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Kids are out of school, parents are working from home, couples are working side-by-side, and grandparents may be further isolated from family and loved ones. Social distancing and sheltering in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is changing all of our lives. But, especially how we are interacting with family and loved ones.  Some people may be struggling with feeling isolated while others are struggling with an overwhelming feeling of everyone being in the same house for hours, days, and seemingly weeks on end – as if it is some cosmic test of our true capacity to work-life balance. In this dichotomy, we can feel both isolated and overwhelmed by our current family situation.

You are not alone! We are all feeling a lot of emotions right now and struggling to adjust. But, being intentional about staying connected to the family during this time is critical to our long-term health. In fact, Mental Health America has found that since February anxiety has increased by 19%. And social distancing may only exacerbate the loneliness epidemic across the US. Maintaining healthy family relationships during this time can mitigate these mental health concerns and help us get through this time together.

Here are some ideas that may help us all stay connected with family:

Checking in: You and others could be struggling right now. But, because we are all social distancing it may be difficult to know how to ask for help. Remember to check-in with friends and family who you haven’t heard from or who you know might be prone to loneliness or anxiety. A simple text or phone call is all it takes. Remember to ask specific questions about what they did today, what things help them feel better, and what they are planning to do. Try to avoid general questions like, “How are you doing?” because they tend to elicit less meaningful conversations. Also, these check-in calls are not one-way beneficial, they will also help you feel more connected to family and friends who you cannot see.

Creative online connections: With technology readily available for many families, finding creative ways to connect with friends and family are good for children and adults. Here are some ideas:

  1. Virtual playdates: Children are likely missing their friends they get to see in school every day. And, let’s face it, parents probably need to get some work done. Using video conference software (Face time, Skype, Gchat, Zoom, Messenger Kids by Facebook) children can play with their friends. For example, kids can play charades together (parents email play items before), color or paint together, or just talk. Children are creative so you can try to give them the space to come up with something they want to do.
  2. Virtual adult playdates: Once the kids are sleeping, connecting with friends and family (who aren’t currently living with you) can help relieve feelings of anxiety or isolation. Grab a glass of wine or some herbal tea and join a group chat. Laugh about silly things that have happened, share ideas about how to cope, and tell each other you miss them.
  3. Online Communities: Several online communities and activities are popping up that can help break up the day and give parents reprieve in planning home school activities and feel connected to the outside community. For example:
  • Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton is hosting daily drawing lessons live on Instagram (@wendymac) for children of all ages.
  • Josh Gadd (@JoshGadd) is reading children storybooks every day on Instagram live.
  • Debbie Allan (@therealdebbieallen) is hosting online dance classes on Instagram live.

Also, several phone apps are offering free services during this time to help reduce stress and anxiety including Down Dog (guides you and your family through yoga practice) and Calm (provides guided meditations or sleep stories).

Creative Offline Connections: Not everyone has access to broadband internet or is tech-savvy enough to use the internet to help reduce loneliness and anxiety. This may be particularly true from grandparents and older adults who are already prone to loneliness. There are many things to do, here are some examples:

  1. Phone calls: Make regular phone calls (like checking in) but engage the entire family including children. Intergenerational relationships are very important for both grandparents’ and grandchildren’s health. Phone calls are a simple way to encourage these relationships.
  2. TV Shows: You can also watch shows or listen to the radio together. While the idea of live television might be a historical concept to many of us, it still exists! We can watch live tv with grandparents and other family members over the phone and chat about the show during the commercial break (I KNOW, some people still have to endure commercials).
  3. Phone Games: Engaging grandparents over the phone with kids through games. Maybe play a treasure hunt where the grandparents tell the kids clues (given by the parents) to go find toys (they already have) or clothing items for getting dressed that morning. Or less planning intensive games like “Mother May I,” “Simon Says,” and “Freeze Dance”.
  4. Reading: I know, a novel concept! But, reading aloud over the phone to grandparents or distant family members is a great way for emerging readers to practice reading. This can also work in the other direction. Family members can read to children at any time of the day.
  5. Letter Writing: Consider writing letters to loved ones. Even though this isn’t an instantaneous connection, it could be a good pay off if we are in our separate home for a while. Also, this could just be a good habit to form for maintaining long-term intergenerational connections.

Mental Health Resources: For those who are concerned that these techniques might not be sufficient for their current mental health or the mental health of loved ones. There are several resources you can reach out to:

  1. Counseling: Many mental health professionals are moving online or providing online resources:
  2. Suicide Prevention: If you are worried about your safety or the safety of a loved one please call national suicide prevision hotline: 800-273-TALK
  3. Domestic Violence: Some people are being confined to unsafe homes with abusers. If this is a concern for you or a loved one please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE.

During this time, our lives may look much different than they typically do and we all might be feeling more lonely or anxious than usual. Connecting with friends and family may look a lot different than it typically does but we can all learn to adapt together. The key is to surviving during this time together is being creative and intentional in maintaining connections with loved ones, reaching out to those who are prone to loneliness or anxiety, and remembering we are all in this together!

Do you have more ideas for connecting with loved ones from a distance?  Share them in the comments!

Patricia N. E. Roberson, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee and the host of the Attached Podcast.

Raising the next generation has always been a group project that involves not just parents but also grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and the larger community.  But today’s working parents find themselves increasingly isolated from the support systems they need. And although working fathers and mothers too often feel overwhelmed, isolated, and somehow to blame for the difficulties they encounter in trying to manage it all, this is a large-scale problem for all of us, whether or not we have children of our own. Society depends, of course, on the next generation and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that all American children have what they need so that they can grow up to be strong and healthy stewards of our planet and our institutions. Raising children is not merely a vanity project – it is our project.

But what are we, as a society, doing to help young parents to rear the next generation? Far, far too little.  While we struggle to produce necessary structural changes in social policy to provide real support for working families, those in the trenches need help now.  Parents in today’s fast-paced, disorienting world can easily lose track of who they are and what really matters most. But it doesn’t have to be this way.   Working parents can learn how to harness the powerful science of leadership in order to thrive in all aspects of life.

In our new book released today, Parents Who Lead, we draw on the principles of Total Leadership – a bestseller and popular leadership development program used in organizations worldwide – and on our experience as researchers, educators, consultants, coaches, and parents, to bring the science of leadership to the art of parenting. We offer a robust, proven method that helps working parents gain a greater sense of purpose and control. The book includes tools illustrated with compelling examples from the lives of real working parents that show you, as a working parent, how to:

  • Design a future based on your core values
  • Engage with your children in fresh, meaningful ways to build trust and understanding
  • Cultivate a community of caregiving and support, in all parts of your life
  • Experiment in the laboratory of life to find new ways to live and work that align better with core values, improve performance and health, and teach children how to lead.

What many participants find particularly powerful is identifying their values, first, individually, and then, together as partners in parenting, and their vision of the future.  We ask them to imagine it’s 15 years from now and to describe an ideal day – morning, noon, and night – including what they’re doing, with whom, and most importantly, why they’re doing what they’re doing.   There are always differences, of course, and dialogue about them leads to new discoveries and forms the basis for a clearer grasp of the common ground they’re walking.   Decisions about how to invest attention – in their careers, in their family, in their community, and in themselves – about issues large and small, become easier to make because they are assessed in light of whether or not any given choice is aligned with their collective vision.

Parents Who Lead is a practical, evidence-based guide to forge a better future, foster meaningful and mutually rewarding relationships, and design sustainable solutions for creating a richer life for yourself, your children, and our world.

Stewart D. Friedman is an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, where he has been since 1984. He founded Wharton’s Leadership Program and its Work/Life Integration Project. Bestselling author, award-winning teacher, former head of Ford’s leadership development center, consultant, policy advocate, radio show host, and in-demand speaker, Friedman is widely recognized for his impact in the fields of leadership, work/life integration, and talent.

Alyssa F. Westring is Associate Professor of Management at Driehaus College of Management at the Driehaus College of Business, DePaul University.  In addition, she is Director of Research at Total Leadership.  An award-winning educator, Westring shares her expertise on work/life integration and women’s careers in leading academic and popular outlets, and is a frequent speaker at Fortune 500 companies. 


A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Defining Consent Online Symposium (.pdf).

Writing in 1962, the editor and author Helen Gurley Brown controversially admonished her readers to think again about the aphorism that “nice girls don’t.” “Get it straight in your head,” Brown wrote in Sex and the Single Girl, “that anyone who wants to kiss you or sleep with you isn’t handing you a mortal insult but paying you a compliment.” Working women should make themselves as physically attractive to men as possible, she explained, the better to lure sexual partners and advance their careers. Brown praised “a dandy game called ‘Scuttle,’” in which male employees “select a secretary or file girl, chase her up and down the halls…catch her and take her panties off.” Thanks to the game, more single women now wore “their prettiest panties” to the office; “nothing wicked ever happened,” she insisted. This confusing message, giving women permission to enjoy sex but portraying heterosexuality as a game of male force and female submission, was a 20th century twist on earlier messages about gender and sexuality.

Lusty to pure and back again

Brown challenged an older view of heterosexuality that assumed that women had few sexual desires and that indulging them would lead to their “ruin.” That older view took shape in the era of the American Revolution, when stereotypes of women as “lusty” temptresses and fertile mothers gave way to ideals of white female purity and a sensibility of sexual decorum. Men, on the other hand, were thought to have little sexual self-control. The Founder’s generation argued that male citizens needed virtuous women to motivate them to control their otherwise ungovernable impulses toward sexual license.

The assumption that men had to struggle with innate and immensely powerful sex drives inspired reform movements in the 19th century, but it also offered a justification for men’s aggression under certain circumstances, especially against women who did not or could not conform to the white, middle-class definition of “true womanhood.” On the one hand, advice manuals warned husbands as well as wives to practice “marital continence,” which meant sexual intercourse no more than once a month, lest their health deteriorate. On the other hand, a married woman had no legal right to refuse sex with her husband. For men whose sexual passions exceeded the marital bed, there were “other” women—white working-class women, servants, and free and enslaved African American women. None of these women benefited from the presumptions of sexual purity that surrounded white middle- and upper-class women.

White middle-class women were expected to act as if they had no sexual knowledge or inclinations even as 19th-century Americans participated in a growing urban culture of commercial sex, in which thousands of working-class women found temporary or longer-term employment. Health reformer Sylvester Graham originally marketed his bland crackers as a digestive aid that would dull otherwise overly-excitable carnal urges. Reformers gradually admitted, however, that women needed to eat Graham Crackers as much as men did.

In the 20th century, popular culture and sexual advice authorities began to encourage sexual intimacy within marriage and to acknowledge women’s sexual needs, but women continued to be seen as responsible for men’s behavior. The result was a mass of contradictory messages that recognized women’s erotic impulses but blamed their rapes on women’s inability to hide those impulses. In 1914, for example, a Ladies Home Journal advice columnist claimed that “girls are largely responsible” when boys cross the line. Or as a Senior Scholastic columnist put it in 1946, “a man is only as bad as the woman he is with.”

And those subconscious urges. This was an actual theory.

Popular advice echoed these professional opinions. A 1960 Cosmopolitan magazine answered the question of its title, “Do Women Provoke Sex Attack?” with a resounding “yes.” Reflecting widely-held Freudian theories of sexual desire, the author blamed women’s “subconscious urges” for provoking the “different but equally neurotic” fantasies of their attackers. Women learned that they should scrupulously monitor their own behavior, lest they arouse a man “past the point of no return” after which, “when the girl resists, he seeks gratification by force.” The threat of violence pervaded these descriptions of heterosexual sex. But it was women’s own desires and responses that supposedly unleashed this violence. Even advice that celebrated women’s sexual desire, like Helen Gurley Brown’s advice in Sex and the Single Girl, urged women to be coy about showing it. Men needed sex more than women did, she explained, and knowing that gave women power.

If women were supposed to act like they didn’t want sex, even when they did, how were they supposed to convey consent? More to the point, how were their partners supposed to tell the difference? Men learned to view dating as a process of wearing down a woman’s resistance. Dr. Albert Ellis, a widely regarded psychologist and the author of the 1963 best-seller, Sex and the Single Man, described foreplay as a man’s opportunity to make it impossible for a woman to say no. Once partially disrobed, Ellis explained, a woman feels “that she has been sort of unmasked,” and is much less likely to try to reverse course. Above all, he advised, the man must assert dominance: “Show her that you are determined to have her as nude as possible, even though you are not going literally to rip the clothes off her back and begin to rape her.”

Still with us: Incoherent representations of women’s and men’s desires

Representations of women’s sexuality in American popular culture over the last several decades continue to perpetuate these incoherent representations of women’s sexuality. From horror films that portray the brutal murders of unmarried young women who had enthusiastic sex a few scenes before, to dating guides like The Rules that implore women to see sexual refusal as seductive, to popular songs about “blurred lines” of consent, American youth continue to receive mixed messages about the differences between desire, consent, and predation.

That confusion is inextricably intertwined with definitions of sex as a masculine prerogative. Privileging men’s sexual needs extends men’s political and economic power, giving them rights over women’s bodies. It also justifies abuses of that power, rationalizing assault as an inevitable consequence of the “natural” differences between men and women. The 20th century celebration of women’s right to sexual pleasure failed to displace older ideas about men’s entitlement to sexual gratification. For decades, Americans learned that men needed sex and that it was women’s responsibility to help men control themselves. This logic treated rape as a failure of a man’s self-control, a failure for which his female partner bore significant responsibility. Recent attempts to redefine consent around ideas of mutual pleasure, forthright communication, and egalitarian expectations for erotic self-expression thus represent something fundamentally new—and long overdue.

Rebecca L. Davis is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Delaware, Professor Davis is author of More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss (Harvard) and the forthcoming Sex in America (Liveright).

The Defining Consent Online Symposium (.pdf) was convened for the Council on Contemporary Families by Stephanie Coontz and Paula England, who prepared this overview of the seven-part series. Their takeaway: Let’s reject simplistic answers and deal with the complicated realities of sex on campus.

The articles in the CCF Defining Consent online symposium address two complex and emotionally-charged issues: How college communities can most effectively reduce the incidence of non-consensual sex; and how to define consent (or determine lack of consent). The contributors offer no easy solutions. Indeed, in different ways they all demonstrate that there are no easy solutions. But their research can help people reject seemingly easy answers based on flawed data or on misunderstanding of the context in which campus sexual interactions take place.

Our contributors point out that far from being over-reported, incidents of sexual assault on campus are seriously under-reported. There is no evidence that false accusations are a significant problem, but our researchers explain the gender myths and sexual fallacies that lead some perpetrators of sexual harm — and even some victims — to rationalize, or fail to recognize, the extent of the wrong-doing that has occurred. That is why all the reports emphasize the importance of defining consent and educating students about what symposium contributors Hirsch and Kahn term “sexual citizenship.”

The #MeToo movement revealed that rates of nonconsensual sex of nonconsensual sex—whether or not they meet a legal definition or rape and sexual assault—are much higher across all sectors of American society than many people realized. Some observers claim they have reached epidemic proportions. But “epidemic” implies an intensifying and growing problem. Sexual coercion may be endemic in America, but most evidence suggests it was far more common — and generally far more tolerated — in the past than it is today.

Rape and nonconsensual sex have a long history

For 300 years, the rape or sexual coercion of enslaved people, servants, working-class women, poor women, Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and children was largely ignored. Until the late 19th century, the legal age of consent for girls was only 10 to 12 in most states. In 1871 Delaware lowered its age of consent to just seven years.

As University of Delaware historian Rebecca Davis explains in her essay, 19th-century cultural arbiters promoted a new ideology of (white middle-class) female sexual purity. Although repressive in many ways, this ideal offered some protection to women who were able to signal by their clothes, manners, and abstention from work or unchaperoned social interactions beyond the home that they were asexual “ladies.” Once married, no group of women had protection against sexual assault by their husbands: Until the 1970s, the legal definition of rape was forcible sex by a man with a woman who was not his wife. This not only closed off legal recognition of the possibility that a man could be raped but meant that a husband could not be charged with raping his wife, no matter how “lady-like” she was. Still, during the years before marriage, middle-class men were encouraged to direct their sexual overtures to women who could not or would not live up to the tenets of “true womanhood.”

All this changed in the 20th century, with increasing acceptance of practices such as men and women going out on dates, meeting up to dance and drink together, and even kissing or “petting.” But as Davis shows, the new acceptance of eroticized courting did not eliminate the gendered double standard. It gave men new permission to be pushy about sex while intensifying the pressure on women to “contain” erotic interactions and set boundaries. Davis challenges the myth that middle-class Americans of the past had better sexual mores. It’s not that there are newly bad sexual behaviors and values, but that we have newly recognized many long-tolerated behaviors and mores as bad. In fact, forcible rapes and sexual assault, as well as sexual violence within marriage, have all declined significantly since the 1970s, when feminist activists began a concerted campaign against these crimes.

Counting — and discounting — rape

Still, as prior research shows, rape remains seriously under-reported. One study of the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that only 45 percent of those who told survey takers they had been raped, 39 percent of those who described attempted rape, and 30 percent of those who had experienced other sexual assaults in 2004 or 2005 had reported the assault to the police.

Even anonymous surveys such as the NCVS undercount assault cases. Tolerance for male sexual aggression and notions about women’s responsibility for “leading men on” are so widespread that many women do not even recognize when an unwanted sexual experience constitutes what would meet a legal definition of rape in many states. An analysis of 28 studies, covering a total 5,917 women who at some point in their lives had submitted to a sexual experience as a result of force or the threat of force, or who were subjected to sex while incapacitated, found that 60 percent of these women didn’t describe this as rape. They used terms such as a “serious miscommunication” or a “bad experience.”

Campus rape and assault patterns differ in some ways from those in the larger population, but non-consensual sex is clearly widespread. According to a number of estimates, 15 to 25 percent of college women have experienced rape or sexual assault on campus. In a 2015 analysis that excluded coercive grabbing or fondling, Elizabeth Armstrong and Jamie Budick estimated that between 7 and 10 percent of college women experienced forcible rape and 14 to 26 percent experienced sexual assault.

An important piece of background information for this symposium is that college women are even less likely to report sexual assault to the police than other groups of women. This may be because intoxication is a factor in a disproportionate number of cases. When drinking renders women (or men) incapacitated, they are seen in many state laws as incapable of giving consent, so someone initiating sex with an incapacitated partner may be legally guilty of rape or sexual assault. However, the informal culture often views women as responsible for sex if they were drunk and men who were drunk as not responsible. This may be why rates of reporting assault are especially low among college women. Campus victims, men as well as women, are also more likely to experience assault by someone they know, sometimes a member of a mutual friendship network, or at least someone they cannot easily avoid encountering afterwards in shared classes, living spaces, or eating areas; this may also discourage reporting. These factors put extra pressure on college administrators to deal with issues of nonconsensual sex outside the criminal justice system.

Complications of consent in law and everyday campus life

Our second contribution, by Stanford legal scholar Deborah Rhode, discusses how hard it has been to come up with a definition of consent that is fair both to survivors of assault and to people unjustly accused of sexual assault. She points out that any policy to reduce nonconsensual sex needs to take into account the university context, where one or both parties are highly intoxicated in many casual sexual encounters. Rhode argues that it may not be drinking itself that increases the likelihood of rape but drinking in party subcultures where sexual aggression is normalized.

Other studies show that for some men, alcohol tends to activate implicit rape-supportive attitudes that otherwise lie dormant, leading them when they are drunk to misperceive a woman’s willingness to have sex in ways they do not when sober. A further complication is that, because the new freedom to act on one’s sexual urges is still colored by old notions that sex is shameful or dirty, students often use alcohol to lower their inhibitions or assuage anxieties about not having had the amount of sexual experience they think everyone else has.

Some universities have responded to the association between drinking and sexual assault by outlawing drinking on campus, but this may just drive it off campus to even more dangerous locations. It can also mean that a person who brings a rape charge after having consumed alcohol on campus may be subject to discipline just for reporting the circumstances of the rape.

Rhode is skeptical of many rape prevention and reduction initiatives, which have not been shown to be especially effective. She does, however, see promise in emphasizing the need for consent while developing risk-reduction/self-defense and bystander intervention programs. Several studies of bystander interventions have shown participants to subsequently have significant increases in intent to intervene, compared to people who had not taken the training, and in one study of two college campuses, participants’ increased intent to intervene and confidence about doing so remained significantly higher than the control group’s a year later.

Myths and realities about university consent policies

University of Michigan sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong and her colleagues address widespread misconceptions about the content of university consent policies. In 1992 Antioch College issued an elaborate formula for establishing consent to sex.

  • “The person who initiates sexual conduct is responsible for verbally asking for the affirmative consent of individual(s) involved.”
  • “The person with whom sexual conduct is initiated must verbally express affirmative consent or lack of consent.”
  • “Each new level of sexual activity requires affirmative consent.” [i.e. Things like touching a more intimate part of the body; taking off a new piece of clothing, etc.]

To many, this blueprint seemed so out of touch with how sexual encounters usually proceed as to practically invite unfounded charges of rape. It probably did little to reassure such critics to read that “Use of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is acceptable but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties before sexual activity occurs.”

Skeptics about the seriousness of sexual assault issues on campuses often point to the Antioch policy as evidence that colleges are demanding unrealistic behaviors and punishing people unfairly for not following them. But Antioch’s policy is an outlier. After studying the policies in place as of 2016 at 381 campuses, Armstrong’s research team found that most policies are far less demanding. Indeed, they found that only three percent of the schools required verbal consent for sex. While some policies use the term “affirmative consent,” it is almost never clearly defined. Many policies make numerous statements about what consent is not (for example, that consent to sex with a person on one night does not imply consent to sex with that person on future nights). Armstrong and her colleagues conclude that the main problem is not that the regulations are unreasonably stringent, but that they are often ambiguous or even incoherent in defining what constitutes consent or what constitutes incapacitation. Such ambiguity, they say, is fair to neither the accuser nor the accused.

Other scholars agree. For example, University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Bagenstos likewise rejects the idea that the Obama-era consent guidelines on which most campus policies are based are unfair. The few but widely-publicized miscarriages of due process that have occurred, he points out, have not been due to overly stringent definitions of consent but to bureaucratic fiats that ignored or went well beyond any existing consent standards.

The articles by Rhode and Armstrong et al. describe the culture that administrators are trying to regulate and what the existing policies are. The rest of the symposium essays demonstrate that an important part of that culture turns out to be a lack of clarity about the norms and protocols of youthful sex in a world where most college students will not marry until several years after they graduate. These students no longer live in a culture where premarital sex is widely stigmatized; they have many opportunities to engage in erotic encounters. But they do not yet live in a culture where the sexual “rules of engagement” – and disengagement — are clear, or where there is a common understanding of the obligations, rights, and social niceties that sexual interactions, even casual ones, entail.

“Consensualish”: Why some students engage in unwanted sex in the absence of coercion

Columbia University research scientist Jessie Ford’s interviews uncovered a range of sexual experiences described as unwanted, but none involving physical force and only a minority involving the fear of such force. Often the individuals didn’t express their disinclination aloud, and later did not label the sex as an assault. It was sex they didn’t want but went along with. Why did they go along? Mundane concerns about feeling awkward or embarrassed were prominent in the stories told by the students she interviewed. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the main factors that discourages saying a clear no is that people don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. Unfortunately, this usually commendable social impulse interacts with persistent gender norms, such as the idea that men “need” sex and cannot stop themselves after a certain point and that women are responsible for “making nice” and smoothing over people’s feelings, to produce unhappy experiences. Women reported worrying about being seen as a “bitch” if they said no. Others reasoned that if they might be seen to have “led” a man to expect sex — by going into his room, for example — it wouldn’t be right to decline.

Some heterosexual men also reported having had unwanted sex with women. In some cases, as with women, they did it in order not to hurt feelings. But they also reported thinking that they’d be ridiculed, or seen as gay, if they said no to an opportunity for sex—so the belief that all men want sex all the time was a problem for them as well.

“Sexual citizenship”: A public health approach

The articles by David Karp (University of San Diego) and by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Kahn (Columbia University) caution against assuming that all cases of non-consensual sex are driven by sexual predators. While there are indeed serial rapists, Karp suggests that some portion of men honestly don’t realize when they have crossed a line and caused hurt, in part because cultural norms about gender and sexuality allow them to rationalize their behaviors. Some assault victims do not want the perpetrator punished, but simply to acknowledge what he did and how it harmed them. A segment of anti-rape activists has therefore advocated establishment of an opt-in restorative justice track for survivors who wish to avoid the Title IX process. Karp describes how this might work in his essay and in a Q and A with us.

Restorative justice is just one part of a much larger initiative advocated by Hirsch and Kahn. Working from their ethnographic research at Columbia University and Barnard College, they argue that we should approach sexual assault on campus as a public health problem, employing an ecological model that explores the broader context in which these problem behaviors occur. They analyze how the physical spaces, social groupings, drinking patterns, and power dynamics on campus create specific patterns of sexual interaction and risks of nonconsensual sex. They recommend particular changes in the overall environment in which college students negotiate their social and sexual relationships. But they also remind us that the solution must begin years before college. On average, young Americans have sex for the first time at about age 17. A recent analysis of the 2011-2017 National Survey of Family Growth, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that of more than 13,000 women interviewed, 6.5 percent, or one in 16, reported that their first experience of vaginal intercourse was nonconsensual. No wonder Hirsch and Kahn advocate for a comprehensive public health campaign that fosters “sexual citizenship” among youth, teaching them to recognize their “own right to sexual self-determination” while acknowledging and respecting “the equivalent right in others.”

Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research and Public Education, Council on Contemporary Families; Professor Emerita, The Evergreen State College. Contact her at  Paula England is Silver Professor of Sociology, New York University. Contact her at


We have seen enormous changes in how people construct relationships in 21st century America. Yet, at the same time, contemporary understandings of romance, desire, and intimacy remain firmly rooted in assumptions of gender difference. In my new book published today, The Mating Game: How Gender Still Shapes How We Date, I explore why, even as we see ever more focus by young adults on building egalitarian relationships, most people want dating and courtship to proceed in gender stereotypical ways.

I interviewed 105 college-educated young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area about their dating lives and romantic relationships and found the following:

  • Heterosexual men and women express a desire for egalitarian relationships, where both partners are educated, have a career, and share the labor at home. But they still continue to crave old-fashioned dating rituals—the man asks for the date, plans the date, and pays for the date. The man asks for commitment and proposes marriage.
  • Although these rituals are viewed as romantic, chivalrous, and fun – and of little long-term consequence – they actually lay the foundation for relationship inequality. The result is: Gender inequality gets disguised as romance.
  • LGBQ individuals tend to construct more creative relationships by questioning ingrained norms. Their flexibility makes space for more equal relationships in both the short and long term and may offer a potential model or inspiration.

How we date matters. The heterosexual women and men in this study wanted egalitarian relationships and had the educational credentials to meet each other as equals in their households. Yet they did not. Instead, they continue to believe that men and women are innately different. This belief was used to justify (and even celebrate) gendered dating practices, but then spilled over into their long-term committed relationships in less welcome ways. Heterosexual men and women believe that they have different interests, different skills, and different availability for their personal lives. These assumptions of “difference” limit their ability to question and challenge gendered preferences and arrangements. The result is that women end up with the lion’s share of the care work and household labor, in spite of everyone’s professed egalitarian goals.

On the other hand, LGBQ respondents emphasize egalitarian and flexible relationship practices right from the get-go. Payment for dates wasn’t the sole responsibility of one partner, nor was it expected to be. Nor was it the job of just one person to ask for a date. LGBQ people instead focused on communication, negotiation, flexibility, and building balanced relationships that made space for each individual’s often changing needs. This approach had a real effect on the types of relationships they built. Challenging old norms and drawing on new ones didn’t mean they never struggled with problematic relationship practices, but it did give them a different set of tools with which to work, and their relationships were more equal as a result.

The Mating Game is an accessible and engaging read for undergraduate students and general readers interested in gender, families, sexualities, and intimate relationships. The voices of the participants shine through and the empirical questions that drive the work reflect those that readers will often be considering in their own lives. Not only does the book provide readers with the tools to analyze gendered dating practices, it provides a model for how to creatively reimagine our personal lives.

Ellen Lamont is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University. She can be reached at: or on Twitter @EllenCLamont

CCF Research Director Stephanie Coontz discusses sharing your research with the media (Photo by Arielle Kuperberg)

Last Friday, the Council on Contemporary Families convened for our biennial conference in Austin Texas.  The theme was “Raising Children in the 21st Century.

The morning keynote speaker Dr. Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist, started off the conference by speaking about gender development in the 21st century and how parents are helping or exacerbating gender inequalities among children. She noted that despite increases in women in STEM fields and sports, there is persistent inequality in confidence in math ability and political representation. Girls are sexualized in the media and taught to focus on appearance, while boys are pressured to conform to rigid and narrow masculinity expectations. A new challenge is that adolescents spend a lot of time on social media and have access to the internet almost constantly, which can help to reinforce these gender binaries.

Her research finds that after showing a picture of non sexualized vs. a sexualized girl to children, they interpreted the sexualized girl as more popular and the non-sexualized girl is rated as more athletic and smarter. Girls tended to highlight these differences- boys made fewer distinctions.  Girls who bought into these stereotypes felt they did worse in school, made less effort to learn in school, and were more likely to say they hide their intelligence (for instance, saying they do not raise their hands even if they know the answer).  Many adolescents, especially boys, admitted to sexually harassing other young adults, and the more they endorsed sexualized stereotypes, the more they were likely to also sexually harass their peers.

Next, a panel of speakers discussed how their research has been put into practice. Dr. Cynthia Osborne discussed a “prenatal-to-3” program to strengthen policies aimed at children in the important early years of childhood development. Dr. Julie Maslowsky discussed her outreach to health care providers to help develop family planning programs for teen mothers in order to prevent “repeat” teen motherhood (having multiple children as a teen).  Dr. David Yeager discussed his research on adolescent mindsets and belief systems (such as their beliefs about their own abilities) and how it impacts motivations. His research found that teaching students that the brain as a muscle that can grow (a “growth mindset”) can change how adolescents approach learning and lead to an increased GPA. Finally, Dr. Delida Sanchez talked about efforts to increase academics’ and practitioners’ knowledge about Black and Latinx youths’ experiences around sexual health.

We next heard from Rachael White who works in public affairs at UT Austin, and CCF research director Stephanie Coontz, who discussed strategies for taking your research public and translating research for a public audience.  Rachael emphasized starting with the ‘why’ of your research before going to the ‘how’ (you did it) and ‘what’ (you found). The why tells you- why should we care? What is the impact? She also emphasized that discussing stories is more compelling than discussing facts (so use stories to display your facts), and to keep your message to 1-3 points.  She also recommends being concise and using visuals.

Stephanie suggested drawing on research to show how your research fits in to a larger story, but cautioned that everything you draw on should be about a single organizing idea.  She advises to find a way to frame your research that is interesting to others. If it’s data driven, you also need to humanize that data- and you can draw on other research to do that. Tell them your point right up front, don’t bury the lead under a lit review.  If you are going to disagree with someone make it very obvious (“The big lie about x”). Avoid jargony words like intersectionality, postmodern, agency, heteronormativity, logistic regression, correlation, “net of”, hazard, and  words that end with “ity” “ism” and polarizing words like “microaggression” and “privilege” which can alienate people in your potential audience. Don’t try to tell too much- you should have a single sentence that can be a takeaway. It has to be interesting and repeatable.  Good sentences will put a spin on conventional wisdom (“what people get wrong about…”) or will help form an interesting headline. Come in at an angle- try to find a new take on a familiar issue. Use short declarative sentences and find simpler words. “Due to the fact” can become “because.” You can start with anecdotes about yourself. Above all, accept editing.

During lunch a number of researchers gave short presentations about their research for a “flash session.” Topics covered included an educational program for homeless parents, stepfamilies, the higher child death rate of boys and how it’s related to parental supervision of boys, parenting in the “experience” economy, in which consumers value memorable experiences over products, and how parental employment instability impacts children.

After lunch, the afternoon keynote speaker, Dr. Cecilia Menjivar addressed how immigration law can impact immigrant families.  She outlined the current detainment and family separation policies, noting that these systems do not only impact Latino families; Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 1.7 million of 11 million undocumented immigrants, and are the fastest growing group being detained. The expansion of enforcement of immigration rules creates fear, which in turn reduces contact with institutions such as the police and health care. The stress of potential deportation can impact prenatal health; one study found that Latina women who experienced an immigration raid had children with a reduced birth rate. Children of immigrants and immigrant children experience increased bullying, and decreased parental involvement at schools.

The next panel had three papers addressing raising children in difficult circumstances.  Dr. Kathleen Roche discussed her research on Latinx adolescents in the new immigration environment, finding that their parents have high psychological stress and often experienced discrimination. Adolescents with a foreign born parent had an increase in suicidal ideation, e-cigarette and alcohol use, and depressive symptoms and anxiety in response to recent immigration news. Dr. Lori Holleran Steiker discussed youth substance misuse and rising drugs deaths in the US, and her efforts to educate and prevent overdoses in schools.  Dr. Germine Awad addressed prejudice towards Arab/MENA Americans, a group that is “othered” in US society and US media.  She notes that Muslim Arabs experience more discrimination than Christian Arabs, and that Arab American students have the highest rates of depression among racial minorities in the US.

During the last panel of they day Dr. Karen Fingerman discussed her research on young adults, finding that intense support from parents and “helicopter parenting,” while disparaged in the media, leads to better results for children, and is not as common as described. Many young adults live with parents and receive income help, but many pay rent and help in return. Dr. Stephen Russel discussed parenting of LGBTQ youth, and that while parental acceptance does not alleviate all the harms of growing up in a prejudiced society, parents matter greatly in terms of making permanent policy change in schools. Dr. Ellen Wartella discussed how many adolescents have experienced violence, and while social media is often cited as a problem, it is not the cause of the problems among the respondents she interviewed.  A lively discussion followed the panel.

After the speeches ended we gathered for a reception, where the award for the 2020 CCF Media Award was presented to USA Today for outstanding coverage of family issues.

Arielle Kuperberg, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at UNC Greensboro, and the editor of the CCF Blog, which you are currently reading. Follow her on twitter @ATKuperberg or email her at  

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

January 26 was National Spouses Day, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  If you’re looking for a spouse — or hoping to become a better one — here are a few things you might want to know, including why you shouldn’t panic if no one is on the horizon.

Get a College Education

  • As late as 1970 more than 80% of US women age 40-45 were married, with few differences by education but a slight advantage for women with a high school degree. In the last two decades, however, a different and much larger educational marriage gap has emerged. As of 2014, 75% of women aged 40-45 with a Bachelor’s degree or more were currently married, compared to only 65% of those with some college, 59% of women with a high school diploma, and just 56% of women who had not completed high school.
  • In the 20th century, women with PhDs or professional degrees were the least likely women to marry. Today, women with such advanced degrees are the MOST likely to marry. More than 80% of women age 40-45 with professional degrees or PhDs were married in 2014.  
  • A college education is especially protective against divorce. The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2015, college-educated women had an 80% chance of their marriage lasting more than 20 years. For women with a high school education or less, the chance of a marriage lasting that long is only 40%.

Take Your Time

Get by with a little help from…the internet?

  • The most common way heterosexual adults met their future marital partners in the latter half of the 20thcentury was through friends. However, after peaking at 35% in 1990, the percent of heterosexual adults who met their partner through friends had fallen to 20% by 2017. Meanwhile, the number of adults who met their partners online had soared to nearly 40%, up from just 1% in 1995. For heterosexuals, the internet is now the most common way of meeting a marital partner. Bars and restaurants are the second most common place to meet a partner, with 27% reporting they met their partner there, up from 19% in 1990. Yet most of these initial in-person meet ups were actually precipitated by online connections, making the number of couples who owe their start to online dating even greater! Heterosexuals who meet on line tend to enter marriage more quickly than their counterparts who meet in other ways, but they do not have a higher risk of breakup.

Don’t be afraid to buck outdated rules

  • As of 2016, one in ten marriages involved partners of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, a more than three-fold increase from 1980. Among newlyweds, approximately one in six is married to someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Many researchers believe these trends reflect an erosion of the traditionally rigid boundaries between different faith communities and racial-ethnic groups.
  • In the past, marriages where women had higher education or higher earnings than their husband had an elevated chance of divorce. But in recent decades women’s advancements in education and the work force have ceased to threaten marital stability. Couples where men and women are educational equals are the least likely to divorce and those in which women are more educated than their male partners are no more likely to divorce than those where the man is more educated than the woman. Since the 1990s, couples where women earn as much or more than their husbands no longer have a higher risk for divorce.

When making marital wishes, don’t forget the nightly dishes

  • It turns out the best predictor of a happy marriage is not how good-looking, talented or rich your spouse is, but how much you share – in your conversations, your interests, and especially the daily routines of life, such as housework. Gender egalitarian and same-sex couples have some big advantages here, since they tend to share more equally. Sharing housework and childcare, especially, is associated with greater relationship quality – including more satisfying and frequent sex. But have a conversation about who is going to do what, because when it comes to sharing housework, some tasks matter more than others. If you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship and your partner won’t share the dishwashing, this could mean your relationship is headed in the wrong direction. 41% of women who do the majority of dishes say their relationship is in trouble, compared to just 20% of those who share dishwashing equally. Meanwhile, men are three times more satisfied with their relationships when their partner trusts their judgment enough to share the shopping.
  • Talk it out. For women who want their partner to share responsibilities for domestic labor, communication is key. Men who report higher quality communication with their partner are more likely to do an equal share of housework and childcare.

And always remember, single doesn’t mean second-best

  • Only 16% of men and 17% of women say that having a spouse is essential to their fulfillment. What IS essential for a fulfilling life, according to 57% of men and 46% of women, is having an enjoyable job or career.
  • Once you have an education and a secure income, you do have a better chance of getting married. But you also have a better chance of enjoying health, happiness, and a wide range of friendship networks if you stay single. In fact, at the highest income levels, never-married individuals actually report more supportive friendship networks then their married counterparts.
  • This is an important advantage, because having supportive and numerous friendships is a stronger predictor of mental and physical health than being married or living with a partner.

Daniel L. Carlson is Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Consumer Studies, at the University of Utah, and a Board Member of the Council on Contemporary Families He can be reached at; 614-286-4104. Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA and is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families. She can be reached at; 360 556-9223.

Recently The Wall Street Journal published an article about a new type of online matching site. It’s not for people interested in finding their future spouse, soul mate, or next hook up. It’s for people who want a coparent, someone they can conceive and perhaps raise a child with absent any romantic entanglements or expectations for marriage. Coparenting websites like and promise that prospective parents can skip the dating and matrimony and go straight to what they really want: finding like-minded adults to share children now. Pitched primarily at affluent singles whose biological clocks are ticking after years spent investing in their careers, these sites claim to meet a growing family-formation need in an era when many don’t want or don’t have time for love and marriage before the baby carriage.

Critics claim that this “coparenting movement”—families that start with the primary intention to raise shared children—is an affront to marriage, denies children the benefits of having coupled parents, and ignores the vast research finding that kids do best when raised by a married mom and dad. If these critiques sound familiar, they are. They are the very same concerns raised about low-income families trying to forge cooperative coparenting relationships in the aftermath of breakups or unplanned pregnancies. Poverty, unemployment, low wages, racism, and other disadvantages make it less likely that low-income parents will follow the marriage before childbearing script. Children born into poverty are much less likely to be born to married parents and more likely to experience their parents’ breakup.

It could be argued that these families, not the relatively privileged ones able to afford online services seeking coparents, are at the forefront of our society’s real coparenting movement. Middle-class families tend to experience parenting as a “package deal,” a clearly defined script that links parenthood to marriage. Yet many mothers and fathers in poverty tend to experience relationships with their children’s other parents as secondary. Dads especially see connections with moms as conduits to primary relationships with their kids. U.S. family policy does not always reflect this reality.

Addressing coparenting challenges has been a primary aim of anti-poverty policies since the federal government first funded marriage education and “responsible” fatherhood initiatives—also known as “family strengthening” policies—over two decades ago. Targeting coparenting makes a lot of sense given that low-income dads cite strained relationships with the mothers of their children as one of the biggest barriers to their involvement. Research also shows that when dads are positively involved, children benefit academically, socially, emotionally, and economically. Simply put, when moms and dads get along, coupled or not, dads are more likely to stick around, and kids do better. Policy certainly has that much right. The problem is assuming that promoting marriage and two-parent homes is an effective way to strengthen families.

Based on my research with more than 60 poor fathers of color in a government-funded responsible fatherhood program I call “DADS”, presuming that moms and dads are together romantically and want to get married can be counterproductive. Only about a third of the fathers I studied were in romantic relationships with the mothers of their children, and many of these were unsure about the future of these partnerships. Most men were not in DADS to improve their couple relationships based on package deal views of committed coparenting as a route to greater father involvement. Half even described how focusing on their relationships with mothers distracted them from their children, especially when persistent conflict over couple issues threatened to derail otherwise cooperative coparenting. They were in DADS to learn how to navigate and negotiate complex coparenting relationships with no hope for romantic reconciliation or marriage. They needed a new script that reflected their family realities.

DADS offered paid job training, a high-school completion program, and fathering and relationship skills classes. These resources gave economically vulnerable men—most of whom were persistently unemployed and struggled with the stigma of criminality—opportunities to prove to themselves and their children’s mothers that they were committed to becoming better fathers. They learned to see their children’s other parents, not as adversarial exes or potential romantic or sexual interests with whom they might reconcile, but as supportive allies equally invested in the well-being of their shared children. “Ricky,” a 22-year-old Black single father of one, told me that he learned: “When it’s just about my son, [his mom] and I talk, and everything is really good. Like she told me, ‘We got to get rid of everything you and me.’ I’m single because I got to have it be all about my son.” Worrying about the likely fighting had they gotten back together would have been a diversion from his fathering.

Other fathers described to me how DADS helped them realize that breaking up was the best way to improve their coparenting relationships. “Jeremiah,” 24, Black, and a single father who shared three children with two women, confided: “We’re a lot better now as parents that we have space from each other. I don’t get how some people, they’re not with their mate, so they don’t be with their children. They’re with somebody else and not paying attention to the kids. I would never do that. I want to be with the baby’s mother, but it’s harder being without the baby.” Like Jeremiah, many men learned through DADS that their best hope for cooperative coparenting was disentangling their romantic attachments, especially any related jealousies and hostilities, from fathering. The classes they took taught them to empathize with mothers and prioritize their shared children’s welfare over anything else. Fathers realized that what they often saw as mothers’ “gatekeeping” were well-intentioned efforts to protect and provide for kids.

Fathers’ financial constraints contributed to their coparenting challenges as much as any interpersonal conflicts and romantic quarrels. This made the school and job components of DADS just as valuable for managing coparenting challenges. Housing and food insecurity, unreliable transportation, and struggles to provide financially all compromised fathers’ abilities to be and be seen by mothers as reliable, responsible coparents. As “Christopher,” a 22-year-old Black father of one, told me: “Me and his mom have separated many times. I absolutely love her. We spend a lot of time together, but I have to float around. I don’t have a place to live right now. You just work it out with what you’ve got going on the next day. If things are going well with her, I have a place to live that day, and I get to see my son. But one time they left me, and she would not deal with me until I tried to better myself. She wouldn’t talk to me, so I went back to the streets and went to jail. I was making more money, but I realized I want to be with this woman. I agreed with her, so I came here. It’s keeping me straight.” Christopher saw DADS as his only chance to make legal money, stay out of jail, afford stable housing, get his on-again-off-again girlfriend to commit, and therefore regularly see his son.

Ricky, Jeremiah, Christopher, and their classmates saw DADS as a rare opportunity to overcome how relational and financial barriers intersected to complicate coparenting. Few of them, however, discussed plans to marry their children’s mothers in the near future. They had much more pressing family goals, including providing for themselves and their children and managing the interrelated strains of poverty and family complexity. DADS may not have gotten them any closer to the altar, but it gave them a way to prove to themselves, mothers, and others that they were capable and dedicated parents. Given that mothers’ views of fathers’ parenting abilities is highly predictive of fathers’ engagement with children, this is a huge success for any policy focused on increasing fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives. Fathers who were married or desired marriage still found support for their family-formation goals. But the more explicit focus on couples working together for the sake of children resonated for everyone in the program.

What about those critiques that prioritizing coparenting over marriage ignores research and denies children the benefits of married parents? What the research really finds is that kids do best when raised by parents and caregivers who get along, cooperate in children’s best interests, and have the resources and support to provide for all their needs. More programs like DADS that reflect how many parents prioritize bonds with children over partner relationships will go a long way in meeting the needs of families as they really are. That means accepting that many families rightly choose to forgo romance and marriage for the sake of the baby carriage. Family strengthening policies will be more effective when they do, too.

Jennifer Randles is Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Follow her on Twitter at @jrandles3 and reach her at



Reposted from the University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center

While it is well-established that marriage benefits physical and emotional well-being, it is not marital status alone that matters but also marital quality. Substantial evidence demonstrates that marital strain increases psychological distress for married people. Most of this evidence is based exclusively on people’s own reports of the strain they feel in their marriages, referred to by researchers as “self-reported marital strain.” However, most research has not considered how a spouse’s perceptions and feelings about the marriage, known as “spouse-reported marital strain,” may also contribute to an individual’s distress.

Obtaining information from spouses is important because even if an individual is generally happy with the marriage, his or her spouse might be unhappy. The individual can then pick up on and be negatively affected by the spouse’s unhappiness. Dyadic data, which obtains appraisals from both spouses, may therefore provide important insights into the association between marital strain and psychological distress.

Prior research, based almost exclusively on different-sex couples, also suggests that marital strain may lead to more psychological distress for women than for men. This gender difference has been theorized by some to be the result of women’s greater interpersonal connections, which may increase their awareness of and reactivity to relationship strain. Others argue that gendered power dynamics, in which women are seen as subordinate to men, explain this difference.

Same-sex couples typically adhere less strongly to gendered norms and expectations and are more egalitarian than different-sex couples. A gender-as-relational perspective – which argues that the way women and men enact gender differs depending on whether they are interacting with a woman or a man – would suggest that the relationship between self- and spouse-reported marital strain and psychological distress might operate differently for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages.

Conducting research on different- and same-sex couples could shed light on competing theories of why women generally experience more distress as a result of marital strain. On the one hand, if women are more aware of interpersonal dynamics within marriage, they may be more susceptible than men to psychological distress as a result of marital strain regardless of whether they are in a different-sex or same-sex marriage. On the other hand, if women in different-sex marriages are more likely to be in relationships that reflect gendered power dynamics in which they are subordinate to men, they may be especially vulnerable to distress as a result of marital strain.

To examine whether and how self-reported marital strain and spouse-reported marital strain are associated with psychological distress and whether differences exist for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages, we analyzed ten days of dyadic diary data from 756 U.S. women and men in midlife.

►►People who report higher levels of their own marital strain (“self-reported marital strain”) have more psychological distress. In addition, people whose spouses report higher levels of marital strain (“spouse- reported marital strain”), also experience more psychological distress.

►►However, there are notable gender differences in these relationships: women in different-sex marriages suffer more compared to women in same-sex marriages and men in same- and different-sex marriages. (See figure)

►►The association of self-reported marital strain with psychological distress is stronger for women in different-sex marriages compared to all other union types.

►►The association of spouse-reported marital strain with psychological distress is stronger for women in different-sex marriages when compared to men in same- and different-sex marriages.

Implications for research on marital dynamics and health
Research on marriage needs to consider the perspectives of both spouses when exploring linkages between marital dynamics and well-being. Data from both spouses is especially useful because it allows researchers to explore how perceptions, behaviors, and characteristics of each spouse may independently impact the health and well-being of either one or both spouses.
To fully capture the range of marital dynamics and their impact on health – especially for gender differences in these linkages – future studies should include same-sex couples as well as different-sex couples.

Research would benefit from taking a gender-as-relational approach to studying marital relationships. As this research clearly shows, it is not an individual’s gender but rather an individual’s gender in combination with his or her spouse’s gender that plays a key role in the link between marital strain and psychological distress, with women married to men showing a unique disadvantage compared to other union types. Thus, research must look beyond the individual to consider how gendered relational contexts shape processes of health and well-being.

Implications for mental health professionals
Clinicians would also benefit from considering the gendered relational contexts of marital relationships. In other words, counseling and other professional interactions with couples would be strengthened by thinking of the individual in combination with their spouse’s gender.

Indeed, when mental health clinicians move beyond an exclusive focus on the individual and expand their approach to also consider the gender of their patient’s spouse, they can better understand and thus provide better care to their patients across all marital contexts. This is especially vital for women in different-sex marriages. Given the higher rates of depression and anxiety for women, a focus on improving the marital experiences of women in different-sex marriages may help to reduce mental health disparities.
Study findings also point to the importance of considering how either spouse’s perceptions of marital strain and conflict can undermine the psychological well-being of both spouses. Thus, clinicians should make every effort to collect information about both the patients’ and spouses’ marital experiences.

Michael A. Garcia ( is a PhD student in sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and Debra Umberson is a professor of sociology and director of the Population Research Center, UT Austin who holds the Christine and Stanley E. Adams, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts.

This research was supported, in part, by Grant R21AG044585 from the National Institute on Aging (PI, Debra Umberson); Grant P2CHD042849 awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); and Grant T32 HD007081, Training Program in Population Studies, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by NICHD. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Friendships and romantic relationships are universal experiences, but we know relatively little about them, especially using population-based nationally-representative samples. In The Company We Keep: Interracial Friendships and Romantic Relationships from Adolescence to Adulthood (2019, Russell Sage Foundation), we use The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to examine interracial romance and friendship among adolescents aged 12-17 and when they are adults aged 25-32. We wrote this book for a broader readership, so we tried our best to only present graphs. There is one table in the entire book, which is pretty good given that we are all social demographers! I think the entire book or single chapters (probably Chapter 1 with any of the substantive chapters) could be assigned to any undergraduate classes on race and ethnicity, youth and adolescence, sociology of education, or marriage and the family.

Kara and I had worked on these topics starting about 20 years ago (our first paper from this work came out in 2000), but when Wave IV of Add Health was released about 10 years ago, we began talking about going back and linking adult relationships with childhood experiences. We were fortunate enough to work with one of Kara’s colleagues, Kelly. We have been working on this book for 6 or 7 years.

Our book has several major findings:

  • Interracial friendships are quite rare for white and black youth, but more common for Latinx and Asian youth. Some of these differences stem from the fact that whites and blacks are much more likely to attend schools that are primarily white or black, respectively. Asian and Latinx students are much more likely to attend schools with children of other races.
  • Interracial friendship and romantic relationship patterns reveal multiple color lines – not only are race, ethnicity, gender, immigrant status, and socio-economic status important to determining these patterns, but that their relative importance depends on the groups that we analyze.
  • Socio-economic status plays a more minor role in determining friendship choices compared to race.
  • Adolescent experiences of having friends of another race, a romantic partner of a different race, and/or attending schools with larger shares of individuals who are of a different race each has a positive association with the likelihood that individuals have interracial romantic relationships in adulthood. These effects are durable and persist even with controls for individual background characteristics and current neighborhood racial composition when they are adults.
  • We also explored friendships choices by race of Hispanics, multiracials as well as whether there was any homophily by socio-economic status or immigrant status. We also examine same-sex relationships in a few places.

We were also disturbed by the larger numbers of students who did not report having a single friend at school. This was true for less than 10% of white girls, but closer to 30-40% of Black, Hispanic and Asian boys did not have a friend at school. We argue that isolation or marginalization of certain minority gender groups is troubling, and that we should not simply evaluate whether children are earning high grades or test scores, but also whether they are accepted socially at school.

Overall, I think that the book does offer some signs of optimism as well – early interracial experiences via even the most casual contact, has long-lasting consequences on relationships later in life.

Grace Kao is IBM Professor and Chair of Sociology at Yale University. She is also Faculty Director of Education Studies and Direct of the Center for Empirical Research on Stratification and Inequality (CERSI). She is also affiliated with the Ethnic, Race, and Migration Program at Yale University. She is the Past Vice President of the American Sociological Association. Follow her on twitter @Prof_GraceKao.