Two dads and a child. “Untitled” by mskathrynne is licensed under “Pixabay License

Does stigma and discrimination influence the parenthood aspirations of sexual minority people (i.e., people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, etc.)? Laws barring same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children have been in place in many states, especially prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. There are only a handful of research studies that focus on how experiences of discrimination and perceptions of stigma may shape parenthood aspirations of sexual minority people. A new study in the Journal of Family Psychology examines the effects of felt stigma, internalized homophobia, and discrimination on the desire by lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people to have children, as well as the belief in whether having children is a possibility.

What prior studies haven’t done is consider how younger generations of sexual minority people may differ in their parenthood aspirations than those in older generations. Recent cohorts of LGB people who came of age during the period leading up to marriage equality may have very different family life expectations compared to older LGB people who came of age, for example, in the era of HIV/AIDS.

This new study shows that a younger generation (ages 18-25 in 2016) of sexual minority people both desire to have children more than a generation that came of age before marriage equality (ages 34-41), and believe in a greater likelihood that they will have children. For both generations, those who reported more negative feelings about being LGB (“internalized homophobia”) also reported a greater desire to have children. This finding may seem surprising: it suggests is that having children may help some LGB people conform to society’s heterosexual norms, feelings that would be consistent with internalized homophobia. At the same time, the study also found that those who felt greater stigma related to being LGB believed it was less likely that they would ever have children. People who experience or feel discrimination for being LGB may feel discouraged about the possibility of having children, regardless of how much they may want to have children. The discrepancy between the desire to have children and the belief it is likely is referred to as a “parenting expectation gap.” This expectation gap – about a very typical and important life goal – may be harmful to mental health.

These findings show that prejudice and stigma can negatively impact the parenthood aspirations of sexual minority people. For counselors and social workers that work with sexual minority adults who want to be parents, it is critical to understand how internalized feelings of stigma or shame may affect their aspirations for having children. Counselors can help sexual minority adults recognize the discrepancy between the desire to have children and the belief that they will be parents in the future, a process that could protect mental health.

Acknowledgments: The Generations study is funded by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; Grant 1R01HD078526) and through supplemental grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and Office of Research on Women’s Health. Generations study investigators are I. H. Meyer (principal investigator), D. M. Frost, P. L. Hammack, M. Lightfoot, S.T. Russell, and B. D. M. Wilson. The research was also supported by an infrastructure grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, P2C HD042849) awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Armin A. Dorri is a Doctoral Candidate in Human Development and Family Sciences at University of Texas at Austin. You can follow them on Twitter @armin_dorri

Stephen T. Russell is a Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professor in Child Development and Director of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Texas at Austin. You can follow them on Twitter @StephnTRussell

Prison tower. “Untitled” by PublicDomainPictures is licensed under “Pixabay License

Families in the U.S. already face a myriad of challenges to staying connected, including busy schedules, distractions, and stressors from work and parenting roles. Now, imagine that a family member is incarcerated. The barriers to maintaining familial bonds are even further compounded.

This issue is important to consider as a recent nationally representative study estimates that 45% of the U.S. population (113 million adults) has had a family member incarcerated at some point throughout their lifetimes. The United States is currently the world leader in incarceration with a rate higher than any other nation in the world. Each of the 1.4 million people incarcerated in the U.S. leaves behind a family system. Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latiné families face increased risks due to racial disparities and overrepresentation in the U.S. carceral system. Families with incarcerated loved ones face increased financial burdens as well as mental and physical health deficits. The impacts are felt most fiercely by immediate relatives, such as parents and their children.

Recent reports indicate that nearly half of state prisoners (47%) and more than half of federal prisoners (58%) are parents to an estimated 1.5 million children. Parental incarceration, especially maternal incarceration, has adverse impacts on children, including mental health issues, lower educational performance, and increased likelihood for system-involvement. In fact, one study found that children with an incarcerated parent were nearly two times as likely to become incarcerated in comparison to children without an incarcerated parent.

The additional efforts families must take to stay in contact with their incarcerated loved ones is emotionally and financially taxing. Facilities often charge families and incarcerated loved ones per minute or per call rates with additional fees and surcharges by communications providers. For example, a 15-minute call from a state prison ranges between $0.14 and $4.30, with the average for jails being three times as much. Even sending funds to incarcerated people is facilitated through a private entity (i.e., JPay) and families must pay additional fees to use this service. Many families, especially from impoverished backgrounds, feel financial stressors as their loved ones make little to no income while incarcerated.

In-person visitation is one of the main and most important methods for families to communicate with an incarcerated loved one and maintain social bonds. Research consistently shows that visitation improves outcomes among incarcerated people, both while incarcerated and once they are released. Yet, families often must travel long distances, navigate punitive uncodified and codified policies related to visitation, and cope with a lack of privacy and constant surveillance.

My research with co-authors Drs. Dana DeHart and Cheri Shapiro (University of South Carolina) examined the stressors related to prison visitation through interviews with people incarcerated (n = 77) and family members (n = 21) on the outside in a southeastern state. Most prominently, families described the burdens, or strains and sacrifices, associated with visitation largely stemming from transportation costs (i.e., gas, lodging), food during visitation, and buying clothes to fit the strict dress code. Families also described issues with the scheduling of visitation that made it difficult for them to visit due to their work schedules. One incarcerated woman stated that her husband moved to avoid the 10 hours commute to come visit her in prison. Families also faced the uncertainty of visitation closures without notice due to seemingly arbitrary lockdowns in the facility.

Families also described significant anxiety around the rules and intense environment they faced once at the facility. Strict dress codes were a constant source of frustration and apprehension and disproportionately impacted women visitors. Families reported inconsistencies in the implementation of the dress code rules. For example, one family member stated that she was turned away for an outfit she had worn to visit several times previously. A mother who visited her son remarked, “You’re at their mercy. The rules are subject to change. They treat the inmates like they’re nobody, and when you come in, you’re treated the same way. It’s degrading. The staff have no empathy. It’s like they are desensitized.”

Beyond the stressors families face to enter the facility, they must also endure constant surveillance and lack of privacy. Correctional officers stand guard nearby during visitation. Often, there are restrictions on how long families can touch or embrace–imagine how this could impact critical parent-child connections. Other restrictions can extend to how often family members are able to stand or use the restroom.

Despite the barriers and stressors, families in our study discussed the importance of in-person visitation in maintaining familial bonds. Visitation provided time and space to talk, play board games, navigate parenting roles, and discuss responsibilities to the household. A wife who visited her incarcerated husband said, “[During visitation], they’re able to learn about their father themselves. He’s showing them how to love and embrace. They don’t even complain [about visiting]. I’ve seen changes in them. The cutest thing is them whispering in his ear. He sits there and smiles a big smile.”

Our findings highlight the immense challenges families impacted by mass incarceration face to maintain bonds. Several policy recommendations are derived from these results. Families must be provided support to overcome the financial burdens associated with communication. Such impacts are especially felt among families with low-income and historically marginalized backgrounds who are disproportionately likely to be impacted by mass incarceration. Also, increased consistency and transparency in rules and visitation closures would help ease anxiety and tension.

Facilities across the U.S. have decreased or even eliminated in-person visitation, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic due to understaffing issues. The findings from our study demonstrate the importance of in-person visitation to support non-verbal communication and physical touch that help support familial bonds. As families are often incarcerated people’s main source for reentry planning, including where they reside upon release, maintaining visitation is vital to public safety in the community, as well.

We hope our post helps shine light on the experiences of families impacted by incarceration. Their stories should be heard and considered among policy makers in relation to sentencing and release policies.

Word count: 998

You can find the full article with the study mentioned here:

Boppre, B., DeHart, D., & Shapiro, C. (2022). “The Prison System Doesn’t Make It Comfortable to Visit:” Prison Visitation from the Perspectives of People Incarcerated and Family Members. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 49, 1474-1494.


Dr. Breanna Boppre is Assistant Professor of Victim Studies at Sam Houston State University in Texas. She was also the child of incarcerated parents. You can follow her on Twitter @bree_bop

Transgender parents may let children explore gender on their own before labeling a child’s identity

Parents and children.

“Untitled” by klhh is licensed under “Pixabay License

According to our recent research, many transgender parents with children between one-and-a-half and six years of age hesitate to label their child’s gender identity. In addition, our results suggest that many children with transgender parents play in ways that conform to gendered societal expectations, while others play in more gender-expansive ways.

Previous research has shown that misgendering, or incorrectly labeling someone’s gender identity, often harms a person’s mental and physical health. Our new research suggests that transgender parents may offer their children supportive environments to explore their own gender identity and expression.

We also found a strong link between child age and the likelihood of labeling (see Figure 1): the older the child, the more likely parents were to label their child’s gender identity. Transgender parents of elementary-school-aged children may be more likely than transgender parents of toddlers to label their child’s gender identity.

Figure 1. Child age and percentage of parents who labeled their child’s gender.

This study can’t speak to whether transgender parents assign their children gendered names or pronouns or otherwise socialize them in gendered ways. But it does suggest that transgender parents hesitate to label their child’s gender identity before their child can communicate it themselves.


Based on a subsample of the Gender Diverse Parents Study, our study utilized web-based surveys of 64 nonbinary and binary transgender parents across the United States. Binary transgender people identify primarily as women, girls, men, or boys; these labels do not capture nonbinary peoples’ gender identity.

The Gender Diverse Parents Study measured children’s gender expression: their interest in masculinized and feminized toys (e.g., toolsets and jewelry), activities (e.g., climbing and playing house), and personality characteristics (e.g., enjoying tumble play and liking pretty things). Participants rated how often their child engaged with and enjoyed each item or activity. The Gender Diverse Parents Study also asked parents about the sex their child was assigned at birth and about their child’s current gender identity.

We found that 41% of the participants did not report their child’s current gender identity, choosing either “unknown,” “choose not to label,” or “self-describe,” with a text field to write in their response. For “self-describe,” parents often described a gender-fluid child or a child who had not verbalized their gender identity. Several parents wrote, “I think it’s too early to know.”

Although the surveys revealed that, on average, children’s play was conventionally gendered, there was a great deal of diversity within the sample. For example, older children of nonbinary parents may be more likely to engage in gender-expansive play (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Child gender expression, child age, and parent gender identity.

This study was published on Aug. 17 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.


Some believe that parent gender identity has everything or nothing to do with child gender expression. But this study suggests that the truth is somewhere in between.

This recent study is one of the largest to focus on the gender of young children with transgender parents. It will further inform our understanding of gender development, parenting, and child development more broadly.

Rachel G. Riskind, PhD is a professor of Psychology at Guilford College. Dr. Riskind is a feminist social developmental psychologist focusing on parents, children, and adolescents. Her recent research describes family processes in families headed by transgender parents. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelRiskind

Dr. Samantha L. Tornello is a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State. She has three major research interests: Family, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Most of her work has focused on the role of family composition and parental sexual orientation and gender in the family system.

Mary Campbell, marketing and communications, Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, Mary is a blog post coauthor.


Reprinted from Council on Contemporary Families Press Release 10/31/2022

Why does family structure—aka marriage–remain such an enduring explanation for Black-White inequality in the US? That’s the central question in a new article, “Racism, Family Structure, and Black Families,” made available this week as an open-access preprint shared at SocArxiv. The article has been accepted for the forthcoming Council on Contemporary Families anthology, Families as They Really Are published by Norton Books.  

Lead author, University of Tennessee sociologist Deadric Williams, has a detailed answer you can read in the new chapter. But he also has an answer to the central question in brief: “The belief that marriage is an inequality reducing mechanism serves as a racial ideology maintaining the status quo.”

The new article brings the receipts. In particular, Williams’ article, coauthored by Caroline Sanner (Virginia Tech), Todd Jensen (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Laura Simon (Mercer University), offers a history of claims that family structure is to blame for inequality, starting with the Moynihan Report of 1965. The authors review evidence for its limitations and set forward an alternative way to understand the many varieties of families that exist.

Dr. Williams explains: “We know that when compared to White Americans, African Americans are less likely to marry and more likely to experience a non-marital birth.” He continues, “Yet prior studies show that family formations do not account for the Black-White inequality gap.” The authors show how the benefits of family structure are not equally distributed between Black and White families when it comes to child outcomes. These patterns parallel results in education, health, and wealth accumulation outcomes, to name a few.

“With scant evidence, family formations remain an enduring explanation for scholars, layperson, and policymakers alike. Entire foundations and grants programs are built around supporting this line of thinking. Acting as if people are already on equal footing, and that ‘these days’ everyone starts with equal chances, can help people make sense of racial inequality as something that is the consequence of personal choices. But repeating that story again and again doesn’t make it so,” notes Virginia Rutter, CCF senior scholar and editor of the new edition of Families as They Really Are.

Dr. Williams and his colleagues note: “Family structure is a racial ideology based on the erroneous notion that (1) race is an essentialist characteristic and (2) individual-level characteristics (e.g., family structure) account for racial inequality. We conclude the chapter by championing Critical Race Theory as a powerful tool for charting a path forward for understanding African American families.”


REFERENCE: Williams, D. T., Sanner, C., Jensen, T. M., & Simon, L. (2022, October 7). Racism, Family Structure, and Black Families.


Deadric T. Williams, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Dr. Williams is a keynote speaker at the NCFR annual conference, November 18, 2022, on Bringing Racism out of the Shadows in Family Science.”

To learn more about Families as They Really Are and the forthcoming 3rd edition, contact:

Virginia Rutter, Professor (retired), Department of Sociology, Framingham State University, Dr. Rutter is editor, with Kristi Williams (Ohio State University) and Barbara Risman (University of Illinois at Chicago).


The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions. 

The Council helps keep journalists informed of notable work on family-related issues via the CCF Network. To join the CCF Network, or for further media assistance, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at, cell 360-556-9223. 

Mother, head in hand. “Untitled” by mohamed_hassan is licensed under “Pixabay License

On a bright day last spring, a group of Latina immigrant mothers gathered in a park in Somerville, Massachusetts, a small, densely populated city north of Boston. They were there to participate in a weekly arts & conversation group for immigrant parents in the city’s public schools, a collaboration between a local non-profit and the city. Snacks and craft materials were strewn across the long table, all of us sipping coffee from styrofoam mugs, when the conversation turned to death. Losing a family member is always painful. But for the women around the table, immigration policy seeps into their decisions, caregiving, and grieving, across international borders. One mother, a vivacious El Salvadoran with a green card, explained how she had been the one to go home when her father had died. Her brother, living without authorization in another state, could not travel without risking permanent displacement from the U.S. “It isn’t fair,” she murmured, as the other women nodded in agreement.

In some places, where restrictive policies and racialized immigration enforcement leaves families in fear, talking about immigration status so openly and in a city-sponsored space would be unthinkable. But in Somerville, which has declared itself to be a sanctuary for immigrants since 1987, women frequently and openly discuss the constraints of immigrant motherhood, including but not limited to undocumented immigration status. Somerville is not alone in its self-proclaimed sanctuary identity. In the wake of the 2016 election, sanctuary cities proliferated across the U.S., drawing the ire of the 45th president, who threatened to withdraw funds and raid immigrant families’ homes if cities did not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Despite this public attention, we actually know quite little about how sanctuary ordinances shape the lives of the immigrant families they purport to help. Refusing to enact a 287(g) agreement, which enables cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration agents, is an important step in creating safe living conditions for immigrants and their families. Beyond this, though, what are the consequences of sanctuary policies on immigrant families, especially women who, through their motherhood, are fulfilling gendered family and social roles? And what role do local institutions –especially schools, as legally accessible institutions for all immigrant children and their families, regardless of immigration status – play in enacting sanctuary in meaningful ways?

My research tackles these questions through an ethnography of Latina immigrant mothers’ lives in Somerville (where I also live and raise my children). Since 2018, I have been observing and interviewing immigrant mothers, educators, and community leaders. In a recently published paper, I argue that welcoming school districts, in the context of a sanctuary city, become central sites of belonging and inclusion for Latina immigrant mothers. The city offers programs for immigrant parents across the district, including parent English classes, an advocacy committee, and the arts and conversation group. While the mothers in my study (and it was almost always mothers who participated) use these programs to learn English, advocate, and develop new artistic skills, they also transform these spaces into sites of what I term intersectional recognition. I define intersectional recognition as the process through which individuals and institutions affirm the intersections between multiple marginalized identities. By acknowledging their mutual social positions as Latinas, immigrants, and mothers, the women position themselves and their families as worthy members of a community, even as xenophobic national discourses situate them as outsiders. Yet as women offer each other this recognition, they bear witness to the ways immigration laws shape their individual experiences of motherhood. One morning, for instance, a meeting of the parent advocacy group had come to an end, and most of the women had left to fetch children from school or get to work. A few of us lingered behind, and Carolina, an El Salvadoran mother and leader of the group, leaned across the long table, telling the stragglers that she had something to say. Some of the mothers were paid for their work, hired by the school district as parent leaders, she reminded us. But undocumented mothers could not be hired, and Carolina was unsettled by this inequality. She continued advocating until gift cards to a local grocery store were distributed to mothers who could not be legally hired.

The gift cards were helpful to the undocumented mothers, and Carolina’s organizing was rooted in her intersectional recognition of how immigranthood, motherhood, and being Latina were intertwined in women’s caregiving and relationships with their children’s schools. But the cards were also inadequate in the face of two broader barriers that shape immigrant mothers’ familial roles and responsibilities: restrictive immigration policies at the national level and extraordinarily high costs of housing locally. While sanctuary cities can refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal government still holds jurisdiction on immigration and pathways to citizenship.So, despite Somerville’s welcoming stance, and a school district that strives to support immigrant families, gentrification threatens the community ties that women foster through participating in city and district programs. Eva, a gifted painter who revealed her talents one day at the arts & conversation group to the surprise and delight of the other mothers, relocated to another, less expensive state. Nadia, a skilled seamstress who crafted beautifully designed children’s clothes from donated scraps, was evicted and homeless for months; she could not secure housing in Somerville and left for a nearby city. Even as women felt a sense of belonging, worthiness, and inclusion in the city, immigration policy and rising housing costs remain critical, intertwined obstacles.

And yet, although these obstacles may feel insurmountable, cities and schools should not acquiesce. They can and should enact welcoming programs and ensure resources are accessible to immigrants with and without authorized immigration status. The symbolism of sanctuary is important, but my research points out that it is also how sanctuary is enacted that really matters. To keep spaces of belonging thriving as gentrification threatens the social and cultural fabric of immigrant neighborhoods, sanctuary cities must respond proactively and creatively to the exorbitant costs of housing that are reshaping our cities. Otherwise, the women who gathered at the park, making art and recognizing the intersectional aspects of who they are, as mothers, immigrants, and Latinas, will not be able to stay in the very city that claims to offer sanctuary.

Sarah Bruhn is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Visiting Fellow at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. Her research broadly revolves around questions of belonging, migration, gender, and education. She is working on a book that examines how immigrant women resist displacement from anti-immigrant policies and gentrification through their motherhood. You can find her on Twitter @sarahbruhn3 or

Older couple holds hands around a tree. “Untitled” by Sofia_Shultz_Photography is licensed under “Pixabay License

The rate of people entering marital unions is dwindling. Half a century or less ago, almost everyone would marry at some point, even though there was a 50% chance of also being divorced if one did so.

Though the divorce rate has shrunk a little, the rate of those who enter into marriage has shrunk drastically. Those in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s alike will express the unnecessary nature of marriage as well as the risk of divorce as reasoning for their good decision to remain unmarried, but research tells a different story. Though long-term marriage is no longer the norm, almost any study out there will show an the association between marriage, health, and life satisfaction.1,2

My recent study3 looking at long-term success in marriage assessed 141 men and women who have been married for over 20 years. I sought to understand the various aspects of long-term success, so I asked participants what they felt was important to marriage, how to get through difficult times, and their beliefs around marriage and divorce. Couples tend to be quiet about the intimacies of their relationships, so confidentiality was important to allow for honesty.

The average length of time married for participants was 32 years, giving way to the expertise these participants offered. In general, those with higher educational attainment reported their marriages being more important to their sense of life satisfaction. Further, participants felt that long-term marriage was more a product of choice than chance – hard work and commitment to each other were the keys to coming back from all difficult times – most of which were infidelity, times of transition, health, finances, and deaths.

For the 15 individuals who reported being dissatisfied with their marriages, all failed to report the same hard work and commitment on both parts as the satisfied individuals. The dissatisfaction was not reported to be a product of mistakes made, but from a failure to put in the necessary effort. For example, those who experienced infidelity in their relationships fell into two groups: those who reported high satisfaction and those who reported dissatisfaction. Most who experienced this stated that they worked hard together and came back from it with an even better relationship, while those reporting dissatisfaction also reported a failure to work hard work to get back on track. The only experience that seemed to always predict an unsatisfactory relationship was spousal abuse – even if in the past.

Despite the advantages of marriage, the rate of those who will never be married is higher than ever. Studies show that the main cause of the lesser marriage rate is the economic and educational disadvantages of men today.4,5 Despite this fact, educational costs are at an all-time high, as are costs of living.6 Having children – a prime reason for marriage in the past – has become more out of reach for couples who cannot afford the basics. And for those who do have children, having a traditional family still seems an impossibility. More and more children are not growing up in two-parent homes and thus not witnessing healthy, committed relationships, and thus less likely to have those relationships themselves, as half of the study’s participants reported that watching their parents navigate a marriage helped them to be successful in their own marriages.

Long-term marriages preserve families, mental health of their members, and the larger economy. So, what can be done? We can consider education a right rather than a privilege by funding higher education, having more incentives for those who get degrees in needed fields, and restricting the costs of basic needs such as housing, food, and medical expenses. Despite being one of the most expensive countries in the world, our citizens don’t get the advantages of those in other developed countries. Family planning and incentives for those who have children while married can also further healthy marriages and thus all of their advantages. Let’s consider the research and begin to support our society’s most important sanctions.

Brittany Stahnke Joy is an assistant professor at Limestone University. Her research surrounds marriage, suicide, and OCD, and her clinical expertise lies in Mental Health. She recently published an academic memoir on her experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder, The Doubting Disease: How one person took charge of the mental disorder that plagued her decisions for a decade, finally embraced the unknown, and found the power of choice. In her spare time, Brittany likes to spend time with her family, enjoys painting and wood working, and loves a good book.


Book: The Doubting Disease


1. Carr, D., Freedman, V. A., Cornman, J. C., & Schwarz, N. (2014). Happy marriage, happy life? Marital quality and subjective well-being in later life. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(5), 930–948.

2. Grover, S., & Helliwell, J. F. (2019). How’s life at home? New evidence on marriage and the set point for happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being, 20, 373–390.

3. Stahnke, B. (2022). To Be or Not to Be: Advice From Long-Term Spouses in a Mixed Methods Study. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 1-7.

4. Chambers, A. L., & Kravitz, A. (2011). Understanding the disproportionately low marriage rate among African Americans: An amalgam of sociological and psychological constraints. Family Relations, 60(5),


5. Schneider, D., Harknett, K., & Stimpson, M. (2018). What explains the decline in first marriage in the United States? Evidence from the panel study of income dynamics, 1969 to 2013. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80(4), 791–811.

6. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Digest of Education Statistics, 2019.

Dad holding baby and vacuuming in a suit. “Untitled” by Rollstein is licensed under “Pixabay License

Throughout the first two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the one constant has been change. Universal lockdowns in Spring 2020 became a hodgepodge of work, school, and childcare modalities in late 2020 and early 2021 as society partially reopened. This was followed by the introduction of vaccines and receding case counts in mid-2021. Hope that the pandemic could be ending, however, was dashed in late 2021/early 2022 as new variants like Delta and Omicron led to new restrictions. With so much change, everyone has had to assess (and reassess) decisions about work, schooling, and health, creating immense stress–particularly for parents.

Early in the pandemic, there were widespread fears that decades of progress toward gender equality would be erased. Unemployment rates rose more dramatically for women than men, particularly for mothers. Mothers’ time in housework and childcare also increased, and many stories suggested that the increased burden of having children home from schools and daycares fell primarily on mothers. Evidence also showed that gendered parenting attitudes became more conservative. Yet, at the same time, fathers also spent more time in housework and childcare than prior to the pandemic, and the division of domestic labor within the U.S. became more egalitarian. This provided some hope that as fathers spent more time at home due to lockdowns, they would step up and do more – leading to greater gender equality.

Unfortunately, less is known about what has happened since the early months of the pandemic. Did fathers’ increased participation in domestic labor persist as the pandemic continued, or was this just a short-term blip on the radar? Understanding the long-term consequences of the pandemic is particularly challenging because shifts in employment, remote work, gender attitudes, access to care supports, and schooling all happened simultaneously. In a recent study published in Population Research and Policy Review, we considered how these various factors may have affected parents’ divisions of housework and childcare during the first year of the pandemic. Using novel data from the Survey on U.S. Parents’ Divisions of Labor During COVID-19 (SPDLC), we examined trends in parents’ divisions of domestic labor from March 2020 to November 2020 and what factors led to changes in these divisions of labor.

Results show both good news and bad news for gender equality advocates. On the one hand, we find that fathers remained more likely to share childcare tasks equally in November 2020 than pre-pandemic. We also find that shifts to working from home helped to facilitate fathers’ increased involvement in childcare. Given that remote work continues to be more common now than prior to the pandemic, this may enable fathers to remain more engaged in childcare as the pandemic persists. On the other hand, we find that the percentage of parents who share housework equally has reverted back to pre-pandemic levels. We also find that parents are less likely to share housework and childcare equally when mothers are unemployed or when mothers work from home – two trends that continue to be more common than prior to the pandemic. We also find that shifts toward more traditional gender attitudes also reduces the amount of childcare performed by fathers.

These results suggest that answering the question about whether the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality in domestic labor is complicated. The pandemic appears to provide fathers with greater opportunities to be the more highly engaged parents they say they want to be, and has shown that greater access to remote work for fathers may help to facilitate greater gender equality in domestic labor. However, gender inequality in housework seems to be more deeply entrenched than childcare. And, continued employment disruptions among mothers leaves them to shoulder the burden of housework and childcare when they are not working. Although this uneven progress toward gender equality may no longer be as promising as some initially hoped, the unique circumstances of the pandemic have helped provide a blueprint for how further progress can be made. To achieve greater gender equality in domestic labor, we need to increase mothers’ opportunities in the paid labor market, and we simultaneously need to provide structural supports such as regular access to remote work for fathers that will enable them to be more engaged at home.

Daniel L. Carlson is an Associate Professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah. He is a sociologist and family demographer studying the gendered division of labor. He serves on the board of directors for the Council on Contemporary Families. Twitter: @DanielCarlson_1

Richard J. Petts is a Professor of Sociology at Ball State University, and serves on the board of directors for the Council on Contemporary Families. You can read more about his research at and can follow him on Twitter @pettsric.

Father helping daughter with schoolwork. “Untitled” by ddimitrova is licensed under “Pixabay License

My dad was the primary cook for my family growing up. Learning from him, I handle most of the cooking in my family. I generally like cooking, although the meal planning, prep, and grocery shopping can get tedious. When my wife tells others that I do all the cooking, she is often told: “you are so lucky” or “he’s a keeper!” Yet, no one has ever said to me: “You’re lucky that your wife schedules all the play dates for your kids”, or “How did you manage to find a wife that is so good at comforting your kids when they are upset?” There is a clear parenting double standard; everyone just assumes that mothers are good, involved parents whereas fathers are praised when they help out with just a few of these tasks.

The parenting double standard is fueled by gender gaps in domestic labor, with mothers spending significantly more time doing childcare, housework, and cognitive labor than fathers. Although fathers are expected to – and say they want to be – more engaged parents compared to fathers in previous generations, these attitudinal changes have not been enough to reduce persisting patterns of gender inequality in domestic labor.

In my new book, Father Involvement and Gender Equality in the United States: Contemporary Norms and Barriers, I seek to understand why this gap between fathers’ attitudes and behaviors exists, and what we can do to get fathers more involved at home and promote greater gender equality. Using data from national surveys, interviews with fathers, and my own fatherhood experiences, I argue that vague expectations of how involved fathers should be coupled with the persistence of traditional gender norms and workplace barriers enable gender disparities in domestic labor to persist.

In contrast to mothers who are expected to be intensely involved parents, fathers are simply expected to be more involved. The lack of clear expectations for father involvement enables fathers to view themselves as highly engaged when they help out with childcare and housework, yet still defer to mothers as being primarily responsible for these tasks. Additionally, even when fathers want to share domestic tasks, gendered ideal worker norms and limited access to flexible work options makes it difficult for fathers to be as involved at home as they would like to be.

To achieve greater gender equality, I argue that we need to embrace a new concept of fatherhood that I call the fully engaged dad concept of fatherhood. The fully engaged dad concept suggests that fathers should be equal parents and partners to mothers, being fully engaged in all aspects of domestic life including childcare, housework, and cognitive labor. By believing that fathers should be as equally involved in domestic tasks as mothers, holding fathers accountable to these expectations, and providing structural opportunities for fathers to meet this cultural standard, we can work to eliminate parenting double standards and achieve greater gender equality.

Richard J. Petts is a Professor of Sociology at Ball State University, and serves on the board of directors for the Council on Contemporary Families. You can read more about his research at and can follow him on Twitter @pettsric.

Reprinted with permission from Temple Press

Cover for What Workers Say

You’re at a party, a school parent gathering, somewhere where you’re meeting new people. What’s the first thing you might say? Or be asked? Isn’t it: “What do you do?”

You’re not alone in this. People’s work, and the labor market more broadly, occupy millions of people in the U.S. and around the globe. But why is “What do you do?” often the first question? Of course it’s partly because most people need the money that work provides—and often need more money than their particular labor market job offers. It’s also because what we “do” is often shorthand to others for “who we are.”

Yet “who we are” does not begin to touch the lack of opportunity in many of today’s labor market jobs, whether in manufacturing, printing, construction, healthcare, clerical work, retail, real estate, architecture, or automotive services. These are occupations and industries that have employed nearly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce since 1980, as workers in these areas since the 1980s until today vividly describe in What Workers Say.  The 1,200-plus people with whom I’ve talked at length since the early 1980s, some of them repeatedly, regardless of what occupation they hold or industry their job is in, have recognized that there’s little to no opportunity for promotion or advancement in their jobs, despite the fact that people, their communities, their families, and their country as a whole need what these workers do. At the same time, too many of them are also not paid a living wage.

In their own words in What Workers Say, the workers in the above-mentioned occupations and industries, regardless of socioeconomic characteristics, typify the types of struggles, discouragement, and on-the-job injuries that continue to affect millions of workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Just as Studs Terkel’s Working (1972) valuably introduced the populace to what many jobs and occupations were like across the U.S. up to the early 1970s, the workers in What Workers Say describe their jobs and occupations from 1980 to today—a period of rapid and tumultuous labor market change. For example, Tisha** in manufacturing jobs, Joseph and Randy in construction work, and Kevin in printing jobs are among those who vividly illustrate the shift to service occupations from the earlier, higher-paying manufacturing occupations (Ch. 2). In one of the most dramatic examples of this shift, 40-year-old, African American, Hard Working Blessed experienced multiple eye injuries on his manufacturing job, which resulted in demotion and severe wage reduction. He ended up as a Fast Food Manager, with lower pay and a job that did not make use of his extensive work experience in manufacturing. Clerical workers, such as Roselyn, Wendy, Ayesha, Susan and others similarly describe struggling with frequent recessions and layoffs over the period (Ch. 3). Others, including Noel, Tom, and Shanquitta (for a period), describe frequent job disruptions and store closures from the increase in offshoring jobs to countries that pay workers even less than the U.S. does (Ch.5). And many healthcare workers, such as Laquita, Tasha, Martina, and Annie and others (Ch. 4) experience “credential creep,” where higher-level education became a hiring requirement, even though the demands of the job were suited perfectly to these applicants’ current credentials. This, of course, resulted in new forms of inequities in hiring.

In short, the workers tell the real story about today’s jobs so others can know what these jobs are really like. The richness and depth of the workers’ words help readers to understand that the formal definition of “unemployment” is very strict and does not cover many people who have been laid off or who aren’t able to look for work. Their words also illustrate the fact that since the 1980s there often haven’t been enough jobs for all who want labor market work, and that the default social policy response to low pay has been person-oriented: that more education and more skills are what is needed for greater equity in the labor market. In some cases, the coronavirus pandemic has illuminated the low-pay issue, to the benefit of current workers, but not in all cases and not necessarily to the level of a living wage. These workers also vividly describe what they’d really like to be doing, which leads in the final chapter to a solution that I call “compensated civil labor.” 

Drawing on German sociologist, Ulrich Beck’s (2000) idea of civil labor, I add “compensated” to the idea of civil labor. Compensated civil labor expands what we think of as work, how we do work, and particularly, how we do paid work. Compensated civil labor would allow the many people like Teresa (Ch. 7) to work at her rental car company part-time and satisfy her “heart-string” (aka her passion) of part-time food catering to her church, children’s school, and community and also be compensated for doing it. Compensated civil labor could also enable expansion of the notion of “work” well beyond the labor market in ways that can tap into today’s workers’ desire to engage in environmental protection activities, broader family participation, community contribution, and the like. In short, compensated civil labor would mean compensating people for their non-labor-market work, whether by actual money, exchange, or other forms of compensation. Data in the 2000s from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics Survey (CES) and the Current Population Survey (CPS), together with numerous existing civic examples, aim to stimulate civic leaders, philanthropic foundations, educators and others to consider compensated civil labor, which could benefit workers, families, communities, and countries alike.

**All workers’ names are pseudonyms chosen by the worker.

Roberta Rehner Iversen, PhD, MSS, an associate professor at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), retired in July 2021 after nearly 25 years on the standing faculty at SP2.Dr. Iversen continues to serve as a faculty associate at the Penn Institute for Urban Research and as affiliated faculty at The Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies. Her new book, What Workers Say: Decades of Struggle and How to Make Real Opportunity Now was published by Temple University Press in July 2022.

Judge’s gavel
Image: “untitled” by user 254116
licensed under “Pixabay License

Millions of children grow up in a household that involves abuse, neglect, or other forms of dysfunction. These experiences have collectively become known as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. Because a person’s upbringing is foundational for the rest their life, having experienced ACEs can have long-term implications for adulthood. Unfortunately, for those who experience ACEs, adulthood is often marked by instability and dysfunction.

One marker of adversity in adulthood is being arrested or incarcerated. In the United States, the reach of the criminal justice system is vast. With over 2 million persons behind bars on any given day, the United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world. Beyond incarceration, millions of individuals encounter the police each year, and many of these interactions result in an arrest that potentially establishes a formal criminal history which can limit a person’s labor market prospects and civic participation. The criminal justice system is also deeply stratified across racial and socioeconomic lines, with low-income Black, Hispanic, and Native American persons being especially likely to experience an arrest or incarceration in their lifetimes.

Given that millions are impacted by involvement in the criminal justice system each year, it is important to identify early life antecedents that increase the risk of arrest or incarceration. Doing so can be foundational to the development of early prevention and intervention efforts that divert young people away from future arrests or incarceration. Previously, researchers have found that youth who are exposed to ACEs are more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system. Still, most people age out of crime, and by the time people reach adulthood, the chances of being arrested or incarcerated have typically decreased substantially. Despite this, some adults remain involved with the criminal justice system even as adults. Understanding whether ACEs have an enduring effect that leads people to be at a greater risk for criminal justice system involvement as adults is an important, but understudied topic.

Our study

Our study, published in Academic Pediatrics, examined the relationship between ACEs exposure and criminal justice system contact in adulthood. Using data from of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adulthood Health, we examined the relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and their experiences with arrest and incarceration at multiple points of adulthood.

Our Findings

Do those who experienced more ACEs during childhood and adolescents have a greater risk of experiencing arrest and incarceration by the time they are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s?

We found that people who experienced more ACEs early in life, especially accumulating four or more separate types of ACEs, were at a higher risk of having been arrested and incarcerated as an adult (between the ages of 24-42 years old). Additionally, those with more ACEs had greater number of arrests and had served multiple stints of incarceration during their adult years. These findings are consistent with a broader line of research documenting that ACEs are associated with a range of negative social outcomes and serve as a catalyst that harms one’s adult life trajectory.


Our study offers important insights into how traumatic experiences early in life can have a significant enduring effect on what adult life looks like. Those who experience an accumulation of childhood adversities are at greater risk of experiencing arrest and incarceration by adulthood and spending longer periods of their adult life behind bars than individuals who have a childhood defined by less trauma and adversity. This suggests the need for early and effective detection of ACEs among children across the United States. When ACEs are properly screened for by health care professionals, they open up the possibility of youth receiving appropriate and effective interventions that provide supports needed to disrupt pathways into the criminal justice system and provide opportunities for a brighter future.

Alexander Testa, PhD, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. You can follow them on Twitter @testaalex

Dylan B. Jackson, PhD, Johns Hopkins University. You can follow them on Twitter @Dr_DylanJackson 

Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, MSW. University of Toronto. You can follow them on Twitter @kyletganson 

Jason M. Nagata, MD, MSc. University of California, San Francisco. You can follow them on Twitter @jasonmnagata