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On August 26, 2017, Women’s Equality Day Turned 44.

 A fact sheet compiled for the Council on Contemporary Families by Nika Fate-Dixon and Stephanie Coontz, The Evergreen State College. Executive summary/advisory available.

Ninety-seven years ago on Saturday, August 26, Congress certified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting American women the vote. Since 1973, August 26th has been designated as Women’s Equality Day, offering a chance to assess the current status of gender equity. The past three decades have seen continued gains in women’s educational and occupational achievements and a striking increase in egalitarian arrangements on the home front. But progress has not been the same for women of color as for white women; it has stalled for parents; and there have been serious setbacks in the political realm. Additionally, class differences among women have widened. The latest research on trends in education, work, family, and political directions raises new questions about where we are headed.

EDUCATION AND WORK: Gains in Education, Occupations, and Pay. Substantial Inequalities Connected to Race, Class, and also to Sexist Work Cultures

 Overall, the wage gap has improved significantly. In 2015, according to a Pew analysis of median hourly earnings of both full-and part-time U.S. workers, women earned 83 percent of what men earned. This 17-cent gap is half what it was in 1980 (36 cents then).

But how do we interpret these numbers? Comparisons of yearly salaries can understate roll backs in gender discrimination when they don’t take into account differences in the number of hours men and women work. Comparing hourly pay also has its limits but suggests more steady progress, particularly for young women (ages 25 – 34). In 1980, their hourly wages were just 67 percent of their male peers’. Thirty-five years later, they have reached 90 percent.

The raw ratios in some ways overstate progress. An analysis of the Current Population Survey newly conducted for this report by University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, suggests that women have made gains largely by increasing their education level relative to men. Among people age 25 to 54 who worked at least half time and half the year, 44 percent of women in 2016 have a BA or higher education, compared with 37 percent of men – an advantage for women that has opened up since 2001. His analysis of the wage gap among those same workers shows that for those with a BA or more, women earn 80 percent of men’s wages, when statistically controlling for age, race/ethnicity, marital status, and the presence of children. That is unchanged since 1992. For those with less than a BA degree, women have made slight progress during that time, from 77 percent to 79 percent. Despite important exceptions, then, the overall narrowing of the wage gap since the early 1990s is partly a function of women’s increasing education levels rather than greater equality among workers with comparable levels of education. (For details of the analysis see this.)

Additionally, despite men’s continued pay advantage, their wages have been declining since 1979 and this decline accounts for almost a quarter of the reduction in the gender wage gap. According to 2016 data of median hourly wages, women today earn almost a third more than women did in 1979, while men today earn 4 percent less. For men with a high school degree, real wages have fallen by more than 14 percent since 1979. Women’s earnings started from such a much lower base that they remain below those of men doing the same or comparable jobs and with the same levels of educational achievement. But high-earning women (discussed below) have greatly increased the gap between themselves and low earners of both sexes.

Persistence of racial inequalities means the gender wage gap is not same for all groups. The earnings of women across all races and ethnicities lag behind those of white men as well as those of men in their own racial or ethnic group, but white and Asian women have narrowed the wage gap with white men to a much greater degree than have black and Hispanic women. Between 1980 and 2015, the gap in median hourly earnings between white men and white women narrowed by 22 cents. In comparison, the gap between black women and white men declined by only 9 cents: Black women earned 65 cents for every dollar white men earned in 2015. Hispanic women fared worse, narrowing the gap by just 5 cents during that time. As of 2015, the average Hispanic woman earned 58 cents for every dollar the average white man took home. Asian women, by contrast, made 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

These patterns of racial inequality differ by gender. The wage gap between white men and black and Hispanic men, unlike that between men and women of all races combined, has not narrowed since 1980. As of 2015, black men earned the same 73 percent share of white men’s hourly earnings as they did in 1980, and Hispanic men earned slightly less — 69 percent of white men’s earnings in 2015, compared to 71 percent in 1980. On the other hand, Asian men now earn more per hour than white men, although this is largely driven by differences in the percentage of highly-educated individuals in each group.

Class and income inequality complicates the picture. Despite the huge gains high-earning women have made in comparison to people at the middle and bottom, the largest gender pay gap is between the highest earning men and women (see page 3 and Table 1 in linked document). In the early 80s, women in high-paid jobs lagged behind men less than women in middle-wage occupations. Since 2010, however, women’s pay relative to men’s among top earners has been considerably less than that of women in the middle (and bottom) of the distribution (also on page 3). These developments reflect the growing advantage among the top ten, one, and 0.1 percent of earners, most of whom are men. So even as the earnings of women in the top 20 percent have not, overall, kept up with those of men in the same earnings category, their position relative to middle-earning men has greatly improved. It used to be that the highest-earning woman earned no more than the average-earning man. Today, however, women at the top make more than 1.5 times as much as the typical man.

Gender gap among high-earners is about sexism more than choice. The gender wage gap between high-earning men and women is often blamed on the fact that women tend to major in subjects that lead to less lucrative jobs, such as those in teaching and social work. But women actually outnumber men in the biosciences and there is little to no gender difference in the social sciences and mathematics. The only STEM fields of study in which men hugely outnumber women are computer science and engineering, which are more than 80 percent male.

We cannot attribute the low representation of women in technology and engineering to women’s preferences in majors. For one thing, recent studies find that teachers start favoring boys over girls as early as first grade. These and other subtle discriminatory messages lead to early declines in girls’ confidence in their intellectual abilities.

Even more important is the pervasive culture of sexism and an exceptionally lopsided rewards system in many male-dominated occupations; women under 25 in the tech industry earn, on average, 29 percent less than their male counterparts, and women of all ages receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company more than 60 percent of the time. Such factors discourage women from persisting. While women obtain nearly 20 percent of engineering degrees, only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women. Women tech workers are twice as likely as men to quit their jobs.

Low wages follow women around. For all the attention to the glass ceiling in high-earning fields such as finance, law, and technology, the fact is that the typical woman is three times as likely as the average man to work in occupations with poverty-level wages. Women constitute 57 percent of workers paid under $15 per hour and are the majority of low-wage workers in every state.

Considerable research shows that this is not just because women are channeled into low-paying jobs. One study compared the relative pay of different jobs between 1950s and 2000, using national data on hundreds of occupations. The researchers found that when the percentage of female workers in the occupation increased, the same job paid less, suggesting that employers were assessing the job’s value not by its actual demands but by the gender of those doing it.

MARRIAGE, HOUSEWORK, SEX, AND PARENTHOOD: It got better, but inequities persist for moms

For the past 15 years, there has been much hand-wringing about the tensions in dual-earner heterosexual marriages, especially now that one in five wives comes to marriage with higher educational degrees or earnings than their husbands. Pundits have warned women that if they make too many gains in the public world or expect too much of their partners at home, they will not be able to sustain satisfying romantic relationships. For years, many researchers believed that women in dual-earner marriages worked a “second shift” when they came home, and that men who earned less than their wives compensated by doing even less around the house.

Today, however, childless couples divide household labor pretty much equally. In fact, rather than women in such couples coming home to a second shift, men average a slightly longer work week when we count both paid and unpaid hours. Marriage has ceased to have any effect in propelling men into more traditional roles. Marriages in which the wife has more education than her husband are no longer more likely to end in divorce. And, recently the added risk of divorce when women earn more than their husbands has also evaporated. Additionally, new research shows  that such women do not, as previously observed, do extra housework to compensate for any “threat” to their husbands, nor do their husbands do less housework or childcare as a reaction to gender status threat.

The gender workload gets more uneven after the birth of a child, despite the fact that fathers have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children, from 2.5 hours in 1965 to 7.3 hours per week today. This includes doubling the developmental care they do (think reading or playing games) and tripling the daily routine physical care that most dads used to leave almost entirely to mothers. Men also spend five more hours per week on household chores than their 1965 counterparts.  Furthermore, today’s dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity.

In sum, dads are pitching in more than ever, yet on average mothers still do more housework and childcare than fathers. Even couples who shared paid work and domestic work equally before having children, and thought they were sharing it equally afterwards, turn out to backslide into more traditional roles. One study of such couples found that they were fully egalitarian before parenthood, and believed they were working the same total hours of work after the birth of a child—but they weren’t. Time diaries revealed that the women had added 22 hours of childcare to their work week while maintaining the same amount of housework and paid work as before. Men had added 14 hours of childcare, eight hours less than their partners, while reducing their housework by five hours.

Ironically, however, the minority of coupled parents who do equally share childcare and housework report higher levels of sexual and marital satisfaction than couples who divide the work less equally. Overall, American couples in the early 2010s report having sex, on average, nine fewer times per year  than couples did in the 1990s. But parents who share housework are, on average, having sex more frequently than a quarter of a century ago.

Similar advantages accrue to sharing paid work more equally. Research confirms that the busiest husbands and wives, those who spend more time on housework and paid work, have the most sex. However, the lack of family-friendly work policies and affordable quality childcare in the United States leads many couples, who might otherwise prefer to share breadwinning and childrearing more equally, to fall back into more traditional arrangements.

We are getting mixed messages about how the next generation of parents will handle the tension between the widespread expectation of shared work and family duties and the restricted availability of family-friendly support systems. Some polls suggest a revival of support for traditional family and power relations among high school seniors, although others show strong support among young adults for gender equity. A poll of 14- to 24-year-olds commissioned by MTV found that 92 percent of men and 94 percent of women believed that men and women should not be treated differently because of their gender. On the other hand, women put a higher priority on sharing household responsibilities than did men, and a full 30 percent of men, compared to less than 20 percent of women, said there was little use in pursuing more gender equality because inequalities between men and women will always exist.

POLITICS AND POLICY: Setbacks in Reproductive Rights, Supports for Families with Children, Resources for Single Mothers – While Anti-Female Sentiments Get Louder and More Outrageous

A dramatic setback for women’s rights in recent years has been the steady erosion of reproductive choice. One poll taken this month found that two-thirds of voting age adults support women having access to reproductive health care in their community. Yet the Trump Administration plans to halt funding for a successful national teen pregnancy prevention program, with the 2018 budget including funds solely for abstinence-only sex education.

The August poll also found that six in ten (61 percent) adults would support a federal law, like the Women’s Health Protection Act, that would safeguard abortion care and prevent restrictions that make abortion access increasingly out of reach. Yet over the last six years, states have passed 369 laws mandating such restrictions (see page 1 of linked document).

Although the Trump administration has proposed a six-week paid parental leave program, which would help many families, the deepest cuts projected in the Trump Administration’s 2018 Federal Budget Request target programs that are especially essential to families and to women. Many of these cuts threaten the well-being of men, women, and children alike. They will be especially devastating to single mothers, who are already much more likely to be poor in the United States than in other wealthy countries. The budget slashes $1.7 trillion over the next ten years from programs that support families, including deep cuts to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Since women comprise two-thirds of all adult Medicaid recipients and almost half of American children get their health care from Medicaid or CHIP, this proposal represents a major setback.

Finally, we cannot ignore the increased visibility and volume of sexist sentiments, from the “grab them by the pussy” tape released during the campaign to the new prominence of Breitbart News, known for headlines such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Would You Rather Your Child Have Feminism or Cancer?” and  “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off”.

It is still an open question as to whether such sexism will reinvigorate the movement for gender equality or encourage others to express even more hostility toward women. But it’s worth noting how extreme the newly invigorated neo-Nazis can be, as in the reaction of Andrew Anglin, editor of the Daily Stormer, to the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was mowed down by a Nazi sympathizer during the August 12 white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Anglin wrote that Heyer’s death relieved society from tolerating yet another “fat, childless, 32-year-old slut… who had failed to do her most basic duty – her only real duty, in fact – and reproduce.”

Most Americans are rightly horrified by such sentiments, but some disturbingly similar sentiments lie behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the demonization of feminists made by more cagey social conservatives. So August 26 should not be a day for complacency, even as we recognize the progress women have made.


Nika Fate-Dixon is a CCF research intern and a graduate of The Evergreen State College.

Stephanie Coontz is Professor of History at The Evergreen State College and Director of Research and Education for the Council on Contemporary Families. For further information, contact

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Reposted from CNN with headline “Nixon was Right about Women.”

In 1973, when President Richard Nixon proclaimed August 26 Women’s Equality Day — commemorating the day in 1920 that women won the right to vote — a woman could still be denied housing by a real estate broker or credit by a bank, simply because of her gender.

Employers could fire a woman who became pregnant. Many states had “head and master” laws giving husbands final authority in the family, and in no state was marital rape a crime. As late as 1977, two-thirds of all Americans still believed that men should earn the money and women should take care of the home.

So it was something of an understatement when Nixon noted that “much remains to be done” to attain “full and equal participation of women” in society. Indeed, the events of the last year and a half — from the “Access Hollywood” video in which the man who is now president uses vulgar words about women’s genitals, to challenges to women’s reproductive rights, to the routine, vicious online attacks on women by what sometimes seems to be an army of trolls — suggest that, 44 years later, much still remains to be done.

But a review of the changes in gender relationships since the 1970s suggests good reason for confidence in our ability to move forward, though certainly not for us to become complacent.

Today the blatant discrimination described above, for example, is illegal, and Americans overwhelmingly support, at least in principle, the ideal of gender equality. In one recent survey, 93% of adults said women should have equal rights.

But the very popularity of the ideal of gender equality, combined with the fact that inequalities are now perpetuated in more subtle ways than in the past, has led some people to conclude that there is nothing more to strive for. The same poll above found that fully 20% of respondents believed gender equality has already been achieved and no more work is needed.

This view ignores the minority of Americans who deeply resent the women’s movement, falsely claiming that women’s gains have come at men’s expense. And it overlooks some serious recent setbacks for women.

Still, it’s worth emphasizing the good news

Some of the most dramatic improvements for women have been in personal relationships. Rates of intimate partner violence have fallen steadily since the early 1970s, a decline that has accelerated since the early 1990s. Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are still too widespread, but women have new options to expose the perpetrators and fight for justice.

Marriages are more equal. In the 1970s, a woman with more years of formal education or higher earnings than her husband faced an increased chance of divorce. Today, the extra divorce risk associated with women’s higher achievements has disappeared.

Fathers have doubled the time they spend interacting with their children, and tripled the routine physical care, such as changing diapers, that many men used to shun. That carries a bonus for both sexes: Couples who share housework and childcare equally now report the highest levels of marital and sexual satisfaction.

More remains to be done

Ivanka Trump has proposed a paid parental leave policy, but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as the work-family policies that are standard in most advanced nations and include flex time, universal health care, and affordable, quality child care. In the absence of such support systems, it’s no accident that American parents report much lower happiness compared with non-parents than in any other of 22 countries recently studied.

Similar limits exist to the very impressive gains American women have made in education and earnings. In 1973, women earned just 57 cents for every dollar earned by men — a gap of 46 cents. By 2015, the gap had fallen to 17 cents — even lower for childless women, who earn 96 cents for every man’s dollar.

Not yet equal

Indeed, women have “caught up” in their earnings largely because of their high rates of college completion, which allow them to pull ahead of less-educated men and women. But they still lag behind men with the same education.

Today, according to sociologist Philip Cohen, the average female with a BA makes much more than a male high school graduate, but 28% less than the average man with a BA.

This reversal is confusing to many men who grew up seeing their low- or middle-earning fathers making more money than almost any woman. As a result, some men blame their economic plight on the increase in gender equality rather than on the real culprit — the acceleration of wage inequality.

Meanwhile, although women on the higher rungs of the pay ladder are doing much better than middle and low wage-earners of both sexes, they actually face a wider gender wage gap in comparison to their male counterparts than in the past. In consequence, some high-powered women focus on the glass ceiling rather than the sinking floor that holds back so many men and women alike.

Racial disparities add more complexities to the gender equality picture. Despite the rise of an affluent African-American and Hispanic middle class, minorities continue to fare worse than their white counterparts, even as white low wage workers also lose ground.

Between 1980 and 2015, white women narrowed the gap in hourly wages with white men by 22 cents, but black and Hispanic women narrowed the gap with white men by only 9 and 5 cents respectively.

And the wage gap between white men and black and Hispanic men didn’t budge at all.

Nixon called it

There’s no question that women’s lives and options are better than when Women’s Equality Day was first proclaimed. But progress has been slow on the earnings equality front, and there have been some recent big setbacks in politics and culture.

In 1964, two former presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, were proud to co-chair a fund-raising committee for Planned Parenthood. Today, the very existence of Planned Parenthood is under attack. And even though two-thirds of voting age adults support wide access to reproductive health care and pregnancy prevention, the Trump administration plans to defund a national teen pregnancy prevention program, returning to abstinence-only sex education.

I1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy included a woman’s right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Yet over the last six years, states have passed 369 laws aimed at restricting women’s access to abortion.

The new administration has seemed singularly uninterested in recruiting and promoting women, and it recently repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order, scrapping two rules that are essential protections for women workers.

The Fair Pay order required wage transparency, so people can actually see if they are being paid less for the same job than a colleague. The Safe Workplaces order prohibited forced arbitration for sexual-harassment cases, which often protect perpetrators by keeping proceedings out of the public eye.

And our President has used “the bully pulpit” more to encourage than to stop bullying. On top of this comes the surfacing of a newly-invigorated white supremacy movement, which is also a male supremacy movement that claims the “only real duty” of a white woman is to reproduce, while black and Hispanic women should be discouraged from doing so.

The good news here is that this retrograde movement is small and, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, most Americans (64%) realize it poses a threat to the US. Unfortunately, more than a third (34%) believe it does not — representing yet another way in which it is abundantly clear that, as Nixon said, much remains to be done for women’s equality.

Stephanie Coontz is the CCF Director of Research and Education and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.

My desk top

Posted originally on November 18, 2016, at Girl w/ Pen. This week, we are thinking about attention to what is said and done, and preparing for Women’s Equality Day on August 26.

Sex gets used a lot of ways–and a number of them are not about shared pleasure and connection. I have written about political sex scandals and the way generations of youth get shamed about their sexual norms. Though it may be facile, I find myself noting “the more things change, the more they remain the same” — the issues change a little bit but the use of sex as a tool of power and control, not so much.

This is sex as political football. Sometimes the games have the veneer of lightness, like a game you play after Thanksgiving dinner. Today, though, I was writing about the use of rape as tool of war.

In 1996 the International War Crimes Tribunal focused on rape  in the Bosnian war, and prosecuted people involved. Discussion of one of those prosecutions was here, and this quotation gripped me:

In a reply to his accusers, Mr. Mejakic, who along with others under indictment remains safely in Serb territory, described Ms. Cigelj as being old and unattractive; he added that he wouldn’t have leaned his bicycle against her, much less raped her.

And then I looked at this, from 20 years later, last month (October 2016):

Donald Trump on Thursday adamantly denied claims he forced himself on a People Magazine journalist more than a decade ago, responding to her accusation of sexual assault by saying, “Look at her … I don’t think so.”

That’s today’s brief reflection on normalization, 1996-2016.

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Recently I interviewed Debra Umberson, author of Death of family members as an overlooked source of racial disadvantage in the United States. She is a professor of Sociology and Director of the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and last week we featured her study on this page. The study examined the grief and loss in Black families and linked them to racial differences in US life expectancy. We hear frequent news accounts of Black people dying due to police shootings along with other sources of untimely deaths. The reality of these multiplied deaths affect the Black community as a whole. Looking at movements such as Black Lives Matter and how conflicts surrounding race recently can no longer be swept under the rug, I wanted to learn more about research suggesting that Black Americans die at much higher rates than White Americans due to historical racial inequalities.

Q: Your study discusses the extreme racial disparities in exposure to the death of family members in non-Hispanic Blacks compared to whites. What brought you to investigate this topic?

DU: Several things came together to lead me to this topic. First, several years ago, I conducted in-depth interviews with Black and White respondents to learn more about how early family relationships influence health habits throughout the life course. Although it wasn’t a focus of the project, the interviews with Black respondents were filled with stories of grief and loss, starting when they were children. This was especially striking in that the Black and White respondents were very similar in education and income and the stories of White respondents rarely included stories of family member loss. Around the same time, more and more stories were surfacing in the media about premature and violent deaths of young Black men in the U.S. and their devastated parents were often featured in those reports. I started thinking about the significant Black-White race gap in U.S. life expectancy and realizing how much more pervasive loss must be in Black families.

Q: Although you hypothesized that the death of family members would be more common among Black Americans than among White Americans, did you find anything that surprised you?

DU: The extent of the race gap in loss was striking. I was somewhat surprised by how big the gap was in the risk of losing a child.  Blacks are about two and half times more likely than Whites to lose a child by age 30. Between the ages of 50 and 70, Blacks are 3 times more likely than Whites to lose a child. For most family member deaths, the race gap begins to close in later life as Whites begin to more family members but that’s not the case for death of a child. Whites are much more likely than Blacks to never lose a child in their lifetime.

Q: In the context of current events such as deaths by the police, a rise in the Black Lives Matter movement, and police brutality, what is next on your research agenda?

DU: Our next step is to consider how exposure to family member deaths may contribute to racial disparities in wide-ranging life outcomes including mental health, physical health, and mortality risk. We will also consider how these effects differ for men and women across the life course. Since we know that even one family member death – whether a spouse, a child, or a parent — has significant adverse effects on health and well-being, we expect that more frequent and earlier family member losses contribute to racial disparities in health.

Bereavement rates, health & racial inequality, and criminal victimization mentioned in this research all illustrate a tragic point of view for Black Americans in the United States. With Black Americans in the news constantly this creates a sense of strain, “collective loss, and personal vulnerability” within the Black community.  If Black Americans have family members—whether that be a spouse, a child, or a sibling—dying earlier in their lives, these losses only create a lifelong ripple effect for generations and reoccurring disadvantages. Whatever can help: policies, interventions, or a simple acknowledgment of bereavement and loss in these populations must be taken into effect—and fast.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

photo credit: Polski via pixabay

Originally posted 2/10/2017 

One consequence of racial inequalities in the United States is that black Americans die at much higher rates than white Americans. New research by UT Austin’s Debra Umberson and colleagues explores some understudied consequences of this. Umberson’s team finds that black Americans are more likely to lose their parents during childhood than white children. Furthermore, black Americans are more likely to experience the death of multiple close family members by mid-life. Along with the sheer tragedy, in the long run these losses have the potential to damage the health of black Americans. Bereavement following the death of just one family member has shown to have lasting adverse consequences for the health of the individual, with premature deaths having an even larger impact.

Using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth and Health and Retirement Study totaling 42,000 people, the researchers compared non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white Americans on their exposure to death of family members and total number of deaths experienced at different ages. The study shows that black Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to experience the death of two or more family members by the age of 30. Black Americans born in the 1980s were three times more likely to lose a mother, more than twice as likely to lose a father, and 20 percent more likely to lose a sibling by age 10. The race gap diminishes slightly at age 70. At that point, whites begin to exceed blacks in experiencing loss. However, black Americans experienced more family member deaths than white Americans overall.

This racial disparity in family member death rates paints a stark picture of black health disadvantages. Death of family members puts strain on other family relationships. This strain often persists throughout a lifetime, thus adding to even more trouble. As Umberson and colleagues emphasize bereavement is a known risk factor for mental and physical health having an even greater impact if it occurs during childhood or early adulthood. The loss-upon-loss quality of this result sets up another reinforcing cycle. Racial inequalities contribute to a high death rate for black Americans. And they add another racial inequality all together; health disadvantages due to the loss of family members.

We also featured an interview with Dr. Umberson about her research.

Megan Peterson is a 2017 sociology graduate of Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.


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My husband and I recently spit in tiny tubes just after watching an Ancestry.Com commercial where “Kyle” recounted his ethnic transition. In the commercial, we saw Kyle dancing vigorously in lederhosen, and then heard him say he had discovered that, after years of assuming he was German, he and his family were “not German at all.” They were, in fact, Scottish. This led him to trade in his lederhosen for a kilt, at which point the commercial showed him standing – not dancing – in a kilt, presumably to avoid any vigorous knee kicks. I imagined Kyle and his family discussing over dinner how all of the fabric choices for celebratory outfits would need to be changed to include homage to the new pieces of the ethnic pie chart that science had spit back at him. Ditch the lederhosen! Tartans for everyone!

For a mere $100 (which my biochemistry wizard friend assures me is supercheap for science projects involving DNA), I spit into a tube and added the magical “who am I” solvent that also summarily eliminated the possibility for my DNA to come back as “100% bean soup.” I then shook the tube, sealed the envelope, and mailed it to a place I later read may, in fact, be cataloging and declaring the rights to my DNA for the forever future. (How cool would it be to have new Michelles roam the earth in the year 2786, and then again in the year 2986? Okay, not cool.)

My husband did the spitting project, too. Admittedly, we were doing this not only to see where we stood in relation to our own “where did our family come from” stories, but also to be able to see where our combined-DNA-son may fit. So it was a parenting project that linked the past with the future. Plus, for me, there was always the question of that one great-great-relative whose ethnic origins have been as unknown to all of his descendants as the secret ingredient in his wife’s Norwegian krumkake recipes was. Note to reader: the secret ingredient for krumkake recipes is always cardamom.

The website differentiates those with whom we share DNA from thousands of years ago from those who are probably related to us from just a few generations ago. The recent ones are more connected to things like contemporary languages, clustered immigration across national borders, and krumkake recipes – you know, the stuff that our great-greats talked about over dinner as making us who we are in terms of our imagined ethnic past.

Even though the percentage of DNA-shared lands from thousands of years ago for me centered in England more than I thought it would, my results from just a few generations ago were fairly close to how I envisioned my grandparents and their grandparents moving from there to here. This consisted of my German grandparents (Oma and Opa) landing in Chicago, and my other European ancestors landing in other parts of the upper Midwest a couple generations earlier. The results for my husband mostly situates his DNA ancestors in lands we know today as Italy, Greece, Turkey, Central Asia, and Scandinavia. And we both have about twelve other European lands listed. Our son thus shares genetics with people from geographical locales made up of at least fourteen places that have everything from mead to beer to wine to chai to arak to vodka to ouzo at their dinner parties.

Perhaps the most surprising news for me was that my results came back with a tiny percentage that said “Greek,” which immediately resulted in a new type of bond with my Greek-American mother-in-law, with whom I was staying when I got my results. Along with this revelation came some tongue-in-cheek references to other traits – utterances that included “no wonder she likes feta,” or “that’s why she doesn’t sunburn easily.” Utterances that I’ve probably used to refer to my son to connect him to his Yía Yía.

Importantly, my mother-in-law and I already have a great non-ethnic bond regardless of my new status, mostly due to the fact that her husband is the father of my husband, and they have many things in common. Like the fact that they’re both sociologists, they both are the oldest sons of the oldest sons who were born when their dads were thirty years old (guess how old my husband was when our son was born), and they married women who make fast decisions that, fortunately, included the decisions to marry them. But now we have an added Greek connection.

So, what does all of this do to our understanding of family? Who are our relatives? Who are we supposed to feel close to?

Family can be defined lots of ways. Sometimes it involves blood relations, but any who have adoptive families or people who don’t fit some legal definitions of family may grimace at that. Sometimes family involves lineage and inheritance rules, and worrying whether one’s line will continue for more generations. But the way that families are constructed today increasingly defies straight lines and rules.

Kinship lines and the meanderings that created them from thousands of years ago are immensely varied. We add girth to lines whenever we hear our great-greats talk about why our family is the way it is because we come from those people over there who were a certain way. We add girth to lines when we learn, through our spit, that we share some kind of blood connection to people from a long time ago in a land far away. Just like family can be defined lots of ways, we now have more ways to define lineage. Or at least to investigate it and figure out what to do with it.

The line between me and Greece didn’t used to exist except that I gave birth to a son who descends from my husband’s Greek family. Now it’s a line of mysterious genealogy for me. Maybe a dotted line. Lines can be thickened because we decide so based on new information that has been revealed in a tiny tube of spit. Science stuff. But socially we decided that it matters all of a sudden. Even if it’s based on blood, lines thicken because we decide that this particular blood matters.

By defining something as real, it develops real consequences. Take’s latest ad, in which descendants of many races from the signers of the Declaration of Independence are featured, posing in the places of their ancestors as depicted in John Trumbull’s famous 1818 painting. The ad’s closing line is “Unlock your past. Inspire your future.”

Isn’t it interesting that, all of a sudden, a little spit in a tube can redefine everything from a family’s connections to a nation’s racial-ethnic imagery? The process of redefining who we come from and where our children will claim to come from is a social process, even when it involves bloodlines. Our family stories have a fabric pattern that tells others who we are, until we learn that we need to change fabrics because our biochemical story has been socially attached to a different fabric. The fabrication of family ethnicity, as it were.

That is not Greek to me.

Michelle Janning is a sociologist and author of The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives. She aims to point out the “between-ness” of our social lives, evident in her essays featured in the collection Between: Living Life in Neither Extreme. She lives in Walla Walla, Washington. 

Photo by GDJ via pixabay

Most people know that there’s a long and persistent history of racial and ethnic segregation in the United States. There’s less awareness of segregation of gays and lesbians, and gay neighborhoods often get treated as simply a matter of “choice”— much the way that queer identities have historically been treated as a “choice.”

Is it the case that gays and lesbians simply gravitate to similar areas and form gay “enclaves,” or is the segregation of gays and lesbians related to systematic inequalities? According to new work in Population Review by Dudley L. Poston Jr.D’Lane R. Compton, Qian Xiong, and Emily A. Knox, it’s a little of both.

To a degree, discrimination drives the segregation of gays and lesbians. The researchers point to religious intolerance and recent anti-sodomy laws as evidence that gays and lesbians are systematically excluded from some heterosexual communities. But Poston Jr. and colleagues don’t reject the possibility that some gays and lesbians segregate voluntarily. As homophobia decreases, gays and lesbians may still wish to take advantage of the “protective shield and social support” and “stronger political voice” afforded by self-segregation.

It’s likely that the dynamics of segregation might be different for gays and lesbians. Lesbians are more likely to have kids, and thus might voluntarily congregate in places with better school districts. But they’re also more likely to live in poverty than gay men, which leads to fewer living options.

Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox examined the relationship between factors related to racial segregation and segregation by sexuality among 100 metropolitan areas with large gay and lesbian populations, using American Community Survey data from 2008 to 2012. The researchers estimated the percentage of gay or lesbian households that would have had to relocate within that metropolitan area for the number of same-sex and different-sex households to be proportional.

In all metropolitan areas examined, gay and lesbian households were segregated from heterosexual ones. On average, about 75 percent of gay male and 69 percent of lesbian couple households would have had to relocate within their metropolitan area to eliminate neighborhood segregation. The lowest estimate of segregation was between lesbians and different-sex couples in Madison, Wisconsin. Even there, though, just over half of lesbian households would have had to relocate for there to be no segregation.

Gay male households were more segregated from heterosexual households than were lesbian couple households in most cases. Provo-Orem, Utah, had the most segregation by sexuality: More than 90 percent of gay male households would have had to relocate to be proportional to heterosexual married and cohabiting couples in the population.

Gay and lesbian households are segregated from each other, too. In El Paso, Texas, which had the most segregation of same-sex households by gender, there was almost complete segregation between lesbians and gay men.

What factors predicted increased segregation between same-sex and different-sex households? For gays and lesbians, high prevalence of gay/lesbian couple households, high rates of Republican voters and Southern Baptists, and high poverty rates in their metropolitan areamade segregation more likely.

For gay men, they also found high population density, anti-sodomy laws, and a lack of non-discrimination laws predictive of increased segregation.

For lesbian households, high racial segregation also made their segregation from different-sex households more likely.

The only factors that predicted segregation between gay male and lesbian households were the gay male prevalence rate and the poverty rate. As the proportion of gay males in an area increased, segregation between gay male and lesbian couple households decreased. Conversely, as the poverty rate in an area increased, segregation of these two groups also increased.

The salience of poverty rates in these patterns suggests that segregation by sexuality is fueled at least partially by inequalities rather than the choices of gay and lesbian couples. But, to the extent that they have the option, gay and lesbian couples might choose to live in areas where they share political ideologies with others and can avoid discrimination.

There are still unexplained factors related to segregation by sexuality. Earlier qualitative research comparing the Castro with other gay enclaves, for example, found that what draws residents toward specific areas varies by the community, often in conjunction with more specific intersecting identities of the gays and lesbians that predominate in each space. Future research could examine individual communities to better understand how inequalities may be perpetuated through the residential patterns of gays and lesbians. But amid researchers’ calls for more research on the geographic distribution of gays and lesbians, there’s currently a policy shift away from data collection on LGBTQ demographics. The findings in this research by Poston Jr., Compton, Xiong, and Knox highlight that data on where sexual minorities live is crucial for understanding, and thus addressing, inequality more generally.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and will begin a doctoral program at Boston University in the fall. He serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar. 

Harvey Finkle Photography

You can also read an interview with Joan Maya Mazelis at CCF@TSP regarding Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor.

Approximately 47 million people in the United States live under the poverty threshold. The erosion of the public safety net has made their struggle to survive more difficult in recent decades, and cuts currently under consideration that would weaken programs which help make medical care, food, and housing affordable and accessible to the poor would worsen this.

Those in desperate poverty often have to turn to a private safety net, frequently made up of family members, to meet basic needs, as many jobs fail to pay a living wage. But in my research on people living in poverty in Philadelphia, I found that many of the most vulnerable had no family members they could turn to, which meant any crisis could lead to homelessness. Others had family ties, but those relationships were often negative, characterized by long histories of unsupportive, mistrustful behavior.

As a child, Betty (note: all names here are pseudonyms) was a victim of sexual abuse by an older male relative, and when she told her parents, they didn’t believe her. Once she reached adulthood their relationship wasn’t better. While her mother allowed Betty and her daughter to live with her for a year when they had nowhere else to go, she made Betty’s husband sleep in his van outside their home. The couple had moved to Philadelphia in part to escape this arrangement, and Betty sometimes skipped meals to ensure their daughter got enough to eat.

When Rebecca and her son were homeless, her mother and sister sought custody of her child instead of inviting her to stay with them, citing Rebecca’s lack of a place to call home as evidence of her unfitness as a parent. For CC, fleeing her abusive husband meant fleeing the only family who could provide her and her two young children a place to live. Bebe had left her abusive, violent mother who did not allow her to go to school. Her aunt wanted to help her, but was homeless herself.

In my research, I found that some desperately poor people without supportive family ties joined together in a unique organization, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). This group of and for poor people allowed many of them to provide each other the support they lacked from their families. This organization essentially substituted for family, fostering ties between members that provided housing, food, moral support, and a real sense of community. Many members built ties with one another that lasted for years, even decades.

Members often see each other as the family they never had or the one they wish they had. Pauline, who had moved to Philadelphia from out of state to live with her father and then became homeless when they had a conflict, had no other family to turn to for support when she came to the organization. She recalled: “When my family didn’t give me nowhere to stay [KWRU] did. . . .  When I came here they treated me like a family, like I was part of their little family.” James, said, “I got mad love for KWRU and KWRU family. . . . People in KWRU, I see them as like my brothers and sisters all the way around the board.”

Severe cuts in programs that help those in poverty means those who are struggling will need to lean on social ties more than ever. For those without family to rely on, KWRU served as a rare and meaningful substitute. But the organization’s ability to provide substantial help like housing weakened after its foundation grants expired in 2009. What they really require in an era of deeper needs is funding. Rather than slashing benefits to the poor and assuming family will fill the void, politicians and policy makers should make sure poor families have what is required to meet their needs—stable and affordable housing being the most fundamental among them and often the most difficult to acquire. And especially in a context of reduced government aid to the poor, organizations like KWRU need support so they can fill the voids that absent or destructive family ties create for those in very tenuous circumstances.

Joan Maya Mazelis is Associate Professor of Sociology and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University-Camden. Her book, Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, is available from NYU Press.

Sociologist Joan Maya Mazelis, author of Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University-Camden. Her research examines the experiences of people in poverty and the role of social ties in their struggles to survive. In her recently published Washington Post Op-ed she critiques the idea that having the right mind-set can help poor people escape poverty, and discusses her research findings that poor people often blame themselves for their circumstances. As a family sociologist, I was interested in finding out more about the social ties that poor people have, or avoid, and how those ties (or lack thereof) can contribute to poverty or alleviate its effects. I was recently able to interview her about her work:

AK: In your recently published book Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, you interview people who are experiencing severe poverty. For some of them, a major factor in the difficulties they experience is not having family ties at all, or not having family members who are willing to help them. Some of your interviewees went on to form long term family-like ties with others that you call “sustainable ties” after joining a poor people’s organization that helped them form those ties.

What do your findings tell us about the importance of family ties or other “sustainable ties” and their connection to falling into and getting out of poverty?

JMM: Ties with others are incredibly important for those struggling financially. Social ties may not help people  escape poverty, but they can help them cope with its worst consequences. One of the most vital ways social ties protect people is helping them to avoid homelessness. For people who live from one paycheck to the next, a missed paycheck due to an illness or other crisis can lead to eviction. But people in this situation might avoid homelessness  if family members can loan them money for rent. And if no one can help with money, family members  might provide a place to stay temporarily, allowing them to avoid living on the street. Many of my research participants who didn’t have family to rely on had experienced homelessness.

Sometimes family ties aren’t as positive as we wish they would be. One participant, Rosa, told me about the time she asked to shower at a cousin’s house; the cousin wanted to charge her and her daughter money for the water they used. Alyssa lived for a time with family members but had to turn over much of her wages to them to do so.

But social ties with people who aren’t family can easily dissolve, especially given the pressure that extreme poverty places on them. Many participants described how this had happened in the past when they relied on non-kin ties. Sustainable ties are ties between people who aren’t family, but last for a long time. In my research, I found that the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), which brought poor people together in the fight to survive, fostered such sustainable ties between members. Some of these ties have lasted for decades.

KWRU provided housing for members who needed it, and thus filled a void for those who didn’t have family to rely on. As Pauline told me, “when my family didn’t give me nowhere to stay [KWRU] did, and I need somewhere to sleep for my kids. .  .  . When I came here they treated me like a family, like I was part of their little family.” Sustainable  ties people built through KWRU made an enormous difference in members’ lives.

AK: What are some of the differences you found between poor people who were able to build “sustainable ties” through the organization you studied, and poor people who weren’t members of that organization?

JMM: One of the main differences is that those in the organization felt less alone. They had a real sense of community. They also felt enveloped by social support, because they weren’t relying on just one tie. Most of those who weren’t in the organization did have family to rely on, but usually just one or two kin ties. Often those kin ties created a lot of negative feelings, in which family members helped only grudgingly, or the help came with guilt, shame, and strings attached.

People usually turned to KWRU when they were desperate, and therefore the people I interviewed who weren’t members of KWRU were generally a little bit better off—almost all of them had lived with family members as adults and many received other kinds of support from family, like free child care for their kids while they went to work or school.

AK: When doing the research for this book, what important lessons did you learn about addressing poverty and building “sustainable ties” that may be useful for other poor people’s organizations, policy makers, or the average person going through tough financial times?

JMM: One of the key lessons is the importance of reciprocity in building ties that last. Giving back—helping other members, volunteering in the office, and attending rallies—functioned like monetary dues in KWRU. This increased the number of people KWRU could help. It also made members feel better about getting help and helped to foster a sense of community. Organizations that serve poor people could ask them to do small things to invest in additional help and build ties with other clients based on this model.

Policy makers must understand, however, that fundamental needs have to be addressed first. Social ties can do a lot, but they can’t do everything. We need more income supports, child care subsidies, and widely accessible affordable housing. While KWRU members did build sustainable ties with minimal governmental support, their feelings about mutual support outside of KWRU as well as the experiences of those I interviewed who weren’t members of KWRU suggest that desperate poverty makes it very difficult to rely on one another. Positive social policies addressing fundamental needs would take the pressure off; people could be there for each other without worrying about being completely drained.

In terms of what the average person going through tough financial times can do, it’s so easy and common to want to withdraw from other people when you’re struggling financially. People feel embarrassed; they blame themselves, even when larger forces are at work, like a high unemployment rate. I found many participants in my study had done this, and it increased their desperation and depression. So to people going through tough times, I would say, remember that you’re not alone. And everyone needs help sometimes. Don’t be afraid to look for the right community and reach out to it.

Joan Maya Mazelis is Associate Professor of Sociology and an affiliated scholar at the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University-Camden. Her book, Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor, is available from NYU Press. Follow her on Twitter @JoanieMazelis. Arielle Kuperberg is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Follow her on twitter at @ATKuperberg.


Reposted from CNN

Photo by jarmoluk via pixabay

In a letter to The Wall Street Journal this week, Ivanka Trump gave a robust defense of the Trump administration’s proposed paid family leave program. The Journal’s editorial board had denounced it as a government “entitlement” that “could create another disincentive for work and advancement.”

Ms. Trump indignantly denied that paid leave was an “entitlement,” a word that has become an epithet in American politics. Rather, she said, it’s “an investment in America’s working families.”

But whether consciously or not, Ms. Trump’s defense represents a stinging rebuke to the combination of lofty rhetoric and callous policies emanating from the new administration and Congress. She frankly admits that the unregulated market, hailed by so many politicians as the ultimate creator of jobs and prosperity for all, has failed “those who need these benefits the most.” She added, “The poorest, most vulnerable workers in our society get left behind” by business-provided work-family policies.

Fewer than 10 percent of individuals in the lowest 25 percent of earners have access to paid family leave. As a result, they often lose or are forced to quit their jobs after having a child. And this, Ms. Trump notes, results in far greater damage to their prospects for future work and advancement, and “a far greater cost to society over the long term,” than the government funding required to support “healthier children and parents in more tightly bonded families” with a “stronger attachment to the labor force” in the long run.

Of course, however Ms. Trump frames it, paid leave would indeed be an entitlement — and an investment. A new mother or father is entitled to paid leave; the child is entitled to bond with its parents. And government makes an investment in parents’ ability to put food on the table while they are at home and to return to work without having sacrificed their prospects for advancement.

Americans should be entitled to live in a society that invests in the jobs, education and infrastructure they need to attain a comfortable standard of living now and to be confident their children and grandchildren will have equal or greater opportunities to succeed.

Responsible businesses can help with that. But on their own, private enterprises can’t create the conditions that ensure our children get the safe drinking water, quality childcare and early education programs that make it possible for them to navigate a path to a healthy, productive life.

Ivanka Trump endorses this essential principle in her letter. We need entitlement programs that invest in and enhance our human and natural resources. Paid family leave is one. Here are others:

  • Nutrition programs, such as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps 16 million children get the food and vitamins they need for healthy brain development and school achievement. A long-term study found that low-income children whose families got food stamps were as adults much less likely than non-recipients to suffer health problems that produce disability dependence (obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes), and girls in particular were more likely to be economically self-sufficient.
  • Access to maternity care and follow-up, now under severe threat under this administration, is a tremendously cost-effective investment entitlement. A study showed that mothers of children enrolled in the Nurse Family Partnership spent less time on welfare and had significantly fewer arrests and convictions well into their 20s than the control group.
  • The Abecedarian Project, a preschool program in North Carolina, followed participants from early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood. At age 30, 75 percent of participants had worked full time for at least 16 of the previous 24 months, compared with just 53 percent of the control group. They were five times less likely to have used public assistance in the previous seven years.
  • The Michigan HighScope Perry Preschool Study compared adults at age 27 and 40 who had graduated from the preschool program with a control group that had not. By age 27, the former had half as many teen pregnancies as the control group. At age 40, they were 26 percent less likely to have received food stamps or welfare in the past 10 years and were half as likely to have served any time in jail.

Unfortunately, not only does Donald Trump’s budget fail to embrace such initiatives, but it makes massive cuts in entitlement programs that are vital investments in our human infrastructure: It calls for cuts of 25 percent to the SNAP, or food stamp, program13.5 percent to education, and 16.25 percent to health and human services.

The Senate health care bill removes the guarantee of maternity care for pregnant women. Funding for Head Start, child care assistance, job training and domestic violence prevention, as well as food safety, environmental protection, transportation and medical research are all at risk.

Now, there are in fact some policies that DO perpetuate dependency and poverty while depleting our national treasury and natural resources. But these are the very programs the current budget would expand. Under the current tax plan, the top one percent of earners would receive annual tax cuts averaging out to at least another $250,000 per household.

The extra money these lucky recipients would save per year is seven times as much as the entire annual salary of a working adult with only a high school diploma, and six times that of a worker with some college but no BA degree. So much for Trump’s promise to put the interests of less-educated workers first.

It gets worse. The 400 highest-income taxpayers — who average more than $300 million a year — would each get a tax cut of at least $15 million a year, which works out to more than five times as much as the typical college graduate earns over a lifetime, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Do we really expect this group of the very rich to create jobs or educational opportunities for the rest of us with their windfall?

Of course not. These entitlement policies for the wealthy have drastically reduced the benefits of citizenship for middle and low-income Americans alike, producing lower rates of social mobility and higher rates of poverty than in most advanced industrial countries.

So whatever differences we may have over particular policies and programs, I heartily endorse Ivanka Trump’s argument that the real test of an entitlement program is whether it is an investment in the security and prosperity of all Americans. From my point of view, that is a far better use of resources than adding to the nest eggs of the children of the super-rich, who are already quite entitled enough.

Stephanie Coontz is CCF Director of Research and Education and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.