Sexual satisfaction proves important for individual well-being and the well-being of relationships. Relationships where one or both partners are sexually dissatisfied can face many problems and can lead to marital dissatisfaction. Research finds an association between relationship satisfaction and better quality of life and better parent-child relationships.

In our recent study, Dr. Walker interviewed adults over the phone and email to investigate what components people needed to consider sex great. She interviewed 78 adults of various ages and sexual orientations and asked about what makes sexual experiences great and good, and what separates great sexual experiences from good sexual experiences.

We found three primary themes for what makes sex great: orgasm, emotional connection, and chemistry or connection.

The majority of people said that they, their partners, or both needed to orgasm during sex for a sexual experience to be great. Whether folks said they or their partner needed to orgasm varied by gender. Some women placed importance on their own orgasm. This is most likely related to the orgasm gap (the phenomenon where women orgasm less than men in heterosexual sexual encounters, and when women have sex with men they orgasm less than when they have sex with women). Men tended to care more about their partner’s orgasm; this could be because men report their partner’s orgasm as sexually satisfying. Some men and women said that both parties need to orgasm during sex for it to be great. This reflects popular media depictions of orgasms and great sex, where both partners collapse in simultaneous pleasure.

Emotional connection proved an important component for great sex as well, but “emotion” was not always code for “love.” Most people specifically explained that an emotional component during sex did not have to be love, or even romantic. Emotional connection can mean trust, affection, or even comfort. Only a few participants said the emotion must be love for great sexual experiences. Unlike other research which found women more likely to place importance on love during sex, an equal number of men and women spoke of its importance. However, gender differences existed. Echoing previous studies, some women spoke of an emotional connection being more important than physical sensations, while other women wanted both emotion and orgasm. Some even told us that emotional intimacy increased their likelihood of orgasming.

Finally, people said that great sex required chemistry or connection. Respondents mentioned both physical and emotional aspects of sex when they spoke about chemistry and connection. Sexual chemistry often proves hard to define, and our participants struggled to define it as well. However, people agreed that people cannot manufacture chemistry; they said couples either have it or they don’t. Participants made clear that chemistry is out of your control, and you cannot choose with whom you do or don’t have chemistry. Chemistry often allowed for better emotional and physical intimacy between partners. People said chemistry helped them to build affection and trust in their partners, and that good sexual chemistry often led to orgasms.

Participants made clear the importance of orgasms, emotional connection, and chemistry for sexual encounters to transcend from a good experience to great. Learning the components of great sex helps us all improve our sex lives, which improves our happiness, well-being, and relationships. What does great sex mean to you?

Alicia M. Walker is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University, and author of The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity and Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation and Infidelity. Her work focuses on intimate sexual relationships, sexual identity and behavior, and gender. She specializes in closeted sexual behavior. Follow her on Twitter @AliciaMWalker1.

Audrey Lutmer is a Sociology PhD student at Georgia State University. She studies gender, sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual behavior. She is most interested in how sexuality affects gender expression. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyLutmer

Person standing in front of a Zoom call screen. “Untitled” by Alexandra Koch Licensed by Pixaby

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on mental health for individuals and families across the country, with recent analysis finding more than four in ten U.S. adults have endured high levels of psychological distress at some point during the pandemic. Because of structural inequalities, some groups have been harder hit than others. One group that has experienced disproportionately large drops in emotional well-being during COVID is LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual and gender minority) people. Even before the pandemic, LGBTQ+ adults—particularly Black, Latinx, and multiracial LGBTQ+ people—faced structural discrimination and day-to-day mistreatment that strained well-being at work and elsewhere

How have pandemic-related changes to paid work affected LGBTQ+ well-being outcomes? As the pandemic took hold, many people had to work in-person amid new risks to their health and finances, while others, typically more advantaged workers, found themselves working from home in a world of Zoom meetings. Past research suggests working from home could be protective for LGBTQ+ workers’ well-being, if working remotely from a supportive home environment means less exposure to stressors like workplace microaggressions. On the other hand, the blurred work/home border of remote work could also be harmful for well-being. For example, it could increase stress for those who try to guard against mistreatment by keeping a strict separation between work and home life, such as by not talking about a same-gender partner at work

With prior research pointing in inconclusive directions, we asked: how has work location mattered for the well-being of LGBTQ+ adults since the onset of the pandemic?

To investigate this question, we worked with a team of other researchers to analyze survey and time diary data (reports of how, where, and with whom respondents spent their time for a 24-hour day) from the Assessing the Social Consequences of COVID-19 Study, collected online between April 2020 and July 2021. We looked at respondents’ “experienced well-being”—in other words, how someone reports they are feeling minute-to-minute—while they were working. We compared whether experienced well-being while doing paid work was different for LGBTQ+ workers and cisgender heterosexual (i.e., non-LGBTQ+) workers, and whether well-being differed across work locations.

As described in our recent article published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, we found that work location did indeed make a difference for well-being, especially for LGBTQ+ respondents. LGBTQ+ adults felt more stressed and tired while working in a workplace compared to while working from home (Figure 1). While non-LGBTQ+ adults were also less stressed while working at home, work location had a smaller impact on their stress level and almost no impact on their tiredness level. Working in-person at a workplace during the pandemic appeared to be more harmful to LGBTQ+ individuals’ experienced well-being, compared to that of their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.

Figure 1. Predicted means of LGBTQ workers’ and non-LGBTQ workers’ feelings of stress and tiredness by work location (N=7,650 work episodes across 3,515 respondents).

Notes: Results are predicted means from random effects models. * p<0.05, ** p<0.01, *** p<0.001.

We also investigated what kinds of factors might help account for the gaps we observed in stress and tiredness between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ adults across work locations. For example, does adjusting for work characteristics, socioeconomic factors, or family characteristics help explain the results?

We found that work characteristics—like total time working that day, duration of each work episode, and whether or not respondents found interactions with their co-workers to be exhausting—played an important role. Collectively, work characteristics explained about 35 percent of the stress gap and 24 percent of the tiredness gap. When working in-person at a workplace, the duration of work episodes (i.e., how many minutes someone is working at one time) tended to be longer for LGBTQ+ workers than non-LGBTQ+ workers, whereas the reverse was true among people working from home.

It could be that LGBTQ+ adults working in-person during COVID are more often in jobs with strict schedules and limited control over work pace, meaning they are not able to take a break when feeling stressed or tired. This would be consistent with other analyses showing that LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented in some face-to-face service positions like restaurant-based jobs.

Another factor that may be contributing to the stress and tiredness gaps across work location for LGBTQ+ adults is greater exposure to workplace microaggressions related to sexual and gender identity, race/ethnicity, and other statuses. In our survey data, LGBTQ+ respondents were more likely than their cisgender heterosexual counterparts to characterize interacting with co-workers as frequently exhausting. It is possible that working from home is helping to buffer some of the “minority stress” LGBTQ+ individuals too often face at work.

LGBTQ+ adults are, of course, far from a homogenous group. Strains on well-being while working may be compounded for multiply-marginalized LGBTQ+ adults who are also subject to racial discrimination, mistreatment based on disability status, or other forms of bias and exclusion at work. An important limitation of the study is the relatively small survey sample size. This restricted our ability to fully examine well-being experiences separately across sexual and gender minority groups (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual and gender minority identities), and intersections with racial/ethnic identities. However, comparing descriptive well-being reports using four broad groups (LGBTQ+ respondents of color, LGBTQ+ white respondents, non-LGBTQ+ respondents of color, and non-LGBTQ+ white respondents) indicated that although working in-person was linked to higher stress for all LGBTQ+ adults, this was especially so for LGBTQ+ adults racialized as Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, multiracial, or another race/ethnicity compared to LGBTQ+ adults racialized as white. In light of emerging research indicating there may be differences in working-from-home experiences across racialized groups, a deeper dive into how structural racism, heterosexism, cisnormativity, and other forms of inequality may jointly influence well-being experiences across work locations is warranted.

For many workers, remote work in some form is here to stay. A more complex understanding of how work location may impact well-being—particularly for individuals not traditionally centered in research on work, family, and health—will be critical to supporting the emotional well-being of marginalized workers both today and in the future.

Layne Amerikaner (@LayneAmerikaner) and Hope Xu Yan (@HopeYanxu) are doctoral candidates in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. You can read more about Amerikaner’s research here and about Yan’s research here. The study described in this blog post was published in Social Science & Medicine in April 2023. The study was authored by Layne Amerikaner, Hope Xu Yan (equal first authorship), Liana C. Sayer, Long Doan, Jessica N. Fish, Kelsey J. Drotning, and R. Gordon Rinderknecht.  

Parents and children. “Untitled” by 460273 Licensed by Pixaby

Many of us can easily identify which child in our families has kept our parents up the most at night—for example, the one who experimented with drugs early in life, suffered a concerningly long “bad luck streak” at the casino, or has been in trouble with the law. Research shows that older parents often experience more disappointment, strain, or complicated emotions in their relationships to their adult children with these sorts of problems. However, there is also some evidence that adult children who reform their deviant behavior are more likely to become their mothers’ favored child.

To build on this research, my collaborators (Marissa Rurka, Jill Suitor, Megan Gilligan, Karl Pillemer, Liam Mohebbi, and Nicholas Mundell) and I examined the reasons why adult children’s behavioral reforms are associated with changes in older mothers’ favoritism. More simply, we wanted to know how and why former “problem children” become “prodigal children” in their mothers’ eyes. To answer this question, we used qualitative interview data from the Within-Family Differences Study (WFDS). The WFDS contains interviews with older mothers (ages 65-75 at the first interview) and their adult children (interviewed separately) at two different timepoints, seven years apart. This dataset was well suited to help answer our research question because it is the same data that originally produced evidence (mentioned above) of the link between adult children’s behavioral reforms and their mothers’ newfound favoritism.

The WFDS measured deviance by asking mothers whether any of their children had experienced trouble with drugs, alcohol, or the law in recent years. Favoritism was assessed by asking mothers to which child they felt most emotionally close. Mothers were encouraged to explain their answers to closed-ended questions like these throughout the interview, thus providing qualitative data for our investigation.

We focused our main analysis on the 20 families that contained a “prodigal child”—a child who was considered deviant and not favored at the first interview, but was no longer deviant, and was favored at the second interview (seven years later). Our analysis revealed two reasons why these children’s behavioral reforms were related to newfound favoritism by their mothers: perceptions of familism and perceptions of need.

First, as they reformed their behaviors, mothers grew to see these children as more dedicated to their families of origin, and often their mothers specifically. The same children described as having a “mind of [their] own” at the first interview grew to be seen by their mothers as “very family-oriented,” “always checking on me,” or “a little mother to me” by the later interview. This pattern was especially clear in families that also contained a deviant child who did not reform their behavior..

For example, Faye had two daughters who were both deviant at Faye’s first interview—both had experienced teen pregnancies, drug issues, and moved away with romantic partners whom Faye felt were poor choices. Describing Kristen, the younger of the two, Faye said, “I don’t think her life is going, well, the way a mother wants for her children.” However, by Faye’s later interview, Kristen recovered from her substance abuse issues and repaired her bond with her mother by moving back nearby and involving Faye in her granddaughter’s life. In contrast to the new warmth Faye felt from Kristen, Faye felt like her older daughter Mary had fully “alienated” her by her later interview and had abandoned her family commitments due to her still ongoing drinking problem. Describing her disapproval, Faye said, “[Mary] decided she wanted to…be on her own. She thought, ‘well, I’m going out drinking again,’ and disrupted her [family], and now she’s getting [divorced]…Nothing to be proud of.” Faye’s remarks about Mary highlight how deviant behavior can weaken family bonds and negatively impact older mothers’ impressions of a child. Meanwhile, Faye’s relationship to Kristen helps us see why an adult child who reforms their behavior and strengthens their family commitments in the process can bring mothers particularly great joy.

The second pattern that emerged from our analysis was these children’s need for their mothers’ support. Mothers often saw their prodigal children as both needing and appreciating their support in ways that their other children, who they saw as more “on their own,” had outgrown. Feeling like their help and support played a role in their children’s positive changes made them feel like good mothers and created an emotional bond.

For example, when describing the substance abuse issues her son Joey experienced in early adulthood, Dorothy acknowledged “Joey was straying back then,” but became upbeat as she explained the closeness that came as a result of his behavioral reform, saying “He had some problems in the past and he came out of them with our help. And he’s been great ever since. He just shows his gratitude a lot…He shows that he came out of it very well.” If children did not change their behaviors, their ongoing need for help could be depleting, rather than affirming to mothers. But, as Dorothy described, if children “came out of it well,” their changes could be viewed as gestures of gratitude for their mothers. This dynamic allowed mothers to feel that their guiding role in their children’s lives was necessary and valuable, which fostered feelings of favoritism, particularly during a life stage when some had begun to feel like their other children’s need for their guidance and advice was lessening.

Taken together, our findings suggest that even children who engaged in behaviors that their mothers found troubling can become Mom’s Favorite in adulthood. Simply stopping the troubling behaviors may not be a surefire path to favoritism, but if disengaging from these behaviors is coupled with strengthening your commitments to family and showing your mother that you need (and appreciate!) her support, then there is a good chance that you might just become a Prodigal Child.

The full text of our article, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, can be found here.

Reilly Kincaid is a PhD Candidate at Purdue University. Her research focuses on parenting, gender, social psychology, family relationships across the life-course, and work-family issues. You can follow her on Twitter at @ReillyKincaid.  

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When we think of older adults, we often conjure an image of a retiree with extra time on their hands. We think of an old married couple traveling together, spending time with grandchildren, volunteering, or maybe enjoying hobbies like gardening. Rarely do we think of older parents or grandparents as single adults, spending their free time seeking a romantic partner, dating, or beginning a new sexual relationship. But as people live longer and more older adults are experiencing “gray divorce,” nearly 20 million older adults are finding themselves single and interested in dating.

However, the common image of daters – young adults seeking a partner to start a family and share decades together – does not fit the single older adult, either. Studies have shown most single older women are not interested in (re)marrying and many older men and women would prefer to cohabit or live apart together (LAT) rather than marry. Further, most older men and women already have children, even grandchildren, to whom they frequently provide practical and financial support. In short, single older adults are quite dissimilar from married older adults but also from single young adults.

My recent research explored how relationships with adult children and grandchildren, particularly caregiving responsibilities and expectations, impact single older adults’ partner preferences. I interviewed 50 women and 50 men between the ages of 60-83, all of whom were single and heterosexual, about their experiences with singlehood and dating. We discussed a range of issues, including decisions to date, online dating, and physical intimacy, but one issue surfaced again and again – the impact of carework on dating. Participants connected the care older adults perform, such as living with and caring for an ailing parent, providing practical and financial support for an adult child, and looking after a grandchild, to desirability and opportunities in dating.

Men and women both recognized carework as a potential influence to partnering, but the impact of carework was overwhelmingly gendered. Women with carework responsibilities were seen as not having enough time or attention for a relationship and were frequently penalized on the dating market. Men, in contrast, were perceived by women as better candidates for partnering when they cared for their families.

Consistently, men discussed being cautious or disinterested when a woman cared for her children or grandchildren. Men wanted to date women who would have time for and would prioritize them and the relationship, rather than being secondary to helping an adult child or babysitting a grandchild. For example, men believed residential adult children would prohibit them from being allowed to sleep over and would make a woman less inclined to spend the night at his home. Essentially, men assumed women would be less available for sex if they shared a home with their adult children. Even if a woman would be open to spending the night together, she did not have the opportunity to meet or date the men who made these assumptions.

In contrast, women lauded men who were close to or cared for their families. Women perceived these men to be stable and committed partners and someone who was also family-oriented, all qualities they sought in a partner. Women were looking for a “family man,” someone who valued their family relationships and who would be open to incorporating a partner into his family life. When women came across a man who cared for or was involved in his family, they saw a man who prioritized his family, not a man who would prioritize a woman over his family. Women were only turned off by family-oriented men if those men had very young children, often defined as younger than high-school aged, as older women did not want to be pushed into the position of caring for these children.

Women’s dedication to caring for their family members and men’s disinterest in these women highlights the continued role of family in (re)partnering. Historically, parents played a role in their children’s partnering decisions, but this research shows that families still exert influence on one’s partnering, whether they intend to or not, even for older adults. Past research has shown having young, residential children can make it difficult for single mothers to find partners and (re)marry, but this research expands these findings by showing how providing care for non-residential adult children and grandchildren still impacts one’s dating opportunities.

Men judged a woman as a poor romantic partner due to her carework responsibilities, possibly because men perceive that they have plenty of dating options. In later adulthood, there are anywhere from 1.5 to 4 women for every man of the same age. Women live longer and men tend to date and remarry younger women, and so the gender ratio of single older adults puts disproportional power for partner selection in men’s hands.

Men also seemed to misunderstand women’s sense of responsibility to their families and the joy they received from their family relationships. A few men were incredulous that a woman would put looking after her grandchild ahead of her own happiness, defined by men as being in a romantic relationship. What men did not seem to understand, however, was that women felt great responsibility to their families and derived great pleasure from caring for them. Where men saw women needlessly spending time on adult children and grandchildren, women saw an opportunity to maintain close relationships with their children and be an important part of their family’s lives.

In this way, men’s preference for women without responsibilities means fewer women will meet men’s partnership requirements and women will lose out on romantic relationships. But in another way, men are losing out on the possibility of being with happy, fulfilled, caring women. In the end, assumptions and biases about caregiving women leaves women with rewarding and enriching relationships with their children and grandchildren, and leaves men in an ongoing pursuit of women without family attachments.

Lauren Harris is an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of New Hampshire. Her research focuses on the meanings, processes, and transitions associated with developing romantic relationships, currently among older adults. You can learn more about her work here, here, and here, and on twitter @lauren_e_harris.

Black mother and daughter. “Untitled” by 5540867 from

On a Tuesday afternoon, over a Zoom video call, Shannon – the mother of two sons (24 and 17) and one daughter (10) – begins to explain what being a mother means for her. Her smile widens as she discusses the happiness her children bring to her life, while also highlighting her role as their mother consisting of attending parent-teacher conferences, assistance with schoolwork, providing financially, and overall making sure that they feel loved and supported emotionally. While these aspects of mothering are consistent with dominant notions of motherhood, the tone of the conversation shifted when I followed up to ask: “how does being a mom differ by race?” With her once joyful smile no longer visible, Shannon looks at me and says: I think for African American mothers, I think it’s pressure and the worry. We always had to fight. We always had to advocate. We always have to be ready. Shannon continues discussing how there is a constant preparation and hyperawareness surrounding the realities of anti-Black racism and the mistreatment of Black children, specifically as a Black mother, is central to how she mothers her children.

Black mothers have long carried the burden of protecting their children from institutional and interpersonal racism in the United States. Because of the incessant threat of anti-Black racism and racialized violence, racism and motherhood intersect to create a racialized context for Black women, specifically the utilization of hyperawareness – acute alertness of what it means to be racialized as Black for their children. Black mothers have developed a number of strategies stemming from their hyperawareness around their children’s experiences, such having “the talk.”

Black women, knowing all too well how race and anti-Black racism are inseparable from their mothering, engage in what Patricia Hill Collins refers to as motherwork – efforts to protect and empower their children in the wake of multiple forms of racism. Because the lives of mothers are so intrinsically tied to their children’s, Black mothers prioritize the protection of their children in efforts to mitigate the consequences of these experiences of racism. However, while Black mothers are being held up as pillars of bravery and strength, there is little recognition of the toll that their children’s experiences are having on the mothers themselves. Specifically, what is the cost of the hyperawareness of black mothers?

My research explores this question through in-depth interviews with Black mothers across the United States with children in adolescence and emerging/young adulthood (ages 10-24). From 2019 to 2021, I interviewed thirty-five Black mothers to discuss their children’s experiences of anti-Black racism, and how they perceive these experiences shaping the mother’s own well-being. In a recently published paper, I argue that hyperawareness surrounding their children is a major source of stress for Black mothers in the study. Additionally, this hyperawareness is not solely in the presence of tangible experiences (actualized), but also surrounding experiences of racism that have not come to fruition (anticipated). The stress that mothers identified experiencing would manifest through either an actualized event and rumination – replaying an instance of racism over in one’s mind, or an anticipated event and hypervigiliance – preparation or defensive action taken to mitigate children’s experiences of racism. Mothers identified the stress of this hyperawareness shaping their emotional, mental, and physical well-being. For example, Shannon (discussed above) described how having to constantly be aware of the racism her children have/will face impacts her mental health due to feelings of anxiety. Shannon says, “I think it’s stress. I think it’s anxiety…. You’re not relaxed…. I think that’s things that other people don’t have to experience.” Other mothers in my study described having crying spells, sleeplessness, and sweaty palms surrounding their children’s experiences of racism.

What is key to take away from this study is that, regardless of whether the experience was actualized or anticipated, mothers identified hyperawareness as a source of stress that shapes their overall well-being. Additionally, because many of the mothers in the study had multiple children and discussed the role of hyperawareness at various life stages (childhood, adolescence, and adulthood), the stress experienced could be chronic. Where much of Black maternal health and well-being conversations have focused on pre- and post-natal outcomes, this project more broadly suggests that we expand our understanding of Black maternal health to recognize the role of children’s experiences of anti-Black racism in shaping the stress burden of Black mothers over their life course. The chronic and persistent nature of anti-Black racism in the lives of Black families reveals the burdens of motherhood for Black women.

The hyperawareness Black mothers possess is a double-edged sword, allowing them to protect their children, but at the cost of their own well-being. In highlighting the burdens of Black mothering that often go overlooked, I hope to reveal the insidiousness of racism in the lives of Black families, and the pervasiveness of racism on overall Black maternal well-being.

Mia Brantley (@_MiaBrantley) is currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Sociology at The Ohio State University, and an incoming (2023) Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. Her scholarship lies at the intersection of race, gender, and family within the context of health. Using a Black feminist lens, she provides insight into the multiple ways racism affects the health and lived experiences of Black families.

Cells inside a prison. “Untitled” by Falconpost on

Between 1989 and 2021, the National Registry of Exonerations recorded 2970 exonerations in the US, 161 of which occurred in 2021 alone. Wrongful convictions arguably represent the most egregious form of miscarriage of justice in the criminal legal system, and their consequences are far-reaching: Exonerees face immense difficulties in finding employment, reestablishing their sense of belonging, and even securing housing. Wrongfully-convicted persons’ psychological traumas often impede their post-prison reintegration, including in the family setting. In a recent paper, I studied the shifting social processes through which the experience of wrongful conviction harms family life over time. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 15 exonerated men, I explored what I called the “relational costs of wrongful convictions”: The harms that men’s familial relationships sustained at 1) the moment of wrongful conviction, 2) during the period of wrongful imprisonment, and 3) in the men’s post-prison lives. In examining how these costs shift and accrue over the course of participants’ wrongful conviction journeys, I reframed the familial disruption associated with wrongful convictions as a fluid social process, rather than primarily the product of exonerees’ psychological traumas.

I found that the moment of wrongful conviction represented an experience of shared trauma that was borne equally by participants and their family members. Benito (a 52-year-old, Hispanic exoneree who served 30 years of wrongful imprisonment), for example, described this moment as a “family affair of horror” that he and his family members “actually experienced together.” For socioeconomically-disadvantaged family members (most of whom were also people of color), the shock of witnessing a loved one get wrongfully convicted was exacerbated by the helplessness of being unable to offer much in the way of financial support. Steve (a 45-year-old, Black exoneree who served 26 years of wrongful imprisonment) captured this pain when he said, “See, your family can believe you, but they don’t know what to do and they only have so many resources.”

Despite the force of participants’ familial support when they were wrongfully convicted, the sense of solidarity that the men shared with their family members faded over time as many of them endured their prison sentences in relative isolation, sharpening the pain of their wrongful imprisonment terms. Even privileged participants like Tim (a 49-year-old, white exoneree who served 17 years of wrongful imprisonment) reported that “when an innocent person goes to prison, their family, their friends, their loved ones, strangers, go to prison with them.” Many of these more affluent participants nonetheless retained their ties with family members on the outside, who continued to advocate on their behalf and offer them both material and emotional support. For less privileged men, on the other hand, wrongful imprisonment represented a period of radically-diminished support as their family members grew weary of supporting them. For men like Alfred (a 46-year-old, Black exoneree who served 17 years of wrongful imprisonment), the hardest part of his wrongful imprisonment was “the absolute loneliness of being there” with no support on the outside.

When participants later reentered society after serving years in prison as innocent men, they found it very difficult to rebuild the few familial ties that had survived their prison terms. Although exonerees may comparatively be better off than individuals on parole in terms of the social support that they receive when they are released from prison, participants struggled to overcome the feelings of hostility they had toward family members who they felt had not adequately supported them when they were incarcerated. The men experienced the relational costs of wrongful convictions in reentry even more sharply because—unlike individuals released on parole—they felt entirely abandoned by the state when they were released, and they were moreover forced to confront familial challenges generated by the single unique pathway to state support that was available to them as exonerees: Financial compensation. Benito, for example, felt that people in his social circle began to show their “true colors” when he received compensation for his wrongful conviction, and he ultimately had to “cut the umbilical cord” and move to an entirely different state to get away from his family because of conflict over money. Familial tension over compensation underscored how conflict during reentry could be traced back to rifts that emerged during participants’ period of wrongful imprisonment. Highlighting the accruing and evolving nature of the relational costs of wrongful convictions, Samuel (a 38-year-old, Black exoneree who served 15 years of wrongful imprisonment) expressed frustration toward family members who he felt “gave up” on him while he was incarcerated but somehow now expected him to spend his money on them. In his words, “that drive a wedge between people.”

            Importantly, many men who felt abandoned by their family members during their wrongful imprisonment were still trying to rebuild their relationships with these relatives when they were released, despite their pessimism about ever being able to restore the relationships fully. Reconciliation can in fact be possible for exonerees under these circumstances, and restorative justice programs that support exonerees’ efforts to reestablish their familial ties following wrongful conviction and imprisonment may be particularly valuable. Although I focused on exonerees’ perceptions of their family members’ response to their wrongful imprisonment, we must learn more about the decisions that may motivate family members to distance themselves from (or remain supportive of) their loved ones during periods of wrongful imprisonment. Above all, therefore, my findings point to the need to explore the symbiotic harms of wrongful imprisonment more fully.

Janani Umamaheswar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University with research interests in punishment and social inequality. You can follow her on Twitter @jananiu.

Child kicking soccerball. “Untitled” by bottomlayercz0 licensed under Pixabay License

Given that more than 60 million kids play organized sports today, there is a good chance that in the next few months you will consider signing your son or daughter up to play for a team. If you are like most parents, you will not give this task a great deal of thought. Instead, you will follow the lead of other adults in your social circle. I urge you to resist that temptation.

Sports have long been embedded in youth culture. However, the form and intensity of kids’ connections with sports has shifted in some troubling ways over the past 20 years. Only a generation ago, most kids played for a local team for a few months, then moved on to a different activity. Today, community-based leagues must compete with clubs that play year-round and offer higher levels of competition to participants.

Between the years of 2010 and 2017, the youth sports industry increased by 55% and now constitutes a $17 billion market—larger than the NFL. As a result, parents today are challenged to navigate what has become a profit-driven enterprise that treats their children as high-value customers. They often lack the information they need to make decisions that are in their kids’ best interests.

The combination of a rapidly evolving youth sports industry and dearth of dependable information puts many parents in a bind. Without a clear understanding of where their children fit into this convoluted web of sports activities, parents tend to follow the lead of their friends. When confronted with uncertainty, adults chose the path of least resistance. Personal connections tend to trump all other considerations.

For the past six years I have been conducting research on the youth sports industry. Over that period, I attended hundreds of practices and games, interviewed dozens of parents, and studied scholarship that documents the effects of athletics on kids. One thing that has become clear to me is that most parents make decisions about their children’s athletic activities without thinking carefully about the consequences.

As you start to plan your children’s extra-curricular activities, I encourage you to keep the following information in mind:

  • The most highly ranked or prestigious team is not necessarily the best option for your child.
  • Many successful athletes do not begin playing sports year-round until middle or high school.
  • Only 7% of all high school athletes in the U.S. go on to play a varsity sport in college. For this reason, it is important to make decisions based on your child’s current interests and talents rather than on the dream of receiving a college scholarship.
  • Early sports specialization can lead to over-use injuries, deceased enjoyment in athletics, and burnout.
  • The majority of youth sport coaches report that playing multiple sports during childhood is the most effective way to develop athletic ability.

My research provides strong support for the last item on this list. The most well-adjusted athletes I have observed invested time and energy in sports, but also participated in other extra-curricular activities. Parents of these kids resisted the temptation to make decisions based on the assumption that their children would one day receive offers to play at the college level.  Viewing a college athletic scholarship as one of many possible outcomes—rather than the ultimate sign of success—helped them to make decisions in a more holistic way.  They encouraged their sons and daughters to play multiple sports, act in school plays, and participate in school government. In other words, their children led balanced lives.

Many young athletes do benefit from the high levels of coaching and competition that club sports can offer. However, before committing to a team that plays year-round, parents should have an extended discussion with their child. During this chat, they can ask their kid about their athletic goals, the amount of time they are willing to devote to sports, and how the decision to play for an elite club will affect their ability to do other things.

If, based on this conversation, the family decides that it is in the child’s best interests to play sports for only part of the year, they can look for community-based leagues that might make a good fit. Organizations like Little League baseball or softball, AYSO soccer, church-sponsored basketball, and neighborhood swim teams will give them the opportunity to work on their athletic skills in a less-intense environment.

Parents who conclude that their child will benefit from higher levels of competition should also consider their options carefully. Most of the adults I interviewed were not aware that those options existed. In retrospect, many told me, it would have been a good idea to take the following steps before making a final decision:

  • Learn as much as you can about the goals and expectations of the nearest travel team. How often do they practice? Are players permitted to participate in other extra-curricular activities?
  • Interview potential coaches. Ask them to explain their coaching philosophy. Another way to get a sense of a person’s coaching style is to observe their behavior at a practice or game.
  • Research the costs of playing for the team. In addition to participation fees, families may be required to pay for special equipment, supplemental training, and costs associated with playing in tournaments.
  • Look into travel teams based in other nearby towns that might have different expectations than the organization you initially thought of joining. Unlike community-based leagues, travel teams will usually accept players from any location. Take advantage of this option.

This type of work places some additional demands on parents but should pay off in the long run. With rates of mental illness and the demand for counseling reaching record highs, the implications of decisions like these can be significant. Taking the time to think carefully about what makes the most sense for your child will significantly increase the chances that they find success—on and off the field.

Christopher Bjork is a Professor of Education on the Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. Chair & Coordinator of Teacher Education. You can reach them on Twitter @chrisbjork6

two graduates in caps and gowns hugging. “Untitled” by MauraLBU licensed by

A college degree is often a ticket to the middle class, but not everyone has the same chance to obtain one. Social scientists have long known that parents’ education matters a lot: the children of college-educated parents graduate from college at higher rates than the children of parents without a bachelor’s degree.

But this widely known fact hides another one: there’s a lot of variation in graduating from college among students whose parents have the same education level. Among students whose parents do not have a college degree, 29% go onto become first-generation college graduates. And among students with at least one parent who graduated from college, 34% do not graduate from college themselves.

What differentiates the students who become first-generation college graduates from those who don’t? And what differentiates students who become continuing-generation college students from those who don’t?

To answer these questions, we drew upon The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a longitudinal dataset of American youth.

We find that first-generation college graduates are often the advantaged members of their disadvantaged class. Though their parents did not graduate from college, they are disproportionately from higher income families, have parents who work in jobs with more authority and autonomy, and have parents with higher expectations that they go to college. They also live in higher income neighborhoods, and are more likely to work with mentors. They are more often healthy. Contrary to how we often think of advantage, more are girls than boys.

Likewise, students who do not become continuing-generation college graduates are often the disadvantaged of the advantaged. Compared to other kids with college-educated parents, they are more likely to have parents with lower incomes and who work outside the most authoritative jobs, and they see their parents as being more accepting of not graduating from college. They also are more likely to live in lower income neighborhoods that have higher unemployment rates and to attend schools that are less funded. They more often have health issues and learning difficulties. But, departing from the pattern, more are boys than girls.

Interestingly, we also show that a lot of what parents do and don’t do that we all tend to think could matter for helping their children graduate from college, actually doesn’t. Among parents who did not graduate from college, it doesn’t matter if they talk to their children about school and work, work on school projects with them, or choose their neighborhood for its schools—their kids have the same chances of graduating from college either way. It also doesn’t matter if these parents put their kids in schools with low class sizes, more experienced teachers, or high school funding.

Among parents who have a bachelor’s degree, many things we tend to worry about also don’t matter for whether their children graduate from college. This includes putting their kids in schools with high achieving peers, small class sizes, and more experienced teachers, as well as helping their children find mentors.

There’s also another surprising fact: among students whose parents have the same resources, there are no white/black or white/Hispanic differences in becoming a first-generation or continuing-college graduate. Black students are less likely to graduate from college than white students, but this seems to be driven by their parents having fewer resources.

About a third of students who could become first-generation college graduates do so, and about a third of students who could become non-continuing-generation college graduates do so. Does this highlight the openness of the class structure? We don’t think so. As it’s the advantaged members of disadvantaged groups who graduate from college and the disadvantaged members of advantaged groups who don’t, our findings reinforce the idea that college is mostly closed to the disadvantaged and open to the advantaged. It’s mostly students whose parents have high levels of resources for their educational background who graduate from college—hardly a ringing endorsement of an open system or a meritocracy.

Anna Manzoni is Associate Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University. Her current research interests include youth transition to adulthood, intergenerational support, inequalities in college access and returns and social mobility more broadly. Her work has been published in Advances in Life Course Research, European Sociological Review, Journal of Family Research, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Journal of Higher Education, PLOS one, Research in Higher Education, Social Forces, Sociological Methodology, The Sociological Quarterly, among other journals. Follow her on Twitter @theitalianna

Jessi Streib is a sociologist at Duke University. She is the author of three books on class, including the forthcoming The Accidental Equalizer: How Luck Determines Pay After College. Follow her on Twitter @JessiStreib


Screenshot of London Review of Books

Reprinted with permission from The Society Pages

All of us depend, in early age and often at the end of life, on the care of others. We are shaped by individual, consequential but highly contingent acts of care, or their absence. To think about care is to shuttle back and forth between social totality and the irreducible complexity of individual needs, from feeding or washing to dignity or meaningful attention, explains James Butler in a new LRB essay.

A friend shared James Butler’s recent essay in the London Review of Books, “This Concerns Everyone.” For me it was a compact UK complement to Jean Tronto’s Who Cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics. Both pieces ask readers to cut across economic, moral, emotional, and social approaches to care so we can do better at addressing the crisis of care that is everywhere and everything all at once, so to speak. And yes, I am writing a review of a review article that points you to even more articles.

“This Concerns Everyone” reviews several books and leads with worry about how aging and disabled people are cared for in England; other forms of family care are in the scope of the piece. Butler covers the harms of private equity and corporate approaches to the business of care that we should make front-and-center in the U.S. (as Rose Batt and Eileen Appelbaum are doing). He presents what one might call an inequality as policy (an oldie but goodie that helps with this idea) argument about how government austerity has reduced access to care and increased suffering, by design.

Butler writes:

It would be a failure if the only answers sought were economic. The problem of care raises questions that lie outside the typical bounds of policy work…. What degree of indignity, pain, degradation or abuse are we prepared to see the people around us suffer?

Yikes. He goes on:

And what, if we are unable or unwilling to do it ourselves, are we prepared to pay for the work most intimate and essential to human life? Politicians may not wish to acknowledge these issues, but circumstances will force them on us regardless.

In short: Care is about suffering, care is about money, and care is about labor. Butler illustrates the labor conditions for a growing UK care workforce with diminishing wages: 

One case recently investigated by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority found nine Indian care workers in the UK on student visas, sleeping in cold and cramped conditions, with evidence their recruiters controlled their wages. Coworkers had raised the alarm after noticing them eating leftovers from residents’ plates.

In the U.S. context, we understand these conditions to be a form of anti-Blackness. See, for example, a key essay on  #BlackWomenBest regarding Black women workers during COVID.

Now: hold that “systemic reliance on diminished power” of targeted groups in your mind as you turn to his next point: Butler asks us to consider seriously the existential, enigmatic place that care takes as both work and love. To face that question–the question of feeling about care work–is not easy. It is irritating. 

The irritating bit comes from the strategic and naturalized way that care is made to be sentimental and sweet:

Key [an author he profiled] cared for people with psychosis, and confesses to his naivety when he started the job. He detects a similar naivety in artists or professors for whom care is a fantasy of universal benevolence, a weakly secularised Christian caritas. Where’s the wiping up of blood or piss, the frustration and resentment, the sheer exhaustion? It would be easier if the fantasy were baseless, but the attention to the individual that care work requires does generate love, of a kind, sometimes. It isn’t a reward – that would be better pay – but a contradiction in the work itself, not something that can be reasoned out of it. ‘The love I feel in fleeting bursts at work is painful and complicated,’ Key writes, ‘and it would probably be better to not feel it. It’s a job. I scrub a lot of toilets.’

What to do?I’ve been doing this reading as a Sociology of Families professor–and as a person who needs care and gives care. I am looking for innovations to help college students know our subject beyond charts, graphs, or ethnographies. I’m also asking them to know themselves. In my Families classes, my mainly working-class students face this joint dilemma: They think about care and the realities of the double- and triple-shift lives of caring, working (often in caregiver jobs), and schooling on the one hand, and that commonplace sentimentality of care (referenced above) on the other. We can’t get anywhere without finding a way to recognize all of it.

Some students have taken the opportunity to join a photography project about wrkxfmly created by Working Assumptions. Photography allows students to go beyond the measurement of all things social that we typically do in sociology. Through photography, students are guided to see and share each unique case of the contradiction between the pain and the love of care described by Butler.

Where “This Concerns Everyone” isn’t on point for the U.S., it is often as revealing as where it is: Butler bemoans the slide away from a social safety net system in the U.K.; here in the U.S., there has hardly been one to slide away from. Despite the pandemic, we still have no federal requirement for paid leave. The toll on women is pronounced. A colleague recently asked me if there’s a chance that care can be or ever will be elevated–in economics and in culture? It was a rational question that made me sad. I think she was asking if we can get more people to see that it has never been a choice

In line with that, Butler wrote:

[Another author] counterposes the logic of care and the logic of choice, arguing that a narrow focus on choice can amount to patient neglect. The reality of care exposes our dependence on others and shows how constrained, even illusory, our choices are.

The sad part of the “will care ever be elevated?” is that we face care one way or another. Getting a glimpse of my father’s last few days in hospice last week—and sitting with his wife’s labors for him, for herself, for countless others during his long and yet sharp decline—was a reminder that the need for care and the human cost of care are as inescapable as his death was.

Will care ever be elevated and centered in our politics to reflect how it is central to our lives? Essays like Butler’s on the U.K., the monograph by Tronto on the U.S., other pieces linked here, and even my students working through it all using photography make me think: maybe? I can’t show you my students’ work today. Expert and artist visions of the enigmas of care, though, are here, where we recognize the tensions Butler describes in a 24-hour daycare center and here in an intimate portrayal of those same tensions in the ordinary care of children at home during the pandemic. To be continued.

Virginia Rutter, Professor (emerita), Department of Sociology, Framingham State University, Dr. Rutter is editor, with Kristi Williams (Ohio State University) and Barbara Risman (University of Illinois at Chicago), of Families as They Really Are (Norton).The third edition is out Fall 2023. Follow her at @virginiarutter

Sandpit with shovel and pail.
“Untitled” by congerdesign licensed under Pixabay License

Parents today are trying their best to do what’s best for their children. That isn’t always easy. In many cases, making sure that your kids are safe and happy is no longer considered enough. Images in the media, pervasive consumerism, and social media all convey to parents the idea that they should do whatever they can to make sure their children are exceptional. The barrage of photos that appear in their daily Instagram feed alone could convince even a devoted parent that they should be spending more preparing exotic meals for their families, taking their children on extravagant vacations, attending as many school events as possible—and sharing evidence of their parental devotion with the world.

I am currently writing a book about the youth sports industry. To gain a better understanding of how changes to that industry are affecting families, I have attended countless practices and games, interviewed of parents of young athletes, and asked coaches to reflect on their experiences working with kids. My research indicates that rapid expansion of the youth sports industry has intensified the pressure that parents feel to increase the time, money, and energy they invest in their children’s athletic careers. Overseeing their children’s athletic careers has become more complicated and stressful.

Although my current research focuses on sports, the tendency to do whatever it takes to get ahead seems to have infected many other areas of contemporary culture. Parents of budding ballerinas, debaters, and singers are all likely to experience pressure to set their sons and daughters up for success as early as possible. This can lead parents to fork over large sums of money to pay for private lessons, specialized summer camps, and social marketing campaigns. Would it surprise you to learn an industry has emerged to meet the growing demand for coaches who prepare linguistically talented youngsters to compete in spelling bees? Or that some of those coaches charge more than $200 per hour for their services?

This emphasis on performance over development extends into the classroom as well. In my work as a professor of education, I spend a great deal of time in schools. As you have probably experienced yourself, the importance attached to test scores now overshadows many of the core responsibilities our society has traditionally entrusted to schools. Over the past two decades, I have noticed a gradual decline in attention paid to students’ social development and love for learning. As long as students receive acceptable scores on standardized tests, the system is judged a success. One by-product of this shift is that schools may prepare children to win competitions, but they lose their motivation to learn along the way. 

Parents are constantly bombarded with messages that emphasize the need to provide their children with competitive advantages—in the classroom, on the playing field, and on stage. This can create a sense of information overload that makes it difficult for parents to make sound decisions for their children. In that situation, I have observed, they tend to follow the lead of their peers, who are unlikely to be better informed than themselves. This can prompt parents to make choices that they later regret. Uniformed consumers make excellent customers.

When faced with uncertainty, parents usually opt to expand the volume and intensity of the activities their children participate in.

So, what can be done to address this situation?

Though I would like to slow that trend toward commercialization of athletics (and other extra-curricular activities), I also recognize that this would be an enormous undertaking. The business interests that profit from parents willing to pay for services with the potential to give their children competitive advantages have become deeply entrenched in our society. For this reason, I encourage parents to focus on the long-term goals they have for their children and make decisions with careful attention to those objectives. What do they ultimately hope their sons and daughters will get out of participating in extra-curricular activities?

Interestingly, when I asked parents what they hoped their children would learn through sports, they mentioned the value of “life lessons” more often than winning. Those lessons included things like persistence, the ability to work with others, overcoming adversity, and time management. Yet while almost everyone I interviewed recognized the importance of those lessons, many failed to back up their words with action. When an invitation to an elite summer camp or to try out for a highly ranked team, they found it difficult to resist those opportunities.

The most well-adjusted athletes I observed as I conducted my research invested time and energy in sports, but also participated in other extra-curricular activities. Parents of these well-rounded young women and men resisted the temptation to make decisions based on the assumption that their children would one day receive offers to play or perform at the college level. Regarding a college scholarship as one of many possible outcomes—rather than the ultimate sign of success—had a ripple effect; it allowed them to make decisions in a more holistic way, after considering many different factors. They encouraged their sons and daughters to play multiple sports, act in school plays, participate in school government, etc. In other words, parents created a sense of balance in their children’s lives.

Children’s interests and priorities shift over time. Their developmental needs evolve. A kid who seems intent on becoming a professional basketball player at age 8 might decide that playing the violin is more gratifying only a couple of years later. If parents can maintain a focus on life lessons rather than competition, they can create a solid foundation for their children’s long term physical, social, and cognitive development.

Christopher Bjork is a Professor of Education on the Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. Chair & Coordinator of Teacher Education. You can reach them on Twitter @chrisbjork6