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New research in the Journal of Marriage and Family by Hui Liu and Lindsey Wilkinson reveals that married trans people (and particularly trans women) experience less discrimination than those who are unmarried. This doesn’t mean that marriage per se is what protects trans people from discrimination. As with other work examining the benefits of marriage, the issue of “selection into marriage” – or the idea that being well-off is a precursor to, rather than a result of marriage – seems to come up for trans women as well. “Transition stage,” or the extent of a respondent’s transgender visibility, as well as income and health insurance access, was linked to perceived discrimination more so than marital status. In the end, a few differences between married vs. cohabiting vs. previously-married trans people remained, but those who were never married at all perceived nearly the same (lower) amount of discrimination as married respondents.

The data come from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a non-representative sample of 6,456 respondents collected between 2008 and 2009. The analyses are based on a sub-sample of 4,286 transgender (thus, excluding people who identify as non-binary) respondents who sufficiently answered questions about marital status and their perceptions of discrimination in the areas of work, family, public accommodations, and health care. In addition to analyzing the relationship between marital status and discrimination for the entire trans sample, the authors looked for differences by gender.

Initially, Hui and Wilkinson found the hypothesized differences by marital status: trans people who were married experienced significantly less discrimination than those who weren’t. This would make sense, according to some sociological theorizing on marriage. On the one hand, being in a “stigmatized category” generates negative effects, including discrimination (per the minority stress perspective). Yet, if one follows the marital advantage theory, that observes that there are distinct economic and social benefits to marriage, it appeared to be the case that marriage protects against transphobic discrimination. Before engaging this possibility, though, the authors accounted for other factors beyond marital status that could conceivably relate to discrimination against trans people.

Hui and Wilkinson understand that not all trans people are the same, and investigated the impact of transition stage on perceived discrimination, including how well the respondent “passed,” whether the respondent had medically transitioned, and whether they were out about their trans identity. Some of the power previously attributed to marital status was shifted after accounting for transition stage, because married people generally had characteristics that were less conducive to discrimination than those who weren’t married. Married trans women, for example, were less likely to live full-time as transgender or to be out about their trans identity than individuals in other categories, and rated their visual conformity higher than those who were never- or previously-married.  

 When taking transition stage into account, the “benefits” of marriage were still present, but they were reduced. Previously-married and cohabiting respondents still perceived more discrimination than married respondents in three out of the four areas each, but the disparities were less drastic. Never-married trans people reported nearly the same perception of discrimination as married trans respondents in all cases except for family discrimination. With family discrimination – indicated by relationship dissolution and family- and court-based restrictions on being with children – never-married respondents experienced more discrimination than those who were married. In other words, marriage for trans people was associated with also being more conventional; that conventionality—more so than marriage itself—explained the lower level of perceived discrimination, particularly for women.

There is also economics. Married trans men and women were better off, and this may have made a difference for perceptions of discrimination too. In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey sample, for example, the median family income for married trans women was at least $30,000 more than for unmarried respondents. More than 90 percent of married trans women had health insurance, compared to only 76 percent of those who weren’t married.  The greater economic and insurance advantages held by married trans women, Hui and Wilkinson found, helped to explain why they felt less discrimination. After considering economic resources, there were very few differences in discrimination by marital status. Still, cohabiters experienced more discrimination in family and public accommodations, and those who were previously married experienced more family discrimination, when compared to married trans people. There were no differences in perceived discrimination in work, family, public accommodations, or health care between never-married and married trans people.

The few remaining differences in discrimination by marital status were mostly confined to trans women. Even before considering transition stage and economic resources, there were fewer differences in discrimination by marital status for trans men, and these were mostly in the family. After accounting for socio-demographics, transition stage, and economic factors, married and unmarried trans men did not perceive differences in discrimination in work, health care, or public accommodations. In the final model, the only difference in perceived discrimination by marital status for trans men was that previously-married trans men experienced more family discrimination than married trans men. There are many possible explanations for why there were fewer differences in discrimination by marital status for trans men when compared to women. It could relate to findings that trans men generally experience less discrimination than trans women. It may also be because there were fewer differences by trans men’s marital status on other key explanatory variables. Unlike for women, for example, there were no differences for men in being out as transgender by marital status in any of the four areas studied by the researchers.

Hui and Wilkinson ask the question, “Does marriage matter?” In statistical models, and in predicting disadvantage, the answer is a qualified yes.  But it’s not quite clear, according to the authors, if marriage is responsible for reduced disadvantage, or if trans women with more disadvantage are simply less likely to marry in the first place. This means that, as with efforts to reduce disadvantage for cisgender couples, effective policy will likely require more than simply recommending marriage to trans individuals. By re-attributing much of the initial discrepancies in discrimination by marital status to economic factors, this research suggests that a fruitful avenue for reform will be addressing the economic injustices faced by trans people. In addition to transphobia, these economic injustices may actually contribute to the low ranking of trans people in the marriage market identified by the researchers.

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.

Have you ever wondered how your living conditions might change if you moved? Maybe you have asked yourself what your living conditions are like compared to a relative or friend. The Economic Policy Institute developed a family budget calculator with answers (currently using data from 2014). The family budget calculator measures what one’s household income would need to be to achieve an adequate standard of living for 10 different family types in 618 locations across America. Essentially, this budget tool paints a picture of where families stand economically in America today.

This goes beyond personal reflection: As economist Elise Gould and colleagues explain in their accompanying report, What Families Need to Get By, “[their report] and the Family Budget Calculator itself measure(s) the income families need in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard where they live by estimating community-specific costs of housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes.”

What I can see right now. As I explored EPI’s family budget calculator I thought of some of the ways I could use it pulling on two parts of my identity, recent college graduate on the job hunt and a sociologist. As a recent graduate, I have been applying to jobs in various states and cities. EPI’s family budget calculator is a good resource for mapping out what my salary would need to be and if I would need a roommate, or two. For instance, using EPI’s calculator I found out in Washington, DC, my housing cost would be about $1,176. If I stayed in the Boston, MA, area my housing cost would be about $1,042. Looks like I’ll need a roommate either way.

How students can use this tool. It is also easy to see how this tool can be used for students in various classes. For example, it can be used to discuss public policy. One of the costs measured with the EPI family budget calculator is childcare. A policy class could compare how different state childcare policies affect a family’s budget using the EPI calculator. EPI is due to update their family budget calculator this fall, and I am looking forward to seeing what new costs they will consider. With Devos rewriting student loan forgiveness rules how might EPI measure education costs? Students especially may be interested in looking into variances in the cost of education. I start paying student loan in about a month so I know I’m curious.

EPI has even more to consider approaching the update of their family budget calculator given the current state of health care. In the 2015 update, EPI made adjustments to account for the premiums available under the Affordable Care Act. With health care up in the air as I write this, how will EPI measure this? It is a task, we all have come to understand, that is rather complicated when there is no saying what will or will not happen to health care in America. Students can take this puzzle and run with it, investigating additional concerns that will likely be on their minds—and that are relevant for understanding the social world.

But about the bigger picture. Of course, EPI made this calculator to link specific, personal cases to larger policy concerns. That’s a core activity for the “sociological imagination.” The family budget calculator points to policy questions such as what an adequate minimum wage would be, what are appropriate levels of social insurance like unemployment insurance or TANF? It offers ideas about the kinds of wages and benefits that would make private sector jobs livable for all families, too. EPI’s calculator gives students, researchers, and all with a curious mind and a family budget a good tool: Examining the impact of context reminds me of how much policy isn’t about me, but it affects me, and all of us, personally.

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

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Whether people are talking in 1997, 2007, or 2017, kids today are reckoned to be oversexed. In this past decade, media representation of teen mothers has hyped this idea using inaccurate stereotypes. A great rebuttal to move us beyond the “oversexed” cliché comes from Joyce C. Abma and Gladys M. Martinez. Their report for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) presents national estimates of sexual activity as well as contraceptive use among males and females.

The report summarized data collected using in-person interviews from 2011-2015 with people between ages 15 and 44. A total of 20,621 people were interviewed, including 4,134 teenagers. The teen group involved 2,047 women and 2,087 men.

They learned whether the respondent had ever had sex—and if so, whether they had had sex recently. Respondents who had ever had sexual intercourse were defined as “sexually experienced”; for these teens, researchers also learned how recently and how often they had had sex. These respondents were also asked about contraceptive methods they had used—if at all. In the report, they compared what they found to data from the 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2006 National Survey of Adolescent Males, which had been conducted by the Urban Institute. This way, they could learn really how the sex lives of kids today measure up with those of the past.

What differences were found… and were there any similarities? Rates of sexual experience across the years remained similar. In 2011—2015, 42.4 percent of never-married teen women and 44.2 percent of never married teen men were sexually experienced. And this was the same as a decade before, in the 2002 data, as well as the 2006-2010 data.

And, contraception use was up. Teen womens’ use of contraception increased from 74.5 percent in 2002 to 81 percent in 2011-2015. Teen men used condoms more, too, increasing from 70.9 percent in 2002 to 76.8 percent in 2011-2015.

Black women teens are slowing down, while white men teens speeding up. The researchers reported significant racial differences. For example, never-married non-Hispanic Black women teenagers decreased from approximately 57 percent sexually experienced in 2002 to 47 percent sexual experienced in 2011-2015. Conversely, never married non-Hispanic teen white men’s sexual experience increased from a rate of 37 percent in 2006-2010 to 43 percent in 2011-2015.

But it also looks like age plays a role.  They found that in 2011-2015, men were more likely than women to have had sexual intercourse during the ages of 15 and 16. Once they got to age 17, the probabilities were similar for both sexes. Specifically, 16 percent of men had sexual intercourse earlier compared with 11 percent of women, but by age 18, 55 percent of all teenagers were sexually experienced. Other factors included race, living situations, and parental education. The probability of having sexual intercourse by age 18 was high for non Hispanic Black teenagers when compared with non-Hispanic White and Hispanic teenagers, adolescents who did not live with both biological parents at age 14, and those who had mothers who did not attend college at all.

So, what exactly does this mean? It looks like adolescents are taking the steps they need to be protected: contraceptive use is up in both men and women. While both sexes have different rates of sexual experience and different contraceptive methods, this report suggests that “it gets better” – in the sense that teens are doing their share to promote sexual health.

Note for further consideration! It gets better might have another meaning too, not addressed in this study: in a 2014 study that looked at people starting at age 20, young people are having more oral sex and more oral sex as part of their sexual debut. This might factor into trends in teen sexual health, too.

Where do teens learn how to promote sexual health? Likely through messages provided through media, school, community, and family. Sounds like sex ed to me. To continue this good trend, this means we have to start separating the truth from stereotypes surrounding teenagers and see that sex education is valuable. Oh, and let’s make sure that sex ed addresses oral sex too!

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

In light of Beyond the Stereotype: The Nurse is a Man letter to the editor and related NYT article recently, we’re revisiting this report on Gender & Society research from Girlw/Pen.

Recent headlines such as “Men, Who Needs Them?” and “Why Fathers Really Matter” showcase a growing debate about the importance of including men in discussions of gender inequality. Two new studies from Gender & Society turn attention to areas in which men have long been ignored: at home, in the study of conception, pregnancy and childbirth, and at work, in the caregiving professions—particularly nursing. New research demonstrates under what conditions men’s contributions are slowly becoming more visible and what the benefits are (and can be).

Reproduction: Let’s start at the beginning…or before the beginning, before conception

In the Gender & Society study, “More and Less than Equal: How Men Factor in the Reproductive Equation,” Yale and Princeton University researchers uncovered widely varying views of men’s contributions to reproduction. Clinicians and scientists perceive men as incredibly important when it comes to conception; equally important to women when it comes to genetics; and incredibly unimportant when it comes to pregnancy.  Even now in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, basic information about how men’s own health status matters for reproductive outcomes, such as birth defects, is lacking.

About the study. Sociologists Rene Almeling (Yale) and Miranda Waggoner (Princeton) brought together their respective studies of professionals involved with sperm banks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PHHCI). The sample includes data from Waggoner’s interviews with 57 experts involved with the CDC’s Initiative and from Almeling’s interviews with 18 people involved with sperm banks, including founders of sperm donation programs, clinicians, researchers, and staffers from four sperm banks. The investigators recognized that sperm banks are a unique site for pre-conception practices, complementing the PHHCI.

Men left out. The standard of care in preconception health is to ask “every woman, every visit” about her health and fertility intentions, but preconception researchers interviewed for this study believed it was not “feasible” to ask such questions of men. Despite giving lip service to the idea that “men are equally important” in reproduction, Almeling and Waggoner’s interviewees admitted that men’s contributions are “sometimes left out of the discussion.”

In a comprehensive analysis of research on preconception care, the study reported that a majority of journal articles did not discuss men at all or mentioned them only briefly. A striking example was in the introduction to an issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG) on preconception health. In it, the AJOG authorsdiscussed 84 different risk factors and components of preconception care. Rather than including men in categories such as alcohol or illicit drug use, they were segregated. This means that everything pertaining to men was addressed in a single catch-all category at the end labeled “men,” report Almeling and Waggoner.

Why does it matter? Almeling and Waggoner explain that medical knowledge about reproduction matters, not only for men and their children, but also for how we as a society think about reproductive responsibility. An important step is making sure that men’s contributions to reproduction—not only to conception but to successful, healthy pregnancies–are observed, tested, investigated and discussed.

Calling on the Affordable Care Act. The authors note that paying attention to how reproductive equations influence policy can suggest new and different avenues for improving public health.  Specifically, they point to the Affordable Care Act, which stipulates that women with private insurance are no longer required to pay a co-payment for a preconception health appointment.  “Excluding men from such coverage continues to obscure their role in reproduction,” argue Almeling and Waggoner.

Invisibility Continued: New Research on Nursing

One way of improving public health and men’s involvement in healthy families would be to recruit more men into nursing, so that men’s experiences, concerns, and values are more visible among the front line providers of family care. Yet only seven percent of the nurses in the United States are men, as discussed in a new study, just released online at Gender & Society.

In her Gender & Society article, “Recruiting Men, Constructing Manhood: How Health Care Organizations Mobilize Masculinities as Nursing Recruitment Strategy,”  Marci Cottingham, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Department of Social Medicine, discusses ways that health care organizations attempt to overcome the disconnect between “caring” – defined as the feminine sphere of nurses — and “curing” – defined as the masculine sphere of doctors.

Cottingham’s unique study examined the recruitment messages of healthcare organizations, including the American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN). She conducted a systematic, in-depth analysis of 32 videos, brochures, and posters, as well as 286 pages of text from campaign reports, nursing webpages, and newsletters. A total of 124 men were featured in these materials. These materials included a YouTube channel dedicated to recruiting men into nursing. (Check it out to see individual men nurses discussing their perspectives on joining the profession.)

Cottingham finds that many campaigns attempt to redefine nursing in traditionally manly terms – such as an occupation that involves risk-taking, courage, and adventure. This YouTube video, promoting travel nursing, opens with men nurses engaging in extreme snowboarding and driving all-terrain vehicles as part of what travel nursing can look like.

A minority of recruitment efforts, by contrast, center on redefining manhood to encompass caring—this video highlights men’s stories of helping vulnerable people. “Encouraging men to engage in more caregiving—at work and at home—may decrease the burden of carework that typically falls on women and may increase equality between men and women,” reflects sociologist Cottingham.

Originally posted 12/3/2013

photo credit: Steve Buissinne via pixabay

We are still in a world of pain and wondering what will happen with health care. So let’s go over a few facts again. 

The opioid epidemic may be about to get worse. Under the new Republican administration, the Affordable Care Act and other policies to support families are under fire. To understand the impact Republican policy changes could have on the opioid epidemic we sought to learn more from someone who has studied it. Eliza Schultz is a Research Assistant for the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress. One of Eliza’s recent reports (with Katherine Gallagher Robbins) is How Republican Budget Cuts Would Make the Opioid Epidemic Even Worse. The report takes a more inclusive perspective on the impact of the opioid epidemic by addressing how it affects families and communities. When I spoke with Eliza she expanded on the opioid epidemics connection to family and community, what policymakers should be doing, and the threats to well-being that these Republican policies create.

Q: I know that you do policy research. So how did opioid addiction come up as a topi­­c––and how did you recognize it as a family and community issue (as opposed to a personal one)?

ES: Opioid use has escalated into a full-blown crisis in the United States—more than 30,000 people died from overdoses in 2015, and, in some pockets of the country, particularly rural ones, it’s ushered in mass trauma—so it’s hard to ignore. It’s been covered so widely in the media and on the campaign trail, but what makes this coverage noteworthy is that, for the first time, the consensus is that the epidemic has been spurred by factors outside the control of people struggling with addiction, like economic insecurity.

Historically, drug use has been framed as a personal failure. Take, for example, the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The reaction was to incarcerate people, which, of course, decimated families and communities, compounding whatever havoc the drugs themselves wreaked. It’s fair to say racism played a huge role in these different responses because now that the face of a drug epidemic is white, the country is more sympathetic. This moment presents an opportunity to understand drug addiction in general—not just the opioid epidemic, and no matter who is most affected—not as a personal failure but as a symptom of larger issues, like the lack of good jobs, and address those root causes.

To me, it’s hard not to recognize substance abuse as an issue that impacts families and communities. A phenomenon like opioid use does not happen in isolation to individuals—it inevitably affects the people around them. Adequate solutions to drug epidemics need to acknowledge and support those families and communities. Mass incarceration did precisely the opposite.

Q: What should policymakers do to address issues raised in your study?

ES: Well, the first key step is to do no harm. Under the American Health Care Act, health care costs will jump to the tune of $1,400 on average, but Americans who face the biggest cost increase—about $5,000 annually—are those ages 55 to 64, the same cohort that has seen the biggest rise in fatal opioid overdoses. We also know that rural communities—which, again, are disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic—face severe unmet needs for medical care, with more than 30 million people in counties that have not one licensed provider of medication-assisted drug treatment. The Affordable Care Act has helped to address that gap in services, in part because it incentivizes providers to serve rural counties. Under the current replacement plan, the existence of those 1,300 community health centers—many in rural areas—is threatened. Similarly, we can’t afford to roll back Medicaid expansion, or institute per capita caps, as the replacement bill proposes. All that will do is leave low-income people without insurance, or with significantly worse coverage.

As for a proactive agenda to address opioid addiction, a robust safety net is essential. Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of addiction medicine at Stanford School of Medicine, attributed part of this epidemic to the fact that, in the absence of adequate economic supports, painkillers have become a stop-gap for people with not only physical problems, but also psychological and economic ones.

Q: There’s serious potential for repeal of ACA and elimination of supports for families faced with opioid addiction. What can be done for the foster care system that, as you report, is heavily impacted by opioid addiction?

ES: By way of background, substance abuse now accounts for why about one in three children end up in foster care, and that figure is on the rise, in large part because of the opioid epidemic. State foster care systems have not been able to keep up with the increased demand, forcing states to turn to outside organizations for assistance. While it’s great that a lot of non-profits and religious institutions have stepped up in some parts of the country, reliance on volunteer organizations to plug holes like those in state foster care systems is so far from an adequate long-term solution. These systems need more financial support, but, unfortunately, the primary revenue sources for foster care are under attack. It’s hard to wrap my mind around how an administration can vow to support a population and then threaten to make budget cuts that really just exacerbate the problem at hand.

How do multiracial daters fare in a mainstream online dating website? A study presented to the Council on Contemporary Families by scholars at the University of Texas and University of Massachusetts reports that online daters prefer mixed-race over mono-racial individuals. The authors of “Dating Partners Don’t Always Prefer ‘Their Own Kind’: Some Multiracial Daters Get Bonus Points in the Dating Game” challenge the common belief that people with a white parent and a parent of a different racial-ethnic group, especially ones with a black parent, are always treated as “minorities.

Mixed Summer Flowers via RGBstock

Sociologists Celeste Curington, Ken-Hou Lin, and Jennifer Lundquist used 2003-2010 data from one of the largest dating websites in the United States to examine nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual women and men. They found that the historic preference for whites in the dating market has been replaced in some cases with a preference for multiracial individuals. Read their American Sociological Review abstract here.

Three groups received what the authors call a multiracial “dividend effect”:

  • Asian-white women got the most positive response by white and by Asian men alike. They were preferred to both mono-racial whites and Asians.
  • Asian and Hispanic women preferred Asian-white and Hispanic-white men (respectively), responding more frequently to the multiracial men than to either their co-ethnic men or to whites.​
  • White women responded the least frequently to mono-racial Asian men and to blacks, but being Asian-white bumped a man way up in white women’s preferences. They responded favorably to this group as frequently as they did to white men.

Still a persistent hierarchy: More detailed evidence in the report demonstrates further how racial barriers to dating are shifting, echoing the Pew Research Center’s report this month on the topic. Yet the authors found considerable evidence of a persistent color hierarchy—especially between blacks and whites. For example, white men and women remain less likely to respond to an individual who identifies as part black and part white than to a fellow white person. In related research, the investigators found that black women send few messages to men who are not also black but are more responsive when non-black men reach out to them, leading the authors to conclude that black women expect rejection if they initiate contacts with men of other ethnicities.

Explanations for multiracial dividend effects: “Some cases,” the authors argue, “seem to be closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness.” They also suggest that the preference of white and Asian men for white-Asian women may reflect “the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic. Likewise, Asian and Hispanic women may have been influenced by the media’s increasing portrayal of multiracial men as attractive, chic, and trendy.” Alternatively, Asian and Hispanic women may believe that a man who is part white and part Asian or Hispanic may represent an especially attractive mix of both worlds when it comes to gender and cultural norms.

Historical and demographic context: The authors propose that their findings suggest a growing blurring of romantic racial boundaries. Despite powerful historic, demographic and cultural patterns perpetuating such boundaries, the changes these authors detect may portend coming shifts in future interracial relationships.

After a U.S. history of legal prohibitions on interracial coupling that ended formally in 1967 with the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision, approval of interracial marriage has reached unprecedented highs, according to Gallup. Even so, interracial dating and marriages have increased at a slow rate, and many have demonstrated that this is related to colorism—that is the discrimination against people with darker skin and preferences for people with lighter skin—and to other institutional barriers, such as racially-based economic inequality.

At the same time, the slow and yet growing rate of interracial romance has produced a growing number of children of multiracial parentage. In 2013, according to Pew, 6.3 percent of marriages were mixed-race—nearly a quadrupling of the proportion in 1980. Ten percent of children under one (who lived with two parents) had parents of different races. As these changes lead to a growing multiracial population, is it possible that the multiracial dividend will be extended, or at least begin to counter some of the racial penalties that have existed in the dating and marriage market? Or will individuals perceived as mono-racial blacks fall even further behind?

Originally Posted 7/13/15

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The following is a re-post in honor of the (2014) 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Catholic and Jewish Americans since The Civil Rights Era

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only ushered in stronger federal protections for racial and ethnic minorities and women, but also for religious minorities. Antipathy toward Catholics and Jews in the US was a persistent and prevalent theme through much of American history. It was common for these groups to be labeled “un-American” and even categorized as “non-white.” Members of these religions were often discriminated against in hiring and in admission to institutions of higher learning (this was especially common for Jewish applicants) and excluded from many neighborhoods, clubs, and political positions. From the late 19th through the mid-20th century, organized hate groups, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, used the threat of violence to intimidate not only African-Americans but Jews and Catholics as well.

After World War II, these restrictions and prejudices eased somewhat. By 1955 the now-classic essay Protestant Catholic Jew could proclaim that although these three religions were the primary sources of identity in America, they were now “alternative ways of being an American” rather than two of them being seen as Un-American.

Still, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism persisted. In the 1960s, some commentators worried that President Kennedy, a Catholic, would take orders from the Pope. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon was recorded making several anti-Semitic comments. And even today nativist hate groups continue to perpetuate centuries-old hostilities against Catholic and Jewish Americans. But the Civil Rights Act did give these minorities protection against outright exclusion and discrimination, and other religious minorities have also looked to it for security as the American religious landscape has diversified. more...

Families at all levels of income are struggling in our economy simply because it does not allow congenial coexistence of work and family life. Lives have become busier and busier and policies have not changed to reflect that. In her book, Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict (Harvard University Press), Heather Boushey thoughtfully and comprehensively explains the problems with work-life conflict for women. Her book presents a set of solutions, too, that could make work-life conflict a thing of the past. While the story leads with the tale of what happens to women, Boushey takes the very issues that working women with families face and shows how these dilemmas are not about being a woman, they are about economics, and are shackling our entire economy. A valuable contribution is her portrait of contrasting work-life conflicts across income groups and family composition. She uses data as a skilled economist—which is her discipline—yet builds sensitively from history and social theory in a compelling book. Ultimately, her grounded arguments deliver detailed explanations as to why family policy needs to change and change quickly. Boushey, who is Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, has decades of work bringing careful research to bear on key policy issues—and is successful at making the research and policy issues understandable to people who are really affected by the policies.


Boushey sets the table with locating economics in social context. The deal with capitalism is that by design the economy is ever-changing. Since the 1970s it has become heavily dependent upon women’s earnings. Families can no longer get by on the earnings of just one parent as they could before around 1979. So if our economy is so dependent upon a dual income family, then why aren’t there policies that support families’ need to manage work and family care? In Boushey’s words: “The hodgepodge of work and family policies that has evolved over the years does not address how people can have the time to deal with conflicts between work and home life” (p. 250). Finding Time explains the factors that determine what needs to change and how that change can happen.


The composition of families, Boushey reminds readers, are a lot different now than they used to be. While in the past families typically consisted of a mother, a father, and children, families now are more complex and could be classified in a burgeoning array. Single parent families make up about 27 percent of families today, for example. While in the past families could survive off of one parent being the breadwinner, that is nearly impossible now, especially for single parent families. She explains that single parent families are more likely to be low-income than families that have two (married) parents. Where are U.S. policies that make single-parent families able to thrive? Yes, they are already at a disadvantage with only one income, but policies that work will empower single parents to earn money and do the carework, which are two key things parents need to do.


Boushey makes a great point when she explains that women have always been the “silent partner” to businesses. Starting with the 19th century “family wage” and ending somewhere after the 1950s boom, men could go to work and not have to worry about their family because they knew their wives would be taking care of it. Businesses never had to take family into account because men never had to worry about theirs. In Boushey’s phrase, women were the “silent partners” to business. However, now that women’s incomes are key to family survival, the country is still not doing anything to lessen the burden of the work-family conflicts. Meanwhile, businesses reap benefits from having more capable workers in a larger labor pool, for whom wages are stagnant.


Women do not have a “silent partner.” But Boushey has a recommendation to fix this. She found that there is not one sure-fire way to fix the work-life conflict that families are facing. She argues that we need solutions in four areas that she calls Here, There, Care, and Fair.

Here: Policies for when women need to be Here (in the home). These policies include paid sick leave for medical needs and other time that would need to be spent with children.

There: Policies to make sure that the amount of hours that women are working leaves room for managing their family so that they do not always need to be There (at work).

Care: Policies regarding high-quality Care for children and aging family members.

Fair: Overall, policies need to be fair for everyone. This means that no matter what your income or familial composition is, you are still afforded the same work-family policies and no added responsibilities should hinder that.

Not only would adding this support make it less stressful for families to balance work and life, but such supports decrease costly turnover rates and increase productivity.


Women (and men!) need family policy as our silent partner to help us provide for our families. The “family policy” men had in the past was a housewife—and this policy is out of date. The economy has grown with the growth of women’s participation in the work force. It is time, Boushey demonstrates, that this growth should extend to benefits for women and their familial responsibilities.

This book was a great read. Along with clear explanations of economic concepts, Boushey uses her personal experience growing up in a working-class, union family in Washington State along with her knowledge of economics and history to show that to grow our economy and bring us out of the doldrums, working women need family-friendly policies. As a young woman looking ahead to a life of work-life conflict, I gained clarity and direction for my own work. Work-life conflict is a topic that needs recognition and Boushey is helping to spread knowledge and awareness. Boushey’s book still left me wondering how race may factor into this work-life conflict, maybe in a future addition we will be given some insight!

Originally posted 7/29/2016

Molly McNulty is a former CCF public affairs intern at Framingham State University. She graduated in May, 2017, as a Sociology and Education major.

Ashton Applewhite is a Council on Contemporary Families expert and has been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. Her new book, “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism,” was just published in April 2016. She blogs at “This Chair Rocks,” where you can follow her ongoing insights, speaks widely, and is the voice of “Yo, is this ageist?” Ashton’s work is a call to wake up to the ageism in and around us, embrace a more accurate and positive view of growing older, and push back. She agreed to answer a few questions for us:

Q: First, a challenge: what’s one single thing you “know” with certainty, after years of research into modern families?

AA: One of the biggest obstacles to the well-being of modern families is the all-American myth of self-reliance—that people can and should “go it alone”—and we don’t call it out enough. That myth, which equates needing help with physical frailty and weakness of character, serves none of us well—least of all caregivers, people with disabilities, and older people (increasingly overlapping circles on the Venn diagram of life).

The myth exacts an immense personal cost: it downplays life’s challenges, it needlessly exhausts, and it shames us when, inevitably, we fall short. The social cost is high too: a culture that idealizes self-reliance serves the anti-welfare agenda of proponents of small government, because it silences and deflects questions about the structures that strand us. This go-it-alone ethic is one reason that care for the very young and very old is not publicly funded, which typically leaves family members holding the bag. Another reason is ageism, the last socially sanctioned prejudice, which disproportionately affects people at either end of the age spectrum.

Q: Give us the “Twitter” version of your current research — in 140 characters (give or take), what are you working on now?

AA: I’ll give you two tweets worth: I’m an author, speaker, blogger, and activist working to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind of prejudice. It’s time for a radical age movement, and I hope my new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, will help catalyze it.

Q: How would you encourage a scholar of family life to work to get their research into public life, affecting policy and challenging assumptions about “average families”?

AA: Consider self-publishing. Jane Friedman’s site is a good starting point. I’ve been published by four of the big five publishers but elected to bring this book to market myself, partly because of their general cluelessness about the new digital landscape and partly because of my subject matter. Self-publishing means more control, more work, and more reliance on the network of friends and colleagues that social media enables. Like many of your publications, my book is a call for progressive social change—in this case to mobilize against ageism as we have against racism, sexism, and homophobia. Hence my slogan: Self-publish together! It’s different, and a lot more congenial, to ask for help from readers who share a goal that benefits many. People respond to a persuasive case that an issue requires collective action. I’m getting real traction, and I think many of my CCF colleagues would too. Self-publish together to change the world!

Molly McNulty was a CCF public affairs intern at Framingham State University 2015-2017. She graduated in May 2017 as a joint Sociology and Education major.

east view of the Bastille, via wikimedia.

It is still June, still “wedding month,” still the month of Bastille Day, too. Here’s a revisit to a GirlwPen column from a few years ago.

Mary Wollstonecraft, a founding grandmother of liberal feminism who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), focused on how to improve the status of women (middle-class, white British women, that is) by revising education and transforming marriage. She writes of love,

Love, the common passion, in which chance and sensation take place of choice and reason, is, in some degree, felt by the mass of mankind; for it is not necessary to speak, at present, of the emotions that rise above or sink below love. This passion, naturally increased by suspense and difficulties, draws the mind out of its accustomed state, and exalts the affections; but the security of marriage, allowing the fever of love to subside, a healthy temperature is thought insipid, only by those who have not sufficient intellect to substitute the calm tenderness of friendship, the confidence of respect, instead of blind admiration, and the sensual emotions of fondness.

Down with romance, says Wollstonecraft. To liberate women and men, marriage should be stripped of passion. She argued, in effect, that doing so would offset the way that marriage starts as a cartoon of manly men adoring delicate women of great beauty and not much more (because of the limits of women’s education that Wollstonecraft deplored). To wit, the hero of her unfinished novel, Maria; or the Wrongs of Woman, is remembered above all for her line, “marriage has bastilled me for life.” (Bastille being the 1790s equivalent of Occupy today.)

Now to my story: Today [9/30/2012] in the New York Times, Matt Richtel develops his thought experiment for how to liberate marriage from that bastille experience. He proposes to a set of family researchers the notion of a 20-year marriage contract in “Till Death, or 20 Years, Do Us Part.”

Seems like everyone he interviewed thought marriage—and ideas about marriage—could use some revision. Pepper Schwartz ripely noted, “We’re remarkably not innovative about marriage even though almost all the environmental conditions, writ large, have changed…We haven’t scrutinized it. We’ve been picking at it like a scab, and it’s not going to heal that way.” The upshot was that marriage still is Occupied, and in important ways a prison for our imaginations.

My own proposal focused on getting rid of a lot of marriage fantasies that are represented in the commercial hype around marriage—very Wollstonecraft-ish, right? There might be something to that: wedding hype seems to bring out a lot of the gender cartoons that Wollstonecraft railed against. But is that anti romantic? Not in the way that I mean it.

I don’t think that getting rid of old-school marriage fantasies means not being romantic, not being hopeful, not being tender, committed, loyal, tolerant of bad days, exuberant about good days. What interests me are ways to cultivate romance and commitment in a context where partners recognize that the choice to participate in marriage, to remain, day in and day out, is something that makes it more fantastic, not less. Marriage, in this view, becomes mindful. And the reality is that marriage is a choice day in and day out, for a lot of reasons cogently reviewed in Matt Richtel’s column.

Same-sex partners, who until recently haven’t had access to marriage, have often been forced to forge more imaginative, more mindful unions. Now, as we edge towards marriage equality, everyone gets to see unions that take the sweet traditions of marriage, the fun, the legitimacy, and the somber commitment of it, but perhaps less often encumbered with the baggage of the bastille Wollstonecraft spoke of in heterosexual marriage.

As for me: I’m not married. When I was married, my vows included none of that “till death do you part” stuff; instead we pledged to remain interesting to each other. And we did. Till the day my husband died. And then some.

-Virginia Rutter