Happy African American student raising her hand to ask a question during lecture in the classroom.

Every spring 80,000 NYC eighth-graders receive their matched high school offer. The offer ends a months-long process when families search for potential schools and submit an application to the NYC Department of Education ranking their top twelve preferred schools. And every spring, the high school match season sparks a passioned conversation about how NYC school choice policies abate, reflect, and/or exacerbate racial inequities and segregation. Although students are key policy recipients and actors in school choice and segregation, student perspectives are often absent from this policy debate.  

I wanted to understand students’ opinions of high schools. Unlike elementary and middle school selections, students are deeply involved in their high school selections. I conducted an experiment with over 1,000 NYC eighth grade families to understand their preferences for potential high schools. I separately asked parents and students their willingness to attend hypothetical majority White, Latinx, and Black schools with randomized graduation rates and safety indicators. These schools were essentially the exact same but differed by their racial compositions.

Emphasizing the importance of students to the school segregation conversation, I found that students express different race-based preferences for schools than their parents.  

White and Latinx students’ preferences for schools were less anti-Black than White and Latinx parents. White and Latinx parents’ aversion to attending the Black school compared to White and Latinx schools was two to three times larger than White and Latinx students’ preferences to avoid the Black school. The differences in White and Latinx parents’ and students’ race-based school preferences could be driven by younger generations being less likely to desire racially segregated schools and to endorse anti-Black sentiments and stereotypes. Parents may also feel particularly anxious about making educational decisions that secure students’ socio-economic future and use race as a signal for schools’ academic quality.

Among Black respondents, Black students preferred to avoid the White school relative to the other school options, while Black parents did not express race-based preferences for schools. Black students’ caution with attending the White schools could be due to their awareness and apprehensions about potential racial biases, discrimination, and violence in White social spaces.

Student perspectives of schools yields cautious optimism about the future of segregation.

We could see racial segregation decline, as this generation of White and Latinx students mature into adulthood. They could continue to be less anti-Black than their parents and less avoidant of schools, universities, neighborhoods, and jobs with more Black people. However, as White and Latinx youth become parents, they could also adopt the same socio-economic anxieties and anti-Black preferences as their parents. They could avoid Black spaces and, accordingly, school and residential racial segregation could persist.

As Black youth continue to grapple with publicized racial violence and discrimination, they may choose to avoid predominately White universities and neighborhoods and to select HBCUs and Black neighborhoods. These students could also eventually believe, like Black parents, that there is no right choice that shields them from structural and individual racism.

In cities across the country, like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, politicians, education administrators, and parents intensely contest school choice policies and segregation. However, we must center student voice in these conversations to both garner hope and grapple with potential difficulties with the future of educational equity.

Chantal A. Hailey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research is at the intersections of race and ethnicity, stratification, urban sociology, education, and criminology. She is particularly interested in how micro decision-making contributes to larger macro segregation and stratification patterns and how racism creates, sustains, and exacerbates racial, educational, and socioeconomic inequality. You can follow them on Twitter @ChantalAHailey

Recent Articles:

 “Racial Preferences for Schools: Evidence from a Survey Experiment with White, Black, Latinx, and Asian Parents and Students”  Sociology of Education

Racialized Perceptions of Anticipated School Belonging” Educational Policy 

Reprinted from The Inquirer, March 9, 2022

I’ve been interviewing struggling Philadelphians for decades. “I can’t go to work Monday,” one mother told me. “I have no money to pay the day care.”

Kori Yancey holds Carter Daily, 2, while his mother, Erica Carter (left), looks on at Carter’s apartment in Lansdale, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. Along the Way, a nonprofit based in Montgomery County, provides overnight day care for women who work night shifts.
Kori Yancey holds Carter Daily, 2, while his mother, Erica Carter (left), looks on at Carter’s apartment in Lansdale, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. Along the Way, a nonprofit based in Montgomery County, provides overnight day care for women who work night shifts.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

When I first met lifelong Philadelphia resident Colleen in 2004, we talked about child care. In the past, she had struggled to pay for care for her child as a part-time server in a restaurant. She felt lucky when she landed a full-time job making $7 an hour but found that it was not enough to afford the reliable child care she needed for her new work schedule. And when she turned to options for child-care subsidies, she was only offered a spot on a months-long waiting list.

The realization stung. “I can’t go to work Monday,” she told me. “I have no money to pay the day care.” Left without any options, Colleen had to quit her new job to take care of her child.

n his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden made clear that he intends to lower the high costs of having a family in America. That includes fixing the decades-long issues plaguing our nation’s child-care system, which has driven costs for families through the roof.

This is particularly crucial in Philadelphia, where the median family income lags more than $20,000 behind the median U.S. household, making child-care costs even more overwhelming.

President Biden’s plan to fix it — including curbing child-care costs to less than 7% of family income for most people, outlined in last year’s Build Back Better Act — would be a major step in the right direction. His State of the Union address should be a wake-up call for our members of Congress to finally come together and pass meaningful child-care reform. Our nation’s families depend on it.

When I first began interviewing people who were financially struggling throughout Philadelphia in the 2000s, I heard many stories from low-income parents like Colleen who were trying to cover the costs of necessities.

Even when the minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour in 2009, it was not nearly enough to offset increases in child-care costs. And the fact that the federal — and Pennsylvania — minimum wage has not been increased in nearly 13 years means that families are facing this pinch even more today.

The simplest way to help parents like Colleen, and to get child care to the greatest number of kids, is to expand universal and public options and make child care more affordable for everyone.

In Pennsylvania, kindergarten is not state-mandated. Where kindergarten is available, it is not always full-day. For working parents, half-day kindergarten means they have to spend another year paying exorbitant child-care costs to cover the hours when their child isn’t in school.

The government needs to fully fund public elementary education so that every school district can offer full-day kindergarten and free pre-K. This would enable parents to go to work knowing their children are cared for and that they won’t lose most of their earnings to child care. And we must increase subsidies and federal dollars for child-care providers so that the workers providing this crucial care can finally be paid what they’re worth.

These programs would substantially reduce the cost of child care for families and support an industry that has long been losing talented and passionate workers who are often paid poverty-level wages.

Such proposals were not possible when Colleen was trying to navigate the world of low-wage work. But now there is an opportunity to make child care more affordable for countless families just like hers, including many in the Philadelphia area. Congress should support Biden’s agenda and finally pass meaningful child-care reform.

Joan Maya Mazelis is an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University-Camden and the author of “Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor.” @JoanieMazelis


Love and wedding during covid-19 pandemic

At wedding showers, guests are often asked to provide advice to the newlyweds. As someone who values my alone time, one of my favorites has always been, “The key to a happy marriage is spending lots of time apart.” But for many married couples in the US in March 2020, “spending lots of time apart” became unattainable due to workplaces, schools, churches, restaurants, gyms, and other public or semi-public spaces closing their doors. Other couples—in which one or both spouses worked “essential” jobs with high risks of COVID-19 infections—contended with very little time together. At the same time, although shutting down public gathering spaces and public health officials cautioning against social interactions outside of households was clearly beneficial to reducing the spread of COVID-19, it also likely posed unique risks for the mental health and social well-being of single adults, especially those who lived alone or provided care to children and other family members.

These complex dynamics point to a likely reality: Families have been especially salient for our health and well-being during the pandemic period. Family scientists have long shown that family status—including relationship status—is linked to health, with most studies finding (broadly speaking) that married adults have better health outcomes than never married, divorced, and widowed adults. Yet these patterns, like all social science patterns, are context-specific, and studies are only beginning to consider how this may have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To address this, in my recent study (2022), I analyzed survey data from April to December 2020. I found that never married respondents had increased probabilities of fair or poor health, depression, and anxiety relative to married adults as the pandemic progressed. The dominant ideology within the US even before the pandemic privileged marriages and legal families, as reflected in public policies such as people having access to their spouse’s employer-based health insurance and “greedy marriage” norms which encourage married couples to prioritize their spouse above other relationships. The pandemic may have amplified this social advantage for the married, as the pandemic period was generally characterized by increased reliance on families—giving adults with a spouse a potential health-related benefit. Spouses likely provided important financial and practical support for each other in the context of unstable employment and childcare and emotional support while navigating the death and illness of loved ones and uncertain social times. Given limited opportunities to gather and socialize outside of the household, single adults who lived alone may have had less access to these supports. These dynamics together for never-married and married adults perhaps underlie the patterns I found in my survey analysis of widening health disparities for these two groups.

Yet I also found a narrowing of the difference in health outcomes for married compared to previously married adults over these same months, demonstrating the need to disentangle groups of non-married adults and not treat the “marital advantage” as universal. Although these survey data did not allow me to examine marital quality, other studies have shown that relationship strain increased as the pandemic progressed. Being isolated together as a couple—alongside new financial and health stressors—may have increased tension within relationships. Additionally, many couples experienced conflict around discordant views on masks, social distancing, and (in later months) vaccines. As an additional caution against seeing marriage as universally beneficial for health during the pandemic, my analysis further showed that marriage was more meaningful for men’s mental health than women’s, in line with feminist understandings of his and hers heterosexual marriages where men and women in the same marriage experience starkly different dynamics and benefits.

Figure: Estimated Trends in Reporting Fair or Poor Health by Relationship Status, Household

Pulse Survey, April-December 2020

Note: N=1,422,733. Weighted. Models adjust for gender, race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, household income, coresidential children, and pandemic-related stressors (lost income, food insufficiency, delayed medical care, and issues with paying for housing).

The patterns I showed in this analysis are not inevitable but rather reflect the public policies and organizational decisions across the pandemic months. Health disparities, including family-based health disparities, are not static, but dynamic—shifting alongside changes within society. During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, public policies were created to specifically strengthen the social safety net, including changes to unemployment benefits, stimulus payments from the federal government, and protections against evictions and debt repayment. Yet rather than extending these policies, many expired after a short period of time, likely to the detriment of the most vulnerable within society and resulting in strains on families and individuals. Within the current environment, married couples are generally at an advantage because society privileges marriage above friendships, siblings, cohabiting and dating relationships, and other social arrangements. We should aim to create policies that support multiple types of family arrangements beyond marriage, recognizing the multiple forms and functions that families and communities take, and in turn reduce disparities across these diverse family types—not broaden them.

Mieke Beth Thomeer, PhD is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and a Deputy Editor at the Journal of Marriage and Family. Follow her @miekebeth

Marriages and Divorces and the COVID-19 Pandemic in the U.S.

Cake topper sitting in the middle of a cake torn in two

There is no doubt the COVID-19 Pandemic effected multiple domains of American’s lives. Specific to marriage and divorce, these effects were immediate creating literal barriers to those marriages and divorces that were already in motion. Later, as the pandemic continued the economic consequences of the illness, and the mitigation measures became more personally relevant and apparent. But at a population level, how did these events effect Americans’ marital behavior? Recent research on the effect of economic downturns on marriages and divorces suggest they lead to declines in both (see Hellerstein & Morrill, 2011; Schaller, 2013). Looking at data on the effects of The Great Recession I found a significant drop in divorces during the crisis followed by a slight uptick following the recovery (Payne, 2014). These findings led to questions regarding the institution of marriage as the pandemic and mitigation measures wane. Also, marriage and divorce were already on a downward track before the pandemic (Westrick-Payne & Manning, 2022), so it is important to consider these trends in assessments of marriage and divorce during the pandemic. If changes in marriage and divorce are evident, will they be short-term, or will they represent longer term shifts in behavior?

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research has been tracking and archiving national, state, and county-level trends in marriage and divorce over time. When the world began to shutter in response to the COVID-19 pandemic we anticipated rippling effects on marriage and divorce and were well positioned to investigate them as they unfolded. Our initial examination was limited to states with published monthly vital statistics for the year 2020 (Arizona, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oregon). Like estimates of excess mortality, we computed expected numbers of marriages and divorces based on what was observed in the months prior to the pandemic. We then compared how the expected number compared to the number that took place. Overall, the pattern indicated shortfalls in both marriages and divorces compared to what we would have expected. However, it’s important to note that, even among the few states in our case study, we found variation. It appeared, by as early as September of 2020, Arizona had nearly recovered all marriages and divorces.

As more data were released, we were able to expand our investigation in our most recent data viz publication to include marriages in 20 states and divorces in 35. Here again, we found shortfalls–10.7% fewer marriages and 12.3% fewer divorces—compared to what we would have expected given counts in the prior 24 months. Likewise, variation between states persisted with marriage shortfalls as high as 43.7% in Hawaii and 20.3% in Nevada. Regarding divorces, most states (31) posted fewer than expected with South Carolina experiencing the largest shortfall (32.9%).

The most recently released data on marriages and divorces by state by National Center for Health Statistics is consistent with our findings. At the Population Association of America’s 2022 Annual Meeting in April and in the NCFMR Family Profile series we presented estimates of shortfalls and excesses in marriages and divorces based on the NCHS report. Consistent with our prior investigations, we found evidence of a 12% decline overall. Forty-one states and Washington D.C. experienced declines and nine states did not. Hawaii, California, and New York had the largest shortfalls and Texas, and Montana had the largest increases. Although four states did not report divorces in 2020, of those that did we expected nearly 715,000 divorces but only observed about 630,000—a shortfall of 12%. Louisiana and Maryland had the largest shortfalls, 57% and 43%, respectively. There were eight states with no shortfalls, with Illinois and Mississippi leading the pack at 42% and 30%, respectively. Arizona ended 2020 with about 300 more divorces than expected. These findings were remarkably consistent with our predictions with over 231,000 fewer marriages and nearly 85,000 fewer divorces. Further, preliminary estimates of states with available monthly counts in 2021 show a continuation of these trends with fewer marriages in six out of seven states and fewer divorces in four out of five states.

In sum, while some states had recovered in respect to marriages and divorces by the close of 2020, the handful of states with available data for 2021 still indicate possible lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on marriage and divorce in the United States. Larger questions remain. Do these results represent marriages and divorce merely postponed, or will they never occur? Only time will tell how far the ripples will extend.

Source: NCFMR analyses of CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System; U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division Annual Estimates of the Resident Population; U.S. Census Bureau, 2020 American Community Survey, 1-year Experimental PUMS

Krista K. Westrick-Payne, PhD, (kristaw@bgsu.edu) is the assistant director for the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, and research affiliate of the Center for Family & Demographic Research both at Bowling Green State University. She is also the data technician for the Henry County Health Department. Trained as a family demographer, her work encompasses a broad range of topics related to marriage, family, place, and health throughout the life course. She also has a particular interest in data visualization. You can follow them on Twitter @kkaypayne. You can follow the NCFMR @NCFMRBGSU


Amato, P. R., & Beattie, B. (2011). Does the unemployment rate affect the divorce rate? An analysis of state data 1960–2005. Social Science Research, 40(3), 705-715.

Hellerstein, J. K., & Morrill, M. S. (2011). Booms, busts, and divorce. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 11(1).

Payne, K. K. (2014). The Divorce Rate and the Great Recession. Family Profiles, FP-14-19. Bowling Green, OH: National Center for Family & Marriage Research. http://www.bgsu.edu/content/dam/BGSU/college-of- arts-and-sciences/NCFMR/documents/FP/FP-14-19-divorce- rate-recession.pdf   

Manning, W. D. & Payne, K. K. (2021). Marriage and divorce decline during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case study of five states. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 7, 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1177/23780231211006976 

National Center for Health Statistics. (n.d.). Marriages and Divorces. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage-divorce.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fnchs%2Fmardiv.htm

Schaller, J. (2013). For richer, if not for poorer? Marriage and divorce over the business cycle. Journal of Population Economics, 26(3), 1007-1033.

Westrick-Payne, K. K., Manning, W. D. (2022). Marriage, divorce, and the COVID-19 Pandemic in the U.S. Family Profiles, FP-22-12. Bowling Green, OH: National Center for Family & Marriage Research. https://doi.org/10.25035/ncfmr/fp-22-12

Westrick-Payne, K. K., Manning, W. D., Carlson, L. (2022). Pandemic shortfall in marriages and divorce in the United States. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic Work, 8, 1-3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/23780231221090192

Westrick-Payne, K. K., Manning, W. D., Carlson, L. (2022). “Marriage and divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic: State-level analysis” Population Association of America, Atlanta, GA.  

American Flags at Half Mast behind Chain Link Fencing.

Growing up with undocumented parents can place children at a disadvantage.  Indeed, studies find that children with undocumented parents are likely to face increased levels of poverty, depression and anxiety, housing instability, and educational barriers. As these youth come of age, they can take on additional responsibilities for the family including financial support, sponsoring undocumented parents for Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR), and providing immigration policy updates. However, it remains unclear how the immigration status of the young adults shapes the support they provide to their undocumented parents.

In other words, how does parental support differ between citizen young adults and undocumented young adults?

My recent study examines how U.S.-born citizen and DACAmented college students manage parental illegality in their families. This qualitative study draws on 41 semi-structured interviews with Latinx college students who vary in immigration status. All participants had at least one undocumented parent and lived in Southern California at the time of the interview. 

The findings suggest that young adults’ legal status shaped the strategies used to mediate parental illegality. Young adults engaged in tactics to support their undocumented parents, including informing undocumented parents about their legal rights, sharing tips about how to navigate interactions with police or ICE, easing fears family separation, and creating strategies to minimizing threats of deportation or detention. The in-depth interviews revealed that citizens and DACAmented young adults’ support was facilitated or constrained by their own immigration status.

Citizens attempted to use their protected legal status to support their undocumented parents in two ways. First, citizens investigated the immigration petition process and sought out possible options to adjust their parents’ legal status. Participants detailed how they looked up information about sponsorship on the Web, discussed the family’s case with lawyers, and strategized how to cover the costs of sponsorship. Only three participants were able to successfully petition their parents for Lawful Permanent Residency—with the vast majority unable to do so due to state-sanctioned restrictions. Second, citizens helped their undocumented parents by stepping in to shield parents from threats of deportation. Driving undocumented parents through and around checkpoints was the most commonly used tactic. The strategies used by citizens underscores the advantages and drawbacks of citizenship in mixed status Latinx immigrant families.

DACAmented young adults shared legal capital and immigration policy updates with their undocumented parents. Respondents’ unique social characteristics as acculturated bilingual college students with DACA shaped the set of tactics used to help their undocumented parents. Access to DACA allowed these young people to help in similar ways to that of citizens. For instance, both DACAmented and citizen young adults were able to provide financial support through part-time jobs and open credit cards that parents could use. However, DACA’s temporary and unstable nature during the Trump administration confined DACAmented respondents to a state of precarity wherein their safety and futures were threatened. In response to this uncertainty, DACAmented young adults made use of legal resources on their campus. These youth were able to access targeted on-campus resources and programming for undocumented students including a centralized resource center, classes, conferences, scholarships, legal services, housing, DACA renewal clinics, professional development, academic consultation, support groups, and immigrant rights organizations. This network of resources for undocumented students on campus served as a mechanism as to how DACAmented young adults acquired legal capital. These young adults then shared these resources with their undocumented parents with the intention of mediating the harmful effects of illegality in their families.

In the context of a restrictive sociopolitical climate, this study sheds light on how adult children of undocumented immigrants develop strategies to combat threats of family separation, detention, and deportation. Young adults draw on resources available to them to support their undocumented parents—albeit some are better positioned to provide legal knowledge than others. The strategies implemented by adult children of undocumented immigrants highlight the need for policy addressing the legal vulnerability of undocumented and mixed status families. Until then, children of undocumented immigrants will continue to endure the burden of navigating a broken immigration system.

Vanessa Delgado is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at UC, Irvine. Her research examines the incorporation pathways and educational experiences of Latino/a/x families. Delgado’s research is featured in several journals including Law & Policy, Journal of Latinos and Education, Sociology Compass, Socius, and Journal of Marriage and Family. Follow them on Twitter @VanessaD015


Broken heart hung on a line

Although people have become more accepting of interracial unions, interracial couples continue to report experiencing family opposition, ostracism from kin, and discrimination from neighbors.  The opposition tends to be stronger for interracial marriages than for interracial cohabitations. Partly reflecting these challenges, interracial couples cohabit at higher rates than same-race couples. Approximately one-in-five cohabitations involved partners of a different ethno-race, which contrasted with one-in-ten marriages.

Interracial couples’ higher cohabitation rates beget the question: does cohabitation serve a different function for interracial couples than for same-race couples?  Specifically, the prospect of facing opposition from family, kin, and friends may mean that interracial couples may have a greater need to cohabit prior to marriage to test their compatibility before entering into a marriage that is meant to be “forever-lasting”.  Simultaneously, cohabitation may be interracial couples may be a substitute for marriage, offering a way to enjoy the benefits of married life without the challenges that accompany interracial marriage.

The extent to which interracial cohabitation serves a different role than same-race cohabitation may vary depending on the couple’s joint race/ethnicity.  Due to the legacy of anti-miscegenation laws, opposition towards White-Black interracial marriages tends to be more pronounced than it is for other interracial couples.

Most prior work either focus on disparities in the stability and outcome of cohabitations by female partner’s ethno-race or differences between interracial and same-race marriages.  Therefore, how the stability and outcome of interracial cohabitation compare with that of same-race cohabitation is largely unknown.

Our study

Our study, published in Demographic Researchexamined the stability and outcome of interracial cohabitations before and after transitions into marriage. Using data from the 2002 and 2006-2019 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), we examined whether interracial cohabitations were more likely than same-race cohabitations to dissolve or end in a marriage. We also examined whether premarital cohabitation stabilized interracial marriages to a greater extent than same-race marriages. We also documented variations in the stability and outcome of White-Black and White-Hispanic intermarriages.

Our Findings

How the stability and outcome of interracial cohabitations compare with those of same-race cohabitations varies depending on whether or not the cohabitation resulted in a marriage.

The stability and outcome of premarital cohabitations involving White-Black couples mirror closely those of the same-race Black couples. Their probability of transitioning into marriage is slightly lower than those of same-race Black couples. Their probability of separation is slightly higher than those of same-race Black couples. And the stability and outcome of White-Hispanic couples fall in between those of their same-race counterparts. Their probability of transitioning into marriage is lower than that of same-race White couples but higher than that of same-race Hispanic couples; however, their probability of separation mirror closely that of same-race Hispanic couples.

For the cohort of women in our study, premarital cohabitation tends to be associated with a higher risk of marital disruption. These patterns are commonly attributed to the fact that (a) those who cohabit may be a select group who may be more socioeconomically disadvantaged than those who married and (b) cohabitors may forego behaviors like pooling resources or making joint investments that stabilize marriage.

However, there is an exception to this pattern.  Premarital cohabitation is negatively associated with a lower risk of marital disruption among White-Black couples. Their probability of marital disruption is lower than that of their peers who transitioned directly into marriage. It is also only slightly higher than that of same-race White couples who cohabited before marriage. The exceptional pattern likely emerges because White-Black couples in intermarriages are a select group who are unusually pro-nuptial, are highly compatible, and/or have made joint investments together which lowers their risk of marital disruption.


Our study offers valuable insights into how structural barriers alter the social significance of cohabitation for interracial couples, particularly White-Black couples. Challenges associated with crossing formidable barriers to intermarriage may have created a greater need for interracial couples to cohabit prior to marriage. Yet, after they transition into marriage, White-Black marriages preceded by cohabitation tend to be stable because only lower shares of White-Black couples transition into marriage.

Kate H. Choi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Research on Social Inequality at Western University in London, ON. Follow them on Twitter @KateHeeChoi



A Caucasian, female office worker climbing on a ladder trying to reach for a box on a shelf. She wears a black outfit from top to bottom and has brown hair. She stands on a ladder that is a bit too short and leans forward dangerously trying to retrieve the box. The shelf has several compartments with the same box in each compartment. There is a wall and large glass windows on the left, behind her. There is a white ceiling above her. The floor of the office is out of view.

Much of the current conversation about work in the United States focuses on recent gains in workers’ rights, power, and working conditions. In the past year, workers elected to create unions at several Starbucks location, an Amazon warehouse, and an Apple store, and are working to create unions in other retail spaces such as Trader Joe’s. Workers are also witnessing an increase in wages after decades of wage stagnation. However, the overall landscape of work in the 21st century would not be described as an era of favorable working conditions.

In fact, work is increasingly characterized by a lack of job security, little control over work schedules and work hours, frequent job changes and instability, and limited social benefits from employers. In a recent study, I documented how these aspects of work – often referred to as precarious work – can impact the health of workers. While prior research has found that precarious work can impact the mental well-being and health of workers, I addressed a gap in the research by demonstrating the lasting health consequences of long-term exposure to precarious work.

In the study, I examined the health trajectories of 8,283 adults over age 65 to understand how their exposure to precarious work from age 50 to 65 shaped their health outcomes after age 65. I considered the number of chronic conditions they developed, how many functional limitations impacted their daily lives (e.g., getting up from a chair, climbing a flight of stairs), and their risk of dying after age 65.

What I found is that individuals who were frequently exposed to adverse work experiences such as unemployment, job insecurity, and insufficient work hours experienced more chronic conditions and functional limitations after age 65 compared to individuals who were not frequently exposed to these conditions. These workers also experienced a higher risk of dying after age 65. Thus, long-term exposure to precarious work can take a lasting toll on a person’s health and shorten their life.

Although the specific reasons for the lasting health effects remain unclear, I suspect that the chronic stress from long-term exposure to precarious work can take a toll on workers’ bodies over time. For example, constantly experiencing job insecurity or insufficient work hours can lead to feelings of hopelessness and psychological distress, which can ultimately “get under the skin” to affect chronic conditions and other physical health problems, as evidenced by prior research.

The findings from my study are particularly concerning in light of the persistence of precarious work in the 21st century. Insecurity and instability at work have seeped into all sectors of the economy over the past several decades, with no sign of abating. Given stark linkages between precarious work and health, precarious work should be considered a public health crisis. If work is causing more health problems and a greater risk of premature death, precarious work will have significant consequences for individuals, their families, and society as a whole.

Although recent improvements in wages and union representation have the potential to help workers and (hopefully) to improve their health outcomes, we have a long way to go. In the United States, we lack protections for workers and social safety net policies that have the potential to alleviate some of the health consequences of precarious work. For example, the United States remains the only high-income country lacking paid leave for workers. Moreover, a number of states have enacted policies to limit the scope and power of unions, at the detriment of workers. We will need a seismic shift in the policy arena to improve the lives of workers in the United States, and my study points to this as a necessary endeavor for public health.

Rachel Donnelly is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on health and health disparities across the life course, with an emphasis on how work and family relationships contribute to disparate health outcomes.

Cover of American Gold Digger

In May 2022, Johnny Depp fans heckled Amber Heard and called her a “gold digger” as she left the courthouse in her defamation trial. Depp also called her a gold digger during her 2020 libel trial. Accusations of gold digging in one of the most publicized celebrity conflicts of the twenty-first century is not an accident, and this seemingly minor insult carries tremendous baggage. The history of the “gold digger” stereotype—and its power to shape perceptions of romance, marriage, and family—deserves our close attention.

The term “gold digger” refers to women who pursue romantic relationships for financial gain. To be sure, men have sometimes been accused of being gold diggers but, over the last century, it’s a label overwhelmingly applied to women. From its origin as chorus girl slang in the early 1900s it grew as a popular misogynistic slur. My book American Gold Digger: Marriage, Money, and the Law from the Ziegfeld Follies to Anna Nicole Smith (University of North Carolina Press) traces the history of the gold digger stereotype in the twentieth century. The book shows how depictions of gold diggers distort the conditions surrounding courtship and marriage. Alleged gold diggers absorb blame rightly directed toward structural and historical forces.

Moral panics about gold diggers emerged when American families experienced rapid social change. During the worst years of the Great Depression activists led a campaign to outlaw breach of promise litigation, a legal remedy available to women who were betrayed by their potential suitors. Inside movie theaters, millions of Americans watched stars like Mae West and Joan Blondell portray gold diggers who used so-called “heart balm” laws to con gullible men out of their hard-earned money. Inside courthouses and statehouses, crusaders successfully eliminated breach of promise laws (despite a steady decline in breach of promise lawsuits since the late-nineteenth century). What was once embraced as a remedy to restore a woman’s good name in a cutthroat marriage market now was regarded as a tasteless ploy from lower-class women to marry above their social station. The anti-heart balm campaign drew strength from popular representations of gold diggers, and gold digger narratives created a ready-made scapegoat for economic struggles.

In the 1990s, the American public fixated on the marriage between Anna Nicole Smith, a twenty-six-year-old model, and J. Howard Marshall, an eighty-nine-year-old oil tycoon. After Marshall’s death, his son and Anna Nicole Smith fought over the multi-million-dollar Marshall estate, a decade-long battle that involved two trips to the Supreme Court. During these years, the media’s characterization of Smith as a gold digger destroyed her reputation as a path-breaking fashion model. She became a joke in popular culture, with headlines that referenced popular gold digger movies from the 1950s. Few questioned Marshall’s wealth, evidence of his alleged involvement in criminal tax avoidance, or his connection to far-right figures like the Koch brothers. Marshall was remembered as a victim. Smith was remembered as a punchline. The gold digger trope worked its social magic. Complex legal and economic issues were simplified. Blame and anger were redirected toward an allegedly greedy woman.

Anna Nicole Smith from the mid-1990s. Smith broke new ground in the modeling world but was best known for being a “gold digger” after marrying an octogenarian millionaire. Courtesy of PhotoFest.

For the past 100 years the gold digger trope has allowed structural problems confronting American families to be seen in an individualized, personalized, and stylized way. The effects of legal and economic change on American families are often hard to grasp, but the gold digger is an easily accessible and understandable figure. The durable popularity of the gold digger trope shows how law and popular culture merge together to create powerful stereotypes that have lasting consequences.

Brian Donovan is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas and current President of the Midwest Sociological Society. Donovan is the author of White Slave Crusades, Respectability on Trial, and American Gold Digger. He can be reached at bdonovan@ku.edu. Donovan (and his cats) can also be found on Twitter at @golddiggerbook.



There have been growing calls for greater attention to intersectionality in queer spaces and mobilizing. Yet, many queer disabled people still feel like they are being left behind and invisible within the queer movement. This is what I have found in my recent study focused on the romantic and sexual experiences of 31 queer people labeled/with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Alberta, Canada.  

Disabled people, especially those labeled/with intellectual disabilities, are so commonly de-sexualized in their everyday lives that it is often believed that conversations about sex and sexuality are irrelevant to this social group. Not only that, but it is also the case that some non-disabled people assume that disabled people simply cannot identify as queer. Sometimes, talking about sexualities (in the plural) among disabled people, is seen as “going too far.” I have personally encountered service providers who referred to the intersection of disability and queerness as being “too much” or “too nuanced” to be addressed. Many struggle to find resources to support queer disabled people when they come out. The needs of queer people with disabilities are rarely considered in service provision and community supports. In fact, none of the participants had access to sexuality education in their schools and communities that addressed questions of sexual orientation in ways that would be relevant to disabled people.

By living at this intersection, queer disabled people often have to navigate both experiences of ableism and queerphobia. As one bisexual autistic participant shared, “Being on the spectrum, in my mind was already bad enough. If people knew I was bisexual, too, I feel like that make me just even more of an outcast. So, I just followed what everyone else did. And I tried to keep my head down low.” In addition, many must decide whether to “come out” as queer and/or disabled at different occasions. For those receiving direct care from family members and care workers, the fear of potentially losing those relationships and supports can discourage them from being open about their sexual identities. Some disabled people are even ridiculed, criticized, or punished for expressing their sexual desires. This might mean, for instance, increased surveillance from family members and direct care workers, which further prevents intimate relationship from being formed.

The current pandemic has had devastating impacts across various marginalized communities, including among queer people. From a lack of access to queer-friendly spaces and communities to access to (already few) supports and resources, the pandemic hit the community hard. The pandemic proved to be as harsh, if not harsher, for many disabled people in the community. Activists from People First of Canada, a national organization representing people labeled/with developmental and intellectual disabilities, pointed out how this social group was the “left behind of the left behind.” For some, the experiences with social distancing, for example, reminded of times living in institutions.

More and more disabled people now live in the community rather than in segregated care and it is important to ensure that people with disabilities can be active participants in the community. Yet, queer spaces, and even some Pride-related events, can be inaccessible to disabled people. It is worth mentioning that accessibility is more than merely building ramps at the back of the club. What participants have importantly pointed out is that accessibility is also about being meaningfully invited into queer spaces and offered spaces that are not overly sensory stimulating. For instance, for some queer disabled people, queer spaces, especially those involving loud music and other forms of sensory stimulation can be inaccessible: “I have to be like in a headspace where I can deal with the sensory stuff with it.” Instead, people shared their desire “sensory friendly place[s] where there’s like, good lighting, um not really too much noise. And you can just kind of hang out.”

Many participants also commented on the lack of representation of queer disabled people, which led some to feel like “outsiders” in their own communities. As one participant simply put, “I didn’t really want to participate in queer spaces because I felt like an interloper. I felt like I did not belong.” According to many participants, it is hard navigating queer spaces that do not consider disability and accessibility while they attempting to find disabled spaces that are thinking about questions of gender identity and sexualities. Not having a community that fully embraces both their queer and disabled existence, many participants feel stuck in the middle, feeling like an outsider in both communities.

In the face of these challenges, queer disabled activists and scholars are taking matters to their own hands and are using a variety of platforms, such as blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels, to raise awareness about experiences at this often-disregarded intersection and challenge the invisibility of queer disabled people. Also, recent TV shows, like Special and the reboot of Queer as Folk too, are trying to increase the visibility of queer disabled people. In such way, queer disabled people are showing how disabled people are “also here and queer.”

Dr. Alan Martino is an Assistant Professor in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at the University of Calgary in Canada. You can follow them on Twitter @AlanSMartino

Reprinted from Deadric T. Williams blog September 26, 2022

Critical and comprehensive theoretical frameworks connecting racism, race, and racial inequality are absent in family research. For instance, conventional research on racial variations in family formations and family processes is often reduced to simple average differences without contextualizing racialized groups as political, social, and historical categories. Even more, the term “family” in family scholarship appears to be shorthanded for “white families” whereas the use of “race” is shorthanded for “minority families”. Family scientists must abandon this logic because it limits fruitful and more accurate discussions about racial inequality. Instead, family scholars should view racial inequality as a two-sided coin with Black families’ disadvantage on one side and white advantage on the other side.

The purpose of this blog post is to present a brief note on racial inequality, racism, and race to family scientists. To help organize this brief note, I focus on three general questions: (1) What do we know about racial inequality? (2) How can centering race and racism better inform our understanding of racial inequality? (3) How can family scholars move racial inequality research forward?

Let’s begin!

What Do We Know About Racial Inequality?

Racial inequality is a social fact. That is, individuals racialized as Black are doing worse on every major indicator of well-being compared to individuals racialized as white. From early in the life-course such as stillbirths and maternal/infant deaths to later in the life-course such as adult mortality. And everything in-between such as income and poverty, unemployment, wealth, health, home ownership, student loan debt, and neighborhood quality. These inequalities persist over time.

How Can Centering Race and Racism Better Inform Our Understanding of Racial Inequality?

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Most reasonable people would not debate whether racial inequality exists. The debate tends to emerge when explanations are given about why racial inequality exists and persists. Some explanations focus on individual behaviors (e.g., the rise in nonmarital childbearing among Black women); and some explanations center on structural conditions (e.g., laws, policies, discrimination, etc.). The explanations—individual behaviors or structural conditions—make assumptions about race and racism that are taken for granted.

I highlight the assumptions undergirding these perspectives to provide a more holistic approach to the study of racial inequality, especially for scholars who study families.

The “individual behaviors” and “structural conditions” dichotomy falls within two broader theoretical camps—(1) essentialism (emphasizing individual behaviors) and (2) social constructionism (emphasizing structural conditions). These two camps are well known among scholars who study race and racism. They provide the rationale for why racial inequality persists. For a more comprehensive understanding, see here and here.

To better understand these two camps, we need to know what assumptions each camp—essentialism and social constructionism—make about race and racism. For example, from a racial essentialism perspective, the key assumption is that race makes racism possible. Thus, eradicating racism will lead to racial equity. From a social constructionism perspective, the key assumption is that racism makes race possible. Thus, “race can never be an explanatory factor apart from racism because race is always already a function of racism”.

In the sections below, I first elaborate on the assumptions of both camps and provide examples of how these perspectives guide our understanding of racial inequality. Next, I end this blog by discussing a new conceptual model for understanding racial inequality.

Essentialism versus Social Constructionism

Racial Essentialism. Although most scholars view race as a social construction, the social construction heuristic is seldom employed. In fact, conventional racial differences research almost always takes an essentialist approach—albeit unintentional. From this perspective, race represents biologically (or culturally) real groups.

Contemporary studies do not make explicit arguments about race as biology but cultural essentialism in family research refuse to die. In fact, the lack of conceptualization of race can lead to misconceptions that racialized groups are inherently biological (or culturally) different. This is especially important given that scientific racism persists in the U.S. One of the biggest limitations of contemporary research on racial inequality in families is that many studies run the risk of reproducing an essentialist logic of race by (1) presenting race as an ahistorical demographic variable, (2) assuming racism is episodic–or a relic of the past, and (3) framing individual-level behaviors as central explanations for racial inequality.

First, treating race as an ahistorical, demographic characteristic of the population reifies race as an essentialist characteristic. This happens when scholars begin studies with racial variations in a given outcome but does not explain what race is. This approach is limiting because Black families’ disadvantage becomes hyper-visible whereas white families’ advantage becomes hyper-invisible. Moreover, this approach treats Black disadvantage and white advantage as unrelated, and the point of emphasis in research is figuring out what mechanisms can make Black families “like” white families.

Second, the idea that racism is episodic draws attention to the belief that racism is a thing of the past and no longer a cause for racial inequality. Consider Figure 1 below. From an essentialist perspective, Black families’ adverse conditions are understood in the context of overt racism (slavery and Jim Crow laws). In the post Civil-Rights era, however, racism is no longer an issue. Thus, racism is era-specific and only happened during certain “episodes” of American history.

Figure 1: Essentialist Perspective Linking Race and Racism to Racial Inequality

Third, given that racism is viewed as a thing of the past, individual-level “behaviors” are now the reason racial inequality persists in the United States, especially in the post Civil-Rights era (see Figure 2). This logic mirrors the post Civil Rights explanations of inequality. Contemporary research tends to over-invest in using individual-level characteristics or behaviors. For instance, family structure (marriage vs. non-marriage) is one of the most used individual-level behaviors to explain the Black-White gap across indices of wellbeing. This logic dates back to the 1960s. The general idea is that racial variations in these behaviors (e.g., unmarried childbearing) may help to understand variations in the outcome of interest (i.e., racial inequality). This approach has proven to be ineffective in addressing racial inequality (see here and here).

Figure 2: Essentialist Perspective Linking Race and Individualism to Racial Inequality

The challenge here is that there is usually no argument for addressing why racial variations exist in the so-called behaviors in the first place. Family formations is a great example of this. For example, decades of research on understanding racial variation in family formations relied on deficit approaches or economic reductionist arguments. Yet, scholarship on how Black mothers create adaptive strategies for dealing with omnipresent white supremacy and patriarchy has been largely ignored in conventional research–see Franke 1999; Frankel 1999; Hill 2006; Hunter 2017; Lenhardt 2014).

Ironically, contemporary research continues to operate from a “backdoor” essentialist approach. Figure 3 represents a typical conceptual model used in contemporary research. The conventional approach “mirrors” an essentialist perspective because the point of interest tends to focus on individual behaviors as mechanisms to account for racial inequality. For example, most scholars examining “racial differences” fall into the trap of (1) failing to fully conceptualized race at the onset of their studies, (2) treating individual-level characteristics as race-neutral in explaining the racial gap, and (3) employing race-comparative analyses that position white families as the standard against which people of color are measured. I have written about this here.

Figure 3: Conventional Conceptual Model Addressing Racial Inequality

Social Constructionism. Social constructionists recognize race as a social invention—created to justify and maintain racial oppression, domination, and exclusion. From this perspective, racism makes race possible. Below, I elaborate on social constructionism to chart a path forward to studying racial inequality in family research. Specifically, I draw on three central tenets from Critical Race Theory: (1) race is socially constructed, (2) racism is a permanent feature in the U.S., and (3) ideas about individualism serve a new set of racist ideologies to maintain the status quo—colorblind racism.

Figure 4: A New Conceptual Approach for Linking Racism, Race, and Racial Inequality
Note: Given that I am currently working through the above conceptual model in my own research, I refrain from explicitly elaborating on these factors.

How Can Family Scholars Move Racial Inequality Research Forward?

Adequately understanding race and racism matters for family scholars studying racial inequality. I discuss three interrelated ways family scholars can move racial inequality research forward. I offer a new conceptual model (Figure 4) that centers racism and race to provide a more adequate explanation for racial inequality than conventional approaches. This model is an updated version of my previous model published in the edited volume, Africana Demography.

First, Panel A (Figure 4) is an illustrative example of the social construction of race. This section of the conceptual model makes apparent that racism is composed of both ideology and structure. The ideology begins with the premise that human groups are biologically real and can be hierarchically ordered (Fields and Fields 2014; Shelby 2014). The structure component of racism refers to the micro- and macro-level practices that subordinates so-called inferior racialized groups (Golash-Boza 2016). Ideology and structure are mutually reinforcing.

Second, the path from Panel A to Panel C (Figure 4) illustrates the idea that racial inequities are measurable manifestations of racial stratification in the United States via racism. This path reflects the second CRT tenet, the permanence of racism. This tenet recognizes that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational” (Delgado and Stefancic 2017) and is sensitive to stability and change. For instance, although racism changed from overt (e.g., genocide, slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc.) to covert (e.g., color-blind racism), racial inequalities
persist (Bonilla-Silva 2017; Feagin 2013; Mills 1997; Omi and Winant 2014). The racial hierarchy is resilient to social change by adjusting and altering the mechanisms responsible for racial inequality.

Last, Panel B (Figure 4) addresses the mechanisms maintaining racial stratification. Critical race scholars reject the idea of meritocracy and “colorblind” as explanations for contemporary racial inequality. Instead, scholars from this line of reasoning point to racism as responsible for persistent racial inequality. Thus, instead of focusing on individual-level behaviors as mechanisms to reduce or “account for” racial inequality, critical scholars tend to demonstrate how racism is embedded in the state and spatial dynamics maintaining and perpetuating racial inequality.

Moreover, this approach also highlights how focusing on individual-level characteristics contributes to the maintenance of racial inequality. Family structure is a great example. For instance, given that Black marriages were tied to citizenship laws, and marriage is a gendered institution, Black women have always created alternative family forms. The state interpreted these adaptive strategies (e.g., nonmarital childbearing) as deficiencies, resulting in out-of-wedlock childbirths becoming a central explanation for racial inequality. Thus, the state superimposed Eurocentric (or white) logic on Black families’ lived experiences while rendering white supremacy invisible–this is the recipe for maintaining racial subjugation. Instead of focusing on structural racism, policies concentrated on marriage as a way to reduce inequality. Yet, racial gaps in several indices of well-being have stayed the same and some even grew wider.

In the end, how, and in what ways, scholars approach racism, race, and racial inequality has real implications for how research studies are designed, what research questions are considered important, how data are analyzed, and what conclusions are drawn.


This blog post serves as a brief note to family scholars studying racial inequality. My central argument is as follows: to adequately address racial inequality requires a more critical and comprehensive understanding of racism and race. How scholars approach racism and race matters. Sadly, critical discussions on racism and race in family inequality research are largely absent. Scholars have, however, critiqued family scholarship more broadly (see here and here and here and here and here). Scholars should be clear about racism, race, and racial inequality in family research because it can help move studies away from maintaining the status quo by charting a path towards a family science of Black emancipation.

Deadric T. Williams is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Williams’ research focuses on race and racism, Black families, health, and inequality. Williams is a W.T. Grant Scholar. You can follow them on Twitter @doc_thoughts