Reprinted with permission from Econofact

The Issue:

There are large disparities in COVID-related unemployment, with the largest proportional losses among Latinx and less-educated workers. The effects have been particularly felt among children.  In our original research based on very recent data, we find that one-in-five children in the United States experienced the job loss of an adult in their household between February and April of 2020 and one-in-twelve experienced the job loss of all adult earners in their household, including one-in-seven children living with single parents. Our analysis also points to striking disparities by race, ethnicity, and income, with higher shares of Latinx, Black, and lower-income children losing all adult earners in their households. While there was some job recovery between April and May, the pattern of job losses appears to be exacerbating inequality.

The Facts:

  • There was pervasive experience among children with one or more adults in their households losing jobs following the March 2020 COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but there are also significant differences across racial, ethnic and income groups. The statistic that 21 percent of children experienced the job loss of at least one adult in their household is calculated over all race and ethnic groups, household incomes, and family structures. (This statistic, and all others in this memo, are based on our analysis using the Current Population Survey (CPS) interviews of the same households in February and April of 2020, and following a subset interviewed in May 2020). Latinx and lower-income children were harder hit; 27 percent of Latinx children and 24 percent of children in households earning less than the country’s median income ($75,000) prior to the pandemic experienced at least one household member losing a job between February and April of 2020. About one-third of children living in households that included parents and other adults, like grown children, or extended family members, experienced one of the adults in that household losing a job.
  • Disparities were particularly stark among children experiencing job loss of all working adults in their household. The share of children living in households in which no one earned an income doubled from 7 percent in February to 15 percent in April. The overall share of children in households that lost all adult earners between February and April, 8.3 percent, masks differences across groups (see the chart). The share of White children whose households lost all adult earners was 5.8 percent while these shares for Black children and Latinx children were 12.4 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively. There was a higher share of children in households with income below $75,000, where all adult earners lost their job (12.1 percent) as compared to the share of children in households that made between $75,000 and $150,000 (4.9 percent) or those that made more than $150,000 (2.5 percent). There were also marked differences across family structure; 14.2 percent of children living with single parents saw their parent lose their job while less than half that share of children living with two parents (6.4 percent) saw all earners in their households lose their jobs.
  • Latinx children were more likely to be in households that experienced any job loss, but they were relatively protected from job losses among all adult earners because they more often lived in households with multiple adults. Latinx children are more likely to live households that include grandparents and extended kin. The average number of adults in a Latinx household with children was 2.3, as compared to 2.1 for Whites and 1.9 for Blacks. Twenty percent of Latinx children lived in two-parent households with other adults – the comparable statistics were 10.4 percent for White children and 8 percent for Black children. Among Latinx children, 11.1 percent lived in single-parent households with other adults, while 5.6 percent of White children and 17.2 percent of Black children lived in households of this type.
  • There were mixed findings when we looked at the same group of children in May 2020. Children’s experience of job loss in their household between February and April captured the immediate impact of March stay-at-home orders. Following this group of children for an additional month using linked samples from the May CPS showed that all groups were doing marginally better, with fewer children in households with no earners. This appears to be especially true among children in higher-income households earning above $150,000. But other children, particularly Black and Latinx children, seem to be lagging behind. Data suggest that to the extent there has been a recovery, it has been unequal across groups, exacerbating disparities and indicating widening gaps in the longer-run. (Our estimates are based on a subset of children whose households responded to the May CPS; this subset tended to draw proportionally more observations from richer households, potentially understating disparities in recovery.) And, of course, the situation remains fluid, with forecasts warning that economic conditions may worsen.
  • There were also large geographic differences in the share of children who experienced job loss in their household. Stay-at-home orders varied across states, although there is evidence that the labor market collapsed at the same time across the U.S. irrespective of where the virus first spread or, the timing of state-level lock-down policies. State-level safety net policies, including unemployment insurance, vary widely. These factors suggest inequality in children’s experiences across states. We found that, at the state level, the loss of all household earners from February to April ranged from less than 2 percent of children in Minnesota and Connecticut to over 15 percent in New York and Nevada. Differences in child vulnerability do not map neatly onto the generosity of state safety nets. For example, Minnesota’s per capita spending on social welfare is relatively high and Connecticut’s is relatively low. Similarly, New York’s spending is high and Nevada’s is low. Regional disparities in child vulnerability to household job loss likely reflect state-by-state differences in the occupational mix, including the share of essential workers and jobs that more easily transitioned to remote work. These differences will likely shift, and may very well widen, as the pandemic moves to new areas of the country.

What this Means:

The number of children who lived in households that experienced job loss in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic was staggering. It was also consistent with the precipitous rise in unemployment during this period. The most recent data available from the May CPS interviews points to modest and unequal recovery and, of course, some suggest a worsening of conditions as the pandemic spreads to new areas of the country. The job losses followed longstanding patterns of unequal vulnerability and exacerbated inequalities by race and ethnicity, income, and family structure. Furthermore, issues of child well-being extend beyond economic security to broader indicators of development, including stress-related health outcomes, cognitive development, and social development. Children—particularly those at greatest risk of economic vulnerability—need support at this unprecedented time. Many children at greatest risk are in states with weak track records of social support, and they need better access to income security, childcare, education, and nutrition. Delaying this support will exacerbate the long-term implications of the pandemic on a generation of children.

Anna Bokun is a Sociology Ph.D. student and a trainee in Population Studies at the University of Minnesota. Follow her at @AnnaMBokun.  Jessie Himmelstern is a Sociology Ph.D. student and a trainee in Population Studies at the University of Minnesota. Follow her at @Jesshimmel. Wonjeong Jeong is a Sociology Ph.D. student at Cornell University. Ann Meier is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Population Studies Training Program at the University of Minnesota. Kelly Musick is Professor and Department Chair of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Rob Warren is Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota where he also directs the Population Health Training Program. 

Eighteen million people in the U.S. are cohabiting, and half are under age 35. Cohabiting couples are more egalitarian; but they are younger, poorer, and more vulnerable at work and at home. These families’ needs are neglected in many plans for how to help in a time of pandemic. 

 Newspapers and websites are full of advice for married couples who are working from home while trying to manage child care. But most of that advice is aimed at married couples, whose challenges are often very different than those facing the millions of cohabiting couples in America. In a briefing report, The Challenges Facing Cohabiting Couples in this Crisis, to the Council on Contemporary Families, Amanda Miller (University of Indianapolis) and Sharon Sassler (Cornell  University) show how crucial it is to understand cohabiting families and respond to their—until now—neglected needs and concerns. Consider:

  • Cohabitors have less money. Fifty-three percent earn less than $30,000 per year.
  • An estimated 5.8 million American children were living in cohabiting households in 2018. Almost twice as many cohabiting parents as married ones (46 percent vs. 26 percent) are low-income, earning 150 percent or less of the supplemental poverty measure.
  • Cohabitors are concentrated in low-wage jobs, making them more likely to have been impacted by the 30 million job losses we experienced in the past month, but also more likely to be labeled essential workers, required to report to high-stress front-line jobs with inadequate protections in place.
  • As some states relax shelter-in-place orders, cohabitors who have jobs to go back to are less likely to have paid sick leave, increasing the likelihood of exposure on the job.

Egalitarianism helps, but…. Heterosexual cohabitors have one advantage in this crisis compared to their married counterparts, Miller and Sassler report. On average, they are less locked in to traditional gender roles and less likely to assume that women should do more care work at home. Such equality is now one of the strongest predictors of relationship satisfaction, suggesting that heterosexual married couples have some things to learn from cohabitors, as well as from same-sex married couples. However, many cohabitors do not intend to marry, and the report outlines the different risks that can arise when relationships are intensified by shelter-in-place orders.

The bottom line: Shelter-in-place and the attendant global economic crisis compound the hardships and risks facing cohabitors. Miller and Sassler argue for specific social policies tailored to address their unique financial and demographic characteristics.

Virginia Rutter is a Framingham State University Professor of Sociology, Council on Contemporary Families Senior Scholar, and co-editor of Families as They Really Are. Follow her at @VirginiaRutter.

For many couples, family work at home has increased, but for most of those couples, even when women are still doing more than their partners, women’s relative share of the burden is less lopsided than before the pandemic. On the whole, men have increased the percentage of the housework and childcare that they do since the pandemic. Two big exceptions: Women are doing 70 percent of homeschooling. And among couples where the division of labor was most unequal before the pandemic, women’s absolute AND relative share of family work has increased.

No survey or snapshot captures the diversity of experiences families are having managing the pandemic at home. An unprecedented number of families in the U.S. and other rich countries around the world are at home right now. The rest are caring for family while working away from home, and many are serving on the frontlines as essential workers.

Still, sociologists have detected important patterns that tell us where we could be heading beyond the pandemic—and remind us of where we were before it started. In a briefing report prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families, “Men and Women Agree: During the COVID-19 Pandemic Men Are Doing More at Home,” Daniel Carlson (University of Utah), Richard Petts (Ball State University), and Joanna Pepin (University of Texas-Austin) share results from a survey of 1,060 parents in different-sex couples. In response to fears that the pandemic has dealt a major blow to hopes for gender equality, they conclude: “Our results suggest a more hopeful scenario than those implied by some of the headlines: According to both men and women, men are doing more housework and childcare during the pandemic than before it began, leading to more equal sharing of domestic labor.

Glass half full? Some results yielded a glass half-full perspective:

  • While for many families the burdens have grown, about 60 percent of respondents reported that their “time in domestic labor has not changed since the beginning of the pandemic, even accounting for helping children with homework.” This may be due to reductions in things like chauffeuring children, scheduling their activities, and attending their events – a reminder of how much time parents normally spend on domestic labor outside the household.
  • “Among most couples where the division of tasks did change, it did so in an egalitarian direction.”
  • “A little more than a month after the start of the pandemic, 41 percent of parents reported sharing housework with their partners”—a 15-percentage-point rise over pre-pandemic levels.
  • Shared childcare grew by 11 percentage points, from around 45 percent to around 56 percent, with small variations depending on the ages of the children.
  • “In no situation — and in no type of family, whether dual-earner where both are working full-time, dual-earner where someone is working part-time, single earner, or both unemployed — did we find that the division of tasks became less likely to be shared.”

…or is the glass half empty? Men who already participated in housework and childcare before the pandemic tended to increase their share of these tasks after. But little progress occurred among couples where men started out less involved. And even the more egalitarian couples did not make the same progress when it came to dividing the novel tasks of homeschooling that the pandemic added to many families’ daily schedules.

  • “We find that most women (70 percent) report being primarily responsible for homeschooling during the pandemic.”
  • Most of the increased sharing of housework and childcare occurred among couples who had made strides towards dividing these tasks in a less traditional manner before the pandemic. Among couples who had not made such strides, both the absolute amount of women’s work and their relative share of family labor increased substantially. “Of the mothers who continued to be primarily responsible for domestic work during the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly one-third increased their time spent in housework and care of children during the pandemic.”

The bottom line: This new research gives us some hope for greater realization of the promise of shared parenting and housework, while it reminds us of the legacy of inequality that domestic work carries with it. CCF Research Director Stephanie Coontz sums it up: “The bad news is that dads still expect moms to figure out what the kids need, so when a new responsibility comes up, like having to take over home schooling, women end up doing the heavy lifting.” She continues, “The good news, when you combine these findings with other studies on the long-term effect of paternity leave, split shifts, and work from home, is that once men begin to see and participate in the invisible labor they used to be able to ignore, most of them step up their game.”


Daniel L. Carlson / Associate Professor / Department of Family and Consumer Studies / University of Utah /

Richard J. Petts / Professor / Department of Sociology / Ball State University /

Joanna Pepin / Postdoctoral Fellow / Population Research Center / University of Texas – Austin /

Virginia Rutter is a Framingham State University Professor of Sociology, Council on Contemporary Families Senior Scholar, and co-editor of Families as They Really Are. Follow her at @VirginiaRutter.

Image by Nikolett Afra from Pixabay

Reposted with permission from Psychology Today 

What happens if the economy re-opens and schools do not? Is it possible that much of the feminist progress of the last fifty years could be washed away by COVID-19If Rosie the Riveter and her sisters who “manned” the heavy industries during WWII could be sent home after the war, could the same happen to women after the pandemic? When America needed workers in mid Twentieth Century during war time, women were recruited and day-care centers funded. But when the war ended, and the veterans returned home, those women were pushed out of the labor force. They were sent home to become domestic wives, leaving the jobs for the men. The government-funded propaganda to promote woman’s place at home. Even more effective, they stopped funding the day care centers. The best way to ensure women cannot compete for jobs is to deprive them of child care.

Could this happen again? We can’t ask Rosie the Riveter, but we can learn from her experience. What will happen if the economy opens slowly but day care centers and schools do not? This scenario gives me nightmares because women’s gains may be stolen from us. When work opens but schools do not, we have a crisis on our hands.

Children have two parents so why is this just a crises for women? Why don’t all parents matter, and not just mothers? It is indeed clear that young father’s today, or at least some of the married ones, do actually contribute equally to the care of their children. But while it is great that marriages are more diverse and some are actually egalitarian, such couples are still in the minority. Most fathers today do more caregiving than their fathers but less than their wives. In addition, gender norms within heterosexual couples often remain strong. When meeting new challenges, people often fall back on habits and tradition. Some colleagues and I analyzed data collected by The New York Times and found that women during the COVID-19 pandemic, most parents did more child-care and housework, but women did far more, and more importantly, women were most likely to take on the new task of home schooling. More troubling,  very recent research by Collins, Landivar, Ruppanner and Scarborough  shows that women were far more likely to cut back their paid hours during the first few months of the pandemic. This research finds that among married couples where both parents worked in professions where telecommuting was common during the pandemic, women cut back their work for pay hours, at home, nearly 5 times more than did men. When parents go “home to work” it is women’s work that suffers. One of my colleagues, Dr. Smitha Radhakrishnan, a Professor at Wellesley College with two young children, told me it seems as if “everyone has forgotten about kids needing care.”

What would happen if mother and father have to go back to the office, unemployment insurance ends, and schools and day-care centers remain closed? Which parent do you think will decide that the kids are simply more important than anything else? In some households, it will simply be about following the money, if the husband earns more. But in other families, it may simply be that fathers see their primary contribution to the family as economic even if they don’t earn more, and so feel driven to succeed in their jobs, leaving mothers with little choice but to prioritize their kids. Sociologists have a terrible track record for predictions, but I will make a safe one here: if the economy opens and day care centers stay shut, women will be pushed out of the labor force. Women married to men whose paycheck can cover the bills will become economic dependents of their husbands and their families will have to forego their monetary contributions. The longer those women remain outside the labor force, the further behind they fall, and the less likely they can regain their footing and protect their life time earning capacity. Single mothers will fall into poverty, and if lucky, find a temporary safety net in some government services.

Families will scramble to survive. The gap between those who can afford private nannies and tutors and the rest will grow into a chasm. Black, Indigenous, and other women of color who are economically under-privileged will suffer the most.

Gender equality in America will also suffer. A world where women depend on the men with whom they are currently sleeping for food and clothing is a world where women (and often their children) are one argument away from economic insecurity. A world where women without husbands have to decide between leaving children alone or earning a living, is a world dangerous to children. It maybe that a world without schools is also a danger to children, especially children from under-privileged areas. The equality of men and women depends on having an infrastructure of care. We cannot drive cars without roads. We cannot have economic activity without people who care for the children. The infra-structure of care was inadequate pre-COVID. The United States have never funded public child-care as do European countries. But we have always had public schools that left parents free to work for pay during most of the day.

If the economy opens and schools do not, parents will have face dire circumstances and many women will be pushed out of the labor force. How is it that politicians in this country think that bars, gyms and restaurants are essential to open but not schools? Are children, and their mothers, of so little value? Where are our family values? If the economy opens and schools do not, children will be left alone, or their mothers will be forced out of their jobs. Once again, American women will follow in the footsteps of Rosie the Riveter, pushed out of the labor force because they have nowhere safe to leave their children. Child-care centers and schools are a prerequisite for a functional economy, or at least one that includes women. If women are considered full citizens with the right to work for pay, then days and schools must open before workplaces. Are women really equal citizens or not? Unfortunately, in this political moment, I am terrified to learn the answer.

Barbara J. Risman, Ph.D., is a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Where The Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure.   

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

CCF’s Online Symposium, Defining Consent, takes an unflinching look at the thorny question, what should count as consent to sexual activity – and what should not? In the process, scholars document how to hard it is to define consent or even sexual activity in a college setting. Symposium editors, historian Stephanie Coontz and sociologist Paula England, counter cartoonish media portrayals of both victims and offenders with a wake-up call: We have to deal with the complicated realities of sex on campus. There are no easy answers. But new research explores new strategies for reducing harm on college campuses, including options such as restorative justice, bystander interventions, and public health campaigns.

Scholars focus on campus sexual assault in Defining Consent, an online symposium released from the Council on Contemporary Families.

The “college experience,” glorified by homecoming and other campus celebrations, is revered for its promise to improve people’s lives. This series centers on ways that the college experience is at risk of harming people’s lives—both men’s and women’s. Rape, sexual assault, unwanted sex, and even sexual misunderstandings are addressed in seven related papers in Defining Consent, edited by historian and CCF research director Stephanie Coontz and New York University sociologist Paula England.

Range of scenarios. A symposium paper from University of Michigan sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong and her colleagues examines policies from 381 American universities that relate to sexual conduct and consent, finding that at best the definitions are vague, and at worst, consent is not even mentioned. Another study from Columbia University researcher Jessie Ford coins the  term “consensualish” to describe the surprisingly common circumstance of women (and sometimes men) “going along” with sex they do not want for fear of offending or being accused of being a tease. Another issue is that students often drink to reduce their inhibitions about having sex, not anticipating that this may sometimes make them incapable of saying – or perhaps even understanding – no. The wide range of perspectives and clashing motivations for sex is part of what worries Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode, who discusses the problem of constructing fair ways to respond such a wide range of consensual—and non-consensual practices.

Symposium co-editor Coontz notes that, “All contributors agree there are sexual predators, on and off campus, who should be punished. But this series reminds us that are so many different situations that we can’t solve the problem just by sending everyone who causes harm to jail or expelling them from campus. We need to develop a better toolkit to reduce the different kinds of sexual harm on campus”

Uncertainty about baseline rates. You may ask, how often are students raped or assaulted on campuses? Estimates range from one in five to one in three women, and one in six men. (A detailed survey of sexual assault and misconduct on 33 campuses was released last week from the American Association of Universities.) You may wonder, how often are these cases prosecuted by university panels or other systems? One study cited in the series shows this happens two percent of the time. Along with those cases, Defining Consent centers on the matter of unwanted sex.

Another way to help. “We wanted to focus on what is really going on with sex on campuses–not on cartoons about nervous parents talking about ‘kids today’,” explains symposium co-editor England, whose Online College Social Life Survey has been used in many studies of the college “hookup” scene. She continues: “Defining consent has been central to debates of how to help, so we asked experts to tell us how students think about consent, and how universities have defined it in their policies.”

More highlights. Rape isn’t a new problem, it is an old one. Coontz and England caution against using the term epidemic, which “implies an intensifying and growing problem. Sexual coercion may be endemic in America, but most evidence suggests it was far more common — and generally far more tolerated — in the past than it is today.” In What’s New About Consent, historian Rebecca Davis (University of Delaware) points out that in the mid-20th century, men were encouraged NOT to take no for an answer – and women were often blamed for provoking sex attacks. Yet more recent cultural norms, Davis suggests, may be less progressive than is sometimes claimed:

“From horror films that portray the brutal murders of unmarried young women who had enthusiastic sex a few scenes before, to dating guides like The Rules that implore women to see sexual refusal as seductive, to popular songs about ‘blurred lines’ of consent, American youth continue to receive mixed messages about the differences between desire, consent, and predation,” she writes.

But, due process…. Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode reviews the past two decades of sexual assault activism on campuses, noting the special complications associated with the drinking and party culture, and suggesting that there is no one-size-fits all solution. She concludes, “If we have learned anything from the last two decades of campus assault initiatives, it is this: When it comes to sex, talk is cheap but cultural change is not.” She sees promise, though, in bystander intervention programs.

Restorative justice (RJ) is one of the latest tactics for making the cultural change Rhode calls for. Explains University of San Diego Leadership Professor David Karp, “As an alternative to punishment in some cases, many survivors are now asking for a process that provides accountability through acknowledgment of harm and pathways to prevention.” The restorative justice stance is a response to some hard questions: “Is it possible to create conditions where a student who has caused sexual harm can admit fault and take responsibility for it?” How “can someone be held accountable for crossing an unacceptable line without paying a permanent price in social exclusion?” Karp discusses how a voluntary pilot program of RJ intervention works.

A public health approach focuses less on predators or procedures after the problem occurred, and more one the environmental changes we need to make to produce responsible Sexual Citizens, as profiled in research and forthcoming book from Columbia’s Jennifer Hirsch (Public Health) and Shamus Khan (Sociology). “A phenomenon that happens as frequently as campus sexual assault cannot just be the product of individual bad actors or poor choices,” they observe. With this frame, they conducted an 18-month multi-method study, the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT), to discover “what makes assaults a predictable regularity of campus life.” Among other things, they discovered a huge gap between the formal requirements of consent rules and the way that students actually go about engaging in sex. They also recommended changing some of the physical spaces in campus to provide more places where students can socialize without being thrust into ambiguous setting such as a small dorm room with only a bed to sit on. They also note that even before students arrive on campus, they must have access to comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education. Such education, they say, “must be grounded in respect for young people’s right to sexual self-determination. Part of teaching young people to listen when someone else says no, or to feel confident about saying no, or even to know internally whether they want to have sex at all, is acknowledging their right to say yes.”


CCF Defining Consent Online Symposium in a single .pdf:

Individual articles:

Executive Summary:

Coontz and England:



Armstrong et al.:



Hirsch and Khan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Much has been written about the challenges couples face as they adjust to “shelter in place” policies triggered by the coronavirus. A headline in The Atlantic terms the pandemic “a disaster for feminism.” Once dual-earner couples can no longer outsource their childcare, the author fears, many wives will fall back into the roles of 1950s and never find their way back into the workforce. More upbeat articles offer useful advice for couples who suddenly find themselves working from home on opposite sides of the dining room table. But most of the authors ignore the fact that many young couples facing this challenge today are not married. Among couples ages 18-24, for example nine percent are living with an unmarried partner, compared to seven percent who are married. The ratio of married to cohabiting couples grows with age, but still, there are more than 18 million cohabiting couples in America, and half of them are under age 35.

Cohabitors are different. The challenges facing cohabiting couples are often quite different from those of their married counterparts. For one thing, cohabitors tend to be less educated and to earn lower incomes. Among cohabiting couples in 2017, for example, nearly 53 percent earned $30,000 per year or less. And many cohabitors are parents; an estimated 5.8 million American children were living in cohabiting households in 2018. Almost twice as many cohabiting parents as married ones (46 percent vs. 26 percent) are low-income, earning 150 percent or less of the supplemental poverty measure.

Cohabitors, then, have all of the hallmarks of those most likely to be impacted economically. It is these young, lower-income workers who are the most likely to have lost their jobs in the most recent spate of layoffs. Those who are not among the more than 30 million people who recently lost their jobs are especially likely to be working in the low-wage positions that government officials have deemed essential – but not, evidently, essential enough to provide a living wage or the benefits of health care and paid leaves. The stress of having no safety net or facing the prospect of catching the virus at work is a different order of severity than the need to figure out who will keep the children quiet if both partners need to teleconference at the same time.

Those differences lead to different available choices. In a surprisingly large number of cases, cohabitors may have to “shelter in place” with a partner they did not want to be living with even before disaster struck. Less-educated and low-income couples tend to move in together much more rapidly than their more-educated counterparts, often to save money on housing. This increases the chance that the relationship will not work out, but it also creates cost barriers to separating. Long before the stresses associated with this pandemic, about one-in-five cohabiting couples that we interviewed said their relationship had deteriorated since moving in together, with many preferring to live apart but not able to afford to. How will those cohabitors who, in the words of one man we interviewed, “hate the sound of [his partner’s] voice” or worse, those in high conflict unions, manage to weather the next few months with no real way to escape even as reports of domestic violence have surged, with calls to some hotlines increased up to 35 percent for March as compared to April?

The rush to marriage? At the other extreme, some cohabitors may intensify their relationships more quickly than they would have otherwise. The need for stability, health insurance, emotional support and income pooling may encourage cohabitors to marry even if they have not reached a point where one or both actually feels ready to do so. Marriages (as well as cohabitations) that are hurried along by such outside forces tend to have higher rates of conflict and are more likely to end in divorce.

Adversity can sometimes make a relationship stronger, and it turns out that cohabiting couples have one potential advantage here. The demands of sheltering in place with both or one working from home will require many couples to renegotiate their traditional tasks and roles in the household. This may be easier for cohabitors to accomplish because they already share housework more equally than do their married counterparts and because they are less “locked in” to conventional notions of gender. Other research we have conducted with our colleague Dan Carlson reveals that equality in housework is now an important source of solidarity and satisfaction for couples, while lack of such sharing is an increasingly powerful source of conflict.

Protect cohabiting couples. Still, we cannot expect even the most egalitarian couples to weather this crisis alone. To protect the most vulnerable couples in America, additional interventions are needed. Low-income and working-class cohabiting individuals need financial help now, not in the 20 weeks Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggests it may take. Since cohabitors are more likely to lack a bank account than their married counterparts, they are especially likely to experience a delay in receiving stimulus checks. Cohabitors also need access to quality, affordable health care so that they do not find themselves yoked to an unsuitable partner just to access the medical care they need in the midst of a pandemic. President Trump’s decision not to reopen the Affordable Healthcare Act marketplace for a special enrollment period will be especially disadvantageous to cohabitors. Finally, for those who find themselves in the most dangerous positions, additional immediate funding for domestic violence organizations so that safe additional shelters can be set up is required.

Crises can encourage people to unite and pull together. But individuals and couples need backup. Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families, points out that “for the sake of their fellow Americans, we are asking millions of couples to forego the interactions with friends and family members that are a critical source of well-being. The least we can do is make sure we don’t stint on the social and economic supports that government can provide.”

Amanda J. Miller is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology, and Director of Faculty Development, University of Indianapolis and can be reached at  Sharon Sassler is Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Policy Analysis & Management, Cornell University, and can be reached at

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Most Americans applaud the prison sentences given college admissions scandal parents like actor Felicity Huffman and “fixers” like tennis coach Michael Center for manipulating outrageous claims and exorbitant “donations” to get coveted college admissions for unqualified students. A new study hints that similar kinds of pressures start early,  are widespread, and are difficult for well-meaning educators to resist.

Last year’s college admissions scandal was shocking. But in a briefing report released by the Council on Contemporary Families, Indiana University’s Associate Professor Jessica McCrory Calarco shows that the roots of such excesses can be traced back to parent-teacher dynamics that are evident as early as elementary school. While not focusing on such extremes, Calarco’s report, When “Helicopters” Go to School: Who Gets Rescued and Who Gets Left Behind?, documents problems in ordinary elementary schools that carry the seeds of future abuses.                

Teachers and schools rely on helper helicopter parentsIn a three-year study, Calarco spent approximately 500 hours observing at a suburban elementary school, and interviewed 21 students, 24 parents, and 14 teachers and administrators. She documented how educators, trying to supplement unequal and inadequate resources for high-quality education, come to rely on a set of privileged helicopter parents who contribute substantial amounts of time and money to the school. These parental volunteers allow schools to offer enrichment activities and supplemental staffing they could not otherwise afford.

Some teachers are deferential, others just feel obligated to bend for these helper helicopters. Calarco shows how teachers’ and administrators’ dependence on these parents makes them yield to those who expect their children to receive special consideration as payback for the time and money they contribute. Some teachers willingly bend rules for these kids, reasoning that children whose parents don’t or can’t be highly involved in their education haven’t “earned” special consideration. Others, Calarco shows, feel compelled to violate their sense of what is fair and best for the students’ own development.

Don’t kid yourself: It isn’t the children of helicopter parents who suffer, it is the other students who are harmed. Most criticisms of helicopter parenting focus on how such parents hurt their own children by their over-protection and coddling. However, Calarco shows that the kids who actually get hurt by this are not the ones who gain an edge in their school records and college applications but the ones who don’t.

It is easy to blame ambitious, over-engaged moms, but helicopter parents aren’t so much a cause of inequality as a consequence. For the past forty years, economic inequality has grown: Benefits of economic growth have been gobbled up by the top ten percent, and the bottom half of the population has seen wages stagnate while costs of schooling have soared. Over this time, the intensity of parenting has increased—and parents with more resources are spending those on their children at an accelerating rate.

The policy recommendations aren’t complex. “Adequate and equitably distributed school funding (particularly if coupled with redistribution of funds raised by Parent-Teacher Organizations) has the potential to reduce schools’ dependence on higher-SES ‘helicopter’ parents,” Calarco writes. In America we have a deep belief that education leads to social change. This work shows such change could be towards equity, but has instead been towards growing, persistent inequality that leaves some children and their parents stymied in school and beyond. These inequalities exacerbate the unresolved racial and ethnic disparities that plague our education systems.

“It’s perfectly natural to want your kids to do the best they can,” Stephanie Coontz, CCF Director of Research, notes.“But in societies with high levels of economic inequality, parents often want them to do better than everyone else. And when schools are unequally funded and must rely on parents’ contributions of time and money, it creates patterns of entitlement and exclusion that pave the way for the abuses we have seen in the college admission scandals.”


Jessica McCrory Calarco, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University,; Professor Calarco is author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families.

We’ve all read about – and maybe even known – the “helicopter” parents who sweep into K-12 schools, demanding special treatment for their children, second-guessing teachers’ grades or comments, and insisting that schools adapt to their child’s unique needs. Teachers complain that these parents are “always rescuing their kids,” hovering over them and “making sure everything is done for them.”

As one elementary-school teacher wrote in an “open letter” to “helicopter” parents, “I love you, I do. But some of the things you do drive me nuts and are really bad for your kid! …Please, let them do their own work. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Teach them hard work, success and failure.” In an online magazine for teachers, 5th-grade teacher Abigail Courter warned that parents may be “educators’ greatest assets” but they are also “at times, our biggest nemesis,” especially when they set their children up for failure by not teaching them how to cope with setbacks.

Yet whatever the long-term risks may be, “helicopter” parenting can give kids an edge in the tight race for “elite” college admissions and “elite” professional jobs. Most “helicopter” parents are highly-educated, affluent white mothers who intervene because they want their children to grow up to be highly-educated and affluent as well. “Helicopter” parents send their children to “high-quality” schools—schools whose reputation for academic rigor will help their children get into an elite college. But they do not shrink from undermining that rigor when it comes to their own children. They lobby for their children’s admittance to “gifted” programs and Advanced Placement courses even when they don’t qualify. They resist their children being punished when they break the rules. They demand that their children be given higher gradeseven when they didn’t earn them and press for letters of recommendation to elite colleges even when their children weren’t offered those on their own merits.

Now, it’s clear why “helicopter” parents have an interest in giving their children an edge in school. What’s less clear, though, is why schools are willing to let those parents give their children that edge at the expense of other children in school. Most educators honestly believe in equal treatment – and equal consequences – for all their students. So why do so many schools end up catering to privileged “helicopter” parents and their children, even when it goes against what teachers believe is best for students and undermines a school’s commitment to fair and equal treatment of students?

To answer this question, I spent three years observing and interviewing teachers, administrators, parents, and students at a socioeconomically diverse, public elementary school I call Maplewood (research-related regulations require that I protect the privacy and anonymity of my participants by not disclosing their names or the name of the school). In doing so, I found that:

To achieve or maintain a reputation as “high-quality,” schools rely on privileged “helicopter” parents for tax dollarsdonations, and volunteer hours“Helicopter” parents (especially higher-SES, white, stay-at-home and part-time-employed mothers) are often the mainstay of the unpaid volunteer labor force that schools must rely on to provide quality instruction and activities. As a result, teachers use special favors and strategic rule exemptions to avoid conflict with such parents and keep on their good side.

  • Teachers told me they want to enforce rules but worry that doing so will lead privileged “helicopter” parents to make trouble for them with higher-ups in the administration. As 4th-grade teacher Ms. Russo explained:

Edward [a higher-SES white student] forgets his homework. And so I tell [Edward’s mother] that Edward will have to stay in for recess. And she writes back, [including the principal in the email, saying]: “I really believe that recess is a time for them to run around. I don’t believe in staying in.” [And the principal conceded]. So Edward has no consequences. If something happens, he’ll go home and tell mom, and she’ll write an email to the principal. And she’s threatening with words like “advocate,” “lawyer,” all these things. And because [Edward’s mother is] saying that, because she’s using the fear factor – has Edward stayed in for recess? No. He hasn’t had to face those consequences.

  • Even without pressure from school administrators, teachers recognize that failure to meet the demands of entitled “helicopter” parents will jeopardize the help they get from such parents. As 3rd-grade teacher Ms. Filipelli explained:

At Maplewood, I get lots of emails. Daily emails. A lot of emails. There’s been one parent [a higher-SES, white mother], she’s… oh my goodness. It’s like I need a secretary to be dealing with all these emails. But I know those parents love their children. And those are the parents that help. So, if they have questions, I’m going to answer them. And you might find someone else complaining about it, but at [the lower-SES school where I used to teach], I never had any support. I would have, like, one parent helping. So, bring it on! I’m just happy to have the support.

In consequence, teachers tend to grant the special favors and rule exemptions that privileged “helicopter” parents desire, even when they believe those actions will be detrimental to students. Meanwhile, when less-privileged students and students with less-involved parents break the rules, teachers regularly keep them in for recess, reprimand them in front of their peers, take off points on their assignments, and evaluate them less favorably.

  • Fifth-grade teacher Mr. Fischer, for example, knew that Ms. Becker, a higher-SES white mother, was doing her son Nate’s homework for him, noting that she tended to “over-manage” everything Nate did, limiting Nate’s ability to develop any “independence.” But Mr. Fischer did not try to stop the practice. Nor did he subject Nate to any punishment or grade deductions for failing to do the homework on his own.
  • When higher-SES white student Drew, whose mother was highly involved in the PTO, forgot to do a language arts project, his 5th-grade teacher Ms. Hudson told him: “Don’t worry about it,” adding “That’s what responsibility gets you. There’s a trust, okay?” Yet when Cody, a lower-SES, mixed-race student whose parents were not visibly involved in school, read the wrong section of the book for homework, Ms. Hudson kept him in for recess, cutting off his explanation and saying sharply: “Well, the first thing is to make sure you have the assignment right. That’s responsibility.”

Policy Implications

Inadequate and unequal funding for public education makes schools dependent on higher-SES “helicopter” parents to achieve or maintain a reputation as “high-quality” schools. When schools can rely on those parents’ tax dollars, donations, volunteer hours, and support for students at home, they can provide the kinds of school environments— high test scoressmall class sizesample materialsexperienced teachersenrichment coursesextracurricular activities, and state-of-the-art facilities and technologies—that most parents (especially higher-SES white “helicopter” parents) desire.

Since such amenities are not standard educational entitlements, schools are dependent on privileged “helicopter” parents to attain them, and that dependence routinely leads schools to capitulate to those parents’ demands. The result is a vicious cycle. The schools’ reliance on “helicopter” parents sustains the enrichment activities that create a first-class learning environment, but it also allows such parents to game the system for their children, thereby reinforcing successes that may be the result of special treatment rather than special merit.

Adequate and equitably distributed school funding (particularly if coupled with redistribution of funds raised by Parent-Teacher Organizations) has the potential to reduce schools’ dependence on higher-SES “helicopter” parents. Those resources would allow schools to offer high-quality opportunities and amenities for students without the need for support from privileged parents. They would also alleviate pressure on parents (especially mothers) to provide “helicopter”-like support for students both at home and in school.


Jessica McCrory Calarco, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, Professor Calarco is author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School.

This briefing paper is based on a longer research article that appeared on March 4, 2020 in the American Sociological Review.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Reprinted with permission from Psychology Today

No doubt you’ve seen the headlines about women’s burden increasing as everyone stays home. This pandemic, with mandated isolation at home with our families, forces us to pay attention to our loved ones and our family dynamics. Those sheltering in place with spouses and children are spending more time together than anyone ever hoped or dreaded. Many of those lucky enough to be able to work from home are doing so while trying to homeschool as well.

I think I will scream if I see one more magazine article about couples where the father shuts his study door after breakfast and protects his work time during the day while the mother tries to homeschool her children while also working full-time for pay, online. Are all the men out there really still Neanderthals? Is the coronavirus really a disaster for feminism?

We do not yet know if both parents, in two-parent families, are being pressed into simultaneously working for pay and doing the child care that has suddenly morphed into teaching. Or whether only mothers are handling this double shift on steroids.

What can we guess from past research? We know that the many mothers in heterosexual families do more child care and housework than their husbands before this crisis began. And we know this extra work matters. Research shows that motherhood still hampers women’s careers while fatherhood increases men’s earnings. Forthcoming research in Gender & Society shows there is not only a gender pay gap but a benefit gap too. Currently, it feels as if the world is going to hell in a handbasket and taking feminism with it. Can we hope for anything different in the middle of a crisis?

I think so. Let’s start by getting our facts straight. Only then can we use research evidence to help shape our decisions about family life. In heterosexual partnerships, men, overall, do less housework and child care than women do, even when both work full-time for pay outside the home. But, over time, each generation of men, internationally, does more than their fathers. While we should not forget that men often do less than their wives,  we also should remember that most men do more than their fathers. Change is possible. Change is happening.

A wide-angle lens only looking at sex differences obscures as much as it illuminates. Statistics that only compare men vs. women hide the diversity within each group. Here is some really big news that gets lost.

First, as my colleague and I have shown, nearly everyone in American society believes that women and men should have equal rights at work, and most believe that men and women should share the work at home equally as well. But even more startling is that nearly half of American parents, both women and men, report that they equally share the work of earning a living and running their homes. Now, surely some are reporting egalitarian marriages because they are mixing wishful thinking with everyday reality. But still, surely many people report accurately.

Very few men in previous generations shared the work at home. I’m old enough to know this from experience. In the 1970s, my then husband’s boss told me we shouldn’t have children because I wasn’t the kind of wife a lawyer needed if he was to be a father. Can you imagine a boss telling his male employee’s wife that now? So let’s not underestimate the cultural changes that have occurred.

If some couples are really walking the walk, as well as talking the talk, what does that mean for the rest of us? Good news for the single heterosexual woman. No woman has to settle for a man who doesn’t share her commitment to equality; feminist men are out there. I know because I talked to some of them for my last book, Where the Millennials Will Take Us. We also know from international research that feminist ideas matter: Those couples that endorse feminism are most likely to share the housework and child care.

If you are a woman now facing working from home, or perhaps an essential worker on the front lines every day, and married to a man who hasn’t noticed how much effort it takes to run your household, now is the time to show him. If you are a man married to an essential worker who comes home after her day at the hospital to a dirty house where you’ve been working all day, how fair is that? If you are a woman married to a man who claims to believe you are in an equal partnership and then doesn’t clean the bathroom or supervise the online classes, here is your chance to change that. Try this.

Families are all home together for more time than anyone could have ever imagined. Kids who are old enough need to step up and help around the house, as well as sit in front of their screens for both school and pleasure. So it’s the perfect time to have a frank conversation, a family conference, about housework, care work, and equality. Who should be doing what and why?

Research shows that women who work at jobs that require negotiation tend to have more egalitarian marriages. They bring those skills home to challenge the often hidden and taken-for-granted male privilege in families. Of course, negotiation takes time and energy. At the moment, many of us have the time, and in the long run, this will save energy.

In this moment, every family has two options. You can do whatever you have always done, and for many heterosexual families that means letting the workload fall disproportionately on women’s shoulders. But with women so clearly being “essential workers” in this crisis, perhaps afterward, they will be mad at the gender inequality at home, and maybe eventually get even, leading to more divorces in the coming year.

There is another path. We are a species that can adapt and change. Just because something has been so in the past, does not mean it has to be so in the future. You can be one of those families based on respect and equality, where men don’t expect wives to manage the family affairs as well as do more of the child care, cooking, and cleaning.

How do we get from here to there? Each member of the couple should sit down and make a list of what needs doing and who should do it. Then come back together — and if you have kids, include them — so that each of you has to make sensible, logical arguments and sound like an adult.

How many meals have to be cooked each day, dishes washed or stacked into the dishwasher? Don’t forget about clothes that need to be cleaned and toilets washed. Comparing those lists can be enlightening. Just don’t have the woman of the house make the list or you have just undermined the process. If that’s what happened, rip up that list and start over. Much of the work is in management of the household and research shows that often gets ignored.

Compare lists and then begin to negotiate. Volunteer for tasks so that they are shared fairly. Don’t leave one parent (read: mother) to be the enforcer, or you are back right where you started, presuming the family work is a mother’s job. Assign a different person each week to be “the enforcer,” to make sure everyone is doing their fair share.

This pandemic is turning life upside down. We all feel somewhat out of control. One important lesson I’ve learned from Kerry Ann Rockquemore, who facilitates a group of people in the Joy Collective, is that it is very important to take control of what you can, to empower yourself by making goals and meeting them, especially in a moment in history when so much is externally constrained. So take charge of what you can indeed control.

We can’t control the virus or the need to stay at home, but we can use the unexpected time together to make home a better place, and our marriages more equitable partnerships. Why not give it a try? When will there ever be a better time, and more time, to make your marriage and family stronger and more fair?

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council of Contemporary Families.