When assigning blame for our nation’s persistent poverty problem, many policymakers tend to focus on underlying demographics or behavior of the poor—factors like racial background or the prevalence of single parent households— instead of the stark economic reality with which poorest Americans have had to contend. But, the fact

women, people of color, and single mothers do experience disproportionately higher levels of poverty - but that isn't the cause. Via Economic Policy Institute.
women, people of color, and single mothers do experience disproportionately higher levels of poverty – but that isn’t the cause. Via Economic Policy Institute.

is, growing inequality is the primary reason the poverty rate has remained elevated over the last several decades.

It is true that women, people of color, and single mothers do experience disproportionately higher levels of poverty, as shown in the table below, which compares the share of the population in poverty by age, gender, race, and family composition with those groups’ share of the total population.

At first glance, it would seem that family structure and racial identity are significant determinants of changes in poverty, as these groups account for a disproportionately high number of people in poverty. However, over the last three-and-a-half decades, it was not growth in the population of single mothers or of certain racial groups that drove poverty. When these demographic factors are compared with the effect of income inequality on poverty levels since 1979, inequality dwarfs them all.

This is illustrated in the figure below, which examines a set of factors commonly associated with changes in poverty over the past three-and-a-half decades: changes in the U.S. population’s racial composition, education levels, and family structure, as well as overall income growth and income inequality. The figure shows how much (in percentage points) each factor contributed to the change in the poverty rate from 1979 to 2013.

Inequality 4 x more influential over growing poverty than other sources. From Economic Policy Institute
Inequality 4 x more influential over growing poverty than other sources. From Economic Policy Institute

Since 1979, increasing inequality has been the largest poverty-boosting factor, outweighing racial identity and family structure and completely eclipsing the positive effects of overall economic growth and educational attainment in driving down the poverty rate. Despite our growing economy and the fact that poor workers are now more educated than ever, rising inequality has worked to keep low-income people in poverty. This increase in inequality was driven by stagnating wages for low- and middle-income households (for example, 10th percentile real wages were actually lower in 2013 than they were in 1979).

Our research looks at how this lack of wage growth for low- and middle-income families fuels poverty. We explore what could have happened to poverty if wages had actually grown over the last several decades and if the poor and the middle class had shared more widely in the gains made by a growing economy. We find that adopting policies to promote full employment and significant wage growth could bring down poverty as much as 4.2 percentage points—bringing 11.2 million people out of poverty.

It’s not fair to say the poor aren’t holding up their end of the social contract when almost two-thirds of employable poor people work and over 40 percent work full time, and their incomes have become more dependent upon wages over time. The truth is that the economy the poor are working in –an economy that has grown more unequal over the last several decades because of intentional policy choices—has made it harder and harder for them to get by.

Instead of focusing on the characteristics of the poor when assigning blame for poverty, we should examine the intentional policy choices we have made that led to such an unequal economy. We should promote new policy choices that help reduce inequality and alleviate poverty. Although the safety net has made significant progress in decreasing poverty, it needs to be complemented by a better labor market for low-wage workers. Without hourly wage gains, the tax-and-transfer system needs to work harder simply to keep poverty rates from increasing. Going forward, we should strengthen the safety net and focus on policy solutions that will spur wage growth—such as raising the minimum wage, targeting full employment, strengthening worker’s bargaining power, and updating labor standards—in order to make our economy work for all.

Elise Gould is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. Her research areas include wages, poverty, economic mobility, and health care. She is a co-author of The State of Working America, 12th Edition. Twitter: @eliselgould

 Alyssa Davis joined EPI in 2013 as the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Fellow. She assists EPI’s researchers in their ongoing analysis of the labor force, labor standards, and other aspects of the economy. She holds a B.A. in Plan II and Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin. Twitter: @alyssalynn7

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families Gender Revolution Rebound SymposiumThe growing wage premium for long work hours slows progress toward gender equality. If the relative hourly wages for overwork had stayed constant between 1979 and 2007, the gender gap in wages would be about 10% smaller than it is today.

The new data presented by David Cotter and his co-authors suggest that support for gender equality and respect for women’s ability to combine work and family have resumed their upward progress. Other evidence reveals that millennial men express greater interest in more involved fatherhood and want more balance between work and family than previous generations. However, it remains to be seen whether these ideological changes will substantively reduce such structural inequalities as men’s continuing earnings advantage over women and women’s underrepresentation in highly paid occupations. more...

Originally published on RH Reality Check.

As reproductive politics are once again consumed by an attack on Planned Parenthood, it is worth stepping back and

Credit: Charlotte Cooper/ctrouper on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
Credit: Charlotte Cooper/ctrouper on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

asking why this organization is so particularly reviled by the anti-choice movement. This is a demonization that goes well beyond the shady outfit, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), that organized the latest undercover filming, or its affiliated group, Live Action, infamous for releasing other debunked videos over the last decade. True, Planned Parenthood was reportedly not CMP’s only target, but the videos taken of its physicians have been the only ones to be released. Some Congressional Republicans, we now know, had prior knowledge of these videos, and predictably have issued calls for an investigation of the organization, joined by various Republican presidential aspirants. The videos have also given new ammunition to Republicans’ annual efforts to withhold all funds from Planned Parenthood for Title X services (primarily contraception and cancer screenings), which are subject to a yearly review. In short, the puzzle is why a national health-care organization—in which, as its spokespersons repeatedly point out, abortion only comprises 3 percent of all services delivered—is such a prime target of abortion opponents.

One answer, of course, is size: Even if only 3 percent of its services are abortion, Planned Parenthood still performs a healthy share of all the procedures occurring in the United States. But the answer goes well beyond that. It speaks to an interesting historical split among Republicans over matters of reproduction and sexuality—and the eventual triumph of the most socially conservative wing among the party base.

Before it became seemingly mandatory for Republican political figures to condemn Planned Parenthood, many were enthusiastic supporters. In a step that would be unheard of today, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former Republican president, agreed in 1965 to to co-chair an honorary Planned Parenthood board along with Harry Truman, a former Democratic president. The conservative icon Barry Goldwater and his wife, Peggy, were stalwart supporters of the Planned Parenthood chapter in Arizona. Sen. Prescott Bush was a strong advocate of the organization and of contraceptive services in general, as was his son, George H.W. Bush, during his time as a Texas congressman, though the latter had to renounce his support in order to become acceptable as a vice-presidential candidate for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (who himself had some years earlier signed a bill liberalizing abortion in California). Mitt Romney, who famously said in the 2012 presidential campaign that he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, had attended a fundraiser for the organization with his wife some years earlier, where she had made a donation. And of course it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who in 1970 signed into law the aforementioned Title X, the nation’s only legislation specifically for family planning services. Planned Parenthood became a significant grantee of this new program.

To be sure, this mainstream conservative support for Planned Parenthood’s widespread ability to provide contraceptives was not always rooted in the best of motives. The field of family planning has always contained contradictory impulses of population control as well as women’s liberation, and some of the early supporters of Planned Parenthood were involved with the eugenics movement that was prominent in the first part of the 20th century. Later, the disproportionate location of Title X clinics (some associated with Planned Parenthood) in Black areas shortly after the bill was passed, along with the history of racism and classism in many arenas of medical care, created a lingering distrust of the organization in some sectors of that community, on which the anti-abortion movement has long tried to capitalize. Prominent Black leaders, however, including Martin Luther King Jr. (who accepted Planned Parenthood’s first Margaret Sanger Award in 1966) supported the organization and were, as King put it, “sympathetic” with its “total work.”

The real hardcore animosity toward the organization that lasts to this day, though, has its roots in the emergence of the religious right as a force in Republican politics in the 1970s. As a fundraising appeal of an anti-abortion group put it in 1980, “Planned Parenthood promotes sexual perversion, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, family destruction, population control.” As the quote makes clear, far more than Planned Parenthood’s connection with abortion caused such wrath. The organization’s provision of contraception and its commitment to offering confidential services to teenagers, both made possible through its Title X funding, have been particularly enraging to sexual conservatives. Though abortion may have served as the “battering ram,” as Rosalind Petchesky aptly put it, to mobilize the religious right, in fact, conservative groups oppose all sexuality that does not take place within heterosexual marriage in order to procreate.

Because of its size and history as a recipient of public funding, Planned Parenthood, of course, serves as a useful symbol of an enabler of out-of-control sexual behavior. Contraception’s brief moment of acting as “common ground” between abortion supporters and opponents shortly after the Roe decision in 1973 broke down as the religious right gained strength throughout the 1970s and beyond; the religious right increasingly began to frame contraception as “supportive of the abortion mentality” rather than as something that prevented abortion.

It is too soon to tell what the political fallout will be from this latest attack on Planned Parenthood. Right now, there are two competing narratives about this incident. There is that of CMP and its political allies, which attempts to convince the public that Planned Parenthood is “selling” fetal tissue, in spite of clear evidence, even on the edited tapes, that this is not the case; and that of Planned Parenthood, which is that the undercover operatives used unethical and illegal means to promote lies about the organization’s practices. (A third narrative that this case could have evoked is disappointingly missing thus far—scientists testifying to the importance of research using fetal tissue and the social good that donation by abortion patients represents). Anti-abortionists’ efforts to use Planned Parenthood as a wedge issue in the 2012 election cycle were a dismal failure; analysts acknowledge that the organization’s support of Obama, symbolized by the high visibility of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s telegenic president, at campaign events, was a plus. Thus far, polling data have not shown any appreciable drop in support for Planned Parenthood as a result of the videos, and most Americans continue to support the organization, which at least one in five U.S. women will visit at some point.

How U.S. residents will ultimately come to view this controversy—that is, which of the two competing narratives mentioned above will prevail—might be an interesting test case of whether the realities of people’s sexual and reproductive lives in the 21st century are making the religious right an increasingly irrelevant force, in spite of its current hold on Republican politicians.

Carole Joffe is a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, professor emerita of sociology at U.C. Davis, and the author of Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients and the Rest of Us, and co-editor, with Jennifer Reich, of Reproduction and Society: Interdisciplinary Readings.

Design by Perry Threlfall
Design by Perry Threlfall

Signs of economic recovery are beginning to show. After climbing for several years, the child poverty rate dropped between 2012 and 2013 for the first time since the start of the recession, according to the annual Kids Count Report released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report also reveals that children have yet to recoup the losses suffered during the recession. Nationally, 22 percent of children lived in families with incomes below the poverty line in 2013, up from 18 percent in 2008. Furthermore, despite recent gains, the child poverty rate among black children (39 percent) was more than double the rate for white children (14 percent) in 2013.

Similar findings are highlighted in a recent report by Eileen Patten and Jens Manuel Krogstad at Pew Research Center. The researchers analyzed Census Bureau data to contextualize child poverty by race and ethnicity and found that overall child poverty dropped 2 points (from 22 percent to 20 percent) between 2010 and 2013, while remaining flat for black children. In fact, “black children were almost four times as likely as white or Asian children to be living in poverty…, and significantly more likely than Hispanic children.” The raw numbers are even more daunting; it appears that for the first time since the Census Bureau began collecting poverty data in 1974, the number of impoverished black children may be surpassing the that of their white counterparts “despite the fact that there are more than three times as many white children as black children living in the U.S. today.” This trend fuels ongoing concerns regarding the impact of the financial crisis on the racial wealth gap for the next generation, as outlined in a June report from the Social Science Research Council.

Purple Policies: The effect of economic inequality on children was the focus of a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on June 22nd in Washington, D.C., which began with Robert Putnam, who reviewed the ways in which his newest book demonstrates how growing inequality has created an environment in which the “summer camp gap” is setting the stage for greater inequality in future generations. Curiously, he did not acknowledge the long tradition of sociological research that has consistently documented the relationship between parental resources and the life chances of children (i.e. Annette Lareau, Sarah McLanahan, etc.), and yet he argued that the establishment of compulsory, free, secondary education was “the best public policy decision America ever made…because it turned out, the economic historians show, that most of American growth of the 20th century came from the decision that everybody should pay for everybody’s kids to go to secondary school.” This is why, he suggested, policies that promote early childhood education are a no brainer. He remarked, “I think there have been periods in American history when we have been very individualistic, and now is probably the most dramatic instance of that – but there have been periods in America when we’ve been very egalitarian and also very communitarian.” These communitarian periods, his data suggest, preceded “gilded ages” of prosperity, growth, and opportunity. This trend incriminates practices that prohibit access to extracurricular activities as harmful to American progress, such as “pay to play” – which requires fees for sports and extracurricular activities in public schools. As a result, he advocates for what he calls “purple policies” that level the playing field for all kids, merging the interests of “Red” and “Blue” America.

Dr. Putnam’s co-panelist, sociologist William Julius Wilson, responded by arguing that economic inequality is most closely associated with income segregation in communities, and intra-racial inequality poses the greatest threat to the goal of equality of life chances for all children. His most pressing critique of Dr. Putnam’s work, therefore, is that his “purple” initiatives do not devote sufficient attention to the issue of persistent racial disparity.

Proposed solutions blocked by Congress: One such “purple policy,” that may have a deeper impact on reducing the poverty of children of color than free access to playing football, is currently under consideration. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM AT-14-13), from the Office of Child Support Enforcement, would decrease the accumulation of arrearages and interest for incarcerated non-custodial parents, provide job training and employment services to non-custodial parents, and incorporate visitation language into child support orders. Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas at the Center for American Progress recently highlighted the benefits of the proposal by pointing out that “one in eight South Carolina inmates are behind bars due to nonpayment of child support” and only 21 states count incarceration as voluntary unemployment, causing non-custodial parents to accumulate arrearages and interest that make it impossible to get current upon release. Michelle Alexander has suggested such practices perpetuate the debtors prison cycle (The New Jim Crow:154), in which arrears are accumulated under the auspices of the state with the authority to garnish up to 65 percent of the meager wages the ex-offender will earn when released. This, she argues, is evidence of a racial project that engenders recidivism and perpetuates poverty in black families.

Regardless of its merits, the proposal is being blocked by the introduction of legislation (H.R. 2688) that would prohibit congressional intervention in state welfare and child support enforcement policies due to fears that it “could potentially let delinquent parents off the hook when we should be focused on structuring these important programs to promote strong families” (Boustany R-LA). However, research continually demonstrates that increasing employment and active involvement with one’s children is the best way to hold non-custodial parents accountable and promote strong families through financial support and parental attachment. This is just one example of a “purple policy” that could move the needle toward the communitarian periods that Dr. Putnam longs for, and ensure that economic recovery is granted to all of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens equally.

Learn about the proposed changes to child support enforcement policy here.

Track legislation to block these proposed changes here.

Perry Threlfall completed her PhD in Sociology at George Mason University in May 2015. Her research focuses on the institutional and structural forces that influence inequality and mobility in single mother families. You can read her occasional blog at the Single Mother Sociologist found at smsresearch.net.  

Good_Founding revisedIn the 1989 cult classic movie When Harry Met Sally, Harry says that in friendships between men and women, “the sex part always gets in the way.” This was precisely my concern when I began writing about friendships between men and women in the early American republic. How could I convince modern readers steeped in the When Harry Met Sally claim that friendships between men and women were impossible that the opposite was true, even 200 years ago?

In my book, Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in the Early American Republic, I argue that heterosocial friendships were not just possible, but important and meaningful relationships that challenge the ideology that marriage was the supreme place for adult fulfillment. Initially, I had hoped to skirt the issue of sexuality, but that was impossible. Sex did get in the way of these friendships, though not in the way you might think. The problem was more often with public misunderstandings about whether men and women were friends or lovers. It was a constant battle to shape perceptions. At another level, sex—or at least physical intimacy or simply flirtation—was a constant specter in these friendships.

I define heterosocial friendships as “affectionate, reciprocal relationships that the historical actors themselves cast in terms of a friendship” between unrelated men and women, with the stipulation that “sexual activity does not factor into this definition of friendship.” Historians simply cannot know what happened in a private room in the past. We do know from letters and diaries, however, that friends could express their affection in what sounds to modern ears like sensual or romantic terms and share physical intimacy.

One of the key resources for untangling the role of sexuality in these friendships was a 1989 article by sociologist Donald O’Meara titled “Cross-Sex Friendship: Four Basic Challenges of an Ignored Relationship.” I was stunned by how closely his observations of relationships of the 1980s applied to the friendships from the past that I examined. Friends had to navigate their shared understanding of the status of their relationship—was this a courtship, an affair, a friendship?—as well as the public perception. While the stakes for misunderstanding were higher 200 years ago, when gossip about a woman’s sexuality could destroy her reputation and marriage prospects, similar concerns have been remarkably persistent.

Some of my historical examples of the role of physical and sexual intimacy in heterosocial friendships sound familiar to modern readers. In 1834, Elizabeth Peabody recorded a conversation with her friend Horace Mann about “the difference between love and friendship” and where their relationship stood. Then there were teenage girls like Patty Rogers in 1785 who struggled to understand their feelings for men in their lives. Patty was determined when it came to one male friend: “I only feel a friendship for him! I’ll steel my heart to every sentiment of Love!” As O’Meara points out, there are different types of love which can be hard to distinguish and identify, and it can be hard for friends to come to a shared understanding. This continued to be the case for Patty, who protested when the same man put his hand on her breast one night. She told him it was inappropriate, but he protested “No, not between two friends!”

A major source of difficulty for historical figures and contemporary historians is the lack of clear norms for the conduct of heterosocial friendships. O’Meara argues that such friendships have “a deviant status in American culture” and “the norms for cross-sex friendship remain unclear.” The situation was little different in early America, despite the ubiquity of conduct books prescribing behavior. The primary difference is that the language early Americans used sounds romantic to us today but was understood quite differently in the past.

All of this meant that readers brought their own assumptions, beliefs, and ideologies to my book. One reviewer on Goodreads argued that the book was not actually about friendships, because “the vast majority of these friendships seem to wind up with somebody’s hands up somebody else’s petticoats.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, writer Thomas Fleming published a piece on History News Network positing that the book could be “the answer to our hookup culture” because the book showed that heterosocial friendships were possible, entirely absent of sex.

This major divide in reception of the book has been largely a divide between lay readers and scholars. Scholars, now steeped in a literature of sexuality that has usefully complicated notions of what relationships were possible in the past, readily accepted that heterosocial friendships were possible. Outside of academia, there seems to be a narrower lens for reading these relationships. Understanding that men and women could be friends hundreds of years ago, long before women’s liberation and acceptance of premarital sex, is important for Americans today. Along with the changed attitudes towards and legal climate for same-sex romantic relationships, we have greater possibilities for cross-sex friendships: The possibilities for varied types of love, sexuality, and fulfillment are broader than most people imagine.

Cassandra Good is a historian, writer, and teacher of early America. She received her PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania and is Associate Editor of the Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington.


Founding Friendships: http://www.amazon.com/Founding-Friendships-between-American-Republic/dp/0199376174

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23027663-founding-friendships

O’Meara article: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00289102

HNN article: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/159632

Despite substantial increases in married mothers’ employment and the expressed desire of the majority of women and men to share employment and caregiving responsibilities, gender remains the most influential determinant of who does the housework and child care today. Many observers have attributed the seeming unwillingness of men to increase their time in housework and child care as the linchpin of gender inequality, a manifestation of men’s patriarchal power to prioritize activities that provide economic rewards, such as paid work, or enjoyment, such as leisure (Goode 1992; Jackman 1994).

One strain of feminist and academic scholarship holds that men feel no need to do more child care or housework because they reap the benefits of marriage and fatherhood (e.g. marriage and fatherhood wage premiums, living in a clean, well-run household, and children’s performance of filial duties) without having to spend time producing them — cooking, cleaning, or taking on the everyday, physical care of children. Rather, they can expect wives and mothers to shoulder the burden of feeding and caring for children and families, regardless of women’s other time demands. Such an analysis builds on the work of Jessie Bernard, an influential feminist sociologist, who argued that marriage is a gendered institution that privileges men and disadvantages women.

One key assumption of this argument has been that men do not want to become involved with children except when they can have fun with them. But this argument does not hold up when we analyze both the quantitative time diary data on mothers’ and fathers’ child care time and the qualitative literature on what fathers want. Instead, careful examination reveals a more complex story about the interplay between gender, marriage, parenthood, and class-differentiated patterns of childrearing that are more about ensuring upward mobility among children than about gender oppression. more...

Horia Varlan, Flickr CC.
Horia Varlan, Flickr CC.

Does marriage lead women to take on a larger share of housework? In the 1950s and 1960s, marriage was clearly unfair to women. The social and legal definition of marriage made it a woman’s duty, but not a man’s, to provide services in and around the home. Husbands had the final say over many family matters, such as where a couple would live and how the finances were managed. Married women were expected to take care of the meals and housework without any assistance from their husbands, whether they worked outside the home or not.

Values have changed since then, but some scholars argue that marriage still carries powerful role expectations that differ by gender and that lead women to start doing more housework and men to start doing less. Since the 1990s, several studies have compared the behavior of couples who are married and couples who live together. They find that unmarried cohabiting couples split the housework and paid work more equally than married couples, where wives tend to do a larger share of unpaid housework and husbands to do more paid work. Some have concluded from this comparison that there is something about marriage roles, and the expectations surrounding those, that causes couples to become more traditional after marriage.

But these studies were not comparing the same types of couples before and after marriage. They were comparing all cohabitors, even ones that didn’t intend to ever get married, with all married couples, even those that did not cohabit before marriage. more...

How do multiracial daters fare in a mainstream online dating website? A new study presented recently to the Council on Contemporary Families by scholars at the University of Texas and University of Massachusetts reports that online daters prefer mixed-race over mono-racial individuals. The authors of “Dating Partners Don’t Always Prefer ‘Their Own Kind’: Some Multiracial Daters Get Bonus Points in the Dating Game” challenge the common belief that people with a white parent and a parent of a different racial-ethnic group, especially ones with a black parent, are always treated as “minorities.”

Mixed Summer Flowers via RGBstock
Mixed Summer Flowers via RGBstock

Sociologists Celeste Curington, Ken-Hou Lin, and Jennifer Lundquist used 2003-2010 data from one of the largest dating websites in the United States to examine nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual women and men. They found that the historic preference for whites in the dating market has been replaced in some cases with a preference for multiracial individuals. Read their American Sociological Review abstract here.

Three groups received what the authors call a multiracial “dividend effect”:

  • Asian-white women got the most positive response by white and by Asian men alike. They were preferred to both mono-racial whites and Asians.
  • Asian and Hispanic women preferred Asian-white and Hispanic-white men (respectively), responding more frequently to the multiracial men than to either their co-ethnic men or to whites.​
  • White women responded the least frequently to mono-racial Asian men and to blacks, but being Asian-white bumped a man way up in white women’s preferences. They responded favorably to this group as frequently as they did to white men.

Still a persistent hierarchy: More detailed evidence in the report demonstrates further how racial barriers to dating are shifting, echoing the Pew Research Center’s report this month on the topic. Yet the authors found considerable evidence of a persistent color hierarchy—especially between blacks and whites. For example, white men and women remain less likely to respond to an individual who identifies as part black and part white than to a fellow white person. In related research, the investigators found that black women send few messages to men who are not also black but are more responsive when non-black men reach out to them, leading the authors to conclude that black women expect rejection if they initiate contacts with men of other ethnicities.

Explanations for multiracial dividend effects: “Some cases,” the authors argue, “seem to be closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness.” They also suggest that the preference of white and Asian men for white-Asian women may reflect “the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic. Likewise, Asian and Hispanic women may have been influenced by the media’s increasing portrayal of multiracial men as attractive, chic, and trendy.” Alternatively, Asian and Hispanic women may believe that a man who is part white and part Asian or Hispanic may represent an especially attractive mix of both worlds when it comes to gender and cultural norms.

Historical and demographic context: The authors propose that their findings suggest a growing blurring of romantic racial boundaries. Despite powerful historic, demographic and cultural patterns perpetuating such boundaries, the changes these authors detect may portend coming shifts in future interracial relationships.

After a U.S. history of legal prohibitions on interracial coupling that ended formally in 1967 with the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision, approval of interracial marriage has reached unprecedented highs, according to Gallup. Even so, interracial dating and marriages have increased at a slow rate, and many have demonstrated that this is related to colorism—that is the discrimination against people with darker skin and preferences for people with lighter skin—and to other institutional barriers, such as racially-based economic inequality.

At the same time, the slow and yet growing rate of interracial romance has produced a growing number of children of multiracial parentage. In 2013, according to Pew, 6.3 percent of marriages were mixed-race—nearly a quadrupling of the proportion in 1980. Ten percent of children under one (who lived with two parents) had parents of different races. As these changes lead to a growing multiracial population, is it possible that the multiracial dividend will be extended, or at least begin to counter some of the racial penalties that have existed in the dating and marriage market? Or will individuals perceived as mono-racial blacks fall even further behind?


Online dating is starting to look a bit more like the idealized world of a Bennetton ad.
Online dating is starting to look a bit more like the idealized world of a Bennetton ad.

Despite growing approval of interracial dating, researchers have long documented the existence of a racial hierarchy within the dating world, with white women and men the most preferred partners, blacks the least preferred, and Asians and Hispanics in between. But where do the growing numbers of biracial and multiracial individuals fit into this hierarchy? Do they too get ranked by descending shades of lightness?

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of individuals who identified themselves to Census takers as being of two or more races increased by a third. These nine million individuals still represent less than three percent of the population. But studies predict that by the year 2050, nearly one in five Americans may claim a multiracial background. How will this affect dating and marriage patterns in the United States? more...

Same-sex marriage is the law of the land! Thank you #SCOTUS! Yet academics and pundits alike caution LGBTQ Americans that marriage equality will not leave us with a “post-gay” society. Instead, the new state of affairs requires that we simultaneously acknowledge the correlation between marriage equality and a growing social acceptance of LGBTQ individuals and that our community is made up of people who, for practical or ideological reasons, will not benefit in the same way as the mainstream LGBTQ population will from marriage equality. bisexual symbol

Who are such people? One group includes bisexual Americans, who to many appear invisible, especially since 84% of those in relationships are in a relationship with an individual of the opposite gender. A review of social research shows us just why we should take care to address bisexuals’ concerns in our community. Even though bisexual people do not necessarily present as queer, sexual orientation is a defining feature of close relationships in which an individual is bisexual. Biphobia and stereotyping are central to relationship challenges.

Biphobia is a direct cause of the low numbers (28%) of “out” bisexuals. A recent study shows that respondents’ understanding of the prevalence of biphobia and monosexism plays a direct role in bisexual peoples’ reluctance to come out. Additionally, bisexual-identified people face the same heterosexism and homophobia that are faced by the rest of the LGBTQ community. Unlike gays and lesbians, due to their perceived ability to fall in love with and commit to someone of the opposite sex, bisexuals must often deal with the lingering hopes of family members that they will eventually conform to a monogamous heterosexual marriage.

A major source of conflict within relationships in which one member is bisexual is the disjuncture between assumptions about bisexuals and the variety of ways that bisexuals engage in relationships. Heather L. Armstrong and Elke D. Reissing reported that bisexual stereotypes alone worked to cause relational issues that worsened as commitment levels increased. Common issues included jealousy, competition between (in many cases imagined) potential lovers, and rigid expectations of specific behavior, including (but not limited to) monogamy, non-monogamy, sexual adventurousness, and constrained sexuality. It was not the behaviors of the bisexual partner that caused any of these disruptions, but rather it was the non-bisexual partner’s expectation of instability and reliance on stereotypes that was the catalyst for relationship trouble.

Some bisexuals do fulfill stereotypes. But even these are a function more of a bisexual individual’s response to biphobia than to anything inherently pathological about a bisexual person. In a study of straight-identified women who had secondary same-sex sexual relations in secrecy, a researcher found that they did so because they felt that it was the only way to reconcile their same-sex sexual desires and their commitment to their marriage and family. In other words, they engaged in these behaviors in secrecy in order to maintain their long-term relationships.

Bisexual individuals, especially those with opposite-sex partners, were significantly more likely than lesbian, gay, and heterosexual individuals to be victims of intimate partner violence. Bisexual women had the highest rates of all forms of victimization, and bisexual men were significantly more likely than gay and straight men to experience IPV. Bisexuals overwhelmingly (78.5 percent of men and 89.5 percent of women) endured this violence in a mixed-sex relationship. A qualitative study investigated physical and psychological IPV against bisexuals, and found that in many cases, the violence was motivated by biphobia.

Despite the burden of biphobia, there is still much potential for bisexual people to engage in satisfying relationships. Researchers have demonstrated how a reduction in gender binaries and heteronormative expectations in relationships leads to success. A novel study on relationship satisfaction surveyed 26 mixed-sex couples in which at least one partner was openly bisexual and neither partner was in counseling. Half of these couples had a member who engaged in sex outside the primary relationship. These couples had largely satisfactory relationships, and this was irrespective of “income, education, time of disclosure, sexual activity, and communication levels.” The author remarked that the findings signified the importance of “compassion, commitment, love, and understanding” to satisfactory relationships in which one member is bisexual.

Again and again the research shows that when bisexuals do not feel stigmatized, judged, or constrained by their bisexual identities, they have much greater promise for satisfying, stable relationships. As the LGBTQ community rallies around mainstream goals, it will be important to remember that our work will not be complete until LGBTQ status does not increase the likelihood of negative outcomes for the public or personal lives of any members within our community.

This spring, Braxton Jones completed his BA in sociology at Framingham State University, where he served as a CCF Intern. He begins a graduate degree in sociology at University of New Hampshire in the fall, and he serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.