If you’ve followed threads on tax cuts and the math of averages–see this one for example–maybe you want to take note of this 2013 CCF series (.pdf) on “the trouble with averages.”
All those advice books that tell you what to expect when you get married or divorced, lose a spouse, or experience a trauma may be leading you seriously astray. That is the clear implication of a new report to the Council on Contemporary Families. Report authors Anthony Mancini (Pace University) and George Bonanno (Columbia University) have been studying many of the topics on which experts often dole out generic advice–from marriage and divorce to death of a loved one and military PTSD. They keep finding the same thing: “Our research confirms—in study after study—that people respond in surprisingly diverse ways to a wide variety of life events and acute stressors.” The research, discussed in Mancini and Bonanno’s report, “The Trouble with Averages: The Impact of Major Life Events and Acute Stress May Not Be What You Think,” suggests that there is no one “normal” response to getting married or divorced, losing a spouse to death, or experiencing military deployment.
Marriage ≠ happiness, divorce ≠ unhappiness, and bereavement doesn’t end life as you knew it
There are an infinite number of clichés about marriage, divorce, and the death of a spouse. These clichés put a lot of pressure on people to conform to those hyped expectations, and cause anxiety if they don’t. But Mancini and Bonanno’s report demonstrates that those clichés—often derived from statistically “average” responses to major life transitions—hide the diversity of ways people react to both good and tragic turns in life. Consider the following findings:
Does marriage really make you happy? 80% of people who marry are happy, but they were equally happy long before they got married. In other words, marriage doesn’t make you happy, it makes you married.
Just under 10 percent of people who married were changed for the better. This group showed decreasing well-being in the years before the marriage, followed by gradually increasing well-being afterwards.
Some changed for the worse. Another 6 percent demonstrated a sharp decrease in well-being after the marriage.
How traumatic is the loss of a spouse as a result of death or divorce?
72% of divorcing people had relatively high levels of life satisfaction before they divorced and maintained those levels afterward, while nearly one in 10 divorcing people showed substantial increases in well-being. Less than one in five had the “expected” decline in life satisfaction following divorce.
Sixty percent of those who lost a spouse to death reported stable levels of life satisfaction both before and after the loss of a loved one, despite their sorrow, and five percent reported an increase in life satisfaction.
Mancini and Bonanno’s research also counters stereotypes about traumatized veterans. For example,
More than 80 percent of returning soldiers displayed normal levels of functioning before and after deployment
Only about 7 percent showed substantially elevated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
A small group of veterans showed elevated distress both before and after their initial deployment, indicating their distress predated their war experiences.
Mancini observes, “These results should reassure people who hesitate to hire returning veterans, but they offer no support for cutting back treatment programs for veterans. In fact, our findings suggest that more attention should be paid to evaluating soldiers’ well-being and providing treatment when needed before as well as after deployment.”
Who cares? (Those concerned with first do no harm.)
Mancini makes the relevance unambiguous: “Our research has real life consequences. Reliance on average responses has led to the cultural assumption that most people experience considerable distress following loss and traumatic events and that everyone can benefit from professional intervention. After 9/11, for example, counselors and therapists descended on New York City to provide early interventions, particularly to emergency service workers, assuming that they were at high risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder.” In the report Mancini and Bonanno discuss the harm sometimes done by interventions—such as grief therapy or critical incident tress debriefing—that are based on these assumptions. Mancini continues, “In fact, most people—even those who experience high levels of exposure to acute stress—recover without professional help.
“My loved ones matter more than the dining room table that washed away in the flood.”
This is what you say if you lose your home or its ingredients and are interviewed by a reporter who wants to show the human side of natural disaster. After all, it’s just stuff. In fact, to focus too much on the importance of stuff can make people seem materialistic or somehow immoral. Imagine the outcry if someone said, “We lost Grandma, but thank goodness her table was salvaged in the storm.”
Despite the absurdity of this scenario, I want to make a case for why the stuff in our homes matters, especially in light of the stories we’re seeing about our friends and families in the throes of disaster and evacuation. Our home stuff impacts us when we have it, to be sure. But it also impacts us when we lose it. Socioeconomic inequalities play an important role, too – as in, stuff matters differently depending on your access to the stuff in the first place.
We seem to be in the midst of visible large-scale disaster after disaster from coast to coast and beyond. I spent the last part of the summer avoiding the outdoors because I live in a spot in the inland Pacific Northwest that was surrounded by wildfires with wind blowing the smoke into our valley from all directions. My husband and I shared stories of burning eyes and sore throats with friends as we ensured our children were having athletic practices indoors, moved our backyard dinners inside, and kept our windows shut. I stayed glued to my TV and social media feeds to track the safety of friends and family in the Columbia River Gorge, Montana, Houston, Puerto Rico, Santa Rosa, and all of Florida. Seeing the “marked safe” button from Facebook friends brought a sigh of relief. Admittedly, I was more concerned about the well-being of friends and family than about the well-being of their dining room tables.
But what about the stuff? There are a lot of articles floating about regarding the children of baby boomer parents not wanting their home possessions. The old wobbly oak table that made it through the Depression seems cumbersome, out of style, and indicative of an outdated era when the sturdiness of putting down roots in one spot mattered more. Now the narrow tapered legs of midcentury modern furniture – easy to move, easy to see under, easy to replicate inexpensively – are preferred. These reports include mention of aging seniors spending thousands of dollars to enlist the time-consuming help of professional organizers and move management companies. What’s not mentioned much is the fact that the process of getting rid of stuff in many of these cases includes the element of choice. Of course for many it’s a constrained or challenging choice, where ailing health, emotional pain of parting with cherished possessions, or the geographic dispersal of family members to claim items in a timely manner create stress. But these are not necessarily situations where the wobbly oak table owners have less than two days to figure out whether that table matters. And the passing down of valuable possessions requires at least some affluence in the first place.
The difficult work associated with getting rid of things that present or future family members may or may not want cannot happen when there’s a disaster, because there’s no time. The emotional work that is needed to suddenly say goodbye to something you may have hoped would outlive you is punching you in the face. Gone is the work of having to sort through your things, but gone also is the opportunity to do so.
People in precarious economic situations are already at a point where losing objects and the homes that house them can be immanent. Environmental scholar Nicole Youngman wrote in the 2014 book Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology that “disasters exacerbate rather than ‘even out’ the preexisting social inequalities in devastated regions.” Perhaps there is a table to be passed down, but probably not. Add disaster (both huge and small) and the loss is assured. The recipe includes: homes that would never pass building code muster; no flood insurance, let alone money to hire a company to organize the stuff that remains; extended family and friends limited to local areas so there’s no trusted home to go to in an evacuation; no reliable means of transportation; and jobs that don’t have the permanence needed to pick up the pieces left when all you have is what you’re wearing or carrying. The loss lasts longer for those in precarious economic conditions – weeks and months of wondering, wandering, and trying to rebuild while starting in a worse spot than before. In some cases, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, some may not return to rebuild at all.
A natural disaster carries with it a confusing emotional journey. Losing a table in a tornado doesn’t allow blame toward an individual person. Loss due to forced evacuation elicits different coping compared to loss due to disloyalty and estimation from a child that your stuff doesn’t matter. To paraphrase one of my friends’ sentiments in the heyday of late 1990s disaster movies (remember “Twister,” “Deep Impact,” and “Dante’s Peak?”): “You just can’t turn a natural disaster into an antagonist the same way you can turn a living breathing person into an enemy to fight.” The loss of home stuff in either case requires figuring out its meaning, but the meaning cannot be detached from the way it was lost in the first place. It’s sad to lose a table, but it’s also sad to lose confidence in your child’s love because she refuses to take that table. Both cases involve grieving the loss of family connection. And both cases are harder when financial resources are limited.
This year I’m doing an interview project on the meaning of home (in this case, second homes, broadly defined) in which I ask interviewees, “If you lost your second home, what would you be losing besides the financial part?” It may seem surprising that these interviews have helped me understand the meaning of loss that may happen if someone’s only home is destroyed in a flood or a fire, given that these people have not just one home, but two (or sometimes three). But their responses – time, family, memories, connections with those near and dear – matter for everyone regardless of the status of their home ownership.
Now, imagine if I asked the same question of the person being interviewed by a reporter about losing her only home – a home for which she has no insurance, a home near a support network of friends and family who also lost their homes and who do not have the energy or resources to offer needed support. Now, multiply the loss – financial, emotional, relational – by a thousand. All of a sudden, her stuff does matter. To focus on the importance of stuff in this instance calls to mind not materialism or immorality, but the necessary recognition of the material nature of our livelihoods, our ability to offer and seek support, and our love for others.
Michelle Janning is Professor Sociology at Whitman College and the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives. In this book, she talks about how home spaces and objects tell the story of contemporary family life, including what happens in individual home disasters such as a burst pipe, and what happens when families need to deliberate what to do when home stuff is passed down to, or refused by, the next generation.
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.
The respondent feels older than others his or her age (compared to feeling younger and feeling neither older nor younger).
The respondent feels like an adult all of the time (compared to most of the time, sometimes, seldom, never
The respondent has his/her own residence (and does not live with parents, in another person’s home, etc.)
The respondent is not enrolled in school
The respondent is employed full time (working at least 35 hours per week)
The respondent has ever been married
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.
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mark Regnerus argues that men aren’t getting married because “sex has become rather cheap” (the op-ed is behind a paywall, but you can read excerpts here), and he elaborates the argument in a book he recently published (full disclosure: I haven’t read the book and don’t plan to). You may remember Regnerus from his article “Gay parents are bad, mmmkay?” the now-infamous study in which he used seriously flawed methods to conclude gay parenting has negative effects, by comparing the kids of gay people (many of whom had gotten divorced from the child’s other-sex parent, had never parented with a same-sex partner, or had never even lived with their child), to kids of people in intact heterosexual marriages. Turns out when comparisons are instead made between kids of people in intact heterosexual marriages and kids of those in intact same-sex couples, the kids turn out pretty much the same.
Now he’s back to tell us that the reason the marriage rate is so low these days is that these darn women keep giving it away for free and don’t face any consequences, or as multiplejournalists have put it; “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” That is, sex is too easy to get these days with the rise of loose morals, internet hookup websites and even pornography, and not costly enough in consequences now that we have reliable contraception and legal abortion access (good thing the government is making it more expensive then). As a result, men don’t have to bother with commitment or fidelity or even with trying to be an appealing partner.
What is the underlying assumptions of this argument? You got it: Men like sex. A lot. Casual sex though, not relationship sex. They only wanted relationships and commitment because that was the only way to get sex. Now that they can have sex without it, they’d rather just go with the sex and not the relationships.
I had the opportunity to test out some of these ideas using a survey of over 24,000 students at 22 different colleges and universities around the United States, and recently published the results. The survey asked whether students wished they had more opportunities for hooking up, going on dates, or finding someone to have a relationship with at their college.
Our results counteract the idea that men want sex and not relationships. Yes, men want hookups more than women- more than twice as many men as women said they wanted more opportunities for hooking up. But they were much more likely to wish they had more opportunities for going on dates than for hookups, and even more likely to say they wanted to find someone to have a relationship with. In fact, they were even more likely than women to say they wanted opportunities for relationships (although the difference was small).
Our sample was only college students, who may be unique in several ways. For one, more educated people are more likely to eventually get married – the decline in marriage rates since the 1980s is largely driven by lower marriage rates among the less educated. What about the less educated men – the ones who are actually less likely to marry in recent decades?
As it happens, a few years ago I did another study focusing on educational differences in marriages in 20 cities, and why less educated men and women don’t marry as much as the highly educated. We focused on the type of couples most likely to have a good reason (and social pressure) to get married- parents who have children outside of marriage. We found that by the time their child was 5 years old, over 30% of these fathers with a college degree were married to their child’s mother, versus only 14% of fathers with a high school degree or less.
We also found that local labor market conditions explained the gap. Those with lower education had poorer job prospects, facing higher unemployment rates than those with more education. Regardless of whether an individual parent was employed, in cities where those with low levels of education had better job prospects (and lower unemployment rates), they were more likely to marry, and the marriage gap was smaller than in cities where they had worse job prospects.
Women’s employment prospects mattered for those with low levels of education (maybe because those with low levels of education were more likely to expect to depend on both spouses’ incomes), but men’s employment prospects were important at every level of education. If men had better job prospects, they were more likely to get married.
The real reason for the decline in marriage isn’t loose morals – it’s worsening economic conditions. The well-paying jobs that men could get at lower levels of education have eroded away, as have the unions that fought for and protected those wages. Although women have gained more equality in the workplace and at home, many retain traditional ideas about not “marrying down”, which for highly educated women may include not marrying men with lower levels of education or excessive student loans they can’t quickly pay off. For less educated women, that includes the many unemployed or underemployed men without a college education.
Meanwhile, the ‘transition to adulthood’- full time employment, financial independence, and a stable living situation – has been prolonged in recent years for both men and women. More and more young adults attend college, and graduate school, often moving in pursuit of education. Many then continue to move, sometimes multiple times, to build towards a well-paying career attractive to potential marriage partners, and stable enough to set down roots that can accommodate families in which both partners have careers. Many have student loans, which limits the financial stability they hope to achieve before marriage. Instead, they move in together, taking advantage of recent more liberal social norms in that regard, while building towards financial stability before entangling themselves legally. These patterns underlie drops in marriage rates, as couples wait until older ages to settle down and marry until they feel stable enough to do so.
Stability is the key feature of this equation. In his op-ed, Regnerus dismisses the idea that men’s wages underlie marriage trends, by citing a recent study finding that areas that have had a fracking boom have not had a subsequent increase in marriage rates. But fracking, a process that extracts local resources and then by necessity requires a move to new areas with new resources, hardly seems the type of long-term stable career that can underlie a 40 or 50 year marriage. The uneven sex-ratio in areas that have seen a fracking boom – 1.6 men for every woman in areas where the fracking boom is heaviest according to the New York Times – probably doesn’t help either.
The good news is that marriages that form at older ages tend to be more stable, and have lower divorce risks- leading to an overall lower divorce rate among young adults today. On the other hand, couples are more likely to have children outside of marriage, leading to less stable family situations for those children, which are associated with a number of disadvantages compared to the children of married parents.
The solution is not to tell women to shut their legs, or to make birth control more expensive. The solution is to build an economy in which young adults can get established in stable, well-paying jobs. The solution is to build an economy in which the jobs that are necessary for society to run, but don’t require a college degree, still pay a living wage. The solution is to properly fund higher education, so that graduates aren’t spending hundreds of dollars a month paying off their debt to the government until they are in their 40s. The solution is to build opportunity. If the opportunity is there, marriage rates will follow.
Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg.
On September 9, as the first of two record-breaking hurricanes barreled down on the Caribbean, and North America, President Trump wreaked legal havoc on families through rescinding a program to help young people whose parents brought them to the United States without proper immigration documentation. He followed up on September 24 with new immigration bans that added heat and intensity to the experiences of global citizens. During this maelstrom, I have searched for links that narrate in more detail how the policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and its potential demise, affects families.
Some reading addressed Why is this happening? What could people be thinking? Work I read suggested answers: “They” are here to steal our jobs, why not get rid of them? Why don’t they just get their citizenship? Throughout September, after President Trump announced canceling DACA, these writers focused on debunking myths about this program.
Vox’s Dara Lind gives DACA’S history, recalling that Obama created the DACA executive order as a way to protect those who came here illegally as children, for the sake of their future. As Lind points out, it is a lot harder for people with US-born family members to get their citizenship than ever before.
At Rolling Stone, Tessa Stuart highlights the myths of individuals under DACA. Stuart discusses how some people believe that DACA is a gateway to citizenship, even though it is not. She also clarifies that DACA is not a shortcut to get federal benefits.
CNN focuses on how these DACA youth are protesting this decision and discusses how some critics view the decision as unconstitutional because of lack of due process. CNN, as many others, highlighted that the decision, if it holds, will have a negative impact on the economy over the next decade.
Other articles focused on: What will rescinding DACA mean to families economically and socially? For starters, families will be torn apart, making the U.S less diverse even as it creates an unstable environment for many immigrant families who are citizens with DACA relatives. Economic contributions from DACA are substantial. DACA recipients pay a total in $2 billion in taxes per year in the United States—the loss would be great to the government, the economy, and also to families benefiting from that productive income
The removal of DACA will harm 800,000 individuals and their families. On fivethirtyeight.com, Anna Maria Barry-Jester notes that removing DACA will generate unemployment for young workers who support their families and relatives. More than 200,000 people would be unemployed if this decision is made final.
Roque Planas, in Huffington Post, shows us the fear felt by people made vulnerable by this decision—much of it fear for the family. Karla Pérez, interviewed by Planas, noted that the removal of DACA “…always weighs heavily on my mind.” Pérez continues, “My biggest concern right now is my parents because DHS has my information… I’m not so much worried for myself as for my family.”
Still another theme in coverage of the DACA announcement is whether this is just about Latinx families. Reporters asked, why are we ignoring Asian families, the fastest growing immigrant group?
The Washington Post’s, Vanessa Williams brings up how the fastest growing immigrant groups are not particularly highlighted in the DACA conversation. Williams mentions that Asian immigrants have more than tripled since 2000. Asian immigrants account for 1.6 million out 11 million immigrants in the U.S.
Newsweek’sJohn Haltiwanger profiles these dreamers and discussed the nearly 15 percent of Asian immigrants in detail. His work begs the question, are we ignoring this immigrant group because of their stereotype as the “model minority”?
Luilly DeJesus Gonzalez is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.
Reprinted from Equal Pay for All – the Official Website administered by the State Treasurer of Massachusetts – See more here:
June is traditionally LGBT pride month, and Massachusetts has a lot to be proud of. In 1989, we became the second state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation (gender identity took longer). In 2004 we became the very first state to have marriage equality for same-sex couples. In spite of these victories for legal equality here and elsewhere, though, LGBT people continue to face wage gaps and other forms of economic inequality.
Employment discrimination still happens and is disturbingly common in the United States. In a 2013 national survey, 21% of LGBT people reported experiences of unfair treatment by an employer. Studies that send identically-qualified LGBT and non-LGBT people’s applications for jobs find that LGBT applicants have to apply for many more jobs just to get an interview.
These kinds of discrimination are likely contributors to the gay wage gap. A recent review of studies found that gay and bisexual men earned 11% less than heterosexual men with the same age, education, and other qualifications.
Perhaps surprisingly, lesbian and bisexual women earn about 9% more than similar heterosexual women. A lesbian wage advantage? Not exactly–it’s more like a slightly smaller gender wage gap, since lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women all earn less than straight or gay men.
Lesbians do some things differently from heterosexual women, which might reduce the gender disadvantage. Mainly we see higher earnings for lesbians who were never married to men. Lesbians who were married to men at some point have earnings more like heterosexual women’s, maybe because they made similar kinds of childrearing or labor market decisions while living with a male spouse.
Lesbians also work more hours and weeks, so they might be accumulating more experience over time, which helps to raise wages. And lesbians appear to be less deterred by male dominance in an occupation, holding jobs that have more men in them than heterosexual women do.
The gender wage gap bites into lesbians’ economic resources, though. Lesbian couples have two women’s incomes, and studies show they have less income to live on than a male-female couple or a gay male couple. That’s one big reason why lesbian couples have higher poverty rates than different-sex couples and gay male couples. The poverty gaps are even larger for African American same-sex couples and for transgender people.
Interestingly, we’re learning that gay men are also affected by gender inequality. For example, one study shows that anti-gay discrimination is particularly pronounced in jobs looking for applicants with stereotypical male characteristics, like assertiveness, aggressiveness, or ambition.
So how can we move LGBT people closer to actual equality in economic outcomes?
Businesses have been allies in promoting policies and practices to reduce discrimination and to make workplaces more welcoming of LGBT employees. Some examples include putting sexual orientation and gender identity in the company nondiscrimination policy, discussing LGBT issues in diversity training, supporting LGBT employee groups, and developing clear gender transition guidelines.
Employers make a business case for LGBT equality—they need to recruit and retain the best employees, including LGBT people and non-LGBT people who want to work at companies that value diversity. Research backs up the business case claims, showing that companies with LGBT-supportive policies have higher stock prices, productivity, and profits.
Strengthening the scope and enforcement of nondiscrimination policies would help, too. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to be a form of sex discrimination, so LGBT people can file employment discrimination charges everywhere in the U.S. But it would also be transformative to have a comprehensive federal law like the proposed Equality Act, which would ban discrimination not only in employment, but also in credit, housing, public services, and other areas.
Some other policies would help lift LGBT people out of poverty, in particular. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cut gay men’s poverty by a third and cuts lesbians’ poverty in half. Finding a way to eliminate the gender wage gap would erase the gap in poverty for lesbian couples, and cutting racial wage gaps would reduce the poverty gap for African American and Hispanic people in same-sex couples. Plus those policies have the advantage of helping everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Finally, we need more data and research on LGBT people to better understand what’s making LGBT people economically insecure. Massachusetts and other states should join California in moving toward more inclusive data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity within state agencies, including health and human services, education, and employment.
While we have reasons to be proud of LGBT people’s victories in the push for legal equality, we will all be prouder when we’ve also achieved economic equality.
A fact sheet prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families to mark Unmarried and Single Americans Week, September 17-23, by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., Academic Affiliate, Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara.
September 17-23, 2017 is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Today, more than 45 percent of all Americans 18 and older are unmarried (divorced, widowed, or never-married), up from 28 percent in 1970. Contrary to stereotypes, single people typically lead happy and healthy lives. They maintain vital ties to friends, family, children, and communities, often providing practical and emotional support to others.
The proportion of unmarried Americans has hit an all-time high.
Of adults 18 and older, 110.6 million are divorced, widowed, or have never married. Never-married people are the biggest group of unmarried Americans, accounting for 63.5 percent. Another 23.1 percent are divorced and the other 13.4 percent are widowed.
Half the labor force is comprised of unmarried individuals.
Only 14.6 million of these unmarried Americans (7.3 million couples) are cohabiting with a romantic partner. Of those, 867,000 are cohabiting with a same-sex partner. By contrast, 96 million Americans 18 and older are neither married nor cohabiting with a romantic partner.
The median age at which people first marry, among those who do marry, has reached an all-time high of 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. And researchers predict that 1 in 4 of today’s young adults will reach age 50 without ever having married.
The age at which people marry has become much more spread out than the past, so some of these folks will go on to marry, but record numbers of American spend the majority of their adult lives outside marriage. It is time to stop seeing singlehood as a temporary way-station.
Like everybody else, unmarried Americans live in many different kinds of households and communities.
More Americans than ever before, 35.4 million, live alone. That is more than twice the number of unmarried Americans who are cohabiting with a romantic partner. Lone households are now more common than married-couple households containing children.
Most unmarried Americans, though, do not live alone. Their living arrangements are more diverse than ever. Some single people, including single parents, live with family in multigenerational or extended family households. Others live with friends, or with friends and family. Single mothers sometimes share homes with other single mothers. Unmarried Americans also live in cohousing communities and other neighborhoods where people commit to being part of a community.
Single people are often stereotyped as isolated and lonely and depressed. In fact, the majority of single Americans live happy and healthy lives.
One of the most important protective factors against loneliness is having friends. And single people have more friends than married people. They also provide more practical help and emotional support to their parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors.
People who marry and stay married sometimes experience an increase in satisfaction with their lives in the early years of their marriage, but that honeymoon effect usually does not last. Over time, people who marry are typically no happier than they were when they were single.
A study of more than 16,000 people found that only 10 percent experienced a significant increase in well-being after marriage, while 6 percent experienced a sharp decrease. The rest stayed the same.
Among women 57 and older, women who are married, cohabiting, dating, or single but not dating experience similar levels of loneliness, depression, and stress. For men, when there are differences, they favor those who are cohabiting rather than those who are married; men who are dating are no better off than single men without partners.
Unmarried Americans play important roles in raising the next generation.
More than 35 percent of women who give birth in a given year are unmarried.
Three out of every 10 grandparents with primary responsibility for their grandchildren are unmarried. That amounts to about 790,000 single-grandparents with primary care-giving responsibilities.
Nika Fate-Dixon and Stephanie Coontz on September 5, 2017
On August 26, 2017, Women’s Equality Day Turned 44.
A fact sheet compiled for the Council on Contemporary Families by Nika Fate-Dixon and Stephanie Coontz, The Evergreen State College. Executive summary/advisory available.
Ninety-seven years ago on Saturday, August 26, Congress certified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting American women the vote. Since 1973, August 26th has been designated as Women’s Equality Day, offering a chance to assess the current status of gender equity. The past three decades have seen continued gains in women’s educational and occupational achievements and a striking increase in egalitarian arrangements on the home front. But progress has not been the same for women of color as for white women; it has stalled for parents; and there have been serious setbacks in the political realm. Additionally, class differences among women have widened. The latest research on trends in education, work, family, and political directions raises new questions about where we are headed.
EDUCATION AND WORK: Gains in Education, Occupations, and Pay. Substantial Inequalities Connected to Race, Class, and also to Sexist Work Cultures
Overall, the wage gap has improved significantly. In 2015, according to a Pew analysis of median hourly earnings of both full-and part-time U.S. workers, women earned 83 percent of what men earned. This 17-cent gap is half what it was in 1980 (36 cents then).
But how do we interpret these numbers? Comparisons of yearly salaries can understate roll backs in gender discrimination when they don’t take into account differences in the number of hours men and women work. Comparing hourly pay also has its limits but suggests more steady progress, particularly for young women (ages 25 – 34). In 1980, their hourly wages were just 67 percent of their male peers’. Thirty-five years later, they have reached 90 percent.
The raw ratios in some ways overstate progress. An analysis of the Current Population Survey newly conducted for this report by University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, suggests that women have made gains largely by increasing their education level relative to men. Among people age 25 to 54 who worked at least half time and half the year, 44 percent of women in 2016 have a BA or higher education, compared with 37 percent of men – an advantage for women that has opened up since 2001. His analysis of the wage gap among those same workers shows that for those with a BA or more, women earn 80 percent of men’s wages, when statistically controlling for age, race/ethnicity, marital status, and the presence of children. That is unchanged since 1992. For those with less than a BA degree, women have made slight progress during that time, from 77 percent to 79 percent. Despite important exceptions, then, the overall narrowing of the wage gap since the early 1990s is partly a function of women’s increasing education levels rather than greater equality among workers with comparable levels of education. (For details of the analysis see this.)
Additionally, despite men’s continued pay advantage, their wages have been declining since 1979 and this decline accounts for almost a quarter of the reduction in the gender wage gap. According to 2016 data of median hourly wages, women today earn almost a third more than women did in 1979, while men today earn 4 percent less. For men with a high school degree, real wages have fallen by more than 14 percent since 1979. Women’s earnings started from such a much lower base that they remain below those of men doing the same or comparable jobs and with the same levels of educational achievement. But high-earning women (discussed below) have greatly increased the gap between themselves and low earners of both sexes.
Persistence of racial inequalities means the gender wage gap is not same for all groups. The earnings of women across all races and ethnicities lag behind those of white men as well as those of men in their own racial or ethnic group, but white and Asian women have narrowed the wage gap with white men to a much greater degree than have black and Hispanic women. Between 1980 and 2015, the gap in median hourly earnings between white men and white women narrowed by 22 cents. In comparison, the gap between black women and white men declined by only 9 cents: Black women earned 65 cents for every dollar white men earned in 2015. Hispanic women fared worse, narrowing the gap by just 5 cents during that time. As of 2015, the average Hispanic woman earned 58 cents for every dollar the average white man took home. Asian women, by contrast, made 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.
These patterns of racial inequality differ by gender. The wage gap between white men and black and Hispanic men, unlike that between men and women of all races combined, has not narrowed since 1980. As of 2015, black men earned the same 73 percent share of white men’s hourly earnings as they did in 1980, and Hispanic men earned slightly less — 69 percent of white men’s earnings in 2015, compared to 71 percent in 1980. On the other hand, Asian men now earn more per hour than white men, although this is largely driven by differences in the percentage of highly-educated individuals in each group.
Class and income inequality complicates the picture. Despite the huge gains high-earning women have made in comparison to people at the middle and bottom, the largest gender pay gap is between the highest earning men and women (see page 3 and Table 1 in linked document). In the early 80s, women in high-paid jobs lagged behind men less than women in middle-wage occupations. Since 2010, however, women’s pay relative to men’s among top earners has been considerably less than that of women in the middle (and bottom) of the distribution (also on page 3). These developments reflect the growing advantage among the top ten, one, and 0.1 percent of earners, most of whom are men. So even as the earnings of women in the top 20 percent have not, overall, kept up with those of men in the same earnings category, their position relative to middle-earning men has greatly improved. It used to be that the highest-earning woman earned no more than the average-earning man. Today, however, women at the top make more than 1.5 times as much as the typical man.
Gender gap among high-earners is about sexism more than choice. The gender wage gap between high-earning men and women is often blamed on the fact that women tend to major in subjects that lead to less lucrative jobs, such as those in teaching and social work. But women actually outnumber men in the biosciences and there is little to no gender difference in the social sciences and mathematics. The only STEM fields of study in which men hugely outnumber women are computer science and engineering, which are more than 80 percent male.
We cannot attribute the low representation of women in technology and engineering to women’s preferences in majors. For one thing, recent studies find that teachers start favoring boys over girls as early as first grade. These and other subtle discriminatory messages lead to early declines in girls’ confidence in their intellectual abilities.
Considerable research shows that this is not just because women are channeled into low-paying jobs. One study compared the relative pay of different jobs between 1950s and 2000, using national data on hundreds of occupations. The researchers found that when the percentage of female workers in the occupation increased, the same job paid less, suggesting that employers were assessing the job’s value not by its actual demands but by the gender of those doing it.
MARRIAGE, HOUSEWORK, SEX, AND PARENTHOOD: It got better, but inequities persist for moms
For the past 15 years, there has been much hand-wringing about the tensions in dual-earner heterosexual marriages, especially now that one in five wives comes to marriage with higher educational degrees or earnings than their husbands. Pundits have warned women that if they make too many gains in the public world or expect too much of their partners at home, they will not be able to sustain satisfying romantic relationships. For years, many researchers believed that women in dual-earner marriages worked a “second shift” when they came home, and that men who earned less than their wives compensated by doing even less around the house.
In sum, dads are pitching in more than ever, yet on average mothers still do more housework and childcare than fathers. Even couples who shared paid work and domestic work equally before having children, and thought they were sharing it equally afterwards, turn out to backslide into more traditional roles. One study of such couples found that they were fully egalitarian before parenthood, and believed they were working the same total hours of work after the birth of a child—but they weren’t. Time diaries revealed that the women had added 22 hours of childcare to their work week while maintaining the same amount of housework and paid work as before. Men had added 14 hours of childcare, eight hours less than their partners, while reducing their housework by five hours.
Ironically, however, the minority of coupled parents who do equally share childcare and housework report higher levels of sexual and marital satisfaction than couples who divide the work less equally. Overall, American couples in the early 2010s report having sex, on average, nine fewer times per year than couples did in the 1990s. But parents who share housework are, on average, having sex more frequently than a quarter of a century ago.
We are getting mixed messages about how the next generation of parents will handle the tension between the widespread expectation of shared work and family duties and the restricted availability of family-friendly support systems. Some polls suggest a revival of support for traditional family and power relations among high school seniors, although others show strong support among young adults for gender equity. A poll of 14- to 24-year-olds commissioned by MTV found that 92 percent of men and 94 percent of women believed that men and women should not be treated differently because of their gender. On the other hand, women put a higher priority on sharing household responsibilities than did men, and a full 30 percent of men, compared to less than 20 percent of women, said there was little use in pursuing more gender equality because inequalities between men and women will always exist.
POLITICS AND POLICY: Setbacks in Reproductive Rights, Supports for Families with Children, Resources for Single Mothers – While Anti-Female Sentiments Get Louder and More Outrageous
A dramatic setback for women’s rights in recent years has been the steady erosion of reproductive choice.One poll taken this month found that two-thirds of voting age adults support women having access to reproductive health care in their community. Yet the Trump Administration plans to halt funding for a successful national teen pregnancy prevention program, with the 2018 budget including funds solely for abstinence-only sex education.
Finally, we cannot ignore the increased visibility and volume of sexist sentiments, from the “grab them by the pussy” tape released during the campaign to the new prominence of Breitbart News, known for headlines such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Would You Rather Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?” and “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off”.
It is still an open question as to whether such sexism will reinvigorate the movement for gender equality or encourage others to express even more hostility toward women. But it’s worth noting how extreme the newly invigorated neo-Nazis can be, as in the reaction of Andrew Anglin, editor of the Daily Stormer, to the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was mowed down by a Nazi sympathizer during the August 12 white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Anglin wrote that Heyer’s death relieved society from tolerating yet another “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut… who had failed to do her most basic duty – her only real duty, in fact – and reproduce.”
Most Americans are rightly horrified by such sentiments, but some disturbingly similar sentiments lie behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the demonization of feminists made by more cagey social conservatives. So August 26 should not be a day for complacency, even as we recognize the progress women have made.
Nika Fate-Dixon is a CCF research intern and a graduate of The Evergreen State College.
Stephanie Coontz is Professor of History at The Evergreen State College and Director of Research and Education for the Council on Contemporary Families. For further information, contact email@example.com.
Reposted from CNN with headline “Nixon was Right about Women.”
In 1973, when President Richard Nixon proclaimed August 26 Women’s Equality Day — commemorating the day in 1920 that women won the right to vote — a woman could still be denied housing by a real estate broker or credit by a bank, simply because of her gender.
Employers could fire a woman who became pregnant. Many states had “head and master” laws giving husbands final authority in the family, and in no state was marital rape a crime. As late as 1977, two-thirds of all Americans still believed that men should earn the money and women should take care of the home.
So it was something of an understatement when Nixon noted that “much remains to be done” to attain “full and equal participation of women” in society. Indeed, the events of the last year and a half — from the “Access Hollywood” video in which the man who is now president uses vulgar words about women’s genitals, to challenges to women’s reproductive rights, to the routine, vicious online attacks on women by what sometimes seems to be an army of trolls — suggest that, 44 years later, much still remains to be done.
Today the blatant discrimination described above, for example, is illegal, and Americans overwhelmingly support, at least in principle, the ideal of gender equality. In one recent survey, 93% of adults said women should have equal rights.
But the very popularity of the ideal of gender equality, combined with the fact that inequalities are now perpetuated in more subtle ways than in the past, has led some people to conclude that there is nothing more to strive for. The same poll above found that fully 20% of respondents believed gender equality has already been achieved and no more work is needed.
This view ignores the minority of Americans who deeply resent the women’s movement, falsely claiming that women’s gains have come at men’s expense. And it overlooks some serious recent setbacks for women.
Still, it’s worth emphasizing the good news
Some of the most dramatic improvements for women have been in personal relationships. Rates of intimate partner violence have fallen steadily since the early 1970s, a decline that has accelerated since the early 1990s. Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are still too widespread, but women have new options to expose the perpetrators and fight for justice.
Marriages are more equal. In the 1970s, a woman with more years of formal education or higher earnings than her husband faced an increased chance of divorce. Today, the extra divorce risk associated with women’s higher achievements has disappeared.
Fathers have doubled the time they spend interacting with their children, and tripled the routine physical care, such as changing diapers, that many men used to shun. That carries a bonus for both sexes: Couples who share housework and childcare equally now report the highest levels of marital and sexual satisfaction.
More remains to be done
Ivanka Trump has proposed a paid parental leave policy, but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as the work-family policies that are standard in most advanced nations and include flex time, universal health care, and affordable, quality child care. In the absence of such support systems, it’s no accident that American parents report much lower happiness compared with non-parents than in any other of 22 countries recently studied.
Similar limits exist to the very impressive gains American women have made in education and earnings. In 1973, women earned just 57 cents for every dollar earned by men — a gap of 46 cents. By 2015, the gap had fallen to 17 cents — even lower for childless women, who earn 96 cents for every man’s dollar.
Not yet equal
Indeed, women have “caught up” in their earnings largely because of their high rates of college completion, which allow them to pull ahead of less-educated men and women. But they still lag behind men with the same education.
This reversal is confusing to many men who grew up seeing their low- or middle-earning fathers making more money than almost any woman. As a result, some men blame their economic plight on the increase in gender equality rather than on the real culprit — the acceleration of wage inequality.
Meanwhile, although women on the higher rungs of the pay ladder are doing much better than middle and low wage-earners of both sexes, they actually face a wider gender wage gap in comparison to their male counterparts than in the past. In consequence, some high-powered women focus on the glass ceiling rather than the sinking floor that holds back so many men and women alike.
Racial disparities add more complexities to the gender equality picture. Despite the rise of an affluent African-American and Hispanic middle class, minorities continue to fare worse than their white counterparts, even as white low wage workers also lose ground.
Between 1980 and 2015, white women narrowed the gap in hourly wages with white men by 22 cents, but black and Hispanic women narrowed the gap with white men by only 9 and 5 cents respectively.
And the wage gap between white men and black and Hispanic men didn’t budge at all.
Nixon called it
There’s no question that women’s lives and options are better than when Women’s Equality Day was first proclaimed. But progress has been slow on the earnings equality front, and there have been some recent big setbacks in politics and culture.
In 1964, two former presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, were proud to co-chair a fund-raising committee for Planned Parenthood. Today, the very existence of Planned Parenthood is under attack. And even though two-thirds of voting age adults support wide access to reproductive health care and pregnancy prevention, the Trump administration plans to defund a national teen pregnancy prevention program, returning to abstinence-only sex education.
I1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy included a woman’s right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Yet over the last six years, states have passed 369 laws aimed at restricting women’s access to abortion.
The new administration has seemed singularly uninterested in recruiting and promoting women, and it recently repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, scrapping two rules that are essential protections for women workers.
The Fair Pay order required wage transparency, so people can actually see if they are being paid less for the same job than a colleague. The Safe Workplaces order prohibited forced arbitration for sexual-harassment cases, which often protect perpetrators by keeping proceedings out of the public eye.
And our President has used “the bully pulpit” more to encourage than to stop bullying. On top of this comes the surfacing of a newly-invigorated white supremacy movement, which is also a male supremacy movement that claims the “only real duty” of a white woman is to reproduce, while black and Hispanic women should be discouraged from doing so.
The good news here is that this retrograde movement is small and, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, most Americans (64%) realize it poses a threat to the US. Unfortunately, more than a third (34%) believe it does not — representing yet another way in which it is abundantly clear that, as Nixon said, much remains to be done for women’s equality.
Stephanie Coontz is the CCF Director of Research and Education and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.
Posted originally on November 18, 2016, at Girl w/ Pen. This week, we are thinking about attention to what is said and done, and preparing for Women’s Equality Day on August 26.
Sex gets used a lot of ways–and a number of them are not about shared pleasure and connection. I have written about political sex scandals and the way generations of youth get shamed about their sexual norms. Though it may be facile, I find myself noting “the more things change, the more they remain the same” — the issues change a little bit but the use of sex as a tool of power and control, not so much.
This is sex as political football. Sometimes the games have the veneer of lightness, like a game you play after Thanksgiving dinner. Today, though, I was writing about the use of rape as tool of war.
In 1996 the International War Crimes Tribunal focused on rape in the Bosnian war, and prosecuted people involved. Discussion of one of those prosecutions was here, and this quotation gripped me:
In a reply to his accusers, Mr. Mejakic, who along with others under indictment remains safely in Serb territory, described Ms. Cigelj as being old and unattractive; he added that he wouldn’t have leaned his bicycle against her, much less raped her.
And then I looked at this, from 20 years later, last month (October 2016):
Donald Trump on Thursday adamantly denied claims he forced himself on a People Magazine journalist more than a decade ago, responding to her accusation of sexual assault by saying, “Look at her … I don’t think so.”
That’s today’s brief reflection on normalization, 1996-2016.
About Council on Contemporary Families
The Council on Contemporary Families is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. CCF seeks to enhance the national understanding of how and why families are changing, what needs and challenges they face, and how these needs can best be met.