Reposted with permission from the UT Austin Population Research Center.

Children’s health disparities have been well-documented across wealthy nations, including in the United States. Children in well-off families experience better health than those in economically disadvantaged families. These disparities widen between infancy and adolescence and if not substantially improved, they might compound to even larger inequalities in adulthood. However, the rates at which health disparities widen as children grow up vary substantially across societies, including rich countries.

Work-family conflict is consistently linked to declines in parental health and well-being, which in turn can deteriorate well-being throughout the family. In contrast, workers with ample paid time off for parenting, illness and/or vacation are better able to attend to their children’s needs. Indeed, flexible work arrangements and paid time off help to reduce parents’ daily stress. Workers who control their own schedules are better able to mesh their children’s school, sleep, and play time with their own work schedule, enabling closer supervision of children’s schoolwork, friends, and leisure activities.

While policy mandates that support reconciling conflicts between the demands of work and those of family – also known as work-family reconciliation policies – cannot eliminate all the financial difficulties of economic disadvantage, they can quite possibly provide more opportunities for quality parenting, reduce family or marital strain, and lessen economic burdens by reducing the need to take unpaid time off.

These work-family reconciliation policies – specifically parental leave, work schedule flexibility or control, and combined paid sick and vacation leave – are likely to reduce children’s health disparities. However, existing evidence is focused on workplace interventions or single countries such as the United States or Norway, leaving unclear whether national work-family policy mandates might make a difference. In many countries, including the United States, policy mandates are limited or completely absent. This makes families rely on their employers to deliver work-family support. Because these benefits are market-driven, they tend to go to advantaged families, thus widening gaps in children’s health in the absence of policy intervention.

National policy mandates may serve to benefit disadvantaged families the most by “leveling the playing field” among working parents. Paid leaves and work flexibility enable parents to continue working and supporting their children both financially and emotionally. Conversely, when mandated work-family reconciliation support is absent, families must draw on their own economic resources to parent effectively, leaving disadvantaged families behind.

State subsidization of childcare is a cash transfer policy lever that might also impact health disparities between rich and poor children. However, because parents utilize childcare in such differing ways depending on center quality, proximity, availability, and other factors, cost subsidies alone may not make a significant difference in narrowing children’s health disparities across developed nations. Moreover, while cash transfers may lower family economic strain in the short-term, they do not impact parental working conditions or hours, nor are they likely to facilitate bonds between parents and children in the same way that extended time off work might allow.

For these reasons, the authors hypothesize that children’s health disparities between disadvantaged and advantaged families will be lessened significantly in countries with more generous work-family reconciliation policies whereas cash transfer policies will not be associated with reduced disparities in children’s health.

In order to estimate the impacts of work-family reconciliation and cash transfer mandates in reducing children’s health disparities, the authors analyze child-level data from the 2006 and 2010 rounds of the World Health Organization Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study. The HBSC is a crossnational, representative survey focused on the health and well-being of early adolescent girls and boys ages 11, 13, and 15 in 20 industrialized nations: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States. Policy data are gathered from a variety of sources including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) database.

The authors analyze the impact of three policies on inequalities in young adolescents’ psychological health complaints, life satisfaction, and general health: 1) paid vacation and sick leave, 2) work flexibility, and 3) paid maternity leave. Based on the assumption that policies may operate more effectively as a complementary package of resources that consistently increase time and resources for parenting across childhood, the authors also analyze a comprehensive policy index based on the three policies listed above.

Across 20 OECD countries, economically disadvantaged children report more psychological health complaints, lower life satisfaction, and worse general health compared to their more advantaged peers.

  • This inequality in children’s health and well-being may be linked to national work-family policy. For example, the United States scores lowest on work-family reconciliation mandates and shows the greatest inequality in children’s self-rated health.

Across all levels of disadvantage, higher amounts of paid vacation and sick leave, work flexibility, and a comprehensive work-family policy index are all associated with better self-rated health for children. Work flexibility is also associated with higher life satisfaction.

► At the same time, these country-level policies show stronger links to the health of children within disadvantaged families, thereby reducing inequalities in children’s health and well-being.

  • For paid vacation/sick leave, the disadvantage gap in self-rated health is reduced by 69%. See Figure, below.
  • For the country policy index, the gap is reduced by 60%.
  • For work flexibility, the gap is reduced by 59%.

► Similar though weaker trends for life satisfaction were found, with the gap in children’s life satisfaction reduced by 25% in countries with the most generous work-family reconciliation policies.

► Notably, cash transfer programs, including family benefits spending and childcare costs, were not associated with the size of children’s health disparities across OECD nations, suggesting the unique importance of work-family reconciliation policies.

Taken together, these results suggest the singular value of better national work-family accommodations, rather than any generic cash allowances, for lessening inequalities in children’s health and human capital development. Because disadvantaged adolescents gain more well-being linked to work-family reconciliation than do advantaged adolescents, national work-family policies may be especially beneficial for children whose parents have less power to bargain for paid time off and consistent work schedules and hours. These policies, in turn, help to level the playing field among working parents and reduce the negative impact of economic disadvantage on children’s health.

This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2C HD042849) and T32HD007081, Training Program in Population Studies, both awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Matthew A. Andersson ( is an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University; Michael A. Garcia is a PhD student in sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin; and Jennifer Glass is the Barbara Bush Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology and a faculty research associate in the Population Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

For all its misery, the pandemic has offered some unexpected gifts: cleaner air, quality time spent with dogs, and, not least, the rise of online romance. Although meeting online eclipsed other ways to start a relationship as early as 2013, the pandemic cemented online dating as the most common gateway to romance.

Given the popularity of online dating and increased popular support for the Black Lives Matters movement, what does this mean for race and relationships?  While neighborhoods, schools, places of worship and other social spaces are still highly racially segregated, the digital dating market is one of the few spaces where daters have direct access to millions of others of different racial backgrounds.  Online dating has the potential to be a powerful agent for social change.

Yet in our book The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance, we find that the commodification of people in online dating markets makes it efficient and convenient to categorize—and exclude—others by their race. Every dater has a unique story to tell, yet one thing was clear as we teased out daters’ millions of interactions on a major online-dating platform and interviewed daters around the country: for all daters, straight or gay, race plays a more fundamental role in our roman­tic lives than any other social identity.

Race determines how daters approach or avoid others. It drives anxieties about the “real reasons” others pursue or reject them. It confuses. It frustrates. And some of the most racially-progressive white daters we interviewed were far less open-minded when it came to their dating choices. Over and over, the evidence shows that white daters have the most dating options, and racial minorities the least. A Caribbean-American man told us he envies the relative ease that white men enjoy on dating apps:

“They’re easily able to date faster than men who are of color. It’s a fact. Women don’t want to step up to the plate, especially white women. They’re so ‘liberal,’ ‘they’re fighting for my rights’– blah, blah, blah. They speak about ‘white privilege,’ blah, blah and all this bullshit.”

While there are many exceptions to the rule, statistically speaking, Black daters face the most pronounced exclusion in online dating, regardless of sexual identity. Race combined with gender is a force multiplier of this dynamic, earning white men universally high interest from not just white women, but also Asian, Latina and black women. Black women experience the most frequent rejections from everyone but other black daters. A dater we interviewed described being simultaneously overlooked and yet harshly scrutinized as a black woman:

Online dating makes me feel like … I’m invisible and hyper-visible. …It really is very much a White women’s market. …There’s so many different stereotypes about Black women that I feel like come to play in how people approach me and I’m guessing other Black women on these platforms. … Like, ‘I’m giving you traps and you should take it.’ Or, like, ‘you’re extra sexual and promiscuous.’ It kind of sucked, especially when you knew all these women, specifically White women, [were] talking about, ‘I have so many messages, and I just can’t do all this.’ And I’m like, “I got two messages today and one of them asked me if I like White chocolate.”

Anti-blackness was a pervasive theme running through our analyses and interviews, and we also found widespread preference by daters of all races for lighter skin tones among daters within the same race. While our book situates the popularity of online dating within the evolution of racialized patterns of courtship, it also finds that online racial discrimination is itself a distinct manifestation of racism. Even though deeply rooted in the past, this new form of racism interacts with fast-evolving technologies in ways that produce experiences and consequences distinct from traditional racism.

It is striking that dating is one of the only contexts left in modern-day U.S. society where it remains acceptable to articulate racial preferences. In education, employment, housing, and lending, racial preferences have been recognized as not only legally but also morally wrong. Yet racial categories are explicitly and unapologetically part of the selection process of many dating websites and apps. Some of the most popular dating sites ask users to specify their racial preferences in their profiles and codify them with partner searches filtered by race.

In our book we connect the evolution of online dating today to the inven­tion of dating in the early twentieth century—a new form of courtship that diminished familial and state control over intimate choice. This and the growing emphasis of individualism together paved the way for present-day acceptance of racial discrimination in dating.

As a form of courtship, dating originated in the 1900s just as the U.S. racial categories we know today were being solidified and regulated through laws and everyday practice. This meant that the birth of individual preference and mod­ern notions of romance became deeply imprinted with racialized desire and calculus.  Intimate racial sorting went from being a publicly regulated practice through anti-miscegenation policy to a modern day personal choice, one that has become obscured from the public.

Clearly, racial discrimination in dating is different from other forms of discrimination, one that could never be regulated by the kinds of policies that we’ve adopted to remedy unequal access to housing, jobs, and educa­tion.  And, indeed, for some ethnic minorities, dating within one’s own race means something very different than it does for whites, symbolizing a political and cultural choice against a backdrop of racial marginalization and racially-driven sexual harassment online.

Our intent is not to judge individuals for their personal dating preferences.  We are interested instead in the societal language of individual choice that allows daters to view intimate racial preferences as benign, natural, and idiosyncratic (like “preferring anchovies on a pizza,” as one dater described it). Yet these “random” preferences map precisely onto existing racial hierarchies that have been identified and condemned in other spheres.

White Americans are barely able to acknowledge the role of racial inequality in our public institutions; acknowledging that it also plays a role in our private, most intimate lives is even harder to admit. Many daters told us that they can’t help who they are attracted to, that their choices are simply a matter of individual taste. But if intimate preferences are so individu­alistic and mysterious, why are they so similar and predictable? Our analyses showed over and over that race is a crucial predictor of mate selection, carrying the boundaries of our racially-segregated past into the era of personal choice.

Dating companies could be a force for powerful positive change by doing away with racial filters, as some apps recently did in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.  And yet it’s complicated: the women of color we interviewed frequently told us that that filters were one way they could protect themselves from frequent exposure to sexual fetishization and even outright racial hostility. But platforms could be tweaked to create a sorting process that decenters rather than foregrounds the importance of race, creating alternative designs that emphasize shared interests and biography more than photographic data. They can make transparent the invisible role of algorithms in their matching design and they can intentionally disrupt the reinforcement of inadvertent of race bias that is often built into these algorithms based on past user behavior.

Ultimately, however, it is our own behavior that has influenced the design of these applications. As it turns out, our race preferences are profitable.

We may not have intentionally absorbed societal racial preferences, but we can be intentional about acknowledging them and deciding whether to perpetuate or dis­rupt them.  As we fight for racial justice in “public life,” it’s worth remembering that every click and swipe, no matter how trivial it seems, has last­ing implications for racial division in the United States.

Celeste Vaughan Curington is Assistant Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University. Jennifer H. Lundquist is Professor of Sociology and Senior Associate Dean in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ken-Hou Lin is Associate Professor of Sociology and Population Research Center Associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

Image by René Bittner from Pixabay

Despite the important temporary relief provided to many families by the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided $1,200 to qualifying adults and $500 to their dependent children, millions of American families are experiencing financial hardship as we enter the new year. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey reveal that as of December 2020, U.S. households with children continued to face serious financial challenges in meeting basic needs:

  • 55.7% of families have experienced a reduction in household employment income since March 13, 2020.
  • 23.1% of households with children describe paying for household expenses as “very difficult” and an additional 22.3% report that it is “somewhat difficult.”
  • In surveys conducted between December 9 and December 21, slightly more than half of U.S. households with children reported food insufficiency in the previous 7 days—a 12 percentage point rise relative to pre-pandemic times. Of these more than 40 million families, 34.6% said that their children sometimes or often did not eat enough because food was unaffordable.
  • 11.6% of Americans disclosed that they were late on mortgage payments—a figure more than double that of households without children. The situation is even worse for families who rent: 24.5% reported making late rental payments and 19.4% indicated they had no confidence that they would be able to pay next month’s rent. Of those behind on housing payments, more than 52% of renters and nearly 19% of homeowners indicated that it was somewhat or very likely that they would be evicted or experience foreclosure in the next two months.

In an earlier report, CCF noted how the chronic household stress associated with such economic scarcity and insecurity has been shown to pose long-term risks to children, including deficits in cognitive and behavioral functioning and mental and physical health that extend well into adulthood. It is clear that the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which authorized $600 payments to eligible adults and each of their qualifying children, will fall far short of improving the economic condition of families as COVID-19 cases continue to surge and job losses continue to hit mothers hard. Although both stimulus packages have provided much-needed relief, American families need more support.

Lawrence Stacey is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University, and can be contacted at Kristi Williams, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ohio State University, and President of the Board of Directors of the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at

When parents experience racial discrimination do their parenting behaviors differ, and does that influence their teens? A new study in the journal Family Relations takes on the question of the effects of stresses related to race on youth – but focuses the question on stressors experienced by parents. The parenting of African American teens has been a focus of prior research on teen’s academic achievement and success, and positive as well as risk behavior. Some of the existing research has included a focus on parents’ experiences of discrimination, and how that shapes their parenting.

What prior studies haven’t done is consider how parents may anticipate discrimination or experience it vicariously, and whether that plays a role in parenting. This new study shows that personally experiencing discrimination is important, yet that racial discrimination doesn’t need to be individually experienced to influence parenting and teens’ wellbeing. In particular, when mothers witnessed or heard others’ stories of racial discrimination (which the authors call vicarious discrimination), there was an impact on teens.

Specifically, the study found that mothers who anticipated racial discrimination were more involved and vigilant with their teens, which was associated with better adjustment for their kids. For mothers who experienced vicarious discrimination, their teens had more problem behaviors – yet at the same time they were also more involved and vigilant as parents, which was related to lower internalizing problems and higher academic persistence among their teens.

These findings underscore that racial discrimination does not need to be personally or directly experienced in order to influence families. Just hearing about the discrimination of others can affect both parents as well as their kids. This is an important topic for future research, but also suggests that for teachers or counselors that work with families, racial stress doesn’t have to be a specific event to have consequences. A focus on a family’s exposure to racial stress – and their strategies to cope with it – could help parents and adolescents better manage these stressors. With so much attention to examples of racial discrimination circulating in the media, this new study shows that supporting African American parents is more important than ever.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by an infrastructure grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, P2C HD042849) awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Kathleen Holloway is a Doctoral Candidate in Human Development and Family Sciences at University of Texas at Austin. Fatima Varner is an Assistant Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at University of Texas at Austin. Stephen T. Russell is Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professor in Child Development and Director of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Texas at Austin.

In our new book, Living on the Edge: An American Generation’s Journey through the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, 2021), we follow parents born around 1900 as they navigated what Robert Gordon (2016) has called a “century of revolutionary change.” Using data from the lifelong Berkeley Study, which started in the 1920s, we set out to examine how the rapid social changes of the twentieth century were expressed in the lives of these individuals and families. This task seemed especially relevant in our own era of accelerating change and discord.

The lives of this rarely studied 1900 generation were marked by migration, two world wars, great swings in economic depression and prosperity, and unimaginable inventions and advances in science and technology. As one participant said in the 1980s, “Never again will history equal the rate of change of this period: from covered wagons to the moon!”

But what could we possibly have in common with a generation of people born 120 years ago?

A lot, actually.

The 1900 generation is what Leonard Cain (1967) called a “hinge generation,” or bridge, between past and present. Their lives were drastically different from the generations before them, and they wrestled with and instigated changes that echo through later generations. In fact, in reading the first-hand accounts of their lives, we were often struck by how modern their voices sounded.

Our research reveals many examples of their status as a hinge generation – including profound changes in the nature of work, the growing separation of workplaces and homes, the expansion of higher education, married women’s increasing labor force participation, and greater egalitarianism in marriage.

And perhaps nowhere is their hinge generation status more apparent than in the realm of parenting.

Today’s intensive parenting, it turns out, is not so new. It is founded on an approach underway since the 1920s.

This can be seen in the middle-class parents of the 1900 generation, who were at the forefront of a deep cultural shift in parenting:

* They were the first generation of parents to see revolutionary advances in the amount and quality of childrearing advice. Science related to child development emerged in the early 1920s, along with a commitment to conducting research to serve the development of children and families.

* To them, parenting was a skill to be learned and mastered. They provided opportunities to their children that they did not themselves have: music, art, and dancing lessons; clothes and toys; better nutrition, education, and health care; more involved parents, less troubled family relationships, and greater economic security.

Several parents said that their generation had actively decided to have fewer children in order to give them more. As a middle-class father noted:

Parents used to have an easier time raising children because they didn’t pay so much attention to them … They didn’t give them all kinds of special lessons and worry over their adjustments. Our children have been tied up in one thing or another ever since they were born.

* One downside to being better schooled in parenting was that they were more worried about their children’s outcomes and their own incompetence as parents. A middle-class mother observed:

There has been so much propaganda on parents, to point out our psychological responsibilities, that we are always overanxious. Previously, parents just let children grow up and hoped they turned out for the best; if they didn’t, that was due to the child. Whereas parents of our generation worry over what we have done wrong.

* Because knowledge of child development was growing, couples were more conscious of the role of fathers in the development of their children. Many of these men wanted to become better fathers and husbands.

* They struggled with how to raise kids in a new world that offered greater mobility, plentiful temptations, and a compromised ability to exert parental influence.  This was especially true in wartime, as the Berkeley parents were raising adolescents in the mobilized Bay Area. The super-charged nature of life left parents worried about youth delinquency and sexual promiscuity, especially with so many troops coming into train stations and the port. They also speak often of the moral threat of “the movies” and radio.

* Parents’ greater knowledge left them aware of the inherently ambiguous and uncertain nature of their role. Previous generations were so sure about what was “right” and consequently trained youngsters early to fit in with parents’ demands. This might not have been good for children’s development, but it was easier. In the words of one mother:

Everybody was more comfortable in knowing precisely where the lines were drawn, and now, neither the parents nor the children know.

* Parents and children alike were more open and willing to share with one another, shrinking the “generation gap.” Greater equality in the parent-child relationship brought new challenges and benefits. As one parent noted:

Today’s children may openly criticize their parents, but they don’t pile up their resentments!

The Berkeley Study archives allowed us to discover that the seeds of today’s child-focused parenting can be found in the markedly different strategies of parents a century ago.

This hinge generation reminds us that many of things we assume are unique to our own times are shared with and built upon the ideas and actions of people long before us.

Richard A. Settersten Jr. is the Barbara E. Knudson Endowed Chair and Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at Oregon State University.  Glen H. Elder Jr. is the Odum Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology at UNC Chapel Hill.  Lisa D. Pearce is the Zachary Taylor Smith Distinguished Term Professor of Sociology at UNC Chapel Hill.

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

We’re all familiar with the common trope of the nagging wife who is never pleased. The media offers frequent depictions of husbands in fear of upsetting their wives or failing to please them, and enduring their nagging. Articles abound advising wives to be kinder and more pleasant. A 2014 study about nagging  found men “especially vulnerable to” the impact of their wives’ nagging, including a 50-100% higher risk of mortality when compared to those living nag-free lives .

Why do we position women as “naggers,” demanding,” and “impossible to please”? The answer lies in the social expectations of gender. Cultural expectations demand that women perform the bulk of household management and housework.

How does that lead to nagging?

Diane Boxer’s 2002 work found that women tend to nag about the completion of household chores. She explains that women nag due to their lack of power. Meaning, if the person responsible for the household chores possessed more power, there would exist no need for nagging. Why not? Because in that scenario, the “nagee” would simply honor the request at first ask. The very fact that women must nag to get tasks completed illustrates their lack of power to provoke their spouse to do chores at first ask. Boxer explains that this lack of power functions as the key to why women tend to nag. Tannen (1990) explained that men likely resist doing the task at first ask because they want to imagine that they are “doing it of [their] own free will”. Masculinity demands that men dislike having anyone tell them what to do, “especially a woman.” Thus, gendered power dynamics within marriages create the situation where women nag.

When considering the narratives of the men in my book, Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity, this understanding proves useful. These men internalized their wives’ nagging as evidence of her unhappiness and disappointment in him. However, they failed to see the connection between their refusal to complete a task at first ask and the resulting nagging. Nor did they look around and determine what needed to be done without being asked, a situation where the chore completion would, in fact, be of their own free will.

While it’s easy to blame these men, we must remember that the system oppresses all of us; it just looks different depending upon our particular statuses. Both these men and their primary partners function under this dynamic, and both suffer as a result. These men exist under a patriarchal system that teaches them to resist having anyone tell them what to do, especially women. They don’t just leave that socialization at the altar. They bring that tendency into their marriages and romantic partnerships.

Okay, that’s interesting, but how does that lead cheating?

Hochschild’s concept of the “economy of gratitude,” which refers to the central question of who is showing gratitude to whom and for what?, proves useful here. Under the economy of gratitude, if one partner performs a domestic task that they experience as a personal burden, and then they perceive a lack of gratitude from the partner who requested the labor, feelings of dissatisfaction and inequity may ensure.

These men internalized the combination of their wives’ nagging about domestic chores coupled with what the men perceived as their wives’ failure to express gratitude for having completed the chores as evidence of their disappointment in them.

No one likes to feel taken for granted. Did their wives actually fail to show gratitude for their labor? Impossible to know. Maybe the wives failed to show appreciation because they had to nag to get the men to complete the chore. Maybe they felt no need to express gratitude because the chore benefitted both parties. Maybe they did show gratitude, but the men failed to internalize it as such.

What matters is that these men believed their primary partners lacked appreciation for their contributions to the household labor, and thus believed their wives to be “impossible to please.” And then the men internalized both the nagging and lack of gratitude as evidence that they disappoint their primary partners. The men experience this dynamic as both upsetting and mysterious. They assume some failure of theirs as the root cause, but internalize that as a failure of character, manliness, and worthiness as a man.

Were men cheating because their wives nagged them about household chores? Not directly. However, men repeatedly asserted their belief that they exist as a disappointment to their wives, that their own lack of adequate masculinity provoked this disappointment, and that they deeply needed a female romantic partner who expressed enthusiasm and desire for them. Men’s conviction that their wives lacked interest in them as people, as partners, and as lovers originated from their reaction to their wives’ nagging about and lack of appreciation for their completion of household chores. Thus, their participation in affairs exists at least in part as an outgrowth of gendered power dynamics.

Alicia Walker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author ofChasing Masculinity: Men, Validation and Infidelity and  The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity. Follow her on twitter at @AliciaMWalker1

Nell Frizzell is a journalist and author who writes about gender, culture, art, and politics. She has written for The Guardian, VICE, The Telegraph, Elle, Grazia, The Pool, The Observer, Buzzfeed, Refinery29, Red and Time Out. She is also a Vogue columnist, writing about motherhood under the title Bringing Up Baby. Here, I ask her about her new book, released today: The Panic Years: Dates, Doubts, and the Mother of All Decisions.  You can find out more about Nell at,

KM: Beyond the biological component, are there other ways that you feel like women uniquely feel the pressure from society to have a baby by a certain time and why do you think this is? What do you think society and public policy – and perhaps the men in women’s lives – can do to ease the burden of this pressure and support women both while they are deciding whether or not to have a baby and then once they actually do start child-rearing?

NF: I am amazed by how ubiquitous the expectation that girls will have babies still is today. My 16-year-old sister has a list of her favorite baby names saved onto her phone. I wonder how many boys her age are ever asked what they want to call their children? It’s there in the way we talk about female ambition (as something that will run alongside family life), the way we encourage girls to practice caring in a play setting (playing with dolls, cooking, putting toys to bed in mini cots, pushing prams, etc.), the way we ask the most fundamental and private questions as though they were breezy small talk “So, do you want a baby?” Of course all this could and should apply to people who identify as men, but I fear it is not. We still allow, even encourage, men to consider having children as something peripheral and potential, rather than a reality that they could plan for, hope for or prevent right now, in their life.

There is also the very strong cultural narrative of the ‘geriatric mother’ and the ‘cliff edge’ of fertility after 35. The truth is of course much more nuanced, much more specific to each individual’s biology and lifestyle and therefore, hopefully, less scary. We are very happy to warn women that their fertility is finite without really mentioning the correlated decrease in fertility and rise in congenital illness, quality of sperm, etc. in men.

With regards to policy, well here’s a question. Firstly, let’s actually enact the demands made at the first Women’s Liberation Conference in 1970 at Ruskin College (it’s the anniversary this year!)

  • Equal pay
  • Equal opportunity
  • Contraception and abortion on demand
  • Free 24 hour nurseries

That way, the decision to have a baby is a far less polarizing one: it will have a less damaging impact on your career, it will cost you less materially, financially, socially and personally, it will be easier to avoid getting pregnant if you’re not ready or not in the right circumstances to raise a child, it will not affect your opportunities to reenter the public world after you’ve given birth.

I would love to see free childcare for all children under 5. It doesn’t just make sense on a humanitarian level – literally making the population healthier, happier and more likely to contribute to a well-adjusted society – but it makes economic sense not to have half the workforce taken away from their job in order to look after children OR almost half the workforce’s entire income going directly to someone else looking after your children.

Better paid parental leave – for the same reasons as above. A father and mother who have the opportunity to bond with and nurture their child are far more likely to treat that job with the care and attention it deserves; their child is going to benefit from a caring environment, they will be better equipped to navigate interpersonal relationships, if their parent chooses to breastfeed their physical health will be better – the list goes on and on.

I would also like men to just think about having babies. Not to push it to one side while they concentrate on ‘the big things’ i.e. studying, work, sport, friendships, sex, money. But to have it as a question, something to prepare for, or make contingencies for from the moment they are sexually active. Let them take on the burden of contraception, particularly if they don’t want children. Side effect free, hormone-free male contraception and, until that is on the market, let’s talk again about vasectomies. If you are a man who is certain you never want a child or don’t want any more children than enact that decision in your body – have a vasectomy – don’t instead expect women to spend their lives adjusting their bodies to conform to your desire.

KM: You often leverage data and statistics in support of the topics in your articles – from a sociological point of view, in your experiences from thinking about becoming a mother to actually doing so, do you feel there are areas of research in this field that need further exploration to understand this process better?

NF: Yes. The cost of childcare should be much much more widely understood than it is now. I had no idea, until I had a child, that I couldn’t afford to have a child. Also, if more people understood that the average cost of childcare for one child, under 2 in the UK, for someone on the UK average wage, is 43% of their income, hopefully they would agitate to change that before they have a child and are already, well, trapped.

The decrease in male fertility over time. I think we need to start talking much more frankly and openly about male fertility – stop putting the blame, the decision and the burden all on women’s bodies.

Finally, please god could someone do some research – a LOT of research – into the effect of hormonal contraception (actually, hell, all contraception) on female mental health. We know that the pill is literally killing women – driving them into depression and suicide. We all know anecdotally the horrendous side effects of so much contraception. And yet there seems to be so little scientific and sociological research into it.

KM: What made you decide to write a book on this topic? What is the one lesson or advice or insight you want readers to take away?

NF: Partly, honestly, because I’d had a baby I simply couldn’t work in the way I used to as a freelance journalist. I couldn’t pitch three ideas a day while also surviving on 5 hours broken sleep and under 24-hour care of a baby. A book would give me the opportunity to work on one project over the course of months, rather than having to turn around copy every day within hours just to pay the bills.

On a more creative level, I also wanted to write this book because, having lived through The Panic Years and going through my own Flux, I knew what a bewildering, devastating, disorienting and paralyzing time it could be. I wanted to give this thing a name so women everywhere could see their own experience as part of a social and biological phenomenon, rather than a personal crisis. I wanted friends, sisters, colleagues to have a short hand with each other to explain what they were going through “Oh, I think she’s hit her Flux, so maybe we should go over with a lasagna”.

I wanted us to see the ways our gender conditioning, work culture, sexual attitudes and social care were still oppressing us. I wanted to point out the underlying injustice that still exists around fertility, childrearing and contraception.

Also, more privately and personally, I wanted my partner, friends and family to understand what I’d gone through and how it had felt.

Kim McErlean is a Ph.D. student studying Sociology, with an interest in Family Demography, at the University of Texas at Austin.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

It’s no secret that there are a lot of people struggling economically in the U.S. Over the past year, the pandemic has made the need for help even more evident—for all the people now out of work and without savings to fall back on. It makes sense that people would turn to people in their lives for help—yet many won’t, even as they suffer.

After decades of erosion in government assistance for people who are struggling, the events of the last year make the need for a renewed, strengthened public safety net even more evident. Current proposals to expand rental and food assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, unemployment benefits, and other aid would all make an enormous difference for people who are suffering.

My book Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor describes a private safety net of social ties—people we know who we can rely on—that catches some people in the absence of adequate public assistance. This is simultaneously sad, even heart wrenching, because people can be in dire circumstances, lacking the fundamentals of food and shelter, and beautiful and joyous as others reach out a hand to help and let those struggling know they’re not alone. But a lot of people do not have a private safety net—and even those who do still often struggle to meet basic needs, a problem compounded by reluctance to ask for help.

In our research published last year using data from the Time, Love, and Cash in Couples with Children Study[1] (TLC3, connected to the Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study), Laryssa Mykyta and I found that some people will resist help from others, even when they’re really struggling, and especially if they have to ask.

Some families do not need to be asked. In an interview, Wendy[2] said she never asks her family for help. “I never pay them back, they never say anything. They’re always right there to help. We try to pay them back; they never accept it,” she said.

Other participants also reported getting help from family members and feeling really good about it, but a common theme was that the help was freely given. None of the participants who reported feeling so positive about the help they received from family members had to ask for help. Asking for help is far different from receiving help. In fact, having to ask is a barrier to support. As Rosa said, “it has to be that I really have nowhere else to get it, and it’s my only choice. It’s hard to ask.”

Some study participants were reluctant to take help even if they didn’t have to ask. Robert said, “I hate taking money. From anybody. I’m really like, ‘No!’ I mean … I’d rather be hungry.” These participants reported a sense of pride and a desire to be independent that would have been threatened if they received help, much less asked for it. Robert’s statement that he would rather be hungry than ask for help is a vivid example of how deep the reluctance to ask for help can be for some people.

An individualistic perspective, so common in U.S. society, is one reason study participants seemed to shrink from asking for help even when they were fairly confident it was available. Individualism is a big part of how Americans define responsible adulthood. We all want to believe we can survive and succeed independently. Hinting at the stigma that accompanies getting assistance from others, some participants said their pride would not allow them to reach out for aid, even from the closest family members. And many worried they would not be able to reciprocate, so some who felt an obligation to repay any aid they might receive were also reluctant to get assistance from others. But the biggest obstacle appeared to be the requesting of help. Participants positively experienced help that was freely offered or given, but generally felt negative about the prospect of asking for help.

As we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic, it’s essential to remember that research on stigma and social support shows that people aren’t likely to ask for help even if they need it. That’s why it’s so valuable when others simply offer it, without them having to ask. But those who are willing and able to help others should tread lightly, being mindful of the shame many feel about getting help.

Not everyone can provide financial help to struggling family and friends, particularly if they are facing their own economic burdens. But emotional support matters too, and we could all use some of that—all the time, but maybe especially now. While physical distancing is crucial as we battle COVID-19, the term social distancing is an unfortunate misnomer that stuck. Making sure people know they’re not alone in their struggles is incredibly valuable. Because in this time of immeasurable crisis, the last thing we need is social isolation. Truly, we all need our connections to others more than ever.


[1] TLC3 consists of four waves of interviews with 150 parents in 75 couples (some married, some not married) in three cities, first interviewed shortly after the birth of a child. Both mothers and fathers participated in in-depth interviews individually and as a couple in each of the four waves from 2000-2005.

[2] All names used are pseudonyms.

Joan Maya Mazelis is the author of Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor (NYU Press 2017). She is an associate professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Rutgers University–Camden, an affiliated scholar at Rutgers–Camden’s Center for Urban Research and Education, a Faculty Affiliate at the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, and co-leader of the New Jersey/Philadelphia chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, an organization of scholars that connect their research to legislatures, civic organizations, and the media. Follow her @JoanieMazelis.



Image by Mahesh Patel from Pixabay

Many of us likely remember how panic purchasing during the early days of the pandemic led to empty shelves in toilet paper and hand sanitizer aisles in stores across the country. Less surprising to me was the run on baby care items, including formula, wipes, and especially diapers. What many parents took for granted—abundant diaper supplies in a range of types, sizes, and brands—was no longer a given.

The one in three parents who struggled to access diapers pre-pandemic already understood this dilemma all too well. Diaper need, not being able to afford enough diapers without foregoing other essentials, has increased exponentially since March 2020. Due to pandemic-related job loss, financial hardship, and disconnection from others parents could previously rely on to help fill their diaper gaps, diaper banks have reported three- to six-fold increases in diaper requests.

Despite the tireless efforts of a growing network of diaper banks and pantries across the United States that distribute free or low-cost diapers to families in need, they can meet only a small fraction of our country’s diaper need. Although diapers are a basic need of early childhood, existing public programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), do not cover diapers. Welfare cash aid support is rarely enough to cover families’ other essentials, much less the $75 average monthly expense to diaper one child using disposables. Cloth diapering is infeasible among most low-income families due to prohibitively expensive start-up costs, limited access to in-home washers and dryers, and price-per-load for using public laundry facilities. For many families, lack of access to disposable diapers can perpetuate a cycle of financial hardship, whereby daycare center requirements for disposables lead to work and school absences when parents cannot afford diapers.

What, then, are parents to do when they face diaper despair? My research based on interviews with dozens of mothers who experienced diaper need revealed a variety of innovative, labor-intensive strategies caregivers pursue to provide enough diapers for their children in the context of poverty and limited public support for basic essentials. The women I interviewed did three types of what I call diaper work, the physical, emotional, and cognitive labor involved in managing diaper need and related anxiety and stigma. Mothers carefully tracked limited diaper supplies, asked others they knew for diapers or diaper money, and went without their own basic needs to afford diapers.

Mothers could tell me exactly how many diapers they had and predict within hours when they would use their last diaper. Maria, a 30-year-old, Latina mother of four, kept a chart to monitor her infant son’s liquid intake by the ounce, log every diaper change, and track a daily diaper quota based on whether her son had diarrhea or diaper rash. In describing her track-and-budget diaper work technique, Maria told me: “Diapers are lasting longer because I know when my son pees, how many times, how much he pees each time, and how many times fill up a diaper. . . . Diapers [are] the number one concern for me right now because I don’t want to struggle more, so I have to think about stuff in this way, and I can’t go over my daily limit. It’s hard living paycheck to paycheck, living diaper to diaper.”

“[L]iving diaper to diaper” often meant participating in an informal diaper economy that emerged through mothers’ efforts to manage their diaper need. Their strategies ranged from common money-saving tactics like couponing and asking for free diaper samples, to more extreme approaches such as theft, trading food stamps for diapers, and even selling their blood plasma. Mothers sold household items, cleaned others’ homes and cars, babysat others’ children, and collected recyclables all to earn diaper money. They bartered for, borrowed, and exchanged diapers and figured out who in their social networks could be relied upon to help with diapers or diaper money. Diapers were a unique form of currency for which mothers were willing to do almost anything if it meant their babies were clean, dry, and happy. As Natasha, a 35-year-old, Black mother of four explained to me: “My neighbors help with diapers because they know I’m trustworthy. If you don’t have a job, then you won’t be able to get Pampers, and you need someone to love you, help you get them.” For mothers like Natasha, diapers had a unique practical and symbolic importance that conveyed comfort, dignity, and love.

Mothers’ diaper work also involved deciding what their households, and especially they, could go without to afford diapers. Well aware of racist, classist, and sexist stereotypes about “welfare queens,” some emphasized foregoing what others might think were vanity goods or vices, such as hair and nail grooming, cigarettes, and alcohol. The most common stories, however, were of mothers regularly sacrificing or severely limiting their own basic needs, including food, medicine, clothing, and period supplies. Many had even used the latter, along with paper towels, pillow cases, and toilet paper, to create makeshift diapers when they had no other options.

One mother I met, Aisha, 20 years old and Black, showed me the growing hole in her thinning flip flops. As her daughter’s first birthday approached, she was still wearing the same shoes purchased for a few dollars during her second trimester of pregnancy. Subsisting on a diet of mostly tortillas and cereal, Aisha managed her diaper dilemma as many mothers did, by making household purchasing choices based on a per-diaper exchange rate. Just as mothers could tell me exactly how many diapers they had, they could also quickly tell me how many diapers in their child’s size could be bought for the price of a new pair of shoes they needed but went without.

Aisha was one of the mothers whose fears of entanglement with the child welfare system influenced her diapering choices. Beyond lacking ready access to a washer and dryer, the main reason Aisha could not use cloth diapers was because: “[T]hey might see it as a kid in rags. . . . If you go in front of a judge and be like, ‘Well, I didn’t have diapers or diaper money, so I used cloth,’ and your kid pees and soaks right through it, . . . they’ll say you’re not taking care of your kid.” The diaper work of mothers of color like Maria, Natasha, and Aisha went beyond the physical labor of stretching limited diaper supplies and the cognitive labor of tracking every diaper and expense. It also involved coping with the constant stress and anxiety associated with each diaper change and the stigma directed at mothers of color parenting in poverty.

What do we learn from studying mothers’ experiences of diaper need and the diaper work they do to manage it? It reveals how intersecting race, class, and gender inequalities intensify certain aspects of parenting and why we need to revise existing theories of parental labor to account for that. The theory of “intensive mothering” developed by sociologist Sharon Hays highlighted societal expectations for mothers’ parenting to be child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive. As a theory used mostly to understand the experiences of middle-class, white mothers, intensity in parenting has primarily come to mean the work relatively privileged women do and the sacrifices they make to promote their children’s educational success and high-class status.

Focusing on diaper work reveals how marginalized mothers engage in what I call inventive mothering, which goes beyond being self-sacrificial, time-consuming, and child-centered to include strategies that are necessarily resource-stretching, dignity-protecting, and stigma-deflecting. Poor mothers are often regarded with pity and contempt, rather than admiration and respect, as they struggle to meet their children’s basic needs. Yet a close look at their perspectives and experiences of managing diaper need reveals highly innovative and laborious strategies that are just as deliberate, complex, and attuned to inequalities and providing children opportunities. These opportunities include clean, dry diapers, something every child requires and deserves, but not every family can easily afford.

Lifting the veil on mothers’ diaper work is an imperative to reevaluate our frayed social safety net and consider how deliberate policy choices have consequences like diaper need. As controversy stirs over President Biden’s proposal for a $15 hourly minimum wage, we should keep in mind that a single mother working full-time for the current $7.25 minimum wage must spend at least six percent of her annual gross income just to diaper one child. Most states still tax diapers, and only California offers diaper vouchers as part of its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare cash aid program. Changes to TANF, the only form of direct public aid families can use to purchase diapers, have also exacerbated diaper need. Due to time limits and eligibility restrictions, most families in poverty do not receive TANF, and states now spend only about 20 cents for every dollar of TANF funding on basic assistance that can be used to buy diapers.

State spending on cash assistance for families’ basic needs is lowest in states with higher proportions of Black children, which exacerbates racialized poverty and its myriad effects, including diaper need. We must address this need as part of our nation’s ongoing efforts to reckon with deeply entrenched structural racism. Mothers of color are more likely to experience diaper need and, according to the women I interviewed, more likely to be judged when they struggle with and seek help for it. Within the folds of a diaper may not seem a likely place to look for racial and economic justice. Yet, given diaper need’s close connection to adverse social, economic, and health outcomes for both children and parents—including intensive diaper work—it is a need we have a moral and political responsibility to address.

Jennifer Randles is Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Follow her on Twitter at @jrandles3 and reach her at

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

January 26 will be National Spouses Day, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  If you’re looking for a spouse — or hoping to become a better one — here are a few things you might want to know, including why you shouldn’t panic if no one is on the horizon.

Get a College Education

  • As late as 1970 more than 80% of US women age 40-45 were married, with few differences by education but a slight advantage for women with a high school degree. In the last two decades, however, a different and much larger educational marriage gap has emerged. As of 2014, 75% of women aged 40-45 with a Bachelor’s degree or more were currently married, compared to only 65% of those with some college, 59% of women with a high school diploma, and just 56% of women who had not completed high school.
  • In the 20th century, women with PhDs or professional degrees were the least likely women to marry. Today, women with such advanced degrees are the MOST likely to marry. More than 80% of women age 40-45 with professional degrees or PhDs were married in 2014.  
  • A college education is especially protective against divorce. The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2015, college-educated women had an 80% chance of their marriage lasting more than 20 years. For women with a high school education or less, the chance of a marriage lasting that long is only 40%.

Take Your Time

Get by with a little help from…the internet?

  • The most common way heterosexual adults met their future marital partners in the latter half of the 20thcentury was through friends. However, after peaking at 35% in 1990, the percent of heterosexual adults who met their partner through friends had fallen to 20% by 2017. Meanwhile, the number of adults who met their partners online had soared to nearly 40%, up from just 1% in 1995. For heterosexuals, the internet is now the most common way of meeting a marital partner. Bars and restaurants are the second most common place to meet a partner, with 27% reporting they met their partner there, up from 19% in 1990. Yet most of these initial in-person meet ups were actually precipitated by online connections, making the number of couples who owe their start to online dating even greater! Heterosexuals who meet on line tend to enter marriage more quickly than their counterparts who meet in other ways, but they do not have a higher risk of breakup.

Don’t be afraid to buck outdated rules

  • As of 2016, one in ten marriages involved partners of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, a more than three-fold increase from 1980. Among newlyweds, approximately one in six is married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Many researchers believe these trends reflect an erosion of the traditionally rigid boundaries between different faith communities and racial-ethnic groups.
  • In the past, marriages where women had higher education or higher earnings than their husband had an elevated chance of divorce. But in recent decades women’s advancements in education and the work force have ceased to threaten marital stability. Couples where men and women are educational equals are the least likely to divorce and those in which women are more educated than their male partners are no more likely to divorce than those where the man is more educated than the woman. Since the 1990s, couples where women earn as much or more than their husbands no longer have a higher risk for divorce.

When making marital wishes, don’t forget the nightly dishes

  • It turns out the best predictor of a happy marriage is not how good-looking, talented or rich your spouse is, but how much you share – in your conversations, your interests, and especially the daily routines of life, such as housework. Gender egalitarian and same-sex couples have some big advantages here, since they tend to share more equally. Sharing housework and childcare, especially, is associated with greater relationship quality – including more satisfying and frequent sex. But have a conversation about who is going to do what, because when it comes to sharing housework, some tasks matter more than others. If you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship and your partner won’t share the dishwashing, this could mean your relationship is headed in the wrong direction. 41% of women who do the majority of dishes say their relationship is in trouble, compared to just 20% of those who share dishwashing equally. Meanwhile, men are three times more satisfied with their relationships when their partner trusts their judgment enough to share the shopping.
  • Talk it out. For women who want their partner to share responsibilities for domestic labor, communication is key. Men who report higher quality communication with their partner are more likely to do an equal share of housework and childcare.

And always remember, single doesn’t mean second-best

  • Only 16% of men and 17% of women say that having a spouse is essential to their fulfillment. What IS essential for a fulfilling life, according to 57% of men and 46% of women, is having an enjoyable job or career.
  • Once you have an education and a secure income, you do have a better chance of getting married. But you also have a better chance of enjoying health, happiness, and a wide range of friendship networks if you stay single. In fact, at the highest income levels, never-married individuals actually report more supportive friendship networks then their married counterparts.
  • This is an important advantage, because having supportive and numerous friendships is a stronger predictor of mental and physical health than being married or living with a partner.

Reprinted from 2020

Daniel L. Carlson is Associate Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Studies, at the University of Utah, and a Board Member of the Council on Contemporary Families He can be reached at Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA and is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at