New Work

Reposted from the University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center

While it is well-established that marriage benefits physical and emotional well-being, it is not marital status alone that matters but also marital quality. Substantial evidence demonstrates that marital strain increases psychological distress for married people. Most of this evidence is based exclusively on people’s own reports of the strain they feel in their marriages, referred to by researchers as “self-reported marital strain.” However, most research has not considered how a spouse’s perceptions and feelings about the marriage, known as “spouse-reported marital strain,” may also contribute to an individual’s distress.

Obtaining information from spouses is important because even if an individual is generally happy with the marriage, his or her spouse might be unhappy. The individual can then pick up on and be negatively affected by the spouse’s unhappiness. Dyadic data, which obtains appraisals from both spouses, may therefore provide important insights into the association between marital strain and psychological distress.

Prior research, based almost exclusively on different-sex couples, also suggests that marital strain may lead to more psychological distress for women than for men. This gender difference has been theorized by some to be the result of women’s greater interpersonal connections, which may increase their awareness of and reactivity to relationship strain. Others argue that gendered power dynamics, in which women are seen as subordinate to men, explain this difference.

Same-sex couples typically adhere less strongly to gendered norms and expectations and are more egalitarian than different-sex couples. A gender-as-relational perspective – which argues that the way women and men enact gender differs depending on whether they are interacting with a woman or a man – would suggest that the relationship between self- and spouse-reported marital strain and psychological distress might operate differently for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages.

Conducting research on different- and same-sex couples could shed light on competing theories of why women generally experience more distress as a result of marital strain. On the one hand, if women are more aware of interpersonal dynamics within marriage, they may be more susceptible than men to psychological distress as a result of marital strain regardless of whether they are in a different-sex or same-sex marriage. On the other hand, if women in different-sex marriages are more likely to be in relationships that reflect gendered power dynamics in which they are subordinate to men, they may be especially vulnerable to distress as a result of marital strain.

To examine whether and how self-reported marital strain and spouse-reported marital strain are associated with psychological distress and whether differences exist for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages, we analyzed ten days of dyadic diary data from 756 U.S. women and men in midlife.

►►People who report higher levels of their own marital strain (“self-reported marital strain”) have more psychological distress. In addition, people whose spouses report higher levels of marital strain (“spouse- reported marital strain”), also experience more psychological distress.

►►However, there are notable gender differences in these relationships: women in different-sex marriages suffer more compared to women in same-sex marriages and men in same- and different-sex marriages. (See figure)

►►The association of self-reported marital strain with psychological distress is stronger for women in different-sex marriages compared to all other union types.

►►The association of spouse-reported marital strain with psychological distress is stronger for women in different-sex marriages when compared to men in same- and different-sex marriages.

Implications for research on marital dynamics and health
Research on marriage needs to consider the perspectives of both spouses when exploring linkages between marital dynamics and well-being. Data from both spouses is especially useful because it allows researchers to explore how perceptions, behaviors, and characteristics of each spouse may independently impact the health and well-being of either one or both spouses.
To fully capture the range of marital dynamics and their impact on health – especially for gender differences in these linkages – future studies should include same-sex couples as well as different-sex couples.

Research would benefit from taking a gender-as-relational approach to studying marital relationships. As this research clearly shows, it is not an individual’s gender but rather an individual’s gender in combination with his or her spouse’s gender that plays a key role in the link between marital strain and psychological distress, with women married to men showing a unique disadvantage compared to other union types. Thus, research must look beyond the individual to consider how gendered relational contexts shape processes of health and well-being.

Implications for mental health professionals
Clinicians would also benefit from considering the gendered relational contexts of marital relationships. In other words, counseling and other professional interactions with couples would be strengthened by thinking of the individual in combination with their spouse’s gender.

Indeed, when mental health clinicians move beyond an exclusive focus on the individual and expand their approach to also consider the gender of their patient’s spouse, they can better understand and thus provide better care to their patients across all marital contexts. This is especially vital for women in different-sex marriages. Given the higher rates of depression and anxiety for women, a focus on improving the marital experiences of women in different-sex marriages may help to reduce mental health disparities.
Study findings also point to the importance of considering how either spouse’s perceptions of marital strain and conflict can undermine the psychological well-being of both spouses. Thus, clinicians should make every effort to collect information about both the patients’ and spouses’ marital experiences.

Michael A. Garcia ( is a PhD student in sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and Debra Umberson is a professor of sociology and director of the Population Research Center, UT Austin who holds the Christine and Stanley E. Adams, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts.

This research was supported, in part, by Grant R21AG044585 from the National Institute on Aging (PI, Debra Umberson); Grant P2CHD042849 awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); and Grant T32 HD007081, Training Program in Population Studies, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by NICHD. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Image by giselaatje from Pixabay

Friends are important because they help us when we are in need, they make us feel supported, and they make happy events even more enjoyable by sharing those good times with us. Fortunately, almost everyone knows how to make friends with a new acquaintance – you look for common interests, you do nice things for the other person, you hang out with them by engaging in their favorite activities or sometimes by participating in mutually-enjoyable activities. You might help your new acquaintance by giving them advice when it is sought, by listening to them, or by sharing with them things they need or want. Often, just showing an interest in a person is an important step in building a bond of friendship with them.

For over twenty years our research team has been studying a particular kind of friendship, that between a stepparent and stepchild. Stepfamilies are a sizable portion of American families; in a 2011 Pew Center survey, 42% of respondents reported having at least one stepfamily member, and younger adults had more step-relatives than older ones, so the numbers will continue to grow. We have been studying stepparent-stepchild relationships because family clinicians and researchers suggest that stepparents’ ability to develop close bonds with stepchildren may be critical to the well-being of couple and family relationships in stepfamilies.

In our first study of what we called “affinity-seeking,” we examined 53 stepparents’ efforts at building friendships with their stepchildren by doing in-depth interviews with stepparents, their spouses, and stepchildren. We found that stepparents who purposefully made friends and tried to build close bonds with their stepchildren before remarriage, and who continued to maintain those bonding activities after remarriage, felt closer to their stepchildren and reported less conflicts. Stepparents who befriended stepchildren when they were dating, but then stopped after remarriage, were not as close with their stepchildren and had more conflicts. Perhaps not surprisingly, stepparents who never made efforts to build affinity with stepchildren had the most emotionally distant stepfamily relationships. We also found, in another in-depth study of dozens of young adult stepchildren, that stepchildren had to notice what their stepparents were trying to do and respond affirmatively to those affinity-seeking efforts; it was not enough for stepparents to try to build bonds, stepchildren had to recognize their efforts, interpret them in a positive way, and respond in kind. In addition, we learned that stepchildren believe that the initial efforts to build a bond are the stepparents’ responsibility, not theirs.

More recently, we gathered survey data online from 291 heterosexual remarried couples in which we asked them about stepparents’ affinity-seeking with stepchildren, marital quality, stepfamily conflict and cohesion. Information was obtained from husbands and wives separately, which allowed us to look at how stepparent affinity seeking related to both the stepparents’ and the biological parents’ perceptions about their marriage and family relationship quality. To assess stepparent affinity-seeking, we asked the partners individually to select the oldest child in their household who was from one of the partners’ previous relationships, and we asked them to think of that stepchild when responding to questions about stepparents’ efforts to build a friendship.

First, we explored factors related to stepparents’ efforts to befriend their stepchildren. Specifically, we evaluated how biological parents’ efforts at controlling stepparents’ interactions with their children (also known as “gatekeeping”) and stepparents’ self-perceptions of how they viewed close relationships with others (also known as “attachment orientations”) were associated with stepparents’ friendship-seeking behaviors with residential stepchildren. Stepparents who felt confident in their close relationships and, perhaps surprisingly, stepparents who felt anxious when interacting with others to whom they wanted to be close, engaged in more friendship- seeking behaviors with their stepchildren than did stepparents whose orientation was to keep their distance as a way to protect themselves in intimate relationships. We also found that both stepparents and their partners reported that the biological parents’ restrictive gatekeeping was strongly associated with fewer friendship-seeking behaviors by stepparents.

Next, we looked at whether the stepparent-stepchild relationship or marital relationship was more closely linked to overall stepfamily functioning. We did this because a researcher years ago had suggested that step-relationship quality was the most important predictor of stepfamily quality; some stepfamily therapists agree, while others contend that marital quality is key to family functioning. In our study we found that both relationships are important, although couples’ confidence in the future of their marriage was slightly more strongly associated with better stepfamily functioning (i.e., emotional closeness, communication, harmony) than was the quality of the stepparent-stepchild bond.

Finally, in a subsample of 234 stepfather-mother dyads, we found, after accounting for duration of mothers’ previous relationships, duration of the stepcouple relationship, the selected child’s biological sex and age, number of children in the household, and mothers’ report of household income, stepfathers’ perceptions of affinity-seeking with the child significantly predicted both partners’ perceptions of stepfather-stepchild conflict, marital quality, marital confidence, and stepfamily cohesion.

The results of these studies suggest that there are benefits associated with stepparent affinity-seeking – less conflict with stepchildren, better couple relationships, and closer stepfamily ties. Our findings provide evidence for encouraging stepparents to focus on building friendships with stepchildren. Our findings also illustrate that this is not always a simple thing to do. For these efforts to work, stepparents should engage in friendship-building behaviors early in the relationship and continue them as the bond builds. Additionally, the stepchildren must notice those efforts and respond affirmatively to them. Biological parents also need to allow opportunities for stepparents and stepchildren to engage with each other. When these things happen, then everyone in the stepfamily benefits. Stepparents and their partners (the parents of the children) need to think about this as an ongoing, long-term project – we found that some stepchildren disliked their stepparents and resisted any efforts to bond for some time, often months or years, before deciding that their stepparents’ efforts should be reciprocated.

Lawrence Ganong is an emeritus professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. Marilyn Coleman is a Distinguished Curator’s Professor Emerita of human development and family science at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. They have been studying stepfamily relationships for over 40 years.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Policymakers, academics, and the general public are increasingly interested in parental leave policies. The increased interest in parental leave is particularly notable in the United States – the only high-income country without a national statutory paid parental leave policy – indicating some potential for progress. Indeed, many 2020 U.S. presidential campaigns have discussed potential paid leave policies, several states have adopted state-level paid family leave policies, and large companies are adopting and increasingly publicizing their paid parental leave policies.

The increased attention to paid parental leave policies stems from their perceived benefits. Most notably, scholars and policymakers believe parental leave is a key policy that can help to promote greater gender equality, particularly when these policies make fathers eligible to take leave and encourage fathers to take leave. Paid leave for fathers provides men with time to participate in childcare and housework tasks that are traditionally performed by mothers, helps parents learn how to share tasks more equally, and establishes expectations for shared parenting. Getting fathers more involved in domestic labor helps to reduce the burdens typically placed on mothers – and closing the gap in domestic labor between men and women is key to achieving greater gender equality both at home and in the public sphere.

Current evidence suggests that fathers who take leave (especially those who take longer periods of leave) are more involved in childcare and housework than fathers who do not take leave (Almqvist and Duvander 2014; Bünning 2015; Petts and Knoester 2018; Tamm 2019). Couples that share childcare and housework more equally report greater satisfaction in their relationships than couples in less egalitarian relationships, as sharing in domestic labor promotes feelings of equity between parents and reduces the burdens placed on any one parent (Carlson et al. 2016). Indeed, there is also evidence that parents – mothers in particular – report being more satisfied in their relationships when fathers take leave after the birth of a child (Kotsadam and Finseraas 2011; Petts & Knoester 2019a; 2019b).

In a new study published this month, we extend previous work on the benefits of fathers’ leave-taking by looking at whether fathers’ leave-taking (and how much time fathers take) is associated with relationship stability in the United States. Because taking leave may foster more involvement in domestic labor by U.S. fathers and reduce burdens placed on U.S. mothers, parents – especially mothers – may feel more supported and satisfied in these relationships and thus better able to manage the stresses involved with raising a child. Reduced strain and higher relationship quality portends a lower likelihood of relationship dissolution.

We find evidence that fathers’ leave-taking is associated with more stable parental relationships. Specifically, couples were 25% less likely to end their relationship in the first six years following the birth of a child when fathers took leave compared to couples where fathers did not take leave. Thus, results suggest that increasing access to parental leave for fathers – and encouraging fathers to take this leave – may help to increase family stability.

If fathers’ leave-taking reduces the risk of relationship dissolution, does this mean that longer leaves are even more likely to promote relationship stability? Not exactly. We find that taking two weeks of leave or less is most likely to reduce the risk of relationship dissolution; couples were 29% less likely to end their relationship when fathers took 1 week of leave, and 25% less likely to end their relationship when fathers took 2 weeks of leave (compared to couples where fathers did not take leave). Taking longer periods of leave (3 weeks or more) was unrelated to relationship stability (although this may be due to small sample sizes, as the number of U.S. fathers who take longer leaves is quite low).

This may seem counterintuitive. If taking leave provides fathers with time to learn to be an engaged parent, and parents’ time to establish equitable coparenting relationships, it seems logical that more time on leave would be better for parents and help to strengthen parental relationships. However, it is important to consider the cultural norms surrounding parental leave and the implications of taking more time off than is expected, or accepted, within a society. In the U.S., most fathers take a short period of time off work when a child is born and it is widely accepted that fathers should be present for the birth of their child. It is uncommon for fathers to take longer than a couple of weeks off work when a child is born, and there are actually career penalties and stigmas associated with taking longer periods of leave (Rudman and Mescher 2013; Wayne and Cordeiro 2003; Williams et al. 2013). Thus, relatively short leaves may be most likely to promote relationship stability by providing some time at home for fathers while minimizing any negative career consequences. These findings are consistent with European studies which show that fathers’ leave-taking is most likely to promote parents’ relationship stability when fathers follow the cultural norms of leave-taking within a particular country (Lappegård et al. 2019; Viklund 2018).

Overall, our study suggests that fathers’ leave-taking may help to promote more stable parental relationships in the U.S., identifying an additional benefit of fathers’ leave-taking for families. Given the numerous benefits of parental leave, the increased attention on expanding parental leave policies in the U.S. is warranted. American parents need greater access to paid parental leave in order to take advantage of the benefits that parental leave provides (such as more stable parental relationships). But, our findings regarding variations in relationship stability by length of leave suggest that norms regarding parental leave-taking also need to change. For the full benefits of parental leave policies to be realized, U.S. culture needs to be more accepting of fathers taking leave. By doing so, we may be able to work towards greater gender equality by encouraging – and providing opportunities for – mothers and fathers to share more equally in childcare.

Richard Petts is Professor of Sociology at Ball State University. Follow him on Twitter @pettsric and reach him at  Daniel L. Carlson is Assistant Professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah. Follow him on Twitter @DanielCarlson_1 and reach him at

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Is cohabitation the new conventional model of family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors’ information: You can contact the authors to know more about their ongoing project on children’s social media presence at and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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