Just dust it off? Photo by Derek Gavey, Flickr CC.
Just dust it off? Photo by Derek Gavey, Flickr CC.

If at first they don’t succeed, do most Americans “try, try again”?

Wedding season is here again, and for many couples that is literally true. In 2013, 40 percent of all marriages — four out of every ten — were remarriages for either the bride or groom. One in five were remarriages for boththe bride and groom (Lewis and Kreider 2015; Livingston 2014).

Among men and women in their early 40s, more than half of all marriages are remarriages.

And among divorced or widowed individuals under age 45 who are not yet married, more than half (56 percent) say they expect to marry again. Remarriage is not the only way that previously-married individuals establish new relationships. As of 2013, almost half (47 percent) of cohabiting adults were previously married.

Despite this enthusiasm for repartnering, remarriage rates have been falling. In 2013, of every 1,000 previously-married man and woman in the country, 28 got married. But this is down from 50 per 1,000 in 1990, a decline of 40 percent (Payne 2015). Men are either more eager or more able to find new spouses than women. The current remarriage rate is nearly twice as high for men as for women (40 per 1,000 for men and 21 per 1,000 for women) (Payne 2015). In 1995, 54 percent of women who divorced before age 45 had remarried within five years of divorce. A decade later that had declined to 38 percent (NCHS).

People are taking more time to remarry than in the past. Half of men and women who remarry after a divorce from a first marriage do so within about four years (Kreider and Ellis 2011). A decade earlier, half remarried in about three years (Kreider and Fields 2002). more...

design by Perry Threlfall
design by Perry Threlfall

Welcome to our occasional round-up of policy research, reports, and essays. Perry Threlfall writes today about new work by DC think tanks and research organizations.

State of the FAMILY Act: Just in time for Mother’s Day, Eileen Appelbaum at the Center for Economic and Policy Research penned an op-ed in support of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act. Economist Appelbaum argues while paid vacation and sick leave is available in selected locations and those in the top quarter of the earning distribution, fewer than a quarter get paid family leave; that proportion drops below five percent in workers in the bottom quarter of the earning distribution. But, the proposed FAMILY Act (H.R.3712) would make it mandatory for employers to provide paid family and medical leave for all workers.

Sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the legislation under consideration would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to qualifying workers for the birth or adoption of a new child, the serious illness of an immediate family member, or a worker’s own medical condition. Workers would be eligible to collect benefits equal to 66 percent of their typical monthly wages, with a capped monthly maximum amount of $1,000 per week. Comprehensive overviews of the proposed legislation are available at The National Partnership for Women and Families, The Center for American Progress, and First Focus Campaign for Children. Additionally, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research provides summaries of how access to sick days is contextualized by race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and job characteristics here, and by geography here.

Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman’s research on the paid family leave program in California showed that the policy initiative had significantly reduced the cost of employee turnover in the lower paying job sector. The Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Center for Law and Social Policy collaboratively developed a turnover calculator that employers and human resources managers can use to calculate their own turnover costs, which would be reduced if the FAMILY Act were passed. In her op-ed, Appelbaum argued “a federal paid family and medical leave program that guarantees paid maternity leave and paid time to bond with a newborn or adopted child would be a great Mother’s Day present to America’s working families – and a gift to employers as well.”

Congressional Summary: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/3712

Track this bill: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s786

The State of Fathers: A new report released by MenCare: A Global Fatherhood Campaign, demonstrates that inequalities persist between parents, with women spending between two and 10 times longer than men caring for children around the world. The report argues there is no country in the world where men and boys share unpaid domestic and child care work equally with women and girls, despite the fact that women today comprise 40 percent of the global workforce and 50 percent of the world’s food producers. The findings also make the case that involved fatherhood makes men happier and healthier, fathers want to spend more time with their children, and an important way to ensure higher levels of involvement is to engage men early on in pre-natal visits, childbirth, and immediately after the birth of the child. This early engagement can bring lasting benefits.

Despite gender imbalances in parenting, reports show there are more stay-at-home-dads than ever before. This means the biggest increase among those caring for families in the U.S. is among fathers. Gretchen Livingston at Pew Research Center analyzed data from the IPUMS-CPS 1990 and 2013 to demonstrate changes in the proportion of fathers who are stay-at-home caregivers. Mothers remain the majority of full-time caregivers, yet fathers represent a growing share of parents fulfilling this role (up 6 percentage points since 1989). The report suggests “high unemployment rates around the time of the Great Recession contributed to the recent increases, but the biggest contributor to long-term growth in these “stay-at- home fathers” is the rising number of fathers who are at home primarily to care for their family.” Furthermore, while only five percent of full time caregiving fathers reported the reason they are not employed outside the home is to care for their children in 1989, 21 percent reported this reason in 2012. Although other reasons – such as school or retirement, being ill or disabled, or unable to find work – remain steady, more men are making the choice to be full-time caregivers.

In a related report from Pew, Kim Parker discusses the ways fatherhood in America is changing. Fewer dads are the sole providers for their families, and dual income households are now the dominant economic arrangement (at 60 percent). The roles of mothers and fathers are changing, and men have more than doubled the time they spend on caregiving activity – although women still outnumber them by a long shot. More and more fathers are reporting difficulties with work-family balance; 48 percent report they would prefer to be home and 46 percent report they spend too little time with their children.

Richard Reeves at the Brookings Institution attributes shifts in fatherhood to class differences and the feminist movement, arguing that the move towards egalitarianism within families is also being met with inequality between families. He suggests that while educated fathers are adjusting to sharing caregiving duties with their equally educated partners, poor men are slipping behind poor women in educational attainment – and are thus less and less present in the lives of their children. However, Margaret Simms at the Urban Institute pulls together evidence that foregrounds how Reeves’ perspective fails to account for high incarceration rates amongst men of color as she points to research that finds low-income men are overwhelmingly committed to seeing their children on a daily basis and providing for them financially.

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.  This is her inaugural post at Families as They Really Are, where she will be continuing to offer policy round-ups like this one.
Image by Perry Threlfall
Image by Perry Threlfall

So the story goes, few behaviors incite more intense feelings of betrayal than infidelity. A partner’s infidelity can invite feelings of anger, disappointment, depression, anxiety, and distrust. It is the most often reported reason for divorce, as well as its strongest predictor. The majority of infidelity research has been conducted by psychologists, evolutionary biologists, and marriage and family therapists. Sociologists, however, are uniquely positioned to shed light on the situational and structural forces at play. For example, in a recent study published this month in American Sociological Review, Christin Munsch examined the relationship between relative earnings—that is, one’s income in relation to his or her spouse—and marital infidelity in heterosexual couples.

It would be logical to assume that economic dependence on one’s spouse would deter cheating. After all, why would anyone bite the hand that feeds? However, the study finds the opposite: economic dependence increases one’s likelihood of engaging in infidelity. For both men and women, as they became more economically dependent on their spouses, their odds of engaging in infidelity increased. Although this may seem counterintuitive, we consider this to be encouraging in that it suggests relative equality between spouses is good for marital stability.

The study also sheds light on the ways in which the effect of relative earnings on infidelity is gendered. Namely, although economic dependence increased the likelihood of infidelity for both men and women, the increase was much greater for men than for women. Munsch attributes this finding to breadwinning norms and the relational, hierarchical nature of gender. Previous research finds that men respond to masculinity threats with extreme demonstrations of masculinity, whereas women are less affected—or unaffected—by femininity threats. Traditionally, breadwinning has been a central component of masculine identity. Accordingly, economic dependence threatens masculinity whereas infidelity allows threatened men to compensate by engaging in a behavior culturally associated with masculinity. For men, particularly young men, dominant definitions of masculinity call for sexual virility and conquest. Infidelity allows threatened men to enact masculinity while simultaneously distancing themselves from, and perhaps punishing, their breadwinning wives.

Given its focus on sex, money, and gender, this research has garnered recent media attention. Yet, many of these accounts tend to sensationalize and overstate men’s disloyalty. For example, in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled, “When a Man Depends on a Woman, He May Be More Likely to Cheat,” Neil Shah writes, “Despite strides toward sexual equality, American men still can’t handle not being a breadwinner…” While we appreciate Shah’s attention to the gendered nature of this phenomenon, we suspect most men can handle “not being a breadwinner” – and the findings support this interpretation. In the study, men who were 100 percent economically dependent on their wives had a .15 predicted probability of cheating of in any given year—the highest predicted probability of infidelity across all models. In other words, the overwhelming majority of economically dependent men are not expected to cheat.

Most of us know at least a handful of men who would accept, appreciate, and embrace a breadwinning wife. Similarly, most of us can think of men for whom being economically dependent might be a real problem. Here, we wish to clarify this distinction and shed light on the kinds of men who might feel threatened by economic dependence and seek to overcompensate by engaging in infidelity.

As Michael Kimmel suggests, the era of unquestioned male privilege is over. In response, some men—primarily white, downwardly mobile men, without significant career or family successes – who were simultaneously raised to expect unparalleled social and economic privilege – have come to believe that they have been unjustly denied what is rightfully theirs. (Of course, this ignores the myriad of ways heterosexual white men have been and continue to be privileged.) Nonetheless, the sense of “aggrieved entitlement” in these men breeds resentment towards a host of “others” including the government, immigrants, minorities, and, of course, women. We suspect it is these men—those experiencing aggrieved entitlement—who are the most likely to feel threatened by women’s economic advancement and compensate by engaging in infidelity.

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, persons (primarily men) have left vitriolic comments in response to recent newspaper articles covering this new research, and Munsch herself has received harassing emails. For example, one man wrote to say that women, especially “self-serving, idiot feminists,” shouldn’t conduct research because they have no sense of pragmatism. It seems likely that the same aggrieved entitlement that legitimates infidelity for some economically dependent men also underlies these comments.

The only reason to respond with malice to the publication of scientific research documenting the benefits of marital equality is fear. A host of social psychological research confirms that, when threatened, individuals are more likely to cause harm to relevant out-group members (as found here, and here, and here, and here). In fact, in one pertinent study, researchers found that men undergoing prototypicality, legitimacy, and distinctiveness threats were more likely to harass to a virtual female interaction partner compared to those who had not been threatened. (Prototypicality threats challenge a man’s status as a good or as a prototypical man; legitimacy threats question the validity of men’s social standing and privileges; and, distinctiveness threats suggest men and women are becoming increasingly similar.) In other words, in an ironic twist, the malicious responses incited in these men substantiate the very claims made in the paper.

So, what advice can we offer those seeking happy, stable relationships? Despite Deborah Netburn’s well-meaning Los Angeles Times advice (“To minimize risk of infidelity, make sure you earn as much as your spouse”), we contend that the answer is not to focus on relative earnings. After all, career trajectories can be unpredictable. Although two people may start off on relatively equal footing, one spouse may climb the corporate ladder faster than the other, one or both spouses may get laid off, or one may choose to leave the labor force altogether. Rather, it lies in our ability to recognize aggrieved entitlement and seek relationships with persons who will feel genuinely happy, rather than threatened, when we succeed. Mutual respect and support serve to safeguard relationships from the effects of dependency on infidelity.

Matthew Rogers is a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut. His research is focused on masculinities, identity, and violence.

Christin L. Munsch is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. The overarching goal of her research is to identify the ways in which contemporary, dual earner families organize interaction based on a traditional, breadwinner-homemaker model and the consequences of this mismatch for individuals, relationships, and the reproduction of inequality. She is currently completing a manuscript that examines the ways in which penalties for flexible work vary by family structure.

Tiring? Never! Photo by Harsha K R via Flickr CC.
Tiring? Never! Photo by Harsha K R via Flickr CC.

In a dramatic shift in attitudes from just 40 years ago, most modern couples want to share the duties and rewards of work and family equally. However, this is particularly difficult for new parents in the U.S. in light of limited governmental support and persistent traditional gender norms. The U.S. offers inadequate paid parental leave and few options for cutting hours at work, while the cost of quality infant child care is exceptionally high. Thus parenthood is especially challenging for U.S. couples—the majority of whom are dual-earners who strive to achieve a work/family balance.

We studied 182 different-sex couples who were expecting their first child. Most were professionals who were well-positioned to equally share housework, parenting, and paid work responsibilities due to their high levels of education and the fact that both partners were working full-time. During the last trimester of the woman’s pregnancy and at 9-months postpartum, we had these men and women keep time diaries, recording every activity they engaged in during a 24-hour workday and non-workday. We also surveyed them about their own attitudes and perceptions of their division of labor at the beginning of our study and again when their child was nine months old.


"Peelers" via judygreenway.org
“Peelers” via judygreenway.org

There are memes all over the internet proclaiming that men who do housework “get laid” more often. Google “men who do housework,” and you’ll find, “Porn for Women:” a calendar featuring shirtless men doing household chores. What’s so sexy about men doing housework? The underlying message winks at the fact that, in the US, women continue to do the bulk of household labor even though almost as many of them work for pay outside the home as do men. Even after more than a century of feminist movement, most heterosexual households are still organized along gender lines. Heterogendered tradition still valorizes (and separates) male breadwinners and female caregivers. In this context, men who relieve women of housework are seen as rare, exotic, and even “sexy.”

Of course, real housework isn’t sexy at all. Preparing meals, doing laundry, washing dishes, cleaning – these are tasks that never end. Another common internet meme asks, “Don’t you just love those 12 seconds when all the laundry is done?” We noticed that you could create a lively, acerbic Pinterest page just on gender and housework!

So what does it look like when “real men”—men who consider themselves breadwinners and heads of the household—do housework? Why would these men do housework in the first place? They might do it if they became unemployed. We interviewed 40 men who lost their jobs during the recent recession. Most (85%) of these men expressed traditional viewpoints about gender in the home, saying that men should provide for women and children. And yet, after losing work, most (85%) of these men became financially dependent on their wives or girlfriends. This caused an ideological as well as financial quandary for them. Because their beliefs about masculinity were tangled up with employment, they had to redefine manhood while they were unemployed.

So how did these men prove their manhood? They tackled housework, and they crushed it “like men.” Ben, who called himself, “Mr. Housework,” explained that he mopped, vacuumed, and steam cleaned the floors multiple times a week. Richard said, “I won’t even use a mop on a floor, just on my knees and stuff. I find it somewhat cathartic, believe it or not, but I roll the rugs up, the ones in the kitchen, shaking them outside, leaving them [to air] out.” Our subjects embraced housework to do their part in the family, and they redefined women’s work as hard work—work befitting men. As Brian said, “I would prefer to be working but I just have to step up and be a man in a different kind of manner.”

So it apparently takes a recession to blur the division of labor in traditional household. Will this blurriness last as the economy recovers and men go back to work? Maybe. If “heads of households” and “men’s men” see household labor as real work, this could elevate its worth in larger society, making it less surprising and funny when men and women cross gendered boundaries in their homes.

Kristen Myers is Professor of Sociology and Director of Center for the Study of Women, Gender, & Sexuality at Northern Illinois University. Ilana Demantas is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at University of Kansas. They write about their research in detail in “Being ‘The Man’ Without Having a Job And/Or: Providing Care Instead of ‘Bread’”—a chapter in Families as They Really Are.

Graffiti/Paris/July 2012
Credit: John Schmitt

I work with one of the most heartbroken groups of people in the world: fathers whose adult children want nothing to do with them. While every day has its challenges, Father’s Day—with its parade of families and feel-good ads—makes it especially difficult for these Dads to avoid the feelings of shame, guilt and regret always lurking just beyond the reach of that well-practiced compartmentalization. Like birthdays, and other holidays, Father’s Day creates the wish, hope, or prayer that maybe today, please today, let me hear something, anything from my kid.

Many of these men are not only fathers but grandfathers who were once an intimate part of their grandchildren’s lives. Or, more tragically, they discovered they were grandfathers through a Facebook page, if they hadn’t yet been blocked. Or, they learn from an unwitting relative bearing excited congratulations, now surprised by the look of grief and shock that greets the newly announced grandfather. Hmm, what did I do with those cigars I put aside for this occasion?

And it’s not just being involved as a grandfather that gets denied. The estrangement may foreclose the opportunity to celebrate other developmental milestones he always assumed he’d attend, such as college graduations, engagement parties, or weddings. Maybe he was invited to the wedding but told he wouldn’t get to walk his daughter down the aisle because that privilege was being reserved for her father-in-law whom she’s decided is a much better father than he ever was.

Most people assume that a Dad would have to do something pretty terrible to make an adult child not want to have contact. My clinical experience working with estranged parents doesn’t bear this out. While those cases clearly exist, many parents get cut out as a result of the child needing to feel more independent and less enmeshed with the parent or parents. A not insignificant number of estrangements are influenced by a troubled or compelling son-in-law or daughter-in-law. Sometimes a parent’s divorce creates the opportunity for one parent to negatively influence the child against the other parent, or introduce people who compete for the parent’s love, attention or resources. In a highly individualistic culture such as ours, divorce may cause the child to view a parent more as an individual with relative strengths and weaknesses rather than a family unit of which they’re a part.

Little binds adult children to their parents today beyond whether or not the adult child wants that relationship. And a not insignificant number decide that they don’t.

While my clinical work hasn’t shown fathers to be more vulnerable to estrangement than mothers, they do seem to be more at risk of a lower level of investment from their adult children. A recent Pew survey found that women more commonly say their grown children turn to them for emotional support while men more commonly say this “hardly ever” or “never” occurs. This same study reported that half of adults say they are closer with their mothers, while only 15 percent say they are closer with their fathers.

So, yes, let’s take a moment to celebrate fathers everywhere. And another to feel empathy for those Dads who won’t have any contact with their child on Father’s Day.

Or any other day.

Josh Coleman is Co-Chair, Council on Contemporary Families, and author most recently of When Parents Hurt.

Evidence from Long-term Time-use Trends

In a period of “long-term stuttering social change,” the authors argue that men are making progress toward reducing structures of gender inequality.

As women entered the paid labor force in the 1970s and 1980s, time use studies found that wives began spending less time in housework, while husbands began increasing their time (Robinson 1979). But these changes certainly did not lead to parity, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, progress in gender equality at home and in the public sphere appeared to slow – or even stall.

We argue, however, that like most momentous historical trends, we shouldn’t expect progress towards gender equality to happen in an uninterrupted way. Just as we still see cold snaps within a process of longer-term climatic warming, the progress of gender equality should be seen as a long-term, uneven process, rather than as a single, all-at-once revolution.

When we take a broader and longer view of key trends in the gender division of labor, it is clear that despite periodic setbacks or slow-downs, there has been continuing convergence in the roles and attitudes of men and women. For this paper we studied such trends in 14 developed countries over a 50 year period, using a multinational archive of time-use diary data.

Long term changes in housework and care.

Researchers often look at the division of core housework as a measure of gender power in households. Across the 14 countries surveyed the time women spent in cleaning, cooking and laundry showed a striking downward trend over this extended period, with a less impressive, but nonetheless largely consistent, increase for men (shown in Figures 1a and 1b respectively). These graphs show that women’s hours of core housework stood at well over four hours a day (260 minutes and more) in most of those countries for which we have records from the 1960s – the USA being the exception at just under four hours (228 minutes). A rapid decline is then evident over subsequent decades to a level of below 2 ½ hours a day (150 minutes) in most countries by the first decade of the 21st Century. The exceptions for the later period are the southern and central European countries of Italy, Spain, Austria, Slovenia and Germany, where women’s core housework hours remained at levels of at least 175 minutes a day or more. more...

Drowned out by the shocking stories in the popular media about brutal domestic violence cases, rape, spouse murders, and child abuse is a startling and well-documented trend in American life – violence among intimates is down. And the decline is not small. Between 1993 and 2010, “Intimate partner violence” fell by 64 percent.

The decline in intimate partner violence, moreover, is common to all racial and ethnic groups. In the 1994-2010 period, violence declined 61 percent among non-Hispanic whites, 62 percent among African Americans, and 78 percent among Hispanics.

This startling and under-publicized development has major implications for how we think about family and intimate partnerships in America and how we should think about family-related social policies.

The data come from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), an annual national household survey that collects self-reported data on victimization from persons 12 years of age or older, conducted by the U.S. Justice Department and the Census Bureau. The 2010 survey of intimate partner violence involved 73,300 individuals in about 41,000 households. The methodology is similar to other national-level social surveys. more...

There are two major sources for national data on rape and sexual assault: the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program. While both can be used to gauge rape trends in the U.S., they use different methodology and are best seen as complementary rather than parallel data collection systems. Both show declines in sexual violence over the past decades. more...

For many years, family researchers and working mothers have talked about “the second shift” – the extra work that employed women put in at home after their paid work day ends. And for just as long, feminist assessments of marriage have been shaped by earlier findings that when people married, the women began doing more household work, while the men started doing less.

Some research still seems to support this. Women continue to do a disproportionate amount of housework in families, despite an increase in men’s housework since the 1960s. Furthermore, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the increase in men’s housework slowed or even declined, as did several others measures of progress toward gender equity. And on average, notes Liana Sayer, director of the Maryland Time Use Laboratory, women get 30 minutes less leisure time per day than men. That gap increases to an hour when researchers adjust for employment, education, family status, and age. more...