Jessica McCrory Calarco is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University at Bloomington and recently published the book Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School (Oxford Press). Based on 5 years of ethnographic fieldwork following a group of students from 3rd to 7th grade, she explores class differences in the ways in which students interact with teachers. She found that, coached by their parents, middle class students are more likely to ask teachers for assistance, accommodation, and attention, while working class students acted with more restraint. I was recently able to interview about her book.

AK: What were some differences by social class that you found in students’ interactions with teachers?

JMC: The middle-class and working-class students were similar in many ways. They liked their teachers and they were excited about learning new things. Where they differed, though, was in the extent to which they tried to negotiate for individual (and often unfair) advantages in school.

At the schools where I observed, teachers got a steady stream of questions and requests. The vast majority of those questions and requests came from middle-class students. And many of those requests went beyond what was fair or required. Middle-class students asked for extensions on assignments. They asked teachers to check their work on tests. They monopolized class time with their stories. They even tried to talk their way out of punishment when they got in trouble for forgetting homework or running in the hallways or being disrespectful to their peers.

Middle-class students were also incredibly pushy in making those requests. They rarely sat patiently with their hands raised, especially if that meant waiting more than a few seconds for a response. Instead, they called out, got up from their seats, and even interrupted teachers to ask questions. They also kept asking, even when well-meaning teachers tried to deny those requests. They refused to take “no” for an answer, and they were willing to waste class time (and sometimes call in their parents for reinforcement) to get the support they desired.

Teachers rarely got questions or requests from working-class students. They didn’t feel entitled to teachers’ assistance, accommodations, or intention. And they tried hard to manage on their own. Of course, working-class students did sometimes ask for assistance or accommodations or attention. But the support they requested was typically fair or required. They asked for help when they were struggling to understand concepts. They raised their hands when teachers asked for volunteers to share.

Working-class students were also more patient and more polite in making requests. They would often spend three or five or even eight minutes with their hands raised, even while teachers responded to other students who got up or called out, instead. In the process, working-class students sometimes fell off-task or even gave up, leaving assignments incomplete and questions unanswered on tests. Furthermore, when teachers denied their requests, working-class students rarely pushed back. They just accepted the “no” and moved on.

AK: What role did parents play in teaching children to interact with teachers in specific ways?

JMC: Middle-class and working-class parents all cared deeply about their children, and both groups wanted their children to succeed. But they differed in the lessons they taught children about interacting with teachers and securing advantages in school.

Middle-class parents coached their kids to treat their teachers as resources. When their children were confused or struggling in school, middle-class parents encouraged them to turn to their teachers for support. One middle-class mother recalled what she tells her kids: “It’s okay to ask questions. Your teacher is there to help you. That’s her job.” Middle-class parents also taught their children to keep asking until teachers met their needs.

Working-class parents instead coached their children to treat teachers with respect. As one working-class father recalled: “I just want my kids to be respectful and responsible. My kids are good for the teachers.” Working-class parents recognized that teachers had a lot on their plates. They also worried that teachers might get frustrated with students who asked questions. So they taught their children to deal with problems on their own and to avoid making requests.

AK: Did these differences lead to unequal outcomes for children, and what can be done to reduce these inequalities?

JMC:  Middle-class students’ negotiations with teachers gave them a number of unfair advantages in school. They persuaded teachers to help them correct their work on tests. To grant them extensions on assignments. To exempt them from punishment when they got in trouble. To give them extra time to share their thoughts and ideas. In sum, the bulk of teachers’ support went to the students who needed it the least.

That said, those advantages weren’t automatic. Middle-class students were only successful in negotiating advantages because teachers said “yes” to their requests.

Of course, teachers were well-meaning. They did not intend to privilege middle-class students over their working-class peers. But they still said “yes” to middle-class students’ requests. And they did so, in part, because they worried about the consequences of saying “no.” In particular, they worried about the possibility of pushback from middle-class students and middle-class parents.

Teachers worried because middle-class parents and children could make their lives miserable. They could waste class time with constant emails and back-and-forth negotiations. They could undermine teachers’ authority by complaining to the principal or “blacklisting” teachers they saw as “unresponsive.” They could jeopardize the school by withdrawing critical financial and political support.

Essentially, then, middle-class students’ negotiated advantage was the product of privilege. And that means we can’t level the playing field by teaching working-class students to act more like their middle-class peers. It wouldn’t work. And it isn’t fair—we shouldn’t penalize working-class students for trying to be respectful and responsible.

Instead, we need to level the playing field by preventing middle-class students and parents from using their privilege to negotiate advantages. For teachers, that means thinking carefully before granting requests from middle-class students and parents. For schools, that means protecting teachers from pushback when they say “no.”

Of course, those changes aren’t easy to make. Middle-class families have a history of hoarding opportunities, and they’re unlikely to give up their privilege without a fight.

In the short term, then, we also need to make schools and classrooms more welcoming places for working-class families. We need teachers to recognize silent signs of struggle. And we need teachers to reach out and offer support, even when students don’t ask for it themselves.

Jessica McCrory Calarco is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. She is the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School. Follow her on Twitter  @JessicaCalarco. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg

Picture featured in the Conference Program

If you couldn’t come to CCF’s 19th conference, Conceiving American Families in the 21st Century: Reproductive Policies, Practices, and Technologies, you don’t know what you were missing. So I’m here to tell you. Held on March 2nd in our new single-day format, it was a great success and the theme could not have been more timely. Individual rights, freedoms and immunities are being fiercely debated globally and locally, and if, how and to whom babies are born are part of that debate. Throughout the day, issues of positive and negative rights related to reproduction were a recurring theme in lively presentations and discussions.

The theme of individual rights influenced the conference even before it began this year. Traditionally, we convene at our organizational home, which has been UT Austin since 2015. However, Texas has recently implemented a campus carry law, which gives individuals the right to carry licensed concealed handguns in public university conference rooms. Some states have since denied travel funding to presenters invited to speak at these institutions. Considering safety and funding concerns, our diligent co-chairs, Adina Nack and Josh Coleman, changed locations to the DoubleTree hotel nearby, where firearms are prohibited.

Our flexible co-chairs continued to work around hurdles shortly before the conference began. Illness prevented keynoter, Mary Mason, from coming at the last minute so her Babies of Technology co-author and son, Tom Eckman, took the podium alone. We heard startling stats on the $100 billion worldwide assisted reproduction market, and examples of how the rights of the child can get lost in the for-profit designer baby marketplace. We learned about new technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing techniques that can snip defective disease causing genes and keep them from being passed on to offspring. When or if this technology is ready for prime time, who will have the right to decide what genetic defects will be permanently removed from family lineage? What will be the unintended consequences of permanently altered DNA?

Our second keynoter, Carole Jaffe, gave us stunning examples of coercive reproductive policies, and how denial of access to adequate family planning services disproportionately affect poor, black, and brown women. She noted that maternal mortality is three times higher for black women than white women, and fifty-five percent of births today are to mothers receiving Medicaid. These women are trapped in a system with insufficient birth control choices, lack of access to termination of unwanted pregnancies, and inadequate healthcare after birth. In her talk, Amanda Stevenson also pointed out the coercive state policies that result in disproportionate distribution of IUDs and implants to Medicaid recipients in Texas.

Lisa Ikemoto and Sharmila Rudrappa eloquently illustrated how laws banning commercial surrogacy, which are intended to protect working-class women’s rights to fair compensation and treatment, can backfire. In some countries, women end up even more vulnerable as they move across borders to places where state immunity decreases their control over compensation and care. We learned how regulation rather than outright banning can protect women’s rights and give women more control over their surrogacy.

Teresa Morris raised questions about who is protected and who is vulnerable during prenatal care and delivery. For example, although 99.8% of the problems detected via continuous fetal monitoring are false positives and expose the mother to additional radiation, continuous monitoring persists to lower malpractice risk. Since the C-section is the “gold standard of care” in malpractice court cases, a dramatic rise in U.S. C-sections may also be attributed to provider liability concerns that trump maternal health considerations.

I could go on. All our presenters brought something new, enlightening, counter-intuitive, or clarifying to the table.

A hallmark of all CCF conferences is the generous time devoted to Q & A. Negative and positive reproductive rights dominated these lively discussions as well. Some hot topics were: How will legal and ethical codes regulate the eugenics of commercial surrogacy, when cryobanks broker higher prices for “fair complexion” “Ivy League”, and “celebrity look-alike”? How are babies being treated like commodities rather than a public good? What complex immunities and injustices will the new Conscience and Religious Freedom rule usher in? For example, under this rule, what happens to frozen embryos when the private hospital that stored them is taken over by a Catholic hospital?

As you know, CCF’s mission is to disseminate robust family research and best practice findings from diverse disciplines to a broad audience. This year we expanded our reach by including two non-academic speakers who founded community organizations that educate the public about family issues. Mo Cortez is an intersexed, trans, Latino man who co-founded the Houston Intersexed Society for this purpose. His personal stories about reproductive injustices and denied rights in the intersexed and transsexual communities hit home viscerally. Marsha Jones, co-founder and executive director of the Afiya Center, shared stories of black women who are not supported for fertility control, pregnancy termination, healthy pregnancy or healthy baby. Both speakers contributed such rich additions to the human rights and justice conversation that we will hopefully be adding more community educators to our rosters in the future.

Several features that make CCF conferences special were brought back by popular demand. Flash Sessions, which allow budding researchers to present their work in five minute summaries, were thought-provoking and left us wanting more. We were also left wanting more at our fabulous Media Workshop. Stephanie Coontz, CCF Director of Research and Public Education, gave us cutting edge tools for producing op-eds that stand out. Board member Philip Cohen, who founded the SocArXiv.org open archive for social sciences, and the popular FamilyInequality blog, brought us up to speed on social media and blogging do’s and don’ts. Board member and UMass economics professor, Lee Badgett, shared her insights from her latest book, The Public Professor.

The CCF Media Award went to noted ProPublica and NPR reporter, Nina Martin, for her outstanding reporting on abortion, pregnancy, and maternal health. Two 2017 pieces, Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth, (NPR audio here) and The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth are brilliant examples of her recent work.

Hat tips to all who made the 2018 CCF conference possible – our phenomenal organizers Josh Coleman and Adina Nack, CCF Executive Director Jennifer Glass, her above-and-beyond grad assistant Rachel Donnelly, and all of our UT co-sponsors. And special thanks to Pam Smock, for her generous donation that allowed CCF to fund an early career student scholar travel award. This year’s award went to Elizabeth Nalepa, of Case Western Reserve with honorable mention to Maurice Anywie, of Bowling Green State.

This report is a conference tasting menu. For more on this year’s content, go to this link. If you missed this year, another theme is already in the works for 2020. Manage your FOMO (fear of missing out), stay tuned and hope to see you next time!

Arielle Kuperberg outside her home in North Carolina

Hooray! Arielle Kuperberg is now to be the editor of CCF @ The Society Pages! Arielle has already populated many spaces in my life—mainly thanks to the interesting work she has done on cohabitation, hooking up, and most recently college debt.  She’s been sharing her good research at The Society Pages and via mainstream media and sharpening (and debunking where necessary) some issues people hold dear. I asked Arielle a few questions about her thoughts about forward-facing scholarship as she begins this new role.

VR: You are a busy person, as a scholar, teacher, program director, and parent. In that context, can you tell us about your commitment to public sociology?

AK: I have long had an interest in the types of messages presented in the media, and the degree to which they are inaccurate. I was a media studies major in college before I switched to sociology, and one of my first publications examined media rhetoric surrounding stay-at-home mothers, and how this rhetoric did not match up with reality. After I went to grad school and began to publish more articles, I started becoming frustrated when I would see inaccurate or misleading things in the media that I knew my research could speak to, or contradicted. I was also frustrated that after all the effort of publishing articles on topics I felt were very important, very few people would read my research unless they happened to be doing research on the same topic. I had published articles on  topics like the effectiveness of different policies in addressing poverty and gender/race-based pay inequality, and the role of poor labor market conditions in lowering marriage rates for the less educated, but what good did that work do if nobody ever heard of it?

When I was about to publish an article showing cohabitation does not cause divorce I felt this research was important enough that I should make a more concrete effort to get the word out, and that I was at a point in my career where I was ready to get more involved in public sociology. I got in touch with a mentor who recommended I get involved with the Council on Contemporary Families. CCF helped me put together a research brief about that project, and later another one about my research on college hookups, and both of those pieces were picked up by major outlets. I started writing some blog posts for the CCF blog and other blogs, and eventually started recruiting my friends into CCF and interviewing them for this blog, since they too have important research findings that more people should know about. Which is probably how I ended up in this position as the new editor.

I used to think of publication as the last stage in the “research pipeline” but I now think of public sociology as that last stage. For research to make an impact, other people need to hear about it. Academic research on the family has a lot to say about modern mythologies surrounding the family – but if nobody hears about it, it’s not going to be very useful. Pierre Bourdieu has been quoted as saying “My goal is to contribute to preventing people from being able to utter all kinds of nonsense about the social world” and I think that pretty well sums up my philosophy.

And yes I am extremely busy with all my different roles, but one of the reasons I went into academia is I enjoy the busyness and all the different roles you get to play – I’m never bored! I am also extremely lucky to have a partner who is a stay-at-home dad, and who supports my career by doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to childcare and housework.

VR: Your active support of others’ work really stands out to me. What is your approach to mentoring, collaboration, and supporting colleagues and earlier career scholars?

AK: I am only in the position I am because of the generous mentoring of other people. My first two publications were coauthored with my undergraduate mentor Pamela Stone, who taught me everything from how to read a research article and format a table, to how to respond to reviewers when you get a “revise and resubmit.” She also introduced me to several leading scholars in the field when we went to conferences. Since then I have had several very important mentors who have helped me refine my research skills, wrote letters for me to get into grad school and later to get jobs, guided me through grad school, introduced me to their professional connections, gave me advice when I was facing important career decisions, and helped keep me going when I was facing various professional crises. I feel an obligation to pass that help forward to my students and junior colleagues, so that other people can have the same opportunities I had.

But it’s more than an obligation. I find mentoring to be one of the most rewarding aspects of being an academic. I’ve spent many years of my life developing some very specific skills in research, and some more general “succeeding in academia” skills, many of them learned the hard way. What use is all that knowledge if I keep it to myself? Plus there is a special kind of pleasure you get from seeing someone you mentored going off and doing well for themselves in life.

VR: What are your favorite ways of consuming social media?

AK: I have long been a fan of blogs. Back in 2001 when I was an undergraduate (and for several years afterwards), I started and ran a LiveJournal “community” (group blog) for sociologists, which was one of the earliest sociology blogs as far as I can tell. I think there is just something to be said about the short essay format that allows you to go more in depth than a tweet, but is still digestible in 10 minutes of reading while I’m drinking my morning coffee. One type of blog I particularly enjoy is the more personal memoir type of blogs, and I follow several non-academic blogs, although not as many as I used to.

Apart from that, I love facebook. I have made a few major moves in my life, and facebook lets me keep in touch with friends from the various places I’ve lived, and the academics I meet at various conferences. I also coordinate with two of my long-distance collaborators over facebook chat. I got a twitter account last year but have not used it as much as I could. I like the way it makes it easier to keep up with current events, and since most of the people I follow are academics and writers I have a very interesting feed, but I spend much more time on facebook. I also have participated in many message boards over the years, and right now my favorite one is reddit.

Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg. Virginia Rutter is Professor of Sociology at Framingham State University. Follow her on twitter at @VirginiaRutter.

Picture by Pexels via pixabay

50 years ago a student was expelled from Barnard College for living with her boyfriend. In March 1968 an article published in The New York Times discussed a young unmarried couple that was living together but not married, sparking a national scandal and debate about morality. It was quickly discovered that the woman in question was Linda LeClair, who was later expelled from Barnard College over the matter; this incident was later dubbed “The LeClair Affair.”

In the years after The LeClair Affair, premarital cohabitation became trendy, and by the early 1970s every women’s magazine had published articles about celebrities living with unmarried partners. Rates of cohabitation skyrocketed; in the late 1960s less than 7% of first marriages among young women aged 18-35 began in premarital cohabitation. By the early 1980s over 40% of first marriages in this group were among couples that lived together beforehand, and rates rose to nearly 70% in the early 2010s*.

In the 1980s concern grew over this increase and debate raged over whether cohabitation was the reason for a recent increase in divorce. Some said it was the type of people who cohabited that had a higher divorce rate because of their lower levels of financial preparedness, lesser religiosity, and higher likelihood of having divorced parents, while others argued it was the act of living together itself that caused couples to later divorce. More recently, research (including mine) has found cohabitation is not associated with a higher risk of divorce once factors like the ages at which they form their unions are taken into account, and that this is true even if couples have a child prior to marriage.

But even though it doesn’t cause divorce, there is still a problem with premarital cohabitation: as cohabitation went from new trend to the new normal, it has also increasingly been undertaken by those who don’t have the financial means to marry directly. Gaps in education between premarital cohabitors and couples that marry directly have been growing steadily since the 1970s. In 2010-2015, nearly 50% of young women marrying their first husband without living together first had a college degree; this rate was only 34% among women marrying after living together first*.

This growing gap positions cohabitation as a new facet of family inequality. Young adults want to pay down debt and become financially stable before entering marriage; this is an increasingly elusive goal, especially for those who do not complete a degree, so they enter cohabitation instead of marriage while waiting for more financial stability. Those with less education also are more likely to rush into cohabitation to make ends meet, some before they are ready, or with a less-than-ideal partner that a longer courtship would have revealed.

Today’s Linda LeClair wouldn’t be living with her boyfriend because it is trendy, but because she is up to her eyeballs in student loan debt, driving an Uber to survive, and struggling to establish herself in a career that could bring some stability and health insurance. After decades of disinvestment in public higher education by state governments, a minimum wage that has not kept pace with inflation, and an increasing number of young adults working in the “gig economy” that offers no stability and few benefits, it’s no wonder that young adults today have the highest rates of premarital cohabitation in U.S. history – and also have the lowest rates of marriage and childbearing. More affordable public higher education and more stable job opportunities that pay a living wage for young adults at all levels of education would allow more to shape their relationships according to their desires, instead of out of financial necessity.

*Numbers based on author’s analysis of the 1988 National Survey of Families and Households (N=3594) and multiple waves of the National Survey of Family Growth (1995, 2002, 2006-2010, 2011-2015, N=9420), examining women who married between age 18 and 35.  

Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg

Virginia in Shaw, DC. credit: Dean Manis

Virginia Rutter was the founding editor of the Council on Contemporary Families Blog—CCF @ The Society Pages — which was launched in 2014. CCF@TSP is a venue for reporting on new research, policy reports, and current events. A particularly valuable feature of the blog has been the inclusion of undergraduate students, who have had the chance to engage with the substance of family sociology and the opportunity to address broader audiences. Virginia steps down in April, and I will be taking over. Here are some questions I had for Virginia before she leaves us:

AK:  What were some of your favorite blog posts that you edited in your tenure as editor of the Council on Contemporary Families blog?

VR: I’m still delighted with the title for Braxton Jones’s October 2016 post, As American as Divorce, which was a round-up of interviews done about research and commentary on divorce. But, Secular Listening at a Brainstorming and Prayer Meeting on 11/9/16 by Sarah Diefendorf, about the reaction by Evangelicals to the election of President Trump, was a wonderful, generous, quick turnaround piece of writing dealing with just a shocking, shocking day. I felt like Sarah had gone off to do the best kind of meditation for a sociologist to do on WTF had just happened the day before: She studied it. Respectfully, thoughtfully, effectively. And she told us a bit of what she heard, and so told us also about her own process in that strange time. The post went up two weeks after that 2016 election day. At that time it was hard to talk about the election, about people, about factions, and yet so hard not to do so. She did it, and it was a great post.

AK:  What is your advice for a blog writer who wants to write a successful blog post? What are some common missteps?

VR: The great thing about blogging is whenever you’ve said something you want to put out into the world, that’s success. But at CCF@TSP a few things work well: Make it short. Make one point. Don’t be cutesy or corny or cliché. You aren’t writing a scholarly paper, but you do have to support or substantiate what you have to say.

So, to make it short: Edit yourself, just take the time to streamline it sentence by sentence. To make one point, try reading your post backwards, paragraph by paragraph. You might see that you have more points than you need. You can always keep the multiple directions—there’s really no limit on space!—but make that decision consciously. Remember, that stray point could be the start of a separate post.

A few other rules: Try to make your title short, too. Provide the editor with open source artwork to go with your post, and embed good links to key references. Here or anywhere, know the website you are writing for; read other people’s posts there. That will teach you what to do and what not to do better than anything else.

AK:  What are you looking forward to doing with all your free time now that you will no longer be managing this blog?

VR: Yes, like other professors at underfunded state universities fighting for our contract, I am mostly, but for the occasional blogging, a lady of leisure. Just kidding. I have a project right now that focuses on connecting students from underrepresented groups to people just like them in professions they want to pursue. And at this very moment, I am completing a report about a family diversity and change teach-in we held last fall at Framingham State. It involved a digital photography installation, SHOWING (workxfamily), and about six weeks of campus events including about 65 classes that incorporated the exhibition into their subjects—from physics to English to (of course) sociology.

Virginia Rutter is Professor of Sociology at Framingham State University. Follow her on twitter at @virginiarutter. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg.

These days—perhaps as in every generation—relationships between grown children and their parents have changed. Parents and grown children expect to be friends. Many have that experience. But, remarkably, Joshua Coleman finds that perhaps thanks to this closeness there also are profound falling-outs. Coleman works with families where parents and adult children have been estranged and his book, When Parents Hurt, is a resource for those isolated parents who wonder “am I the only one?”

Coleman is a psychologist at San Francisco Bay and a past Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families.

LG: How common is parental estrangement? Do you see trends? So, for instance, is it more common? Or are there patterns–like does it happen in some groups more than others to the best of your understanding?  

JC: A recent meta-analysis on the topic by Lucy Blake notes that while the research on estrangement has grown significantly in the past five years, it is still new and sparse. Therefore, getting a clear assessment of whether estrangement has become more common is challenging.

Based on my clinical experience though, I believe that it is widespread and growing for the following reasons:

  • In the United States, today, and in some other developed Western nations, nothing binds grown children to their parents beyond whether or not the adult child wants that relationship. In the same way that marriages increasingly succeed or fail on the basis of how satisfying or meaningful the relationship, adult children may estrange themselves from a parent based on similar principles or ideals. However, while successful marriages require a somewhat equal level of investment between the partners, typically it’s more incumbent on the parent to be attuned to the needs of the adult child than the other way around.
  • According to a recent Culture of American Families Survey, today’s parents hope to be best friends with their children for life. While many are succeeding, others may suffer in part because of high parental expectations of meaning and closeness with their children since these feelings occur in tandem with a decrease in social supports and activities for the parents. As a result, some adult children today complain about feeling too needed by their parents, in contrast to earlier eras where parents had richer, more varied networks of support. This is likely why the issue of boundaries is a frequent topic that I hear from adult children (wanting more boundaries) and from their parents (wanting less). Estrangements are sometimes the result of parents and adult children being unable to negotiate those very different needs and perspectives
  • The use of therapeutic narratives (the language of psychology and self-help) as a way of making sense of life means that now, more than ever, young adults may blame “dysfunctional families” and poor parenting for the state of their lives rather than other contexts such as lack of decent paying jobs, health care, affordable colleges, etc.
  • The American culture of adversarial individualism, where identity and autonomy are developed in opposition to parental authority, may also increase the risk of estrangement. Family relationships succeed or fail primarily based on whether they are a platform for individuality, growth, and self-actualization. From this vantage point, estrangement can be experienced as an act of existential courage on the part of the adult child.
  • A rise in the power of children to set the terms of family life, both when children are in the home and out of it means that parental authority to compel contact over the life course has diminished. While it used to be the child’s job to earn the parent’s love and respect, today it’s the parent’s job to earn (and keep earning) that of the child’s
  • While divorce rates have stabilized, parental divorce at any age may increase the risk of estrangement for the following reasons:
    1. It may cause the child to view one of the parents as the cause of breaking up the family.
    2. It may cause one of the parents to overtly or covertly poison the relationship to the other parent.
    3. Remarriage and dating after divorce may bring in new people to the child’s life with whom they must compete for emotional or financial resources.
    4. In a highly individualistic culture like ours, it may cause the child to view the parents more as individuals with their own relative strengths and weaknesses rather than as a family unit to which they also belong.

LG: What are some of the biggest hurdles that estranged parents have to get over to live with–or change–the situation?

JC: There are several common obstacles to resolving conflict with an estranged adult child:

  • An inability on the part of the parent to see that the use of guilt or demands for a return on parental investment in the form of time or attention will backfire. Most adult children raised in the past 3 decades or so are likely to have been socialized with the belief that relationships, including those with parents, should be a platform for personal growth and the maintenance of happiness. From that perspective, the organizing principle is based more on those themes rather than historically earlier ones around obligation, respect, and duty.
  • It’s important for parents to be able to take responsibility and empathize with the adult child’s perspective, even if it’s at odds with their own.
  • Marriage of the adult child is also a common source of estrangement when the parent or parents don’t get along with the new spouse of their adult child.

In general, most reconciliations require the parent to take the initiative. However, there are many reasons why an adult child might not be willing, despite the parent’s efforts:

  • He/she may have been successfully poisoned against the parent by the other parent after divorce.
  • The adult child’s spouse may prevent the adult child from reconciling either because they feel too threatened by the adult child’s attachment to the parent or because of their dislike of them.
  • The adult child, or a parent, may have a subtle or overt form of mental illness which makes the relationship too challenging, despite the relative health of one or the other.
  • The adult child may know no other way to feel separate from the parent than to engage in estrangement. This sometimes occurs in homes where the child felt overly dependent on or enmeshed with the parent.
  • The adult child may feel too hurt or mistrustful of the parent as a result of the parent’s earlier problematic behavior.

The following are some common obstacles to reconciliation on the part of the parent:

  • The parent may not be psychologically able to express empathy for the adult child’s complaints because of their own emotional challenges. Thus, they may experience the adult child’s reasonable complaints as an unfair attack against them.
  • The parent may be unwilling to change in ways desired by the adult child- for example, to be willing to accept their sexuality, religion, career path, partner choice, parenting style; or their requests to criticize less or demand less.
  • The parent may not be able modify their demands for time and attention to be more in line with those of the adult child. Therefore, the adult child may eventually choose estrangement as a way to stop feeling chronically guilty or misunderstood.

LG: Is there such a thing as “recovery” from estrangement? I think it might take your whole book to describe, but can you tell us a little bit about what recovery might look like?

JC: In general, reconciliations are the most likely when parents can do the following:

  • Empathize with the adult child’s complaints and take responsibility for whatever mistakes were made
  • Avoid being defensive, qualifying, or explaining
  • Show commitment to working on the relationship
  • Accept the adult child’s terms for frequency and length of contact
  • Accept the ways that the adult child is different from the parent without shaming or criticizing them.

On the part of the adult child, reconciliation is more likely if they can:

  • Show compassion for the parent’s limitations as a person or parent
  • Acknowledge that expectations of parents and parenting have risen and therefore, what seems like ineffectual or problematic parenting today, may have constituted reasonable parenting during their childrearing years
  • Accept that the more attuned and psychological form of communication common today is relatively recent in parent-adult child relations and therefore learning this may take some time and practice on the part of the parent.

Joshua Coleman is a clinical psychologist, author, and media expert on individuals, couples, and families. Twitter: @drjcoleman. For more information about estrangement, visit www.drjoshuacoleman.com. 

Luilly DeJesus Gonzalez is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

Trevor Hoppe is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY-Albany, and recently published the book Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness. The book traces the rise and application of criminal laws used to prosecute people living with HIV in the United States, typically for failing to disclose their status to a sexual partner.  I recently interviewed him about his book.

AK: Besides HIV and related behavior that you focus on, have other sexual behaviors and diseases been criminalized in recent United States history, and are these laws disproportionately enforced among certain populations?

TH: The book traces the rise of HIV-specific criminal laws in the 1980s and 1990s, linking that shift towards criminalization to the broader war on crime and particularly the war on drugs. AIDS unfortunately coincided with a massive expansion of the carceral state through Ronald Reagan’s presidency and it was seized upon by evangelical conservatives as a harbinger of moral decline. That made for a unique and deeply punitive response to this epidemic that has no parallel in history or in the years that have followed. During World War II, many states did pass venereal disease statutes, mostly to target prostitutes who were viewed mistakenly as responsible for the spread of syphilis. However, those laws featured misdemeanor penalties and there’s no evidence I could find that that they were widely used.

Recently, states have been moving to expand their felony HIV-specific criminal laws to include other diseases, particularly Hepatitis C. To date, only a handful of states have done so and it’s not clear that they will be widely utilized by prosecutors, as that disease is spread primarily through the sharing of needles, and drug users are not especially likely to call the police to report a needle-sharing partner. By comparison, the sexual transmission aspect of HIV more readily lends itself to a criminal justice response, since the HIV-negative partner can more readily claim victimhood in a criminal courtroom.

AK: You found that lawyers and judges often had very little medical understanding of HIV and how it is transmitted, leading to legal arguments that were inaccurate, but compelling. Did these inaccuracies allow for anyone to appeal their convictions?

TH: As is the case in the criminal justice system more broadly, most defendants charged under these statutes plead guilty. Once you plead guilty, it’s difficult if not impossible to turn back and show cause for an appeal. Defendants take pleas to avoid the much harsher penalties that come with taking your case to trial. My analysis finds, for example, that male defendants at trial received an average prison sentence of 153 months versus an average of 77 months for male defendants who plead out. Further, there is no evidence that any defendant charged under a felony HIV-specific criminal law in the United States has ever been acquitted at trial. The only cases that do not result in conviction are the rare few that are dismissed, usually because the accuser does not show up to testify. In this context, appeals are few and far between and those that have proceeded are almost universally unsuccessful.

That said, there are many cases I encountered that would appear to a casual onlooker to be ripe for appeal—such as the case of a Michigan stripper convicted for giving a lap dance (the prosecutor claimed the prohibited sexual penetration involved the client’s nose). But in her case and countless others, defendants chose to plea.

AK: If someone does not know their HIV status at the time they expose somebody else, can they be prosecuted under these laws, and if not, do these laws then encourage avoiding HIV testing so that individuals can avoid legal issues? What would be a better policy that could more effectively encourage testing and disclosure of HIV to sexual partners?

TH: No. HIV-specific laws require that a person be aware of their HIV-status. Advocates often criticize these laws on the basis that they discourage HIV testing. I don’t think there’s good social science evidence to support that claim. Most people who are not currently living with HIV do not know that these laws exist. There are far stronger arguments for demanding legal reform. For example, these laws are extremely broad and can be used to prosecute harmless behaviors, such as spitting, biting, or in at least once case, even a lap dance. The crime is failing to disclose before any sexual contact, whether or not that contact posed a risk of transmission. To this point, less than 10 percent of cases involve an allegation that defendant transmitted the disease to their partner. This is a dangerous precedent. Should partners suffering from noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, be required to disclose? No. We can obviously recognize that policy intervention as ludicrous. The only reason we can’t say the same for HIV laws is that our vision is clouded with stigma and, too often, obfuscated by ignorance. It is terrible policy to send people to prison for years or even decades for nothing more than causing a sexual partner to experience irrational and, in most cases, unwarranted psychological duress. The best science we have today says that people living with HIV who are on treatment and have a suppressed viral load cannotcannot—transmit the disease. It’s time for most Americans to wake up and rethink everything they know about HIV. The disease has changed. The laws, unfortunately, have not.

Trevor Hoppe is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY Albany. He is the author of Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, published by University of California Press, and co-editor of The War on Sex, published by Duke University Press. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg

In preparation for the Council on Contemporary Families’ March 2 Annual Conference, Conceiving Families in the 21st Century, the Council asked speakers and CCF Senior Scholars to submit recent research related to the facts and dilemmas of the legal, medical, and social creation of families. The result: Unconventional Wisdom, vol. 7 (out today!) is a highly readable, non-technical survey with fifteen research updates, edited by Joshua Coleman and Stephanie Coontz. Psychologist Coleman and historian Coontz edited the first edition of Unconventional Wisdom in 2007. Eleven years later, the CCF’s new report concludes with a focused, annotated resource list of recent trends and useful facts related to reproductive health and policy.

Coleman, who with Adina Nack (California Lutheran University) is co-organizer of CCF’s upcoming conference, notes that, “Technology, medical advances, health policies, and social change have shaped the new frontier of reproductive health care. Those who receive and provide services face new possibilities and uncharted risks.” As Unconventional Wisdom highlights, the concepts and realities of sex, gender, sexuality, parenthood, and family in the U.S. reflect increasingly complex and inclusive definitions.

For example:

·      As reported by Mary Ann Mason (University of California-Berkeley), a 2013 international study determined that five million babies had been born from assisted reproductive technology. Hard figures, not to mention outcomes for surrogates and infants, are hard to track, with dire consequences for all, including the children who are created. Professor of Law Lisa C. Ikemoto, notes that global businesses evade restrictions enacted by governments to move ova, sperm and embryos, infertility specialists, egg donors and surrogate mothers across national boundaries.

·      Research shared by Caroline Sten Hartnett (University of South Carolina) shows that categories of “intended” versus “unintended” pregnancy don’t capture how women think of their births.

·      A less-considered way of making families includes those who are not having children: Amy Blackstone (University of Maine) advances information about how well those families are doing.

·      Not all can rely on families to advance for well-being. Rutgers (Camden) sociologist Joan Maya Mazelis’s brief highlights community organizations aimed at helping impoverished people with no family to help out.

·      What does college debt have to do with making families? Arielle Kuperberg (The University of North Carolina-Greensboro) reports on how debt influences how and when women (but not men) have children.

Background data to support fresh stories

This year, Unconventional Wisdom also features an annotated list of sources with research highlights from each study, produced by CCF intern Selena Walsh Smith (The Evergreen State College). Topics covered in this section include: studies that show how difficult life is for mothers and children when the pregnancy is experienced as unintended; the benefits of contraception; racial disparities in infertility and maternal mortality; how the U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate among 19 of the world’s richest countries; and other facts about the gains, losses, and gaps in reproductive and child health.

Below is the full table of contents for this easy-to-use report.

Reproductive Tourism: Opportunities and Cost….2

New Babies of Technology: Where is the Voice of the Child?…. 2

Banning Surrogacy Can Be Harmful to Women and Children…. 3

Women in Affairs: Cheating to Save the Marriage…. 3

10 Common Questions of Intended Parents through Egg or Sperm Donation…. 4

Adoption: Are Genes More Powerful Than Parents?…. 4

Women’s Experiences of Intended and Unintended Births…. 5

Reproductive Health Services in the U.S.: Too Much or too Little?…. 5

Where the Millennials Will Take Us: Gender Policies among Young Adults…. 6

LGBTQ Grief over Miscarriage and Failed Adoptions Increased by Discrimination…. 6

More People than ever are not having Babies and They’re Doing Just Fine…. 7

The Opposite of a Shotgun Wedding – Getting Pregnant and Moving Out…. 7

Not Everyone can Rely on their Families when they are Desperate, and for Poor People, it Matters…. 8

Student Loans are Changing our Families in Surprising Ways…. 8

If You’re Infertile, Why Use Condoms?…. 9

U.S. Reproductive Health and Policy Facts…. 10-14

Intended and Unintended Pregnancy – 10

Benefits of Contraception; Consequences of Unintended and Unwanted Births – 10

Infertility and Miscarriages – 11

                 Maternal Mortality – 12Infant and Child Mortality Rates -13

Gains, Losses, and Gaps in Reproductive and Child Health 13-14

The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) presents its Thirteenth Annual Media Awards at 5:30 pm on Friday, March 2nd at the DoubleTree Hotel, Austin, TX, at the CCF annual conference, “Conceiving American Families in the 21st Century: Reproductive Policies, Practices, and Technologies.”

The 2018 Award for Outstanding Media Coverage of Family Issues goes to Nina Martin for her body of work on abortion, pregnancy, and maternal health. Ms. Martin has a long history of reporting on these issues since beginning with ProPublica in 2013, including at least 45 articles, nearly half of which were published in 2016 and 2017. Her piece entitled “Nothing Protects Black Women from Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth” is a salient example of the outstanding quality of her work. This article expertly marries the personal and specific to the national and typical, drawing the reader into the story of one woman while drawing attention to the often-overlooked plight of the whole. Another high-impact piece, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth,” combines careful reporting on the staggering details of a vital issue – the U.S.’s  shockingly poor record of preventing maternal mortality – with the powerful details of a heartrending story that serve to make the abstract very concrete and real, and piercing.

About the CCF Media Awards: The CCF media awards were established in 2002 as part of the Council’s commitment to enhancing the public understanding of trends in American family life. “All too often, changes in U.S. family patterns are painted in stark, better-or-worse terms that ignore the nuanced and complex realities of family life today. The Awards Committee looks for articles that put individual family issues in larger social context. This kind of coverage offers the public a balanced picture of the trade-offs, strengths and weaknesses in many different family arrangements and structures,” explained Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s Director of Research and Public Education.

The CCF media awards committee will call for nominations for the 2020 awards in the fall of 2019. Please visit www.contemporaryfamilies.org for information. This year, I chaired the committee and worked with committee members Arielle Kuperberg, Allison Pugh, and Alicia Walker to select the recipient.

The CCF media awards honor outstanding journalism that contributes to the public understanding of contemporary family issues. Honorees are invited to speak for five minutes on emerging issues affecting American families and how CCF members and supporters can help the media cover these stories effectively.

The Council on Contemporary Families’ 19th Annual Conference: “Conceiving American Families in the 21st Century: Reproductive Policies, Practices, and Technologies,” convenes leading scholars and practitioners who are experts on US reproductive health topics and reproductive rights in a global contextThe conference will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Austin, TX, and is hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. Follow CCF at @CCF_Families to get live updates from the conference.

Christie Boxer, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Criminal Justice, at Adrian University, has been Chair of the CCF media awards committee since 2012. She first joined the committee in 2010.

Picture by katlove via pixabay

Underrepresented groups are often silenced, oppressed, ostracized, and neglected. Suppression can happen overtly–but it gets reproduced and extended even in sociological research. I don’t think this is happening on purpose. We don’t collect the data, so how can we learn more about them? When thinking about underrepresented groups, race is a big topic. A variety of races are underrepresented, yet we must also acknowledge different genders that are swept under the rug. To wit: there is a troubling lack of research about transgender individuals: Who are they? Where are they? What affects this community and their strategies towards living happy, healthy lives, safe from violence and cruelty?

To learn more, I interviewed Xavier Guadalupe-Diaz, an assistant professor of sociology at Framingham State University. His research focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV) within LGBTQ+ communities. He sheds light on the nature and extent of harmful effects IPV has on the transgender community and shares the resources that are provided:

TC:  What made you focus your research on intimate partner violence? Specifically, what made you focus on transgender intimate partner violence?

XGD:  After a few years of researching same-gender (lesbian, gay, bisexual) IPV as a graduate student, it became very clear to me that transgender experiences were almost completely absent from the available literature. It’s common to see the absence of transgender samples listed as a limitation or a call for future research – even in some of my own studies, I typically did not garner enough transgender respondents to make any claims about their IPV victimization. Given that gender is so central to how we understand and study IPV, the absence of the trans lived realities made some of the theories seem incomplete to me. I wanted to not only reach transgender samples but also to complicate the ways in which we think about gender and other identities as they relate to IPV.

TC: Even though transgender people have been part of society for quite some time, why do you think there is little research focused on transgender individuals and their involvement in IPV?

XGD:  Unfortunately, the reality is that our culture is predominately cisgenderist and transphobic in how we construct, do, and think about gender. Partly because we have made the explicit (and erroneous) assumption that links physical sex with gender identity, trans experiences are often erased. We assume that physical sex automatically denotes social identities and gender expressions (masculine, feminine). We know this is not an accurate reflection of how gender has always been experienced – gender is much more socially informed, individually performed, and meanings and categories have changed throughout time and space. Early IPV research was predominately focused on ciswomen and heteronormative perspectives. While they made many important critiques on how patriarchal culture fosters violence against women, they largely failed to incorporate a non-binary way of thinking through gender.

TC: What differences between cis-gender IPV and transgender IPV have you found? Has race played a part in these differences?

XGD: The transgender IPV literature is very scarce compared to the available knowledge on cisgender victimization; as a result, all of the differences are not entirely known. Some key differences focus on trans vulnerability to abuse in a cisgenderist culture, the tactics of abuse, and the high rates of self-reported victimization. Our broader cisgenderist culture makes IPV a more common reality for transgender people. A hostile society often make trans people more susceptible to abuse by intimate partners. This happens in a number of ways. abusers can manipulate trans identities in ways that don’t happen for cisgender people: undermining gender transition or making trans people feel undesirable, often citing the hostile world around them as reason for them to just put up with the abuse. Especially for transgender people who are early in transition, identity can be a major site of emotional and psychological exploitation. What’s worse is that many of our help-seeking avenues (i.e. shelters) are structured largely around a cisgender experience with rigidly gendered or gender-segregated spaces. Race, ethnicity, and other identities certainly intersect with gender-and they matter.

We don’t yet know the racial differences across transgender IPV, but some points of interest look at how race complicates structural access to resources and how some immigration statuses may prevent trans victims from getting the help they need and deserve. Just last year, a Latinx transgender woman was arrested by ICE in court while attempting to secure a restraining order against her abusive partner. While its only speculated, the abuser is believed to have made the call to officials. This is especially problematic because victims of IPV have protections regardless of citizenship status.

Bonus/Extra! TC: What are the resources provided for transgender individuals and have those resources recently grown?

XGD: FORGE is a national organization that provides services to trans and gender non-conforming and The Network/La Red also operates 24/7 hotlines (617-742-4911 (voice) • 617-227-4911 (TTY) • 800-832-1901 (Toll-Free) and also provide connections to services for LGBTQ survivors. Similarly, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) also operates a hotline (212) 714-1141 in addition to resources, information, research, and more for the LGBTQ community. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a page dedicated to listing the rights transgender victims of IPV have when accessing legal and social services help. https://transequality.org/know-your-rights/survivors-violence

So, here we are. We are fully aware this community exists and they have real problems like all real people do. As Dr. Guadalupe-Diaz stated, transgender experiences are absent from most of the literature and dismissed from conversations. This has left us unfamiliar with people who we see in our everyday lives. With the lack of discussion, this has wiped out the experiences of an entire part of our society. These are our co-workers, our peers, our educators, and so many more established people within each and every community. It is time to shift the focus from cisgender individuals and realize we must also include this population in our research, in our community, and in our lives. If IPV does not discriminate, our research and resources should not either.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.