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.

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.