New Work

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The United States has the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Although the rates of incarceration have essentially leveled off since around 2002, the United States lead the world in imprisonment: 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2015. This mass incarceration is a affects prisoners, their children, and their relatives and loved ones. In fact, at least 2.7 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent.

New research by Kristin Turney and Yader R. Lanuza explores the consequences of parental incarceration on children and their transition to adulthood. What makes this research unique is that it considers the relationship between parental incarceration and the issue of “launching” or “transitioning” into adulthood. Transition to adulthood, only conceptualized as a life stage in recent years, has been a focus for thinking about how to get stable adults in the workforce and in the habit of building families. Prior research has made it clear that incarceration reduces family income—during incarceration as well as after it. There’s instant and lasting collateral damage: It disrupts parental relationships and damages the mental health of both the children and romantic partners. How can we reduce inequality? This research helps to focus on entrenched social processes of inequality that mass incarceration yields.

Their study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to investigate the relationship between parental incarceration and the transition to adulthood, collected in four waves between 1994 and 2008. Turney and Lanuza identified 10,937 respondents who had a parent who had been incarcerated at any time between age 0 to 17. They were able to compare these youth to others who had not had that experience.

Thanks to the rich data set, they were able to look at seven indicators of adulthood for the affected youth.

  1. The respondent feels older than others his or her age (compared to feeling younger and feeling neither older nor younger).
  2. The respondent feels like an adult all of the time (compared to most of the time, sometimes, seldom, never
  3. The respondent has his/her own residence (and does not live with parents, in another person’s home, etc.)
  4. The respondent is not enrolled in school
  5. The respondent is employed full time (working at least 35 hours per week)
  6. The respondent has ever been married
  7. The respondent has at least one child (measured by affirmative responses that the respondent ever had a live birth, for women, or that the respondent’s partner ever had a live birth in the context of their relationship, for men.)

The differentiations were intriguing. Children whose dads had gone to prison were different from others in the feeling questions—like feeling older—and the behavioral ones. In essence, they were systematically quicker to transition to adulthood. Specifically, respondents who experienced paternal incarceration were more likely to report feeling like an adult all of the time, to have lived on their own, to not be in school, to have married, and to have had a child.

As for moms who went to prison, respondents who experienced maternal incarceration were also more likely to report feeling like an adult all of the time; more likely to not be in school; and more often had a child. The point: The many markers of transition to adulthood were more common among children whose parents had been incarcerated. They had to grow up faster—and without supports or a safety net that might assist in education, full time work, or pacing family life.

Parental incarceration accelerates the pathways to adulthood, and adds significant stressors to that already difficult transition. These youth have parents who have enormous disadvantages in the job market when they get out of prison, which follows their loss of income while they are in prison.

High imprisonment rates in the United States are not just alarming to note for the individual placed behind bars, but for the transformative and significant consequences it has on their children.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

photo credit: Polski via pixabay

Originally posted 2/10/2017 

One consequence of racial inequalities in the United States is that black Americans die at much higher rates than white Americans. New research by UT Austin’s Debra Umberson and colleagues explores some understudied consequences of this. Umberson’s team finds that black Americans are more likely to lose their parents during childhood than white children. Furthermore, black Americans are more likely to experience the death of multiple close family members by mid-life. Along with the sheer tragedy, in the long run these losses have the potential to damage the health of black Americans. Bereavement following the death of just one family member has shown to have lasting adverse consequences for the health of the individual, with premature deaths having an even larger impact.

Using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and Health and Retirement Study totaling 42,000 people, the researchers compared non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white Americans on their exposure to death of family members and total number of deaths experienced at different ages. The study shows that black Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to experience the death of two or more family members by the age of 30. Black Americans born in the 1980s were three times more likely to lose a mother, more than twice as likely to lose a father, and 20 percent more likely to lose a sibling by age 10. The race gap diminishes slightly at age 70. At that point, whites begin to exceed blacks in experiencing loss. However, black Americans experienced more family member deaths than white Americans overall.

This racial disparity in family member death rates paints a stark picture of black health disadvantages. Death of family members puts strain on other family relationships. This strain often persists throughout a lifetime, thus adding to even more trouble. As Umberson and colleagues emphasize bereavement is a known risk factor for mental and physical health having an even greater impact if it occurs during childhood or early adulthood. The loss-upon-loss quality of this result sets up another reinforcing cycle. Racial inequalities contribute to a high death rate for black Americans. And they add another racial inequality all together; health disadvantages due to the loss of family members.

We also featured an interview with Dr. Umberson about her research.

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

 

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Most people know that there’s a long and persistent history of racial and ethnic segregation in the United States. There’s less awareness of segregation of gays and lesbians, and gay neighborhoods often get treated as simply a matter of “choice”— much the way that queer identities have historically been treated as a “choice.”

Is it the case that gays and lesbians simply gravitate to similar areas and form gay “enclaves,” or is the segregation of gays and lesbians related to systematic inequalities? According to new work in Population Review by Dudley L. Poston Jr.D’Lane R. Compton, Qian Xiong, and Emily A. Knox, it’s a little of both.

To a degree, discrimination drives the segregation of gays and lesbians. The researchers point to religious intolerance and recent anti-sodomy laws as evidence that gays and lesbians are systematically excluded from some heterosexual communities. But Poston Jr. and colleagues don’t reject the possibility that some gays and lesbians segregate voluntarily. As homophobia decreases, gays and lesbians may still wish to take advantage of the “protective shield and social support” and “stronger political voice” afforded by self-segregation.

It’s likely that the dynamics of segregation might be different for gays and lesbians. Lesbians are more likely to have kids, and thus might voluntarily congregate in places with better school districts. But they’re also more likely to live in poverty than gay men, which leads to fewer living options.

Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox examined the relationship between factors related to racial segregation and segregation by sexuality among 100 metropolitan areas with large gay and lesbian populations, using American Community Survey data from 2008 to 2012. The researchers estimated the percentage of gay or lesbian households that would have had to relocate within that metropolitan area for the number of same-sex and different-sex households to be proportional.

In all metropolitan areas examined, gay and lesbian households were segregated from heterosexual ones. On average, about 75 percent of gay male and 69 percent of lesbian couple households would have had to relocate within their metropolitan area to eliminate neighborhood segregation. The lowest estimate of segregation was between lesbians and different-sex couples in Madison, Wisconsin. Even there, though, just over half of lesbian households would have had to relocate for there to be no segregation.

Gay male households were more segregated from heterosexual households than were lesbian couple households in most cases. Provo-Orem, Utah, had the most segregation by sexuality: More than 90 percent of gay male households would have had to relocate to be proportional to heterosexual married and cohabiting couples in the population.

Gay and lesbian households are segregated from each other, too. In El Paso, Texas, which had the most segregation of same-sex households by gender, there was almost complete segregation between lesbians and gay men.

What factors predicted increased segregation between same-sex and different-sex households? For gays and lesbians, high prevalence of gay/lesbian couple households, high rates of Republican voters and Southern Baptists, and high poverty rates in their metropolitan areamade segregation more likely.

For gay men, they also found high population density, anti-sodomy laws, and a lack of non-discrimination laws predictive of increased segregation.

For lesbian households, high racial segregation also made their segregation from different-sex households more likely.

The only factors that predicted segregation between gay male and lesbian households were the gay male prevalence rate and the poverty rate. As the proportion of gay males in an area increased, segregation between gay male and lesbian couple households decreased. Conversely, as the poverty rate in an area increased, segregation of these two groups also increased.

The salience of poverty rates in these patterns suggests that segregation by sexuality is fueled at least partially by inequalities rather than the choices of gay and lesbian couples. But, to the extent that they have the option, gay and lesbian couples might choose to live in areas where they share political ideologies with others and can avoid discrimination.

There are still unexplained factors related to segregation by sexuality. Earlier qualitative research comparing the Castro with other gay enclaves, for example, found that what draws residents toward specific areas varies by the community, often in conjunction with more specific intersecting identities of the gays and lesbians that predominate in each space. Future research could examine individual communities to better understand how inequalities may be perpetuated through the residential patterns of gays and lesbians. But amid researchers’ calls for more research on the geographic distribution of gays and lesbians, there’s currently a policy shift away from data collection on LGBTQ demographics. The findings in this research by Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox highlight that data on where sexual minorities live is crucial for understanding, and thus addressing, inequality more generally.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and will begin a doctoral program at Boston University in the fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar. 

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New research in the Journal of Marriage and Family by Hui Liu and Lindsey Wilkinson reveals that married trans people (and particularly trans women) experience less discrimination than those who are unmarried. This doesn’t mean that marriage per se is what protects trans people from discrimination. As with other work examining the benefits of marriage, the issue of “selection into marriage” – or the idea that being well-off is a precursor to, rather than a result of marriage – seems to come up for trans women as well. “Transition stage,” or the extent of a respondent’s transgender visibility, as well as income and health insurance access, was linked to perceived discrimination more so than marital status. In the end, a few differences between married vs. cohabiting vs. previously-married trans people remained, but those who were never married at all perceived nearly the same (lower) amount of discrimination as married respondents.

The data come from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a non-representative sample of 6,456 respondents collected between 2008 and 2009. The analyses are based on a sub-sample of 4,286 transgender (thus, excluding people who identify as non-binary) respondents who sufficiently answered questions about marital status and their perceptions of discrimination in the areas of work, family, public accommodations, and health care. In addition to analyzing the relationship between marital status and discrimination for the entire trans sample, the authors looked for differences by gender.

Initially, Hui and Wilkinson found the hypothesized differences by marital status: trans people who were married experienced significantly less discrimination than those who weren’t. This would make sense, according to some sociological theorizing on marriage. On the one hand, being in a “stigmatized category” generates negative effects, including discrimination (per the minority stress perspective). Yet, if one follows the marital advantage theory, that observes that there are distinct economic and social benefits to marriage, it appeared to be the case that marriage protects against transphobic discrimination. Before engaging this possibility, though, the authors accounted for other factors beyond marital status that could conceivably relate to discrimination against trans people.

Hui and Wilkinson understand that not all trans people are the same, and investigated the impact of transition stage on perceived discrimination, including how well the respondent “passed,” whether the respondent had medically transitioned, and whether they were out about their trans identity. Some of the power previously attributed to marital status was shifted after accounting for transition stage, because married people generally had characteristics that were less conducive to discrimination than those who weren’t married. Married trans women, for example, were less likely to live full-time as transgender or to be out about their trans identity than individuals in other categories, and rated their visual conformity higher than those who were never- or previously-married.  

 When taking transition stage into account, the “benefits” of marriage were still present, but they were reduced. Previously-married and cohabiting respondents still perceived more discrimination than married respondents in three out of the four areas each, but the disparities were less drastic. Never-married trans people reported nearly the same perception of discrimination as married trans respondents in all cases except for family discrimination. With family discrimination – indicated by relationship dissolution and family- and court-based restrictions on being with children – never-married respondents experienced more discrimination than those who were married. In other words, marriage for trans people was associated with also being more conventional; that conventionality—more so than marriage itself—explained the lower level of perceived discrimination, particularly for women.

There is also economics. Married trans men and women were better off, and this may have made a difference for perceptions of discrimination too. In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey sample, for example, the median family income for married trans women was at least $30,000 more than for unmarried respondents. More than 90 percent of married trans women had health insurance, compared to only 76 percent of those who weren’t married.  The greater economic and insurance advantages held by married trans women, Hui and Wilkinson found, helped to explain why they felt less discrimination. After considering economic resources, there were very few differences in discrimination by marital status. Still, cohabiters experienced more discrimination in family and public accommodations, and those who were previously married experienced more family discrimination, when compared to married trans people. There were no differences in perceived discrimination in work, family, public accommodations, or health care between never-married and married trans people.

The few remaining differences in discrimination by marital status were mostly confined to trans women. Even before considering transition stage and economic resources, there were fewer differences in discrimination by marital status for trans men, and these were mostly in the family. After accounting for socio-demographics, transition stage, and economic factors, married and unmarried trans men did not perceive differences in discrimination in work, health care, or public accommodations. In the final model, the only difference in perceived discrimination by marital status for trans men was that previously-married trans men experienced more family discrimination than married trans men. There are many possible explanations for why there were fewer differences in discrimination by marital status for trans men when compared to women. It could relate to findings that trans men generally experience less discrimination than trans women. It may also be because there were fewer differences by trans men’s marital status on other key explanatory variables. Unlike for women, for example, there were no differences for men in being out as transgender by marital status in any of the four areas studied by the researchers.

Hui and Wilkinson ask the question, “Does marriage matter?” In statistical models, and in predicting disadvantage, the answer is a qualified yes.  But it’s not quite clear, according to the authors, if marriage is responsible for reduced disadvantage, or if trans women with more disadvantage are simply less likely to marry in the first place. This means that, as with efforts to reduce disadvantage for cisgender couples, effective policy will likely require more than simply recommending marriage to trans individuals. By re-attributing much of the initial discrepancies in discrimination by marital status to economic factors, this research suggests that a fruitful avenue for reform will be addressing the economic injustices faced by trans people. In addition to transphobia, these economic injustices may actually contribute to the low ranking of trans people in the marriage market identified by the researchers.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and will begin a doctoral program at Boston University in the fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.

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Whether people are talking in 1997, 2007, or 2017, kids today are reckoned to be oversexed. In this past decade, media representation of teen mothers has hyped this idea using inaccurate stereotypes. A great rebuttal to move us beyond the “oversexed” cliché comes from Joyce C. Abma and Gladys M. Martinez. Their report for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) presents national estimates of sexual activity as well as contraceptive use among males and females.

The report summarized data collected using in-person interviews from 2011-2015 with people between ages 15 and 44. A total of 20,621 people were interviewed, including 4,134 teenagers. The teen group involved 2,047 women and 2,087 men.

They learned whether the respondent had ever had sex—and if so, whether they had had sex recently. Respondents who had ever had sexual intercourse were defined as “sexually experienced”; for these teens, researchers also learned how recently and how often they had had sex. These respondents were also asked about contraceptive methods they had used—if at all. In the report, they compared what they found to data from the 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2006 National Survey of Adolescent Males, which had been conducted by the Urban Institute. This way, they could learn really how the sex lives of kids today measure up with those of the past.

What differences were found… and were there any similarities? Rates of sexual experience across the years remained similar. In 2011—2015, 42.4 percent of never-married teen women and 44.2 percent of never married teen men were sexually experienced. And this was the same as a decade before, in the 2002 data, as well as the 2006-2010 data.

And, contraception use was up. Teen womens’ use of contraception increased from 74.5 percent in 2002 to 81 percent in 2011-2015. Teen men used condoms more, too, increasing from 70.9 percent in 2002 to 76.8 percent in 2011-2015.

Black women teens are slowing down, while white men teens speeding up. The researchers reported significant racial differences. For example, never-married non-Hispanic Black women teenagers decreased from approximately 57 percent sexually experienced in 2002 to 47 percent sexual experienced in 2011-2015. Conversely, never married non-Hispanic teen white men’s sexual experience increased from a rate of 37 percent in 2006-2010 to 43 percent in 2011-2015.

But it also looks like age plays a role.  They found that in 2011-2015, men were more likely than women to have had sexual intercourse during the ages of 15 and 16. Once they got to age 17, the probabilities were similar for both sexes. Specifically, 16 percent of men had sexual intercourse earlier compared with 11 percent of women, but by age 18, 55 percent of all teenagers were sexually experienced. Other factors included race, living situations, and parental education. The probability of having sexual intercourse by age 18 was high for non Hispanic Black teenagers when compared with non-Hispanic White and Hispanic teenagers, adolescents who did not live with both biological parents at age 14, and those who had mothers who did not attend college at all.

So, what exactly does this mean? It looks like adolescents are taking the steps they need to be protected: contraceptive use is up in both men and women. While both sexes have different rates of sexual experience and different contraceptive methods, this report suggests that “it gets better” – in the sense that teens are doing their share to promote sexual health.

Note for further consideration! It gets better might have another meaning too, not addressed in this study: in a 2014 study that looked at people starting at age 20, young people are having more oral sex and more oral sex as part of their sexual debut. This might factor into trends in teen sexual health, too.

Where do teens learn how to promote sexual health? Likely through messages provided through media, school, community, and family. Sounds like sex ed to me. To continue this good trend, this means we have to start separating the truth from stereotypes surrounding teenagers and see that sex education is valuable. Oh, and let’s make sure that sex ed addresses oral sex too!

Tasia Clemons is a Senior Sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

If you are interested in families, the most recent presidential election brings a trail of troubles. A lot of Americans fear what is in store in the near future and are anxious about the clear division in popular attitudes that now exists in what is supposed to be the United States. Family policy will be deeply impacted as a result of this division. For direction, Kate Gallagher Robbins and Shawn Fremstad offer a light in the darkness in a recent brief—using evidence to clarify uncertainty. Robbins is the Director of Family Policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at American Progress, and Fremstadis a senior research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a consultant on policy issues to multiple national nonprofits. They are also CCF Senior Scholars. If you want to hear more, also read this short interview with them on “Now What?”

In their brief, 4 Progressive Policies that Make Families StrongerRobbins and Fremstad detail key progressive policies that will strengthen working class families.

  1. Increase Minimum Wage

Families fare better when making more money because they have more certainty and fewer financial worries. Marriage rates help to portray that a low minimum wage is hard on families: Explain Robbins and Fremstad: “The greatest declines in marriage rates since 1970 are for working-class men, who have experienced the greatest declines in real wages, and for working-class women, who have seen little wage growth.” They argue that if the minimum wage were raised to $12 per hour, there would be increased financial resources for young, unmarried workers and even more for working parents.

  1. Strengthen Collective Bargaining

Unions strengthen families because they bring security and stability for those in the union—and even for those in industries where the unionization rate is higher. “Researchers find that the connection between unions and marriage is ‘largely explained by the increased income, regularity and stability of employment, and fringe benefits that come with union membership,” report Robbins and Fremstad. Workers in states that have “right to work”—a policy that limits unions’ ability to organize workers–have lower wages and fewer benefits, and states without these laws have higher rates of unionization. And that leads us back to the takeaway here: States with more unionization have better wages and benefits for all.

  1. Expand Medicaid

“Unfortunately, while the nation’s uninsurance rate is at an all-time low, nearly 3 million adults still lack health insurance because 19 states have yet to expand Medicaid to eligible low-income adults,” write Robbins and Fremstad. Despite the availability of federal funds to people across the country, some states deny people Medicaid who could be personally eligible. Expansion of Medicaid—health insurance for people with low or no income–would lessen stress levels, financial burdens, poor health outcomes, and family instability, all of which are heightened when Medicaid is lacking.

  1. Support Reproductive Rights

They write: “Policies that support reproductive rights increase people’s ability to decide when and if to have children and are linked to higher levels of educational attainment and lifetime earnings for women.” When people are not given the control over when they have children, they note, it is harmful to their economic security. Robbins and Fremstad suggest that an expansion in Medicaid to cover birth control and other reproductive health options would help economic security and in the end help to strengthen families.

Together, these four policies are a compelling baseline for a progressive, pro-family agenda. As Robbins and Fremstad note, states that are promoting these four policies have “higher levels of educational attainment and lower levels of incarceration.” Their brief offers strong, clear recommendations. We will work… and see what 2017 brings.

Originally posted 1/2/17

Molly McNulty is a CCF Public Affairs Intern at Framingham State University. She is a senior Sociology and Education major.

photo credit: Polski via pixabay

One consequence of racial inequalities in the United States is that black Americans die at much higher rates than white Americans. New research by UT Austin’s Debra Umberson and colleagues explores some understudied consequences of this. Umberson’s team finds that black Americans are more likely to lose their parents during childhood than white children. Furthermore, black Americans are more likely to experience the death of multiple close family members by mid-life. Along with the sheer tragedy, in the long run these losses have the potential to damage the health of black Americans. Bereavement following the death of just one family member has shown to have lasting adverse consequences for the health of the individual, with premature deaths having an even larger impact.

Using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and Health and Retirement Study totaling 42,000 people, the researchers compared non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white Americans on their exposure to death of family members and total number of deaths experienced at different ages. The study shows that black Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to experience the death of two or more family members by the age of 30. Black Americans born in the 1980s were three times more likely to lose a mother, more than twice as likely to lose a father, and 20 percent more likely to lose a sibling by age 10. The race gap diminishes slightly at age 70. At that point, whites begin to exceed blacks in experiencing loss. However, black Americans experienced more family member deaths than white Americans overall.

This racial disparity in family member death rates paints a stark picture of black health disadvantages. Death of family members puts strain on other family relationships. This strain often persists throughout a lifetime, thus adding to even more trouble. As Umberson and colleagues emphasize bereavement is a known risk factor for mental and physical health having an even greater impact if it occurs during childhood or early adulthood. The loss-upon-loss quality of this result sets up another reinforcing cycle. Racial inequalities contribute to a high death rate for black Americans. And they add another racial inequality all together; health disadvantages due to the loss of family members.

Next week we will feature an interview with Dr. Umberson about her research.

Megan Peterson is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

sunriseIf you are interested in families, the most recent presidential election brings a trail of troubles. A lot of Americans fear what is in store in the near future and are anxious about the clear division in popular attitudes that now exists in what is supposed to be the United States. Family policy will be deeply impacted as a result of this division. For direction, Kate Gallagher Robbins and Shawn Fremstad offer a light in the darkness in a recent brief—using evidence to clarify uncertainty. Robbins is the Director of Family Policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at American Progress, and Fremstad is a senior research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a consultant on policy issues to multiple national nonprofits. They are also CCF Senior Scholars. If you want to hear more, also read this short interview with them on “Now What?”

In their brief, 4 Progressive Policies that Make Families Stronger, Robbins and Fremstad detail key progressive policies that will strengthen working class families.

  1. Increase Minimum Wage

Families fare better when making more money because they have more certainty and fewer financial worries. Marriage rates help to portray that a low minimum wage is hard on families: Explain Robbins and Fremstad: “The greatest declines in marriage rates since 1970 are for working-class men, who have experienced the greatest declines in real wages, and for working-class women, who have seen little wage growth.” They argue that if the minimum wage were raised to $12 per hour, there would be increased financial resources for young, unmarried workers and even more for working parents.

  1. Strengthen Collective Bargaining

Unions strengthen families because they bring security and stability for those in the union—and even for those in industries where the unionization rate is higher. “Researchers find that the connection between unions and marriage is ‘largely explained by the increased income, regularity and stability of employment, and fringe benefits that come with union membership,” report Robbins and Fremstad. Workers in states that have “right to work”—a policy that limits unions’ ability to organize workers–have lower wages and fewer benefits, and states without these laws have higher rates of unionization. And that leads us back to the takeaway here: States with more unionization have better wages and benefits for all.

  1. Expand Medicaid

“Unfortunately, while the nation’s uninsurance rate is at an all-time low, nearly 3 million adults still lack health insurance because 19 states have yet to expand Medicaid to eligible low-income adults,” write Robbins and Fremstad. Despite the availability of federal funds to people across the country, some states deny people Medicaid who could be personally eligible. Expansion of Medicaid—health insurance for people with low or no income–would lessen stress levels, financial burdens, poor health outcomes, and family instability, all of which are heightened when Medicaid is lacking.

  1. Support Reproductive Rights

They write: “Policies that support reproductive rights increase people’s ability to decide when and if to have children and are linked to higher levels of educational attainment and lifetime earnings for women.” When people are not given the control over when they have children, they note, it is harmful to their economic security. Robbins and Fremstad suggest that an expansion in Medicaid to cover birth control and other reproductive health options would help economic security and in the end help to strengthen families.

Together, these four policies are a compelling baseline for a progressive, pro-family agenda. As Robbins and Fremstad note, states that are promoting these four policies have “higher levels of educational attainment and lower levels of incarceration.” Their brief offers strong, clear recommendations. We will work… and see what 2017 brings.

Molly McNulty is a CCF Public Affairs Intern at Framingham State University. She is a senior Sociology and Education major.

Time by Sean McEntee / vic Flickr Commons
Time by Sean McEntee / vic Flickr Commons

This summer, the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) reported on research by sociologists Jennifer Glass, Robin Simon, and Matthew Andersson finding that parents in the United States were less happy than their non-parent counterparts, and also less happy than parents in other countries. Reporters cynically titled their headlines with statements such as, “If You’re a Happy Parent in America, You’re a Unicorn.”

CCF scholar Kelly Musick and researchers Ann Meier and Sarah Flood show that parents in the United States aren’t always unhappy, even though on average, parents are less happy than non-parents. Their new research, How Parents Fare: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Subjective Well-Being in Time with Children, featured in the American Sociological Review, answers questions about the conditions under which mothers and fathers in the United States are happy and unhappy, and how their daily activities impact broader measures of parental well-being.

Musick, Meier, and Flood analyzed data in the form of self-reported well-being (happiness, sadness, stress, fatigue, and sense of meaningfulness) during 36,063 specific market and non-market work, care work, and leisure activities reported by 12,163 parents in the nationally representative 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Surveys.

The researchers highlight important findings regarding parenting and well-being:

Parent well-being is not static: parents tended to have higher measures of well-being when they were with their children as compared to without their children. Though recent studies have shown parents to be less happy than non-parents, it was not the case that children caused parents to be unhappy. Parents felt a greater sense of meaning and were happier, less sad and stressed, but just as tired, when they were with their children as compared to when they were not with them. The authors suggested that “positive feelings in time with children may thus reflect feeling rushed or guilty in time away from children.”

Mothers’ well-being was greater with than without children, but still not quite as high as fathers’ well-being with children. Specifically, mothers were more tired and stressed when with their children than were fathers. These differences in well-being were not because of the children, but because of the different activities in which mothers and fathers engaged. Mothers were more likely to do “routine” child-rearing tasks (“basic childcare” and “childcare management”) than fathers, but both parents were equally likely to do fun activities like “playing with” and “teaching” children. Mothers were more likely to engage in “solo-parenting,” meaning that they spent time with their children under age 18 without another adult present. Mothers also spent less time on average than fathers in their own leisure activity and had lower-quality sleep. When the “gendered patterns” of moms’ versus dads’ activities were considered, accounting for the greater share of care work and lower quality and quantity of “restorative” activity engaged by mothers, moms fared just as well in terms of well-being as fathers.

Parents, to varying degrees, have higher subjective well-being when they are spending time with their children than when they are not. Mothers, however, have slightly lower well-being than fathers. What does all this mean from a policy perspective? CCF reports point to evidence-based solutions. Affordable childcare and work-family policies should be implemented so that parents can meet the many demands made of them, whether those demands are caring for children and parents, working, or taking time to relax. These policies should be similar for men and women, because when fathers take paternity leave, they spend more time on childcare in the long run; by the logic of “How Parents Fare,” this could eliminate gender disparities in parental well-being. Here’s hoping that the calls for these policies—that have been around for a while—will be heeded at last following our current political season.

Braxton Jones is a graduate student in sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and serves as CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.

via pixabay / Gerd Altman aka geralt
via pixabay / Gerd Altman aka geralt

Media have tended to depict childfree people negatively, likening the decision not to have children to the decision “whether to have pizza or Indian for dinner.” Misperceptions about those who do not have children have serious weight, given that 15 percent of women, and 24 percent of men had not had children by age 40 between 2006 and 2010, and that nearly half of women aged 40-44 in 2002 were what Amy Blackstone and Mahala Dyer Stewart refer to as childfree, or purposefully not intending to have children. Their forthcoming July 2016 article in The Family Journal, “There’s More Thinking to Decide”: How the Childfree Decide Not to Parent, engages the topic of childfree that extends much scholarly and public work Blackstone has done, including at her shared blog, We’re Not Having a Baby.

When researchers explore why people do not have children, they find that these reasons are strikingly similar to reasons why people do have children. For example, “motivation to develop or maintain meaningful relationships” is a reason that some people have children–and a reason that others do not. Scholars are less certain on how people come to the decision to to be childfree. In their new article, Blackstone and Stewart find that, as is often the case with media portrayals of contemporary families, descriptions of how people come to the decision to be childfree have been oversimplified. People who are childfree put a significant amount of thought into the formation of their families, as they report.

Blackstone and Stewart conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 women and 10 men, with an average age of 34, who are intentionally childfree. After several coding sessions, Blackstone and Stewart identified 18 distinct themes that described some aspect of decision-making with regard to living childfree. Ultimately, the authors concluded that being childfree was a conscious decision that arose through a process. These patterns were reported by both men and women respondents, but in slightly different ways.

Childfree as a conscious decision

All but two of the participants emphasized that their decision to be childfree was made consciously. One respondent captured the overarching message:

People who have decided not to have kids arguably have been more thoughtful than those who decided to have kids. It’s deliberate, it’s respectful, ethical, and it’s a real honest, good, fair, and, for many people, right decision.

There were gender differences in the motives for these decisions. Women were more likely to make the decision based on concern for others: some thought that the world was a tough place for children today, and some did not want to contribute to overpopulation and environmental degradation. In contrast, men more often made the decision to live childfree “after giving careful and deliberate thought to the potential consequences of parenting for their own, everyday lives, habits, and activities and what they would be giving up were they to become parents.”

Childfree as a process

Contrary to misconceptions that the decision to be childfree is a “snap” decision, Blackstone and Stewart note that respondents conceptualized their childfree lifestyle as “a working decision” that developed over time. Many respondents had desired to live childfree since they were young; others began the process of deciding to be childfree when they witnessed their siblings and peers raising children. Despite some concrete milestones in the process of deciding to be childfree, respondents emphasized that it was not one experience alone that sustained the decision. One respondent said, “I did sort of take my temperature every five, six, years to make sure I didn’t want them.” Though both women and men described their childfree lifestyle as a “working decision,” women were more likely to include their partners in that decision-making process by talking about the decision, while men were more likely to make the decision independently.

Blackstone and Stewart conclude by asking, “What might childfree families teach us about alternative approaches to ‘doing’ marriage and family?” The present research suggests that childfree people challenge what is often an unquestioned life sequence by consistently considering the impact that children would have on their own lives as well as the lives of their family, friends, and communities. One respondent reflected positively on childfree people’s thought process: ‘‘I wish more people thought about thinking about it… I mean I wish it were normal to decide whether or not you were going to have children.’’

Braxton Jones is a graduate student in sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.