couples cohabiting (or having cohabited), it is  quite likely that the views cohabitors hold, on a range of issues – from maternal employment to how couples should divide housework – are quite similar to those of married couples. So, are cohabitors the new traditionalists?

In fact, in our research with Daniel Carlson, we find that around 40% of the cohabiting couples we studied did have quite conventional work orientation more similar to Leave it to Beaver than not. That is, they had fairly traditional ways of thinking about their both their own careers and their jobs in relationship to those of their partners’. For these couples, most intend for both partners to work, but view the man’s job as more central – he is the one whose career gets top billing in the family, whose job determines where couples will live (or if they will move), and who receives more privileges (such as being able to do less housework), as a result of his job.  For these couples, this “King of the Castle” view holds whether or not his job is actually more prestigious, better paying, or requires more hours per week.  Many of these couples planned for the female partner to become the primary parent in the future, working part time or leaving the workforce for a period of time to be with children. Based on this, yes, cohabitation is the new conservative model of family. Such views (as well as behaviors) are not randomly dispersed throughout the sample, though.  Adherence to these more conventional arrangements are more often held by middle class, college-educated couples (who generally do not yet have children) than by their less educated peers who work in service sector jobs.

Lest we think that women with college degrees are the new Stepford Wives, however, it’s important to note that roughly 20% of the couples we studied are following a far more egalitarian pathway- or even reversing convention entirely. Again, more common among the college educated, a number of couples are those who equally privilege one another’s careers, taking turns advancing up the ladder, for example, or, in rare instances, even see the female partner’s more specialized job and greater earnings potential as the one which should receive the most focus.

So what of their service class peers- couples in which both partners tend to have a high school diploma or some college education? They have much more variation in their work orientations. These couples often consist of partners for whom work is a low priority or those in which at least one partner few plans for advancement but is a stable worker. This makes sense given that the types of jobs that service-class individuals tend to be in. After all, financially and practically it is difficult for those working in fields like retail and telemarketing to move up through the ranks- or ultimately be able to afford to have one partner stay home part time with children.

How are couples to navigate this Brave New World of family formation and negotiation of work and family roles?  Couples who have clearer social scripts to follow (whether that be “traditional breadwinner/homemaker” or “egalitarian power couple”) tend to experience greater relationship stability than those who do not, in larger part because they have societal expectations to fall back on and are not trying to constantly renegotiate gendered norms anew. Whether they are moving toward a marriage like the Cleavers’ or more like the executive and physician couple, The Johnsons of TV’s “Blackish” it is not surprising, then, that the college educated are moving into marriage at higher rates than their peers. As we argued in our most recent work, “unless there is a change in the nature of jobs available for those without college educations, the divergence in marriage rates- and relationship satisfaction- between service-class and middle-class cohabitors is likely to continue.” Rather than focusing on marriage as the panacea for all that ails today’s families, a more productive approach would be to make it easier to be partners, workers, and parents – by providing paid parental sick leave, easier pathways to educational attainment and off-routes that are not laden with crushing debt, and affordable childcare.  What today’s alternative families need, after all, are not all that different from what their more traditional counterparts – married couples – also seek.

Amanda Jayne Miller is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Indianapolis. Most of her scholarship focuses on the intersections of gender, social class, and families including research on change and gendered beliefs and behaviors across cohorts, couples’ household divisions of labor, contraceptive and fertility practices and plans, and relationship progression. Her award-winning book, Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships , written with Sharon Sassler, looks at how these issues play out among couples who are living together unmarried.

Sharon Sassler received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Brown University in 1995, and joined the Cornell faculty in 2005, where she is a professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management.  Trained as a social demographer, Sassler’s research examines factors shaping the activities of young adults and their life course transitions into school and work, relationships and parenthood, and how these transitions very by gender, race/ethnicity, and social class. Her 2017 book, Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships, examines how new family forms are contributing to growing levels of family inequality in the United States; it won the American Sociological Association Family Sections’ Goode Book Award in 2018.

Although the “gayby boom” that began in the 1990s ushered in many new possibilities—socially, legally, and politically—for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) families, attention to the reproductive challenges they face has not kept pace.

In my new book, Reproductive Losses: Challenges to LGBTQ Family-Making, I explore the distinctive issues that pregnancy and adoption loss raise for LGBTQ individuals and couples. Most Americans still believe that reproductive loss is relatively rare (<5%). But according to experts:

For LGBTQ people the stakes for contending with reproductive loss are particularly high. The loss of a child during adoption or pregnancy is often intertwined with discriminatory laws and policies, homophobic/transphobic assumptions by family and/or healthcare and adoption professionals, and the rising costs associated with assisted reproductive technologies and adoption. Yet few resources exist to support LGBTQ people faced with reproductive loss.

Most support resources are aimed at heterosexual married couples (usually also depicted as white, affluent, and Christian) and books on LGBTQ family-making devote only a sidebar to discussing pregnancy or adoption loss, if they discuss it at all. When I interviewed over 50 LGBTQ people who had experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, failed adoptions, infertility, and sterility—including those who carried pregnancies, non-gestational and adoptive parents, and families from a broad range of racial/ethnic, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds—most reported feeling isolated in their experience. As one participant confided to me when we spoke, “I thought I was the only gay person ever to experience the grief of losing a child.” While the belief that they were alone is due in part to pervasive cultural silence surrounding reproductive loss generally, it is amplified for LGBTQ people by outdated assumptions about what makes a “real” parent and who should mourn reproductive loss.

This book shares their stories. It highlights LGBTQ experiences with communal support and personal resiliency, as well as the effects of encountering adversity and discrimination. The book’s open-access companion website also includes their advice for coping with loss and supporting bereaved LGBTQ people, as well as photos that participants shared of commemorative tattoos, memorials, personal remembrances, birth and death announcements, and other ways of memorializing reproductive loss: www.lgbtqreproductiveloss.org. Visitors can contribute additional stories and images to this digital archive and my hope is that it can serve as an expanding resource for LGBTQ+* people and families.

Reproductive Losses and its companion website are aimed at a broad audience—including healthcare and adoption professionals, social workers and psychologists, bereaved LGBTQ families, and family and friends who support them.  As the “gayby boom” shows no signs of slowing—and spans a diverse array of families racially, socioeconomically, and religiously—developing more inclusive resources to address the reproductive challenges LGBTQ families face is essential.

 

Christa Craven is the incoming Dean for Faculty Development at the College of Wooster in Ohio and teaches in Anthropology and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies. In addition to Reproductive Losses: Challenges to LGBTQ Family-Making (2019), she is the author of Pushing for Midwives: Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement (2010) and a textbook with Dána-Ain Davis, Feminist Ethnography: Thinking Through Methodologies, Challenges & Possibilities (2016). For more information on her research and teaching, see: http://discover.wooster.edu/ccraven/.

You’re selfish. You’ll die alone. You’re not a real woman. As a woman who has opted out of parenthood, I’ve heard it all. In my new book released today, CHILDFREE BY CHOICE, I set the record straight, analyzing data from my interviews with 70 childfree women and men, others’ work, and my own experience. I investigate the history and current growing movement of adults choosing not to have kids, considering what this cultural shift means for our society, economy, environment, perceived gender roles, and legacies.

Today in the United States, one in six women will end her childbearing years without ever having given birth. Half of millennials don’t yet have children and it remains to be seen how many ever will. What at first glance appears to be the very personal question of whether to have kids has become a matter of public concern and political debate. We’ve seen the letters to advice columnists lamenting the pressure to give parents grandchildren, heard the cries of “You’ll regret it!” from well-meaning friends and relatives, and seen the name-calling (“Selfish!” “Stupid!” “Shallow!”) from observers online.

Despite the negative buzz surrounding them, 94 percent of childfree adults in my own study said they gave careful thought to their choice not to become parents. As Sarah, a childfree partnered psychiatrist in her 30s told me, “I actually think that most people who have children don’t even think about it, they just have them…most people just go for it and don’t give it much thought. Go for what’s next. ‘I got married, now I have to have kids.’ … I think there’s more thinking to decide to not have children.”

Further, while the stereotype tells us that all childfree people hate children, over a quarter of participants in my study chose careers – such as teaching, social work, and pediatrics – that involve work with children. As Susan, a childfree camp director in her 50s shared, “I had a lot of experience at being with children at various stages. And I enjoyed it, I loved it, but I said to myself, ‘There are way too many kids out there that don’t have someone to look after them and don’t have someone to be an advocate for them.’ And I felt that I could be that person.”

Other research shows that 80 percent of non-mothers play an active role in children’s lives. And when compared to parents, childfree people report higher marital satisfaction, lower rates of depression, and similar rates of civic engagement. In short, childfree people are happy, engaged singles and couples who have carved out meaningful lives for themselves. Understanding and supporting their choice means better outcomes for families, children, parents, and nonparents alike.

I explore these and other in my new book released today from Dutton.

Amy Blackstone is a professor in Sociology and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.  She is author of Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence (Dutton, 2019). Amy and her husband Lance blog at we’re {not} having a baby!.

American actress Gwyneth Paltrow has been in the spotlight recently because of an online quarrel with her adolescent daughter, Apple, after the celebrity posted a photo of the two on Instagram without her child’s consent. In April 2019, pop star Pink announced she won’t post pictures of her children on social media anymore, after receiving criticism for an Instagram photo of her two-year-old son looking tired. Some praised the singer’s choice, stressing the perils of leaving children’s digital bread crumbs behind. While these examples concern cases of famous people putting the offspring in the spotlight, they also implement the debate surrounding children’s privacy in the social media age.

In the past few years, the term “sharenting” has gained popularity in the media press and among academics, indicating the act of parents posting pictures, videos, and stories about the offspring on social media. The expression is so widespread that has been added to dictionary.

Several pieces have been published on media outlets discussing the topic and taking a moral stance, suggesting what a “good enough parent” should or should not be doing. One of the main concerns associated with this practice is children’s privacy and their possible lack of agency in the process if they are too young to give their consent. Some wondered whether parents are clueless about data breach risks, with media outlets inviting them to “think twice” before posting.

But what about research? Instead of framing the discussion in terms of what parents are doing right or wrong, let’s take a look at what data say about this trend.

Some numbers. Sharenting seems to be a common trend in the global North, with 85% of mothers in the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan reporting to have shared pictures of their children under two on social media. Both mothers and fathers have been found to upload photos of the offspring on a monthly basis, in the United States, the UK, and Italy.

But what’s new about sharenting?  The family photo has actually long historical roots, and taking pictures of children is nothing new. What is new is that by posting online we are now crossing conventional time and space boundaries of communication, and our social media pages can get more views than a photo hung on the domestic walls where traditionally family snaps have been shown.

And what is parents’ stance? While parents are sometimes portrayed as naïve and narcissistic, empirical data tell a different story. Many parents do, in fact, think twice before posting, and try to control their children’s social media presence by setting rules with family and friends on whether and what to share about them online. We have been investigating the topic as well, and our preliminary findings (coming soon!) support that if sharenting starts well before the child is born with ultrasound postings, so do the dilemmas parents experience about not only their photo-sharing behavior but also of other people surrounding the child who share about him/her (such as relatives, teachers, etc.).

What about… the children? Few children have been interviewed so far. However, data support they have mixed feelings about it. A study with children aged 10-17 found that some of them are frustrated with the idea that their parents can share details of their lives online, stressing some discrepancies between parents’ own use of technology and rules set in the household. Other data from adolescents (12-14) suggest that most of the time they are okay with the practice as long as it doesn’t compromise the online image they are trying to construct for themselves.

Ultimately, what is at stake here? Of course, there are new privacy concerns, mostly because even when children give their consent their privacy expectations may change over time. Also, many children are too young to consent themselves, leaving adults the responsibility of the choice. As early childhood is a critical site for children’s datafication, and sharenting tend to decrease as a child grows into adolescence, it’s important to focus on the life stage where parents (and adults in general) are more likely to act as guardians of their children’s privacy.

Matters of privacy and agency are intertwined, as the focus is not only on limiting but also on being in control of one’s digital footprints. Children’s social media presence has been normalized, with adults even external to the nuclear family posting about kids. As our data suggest, this creates new opportunities for privacy predicaments as not only children, but also their parents may lose control of the process.

Framing all parents as inattentive and clueless about their children’s datafication means embracing a new moral panic, while telling a different story compared to what data support. However, in an era where social media sharing is part of our daily lives, being an active agent of one’s digital footprints becomes pivotal. As children grow, their ability to govern their data online, and even changing their mind about what was once shared, should be safeguarded. Some have argued that as parents in the United States have a right to share about their children online, Europe’s right to be forgotten can represent an interesting framework to embrace. We contend that, as a society, all adults involved with children to different degrees –and not only parents– can engage in a more extensive reflection on how we think of children as autonomous citizens who step into online arenas in their own terms.

Authors’ information: You can contact the authors to know more about their ongoing project on children’s social media presence at d.cino1@campus.unimib.it and ellen-wartella@northwestern.edu

Davide Cino is a PhD Student at the University of Milan-Bicocca, Department of Human Sciences for Education, and a member of the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University. He studies children’s social media presence and privacy boundaries employing different methodologies and through an interdisciplinary lens.

Ellen Wartella is the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor of Communication, Professor of Psychology, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, and Professor of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University. She also directs the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University. She serves on the board of the Council on Contemporary Families.

Sociologist Jill Yavorsky conducted a field audit on gender discrimination in hiring and shares this early exclusive summary and commentary with CCF. Her brief report, Hiring-related Discrimination: Sexist Beliefs and Expectations Hurt both Women’s and Men’s Career Options, shows that men as well as women experience gender discrimination when they apply for jobs. This brief includes findings from her forthcoming journal article in Social Forces. Historian Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s research director, reflects on where Yavorsky’s research points us for creating change in her 3Q interview on Equality is an agenda for all working people, not just feminists.

Yes, it’s 2019–a generation into the new millennium. Yet a new study involving 3,000 job applications confirms a serious lag when it comes to gender equality: When workers apply for jobs associated with the other sex, employers still discriminate against them. In her briefing, presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, UNC-Charlotte sociologist Jill Yavorsky reports that employers discriminate most heavily against women when they apply for a working-class job mostly held by men. Men face the heaviest gender discrimination when they apply for middle-class jobs predominantly staffed by women. Women do not face discrimination when they apply for an entry-level job in a middle-class occupation traditionally staffed by men, but they still lag badly behind in elite, high-paying jobs.

Yavorsky, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Organizational Studies at UNC-Charlotte, reflecting on her findings, notes that gender stereotyping “limits men’s career choices as well as women’s,” but that once hired, men still tend to move ahead of women in all job categories including in jobs predominately filled by women.

The CCF brief, Hiring-related Discrimination: Sexist Beliefs and Expectations Hurt both Women’s and Men’s Career Options, builds on Yavorsky’s Social Forces study in which she sent 3,000 job applications, matched on experience and only differing by gender, and then measured who got call-backs for interviews. Applications were sent to (statistically) female-dominated middle-class jobs (human resources and administrative support) and working-class jobs (housekeeping and customer service). Resumes were also sent to male-dominated middle-class jobs (financial analysis and sales) and working class jobs (manufacturing and janitorial). Four big take-aways are a guide to the study:

  • Overall, men were called back for male-dominated jobs like manufacturing and janitorial work 44 percent more often than women. When those jobs emphasized “masculine” attributes like physical strength or mechanical aptitude, men were called back twice as often as women.
  • Meanwhile, women were called back for female-dominated jobs 52 percent more often than men in middle-class occupations and 21 percent more often than men in working-class occupations. Notably, discrimination was starker when ads for female-dominated jobs emphasized “feminine” requirements such as friendliness or good communication skills.
  • One area had no discrimination: When women applied to male-dominated middle-class jobs, they were called back for interviews at the same rate as men. Yavorsky explains that this is “likely because these jobs stress attributes such as general cognitive ability that have become less exclusively associated with men. This seems to be one area in which sexist prejudices have been greatly reduced, to the benefit of women seeking entry into jobs that require educational credentials such as a bachelor’s degree.”
  • But Yavorsky points out that although her study detects no discrimination during early hiring practices for entry-level male-dominated middle-class jobs, women still face substantial discrimination in elite male-dominated jobs. She also points out that these results could vary for women of color and/or mothers, given other study findings that show employers commonly discriminate on the basis of these statuses.

In an accompanying interview, CCF Research Director Stephanie Coontz agrees that while women applying to men’s middle-class jobs experience fewer barriers in getting in the door, they appear to face significant barriers once they are at work. Coontz explains, “This seems to be especially true in the elite professions. As I point out elsewhere, the greatest wage discrimination by gender used to be in working-class and lower middle-class jobs. But as wages and job security in many traditional blue-collar jobs have fallen, we now see the opposite. Many women have established a firm foothold in mid-level middle-class jobs, and their wages have risen significantly. In the most elite professions, however, men’s wages have risen exponentially more, so that the biggest gender wage gaps are now at the top of the occupational ladder rather than at the bottom or middle.”

Virginia Rutter is co-editor of Families as They Really Are. Follow her at @VirginiaRutter.

Rhea V. Almeida, Ph.D, is a family therapist, trainer and educator. She is the author of numerous journal articles and three books: Expansions of Feminist Theory Through DiversityTransformations in Gender and Race: Family and Developmental Perspectives and co-author of Transformative Family Therapy: Just Families in a Just Society.  She is the founder of the Institute for Family Services. Her 4th book  is due to come out April, 2019. I recently had the opportunity to interview her about her new book Liberation Based Healing Practices.

 

JC: Can you tell our readers a bit about your background and the contexts you work in currently?

RVA: My background is in marriage and family, social work and anthropology. I currently work and teach at the Institute for Family Services which is a free standing institute in Somerset, New Jersey that I founded in 1986. I am also the co-founder of the Liberation Based Healing Conference currently in its 14th year, co-hosted by universities across the country. This year we will be hosted by Edgar Mevers College, in NYC.

JC: Can you define “liberation based healing” and tell us how it differs from more traditional forms of diagnosis and psychotherapy?

RVA: Liberation based healing (LBH) seeks to highlight the challenges and opportunities that individuals face from either privilege or oppression. We strive to eschew diagnostic codes or therapeutic narratives and instead help the client see the powerful way that poverty, racism, or other forces impact well-being, mental health, or a vulnerability to mental illness. Our goal is to increase the dialogue and connection of people in groups so that they can learn from others’ experiences, see the commonality of their experiences, and thus feel less isolated, shamed or pathologized. Our approach differs from traditional group therapy in the sense that we believe that participants benefit from sharing the diversity of their lives and challenges, rather than the pursuit of some common shared goal such as the alleviation of depression, anxiety, etc.

JC:  Is there a reason that your book is particularly relevant right now?

RVA: There couldn’t be a more relevant time for this book. We are in a time where basic values of decency are shattered on a daily basis; people are afraid of each other, resentful, and numb to the daily attacks they witness towards different groups. Social media not withstanding, they feel pulled to focus on themselves at the exclusion of others. It is a time when people are spending less and less time in communal spaces such as neighborhood gatherings, religious gatherings, or other social groups. Many are trapped in an endless cycle of work and family responsibilities. This book offers a small way to make a difference for many struggling individuals and communities.

JC: In the book you make the case for “redefining and expanding the therapeutic context” and you encourage community leaders to become more involved. Can you expand on that?

RVA: Psychotherapeutic practices historically focus on the mental health of the individual. In family therapy the focus extends to the wider system. However, I observe an increasing focus on individual problems even in family therapy. This sort of problematized specialization splits the family into a focus on the individual that doesn’t reveal the wider context of problems. Popular models today like “Emotionally focused Therapy” focus primarily on emotional processes devoid of context or a power analysis. Seeing families and couples who are increasingly isolated in their daily lives, except perhaps in the workplace begs the question “How are today’s individuals and families finding a sense of connection?”

I believe that increasing the connections within and outside of the family is essential to the mental health of our society. From that perspective, bringing together multiple families or couples into the same treatment environment can provide a way to build community while at the same time illustrating the common trials affecting so many families today. However, I believe that inviting educators and community leaders into the room to provide help, aid, and leadership is an additional component of healing. Redrawing the walls of therapy as we know it into healing circles offers therapists the freedom to shift complex problems into something more manageable and comprehensible.

JC: What problematic assumptions do you believe exist in contemporary family therapy theory and how do you recommend that those be addressed?

RVA: There is a common misconception that one should only address gender, race, sexuality or sexual orientation if the client raises it. I believe that this doesn’t offer an opportunity for a therapeutic dialogue to take place, and for the individual to gain the kind of insight and understanding that true community provides. Our approach moves these aspects of identity more into the foreground of discussion.

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families.  He is the author of numerous articles, chapters and books. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, The BBC,  NYU Psychiatry Radio as well as Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, and PBS. He is the co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of seven online volumes of Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.

This briefing paper, prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families, was originally released on January 16, 2019.

Although many sexist prejudices have weakened over time, gender stereotypes still influence employers’ decisions during the hiring process, and those stereotypes disadvantage both women and men. In a forthcoming article in Social Forces, I show that employers continue to assume that men and women have “naturally” different skills and preferences that make members of each sex better or less suited for different types of jobs. They associate men with physical prowess, leadership, mechanical aptitude, and competitiveness, whereas they associate women with nurturance and “people skills” such as tact, patience, cooperation and communication. Women are assumed to be less capable or interested in the first set of qualities and men are assumed to be less capable or interested in the second set.

We have long known that sexist stereotypes hurt women’s hiring prospects in the labor market, but my research shows that it hurts some women more than others and that it also hurts men. I find that employers tend to discriminate against female and male applicants when either applies for a job typically associated with the other sex. Think of a woman applying to a manufacturing job, or a man applying to an administrative support position. Surprisingly, however, I found no discrimination against women in the early hiring phases when they applied for male-dominated middle-class jobs, at least in the mid-status, entry-level positions that I tested. By contrast, working-class women applying for traditionally male-dominated working-class jobs faced significant discrimination, while men applying for jobs that have traditionally been staffed by women faced discrimination in both working-class and middle-class contexts.

Using a field experiment, I submitted fictitious male and female resumes to openings for more than 3,000 jobs. Specifically, I sent resumes for male-dominated and female-dominated jobs in both middle-class and working-class occupations, as indicated in the chart below. The middle-class jobs were entry-level, required a bachelor’s degree, and paid well above minimum wage but well below high-paying professions. The working-class jobs paid minimum wage or higher and had few educational requirements. In each class of jobs, the average pay rate varied by gender, with jobs that mainly employ men typically paying more than the jobs that mainly employ women.

Each job opening received one male resume and one female resume. The male and female resumes were comparable in education, skill, and work experience. I then recorded the callbacks that the male and female applicants received from real employers for a job interview.

Discrimination against Female Applicants

My findings show that employers discriminated against female applicants for working-class jobs primarily occupied by men. For example, in manufacturing and janitorial positions, male applicants were 44 percent more likely than equally qualified female applicants to receive a callback from employers. Discrimination was particularly pronounced when male-dominated working-class jobs also emphasized masculine attributes in their job ads, such as requiring job seekers to demonstrate physical strength or mechanical aptitude. In these cases, male applicants’ probability of a callback for an interview was double that of female applicants (.10 versus .05).

By contrast, I found no discrimination against female applicants during the early hiring process in middle-class male-dominated jobs, likely because these jobs stress attributes, such as general cognitive ability, that have become less exclusively associated with men. As late as the 1960s, most Americans did not view women and men as equally capable of rationality and critical-thinking. This seems to be one area in which sexist prejudices have been greatly reduced, to the benefit of women seeking entry into jobs that require educational credentials. In contrast, masculine cultures in working-class employment continue to stress attributes that are stereotypically linked to men, such as mechanical aptitude or physical strength. This is true even when few real differences exist in requirements. For example, female applicants faced hiring discrimination in janitorial work even though a female-dominated working-class job such as a house cleaner often requires similar strength and stamina.

Despite the fact that women of all education levels have incentives to enter male-dominated jobs because they pay significantly more than comparable female-dominated jobs, only women with bachelor degrees or higher have done so in significant numbers. The fact that working-class employers exclude women from initial job-candidate pools might help explain why many working-class jobs remain as segregated today as they were in the 1950s.

Discrimination Against Male Applicants

Male applicants also faced discrimination during the hiring process due to sexist gender stereotypes surrounding men’s fit with female-oriented work, and in this case, discrimination occurred in both working-class and middle-class occupations during early hiring processes. I found that regardless of the occupational class or educational requirements of a job, employers were significantly less likely to extend an interview invitation to a male applicant compared to a female applicant for a job in a female-dominated occupation. Female applicants were 52 percent and 21 percent more likely than male applicants to receive a callback in middle-class and working-class contexts, respectively. So, in contrast to my findings about women, discrimination against men entering female-dominant occupations was highest in middle-class jobs.

Male applicants were particularly disadvantaged when a job was both female-dominated and the job ad emphasized feminine attributes. For example, when a middle-class female-dominated job emphasized supposedly feminine attributes, such as friendliness and good communication skills, in the job ads, a female applicant was almost twice as likely as the male applicant to receive a callback (.10 versus .06).

One possible reason for this discrimination is that “women’s work” is generally considered beneath men, suggesting that there might be something “wrong” with a man who wants to do it, or raising suspicion that the man would leave as soon as he got a better, more “masculine” job. Indeed, research shows that men in female-dominated jobs have a higher turnover rate, tending to leave soon after their entry.

Alternatively, employers may assume (or fear that customers will assume) that the stereotypes associated with masculinity will make a man less competent at the work and that he will be less patient, less tactful, less nurturing, and so forth.

Sexism thus limits men’s career choices as well as women’s. Although restricting men’s entry into female-dominated jobs, which are typically lowerpaying, is less costly than barring women from typically higher-paying male-dominated jobs, such discrimination could be increasingly problematic for men, since industries dominated by women, such as service and healthcare, are projected to add the most jobs in the future.

Still, it does not follow that men are now more disadvantaged by sexism than women. For one thing, once men do gain entry to female-dominated jobs, they continue to earn higher wages than similarly qualified women, and in some cases are actually promoted more quickly. So while men may struggle to get an interview, these disadvantages often quickly dissipate (particularly for White men) if they land a job in a female-dominated field.

Second, it is important to note that although women have had success entering middle-level jobs that were traditionally occupied by men, they have had limited success entering or being promoted equally in elite male-dominated jobs. Coupled with my findings about discrimination against women entering male-dominated working-class jobs, this suggests that women are still discriminated against in work thought to require any of the physical OR mental prowess, leadership, and status traditionally associated with men.

Conclusion

In conclusion, gender stereotypes and biases during the hiring process limit both men’s and women’s career options. For women applying to male-dominated jobs, hiring inequality seems to be most pronounced at both the bottom of the occupational hierarchy and at the very top, where rewards are exceptionally high. For men applying to female-dominated jobs, hiring inequality exists across the occupational structure. Although this discrimination is less costly than the kind experienced by women, it may hamper working-class men in particular from adjusting to the changing occupational structure of America, as blue-collar jobs continue to shrink. And until we stop prejudging people’s interests and capacities on the basis of sexist stereotypes, we will continue to steer men and women into different and unequal jobs, denying them the opportunity to develop a well-rounded combination of human, as opposed to gender-specific, capacities.

By Jill Yavorsky, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Organizational Science, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, jyavorsk@uncc.edu. CCF advisory available here.

 

The stories that news headlines tell might suggest that parenting in contemporary society consists of scrutinizing how much helicoptering is too much, worrying about screen time, and lamenting the vast chasms of inequality that result in so many different kinds of childhoods. Many of these stories are true, some are based on rigorous social scientific research, and a few may even call people into action to create social change so that parents and children thrive rather than suffer. But if all we did was examine what’s going on with parenting today by looking at news media, we’d miss important new research findings that complicate all of the often-oversimplified headlines.

Because I was dissatisfied with how I saw parenting depicted in our social and news media feeds, I gathered a group of stellar researchers and practitioners to tell a detailed, timely, and untold story about the topics contained in the headlines. The result is a book that I edited entitled Contemporary Parenting and Parenthood: From News Headlines to New Research. Each chapter, authored by stellar researchers and practitioners in sociology, psychology, and economics, starts with a provocative news headline, and then delves into what the research says about how parenting is really happening in contemporary society. Imagine a headline saying “This is bad for your kids!” Now imagine a fantastic collection of chapters that scrutinize what “this” means, what “bad” means, and whose kids we’re really talking about. This post summarizes the key general takeaways from this new collection of research findings, with links to the web pages of authors whose work is featured.

Let’s start with the notion that parents are evaluated more than ever, and more visibly than ever, based on how much (and what kind of) effort and intentionality they use in their parenting. The concepts of helicopter parenting, intensive parenting, and concerted cultivation need to be complicated (and actually, differentiated from each other) in light of new research findings, even as the existence of helicopter parenting constitutes a type of moral panic (albeit one that reproduces privileges among those elite parents who preserve their privilege to hover even if they’re critiqued). If we only focus on some sort of universal hovering technique of all parents in all places, we miss variations within families (maybe each child requires different hovering techniques, maybe each developmental stage does, too). And we miss the fact that age of children and parents matter (maybe some parents’ efforts to hover enough so that kids thrive into their adulthood may end up making those kids be so successful that they fail to come home for the holidays, thus oddly disappointing the aging parents). So, not all hovering looks the same, is performed the same way, or has the same impact.

When it comes to how well parents are doing, there’s plenty of research out there that examines the fact that parents are less happy than non-parents, some of which is interrogated in the book. What’s important to add to this is an elaboration that it is due to a lack of available family friendly policies that this gap is particularly pronounced in the U.S. And even in countries where progressive policies may be enacted, there can be a cultural lag whereby people are reluctant to take advantage of the policies for fear of being stigmatized. And what about time that parents may be able to spend doing leisure activities? Turns out that overall leisure has declined and a bigger share of mothers’ leisure time is now spent with children. So, the story we can tell about parental well-being in the U.S. especially is that we lack supportive policies, and even in the face of supportive policies, gendered cultural values about who is supposed to parent impact likelihood to take advantage of policies as well as who gets to be present during leisure activities that are not part of the calculation of work-family balance.

Any story of contemporary parenthood requires a focus on social inequalities. In addition to the gender inequalities noted above, any family studies book will highlight how parents’ and children’s lives are impacted differently based on group status. Of course socioeconomic status impacts parents’ access to valuable resources. But parents and teachers also play a role in how children interpret their own living conditions, including when children living in poverty may have mixed ideas from, on one hand, family and neighbor stories about how hard it is to make ends meet, and on the other hand, teachers’ voices saying how important it seems to work hard to get out of poverty or fellow classmates’ voices talking about how important it is to have the latest video game or shoes. In addition to social class, one of the ways that intentional efforts by parents to turn their parenting into a concerted project that has been largely absent from past research relates to immigrant status. For example, visa restrictions that disallow paid employment impact how much parenting becomes an intense part of life that otherwise would be filled with paid employment in a home country. And what about immigration as it may relate to adoption? When we think about becoming parents, it is more crucial than ever to remember that crossing national borders in an adoption process can also occur when immigrant parents are deported and children are left behind to be fostered, a situation that challenges traditional notions of children’s rights and parenthood. Clearly race and immigrant status matter in the lived experiences of today’s parents and children. In fact, talking about race with children varies depending on parents’ race. White parents are more likely than non-White parents to avoid talking about race with their kids, in part because they have the privilege to ignore this – a result of still-present colorblind ideology. As more conversations occur about privilege in our society, it will be important to investigate how and whether this racialized form of parent-child communication may change. And finally, when it comes to inequality, the notion of who is legally allowed to partner and parent matters. Since same-gender marriage is legal, researchers will need to continue to investigate ways that children of these parents are faring well (which they are). This is especially crucial, because, despite the legality of family formation in this way, cultural values associated with heteronormativity and repronormativity prevail, even when people imagine their own LGB children’s future parenting and family lives.

In no uncertain terms, and despite unequal access to resources, cultural support, or family-friendly policies, people still overwhelmingly want to parent, and they want to see their children become parents, too. Importantly, in all of these research findings, the specific groups studied have experiences that intersect with other inequalities. It is never just about class, citizenship, race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. It is always about all of these.

What a rewarding adventure it has been to be the curator of this collection of new takes on not-so-new questions about parenting and parenthood, all of which have been presented here in a far-too-cursory manner. If family scholars and practitioners wish to have their work be part of the national (and international) conversation about what’s best for families, look no further than the latest research that these authors have conducted.

But always look beyond the news headlines.

Michelle Janning is Raymond and Elsie Gipson DeBurgh Chair of Social Sciences, and Professor and Chair of Sociology at Whitman College. Her research connects material culture and spatial design with family roles and relationships. She is the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) and Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (Routledge, 2018), and is the editor of Contemporary Parenting and Parenthood: From News Headlines to New Research (Praeger, forthcoming). In the book discussed in this post, Janning also includes a chapter on the role of technology in contemporary parenting. Her work is featured at www.michellejanning.com.

A briefing paper prepared by Kenly Brown, University of California, Berkeley, for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Gender Matters Online Symposium (.pdf).  

Since the 1970s and early 1980s, feminist criminologists have explored the ways in which the distribution of justice and punishment varies, based on people’s marginalized (or privileged) identities, their vulnerability to state violence, and their exposure to interpersonal violence  (Potter, 2015Riche, 2012Chesney-Lind, 2006 ; Burgess-Proctor, 2006Bertrand, 1969Heidensohn, 1968). In my chapter with Berkeley’s Nikki Jones, “Gender, Race, and Crime: The Evolution of a Feminist Research Agenda,” in the Handbook of the Sociology of Genderwe argue that feminist scholars must “examine the relationship between interpersonal violence and institutional violence, as well as the feminist movement’s relationship to the state” (p.456). Ultimately, institutional violence shapes the conditions and outcomes of the interpersonal violence that marginalized groups navigate on a daily basis.

In my study, The Disciplinary Dumping Ground: The Construction of Black Girlhood in an Alternative School, I use a similar intersectional analysis to study the ways in which alternative education creates inequitable conditions of learning and access for Black girls who are vulnerable to exclusion, neglect, and violence in their everyday lives. I extend literature on exclusionary discipline (i.e. disproportionate levels of harsh punishment sanctioned against Black and Latinx students) to consider the significance of exclusionary spaces in education: alternative schools.

Benign intent, harmful result.

California has seven types of alternative schools: independent charter, community, juvenile court, opportunity, school of choice, community day, and continuation. Continuation schools enroll 75 percent of the 136,000 students enrolled in alternative schools, ostensibly providing a more positive environment for students who have difficulty learning in large school settings, are at-risk to not graduate, and/or have disruptive behavioral issues (Taylor, 2015 & Velasco and Gonzales, 2017). Despite this benign intent, teachers, students, and practitioners colloquially refer to alternative schools as dumping grounds used to warehouse students of color from under-resourced neighborhoods that traditional high schools find disruptive and/or underperforming (Dunning-Lozano, 2016Kelly, 1993). Indeed, Elder’s qualitative research found that continuation schools were less like a learning community than a correctional institution for students stigmatized as “outsiders” — academically failing, on parole, pregnant, and /or working (Elder, 1966).

My research explores how alternative schools contribute to the further isolation of marginalized students, particularly low-income Black girls, who are the most vulnerable to violence and neglect in their interpersonal lives. Studies have shown that Black girls are perceived as less innocent than white girls and are more harshly punished in school for not meeting mainstream expectations of middle-class white girls (Epstein, Blake, and González, 2017). Using ethnographic methods including direct and participant observations and semi-structured interviews, I find that the compounding effects of isolation, neglect, and danger in low-income communities render Black girls more vulnerable to be pushed into learning environments that are also isolated, lack stable funding, and have limited resources. An intersectional vulnerabilities framework shows how stereotypes associated with Black girls and women perceived as aggressive, domineering, or hypersexual increase their exposure to interpersonal violence in their everyday day lives and structural violence at the hands of institutions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Kenly Brown, Ph.D. candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, with a designated emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. kenly@berkeley.edu. Nikki Jones, Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence and recently published The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption. njones@berkeley.edu. They are authors of “Gender, Race, and Crime: The Evolution of a Feminist Research Agenda,” in the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender.