Fifty years ago, the United States adopted the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, and gender. Women were a last-minute addition to the bill, and some legislators actually hoped that adding women would mobilize enough opposition to kill the entire act. But the court cases and public demonstrations that the Civil Rights Act enabled women to organize dramatically changed their status in the United States. We can assess the tremendous progress that has been made by comparing current figures to those collected the year before the passage of the act and published in the 1963 report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Leadership and occupations. In the 87th Congress, elected in 1960, women’s place was not in the House—or the Senate—but in the home. There were only two female senators and 17 female representatives, which meant that women constituted only two percent of the Senate and less than four percent of the House. Today, in the 113th Congress, women hold almost 20 percent of the total positions, including 20 seats in the Senate and 78 in the House of Representatives. This represents a tenfold increase in the Senate and a nearly fivefold increase in the House. And while we have not yet had a female president, attitudes have improved significantly: in 1963, a Gallup poll found that only 55 percent of Americans would vote for a woman for president. By 2011, that number had jumped to 95 percent.

In 1963, less than three percent of all attorneys were women, and out of 422 federal judges in the country, just three (0.7 percent) were women (Coontz 2011: 14). By 2010, women held almost a quarter of all federal judgeships and more than a quarter of state judgeships.

The law itself was grossly unfair to women 50 years ago. Sexual harassment was not forbidden anywhere. In only eight states did a female homemaker have any claim on the income earned by her husband (Mead & Kaplan 1965: 152). It was also perfectly legal for a man to force his wife to have sex against her will. According to the 1962 United States Model Penal Code, “A man who has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife is guilty of rape if . . . he compels her to submit by force or threat of force or threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain, or kidnapping.” Before the Civil Rights Act it was also legal to exclude women from many occupations, pay them less for doing the same work as men, and give men raises and promotions that were denied to equally qualified women. In the 1960s the Harvard Business Review was forced to cancel a report on female managers because “In the case of women the barriers are so great that there is scarcely anything to study” (Collins 2009: 22). Today, women occupy the majority (51.5 percent) of managerial, professional, and related positions. In 1963, not a single woman had served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Today, women run 23 of the Fortune 500 (4.6 percent) and almost 20 percent of Financial Post 500 Senior/Corporate officers are women.

In 1960, women constituted less than one percent of all engineers in the country. Only six percent of physicians were women (Collins 2009: 20). By 2007, women held 27 percent of science and engineering jobs, and by 2012, more than a third of physicians and surgeons were women. more...

By Georgiana Bostean and Leah Ruppanner

We face a care crisis in the United States—the older adult population is growing rapidly, yet systems to provide care for them are inadequate, relying largely on informal, unpaid care. The U.S. population ages 65 and over is projected to double in the next 25 years, creating unprecedented need for caregivers as the largest cohort ever, the baby boomers, enters old age. If you live in the United States and have aging parents, chances are good you will be tasked with caring for them in their later years, especially if you are a woman or member of a racial/ethnic minority group. Who steps in to be a caregiver, and the implications of caregiving, are important social, political, and ethical questions. How will we meet the care needs of older adults? And what are the costs of caregiving to the family members with aging relatives?

Taking care of aging relatives has its rewards and its challenges. It can provide a sense of meaning and improve social relationships. But it can also be stressful and have health-harming effects, impairing immune function and accelerating immune system aging. And it turns out that the benefits and harms to caregivers depend partly on the social context in which the caregiving takes place.

To help figure out how caregivers are affected in different social contexts, we studied 22 European countries to assess whether those in countries with greater societal pressure for informal family caregiving – in the form of strong social norms for familial care or limited public transfers for old age programs – have lower well-being than caregivers in countries with weaker familial care norms and more old age public transfers. We found that strong norms in favor of caregiving at home — and less government support for elder care — are associated with increased harms for female caregivers.

Sociologists often point out how macro-level forces (such as social norms) affect individual outcomes. Our recent research, just published in European Sociological Review, sought to understand how two features of different countries — social norms surrounding caregiving, and public funding for old age programs — are associated with individual caregivers’ well-being.

In the United States, how to provide care for aging family members is largely an individual decision, but social norms and public policies exert powerful influence on individuals’ ideals and ability to act on and carry out those ideals. Caregiving work has historically fallen to women and minorities, reflecting a system of “coerced care,” as Evelyn Nakano-Glenn calls it. Caregivers are not literally forced into their family roles. Rather, certain population groups experience social pressure through norms, and lack of institutional support.

Research suggests that when people are expected to do something based on their social status, but they do not have the resources to fulfill those expectations, they experience health-harming role strain. Caregiving, therefore, may be most deleterious to health when individuals are expectedto provide care, but lack the resources to do so effectively. In such contexts, when alternate options are unavailable, women particularly may step into caregiving roles and suffer health consequences as a result. Many studies find that caregiving affects women more than men; for example, caregiving daughters report greater depression while caregiving sons do not. Thus, coerced care can harm caregivers’ well-being, particularly for women.

In our study of 22 countries, we found substantial variation in people’s attitudes about whether care for aging parents should be provided by adult children in-home. Support for familial care ranged from 4% in Sweden and the Netherlands, to 59% in Poland, and 74% in Turkey.

familial care norms.xlsx

So, do country differences in familial care norms impact individual well-being?

Our results surprised us. We expected that caregivers in countries with strong familial care norms (i.e., where caregiving for aging parents is expected to be provided in their children’s home) would report worse well-being than those in countries with weaker familial care norms — because they were pressured into the caring role. We found, however, that only female caregivers’ well-being was worse in those countries. Female caregivers also have lower well-being in countries with fewer public transfers to support care for the aging. So, women in countries where there are strong social norms for familial in-home care – and where market or government subsidies for old age care are not readily available – may be more severely disadvantaged by caregiving responsibilities. This is consistent with research showing that female caregivers are more likely to be stressed, depressed, drop out of the labor force, and be sandwiched (caring for both a child and older adult).

That female caregivers in ostensibly coercive contexts report worse well-being may reflect role strain, related to lack of financial, socio-emotional, and other resources. Consider what it takes to provide care for an older adult, especially long-term. In the United States, taking time off from work to provide care for a family member is difficult, even a financial hardship for many. There is no federal paid family leave policy, and only about half of workers are eligible to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (meaning they may take up to 12 weeks off, mostly unpaid, without losing their job); thus, the economic implications of caregiving for a family member—be it a newborn, disabled person, or aging adult—can be disastrous for many families.

With over 65 million informal family caregivers in 31% of U.S. households, the current system is unsustainable. As the burden of care and the number of caregivers increase, so too will the social, economic, and health costs of caregiving. Middle-age adults who are beginning to experience their own health issues face compounding health effects of caregiving, leading to health risks earlier in life. This will inevitably strain the health care system as the number of caregivers grows.

What can we do to mitigate this bleak situation? First, we need a wide-ranging discussion about the vast challenges of informal caregiving in the current system, and how to promote equitable sharing of caregiving work in society. Second, we must address policy deficiencies, including the current piecemeal state-based approach that leaves many caregivers exposed. Potential starting points include broad policies to support caregivers through increased paid home care and community-care services. Recent innovative programs – like the one introduced for Pennsylvania, and federal respite care provisions – are first steps. Comprehensive federal policy changes that extend current family leave policies would also support caregivers, including paid and longer leave, and broader definitions of “family,” which would expand the range of people eligible and able to provide care.

Caregivers provide a valuable service to their loved ones and to society. Providing support for them is as pressing a social problem as providing care for the boomers heading toward old age. As older adults account for a larger share of the U.S. population, shifting demographics create unprecedented challenges for individuals and policy-makers alike. There is no better time to begin planning for this immediate future.

October 12 marks the fourth anniversary of when the United States became a “no-fault nation.” On that date in 2010, New York, the last holdout, finally joined the 49 other states in eliminating the need for divorcing couples to state that the dissolution of their marriage was the “fault” of one or the other. Today, every state offers the possibility of a no-fault divorce. Three years later, the co-chair of The Coalition for Divorce Reform claims that “no-fault divorce has been a disaster,” leading to record numbers of divorces and plummeting rates of
marriage. Sociologist Philip Cohen confirms that New York had a big spike in divorce in 2010, from 2.6 to 2.9, as measured by the crude divorce rate. But many researchers have found that although every state that adopted no-fault divorce saw a burst of pent-up divorces in the first few years after passage, divorce rates leveled off thereafter and have actually fallen since no-fault became the norm. more...

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families’ Online Symposium “New Inequalities.”.

Contrary to popular opinion, growing instability in American families, reflected not just in divorce rates but falling rates of marriage and high rates of unwed motherhood, is not caused by people abandoning traditional concerns for children’s well-being. It is a class issue caused by the growing gap between the job options, resources, economic stability, and personal safety nets available to college-educated Americans and less-educated workers. The authors explain.
–Stephanie Coontz

For the past two decades, countless media reports have claimed that we face a crisis in Americans’ commitment to their children, as falling rates of marriage, high divorce rates, and soaring numbers of non-marital births have affected millions of children. Contrary to popular opinion, this crisis is not caused by people abandoning traditional concerns for children’s well-being. It is a class crisis caused by the growing gap between the job options, resources, economic stability, and personal safety nets available to college-educated Americans and less-educated workers. more...

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families’ Online Symposium “New Inequalities.”.

In contrast to the seeming stabilization of divorce rates for the general population over the past two decades, the gray divorce rate has doubled: Married individuals aged 50 and older, including the college-educated, are twice as likely to experience a divorce today as they were in 1990. For married individuals aged 65 and older, the risk of divorce has more than doubled since 1990. Researchers explain why.
–Stephanie Coontz

Contrary to the popular notion that divorce is increasing in the United States, the divorce rate has changed relatively little in recent decades. Marriages are not much more likely to end through divorce these days than they were 30 years ago. Yet this overall pattern of stability obscures important variations by class and age.

Generally, education tends to be protective against divorce. In fact, the marriages of college-educated couples seem to be lasting longer than they were 30 years ago. Among couples aged 40-49, the divorce rate for those with a college degree is about 50 percent lower than the rate for those with a high school diploma. This differential holds for younger adults ages 25-39, too. more...

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families’ Online Symposium “New Inequalities.”.

It is quite likely that the economic crisis both caused some divorces and prevented some divorces. However, the balance of the evidence suggests it prevented more than it caused. I would not read this as good news for marriage and families, however, because there may be negative consequences for people who want to part but cannot divorce because of economic constraints. The enforced wait could simply prolong or exacerbate marital stress and family conflict, rather than saving or restoring a happy marriage.
–Stephanie Coontz

In the wake of several news reports claiming that a falling divorce rate was the “silver lining” around the clouds of the Great Recession, I analyzed divorce patterns using the American Community Survey (ACS) from 2008 to 2011 to look for evidence of whether the economic crisis had increased or decreased the divorce rate. On the one hand, economic stress, job loss, and home foreclosure tend to be associated with marital tension and thus might be expected to increase the number of divorces. On the other hand, divorce is expensive, especially the cost of establishing a new household, and people who can’t sell their homes, or who have suffered a job loss, might not be able to manage a divorce and thus end up postponing or foregoing it. more...

Arielle Kuperberg,  Assistant Professor of Sociology, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is author of this week’s briefing report at CCF@TSP. Here she answers the questions that keep coming up when people talk about cohabitation these days.

Apples via Creative Commons by Nina Matthews
Apples via Creative Commons by Nina Matthews

Lots of people keep asking, Does living together before marriage increase your chance of getting a divorce?  In my recently published study, I finally answer this question with a definitive “no!”

For decades, researchers have found a connection between premarital cohabitation and divorce that no one could fully explain.   Despite these studies and warnings from well-meaning relatives about the dangers of “living in sin,” rates of living together before marriage have skyrocketed over the past 50 years, increasing by almost 900% since the 1960s. I found in my study that almost two-thirds of women who married between 2000 and 2009 lived with their husband before they tied the knot.

With the majority of couples now living together before marriage, if cohabitation somehow caused couples to divorce, you would think that divorce would be more common in recent generations of young adults, who were much more likely to live together before marriage compared to earlier generations. But recent research has found that for young adults born in 1980 or later, divorce rates have been steady or even declining compared to earlier generations.

What explains the connection between cohabitation and divorce?

We already knew that some of the connection between cohabitation and divorce is a result of the type of people who live together before marriage. In my study I find that compared to those who married without living together first, premarital cohabitors have lower levels of education, are more likely to have a previous birth, and are more likely to be black and have divorced parents, all factors that numerous studies (including mine) have found are related to higher divorce rates.

My study found that the rest of the connection between divorce and cohabitation can be explained by one thing that previous researchers never took into account: the age at which couples moved in together. Cohabitors moved in together at earlier ages (on average) than couples that didn’t live together before marriage, and since living together at younger ages is associated with higher divorce rates, cohabitors are more likely to divorce.

Why does moving in when you are younger increase your divorce rate?

Younger couples are (on average) less prepared to run a joint household together, and may be less prepared to pick a suitable partner than couples that settle down when they are older (on average- remember this doesn’t apply to every couple!). People change a lot in their early 20s, and those changes sometimes cause incompatibilities with a partner who was selected at a younger age. These incompatibilities lead to higher average divorce rates among those who moved in with their eventual spouse at a young age, even if they waited to marry until they were older.

My research shows that waiting until you are 23-24 or older to settle down with a partner is associated with around a 30% risk of divorce if you marry that partner. Moving in earlier leads to a much higher divorce risk- for instance couples that move in at age 18-19 face almost a 60% risk of divorce if they eventually marry, and couples aged 21-22 when settling down have a 40% risk of divorce after marriage.

Are cohabitation and marriage different types of relationships? Why get married at all?

A frequent question I’ve been asked is: does this mean cohabitation and marriage are basically the same? One reporter asked me about a recent study in which couples were threatened with a mild electrical shock while holding the hand of their married or cohabiting partner, where married couples were shown to be calmer than cohabiting couples. Doesn’t this show that cohabitation is a different type of relationship than marriage is?

Absolutely! My own research has shown that although cohabitation and marriage aren’t drastically different types of relationships for couples that lived together before marriages, some differences in behavior are pronounced, and the longer a couple has been married, the greater these differences grow. The public commitment, legal binds, and social expectations that come with marriage affect behavior in numerous ways which can’t be discounted.

So should you live together before marriage? Should you get married at all? That’s up to you! But living together won’t increase your chances of getting a divorce if you choose to go that route.

In the last 50 years, the percentage of men and women who cohabit before marriage – “living in sin” as it was still called in the 1960s – has increased by almost 900 percent. Today 70 percent of women aged 30 to 34 have cohabited with a male partner, and two-thirds of new marriages take place between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months.

These trends are troubling to some because nearly a dozen studies from the 1970s into the early 2000s showed that men and women who lived together before marriage were far more likely to divorce than couples who moved directly from dating to marriage. In fact, on average, researchers found that couples who cohabited before marriage had a 33 percent higher chance of divorcing than couples who moved in together after the wedding ceremony. In light of those findings, some commentators have argued that reducing the stigma attached to living together outside marriage has been a mistake, leading many young couples to make decisions that put their future marriage at risk. more...

The way education used to be

 Back in 1960, more than twice as many men as women between the ages of 26-28 were college graduates. As late as 1970, only 14 percent of young women between the ages of 26 and 28 had finished college, compared to 20 percent of men. But then a dramatic change occurred. While men’s college completion rates slowed, women’s skyrocketed.

Between 1970 and 2010, men’s rate of B.A. completion grew by just 7 percent, rising from 20 to 27 percent in those 40 years. In contrast, women’s rates almost tripled, rising from 14 percent to 36 percent. Today women also earn 60 percent of all master’s degrees and more than half of all doctoral and professional degrees. The only significant area of education in which women still lag behind men is in their representation in science and engineering programs. But even in some science fields they have made progress; only 25 percent of advanced engineering degrees go to women, but they earn 52 percent of master’s and doctoral degrees in the life sciences. more...

People often think of social change in the lives of American children since the 1950s as a movement in one direction – from children being raised in married, male-breadwinner families to a new norm of children being raised by working mothers, many of them unmarried. Instead, we can better understand this transformation as an explosion of diversity, a fanning out from a compact center along many different pathways.

The dramatic rearrangement of children’s living situations since the 1950s

At the end of the 1950s, if you chose 100 children under age 15 to represent all children, 65 would have been living in a family with married parents, with the father employed and the mother out of the labor force. Only 18 would have had married parents who were both employed. As for other types of family arrangements, you would find only one child in every 350 living with a never-married mother!

Today, among 100 representative children, just 22 live in a married male-breadwinner family, compared to 23 living with a single mother (only half of whom have ever been married). Seven out of every 100 live with a parent who cohabits with an unmarried partner (a category too rare for the Census Bureau to consider counting in 1960) and six with either a single father (3) or with grandparents but no parents (3).The single largest group of children – 34 – live with dual-earner married parents, but that largest group is only a third of the total, so that it is really impossible to point to a “typical” family.

With two-thirds of children being raised in male-breadwinner, married-couple families, it is understandable that people from the early 1960s considered such families to be the norm.* Today, by contrast, there is no single family arrangement that encompasses the majority of children. more...