New Work

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

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

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

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

Childfree as a conscious decision

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

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

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

Childfree as a process

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

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

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

photo via Pixabay
photo via Pixabay

Why are families less economically secure today? After all, there’s been four decades of families seeming to have the opportunity to earn more and do better—this largely due to women’s movement into the U.S. workforce. According to a new report, women’s increased earnings and hours have been vital in the American family’s search for economic security. How has that search gone? Heather Boushey and Kavya Vaghul’s new report “Women have made the difference for family economic security” offers some answers.

Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and research team member Vaghul used data from the Current Population survey to focus on changes in family income between 1979 and 2013 for low-, middle-, and professional-income families. They delved into the difference between men’s and women’s earnings regarding greater pay, as well as women’s earning as a function of more hours worked. They also looked at other sources of income between 1979 and 2013. more...

Celebrity lives are central to much social media. All aspects of the lives of celebrities including the good, the bad, and the ugly are on display. And there are patterns. Race, gender, and privilege are part of the cultural logic that sneaks into the coverage. Recently Joanna R. Pepin highlighted this in an examination of domestic violence coverage. Joanna Pepin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland who studies romantic relationships and inequality.

In a recent paper, Pepin analyzed a sample of 330 news articles from between 2009 and 2012 that were written about 66 celebrity men. Forty-seven were black and 29 were white. She limited her sample to include only news articles about men because of the much greater frequency and severity of men’s violence against their partner. She also restricted her sample to only include black and white men because other races were not represented with sufficient frequency for the period she was studying. Lastly, she limited her search to include only professional actors, musicians, and professional sports players, thus excluding reality television stars, and college athletes. She used a sample of articles that were published online and that were within six months of the report of domestic violence.

Pepin wondered if there were systemic patterns in intimate partner violence reporting by the media related to white and male privilege, and that is exactly what she found. Men’s violent incidents tended to be portrayed in such a way that minimizes the responsibility of the man and excuses them for their behavior in general. However, black men were more often depicted as criminals while articles about white men contained more excuses or justifications for their actions. She derived three important observations about male privilege, and two other key points about white privilege.

Male Privilege: Minimizing the seriousness

Pepin reported that more than 50 percent of the articles minimized the seriousness of the domestic violence. For example, when male celebrities’ domestic violence was discussed it was often done so in a way that used softer language, such as by saying argument, dispute, altercation, or incident. This leads the reader to believe that the violence was simply a bad argument, or a common disagreement between a couple. The news coverage instead profiled men in a way that highlighted their successes, as well as being framed as a good guy.

Male Privilege: Underreport of sanctions

Pepin looked at underreporting of sanctions; that is, did the articles talk about the impact that the violence had on his job, the accountability of the celebrity, and the legal consequences? She found that only 8 percent of the articles included information about how the celebrities’ actions impacted their work, only 4 percent included statements from the journalist about how the action of the celebrity was unacceptable, and only 7 percent of the total articles mentioned legal consequences.

Male Privilege: Misplaced responsibility

Pepin defined misplaced responsibility as when the victim is described as being responsible, or deserving of the abuse. Misplaced responsibility was in evidence when the journalist interviewed the abuser and their representatives instead of interviewing advocates of the victim, law enforcement officials, or scholars. She mentions that the second most cited source in these articles was the abuser. Overall, she found that misplaced responsibility was apparent in 24 percent of the articles and that 13 percent focused the incident on the victim and blamed her for the abuse.

White Privilege: Criminal Framing

According to Pepin, the abuser was framed as a criminal in two-thirds of the articles that were about black celebrities, but only in about one-third of the articles that were about white celebrities. The articles about black celebrities were also two times more likely to include arrest information, three times more likely to talk about the charges, and two and a half time more likely to reference legal documents or law enforcement officials, than articles about white celebrities.

White Privilege: Excuses and justifications

Articles about white celebrities were also more likely to include excuses or justifications for their actions. Results revealed articles were framed in a justifying manner two and a half times more often in the articles about white abusers. She also found that the abuse was framed as a mutual argument—a feature of minimizing the seriousness—in 55 percent of the articles about white celebrities, and 34 percent of the articles about black celebrities.

Celebrity stories are accessible because of, well, because of celebrity. But intimate partner violence is something that happens frequently all over the world. Understanding patterns in privilege and racial disparities can help us change the way we talk about and view intimate partner violence.

Molly McNulty is a CCF public affairs intern at Framingham State University. She is a joint Sociology and Education major.

Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, “Disclosure of Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence to Police among Lesbian, Gays, and Bisexuals,” Social Currents. 2015

Photo Credit: Ryan O'Donnell
Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz. Photo Credit: Ryan O’Donnell

Perception of the police is a heavily discussed topic these days. At the same time, police are often under-utilized when it comes to domestic crimes, such as intimate partner violence (IPV). There is, unfortunately, a history of police homophobia, which means that they are even more under-utilized when it comes to intimate partner violence among lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGB). This is the area of focus provided by Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz (twitter: @XGuadalupeDiaz) who analyzed data involving comfort of the LGB community in terms of disclosing intimate partner violence to the police. Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz is an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Framingham State University who studies applied sociology, intimate partner violence, victimization, and gender and sexualities.

In his recent article, Guadalupe-Diaz analyzed data that was collected by a local nonprofit in the southeastern part of the United States. Through local nonprofits that served LGB-identified people as well as via media popular among LGB-identified people, participants were invited to take an online survey that asked questions about the respondent’s socio-demographics, their intimate partner violence experiences, and their comfort with disclosing information to the police. Some of the questions that they were asked dealt with if the respondent felt that law enforcement officers were sensitive to issues that surround LGB individuals and if the respondent felt that law enforcement officers were homophobic. more...