New Work

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

A brief report prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families by David Cotter, Professor of Sociology at Union College

The General Social Survey[i] has been asking a set of four questions about gender ideology since the mid 1970s. These cover the relative suitability of women and men for politics, whether or not families should have a breadwinner/homemaker division of responsibilities, and whether mothers’ employment is harmful to children. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the answers to each of these trended in an egalitarian direction. Then from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s this support for gender equality stalled, even reversed. Since the early 2000s, however, all have returned to an egalitarian direction – and in every case are now above their mid-1990s peak. (See Figure 1.)

The Gender Ideology Index  my colleagues Joan Hermsen, Reeve Vanneman and I use is comprised of these four questions, which have been asked most consistently in the General Social Survey since the 1970s. For each egalitarian answer a respondent gets one “point,” so that someone who answered all four questions in an egalitarian way would get four points, and someone who answered all four in a traditionalist way would get a score of zero. The index now allows us to trace almost forty years of change. As with the items that make it up, it charts a pattern of rapid change from the 1970s up to the mid-1990s, a stall, and then a resumption of the trend toward egalitarianism. See Figure 2.

Gender Ideology by Gender
Gender differences in the Gender Ideology Index are, for the most part, relatively unremarkable. For nearly all of the series men are slightly (but significantly) less egalitarian than women. This remains true.  However, it is notable that the gap has now narrowed from what was nearly its widest point in 2012 to its smallest point in 2016. In addition, most of the change in the last few years is attributable to men’s “catching up” with women’s egalitarian attitudes. See Figure 3.

Gender Ideology and Generation: More Evolution than Revolution
Further analysis reveals that much of the change happens between generations – something that is particularly true in the post-stall period where individual generations show little secular trend. The fact that the Greatest Generation is fading from the survey and being replaced by Millennials after 2000, and especially since 2012, seems to be what is driving the movement toward egalitarianism. But those large differences between generations are less pronounced among the more recent cohorts: The difference between the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers in 1977 was nearly as large as the whole change from 1977 to 2016, but the differences between Baby Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials barely as large as the overall change from 2012 to 2016. See Figure 4.

 

[i] The General Social Survey is a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population conducted regularly (annually or biennially) since 1972.  It is among the best sources for ongoing social science data on Americans’ attitudes about gender and a number of other issues. Yearly sample sizes in this analysis range from 904 in 2004 to 1,984 in 2006 (https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/).

A brief report prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families by Dan Carlson, Assistant Professor, Family and Consumer Studies, University of Utah, daniel.carlson@fcs.utah.edu.

The stories inspired by the #MeToo movement reveal that despite decades of struggle for gender equality at work, patriarchy, misogyny, and the sexual objectification of women run deep. And yet the fact that some harassers, abusers, and predators are being held accountable indicates that proponents of gender equality continue to make progress.

But what’s happening on the home front? Has the gender revolution there stalled or is progress being made? Today, married men do roughly four hours of housework per week, up from two hours in 1965 but roughly the same as in 1995 (Bianchi et al. 2012). Married women perform much less housework today than in 1965 (14.2 hours vs. 30.4), but the amount hasn’t changed much since the mid-90s (14.2 hours vs. 15.8). Among youth, egalitarian attitudes about male authority at home and separate gender spheres increased from the 1960s through the mid-90s, but have reversed since, becoming more conventional.

Does this mean the gender revolution stalled? Not necessarily. Since the mid-90s, women have obtained a larger share of college degrees than men and increasingly earn as much or more than their partners, especially in the middle, working, and lower classes (Glynn 2012). Men have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend in direct care of children since 1965, with more than half of these gains occurring since the 90s (Bianchi et al. 2012) and twice as many men today are stay-at-home dads than 20 years ago, with four times as many saying they are doing it to care for their family (Pew Research Center 2014). Additionally, even though the attitudes of youth have become more conventional, results from the U.S. General Social Survey (GSS) indicate that after a lull in the mid-90s, U.S. adults’ valuation of gender egalitarianism has continued to increase since the mid-2000s (Shu and Meagher 2018).

In new research to be published later this month in Socius, my colleagues Amanda Miller, Sharon Sassler, and I find a significant increase in the proportion of low- to moderate-income parents sharing routine housework tasks between 1992 and 2006. In the 1990s, couples were most likely to share shopping (28%) and dishwashing (16%) and least likely to share laundry (9%) and house cleaning (12%). By 2006, the proportion of couples 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. The proportion who shared cooking rose from 13 percent to 21 percent while the proportion sharing dishwashing increased from 16 to 29 percent. The increase in shared shopping was less dramatic – from 28 to 30 percent—but it remains the most frequently shared task, now closely followed by dishwashing. And the percent of couples where men did the majority of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and dishes roughly doubled from 1992 to 2006.

The gender revolution can be measured not only by the way we arrange our lives, but also by the consequences of those arrangements. And that too appears to have changed. In earlier decades, couples who shared housework equally reported lower levels of marital and sexual satisfaction, and less frequent sex, than couples who adhered to a more “conventional” division of labor. But for married and cohabiting couples since the early 1990s, the reverse is true.  Although less than one-third of the couples we studied shared housework equally, these were the couples who, in contrast to couples in earlier decades, reported the highest marital and sexual satisfaction. In fact, this is the only group among which the frequency of sexual intercourse has increased since the early 90s. In our new study, we confirmed that egalitarian sharing of tasks has become more important for relationship quality. In 1992, the division of tasks mattered little for couples’ well-being. By 2006, couples who equally shared tasks demonstrated clear advantages over couples where one partner shouldered the load.

As it turns out, though, all housework isn’t created equal. Our new study reveals that some tasks are more closely associated with relationship quality than others.

For contemporary men, sharing shopping with their partner seems to be a turn on. Men who shared the shopping for their household not only reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction than men who did the majority of this work, but also greater satisfaction than men whose partner did the majority of shopping. For cleaning and laundry, men reported lower relationship and sexual satisfaction and more discord when they did the majority of these tasks, but they were just as satisfied when these tasks were shared as when their partner did them.

For women, the shared task that mattered most for their satisfaction with their relationship was dishwashing. As of 2006, women who found themselves doing the lion’s share of dishwashing reported significantly more relationship discord, lower relationship satisfaction, and less sexual satisfaction than women who split the dishes with their partner. Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women among all the household tasks, and lack of sharing of this task the single biggest source of discontent.

One overarching pattern that emerged from our data is that the more common it is to share a task, the more damaging to relationship quality it is for just one partner to shoulder responsibility for it. This is why shopping and dish-washing appear to matter so much for relationship quality. It seems individuals and couples take stock of their arrangements in comparison to those around them, and those assessments of relative advantage or disadvantage come to shape their feelings about their arrangements and their relationships overall. This suggests that as the sharing of other tasks becomes more common, the benefits of sharing — and the costs of not sharing — increase. Such a pattern sounds less like a movement undergoing a stall and more like one that is continuing to build.

Picture by GDJ via pixabay

Social institutions powerfully impact how children move throughout the world—even if the institution is indirectly affecting them. Such is the case with parental incarceration and its effect on children and their transition to adulthood. And, of course, education is a major site of indirect inequalities. The research article, “Paternal Incarceration and Children’s Schooling Contexts: Intersecting Inequalities of Education Opportunity,” by Anna R. Haskins, describes the type of schools that children with incarcerated fathers attend. Her article highlights the ways in which mass incarceration has transformed schooling in the United States. What are the types of schools that children with incarcerated fathers attend? Who exactly teaches at these institutions? How do those learning conditions compare to the learning conditions of children with fathers who are not incarcerated? Haskins’ new study answers these questions.

The article uses data on children’s early elementary environments from a longitudinal birth-cohort sample of urban families. Specifically, The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is the longitudinal study that follows 4,898 children and their parents. A reminder of how this amazing data set was established: Data were collected from twenty large U.S cities between 1998 and 2000. Marital and non-marital births were randomly sampled within hospitals across cities. Mothers were interviewed in these hospitals 48 hours after the child was born, and the interviews for the fathers took place soon after. After these interviews, there were five additional follow-up waves of phone interviews that took place when the child was approximately 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15 years old. Specifically, these waves included interviews of the parents, in-home assessments of the child and their home environment (starting at wave 3); and when the child was 9 years old and had entered what the other called “formal schooling”, this was around wave 4, a teacher survey a large range of educational assessments, and administrative data from the child’s elementary school were collected.

And what we already know: Having an incarcerated parent already creates a disadvantage across a range of social, economic, behavioral and health outcomes. Therefore, since these students are possibly but in lower-income schooling, some research has demonstrated that schools that serve predominantly low-income and minority families disproportionately employ teachers with lower levels of education, nonstandard certifications, and fewer years of teaching experience. It was found that Black and Hispanic children in the Fragile Families Study are more likely than whites to experience paternal incarceration. Specifically, for Blacks, this reaches 57 percent by year nine, Hispanics at around 40 percent and Whites at nearly 30 percent. This means that nearly two-thirds of the Black children in the sample have had a father incarcerated at some point by the time they are only nine years old.

Focusing on the profile of the schools attended, there are significant differences in the types of schools and teachers at schools where children with incarcerated fathers attend. Children with incarcerated fathers by age nine are significantly more likely to attend a school that receives Title I funding. Title I funding is for schools with high rates of poverty. Their schools also have higher percentages of the student body eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, larger concentrations of minority students, and more students in their classroom repeating the current grade. These are all indicators of poor school quality and show that children who have not had incarcerated fathers attend higher quality school systems. In addition, per the study, children with incarcerated fathers are significantly more likely to be in public school, but less like likely to have white teachers.

But, what is unique about this study was that even though prior research found that lower-income schools employ teachers with less experience—this research didn’t exactly find that. Interestingly enough, none of the teacher quality indicators, such as years of teaching experience, highest level of education, or elementary certification, differed between the paternal incarceration groups, nor did class size or school reports of student-teacher ratios. In other words, the teachers were up to the task, but the context the children lived in made things especially difficult for them.

Pertaining to schooling and behavior, there was strong evidence that showed children that experienced paternal incarceration attend schools in neighborhoods with more disorder, harsher disciplinary climates, and lower rates of a positive school climate, as reported by teachers.

So, what does all of this mean for children with their fathers separated from them and trapped behind bars? Paternal incarceration not only impacts children’s transition at home—but it also dictates their overall schooling experience. Set aside their behavior, paternal incarceration has a heavy correlation to the type of school they go to compared to their peers without incarcerated fathers. When reading this research, we find a serious the impact of just having one parent, the father, incarcerated—think about what this can do to a child if it was both of their parents. The transformative experience a child has to go through, not just in their home but at their school, should speak loudly about the enormous costs of hyper-incarceration in the U.S.

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

Picture by Creative Commons via pixabay

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.

 

Photo by GDJ via pixabay

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.