New Work

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.

Cheating makes us uncomfortable. No one wants to find out they’ve been cheated on. It’s a betrayal that cuts like no other. At the same time, we’re fascinated by reports of the infidelity of others.

In a new study, recently published in Sexuality and Culture, I surveyed more than 1000 people using the website Ashley Madison to find potential affair partners to find out whether their participation in affairs increased their happiness. I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Perhaps cheating makes you unhappier. After all, there is the guilt, the expense, the lying. What I found surprised me.

Participants did report they were happier during their last affair than before it. That wasn’t so surprising. Recall bias may cause us to rewrite history in an effort to justify our choices. More surprising was that participants said their perception of their life satisfaction was higher even after their affair ended than before they cheated.

However, this wasn’t true of everyone. There were specific traits and conditions correlated with participants’ report of increased happiness. If they believed they wanted to remain married, affairs made them happier. If they believed that to stay in their marriage, they needed to have an affair, then their cheating made them happier. In other words, if they were cheating because they believed this was the only way to keep their families together, affairs helped. However, if they wanted to leave their marriages, cheating actually decreased their happiness.

If they reported that their primary reason for seeking out and participating in an affair was to get sexual needs met, affairs made them happier. On the contrary, if they reported that what was missing in their marriages was something emotional—intimacy, emotional support—affairs decreased their happiness. Thus, a sexual deficit may be entirely easier to resolve than an emotional one—at least through cheating. The happier and more fulfilling the primary partnership, the more satisfying the experience of an affair.

People who said they saw their affair partner twice a week or more for sexual encounters were made happier by their affairs than those who saw their partners once a week or less. So, resolving an unmet sexual need through an affair is easier than an emotional one, but it has to be worth it. And apparently the cutoff for “worth it” is twice a week. If you can’t see your affair partner that often, it may not be worth the effort.

Interestingly enough, how much the person loved their spouse had no effect on their happiness with regard to affairs. But if they believed their loved their outside partner, happiness was increased. At first glance, this may seem curious. But if we take a step back, it makes sense. We can get our sexual needs met outside of a marriage, but not with just anyone. And it only makes us happier if we’re not planning to leave the marriage, and we’re getting our emotional needs met in our marriage. So, we can’t just plug-in any warm body for this.

There was also a gender effect.  Specifically, being a woman increased happiness through affairs. This could be explained by Dietrich Klusmann’s research showing that over time in long-term monogamous relationships, women’s sexual desire for their partner drops. However, if she takes on a new partner, her sexual desire returns to its high level. In other words, the reason women are made happier by cheating may be a result of what I call the “monogamy malaise” women experience in long-term partnerships.

We cannot take these findings and generalize them. We can’t use this to say, “Everyone should cheat! It makes you happier.” These people aren’t representative of everyone who’s married, or even everyone having affairs. The folks in this study specifically sought out affair partners online through a site geared to that goal. They didn’t meet someone and “fall into” an affair. No one should read this study and think, “I never considered it, but I should have an affair!” However, this does shed light into the motivations and dynamics influencing people seeking affairs, especially women who participate in cheating. More inquiry is warranted into this topic. But the findings certainly challenge traditional views of women and sexual satisfaction.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity.

In Time to Join #MeToo, Research Highlights Men’s Growing Support for Gender Equality

Two recent studies, presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, reveal that despite the serious obstacles still standing in the way of achieving full gender equality, progress continues. Married men are expanding their contributions on the home front, and data from the General Social Survey show men at their highest levels yet of support for gender equality.

Dan Carlson of the University of Utah reports on a new study with co-authors Amanda Miller and Sharon Sassler that expands on their earlier research: It had shown that sharing housework now increases happiness for heterosexual couples. The new work finds sharing housework is good news for the bedroom, though how good depends on what you’re sharing.

Carlson’s report on housework underscores what David Cotter (Union College, New York) indicates about trends in attitudes: When looking at men’s and women’s roles at home and at work, a stall in support for gender equality in the 1990s was followed by advances in the 2000s, and mixed results in the 2010s. But in 2016, support for all aspects of gender equality reached new highs. While men have consistently been less egalitarian than women since the 1970s, the gap between their attitudes has narrowed in recent years. “History seldom proceeds in a straight line,” notes Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s director of research and education, “but when you even out the ups and downs, the increase in approval of gender equality, at home and at work, over the past 40 years has been truly dramatic.”

Highlights

In Not All Housework is Created Equal: Particular Housework Tasks and Couples’ Relationship Quality, Carlson shares a couple of intriguing findings:

  • By 2006, the proportion of lower and moderate income parents sharing house cleaning had nearly doubled, to 22 percent, and the proportion sharing the laundry had risen to 21 percent, an increase of 129 percent.
  • In 1992 the division of tasks mattered little for couples’ well-being. But, by 2006, couples who equally shared tasks demonstrated clear advantages in relationship quality over couples where one partner shouldered the load.
  • Which tasks partners shared made a difference. Men who shared the shopping for their household reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction than men who did either less or more shopping than their partner.
  • And for women? Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women. Lack of sharing in this task was the single biggest source of discontent with their marital relationship.

In Patterns of Progress? Changes in Gender Ideology 1977-2016, Cotter provides four graphics that chart change.

  • Overall, people have become more egalitarian about such issues as support for working mothers, whether men should be in charge at home, and whether men are superior to women in politics. The upward lines in Figures 1 and 2 tell it all.
  • The change has more to do with generational replacement than anything else, as you’ll see in Figure 4. The younger generations—groups referred to as Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials–all trend together towards high levels of egalitarianism.
  • The biggest news is that men are catching up to women, as seen in Figure 3. Men are still less egalitarian than women, but the gap between men and women has declined significantly in the past four years.

Where do we stand today?

Discussions about gender equality tend to invite that “glass half full / glass half empty” response, notes Stephanie Coontz, who reviewed these reports. “As we know from #MeToo, we have a long way to go. But to reach gender equity, we started with a very tall glass that had sat empty for thousands of years. The fact that we’ve filled it this far in just forty years should give us confidence to keep pouring.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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