How does growing economic inequality affect traditional patterns of gender inequality?

It used to be that the most economically successful women earned no more than the typical man, even when they had more education and held more highly skilled jobs. In 1970, the average woman in the top of the women’s distribution (between the 85th and 95th percentiles) made less than the average man who fell in the middle of the men’s distribution (between the 45th and 55th percentiles). The average female college graduate also earned less than the average male high school graduate.

But gender is no longer so predictive of earnings. Being at the top now outweighs being a woman. In 2010, high earning women made more than 1.5 times as much as the typical man. more...

Via wikimedia commons, credit Bunyanchad.
Via wikimedia commons, credit Bunyanchad.

In the 1950s, dating etiquette decreed that the man had to initiate all interactions. Although much has changed since then, many women continue to believe they will end up with a higher quality man if they don’t appear too eager. You might think the tech savvy women who turn to the internet to search for partners would be less inhibited, but in a recent study using 6 months of online dating data from a midsized Southwestern city (N=8,259 men, 6,274 women), my coauthors and I found that women send 4 times fewer messages than men.  

But the payoffs for violating older gender conventions are significant. A woman who initiates a contact is twice as likely to get a favorable response from a potential partner as a man who does so. And women who take the initiative connect with equally desirable partners as women who wait to be asked, without having to wade through a pile of less desirable suitors.

University of Texas sociologist Shannon Cavanagh studies online dating and analyzes hundreds of thousands of messages between partners.

What do you plan to give your valentine this February 14th – a bouquet of flowers, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a candlelit dinner? If celebration plans include any type of sexual activities, then perhaps it is worth considering how to avoid giving or receiving one of the most-unwanted gifts: a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The reality is that several STDs have reached epidemic proportions here in the U.S. and have become pandemics throughout the rest of the world. Therefore, a day that celebrates love, romance, and sexuality is a good reason to focus on sexual health. While researchers have discovered a lot of useful information about STDs, many people continue to come up with reasons to avoid learning the truth about these socially taboo infections. So, whether or not sex is part of your plans for this Valentine’s Day, consider these myths and facts about STDs: more...

On average, white women earn 81 percent of what white men make. At first glance it may appear that there is more gender equality among minority men and women than among whites. Hispanic or Latina women make 88 percent of what Latinos do and African American women make 90 percent of what their male counterparts make.

But when we add race to gender, these pay gaps become a veritable chasm. African American women earn 36 percent less than white men and Latinas a mere 45 percent. Interestingly, the gap between the earnings of Asian women and white men is smaller, just 12 percent, but that mounts up over a lifetime, and Asian American women earn just 73 percent of what Asian American men make. more...

via Flickr Commons, credit Talk Radio News Service
via Flickr Commons, credit Talk Radio News Service

President Obama recently announced that all federal employees would have access to six weeks of paid leave to care for a new child. He also emphasized the importance of access to affordable childcare in last week’s State of the Union address. Policy initiatives in these areas are an important first step toward bringing the United States up to speed with other nations. Indeed, the United States remains the only country in the industrialized world that does not legislate any form or length of paid family leave, childcare costs remain high, and, for most workers, career success remains contingent on particularly long and/or inflexible work hours.

Many scholars have argued that this current state of affairs is, in large part, responsible for the stalled progress toward gender equity we’ve seen since the late twentieth century: despite their dramatic rise in employment, women still comprise only a small fraction of elite business and government leaders, and they still do the lion’s share of housework and caregiving. This may not be surprising, given that men and women lack access to supportive work-family policies that could otherwise ease the disjuncture between the demands of modern employment—which are currently premised on a worker who is continuously available and who bears few obligations outside of work—and the often intense demands of raising children. Indeed, many women who “opt out” of full-time careers report doing so not because it was their ideal preference, but because the inflexibility of their workplace or the high costs of childcare left them with few options.

However, identifying the extent to which supportive work-family policies may exert a direct effect on individuals’ preferences and choices about how they organize their work and family life has been challenging. Whereas some individuals may make decisions in response to a constrained set of options, others’ decisions may be based on deeply held, and possibly internalized, beliefs and expectations about gender—beliefs which still tend to prescribe men greater responsibility for earning and women greater responsibility for caregiving. Methodologically, disentangling these two possibilities is difficult.

In a new study (pdf),which will appear in the February issue of American Sociological Review, we use a novel technique to shed light on this puzzle. We conducted a survey experiment with a nationally representative sample of unmarried American men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 who do not have children. Each respondent expressed how he or she would ideally prefer to divide work and domestic responsibilities with a future partner. We also varied two aspects of the survey for some subgroups of respondents. Some participants were told to state how they would ideally organize their future work and family responsibilities, assuming that supportive work-family policies—specifically, paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and flexible workplace practices—were in place. For others, we made no mention of such policies, and also removed an egalitarian relationship as an option from the set of choices listed on the survey.

Our results underscore the notion that the current workplace climate fuels the persistently gendered division of labor in employment and in the family. When respondents were simply asked to state what kind of relationship they preferred, the majority of men and women, regardless of their education level, opted to share earning and household/caregiving responsibilities equally with their partner.

Their study found people's "personal" choices varied depending upon workplace policies. (photo Chris Martin via Flickr Commons)
Their ASR study found people’s “personal choices” varied depending upon workplace policies. (photo Chris Martin via Flickr Commons)

Moreover, if told to assume that supportive work-family policies were in place, women were even more likely to prefer an egalitarian relationship and much less likely to want to be primarily responsible for housework or caregiving. This finding shows that supportive work-family policies directly affect the way that young women would prefer to structure their work and family life.

And finally, when participants were not able to select an egalitarian option—a situation that simulates reality for many families in today’s policy environment—they largely favored more traditionally gendered preferences. For example, when respondents could not select an egalitarian relationship – because we had removed it from the survey response options – men gravitated toward a relationship in which they would be primarily responsible for earning, whereas their spouse would be primarily responsible for housework and caregiving.

These findings suggest that, if we were to change the workplace policy environment, we would likely see changes in how people decide to balance work and family life, with fewer women “opting out” and more men taking on a greater share of caregiving responsibilities. At the same time, our results imply that supportive work-family policies are a key mechanism that can promote gender diversity in work organizations—a message that should be of interest to business leaders who now know that such diversity is critically linked to their bottom line.

To be sure, implementing supportive work-family policies that work are an economic and political challenge, and gender inequalities persist even in countries where supportive policies are widespread. But, our findings suggest that these policies do have the power to foster more gender-egalitarian preferences and attitudes, with broad implications for gender inequality in the workplace and the home. In short, such policies may empower people to live the kind of life they would ideally like to live, an ideal that is now more gender-egalitarian than in previous generations, and that is premised on more women “leaning in” at work and more men “leaning in” at home.

Sarah Thébaud is an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. David S. Pedulla is an assistant professor of  Sociology at University of Texas at Austin.

from Wikimedia Commons
from Wikimedia Commons

A briefing paper released by the Council on Contemporary Families today analyzes recent data on parenting practices compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sandra Hofferth, Professor, Family Science, at University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, notes that although the Census Report found some differences by family type, most American parents — married, divorced, or single — read to their children, monitor their children’s media youth, and engage their children in extra-curricular activities.

Overall, reports Hofferth, more than 90 percent of American children were read to during the week. Married parents reported reading to children aged 3-5 an average of 6.8 times a week, compared to 6 times a week for single parents of children the same age. “About half of all 6-17 year olds ate breakfast with their family at least 5 days per week. Nine out of 10 parents of children under 12 had rules about television viewing. And one-fifth to two-fifths of all children participated in sports as an extracurricular activity.”

In general, differences between family types were significant but small. Almost 13 percent of 6-11 year-old children of married parents were enrolled in gifted classes, compared with almost 11 percent of children living with a single parent. Slightly more teenaged children living with a single parent ate dinner with a parent at least 5 days a week than did children living with two married parents. However, only 34 percent of teenagers in single-parent homes, vs. 44 percent of teens from married couple families, participated in sports activities. Children of cohabiting couples had the lowest rates of shared family dinners and extracurricular activities.

Hofferth explains that many of these differences are more closely related to income than to family structure. 42.5 percent of teenagers in families with incomes 200 percent or more of the poverty level participated in sports, compared to only 22.5 percent of teens in poor families. This is a difference of 20 percentage points, compared to only a 10-point difference by family structure.

Such income differences are especially worrisome, Hofferth writes, because more than one-fifth of children of all ages, and more than a quarter of children under age six, live in families with incomes below the poverty line. Another recent report finds that more than half of students in U.S. public schools now come from low-income families.

The negative impact of poverty on parents’ involvement in extracurricular activities may be especially strong in the United States, which has higher levels of extreme poverty than other developed nations, suggests Virginia Rutter, a sociologist at Framingham State University and a Senior Scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families. A recent study of the United Kingdom found that poor parents were equally engaged with their children as middle class parents, despite fewer material resources. The lower level of support systems for low-income families with children in the U.S. may help account for such differences, notes Rutter.

Read Hofferth’s complete commentary here at CCF@ The Society Pages.

The Census Bureau recently released new data, “A Child’s Day: Living Arrangements, Nativity, and Family Transitions: 2011 (Selected Indicators of Child Well-Being),” that explores how widespread are selected parental practices that affect child well-being and how such practices vary by family types. Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland offers a summary of the main findings and commentary on their implications.

Parenting practices matter. Children’s long-term emotional and cognitive health is greatly affected by the daily rituals and rules of family life. Especially beneficial are the following parenting practices: reading to children; eating breakfast or dinner together as a family at least 5 out of 7 days in a week; having clear rules regarding television viewing; and facilitating children’s participation in extracurricular activities. A recent census report studies the prevalence of such parental involvement across different family types, comparing children under 18 living with two parents, a single parent, or a guardian.

Although most children – 63 percent – live with two married parents, 37 percent do not. Five percent live with two unmarried parents, 27.5 percent with a single parent, and 4.5 percent live with a guardian, according to this report. It is worth noting, moreover, that despite the preponderance of children living with two married parents at any one time, more than half of American children will spend some part of their childhood living in a household that does not include two biological parents who are married to each other. [i]

American parents are doing well on most of the parenting indicators covered in this report. Overall, fewer than 10 percent of children under age 6 were never read to last week. About half of 6-17 year olds ate breakfast with their family at least 5 days per week. Nine out of 10 parents of children under 12 had rules about television viewing. And one-fifth to two-fifths of all children participated in sports as an extracurricular activity.

Reading to (and talking with) children is an important way to make sure that children’s verbal skills develop appropriately and that they are ready for school. Focusing on the years immediately prior to school entry, the report shows that 54 percent of 3-5 year-old children living with married parents and a full half of 3-5 year-old children living with two unmarried parents were read to 7 days per week. Among children living with a single parent, that figure fell to 41 percent. But single parents reported reading to children aged 3-5 an average of 6 times a week, not dramatically less than the 6.8 times reported by married parents. (Another study has found that single mothers spend nearly an hour more time per day on solo child care than married mothers, despite working more hours outside the home. But that typically still does not produce enough total time to make up for the absence of a second care-giver or story-reader.[ii])

Pediatricians consistently recommend that parents monitor their children’s television viewing, including types of programs, hours watched, and total viewing time. Of children aged 6-11 living with two married parents, 93 percent have at least one such rule and 76 percent have all three types of rules, compared with 90 percent and 70 percent respectively of children living with a single parent.

Being placed in an advanced class in elementary school can enhance a child’s success in high school. Almost 13 percent of 6-11 year old children of married parents were enrolled in gifted classes, compared with 10.5 percent of children living with a single parent. Again the differences, though significant, are small.

Eating meals together allows kids and parents to talk about big issues and mundane things, like what the kids are working on in school. Phtoo by Katia Strieck via Flickr CC.
Eating meals together has nutritional benefits and gives kids space to share the events of their days with caring adults. Phtoo by Katia Strieck via Flickr CC.

Being held back in school can be a big disadvantage. Almost twice as many children living with one parent had ever repeated a grade as children living with two married parents. But the overall risk of this was low, with just 5.3 percent of 6-11 year-old children in a single-parent family ever repeating a grade, compared with 2.7 percent of children living with married parents.

Having routine mealtimes with the family has nutritional benefits and provides children an opportunity to share the events of the day with caring adults. Here we see little difference by family type, but a small advantage for children of single parents. Eating breakfast together with children aged 6-17 was a widespread practice that varied little by family structure. Eating dinner together was common at an early age but became less common among older children. A slightly higher proportion (35 percent) of 12-17 year old children living with a single parent reported eating dinner with a parent at least 5 days a week than children living with two married parents (32 percent).

This seeming advantage for children of single parent families may be a result of lower participation in the extracurricular activities that have been shown to contribute to better grades in high school and increased college enrollment. There is a trade-off between family dinner times and children’s extracurricular activities, which often extend into the family dinner hour, leading families to eat dinner in shifts. Teenage children of married parents are more likely than children of single parents to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, lessons and clubs. For example, 44 percent of teenage children of married parents vs. 34 percent of teenage children of single parents participate in sports.

Children of cohabiting parents are more likely to be disadvantaged in both extracurricular activities and family dinners. Children living in two unmarried parent families had lower levels of participation in extracurricular activities (only 32 percent participated in sports, for example) and the lowest percentage of all groups who ate dinner with a parent. Just a quarter of these children (26 percent) ate family dinners 5 times a week or more. This is likely linked to the characteristics of unmarried cohabiting parents, who tend to be younger and less educated than single mothers.[iii] As a result, they are likely to be in occupations with less control over their work schedules.[iv]

The proportions of children eligible for free and reduced cost school lunch are one indicator of children living in poverty. Photo by DC Central Kitchen via Flickr CC.
The proportions of children eligible for free and reduced cost school lunch are one indicator of children living in poverty. Photo by DC Central Kitchen via Flickr CC.

Poverty is our most striking problem. What is most striking about this report is the high proportion of American children who are financially disadvantaged. Overall, more than one-fifth (22 percent) of children of all ages, and more than a quarter (26 percent) of children under age six, lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. Not surprisingly, children living with single parents are the most likely to be living in poverty. Almost 41 percent of such children are poor. Yet two parents do not guarantee economic security: An astounding 37.3 percent of children of two parents who live together but are not married to each other are in poverty, and almost 30 percent of children living with a guardian are poor. The poverty rate of children in married-couple families is much lower – 14 percent – but in terms of absolute numbers there are more married than unmarried parents living below the poverty line.

It should be noted that the poverty rate for children in the U.S. is the highest in the developed nations. In 2000, child poverty rates in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden averaged 3 to 4 percent, Western European nations averaged 9 percent, and the UK averaged 15 percent. The U.S. had the highest child poverty rates, with 22 percent of children living in poverty.[v] This is not because of a higher proportion of children living with single parents in the U.S. but because the combination of tax and transfer policies do not lift low income earners and their families out of poverty as much as do other countries.

It is also important not to assume that getting single parents to marry would make these high poverty rates disappear. In many cases, parents do not marry because they are poor, rather than becoming poor because they are not married.[vi]

Given such large financial differences, it does not seem fair to compare the fraction of these different family types who engage in positive activities with children without adjusting for differences in their financial well-being. In earlier work, I have shown that many differences in outcomes between children in different family types disappear when the economic and demographic characteristics of the fathers and mothers (such as young age or low income) are taken into account.[vii]

Low-income kids are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Photo by Edward N. Johnson/U.S. Army.
Low-income kids are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Photo by Edward N. Johnson/U.S. Army.

The census report makes a major contribution by documenting differences in children’s involvement in extracurricular activities by the income of the household. Within each specified activity and across all family types, children whose family poverty sta­tus was 200 percent of poverty or higher had greater activity partici­pation levels than children living below poverty or those whose pov­erty status was 100 to 199 percent of poverty. For example, the extracurricular participation in sports of children in families at 200 percent or more of the poverty level is 42.5 percent, while the participation of those in poverty is 22.5 percent, a difference of 20 percentage points. The difference between children of two married parents and children with a single parent was only 10 percentage points (44 percent vs. 34 percent). Although having another parent in the household is important, having the resources to participate may be even more important.

In spite of living in what are difficult economic circumstances, the differences in these parenting behaviors between single parents, cohabiting unmarried parents, and married parents are comparatively small. If anything, the report documents the serious attention to parenting made by parents who are caring for children in difficult circumstances and highlights the importance of continuing to focus on improving economic and employment opportunities for parents and for guardians of young children. This is an especially urgent challenge for policy-makers today, because a report issued just this month shows that for the first time, a majority of public school children come from low-income families.[viii]

[i] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/report/2015/01/12/104149/valuing-all-our-families/;

Laura Tach & Kathryn Edin (2013). The Compositional and Institutional Sources of Union Dissolution for Married

and Unmarried Parents in the United States, Demography 50, 1789-1818..

[ii] Ariel Kalil, Rebecca Ryan, and Eise Chor (2014). “Time Investments in Children Across Family Structures,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 654 (1) (2014): 150–168.

[iii] Hofferth, Sandra L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection. Demography 43(1), 53-77

[iv] Toby Parcel & Charles Mueller (1983). Occupational differentiation, prestige, and socioeconomic status. Work and Occupations 1:49-80.

[v] Smeeding, Timothy (2008). Poorer by Comparison: Poverty, work and public policy in comparative perspective. https://web.stanford.edu/group/scspi/_media/pdf/pathways/winter_2008/Smeeding.pdf.

[vi] understanding low- income unmarried couples with children

https://contemporaryfamilies.org/…/2008_Briefing_England_Unmarried- couples-with-children.pdf

[vii] Hofferth, Sandra L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection. Demography 43(1), 53-77.

[viii] http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now.

Sandra Hofferth is a professor of family science and director of the maternal and child health program at the University of Maryland.

Photo Torbakhopper HE DEAD via flickr CC
Photo Torba K. Hopper via flickr CC

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

Today, a male manager who selected only young, beautiful women employees would be seen as a Neanderthal. But in the personal sphere, when a 50 year-old single man dates only much younger women, and chooses one to marry, few of his friends question his sense of entitlement to a younger woman.

Unlike “the feminine mystique,” which Friedan described as a set of internalized stereotypes that led women to make “mistaken” choices in their personal lives, the youth mystique comes largely from the choices of men, and few Americans fault them for exercising their preferences. Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock and I examined marriage licenses taken out between 1970 and 1988. We found that the older a man is when he marries, the more likely he is to choose a woman much younger than himself.

Men under 30 typically marry women less than 2 years their junior. But men who marry in their 30s tend to marry women 4 years younger. Men in men their 40s typically choose a bride who is 6 years younger, and men over 60 marry women who are on average 8 years younger. It appears that the older men are when choosing a partner, the less attractive women their own age look compared to a youthful ideal, and the more they want a wife younger than themselves.

This makes it difficult for older women to find mates. Largely as a result of this pattern, we calculated that the number of single men available for every 100 single women goes down by age: 85 for 36 to 45, 70 for those 46-55, and less than 60 for those 56 to 65 years of age. No wonder women feel a need to spend so much energy trying to make themselves look younger!

Despite the media hype about “cougars” – older women stalking younger men — we found no parallel pattern for women. They marry partners within a few years of their age no matter how old they are when they marry.

Just as today we question ageism in employment decisions, maybe we should question youth-biased standards in our private lives—especially when only men are seen as entitled to a younger partner. In the long run, moreover, men as well as women may be ill-served by the youth mystique.

This is because the youth mystique also affects divorce, only it does so in a more gender neutral way. In research I am currently doing with sociologists Paul Allison and Liana Sayer, we use a national survey that asked ex-spouses which one wanted the breakup more. Men were most likely to initiate a divorce when their wives were at least three years their senior. But the same held for women—they too were most likely to leave a partner more then three years older than themselves. In fact, for both men and women, the more their spouse’s age exceeded theirs, the likelier they were to initiate a divorce.

The younger partner tends to leave the older, regardless of gender. So just as Friedan argued for women about the feminine mystique, the youth mystique may be leading men to make mistaken choices that will leave them less happy in the long run.

Paula England is in the sociology department at New York University and is the president of the American Sociological Association.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This was originally posted at rhrealitycheck.org.

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

Introduction.

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

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

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

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