Photo courtesy of U.S Department of Agriculture.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture.

President Obama’s forceful comments on the need for federal support of child-care programs were one of the most notable aspects of his recent State of the Union address. As he said, “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us …. In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever … [It is] a ‘must-have,’ and not a ‘nice-to-have.’”

As a longtime advocate for quality, accessible child care, I was heartened to hear these words at such a high-profile time. It occurred to me that it had been more than 40 years since a U.S. president had so visibly addressed the child-care issue—and on that occasion, the message had been very different.

In December 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971, primarily because the measure would have allocated some $2 billion for a Comprehensive Child Care Development Bill, which Congress had recently passed to pay for an extensive network of child-care facilities across the country. Nixon’s veto message remains, in my view, one of the most striking documents in the history of American family policy.

Denouncing the bill for its “family-weakening implications,” Nixon went on to say that the appropriate response to the challenge of implementing child-centered policy “must be one consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization.” Nixon continued:

Other factors being equal, good public policy requires that we enhance rather than diminish both parental authority and parental involvement with children … for the Federal government to plunge headlong financially into supporting child development would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over against the family-centered approach.

The back story of the passage of the Comprehensive Child Care Bill, the controversy it created, and the pressure on Nixon to veto it are all topics very pertinent to the divisions over gender politics that still are such a factor in our society today. Seen as the first legislative victory of the recently reemerged women’s movement, the bill’s passage was a collaborative effort involving union women, feminist activists, children’s advocates such as Marian Wright Edelman, and sympathetic (mostly male) elected officials, led by Sen. Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Rep. John Brademas (D-IN).

Although many Republicans had voted for the bill, it still sparked a furor among many conservatives still reeling from the rapid cultural shifts of the 1960s and 1970s—particularly the rise of feminism. Conservative journalists denounced the bill; Nixon’s most hard-right staff members, including Pat Buchanan, urged him to oppose the bill on ideological grounds as well as fiscal ones. This was because Nixon had recently announced his intention to travel to “Red” China and normalize relations—a move that enraged many conservatives of that period. It was therefore no accident that the language of the veto contained a negative comment about “communal approaches to child-rearing.” (Buchanan had also reportedly wanted to include the phrase “the Sovietization of American children,” but that phrase did not make the final cut.)

After Nixon’s veto, a later attempt in 1975 by Mondale and Brademas to offer a scaled-down version of their original ambitious bill never even made it out of Congress. This time around, their efforts were met by an incredibly well-organized campaign by operatives in the just-emerging New Right, known today as the Christian right. In this pre-Internet, pre-cell phone era, these conservative groups subjected thousands of mothers of young children to a massive misinformation blitz about the bill, instructing them to write letters to their representatives. As journalist Gail Collins remarked, “The writers [of these letters] appeared to believe that [the bill] would allow children to organize labor unions, to sue their parents for making them do household chores and make it illegal for a parent to require their offspring to go to church.”

In retrospect, the virulent backlash—from President Nixon, from housewives writing letters in church basements—against these attempts at expanding federal involvement in child-care programs can be understood as the beginning of the culture wars in America. Indeed, as Onalee McGraw, a leading conservative spokeswoman of that era, put it, the anti-child care campaign was “the opening shot in the battle over the family.”

To be sure, the child-care issue did not last long as a mobilizing issue for social conservatives—too many women, including conservative ones, were going to work. And in the years following the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, the New Right found a much more fruitful issue on which to focus.

In contrast to the hopefulness expressed in the early 1970s by those who supported a national child-care program, which would have targeted all children with parents paying on a sliding income scale, today child care is like virtually all other social programs in the United States—that is, deeply stratified by class. Wealthy parents typically have live-in nannies and send their children to extremely expensive preschools; middle-class parents, often with great difficulty, send their children to the best programs they can afford and are lucky enough to find a place in; and poor parents, if they are not fortunate enough to have reliable relatives living nearby, are subject to programs of varying, often dismal, quality. What is clear is that parents are on their own, needing to devise private solutions to what Nixon himself framed as a private problem.

It is too soon to say whether President Obama’s positive vision for child care as a governmental responsibility will overcome the negative one of Richard Nixon and the culture warriors who advised him. In some respects, the situation of the two presidents, with respect to child care, are mirror images of each other. In the 1970s, there was a Congress who wanted a national child-care policy and a president who opposed it; with Obama, the opposite, sadly, seems true. But if nothing else, Obama’s speech reaffirmed for a broader audience what those in the reproductive justice movement already know—that is, how crucial quality, affordable child care is for families in order to adequately care for the children they wish to have.

Carole Joffe is a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.  On twitter: @carolejoffe.

*This was originally posted at

Prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Civil Rights
February 4-6, 2014


In 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, the momentous demonstration that helped spur passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year. He described African Americans as living “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” A half-century after the Civil Rights Act we can assess how much progress African-Americans have made in key areas such education, employment, income, health, and longevity.

Certainly, many African Americans have moved into positions of power that were scarcely imaginable when Dr. King gave his speech. In 1964 there were only 100 Black elected officials in the country. By 1990 there were 10,000. Since then there have been two Black Secretaries of State, and America’s first African-American president is now in his second term.

The number of Black households earning $100,000 a year or more has increased by 500 percent in the past 50 years, to about one-in-ten of Black households. African Americans have even headed several Fortune 500 companies. Examples include Dr. Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, Ursula M. Burns, Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp., Kenneth I. Chenault, Chairman and CEO at American Express, and Kenneth C. Frazier, President and CEO of Merck & Co. Inc. Many African Americans have also attained unprecedented wealth, status, and respect in the news, entertainment, and sports industries.

Yet despite these individual attainments, African Americans remain heavily underrepresented in the highest ranks of the business world, comprising barely one percent of the CEOs of the Fortune 500. Oprah Winfrey is the only African American on the Forbes 400 richest Americans list. And in the lower echelons of the income ladder, racial economic disparities have been remarkably persistent and gotten worse in a few respects. more...

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shows students at the Berkeley Unified School District one model of Latina success: her own. Photo via
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shows students at the Berkeley Unified School District one model of Latina success: her own. Photo via

This short essay was part of a CCF series published in February 2013 in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Latinas are often described as being either too devoted to their cultural values or not sufficiently connected to them. They are often told that they must choose “one of way of being,” either Latina or American. This expectation not only implies that there is an “authentic” Latina femininity and American femininity, but that their success depends on enacting the “right” femininity.

A prevailing mystique facing Latinas is that their “culture” holds them back from success and fulfillment. More specifically, they are told that machismo and familismo, respectively referring to an exaggerated expression of masculinity among Latino men and sacrificing Latina femininity. There are certainly aspects of Latinas’ cultural backgrounds that privilege men, but this is not unique to Latinas/os. Yet, this is the persistent narrative about Latinas’ challenges. This powerful mystique conveys to Latinas that they must reject their “culture” to be successful.

But numerous Latinas have demonstrated that rejection of their culture is not a prerequisite for pursuing professional and personal ambitions. U.S. Latinas have consistently described themselves as being caught between two worlds, that of their particular communities and that of the dominant society. And it is precisely because of this that Latinas can challenge the idea of an “authentic” Latina or American femininity. Latinas that resist the dichotomies imposed upon them understand that “culture” is not fixed and that they can create new cultural meanings and practices. For instance, some Latinas do not interpret their professional goals and their family as mutually exclusive. Instead, they sometimes link them together as a strategy for success. This way, a desire to “give back” to their families and communities fuels their motivation to persist despite the structural barriers they encounter, such as racist-sexist workplace practices. more...

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, CCF hosted an online symposium reflecting on where we are today. Judy Howard offered this short essay on Lesbian Mystiques.

Betty Friedan highlighted the many ways that cultural images and expectations of gender in the 1950s and 60s held women back.  The expectations derived most obviously from patriarchy, which Friedan recognized, but also from white supremacy, capitalism, and heterosexism, which she did not.  In Friedan’s time the feminine mystique certainly constrained women’s senses of themselves and their possibilities, but at least it recognized women as a group.  The “lesbian mystique,” by contrast, denied lesbians even existed.  The concept was literally inconceivable.  In the 19th century, Queen Victoria is rumored to have flatly proclaimed: “Women don’t do that.”

Of course there were lesbian subcultures and activism throughout the ages, even during the heyday of the feminine mystique. A group of us living in Madison WI at the time, not exactly Friedan’s suburban middle America, organized what we rather inflatedly called a national conference of the National Lesbian Feminist Organization.  And there were the womyn’s music festivals, at least one of which continues to this day.   more...

credit: Jessica Paoli via Creative Commons
credit: Jessica Paoli via Creative Commons

CCF circulated many useful briefing reports this year– covering issues ranging from hooking up to Civil Rights to research methodology. Here are the five most talked about pieces—as measured by media impact:

In addition to these widely covered pieces, over the course of 2014, at least 27 CCF experts provided media with updated perspectives on research through interviews, news articles, and opinion pieces, on topics ranging from politics to pop culture. In working toward CCF’s mission to increase public knowledge about family diversity and change, these combined efforts led to more than 250 media citations. This makes a difference! From my vantage point as CCF’s public affairs intern, I am eager to see how CCF will continue to reach forward towards transforming dialogue in 2015.

Braxton Jones is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University (MA) and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only ushered in stronger federal protections for racial and ethnic minorities and women, but also for religious minorities. Antipathy toward Catholics and Jews in the US was a persistent and prevalent theme through much of American history. It was common for these groups to be labeled “un-American” and even categorized as “non-white.” Members of these religions were often discriminated against in hiring and in admission to institutions of higher learning (this was especially common for Jewish applicants) and excluded from many neighborhoods, clubs, and political positions. From the late 19th through the mid-20th century, organized hate groups, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, used the threat of violence to intimidate not only African-Americans but Jews and Catholics as well.

After World War II, these restrictions and prejudices eased somewhat. By 1955 the now-classic essay Protestant Catholic Jew could proclaim that although these three religions were the primary sources of identity in America, they were now “alternative ways of being an American” rather than two of them being seen as Un-American.

Still, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism persisted. In the 1960s, some commentators worried that President Kennedy, a Catholic, would take orders from the Pope. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon was recorded making several anti-Semitic comments. And even today nativist hate groups continue to perpetuate centuries-old hostilities against Catholic and Jewish Americans. But the Civil Rights Act did give these minorities protection against outright exclusion and discrimination, and other religious minorities have also looked to it for security as the American religious landscape has diversified. more...

ACSBrochure320American families are diversifying in ways that are more complicated than ever, creating distinct patterns in different parts of the country and subgroups of the population. That’s why policy-makers and community leaders need detailed, locally-specific census data about family formation, marriage trends, divorce, and widowhood. This information is essential in order to accurately assess everything from population growth patterns to the special educational and social needs of different neighborhoods. Yet the Census Bureau has announced plans to cut from the American Community Survey several questions that provide such crucial information to researchers, planners, journalists, and the general public.

The questions to be cut include:

In the past 12 months did this person get—Married?

In the past 12 months did this person get—Widowed

In the past 12 months did this person get—Divorced?

Times Married—How many times has this person been married?

In what year did this person last get married?

What is the American Community Survey?

The American Community Survey (ACS) is the large Census Bureau survey that replaced the “long form” of the decennial census in the 2000s. It uses a sophisticated rotating geographic sampling design to gather information for households at all levels of geographic detail – even down to small neighborhoods. Administering the survey is expensive, but cutting these questions to save money in the short run will cost America dearly in the long run.

Why we need the ACS to keep these questions:

1. Believe it or not, there is no national count of marriages and divorces. In 1996, the government stopped collecting detailed national data on legal marriages and divorces. Now the government produces simple counts of marriages and divorces, but without any accompanying information about age of marriage, marriage duration, or number of remarriages. Furthermore, the figures they produce exclude six states (California, Georgia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Indiana) that together account for 20 percent of divorces.

The ACS is the only reliable source of national, state, and city data on the frequency of marriage, divorce, widowhood, and remarriage. It provides data that is vital for estimating the impact of socioeconomic trends and social policies on marriage rates and on married and unmarried households.

2. The ACS is the only source of data that can measure marriage and divorce patterns in smaller sections of the population, such as particular states and cities, minority groups, and gay and lesbian couples. Asian Americans, for instance, are now a relatively small section of the population, but they are the fastest growing racial-ethnic group. Don’t we need to know what kind of family trends are occurring in this group?

Some things we can learn with the ACS data – and only with ACS data:

How divorce rates for “millennials” vary in the top 25 metropolitan areas: Surely it’s worth knowing that divorce rates range from 3.9 per 100 married people in Portland to just 1.4 in New York City. Other ACS data can help us understand what factors may account for this.

How divorce rates differ for 15 different Asian national-origin groups: Generalizations about “the” Asian population obscure the fact that Thais and Cambodians have much higher divorce rates than Indians and Pakistanis.

How the recession affected divorce rates: The recession appeared to have slowed some divorces in its initial years. This was followed by an uptick in divorces in 2012. But the 2013 divorce rate (just made available) shows a sharp drop in 2013. This drop has yet to be explained, which is why we need continuing detailed data from the ACS about the socioeconomic and cultural factors and local variations that may be involved.

How marriage histories for men and women differ by education level: Married college graduates are much more likely than those with less education to be in their first marriages.

Marriage rates for people with different disabilities (by race/ethnicity): Having a disability reduces the chance that a person will marry. The overall first-marriage rate for people aged 18-49 is 71.8 per 1,000. For people with disabilities, it’s 41.1. But marriage rates vary by the type of disability, and also by race, regardless of disability type.

Detroit’s catastrophic demographic situation: Without the ACS we would not fully grasp the especially high divorce and early widowhood rates, falling population, educational failure, and unemployment that comprise the urban crisis there.

If we lose this kind of data, our ability to forecast future trends, anticipate potential problems, and understand our own families and local communities will be severely compromised. And that’s what might happen unless researchers and concerned citizens tell the government we need this kind of information to continue being collected. The government has given the public until the end of December to make its views known.

Information about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey is here:

This briefing paper was prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families by Philip Cohen, Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland.


The gendered mystique that still poses barriers to African-American women in their personal and public lives is perhaps best described as an “unfeminine mystique” – the idea that they have characteristics and embrace lifestyles that are outside the boundaries of “real” womanhood. This “unfeminine mystique” has plagued African-American women for more than 200 years. more...

When I think back on the Feminine Mystique, I am reminded of my favorite childhood television show, “Bewitched,” which featured a beleaguered housewife and witch, Samantha Stevens. As partner in her husband Darrin’s “two-person career,” holding a job of her own was out of the question. She was on call to whip up fabulous meals for Darrin’s boss and his clients at a moment’s notice – yet she wasn’t even supposed to use her superpowers to add a tasty dessert. She spent her days cooking, cleaning and helping her husband’s career, all the while proudly avoiding magical shortcuts. She had the requisite two children, but they mostly sat in the background, being supervised by a witchy relative or their babysitter, Esmeralda. more...

In the late 1970s, after a long period of holding fairly steady, the gap in wages between men and women began improving. In 1979, the median hourly wage for women was 62.7 percent of the median hourly wage for men; by 2012, it was 82.8 percent. However, a big chunk of that improvement – more than a quarter of it — happened because of men’s wage losses, rather than women’s wage gains. more...