Cross-posted on Family Inequality.

Last year I posted a list of blog pieces by subject, to help people teaching family courses generate ideas and discussion. Now my book is done and some of that material is in there. If you use the book for your class, we’ll give you all kinds of awesome teaching materials. But if you’re not using it (yet), here’s another list of blog posts to supplement your course. I hope this is useful whether you’re assigning the book or not, and even if you’re teaching something besides a family course.

This is organized according to my table of contents. Please let me know what works and what doesn’t, and offer your additional suggestions in the comments.

1. Introduction

  • What current demographic facts do you need to know? These 22 demographic data points are a good place to start. What else is necessary knowledge just to get through the day without being grossly misled or misinformed?
  • High marks for Census: Describes the cultural shift at the Census Bureau that followed from Obama’s election and the decision to start counting gay and lesbian married couples. Also, a nice video they made explaining how a small error in a large population (mis-marking the sex box) can dramatically distort the number of a small population within it (same-sex couples).
  • Millennial, save thyself: Are millennials in trouble because their ties to marriage, work, and religion are weak? It’s “kids these days” all over again. With some simple data analysis and trends.

2. History

3. Race, ethnicity, and immigration

  • Black is not a color: Black and White are social, not biological, classifications. So why do we treat the words as if they were just colors?
  • Immigrant health paradox update: What can we learn from the surprisingly low infant morality rates of immigrants? Maybe healthier people migrate, but after a generation (or less) in the U.S., their advantage appears to erode.
  • The world that Sabta made: My grandmother lived from 1913 to 2009, and came to the U.S. from Poland in 1921, the youngest passenger on the S.S. Ryndam. Hers is one of the great stories of the century, leaving a mark that goes well beyond her 50+ great-grandchildren.

4. Social class

5. Gender

6. Sexuality

7. Love and romantic relationships

  • Is dating still dead? The death of dating is now 50 years old, and its been eulogized so many times that its feelings are starting to get hurt.
  • Online dating: efficiency, inequality, and anxiety: I’m skeptical about efficiency, and concerned about inequality, as more dating moves online. Some of the numbers I use in this post are already dated, but this could be good for a debate about dating rules and preferences.
  • Is the price of sex too damn low? To hear some researchers tell it in a recent YouTube video, women in general — and feminism in particular — have ruined not only sex, but society itself. The theory is wrong. Also, they’re insanely sexist.

8. Marriage and cohabitation

9. Families and children

10. Divorce, remarriage, and blended families

11. Work and families

12. Family violence and abuse

13. The future of the family

  • Tripping on tipping points: Minority births are now the majority. Is this a tipping point, a milestone, or a watershed? On the importance of accurately representing trends.
  • Dependency futures: An NPR story (linked here) on retirement prompts a look at how US demographic trends may be moving toward a future with more old-age dependency.
  • Marriage is declining globally: Can you say that? Yes, you can say that. But will it continue? We should be careful with predictions, but lots of demographic evidence suggests it will.

Susan J. Matt is author of Homesickness: An American History (Oxford University Press, 2011). She is Presidential Distinguished Professor and Chair of the History Department at Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah. She tweets at @alongingforhome.

Not long ago, The Onion ran an article with the headline “Unambitious Loser with Happy, Fulfilling Life Still Lives in Hometown.” The piece quoted a friend of the “loser,” who said, “I’ve known Mike my whole life and he’s a good guy, but it’s pretty pathetic that he’s still living on the same street he grew up on and experiencing a deep sense of personal satisfaction . . . .[H]e’s nearly 30 years old, living in the exact same town he was born in, working at the same small-time job, and is extremely contented in all aspects of his home and professional lives. It’s really sad.”

While the article was fiction, the attitudes it encapsulated were not. Americans disparage those overly attached to home. The homesick, boomerang kids, and tightly bonded families seem antithetical to American individualism. We are supposed to be a nation of restless movers who break ties to home with ease. When individuals stay in place, it contradicts our mythology. What is wrong with these people?homesickness

That’s a question being asked with increasing frequency about the rising generation, for nearly 22 percent of all adults in their 20s and 30s are living with their parents, the highest rate since the 1950s. And the media have not been kind to them: CBS News observed “… for many boomerang kids, living in a parent’s home becomes a crutch, enabling them to put off making grown-up decisions . . . .” Others have termed them the “Go-Nowhere Generation.”

The message is that staying home shows immaturity and a fatal lack of ambition. It is a sign of emotional neediness and dependence, traits widely stigmatized in American society. However, the expectation that individuals should leave home in their early 20s, and do so easily, is of recent vintage. Only in the last century did Americans come to see young adults who were emotionally close to kin and geographically rooted as psychologically immature and destined for economic failure.

In the nineteenth century, Americans believed that love for home was an ennobling emotion, evidence of a tender heart and a strong family life. Writers and preachers lavished praise on those who loved home, while physicians suggested that wandering too far from it could be fatal, for they believed people could die of acute homesickness.

In contrast, during the 20th century, as corporations and the military began to deploy people across the nation and the globe, strong attachments to family and place became a problem, obstacles to the smooth flow of capital and personnel. The love of home became an archaic emotion in a modern society dependent on a fungible, mobile workforce.

By mid-century, experts were arguing that tightly bonded families were out of place in America. Sociologist W. Lloyd Warner explained that because the economy required individuals to move frequently, “families cannot be too closely attached to their kindred. . . or they will be held to one location, socially and economically maladapted.” Those who tried to maintain strong kin ties were criticized. In 1951, psychiatrist Edward Strecker, preoccupied with the Cold War and the need for a mobile fighting force, accused American mothers of keeping their “children enwombed psychologically,” failing to “untie the emotional apron string . . . which binds her children to her.” He dubbed these women the nation’s “gravest menace.”

Today, we continue to believe young adults should leave home. When they don’t, their living choices are chalked up to poor employment prospects. While economic realities surely play a part in their residential choices, the media give short shrift to other motives. The idea that families might be drawn together by feelings of affection is left out of the equation, as is the possibility that this generation wants to become something other than mobile individualists. Yet there’s considerable evidence that millennials hold values that center more on family and less on high powered careers. A recent poll found them far less concerned with financial success than the population at large. They also are closer to their parents, whom they fight with less, and talk with more than earlier generations.

For decades we’ve assumed that leaving home in one’s early twenties is natural, a sign of healthy psychological adjustment; but we should remember such expectations are historically contingent. Today’s millennials remind us there are other ways of organizing family life than the model we’ve grown accustomed to, and prompt us to recognize that values other than individualistic, market-driven ones frequently motivate human behavior. We can learn from them that staying close to home does not make one an “unambitious loser.”


As colleges across the country begin the new school year, we hear a chorus of warnings about a generation of young adults unable or unwilling to “leave the nest.” Phrases are bandied about: “Failure to launch”; “the Peter Pan syndrome”; “boomerang kids” who can’t seem to leave home and establish an independent life. Undergirding these warnings is a fear that the younger generation is growing soft, losing the pioneer independence and rugged individualism that once built this nation.

But a glance at the past suggests it may not be the behavior of youths that has changed so much as the response by adults. Only over the past 90 years did American culture come to define young adults’ continued reliance on parental guidance and their longing to return home as a sign of psychological maladjustment. more...

My world of parenting involves sifting through countless listicles of advice, online images of children in trauma who are forced to grow up too fast, apps to manage kids’ crazy schedules, Vine videos of tiny tots singing “Let it Go” off key in the back of a minivan, and clever kidroom decorating tips on Pinterest. This is overwhelming, even for parents like me who have plenty of resources and time and education and other things that likely will enhance the life chances of my son. Parenting is hard for everyone, especially those who struggle to find work, make meals, or know where to look if they have questions about kids. Navigating the words and images and sheer volume of information on parenting out there makes it hard even for the people who have work, food, and people to turn to for help.

From Pixabay.
From Pixabay.

Many of us American parents who have the luxury of a laptop or a bookshelf may have catchy titles such as the following in our libraries and social media feeds:

More or Less: How to Raise Overscheduled Kids and Then Feel Guilty About It and Then Schedule Them in Fewer Activities but Then Add to Their Schedule to Keep Up with Other Parents Whose Kids Will Get Into a Good College

Quality Assurance: How to Use Your Professional Career Skills in Parenting, but Never Show Too Much of Your Family Self at Work for Fear of Being Labeled “Not a Committed Team Player”

Independence Days: How Not to Get Arrested for Letting Kids Do Things by Themselves That You Did When You Were a Kid

Americans are the Worst: How to Raise Your Kids Like French/Italian/Chinese/Swedish Parents Do, and Also How to Eat Like Them with Your Kids in Restaurants and Not Gain Weight

Sometimes I think parents, despite our valiant efforts to be the grown-ups in situations with our children, are more like toddlers with flailing appendages trying to learn what we should and should not fear. Trying to control a world that seems filled with tall and vocal experts and parenting peers whom we’re not sure we should trust. And tripping and hitting our heads on coffee tables every so often. While parents since the dawn of time have probably felt insecure about their abilities, we now swim in an especially large and public typhoon of confusing messages.

Does this typhoon of information make us better parents? Does it make is more assured that we are, in fact, the parents, and our children are, in fact, in need of parenting? More is not better, after all, and not just with regard to chocolate cake. Does the overload actually make us less sure of ourselves, more in need of comforting, less mature, and therefore more similar to the little creatures we are trying our hardest to raise? While our tendency to read a list of the latest habits of highly effective parents would place us squarely in the demographic category of “parent” (because who else would read that stuff?), could it also be that reading all of this actually makes us feel less parental?

Many smart people, from folks at the CDC to a long list of wonderful experts, have talked about this topic already in a myriad of other online and paper-type sources, and have even said that there are too many pieces of advice out there so we should be careful not to get overwhelmed (whoa, that’s very meta), but sometimes when it hits home it bears pondering again. My husband and I, when our son was a baby a decade ago, found ourselves amidst a circle of people who had the time and resources to read and recommend all sorts of books on babies. We, being people with time and resources and commitment to the use of big words whenever possible, read excerpts from the fluffy baby whisperer book and from the technical medical book, threw both out the window and improvised, and then returned to them three months later to realize we had done it pretty much the way the fluffy and medical experts had told us to do it in a perfect combination of both. Sometimes I think experts are just good at telling us what our guts would tell us to do anyway, but far more eloquently and for $12.95. Evidently my husband and I would rather buy advice than trust ourselves not to hit our heads on coffee tables.

I recently asked my mom, now in her 70s and an expert on parenting who has read every book out there since Dr. Spock, whether she thought the difference between the parent and child roles seemed wider between her and me than they are between me and my son. I asked her because she always seemed far more grown-up to me than I am currently acting with my kid. She never laughed when I farted at the dinner table, for example.

In this discussion, Mom and I figured that the answer to that question lies not in my penchant for scatological humor, nor in the amount of information available for parents today, but squarely in the fact that kids are often better than their parents at navigating the latest technology. Kids have long figured they knew more than their parents, and parents have long figured they need to ask for advice on what to do with these tiny creatures who appear in our lives, but now we parents have a hard time knowing which screen corners to swipe and in-app purchases to avoid to retrieve the good information. Ten years after my husband and I threw actual books out an actual window, the typhoon of advice can be read in every social media feed, app, and link on Buzzfeed. Not to mention in the 2nd editions of the fluffy and medical books, now available electronically if you can remember your Kindle password.

Kids are teaching us more than ever, at least about the means to get to the messages. I never taught my mom the steps on how to open a calendar without ripping the pages to mark down when I had piano lessons. She never needed to rely on my brothers to find out how to unfold the medical brochure on tetanus shots. There was no swiping involved in parenting then, at least not on a screen. She was the grown-up. I was the kid. But when our tiny tech expert offspring know more than we do about technology, we feel like the kids.

But despite our agreement that today’s generation gap seems narrower because of our technology-induced role reversals, I felt that my mom gave me more independence than I am giving my son. And isn’t independence part of being a grown-up? Wouldn’t that criterion be evidence of a narrower generation gap then versus now? What does it mean that my son has more skills on a smartphone than I do, but I could ride farther away on my purple banana-seat bike when I was his age? Who is more grown-up – the one who can navigate Map My Ride without accidentally buying porn or the one who can ride her bike alone to the swimming pool two miles away?

As for myself, I am considering two options for my next step as a parent. I could read all of the titles I mentioned earlier, once I find them online with my son’s help. Maybe the most apropos book we could find would be titled

Parenting in an Age of Irony: How My Kid Helped Me Responsibly Purchase Online Resources about How I Should Protect His Innocent and Developing Brain.

Or, rather than actually reading the myriad parenting columns, books, and online diatribes, I will ask my son to digitally catalog them in order from “Most Useful for How to Raise Me” to “Meh, You Can Delete This from Your Cache,” and then make the catalog into a smartphone app that will not accidentally make me buy porn.

Surely his technological prowess will prepare him well for deciphering what is and is not useful information.

But only if he does his deciphering within a one-block radius of our house, so I can keep an eye on him.

Ever since winning third place in a rural Minnesota district high school speech contest with her rendering of an excerpt from Scandinavian Humor and Other Myths, Michelle Janning has attempted to add humor to all academic pursuits, including the sociological discovery of everyday life patterns. She is a sociology professor at Whitman College, and a Senior Scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families. Her website and blog, with a humorous focus on the “between-ness” of social life, is at

This post draws from a longer CCF Brief originally published December 10, 2013. Rachel A. Gordon is a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

By Irangilaneh (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Irangilaneh (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is “back to school” time – we can see this all around us, in stores, online, and in the media. As students shop for school supplies and clothing, many are thinking about the image they will portray when they first walk the halls of school. A recent google ad encapsulated these concerns as it opened with a youth searching “How to not look like a freshman.” Technology amplifes – or at least makes more visible – teens’ concern with social image. A recent survey by the We Heart It social networking site, and published exclusively by TIME, documents the ways in which youth thirst for attaching “likes,” “hearts,” and comments to shared photos – the latest incarnation of the original of Facebook hot or not ratings of student photos that make many people cringe, but live on.

The We Heart It study reinforced a finding in my own recent work about the impact of not just comments that are openly hurtful or admiring, but of being lost in the shuffle. One teen in the We Heart It survey reported “Sometimes I just feel like I don’t exist, like I’m invisible to everyone, I pretend it’s okay, but it hurts.” In our study, we considered how others’ ratings of adolescents’ looks associated with their achievement — in grades as well as the social scene. Our most consistent finding was that being above average in looks – what we call standing out from the crowd – was correlated with nearly every social and academic domain that we examined in high school.  These advantages continued into young adulthood, including through higher college completion and, as a consequence, higher earnings for the attractive than the average in looks. more...

This briefing paper is based on the authors’ monograph (with Xue Wang), “Physical Attractiveness and the Accumulation of Social and Human Capital in Adolescence and Young Adulthood,” part of the peer-reviewed series, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (Wiley-Blackwell).

Expert responses to this report are available online here.

How do your looks affect your life?

Is being attractive or unattractive a source of systematic social inequalities in people’s access to wealth, power and privilege? Should we add “beauty bias” to racism and sexism as a type of unacceptable discrimination?  more...

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families Gender Revolution Rebound Symposium

This look at sexual frequency among younger couples in equal marriages refutes recent claims that when a man shares the housework equally, it is bad for the couple’s sex life.

For several decades, research has suggested that attitudes and laws favoring gender equity have changed more quickly than people’s actual behavior in intimate relationships. One recent highly publicized article reported that married couples who split domestic chores in an egalitarian manner had sex less often, and reported less satisfaction with their sex lives, than couples who adhered to more to conventional gender behaviors. The depressing message heard round the world was that couples remain stalled in their attachment to old “gender scripts,” and that attempts to revise these scripts decrease sexual desire and satisfaction, even among couples who claim to hold egalitarian values. more...

Amy Blackstone is a sociology professor at the University of Maine.

“We got a puppy, and that’s my idea of starting a family. People say, ‘Oh, that’s practice for parenting,’ but if it’s practice for anything it’s to be a mom to another puppy.” –Christina Hendricks

Image via Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Flickr Creative Commons

Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is the most recent among a host of celebrities to be asked about when she’ll be adding kids to her family. Though the media has only recently taken notice of the childfree, the fact is that rates of childbearing in the U.S. have been on the decline for the past 40 years. It seems celebrities aren’t the only ones choosing to create families that don’t include kids.

The notion that family is something we choose rather than something based solely on ties of “blood or marriage” isn’t new. Kath Weston explored this idea over two decades ago in her 1991 book on gay and lesbian kinship, Families We Choose. Yet Google “start a family” and you’ll quickly discover that for many people, even today, families don’t begin until children enter the picture.

In 1976, just 10 percent of women had not given birth by the time they reached their forties. Today, that number has nearly doubled, reaching 19 percent in 2012. While a fifth of women may be without children, they are not without families. Research shows that people without children form bonds, create households, and help rear the next generation in many of the same ways that those with kids do.

For the 45 childfree women and men I have interviewed in the course of my research on the choice not to parent, family is about belonging, social support, responsibility, and love. For my interview participants, family can and does include blood relations such as siblings and parents and it also includes partners with whom they may have legal ties. But, on the whole, their definitions of family emphasize the needs that families meet and the functions they fulfill rather than who their families do or do not include. As Sara, a partnered childfree woman in her mid 30’s put it, family is those who are “united despite any kind of differences; it’s a togetherness.”

Image courtesy we’re {not} having a baby!,
Image courtesy we’re {not} having a baby!,

Perhaps many of the definitions of family my research participants shared emphasize meanings rather than members because of childfree people’s own experiences of exclusion. A number of my interview participants shared stories about not being invited to events at friends’ and relatives’ houses because it was assumed, without asking, that they wouldn’t want to participate if kids were present. Others described how “family friendly” events in the community exclude their adults-only families.

Annette, a 40-year-old childfree woman who defines family as “anyone who cares for and loves each other” shared her frustration: “Our town has lots of great activities and most of them are called some variation of, ‘Family Fun Day.’ So does that exclude me? It usually does because it’s geared for children, not for my family.” It seems that family fun days and family friendly environments really mean fun and friendly for just one kind of family: those that include children.

Americans of course aren’t the only ones whose perceptions of family seem to be limited to household units that include children. In Ireland, couples without children are defined by the census as “pre-family.” In some ways, this makes sense; having children is an important milestone and children are an essential part of family for many. But when one fifth of women end their childbearing years without having had children, perhaps it is time to consider that not all families do, nor must they, include children.

National surveys and other studies continuously tell us that work is a major source of stress for Americans. A 2005 Work and Families Institute study found that almost 90 percent of workers felt they either never had enough time in the day to do their job or that their job required them to work very hard. A Pew Report from 2013 found that more than half of all working moms and working dads experience work-family conflict. One-third of working moms and dads feel rushed on work-days, and almost 50 percent of working dads (and 25 percent of working moms) say they don’t have enough time with their children. And in a recently completed research project I helped conduct, we found that people report feeling less stressed out on non-work days than on work-days. Home, most of us believe, is where we recover from the stress of the work day. more...

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families’ new Gender Revolution Rebound Symposium.

Click to expand graphics throughout.

For almost a decade now, researchers have been struck by a stall in what had been a remarkably rapid and seemingly unstoppable increase in support for gender equity and approval of women’s workforce participation up until the mid-1990s. This research paper provides evidence of what may be a rebound in support for gender equity since 2006.

The General Social Survey contains four questions about gender roles that were first posed to the American public in 1977 and have been asked on every survey since 1985. While some of the questions may feel dated (remember they were first asked 37 years ago), they remain useful to show the degree of change in our attitudes about proper roles for men and women. And between 1977 and the mid-1990s, the rate and extent of change were nothing short of remarkable. more...