Reposted from Psychology Today

This is adapted from my keynote essay for the CCF Gender Matters Online Symposium.

How and Why Gender Matters In Even More Ways Then You Knew

You cannot pick up a newspaper today without seeing an article about who can use which bathrooms, and the choice of “category X” for Driver’s licenses. Why are young people today so dissatisfied with their gender categories? Are they rejecting the label of male or female? Or are they rejecting the stereotypes that demand boys to be tough and never cry, and girls wear sparkles as they take care of everyone’s feelings? Or are they rejecting the wage gap and sexual harassment? To understand what’s happening, we need to talk about what we mean by the word “gender.” You may think you know, but I am betting you do not know the half of it.

In my new book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure (Oxford, 2018), I explore the meaning of gender to young people today. In interviews with 116 mostly Chicagoland Millennials, I identify some trends among the generation soon to age into leadership in American society. First, women are never going back to the home. While women’s workplace participation is as high as it has ever been, at the moment, the trend is stalled. But mothers are still far more likely to work for pay then in the past. There is not now, nor has there ever been an opt-out revolution, although sometimes women are pushed out of the labor force but inflexible workplace demands and culture. Almost no one I interviewed, not even the most religious “true believers” think that mothers belong at home with their children. While women may be forced out of the workplace by inflexible policies, American Millennials do not presume motherhood involves leaving the workforce. Second, feminism is no longer just a women’s movement. Among young men, there is a great deal of support for gender equality. In my interviews, there were men who sounded every bit as feminist as any woman, and far more than many women even in this sample of young adults. Both women and men feminist “innovators” expect to change the world by how they live their lives rejecting gender expectations and stereotypes.

I also interviewed some Millennials who rejected not only sexism and gendered expectations, they also reject the gender binary itself. Perhaps there is something new under the sun! These genderqueer respondents do not want to switch their sex category—instead, they reject the belief that they must be gendered at all, even in how they adorn and inhabit their body. Some genderqueer Millennials are quite content to identify as a sex category (e.g. as female) but reject the gender category “woman.” Others don’t use a sex category either. With this new kind of gender fluidity afloat, it makes sense that there are others in this generation who are simply confused. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same. As I have written about elsewhere, what has changed, and remarkably quickly, is the legal status for those who reject categories, with state after state, and now country after country, allowed a neither (or X box) for those whose identity is neither male nor female.

Still, there are some patterns among the chaos of a diverse generation. Nearly all young adults today are libertarian about gender, or at least they claim to be. They refuse to judge people who are different from themselves in terms of gender identity or expectations. Indeed, my colleagues and I have presented survey research that shows most of today’s young adults believe women and men should be equal both inside the home and outside of it. My interviews suggest that while beliefs have changed, there is still much confusion about gender when it comes to live our lives, and what to expect from others. There are shades of grey, beyond 50, when women and men are confused by a changing gender structure. In today’s world everything is in flux. Research on Millennial’s has been contradictory, with some finding that high school seniors today are more conservative about mothers remaining in the workplace while other research – like mine — suggests a generation that takes for granted gender equality as a goal. Will these new trends among Millennials turn the tide and bring us closer to the shore of equality? Is there really change afoot? Or is it the case that the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. As any social scientist, my answer is, let’s do more research  to make gender more visible and find out.

What we know for sure is that our gender structure is changing, unevenly, and without any clear guidelines. We also know that while most Americans think gender is an identity, something deeply felt internally, gender is far more then that. Gender doesn’t begin nor end with individual feelings of authenticity. In our new Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, my co-editors Carissa Froyum and William Scarborough, and the authors of individual chapters, show just how much gender matters for every aspect of our social lives.

Gender matters to individuals, of course. But gender is very much alive in the expectations we have for one another, what it means to be a good mother versus a good father, a girlfriend versus a boyfriend.  Gender matters because of all those stereotypes, conscious and not, we all hold. But gender matters beyond even beyond those stereotypes because we have quite literally built those stereotypes into our schools, workplaces, and the economy. And to justify all the inequities involved, we have developed beliefs that explain, and justify sexist institutions. Gender matters not just as identity, or stereotypes, but is also at the core of how our social world is organized. Just like every society has an economic and political structure, so too, every society has a gender structure.

First, for those of you far past college age, let me share some language now widely used on campus. Sex is the (presumably) biological category you were labeled at birth, male or female. The biological categories are not always clear-cut, as some children are born intersex, with internal female organs, but an extended clitoris that appears to be a micro-phallus. Even intersex people (who actually have both male and female body parts) are usually, if mistakenly, labeled male or female at birth. This is a good example of how even our definition of biological facts are shaped by an ideological assumption that there are two and only two possible sex categories. Gender as a social structure includes one’s individual sex category, but is far more than simply that. Gender is also a social construct that is used to display and claim one’s sex category. Few of us actually can judge someone’s sex by inspecting naked bodies, but all of us assess each other’s gender identity during interaction. At the same time, we are all evaluated by how well we ‘do gender.’ Some of us may be in social contexts where we are evaluated more positively if we reject doing gender traditionally, but the expectations remain in both conservative or progressive settings. Whatever our ideologies, we must all adapt to organizations and institutions that are based on the presumption that  “ideal” workers should be entirely and uniquely committed to the business at hand, policies that reward the typically male life course, and historically masculine privilege of having a domestic wife. In the next few weeks, I will be writing about concrete examples from everyday life with the authors from the Handbook.  Stay tuned…

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.

For several years, researchers affiliated with the Council on Contemporary families have been charting the gains and the setbacks experienced by proponents of equal rights for all, irrespective of race, ethnicitygender, and sexual orientation or identity.

From a historical perspective, dramatic progress has been made toward acceptance of interpersonal diversity. Most people now agree in principle that individuals should not be denied rights or recognition on the basis of their gender, race, or sexual identity. But in practice there are also significant fluctuations in attitudes and behaviors. Many people hold contradictory or ambivalent positions about what is appropriate in putting egalitarian principles into practice, which makes them prone to shift their views in response to new political and economic circumstances or how issues are presented to them by contending parties. Furthermore, some arguments for egalitarian reforms that are very powerful when clear-cut legal barriers to equality exist can produce divergent reactions when such barriers are overturned.

Recent polls on same-sex marriage and LGBT rights illustrate this point. The shift from condemnation to acceptance of same-sex marriage has been extraordinarily rapid. In 2004, only 30 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. By 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, support had risen to 55 percent. And in July the Public Religion Research Institute found that an all-time high of 64 percent of Americans supported marriage equality.

But that last poll also revealed a recent decrease in public support for combatting discrimination against same-sex couples in the marketplace. A year ago, 53 percent of Americans said that caterers, bakers, and other wedding-based businesses should be required to serve same-sex couples, whatever their personal religious views. Today just 48 percent endorse that view, even as acceptance of a right to marriage equality has risen.  One possibility is that the very arguments used to win support for same-sex marriage now cut two ways. The idea that individuals have a right to control their own bodies and choose their own mates helped garner majority support for contraception and abortion rights and for same-sex marriage. But it can also produce sympathy for people who believe they should not have to enable behaviors of which they disapprove.  To win people over on this issue, we need to make a nuanced argument that does not immediately reject as reactionary their respect for others’ individual consciences. For example, if I were a baker, I would refuse to make a cake to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. How do we explain the difference to the general public?

Or consider the ambiguities and contradictions we find in surveys about the public’s support for gender equality. In 2012, David Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman reviewed all the General Social Survey (GSS) questions about gender attitudes between 1977 and 2010. They found that after strong increases in egalitarian sentiments through the 1980s, support had plateaued and stalled in the 1990s and early 2000s. One explanation, they suggested, might be the emergence of a mindset that supports women’s right to equality in the public sphere but views any continuation of traditional gender arrangements after the establishment of anti-discrimination laws as reflecting women’s distinctive preferences and capacities for homemaking and child raising.

By the time the results of the 2014 GSS were published, the same researchers were able to report a significant rebound in support for gender equality since 2006. But when Cotter and Joanna Pepin looked at the 2014 results of a different survey, which had been tracking the attitudes of high-school seniors over almost exactly the same years as the GSS, they saw a different trend. Between 1976 and 1994, high-school seniors greatly increased their support for gender equality in both the public and the private realm. From 1994 to 2014, they maintained their egalitarian views about women in public life, including an expanded acceptance and approval of working mothers. But during that same period, their endorsement of dual-earner arrangements and equal decision-making in the home dropped significantly, suggesting a revival of traditionalism.

The 2016 GSS — the latest available — seemed to confirm that support for the gender revolution was firmly “back on track” – at least for people aged 18 and up. Indeed, Cotter found that the answers to every question, whether about private family relationships or about the public realm of work and politics, revealed greater endorsement of gender equality than at any time in the survey’s 39 year history.

Sociologists Barbara Risman, Ray Sin, and William Scarborough, in a separate analysis of the GSS, argue that the long-term story is actually quite straightforward. Old school traditionalists have basically abandoned their opposition to equal rights for women in the public sphere but continue to advocate gender-specialized roles at home: “Americans who have a carte-blanche objection to gender equality in both the workplace and the home have become almost extinct.”

Still, we have yet to see what trends will emerge when the 2016 survey of high school seniors is analyzed – or how the views of the high school seniors interviewed in recent years will evolve as they grapple with their own work and family realities.

Meanwhile, there are other confusing discrepancies. In the 2016 GSS, Cotter reports, the gender gap in attitudes about equality had narrowed to its smallest point ever, with most of the change “attributable to men’s catching up with women’s egalitarian attitudes.” Yet according to an August 3, 2018 report by the respected polling group FiveThirtyEight, the gender gap among voters is now larger than it has been in decades – perhaps ever. The gap between women’s preferences for Democrats and men’s preferences for Republicans ranges from 26 to 36 points in several states.

In a future piece I’ll look at research that might explain some of these shifting and occasionally contradictory findings. But my point here is that there is a substantial middle group between people who unequivocally support equal rights under all circumstances and people who unequivocally oppose them. The traditional opposition to gender equality as a matter of patriarchal principle seems to have been largely overturned. However, many people experience specific challenges in their work or family lives that can undermine their egalitarian impulses. Others hold conflicted feelings and competing ideals. It’s important to remember that a large section of the population is “up for grabs,” so to speak. Few are such committed feminists or anti-feminists that they can’t be swayed by personal experience or powerful arguments. We can’t count on those who say they support gender equality to always practice equality, and we should not assume that everyone who is skeptical about egalitarianism is a dyed-in-the-wool sexist. It’s up to us to provide experiences and arguments that help people work through their ambivalence and see the benefits of social equality for men as well as for women — and for society at large.

Stephanie Coontz is the CCF Director of Research and Education and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.

Tey Meadow has a new book  Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the 21st Century  that looks at transgender and gender creative children with supportive parents.  I recently had the opportunity to interview Tey about this fascinating new research.

What was the most surprising aspect of your ethnographic work?   Was there something you reported in the book that you hadn’t expected to find but did?

Two things surprised me about my research. First, there was no hypothesis I could make about what kinds of families would be most likely to support or facilitate gender nonconformity in their kids that held true. Some of the most radically supportive families were deeply religious, or from ultra-conservative, rural areas. And some politically liberal families in major urban centers were among those who struggled the most. The notion that there is any sort of monolithic gender culture in any of these areas is far too simplistic an idea to encapsulate the complex and competing desires and emotions these families experienced.

I was also surprised and heartbroken to learn how vulnerable some families were to violence, harassment and censure, even by the state, for simply allowing their children to be gender nonconforming. I detail a number of these stories in the book. Families with children of color, gay and lesbian-headed families and those with pre-existing relationships of surveillance with the state were the most acutely vulnerable, even in socially liberal areas. I met parents who faced false accusations of sexual or emotional abuse, or temporary custody loss and threats of physical violence; many who were too terrified to participate formally in the research, but desperately wanted other people to know this was happening. While media attention on these topics is on the rise, so too is a pernicious backlash that is worth our attention, as well.

One of the most surprising things for me reading this book was the complicated relationships between the social movement organizations founded by parents to advocate for their children and the LGBTQ social movements run by and for LGBTQ folks.  Can you explain that somewhat for our readers?

The contemporary moment for trans children simply would not be possible without the interventions of older LGB-and especially-T activist communities. The adults who pushed for visibility and acceptance at a time when being trans was unthinkable outside of tabloid journalism, who struggled to control the terms of their own engagements with psychologists and physicians, who fought the state for the right to be recognized in their affirmed genders, all of their work set the terms by which parents could recognize children as trans and secure their rights to live openly.

But the political movement around transgender children now is largely a cisgender movement, a vicarious movement of parents and adult allies, who don’t necessarily connect the worlds of these children to the idea of trans that came before. Today’s trans kids will have earlier access to transition than their predecessors, and will, as the reach adulthood, have to decide whether or not their identify with those earlier movements, or whether they want to live outside of them. Some parent I met found the imagery of earlier transgender rights abject, worried that their children would be forced to live marginal lives, or simply felt that the world had changed so much that earlier trans people’s experiences were no longer instructive. Some of these parents chose to limit their children’s access to trans adults, or to carefully curate that access, selecting out the transpeople they felt offered the most assimilable genders for their children to emulate.

I detail this at length in the book and the novel questions it raises for these communities. Trans children whose parents have access to early medical transition will be able to pass unnoticed in most situations and will have greater latitude to disidentify with trans identities and communities. How they negotiate these new questions and options will be fascinating to watch.

What is the most important societal implication of this research project?  Are there specific social policies that your evidence about transgender children and their families suggests local or state governments should implement in the near future?

This is a crucial national policy moment for trans kids, as it is for many vulnerable populations. There are republican-sponsored bills in several states that directly target these youth in ways that could be catastrophic. For example, a piece of legislation that was recently introduced in Ohio, would force school teachers and administrators to “out” youth exhibiting gender nonconforming behavior at school to their parents, even if they know that doing so would be harmful to the child. This is an unprecedented intervention into family life that could have devastating consequences for youth with unsupportive parents.

On a smaller level, my work with children and families showed me how deeply concrete policies can shape institutional cultures. Schools with well-articulated expectations for climate, with curricula that incorporate gender diversity (or at the very least don’t exacerbate it), with teacher and administrator populations that are themselves diverse, create the best learning environments for trans and cisgender students alike. Organizations around the country have compiled useful resources for educators who want to bring their schools in line with best practices in this area.

Tey Meadow is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.

Cheating makes us uncomfortable. No one wants to find out they’ve been cheated on. It’s a betrayal that cuts like no other. At the same time, we’re fascinated by reports of the infidelity of others.

In a new study, recently published in Sexuality and Culture, I surveyed more than 1000 people using the website Ashley Madison to find potential affair partners to find out whether their participation in affairs increased their happiness. I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Perhaps cheating makes you unhappier. After all, there is the guilt, the expense, the lying. What I found surprised me.

Participants did report they were happier during their last affair than before it. That wasn’t so surprising. Recall bias may cause us to rewrite history in an effort to justify our choices. More surprising was that participants said their perception of their life satisfaction was higher even after their affair ended than before they cheated.

However, this wasn’t true of everyone. There were specific traits and conditions correlated with participants’ report of increased happiness. If they believed they wanted to remain married, affairs made them happier. If they believed that to stay in their marriage, they needed to have an affair, then their cheating made them happier. In other words, if they were cheating because they believed this was the only way to keep their families together, affairs helped. However, if they wanted to leave their marriages, cheating actually decreased their happiness.

If they reported that their primary reason for seeking out and participating in an affair was to get sexual needs met, affairs made them happier. On the contrary, if they reported that what was missing in their marriages was something emotional—intimacy, emotional support—affairs decreased their happiness. Thus, a sexual deficit may be entirely easier to resolve than an emotional one—at least through cheating. The happier and more fulfilling the primary partnership, the more satisfying the experience of an affair.

People who said they saw their affair partner twice a week or more for sexual encounters were made happier by their affairs than those who saw their partners once a week or less. So, resolving an unmet sexual need through an affair is easier than an emotional one, but it has to be worth it. And apparently the cutoff for “worth it” is twice a week. If you can’t see your affair partner that often, it may not be worth the effort.

Interestingly enough, how much the person loved their spouse had no effect on their happiness with regard to affairs. But if they believed their loved their outside partner, happiness was increased. At first glance, this may seem curious. But if we take a step back, it makes sense. We can get our sexual needs met outside of a marriage, but not with just anyone. And it only makes us happier if we’re not planning to leave the marriage, and we’re getting our emotional needs met in our marriage. So, we can’t just plug-in any warm body for this.

There was also a gender effect.  Specifically, being a woman increased happiness through affairs. This could be explained by Dietrich Klusmann’s research showing that over time in long-term monogamous relationships, women’s sexual desire for their partner drops. However, if she takes on a new partner, her sexual desire returns to its high level. In other words, the reason women are made happier by cheating may be a result of what I call the “monogamy malaise” women experience in long-term partnerships.

We cannot take these findings and generalize them. We can’t use this to say, “Everyone should cheat! It makes you happier.” These people aren’t representative of everyone who’s married, or even everyone having affairs. The folks in this study specifically sought out affair partners online through a site geared to that goal. They didn’t meet someone and “fall into” an affair. No one should read this study and think, “I never considered it, but I should have an affair!” However, this does shed light into the motivations and dynamics influencing people seeking affairs, especially women who participate in cheating. More inquiry is warranted into this topic. But the findings certainly challenge traditional views of women and sexual satisfaction.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity.

Reposted from Psychology Today

Tammy Duckworth is the first senator to give birth while in office. And she did so with great fanfare and a demand that her breastfeeding infant be able to accompany her to the Senate floor. The mayor of DC adopted a baby, and almost immediately began juggling motherhood and politics, with barely any time away from the public eye. Millennial mothers are running for office and  advertising their breastfeeding babies in campaign photos. Women are demanding that their status as mothers, with babies, be accommodated. It’s about time.

And yet, why now?  Professional women have been in careers for over 50 years. What is new now?  A sociological concept of “the economy of gratitude” helps explain these newly vocal demands by today’s mothers. The demands of employed mothers have definitely changed since the 20th Century. Women like me, middle class white baby boomers who fought to join the ranks of the professionally employed, were happy that we had broken into the boys club. We were grateful to be there. As Gloria Steinem so aptly explained, we wanted to be the men we were supposed to marry. We wanted was to influence the world, to make our own way, to be independent. In my generation, we wanted to be someone in our own right, not somebody’s wife, but to be that somebody. To do that, we put up with sexual harassment, lower wages, and the mommy wars. We were breaking new ground for married middle class women, who had been raised to be wives. My parents wanted me to train to be a nurse or a teacher just, as they would say, “in case your husband ever leaves you.” With that kind of parental ambition, I was grateful to have fought to carve out a life that included my work and my family. I felt lucky to have escaped the domestic life my mother and her friends lived.

Today’s young mothers, Millennial women, are not grateful for being allowed to be in their jobs, to be somebody. They take that for granted, thanks to their grandmothers and mothers who fought those battles. In my new book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure (Oxford, 2018), I interviewed 116 Millennials and nearly all of them, including very conservative “true believers” in gender differences, expected women to spend their adult lives in the labor force, whether or not they were mothers. There is simply no endorsement for the idea that in heterosexual marriage husbands are breadwinners and women wives. And the quantitative data agree. There is almost no one left that doesn’t believe women should have equal rights in the public world of politics and work.

So today’s young mother doesn’t feel any gratitude, as we did, for being allowed into the workplace. And the daughters of working class women and women of color have always had role models who were both mothers and workers. So nearly all American women today take it for granted that paid work is the responsibility of women and men, mothers and fathers. Women just presume they have a right to be at work. Thank goodness for that! Today’s new mother has usually been in the workplace for several years, and is used to competing with men as equals, knowing, of course, that she’s more than equal since women are held to higher standards and presumed incompetent until we prove otherwise. Motherhood now comes with a shock to many successful women. For the first time, perhaps in their post-feminist era lives, the rules are so clearly, so obviously, stacked against them.

We have no male/female job listings but we still have schools that dismiss small children at 3:00 pm, and workplaces that presume workers are available full-time during the day and 24/7 online, with just a few weeks off per year. Such school hours clearly presume children have one parent (read mother) at home. And workplaces that reward workers who have no competing care-taking  demands are affirmative action programs for (usually) white men with wives. The next step in feminism is to create a world where men, as well as women, have moral and practical responsibilities for caring for other people. Perhaps then our society will begin to root out the patriarchy upon which it has been built, and workplaces will begin to realize that all workers also have someone to take care of, if only themselves.

But for now, let’s hear this generation of Millennial women roar. Let’s applaud as they demand our workplaces accommodate women’s role in reproduction, so that infants can breastfeed while their mothers rule the world. But this too is only one more step forward. Let’s hope in the near future their husbands — maybe that’s daydreaming, perhaps instead it will be their sons — will lead the charge for paid parental leave for all Americans, to allow fathers and mothers more time at home with infants, so no one has to bring their baby to the office. Such radical change may just take generations but no one ever promised that the feminist revolution would be easy.

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.

Efforts to level the playing field in education typically start at the bottom. They focus on less-privileged students and on figuring out what those students lack that prevents them from getting ahead.

That deficit-based, bottom-up approach is problematic because it ignores how privileged families hoard opportunities for themselves. As I have found in my research, privileged parents teach their children to “be their own advocates” in school. Privileged children learn to ask for resources and support in excess of what is fair or required. They also keep asking until well-meaning teachers give in and grant their requests. As a result, privileged students get the bulk of teachers’ support and attention, even when they are the students who need it the least.

Those patterns were particularly apparent one morning at Maplewood Elementary (all names have been changed), where I spent three years observing and interviewing students, parents, and teachers.

Mr. Cherlin was checking homework on his clipboard.  Lucy, a working-class, white student, sat low in her seat. Stopping beside her, Mr. Cherlin glanced at Lucy’s empty desk and asked: “Do you have your homework?” Lucy shook her head, not looking Mr. Cherlin in the eye. Mr. Cherlin sighed, explaining matter-of-factly: “You’ll be coming in for recess since you forgot.” Lucy nodded, slumping lower in her chair. Mr. Cherlin continued around the room, stopping next to Sarah, a middle-class, white student whose desk was also empty. Before Mr. Cherlin could say anything, Sarah launched into a breathless explanation, telling Mr. Cherlin: “I couldn’t do my homework ‘cuz I couldn’t find my journal.” Mr. Cherlin chided Sarah, saying she should have written her journal entry on a piece of paper and put it in her journal when she found it. Sarah nodded, then asked hopefully: “So, do I have to stay in for recess?” Mr. Cherlin thought for a moment and then conceded: “Just get it done tonight and show me tomorrow.” Ultimately, Lucy stayed in for recess, and Sarah did not.

Privileged students like Sarah (i.e., those with college-educated, professional parents) asked teachers to check their answers on tests. They asked for extensions on assignments. They asked for exemptions from snack policies and playground rules. They asked teachers not to punish them when they ran in the hallways or forgot their homework at home. Privileged students like Sarah also challenged teachers’ authority. Rather than sit patiently with their hands raised, they called out, got up from their seats, and even interrupted with questions. When teachers tried to deny their requests, privileged students kept asking until teachers said “yes,” instead.

If self-advocacy—or what I call negotiating advantages—helps students succeed, is it really a problem? And couldn’t we just teach less-privileged students to advocate for themselves? I would argue that, yes, negotiated advantages are a problem, and no, teaching less-privileged students to negotiate advantages is not the best way to reduce inequalities in school.

First, negotiated advantages reinforce the notion that rules don’t apply to the privileged. School discipline disproportionately affects poor and minority students. Starting as early as preschool, those students receive harsher and more frequent punishments from teachers. Those punishments undermine the success of less-privileged students and create a “school-to-prison pipeline.” It is easy to assume from those disparities that privileged students are just better behaved. What I found, however, was that privileged and less-privileged students both broke school rules—where they differed was in how they responded when they got caught. Less-privileged students accepted the consequences. Privileged students negotiated their way out of punishment, instead.

Second, negotiated advantages are problematic because they are unfair to teachers and other students. Teachers are already burdened by soaring class sizes, scarce resources, and stacks of material to cover. Allowing students to negotiate advantages wastes time and resources. It also ensures that teachers’ support disproportionately benefits students who demand it—and not necessarily students who need it most.

Third, negotiated advantages are problematic because less-privileged students cannot use them to get ahead. In the classrooms I observed, students’ success in negotiating was directly linked to their (and their parents’) privilege. Teachers relied on privileged parents. Through their donations and volunteer efforts, privileged parents supported arts programs, after-school sports, classroom technology, library renovations, and field trips. Privileged parents also advocated for teachers when politicians threatened to cut benefits or teacher pay. For teachers, saying “no” to privileged students meant jeopardizing that support.

Educators and policymakers have tried to level the playing field, but those efforts often start at the bottom. They aim to help less-privileged students by increasing choice or by teaching less-privileged students to act like their more-privileged peers. Those efforts have merit, but they have failed to reduce growing inequalities in school.

If we truly want to level the playing field, we have to start at the top. That could mean limiting privileged parents’ ability to bolster the budgets of their children’s schools, to use public funds for private tuition, or to influence students’ placement in advanced classes.  Essentially, we need clear policies that prevent privileged families from finding new ways to get ahead. Because the playing field can’t truly be level if one side gets to negotiate the rules.

Jessica Calarco, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University, is the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School.

Picture by CC0 Creative Commons

Originally published in the Harvard Business Review

Few people today call a doctor when they feel a bout of nostalgia coming on. But for 200 years, nostalgia was considered a dangerous disease that could trigger delusions, despair, and even death. A 17th-century Swiss physician coined the word to describe the debilitating algos (pain) felt by people who had left their nostos (native home). In the U.S. during the Civil War, Union Army doctors reported 5,000 serious cases of nostalgia, leading to 74 deaths. In Europe, physicians anxiously debated how to treat home-sickness and contain its spread.

Alarm waned toward the end of the 19th century, as experts came to believe that “modern industry” and “rapid communications” were making people more open to change and hence more resistant to the disease. And by the 20th century, researchers had begun to recognize a milder form of nostalgia that is actually quite healthy: a longing to reproduce a feeling once experienced with friends or family, rather than to literally return to another place or time. This kind of nostalgia makes people feel warmer themselves and act more warmly toward others, including strangers.

In recent decades, however, we have seen a revival of the more pernicious form of nostalgia, what we might call past-sickness. This is the longing to reproduce an idealized piece of history. When people are collectively nostalgic about their past experiences as members of a group or as inhabitants of an era, rather than individually nostalgic for their personal experiences, they start to identify more intensely with their own group and to judge members of other groups more negatively. They become less optimistic about their ability to forge new connections — and more hostile to people perceived as outsiders. When such nostalgia gets politicized, it can lead to delusions about a mythical, magical Golden Age of the homeland, supposedly ruined by interlopers.

Collective nostalgia invariably involves a denial of the racial, ethnic, and family diversity of the past, as well as its social injustices, creating romanticized myths that are easily refuted by anyone willing to confront historical realities. But the cure to the pathologies of past-sickness does not lie in the equally romanticized vision of modernization and innovation we have been offered for the last 40 years — something that might be called future nostalgia, or modernization-sickness.

For much of the 20th century, it was possible to argue that the inequities of life stemmed from the incomplete expansion of technology, industry, and the market, and would be resolved by further modernization. But for several decades it’s been clear that the gains of modernization for some have produced substantial losses for others. While the innovations of the past 40 years have opened more opportunities for professionals and affluent entrepreneurs than they have closed off, that’s not the case for many working-class, small-town, and rural men and women. The failure of policy makers and opinion leaders to acknowledge their losses has left the pain of the “losers” to curdle into a toxic mix of nationalism, racism, and conspiracy theories across Europe and the U.S.

Despite institutionalized discrimination, working-class Americans of all races made significant economic progress in the 35 years following World War II. While it’s true that white male workers were given preference over minorities and women in hiring and pay, most of the gains made by white working-class men in that era came not from their advantages over minorities but from their greater bargaining power vis-à-vis employers. The greater prevalence and power of unions was a huge factor, and although minority and female workers were only gradually admitted to those, strong unions tend to pull up wages in other sectors of the economy and act as a counterweight to business influence over government policy.

In that environment, labor took home a much larger share of economic growth than it does today. From 1947 to the start of the 1970s, every successive cohort of young men earned, on average, three times as much in constant dollars as their fathers had at the same age. And in every single economic expansion in those same years, 70% to 80% of the income growth went to the bottom 90% of the population. Economic disparities between big urban centers, small towns, and rural areas steadily narrowed.

Since the late 1970s, a very different set of trends has prevailed. Between 1980 and 2007, even before the Great Recession hit, the median real earnings of men age 25 to 34 with a high school diploma declined by 28%. Since 1980 every cohort of young men has earned less, on average, than their fathers did at the same age. Meanwhile, in periods of economic expansion the top 10% of earners have taken 95% or more of income growth. Similar increases in inequality have occurred in Europe and elsewhere. A new Oxfam study reports that the richest 1% of the world cornered 82% of the wealth created in 2017.

The reaction of the “creative classes” to these trends has been cavalier to say the least. Despite the clear signs of working-class distress in the 1980s and early 1990s, most pundits insisted that the real story of the era was “the explosion” of new and ever-cheaper consumer conveniences produced by technological advances and globalization. Economist Robert Samuelson dismissed worries about job losses and wage cuts as “alarmist hype” that had American families “feeling bad about doing well.” Conservative columnist George Will speculated that modern affluence had produced so much “leisure, abundance, and security” that our brains, which evolved to deal with constant hazards, had gotten “bored.” Even the socially conscious Microsoft founder Bill Gates was complacent: “Entire professions and industries will fade. But new ones will flourish….The net result is that more gets done, raising the standard of living in the long run.”

During the Great Recession, pundits briefly discovered that “average” increases in income often mask serious inequalities, but that went out the window as soon as the economy started growing again. Last fall the chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley brushed aside worries about job losses due to automation, arguing that “when new technology destroys, it leaves behind a layer of ash in which new jobs grow.” This January, after yet another year of global job gains without wage gains, a writer in Bloomberg News breezily announced that “brisk growth that’s not shared by all is better than no growth at all.” Besides, “there’s basically no country in the world where the consumer is not doing well,” added Bart van Ark, chief economist at The Conference Board.

As for the people who actually provide those affordable consumer goods and services? In the U.S., the “recovery” exacerbated the 40-year rise in economic inequality and insecurity. A survey of the job and business gains in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015 found that most were confined to the wealthiest 20% of zip codes in the country. The bottom 60% of zip codes together got just one in four of the new jobs created in those years. And the 20% of zip codes that were most distressed before the recession continued to lose jobs and businesses throughout the “recovery.” In 2007 the bottom 90% of the population held 28.6% of America’s total wealth. As of 2016, that had fallen to 22.8%.

 Despite futurist predictions that the information revolution would lead to the “death of distance,” a few coastal enclaves and political or technical centers have continued to garner a disproportionate share of resources, reversing the 40 years of economic convergence among regions that occurred after 1940. The average per capita income advantage of Washington, DC and New York City over the rest of the country doubled between 1980 and 2013. Average airfares per mile to “loser” regions are now often nearly twice as high as to the “winners,” while many towns have lost rail service altogether.

Like nostalgia epidemics of the past, our recent outbreak was triggered by an understandable sense of loss and disorientation. But there’s an interesting difference between past and present in the groups most vulnerable to the disease. From the 17th to the 19th century, pathological nostalgia was seen most often among people who moved away from the communities in which they had been raised — often bettering themselves materially but feeling lost and isolated in their new surroundings. Today the upwardly and geographically mobile have easy access to new technologies, professional networks, and flexible work and consumption techniques that allow them to navigate unfamiliar territory and make themselves at home wherever they go.

Those same innovations, however, have marginalized individuals whose identity, security, and livelihood depend on their familiarity with a particular place and set of skills, and their placement within long-standing personal networks that involve relations of mutual dependence and reciprocity. These include industrial workers who get jobs at a local factory because a relative puts in a good word with the foreman; farmers, feed suppliers, and farm equipment mechanics who rely on clients or employees who are also neighbors; and local businesses that depend on personal connections with their customers.

Today the most debilitating nostalgia is found among those who cannot or do not want to move — and should not have to — but see the traditional sources of security that their native land, or nostos, once provided being dismantled or relocated, while their habits, skills, and social relationships are devalued. Instead of leaving their homes behind, they feel left behind in their homes.

As always, working-class African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans suffer disproportionately from job losses, wage cuts, and increased volatility. Zip codes where most residents are racial or ethnic minorities are twice as likely as predominantly white zip codes to be in economic distress. Still, whites account for a significant portion — 44% — of the more than 52 million Americans in the most distressed communities. This shared exclusion from the rewards of modernization ought to be a source of solidarity, not division, but division is what happens when one group romanticizes where we’ve come from and another romanticizes where we’re going, instead of carefully examining the gains, losses, and hard trade-offs of the here-and-now.

To cure this outbreak of past-sickness, the winners in this system must stop pretending that the answer is more of the same, with a little more diversity at the top. To make modernization work for all, we must take a more critical look at how we measure economic and technological progress. Self-driving cars and delivery drones may save some people time and money, but they take away other people’s livelihoods. To stem the contagion of pathological nostalgia, we need to inoculate ourselves with a dose of the healthy nostalgia that spurs us to integrate the best values and ideas of the past into the improvements and advances we promote.

One of those values is the traditional democratic belief that the people who grow our food, make our coffee, fix our cars, educate our children, nurse our sick, and pick up our garbage are at least as essential to a healthy society as the people who invent new algorithms for stock trading, social media, and marketing. They deserve to live in thriving communities, send their kids to good schools, earn a living wage, and get home in time to enjoy dinner with whomever they count as family.

Stephanie Coontz is the CCF Director of Research and Education and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.

In Time to Join #MeToo, Research Highlights Men’s Growing Support for Gender Equality

Two recent studies, presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, reveal that despite the serious obstacles still standing in the way of achieving full gender equality, progress continues. Married men are expanding their contributions on the home front, and data from the General Social Survey show men at their highest levels yet of support for gender equality.

Dan Carlson of the University of Utah reports on a new study with co-authors Amanda Miller and Sharon Sassler that expands on their earlier research: It had shown that sharing housework now increases happiness for heterosexual couples. The new work finds sharing housework is good news for the bedroom, though how good depends on what you’re sharing.

Carlson’s report on housework underscores what David Cotter (Union College, New York) indicates about trends in attitudes: When looking at men’s and women’s roles at home and at work, a stall in support for gender equality in the 1990s was followed by advances in the 2000s, and mixed results in the 2010s. But in 2016, support for all aspects of gender equality reached new highs. While men have consistently been less egalitarian than women since the 1970s, the gap between their attitudes has narrowed in recent years. “History seldom proceeds in a straight line,” notes Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s director of research and education, “but when you even out the ups and downs, the increase in approval of gender equality, at home and at work, over the past 40 years has been truly dramatic.”

Highlights

In Not All Housework is Created Equal: Particular Housework Tasks and Couples’ Relationship Quality, Carlson shares a couple of intriguing findings:

  • By 2006, the proportion of lower and moderate income parents sharing house cleaning had nearly doubled, to 22 percent, and the proportion sharing the laundry had risen to 21 percent, an increase of 129 percent.
  • In 1992 the division of tasks mattered little for couples’ well-being. But, by 2006, couples who equally shared tasks demonstrated clear advantages in relationship quality over couples where one partner shouldered the load.
  • Which tasks partners shared made a difference. Men who shared the shopping for their household reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction than men who did either less or more shopping than their partner.
  • And for women? Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women. Lack of sharing in this task was the single biggest source of discontent with their marital relationship.

In Patterns of Progress? Changes in Gender Ideology 1977-2016, Cotter provides four graphics that chart change.

  • Overall, people have become more egalitarian about such issues as support for working mothers, whether men should be in charge at home, and whether men are superior to women in politics. The upward lines in Figures 1 and 2 tell it all.
  • The change has more to do with generational replacement than anything else, as you’ll see in Figure 4. The younger generations—groups referred to as Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials–all trend together towards high levels of egalitarianism.
  • The biggest news is that men are catching up to women, as seen in Figure 3. Men are still less egalitarian than women, but the gap between men and women has declined significantly in the past four years.

Where do we stand today?

Discussions about gender equality tend to invite that “glass half full / glass half empty” response, notes Stephanie Coontz, who reviewed these reports. “As we know from #MeToo, we have a long way to go. But to reach gender equity, we started with a very tall glass that had sat empty for thousands of years. The fact that we’ve filled it this far in just forty years should give us confidence to keep pouring.”

Following the Second World War, fertility in the United States began to rise sharply from a low point established in the Great Depression. During the 1950s and early 1960s, marriage and childbearing began to occur at what now seem to be unimaginably early ages. Aided by a robust economy and an unbridled sense of optimism, half of all women were married by the time they turned twenty, mostly to husbands who were barely older. Most couples had children soon after marriage if they were not already pregnant by their wedding date. The marriage rush, as it was referred to at the time, created a brief era when most young adults marched confidently into adulthood by their late teens or early twenties.

The regime of early adulthood came to an abrupt halt in the final third of the last century. The rapid loss of manufacturing jobs, the decline in labor unions, the rising demand for higher education, the oil crisis of the early 1970s, the rapid spread of new and more effective contraceptive methods, and the emerging movement for gender equality all likely contributed to ending the early schedule of family formation. Young adults began to move more slowly and more deliberately into the economy, restrained by the need to spend more time in school and by the unavailability of well-paying jobs providing enough to support a family.

The most disadvantaged Americans were initially slow to respond to the emergence of a “skills and knowledge” economy. Marriage remained a strong ideal and the practice of early and often unplanned parenthood continued to propel women into wedlock even when they and their partners were ill-prepared to support a family. But by the mid-1960s, African American women who became pregnant in their teens began to eschew marriage, creating a new social problem: teenage parenthood! In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Black family was becoming ensnared in “a tangled web of pathology” by the pattern of early and unmarried parenthood.

For a brief period, the retreat from marriage was believed to be a special problem for African Americans. Some argued wrongly, that early and unwed pregnancy was a distinctive holdover from slavery or Ante-Bellum discrimination and marginalization.  However, such explanations did not stand the test of time. By the 1980s, marriage was rapidly declining among young whites who, like their African American and Hispanic counterparts, began view early marriage as a bad bargain even in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.  Abortion or even single parenthood appeared like a more promising strategy than marrying an unsuitable partner.

Led by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research and policy arm of Planned Parenthood, a nationwide effort was launched to expand reproductive health services to low-income, unmarried women, teenagers in particular. In the middle of the last century, contraception had not been legally available to these populations. But as sexual and marriage practices changed and marriage, many policy makers argued that providing unmarried women with birth control services was needed to address the growing number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. In 1965, reproductive health services first became available to unmarried women. By 1970, a unanimous Senate and nearly unanimous House sent legislation known now as Title X to President Nixon to establish a network of health and reproductive services to low-income women.  Over the years, Title X has been expanded; by 2014, over 4,000 clinics across the nation provided reproductive health care to young women who could not afford a private physician.

After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion, Title X explicitly prohibited clinics from offering abortions in publicly funded sites. Accordingly, Planned Parenthood a leading provider of abortions, was compelled to divorce its abortion services from reproductive health clinics that were funded by Title X. This compromise has been under attack by abortion opponents for decades who contend that Title X is covertly supporting abortion because Title X provided many to Planned Parenthood clinics even though they did not offer abortion services. Planned Parenthood contended that its reproductive health care services, in fact, prevent the need for abortion and deserve credit for helping to reduce the rate of abortion in the United States.

This contention may well be tested in the next few years because The Trump Administration, with the backing of most Republicans, has recently proposed to defund Planned Parenthood clinics. Already, states are poised to eliminate the largest national provider of reproductive health services in the nation. Like so many of the Trump policies, this proposed change has largely flown under the radar.

Childbearing to teenagers and women in the early twenties dropped steadily and precipitously over the past 25 years, and so have rates of abortion among younger women. The rate of teenage childbearing is less than half of what it was in 1991. Of course, this result is not only due to the growing availability of effective methods of contraception. Sexuality activity has leveled off if not slightly declined during the teen years. Norms have changed: an early and unplanned birth during the teen years has become anomalous with the later schedule for entering adulthood. Still, the widespread availability of birth control, especially as it comes in more user friendly and effective methods, has made it possible for sexually active teens and young adults to avoid becoming pregnant. If enacted, the defunding of Planned Parenthood would have a disastrous effect, probably reversing the trend of the past quarter of a century.

The state of Texas previewed the hardline policy of killing Planned Parenthood services only to find that pregnancies and health problems immediately soared. Texas was quickly compelled to revise these draconian measures. Yet, it appears that the federal government wants to carry out what happened in Texas on a national level.

In last year’s budget resolution, Congress rejected the entreaties of the Administration to remove Planned Parenthood funded services, but the fight undoubtedly will continue into next year’s budget deliberations. Whether this effort succeeds or not will depend— as so many things do— on the elections this year and in 2020.  Reproductive rights for women is just one more reason to join the effort to defeat President Trump and his congressional allies.

Frank Furstenberg is The Zellerbach Family Chair, emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania where he remains an Associate in the Population Center.   He most recently authored Behind the Academic Curtain: How to Find Success and Happiness with a Ph.D.

Inevitably when I tell people that I study love letters and technology, someone participating in the conversation laments the way that texting and instant messaging have lessened the depth and thoughtfulness of love letters in today’s romantic relationships. A text is not a substitute for a handwritten note that takes time to write and symbolizes dedication to a relationship, they argue. But then another voice chimes into this conversation, offering something like this: “I love that my girlfriend and I can text each other little love notes. It’s quick, it’s in real time, and it makes me feel close to her even if she’s far away.”

A few years ago I was cleaning out a basement cabinet and found a box of old paper notes and love letters from high school, college, and graduate school. I brought the box upstairs and began rifling through the paper. My husband walked into the living room, saying to me as I sat amidst a pile of spiral notebook paper bits, “We started college before there was email and we ended college when the World Wide Web came into existence. I wonder if we’re the last generation of letter writers.” Around the same time I talked with a couple women about their love letters – one woman in her twenties who had saved texts from romantic partners in a memo folder on her smartphone, and one woman in her forties who had saved paper letters from her (now) husband that they had exchanged while studying abroad in college. Because of these conversations, I began to wonder whether gender and generation mattered in how people thought about the role of technology in romantic communication.

It is precisely these varied reactions – lamenting the loss of thoughtfulness, praising the access to real-time communication, and wondering about the role of rapidly changing technology on relationships for people from different groups – that my new book, Love Letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age (Routledge 2018), dissects.

Through my own survey data, stories, and a rich weaving together of others’ research from a variety of academic disciplines, I tell the story not of the content of love letters exchanged on paper and via digital devices, but rather what people do with the love letters once they have them, and whether their format as digital or paper matters in terms of their meaningfulness to their owners. In other words, I study the curatorial practices of saving, storing, revisiting, organizing, and throwing away love letters. I do this because the objects in our lives – our material culture – not only impact our behaviors (think about how your smartphone shapes your behavior when it rings or dings during a class or concert); they also symbolize what we cherish or despise. More importantly, our actions surrounding these pieces of material culture require different kinds of bodily and emotional work depending on the relationship and on the digital or paper format – labor that I discuss in this podcast from The Verge. To save a thousand texts in a special folder requires not only the physical work of creating that folder by swiping and typing or by folding and stuffing, but also the emotional labor of discerning whether these saving practices are worth it given the type of relationship they symbolize.

My research reveals a few important findings. First, people overwhelmingly prefer saving paper love letters over digital ones, a pattern that spans all age groups (even among younger individuals for whom digital communication is more prevalent). But despite the preference for paper, people are more likely to use digital means to communicate to lovers. Thus, there is a mismatch between what people do and what they prefer their partners do. For people of different ages, this may stem from different causal mechanisms: for older individuals, they may prefer something from their past that they witness lessening; for younger individuals, they may prefer something they imagine as better despite not having experienced it much in their own lives. In both cases, there is a calling forth of a past image of love letters that is used to judge today’s practices.

Second, men and women differ in their love letter curatorial practices, especially with paper letters. Women are more likely to save love letters than men, but men look at the love letters they save more frequently than women. Women tend to store their love letters in, under, and behind things (e.g., in a drawer, under a bed), while men tend to store them on things (e.g., on a desk or bulletin board). Men and women are similar, as are people of varying ages, in the reasons why they may revisit love letters: people are as likely to look at a saved love letter intentionally (to reminisce fondly or remind themselves of what to avoid in the case of a negative relationship) as they are to stumble upon them accidentally (which is what I did when I found my box of old paper letters in my basement). And people across age and gender categories who get rid of love letters may do so for several reasons: to rid themselves of bad memories, to declutter, or to prevent others from seeing what they perceive to be highly private (often sexual) messages.

Most importantly, the underlying message of these and other findings in the book must be understood in light of social inequalities that move beyond individual preferences. In particular, the calling forth of a nostalgic image of handwritten paper love letters sent and received through the mail not only must be historically situated, as lots of epistolary research shows (mail delivery as we know it in contemporary society is not really that old; people have always adjusted to newer and quicker modes of communication exchange), but also must be understood in terms of privilege. To write, send, receive, and read a love letter that looks like those images found in popular culture and the marketplace began among those with tremendous privilege: those who were white, affluent, educated, literate, and geographically located in the Global North. This image of love letters was reserved for those who were among the most elite in Western society. If there’s one thing family scholars know, to mythologize past nostalgic images of family relationships as if they were universal not only fails to be historically accurate, it also becomes the basis for inaccurate and unfair judgment of today’s varied relationships. To label someone as unromantic because they send a text message rather than sitting down at a desk for an hour to handwrite a love letter upholds an image that historically was reserved for those who had plenty of time, money, and education.

When people lament the loss of paper handwritten love letter writing, they are really lamenting the loss of a nostalgic image of romantic love that has never been universal, and that has become part of a collective view of romance that is ahistorical, inaccurate, and was available only to privileged groups. What people do with their love letters – digital or paper – depends not only on individual preferences regarding orderliness, clutter, or sentimentality, but also on people’s access and attachment to powerful cultural values that make up contemporary views of romance such as individualization, taking time in a hectic world, longevity, privacy, and keeping cherished things in a safe place. These values are not accessible equally across groups. Ultimately, I contend, despite acknowledging that digital communication has changed how we view connectedness and the type of work we have to do to manage a huge amount of information, the cultural values that tell us how romantic love should be defined are more powerful than the format our love letters take.

Michelle Janning is Professor of Sociology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She studies the intersection between intimate relationships, domestic objects, and spaces and places, usually while cleaning out basement cabinets or looking under couch cushions. She enjoys nice pens and stationery, as well as inside jokes in texts from her husband. She is the author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives (Rowman & Littlefield 2017).