Want vs NeedThe Crawler couldn’t resist the Wall Street Journal headline from yesterday’s paper: “The Sex-Housework Link: Housework Pays Off Between the Sheets.” The WSJ article begins…

Housework may seem like the ultimate romance-killer. But guess what?

A new study shows that for husbands and wives alike, the more housework you do, the more often you are likely to have sex with your spouse.

Earlier studies have hinted at this connection for men; the sight of a husband mopping the floor or doing dishes sparks affection in the hearts of many wives. But the more-housework-equals-more-sex link for wives, documented in a study of 6,877 married couples published online recently in the Journal of Family Issues, is a surprise.

But whoever thought vacuuming was sexy?

But for some high achievers who take a “work hard, play hard” approach to life, researchers say, working hard in one domain produces more energy for others. The study also found a correlation between hours spent on paid work and the frequency of sex in marriage.

“Rather than compromise their sex life” because of time demands at work or at home, “this group of go-getters seems to make sex a priority,” says Constance Gager, lead researcher and an assistant professor of family and child studies at Montclair State University, Montclair, N.J. The study doesn’t measure what proportion of spouses fall into this group, but she believes “they are on the leading edge of couples we expect to see more of in the future.”

More from the authors, one of whom is a sociologist…

Dr. Gager and her co-author, Scott Yabiku, associate professor of sociology at Arizona State University, Tempe, controlled the results for “gender ideology” and found the housework-sex link remained true, regardless of people’s views on roles. Results from the data, taken from the National Survey of Families and Households, were controlled for age, health, duration of couple’s relationship, religion, income, education and marital satisfaction.

The study defined housework as nine chores: cleaning, preparing meals, washing dishes, washing and ironing clothes, driving family members around, shopping, yard work, maintaining cars and paying bills. Wives in the study spent an average 41.8 hours a week on these tasks, compared with 23.4 hours for husbands—a split that is fairly typical, and often regarded by wives as unfair. However, the effects of any fairness concerns among wives weren’t measured in this study.

Outside the home, husbands spent an average 33.8 hours a week on paid work, compared with 19.7 hours for wives. Couples reported having sex 82.7 times a year on average, or 1.6 times a week, about the same as in other studies.

After a long national decline in time spent on housework, the study joins a growing body of research on how chores shape the dynamics of marriage. A survey of 2,020 U.S. adults placed “sharing household chores” as the third most important factor in a successful marriage, behind faithfulness and a happy sexual relationship, says the nonprofit Pew Research Center. That’s a sharp increase; 72% of respondents gave high importance to housework, up from 47% in a comparable study in 1990. In respondents’ minds, housework outranked even such necessities as adequate income and good housing, Pew says.

The article also links to another sociological study:

A 2003 study by Scott Coltrane, a sociology professor at the University of California, Riverside, linked fathers’ housework to more feelings of warmth and affection in their wives. And a survey of 288 husbands, reported in Neil Chethik’s 2006 book “VoiceMale,” linked a wife’s satisfaction with the division of household duties with her husband’s satisfaction with their sex life.

One husband, Mr. Chethik says in an interview, reported that his wife enjoyed flowers or a candlelit dinner out; but “if he wants to be sure of a romantic evening, he goes for the vacuum cleaner.”

Read more.


Yesterday’s Telegraph (UK) ran a story about divorce trends in the UK, which don’t seem to follow the convention of the seven-year-itch.

The paper reports on new patterns in the UK:

While the old saying refers to couples separating after getting the “seven year itch”, the Office of National Statistics figures appear to suggest that in Britain that is slightly longer.

Of the 144,220 couples who divorced in 2007, the average length of a marriage in Britain was 11.7 years, the figures showed.

The divorce rate is at its lowest level since 1981, with experts putting it down to the fact that fewer people are getting married.

The figures came as a study claimed marriage should be viewed as an “economic partnership”, where relationships failed during times of emotional and economic decline.

One scholar notes:

Malcolm Brynin, co-author of Changing Relationships, a new Economic and Social Research Council book based on five years of research into family life, said the costs and benefits of a relationship were “more fluid than in the past”.

“People come together and stay together only when this is to their individual advantage,” he told The Sunday Times.

But the sociologist adds…

However, sociologist Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University and author of Paranoid Parenting, said: “When you get married, if you make this kind of statistical calculation saying, ‘Well, I’m getting married, the chances are we’ll only get to 11 years’, the whole ritual becomes entirely pointless.

“If you adopt the idea, we might as well give up on the concept of durable relationships altogether.”

Read more.

Puppies!Earlier this week Forbes.com ran a story about pet culture in the U.S. in the 21st century, which has transformed our four-legged pets into our children.

About the trend:

America’s cultural pendulum has swung toward pets. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), a trade group, 62% of U.S. households own a pet, and most are willing to spend vast amounts of time and money to keep Sparky and Fluffy happy. The pet industry has tripled in the past 15 years. The APPA estimates pet spending will reach $45.4 billion this year, an increase of $2 billion since 2008–despite the crippling recession.

In the last few years, they’ve exploded into popular culture, too. As Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson are splashed across the celebrity glossies with their furry friends, the broader media followed suit. People.com offers the offshoot People Pets.com, AOL draws audiences with its new site Paw Nation, and icanhascheezburger.com gets hundreds of submissions daily of user-generated lol cats (laugh-out-loud funny photos of cats). Bo, America’s “First Dog,” is still making headlines.

And sociological commentary…

“People are fascinated by pets. We act and spend on them as if they were our children,” says NYU sociology professor Colin Jerolmack, who studies animals in society. “We’ve civilized them to the point that they are no longer a part of wild nature.” It wasn’t always so. Just over a century ago in the 1800s it was very rare to have a pet, Jerolmack says. They were luxury items and status symbols of the bourgeoisie, showcasing that a family had the means and resources to own a pet. Animals then were purely functional; dogs were often used to hunt, and cats used to scare off mice. As society developed and technology advanced, the utilitarian use of pets waned.

And from another sociologist…

Author of Understanding Dogs, sociologist Clinton Sanders, says pet obsession has been rapidly growing during the past 20 years. “The danger is that we don’t let animals be animals anymore,” he says. “It does them a disservice and results in some ignorant kinds of treatment.

“Dogs,” he says, “would be perfectly content eating the same food every day for the rest of their lives. It tastes good, fills them up and never disappoints. A dog’s owner, on the other hand, might say, ‘I would never want the same meal again and again, how boring.’ Then she goes to the store and buys her pup a variety of options, which in turn disrupts the dog’s digestive tract.” But, Sanders insists,”Dogs aren’t like us.”

Similarly, interpreting their behavior as if they were human can lead to false assumptions. Says Sanders, “People might believe the dog peed on their bed because she was angry that they were gone, but what if the dog has a urinary tract infection? It’s an inappropriate way of understanding their behavior.”

But why are we so crazy about our pets? NYU sociologist Colin Jerolmack, quoted above, has an answer…

Why have they become so important to us? NYU’s Jerolmack speculates that it may be due to people’s decreasing connection to each other. In an era of online social networks, long work hours and distances between families, we have far fewer strong social ties and many more weak ties, he says. “We’re spending a lot more time alone or with our immediate family. The companionship of pets has become much more valuable today.”

Furthermore, relationships with pets are much less emotionally messy. They love you no matter what you look like or if your breath stinks. And they show affection consistently. Pets have become a relatively easy and loveable replacement of children or a strong community, which, Jerolmack warns, may lead to an impending culture clash.

“In the city, we’re already seeing debates over park space going to kids or dogs,” says Jerolmack. “There will be more people demanding social recognition of pets, wanting to bring their pets everywhere. And with an industry relying on them, I don’t see us going backwards.”

Read more.

Widely read in numerous sociology classes, the writings of Barbara Ehrenreich have become classics. Her most recent book, Bright-Sided, was discussed earlier this week on National Public Radio.

NPR’s ‘Talk of the Nation’ reports:

When author Barbara Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was bombarded with wildly optimistic, inspirational phrases. But a cheerful outlook, she argues, does not cure cancer.

In her new book, Bright-Sided, Ehrenreich explores the negative effects of positive thinking, and the “reckless optimism” that dominates America’s national mindset.

“We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles,” Ehrenreich writes, “both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.”

A brief excerpt from the book…

How can we be so surpassingly “positive” in self-image and stereotype without being the world’s happiest and best-off people? The answer, I think, is that positivity is not so much our condition or our mood as it is part of our ideology — the way we explain the world and think we ought to function within it. That ideology is “positive thinking,” by which we usually mean two things. One is the generic content of positive thinking — that is, the positive thought itself — which can be summarized as: Things are pretty good right now, at least if you are willing to see silver linings, make lemonade out of lemons, etc., and things are going to get a whole lot better. This is optimism, and it is not the same as hope. Hope is an emotion, a yearning, the experience of which is not entirely within our control. Optimism is a cognitive stance, a conscious expectation, which presumably anyone can develop through practice.

The second thing we mean by “positive thinking” is this practice, or discipline, of trying to think in a positive way. There is, we are told, a practical reason for undertaking this effort: positive thinking supposedly not only makes us feel optimistic but actually makes happy outcomes more likely. If you expect things to get better, they will. How can the mere process of thinking do this? In the rational explanation that many psychologists would offer today, optimism improves health, personal efficacy, confidence, and resilience, making it easier for us to accomplish our goals. A far less rational theory also runs rampant in American ideology — the idea that our thoughts can, in some mysterious way, directly affect the physical world. Negative thoughts somehow produce negative outcomes, while positive thoughts realize themselves in the form of health, prosperity, and success. For both rational and mystical reasons, then, the effort of positive thinking is said to be well worth our time and attention, whether this means reading the relevant books, attending seminars and speeches that offer the appropriate mental training, or just doing the solitary work of concentration on desired outcomes — a better job, an attractive mate, world peace.

Listen to the report here.

Read the NPR transcript.

With this week’s vote in the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, along with 13 other Democrats approved the committee’s healthcare bill. The Times’ blog Room for Debate notes:

For months, [Snowe’s] support seemed pivotal to health care’s overhaul in the Senate. For much of the public, it’s puzzling that the politics of reshaping a sector that accounts for 16 percent of the G.D.P. should seemingly hinge on one senator.

Is this a healthy and expected consequence of Congressional politics? What might this say about how partisan politics has evolved? Is there a historical precedent that we might compare this to?

Sociologist Theda Skocpol, of Harvard University, weighs in on the debate:

No, it is not healthy. But the problem is not just Olympia Snowe — it is a set of Senate rules, formal and informal, that privilege a few votes from senators in small states.

This vote is not the final word, however. This is just a matter of getting a bill out of Senate Finance committee. Bills have to be merged for a final vote in each house, and a conference will work out final details between the Senate and House versions in due course. A lot can and will change.

Olympia Snowe is trying to maintain her leverage in this process, and she is in a sense a proxy for various conservative Democrats, too. She wants to try to shape the final “compromise” on a public option — essentially to block it with a “trigger” approach that would prevent a real option.

Remember, in the end, Olympia Snowe really cannot obstruct final passage. She may get in trouble with fellow Republicans in the Senate if she votes with the Democrats, but she will be in bigger trouble at home in Maine if she obstructs. Maine people want reform.

We have a long ways to go and this is not really all that decisive.

Read more from the New York Times.

View of Philadelphia from the Museum of Art #1The Philadelphia Inquirer reports this week on a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts regarding census preparations in a number of large US cities.

The study compared Philadelphia’s census preparation efforts with those of five larger cities – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix – and five cities similar to Philadelphia and its history with the census: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit and Atlanta.

Although the census is done by the federal government, ensuring the local count is complete and accurate has become a municipal self-promotion campaign.

“Census preparation really matters,” said [Thomas] Ginsberg, [the project manager of Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative,] and the census has become a hard sell.

Why is it a ‘hard sell?’

Immigrants, especially those here illegally, are suspicious of the count despite the promise of anonymity. They fear the count could lead to discovery and deportation of them or relatives.

Anti-government campaigns involving the Obama Administration’s proposal for universal health insurance coverage also appear to be affecting the census.

And the economic recession has dramatically reduced local tax revenue, meaning there is much less to spend on municipal census promotion efforts.

And the sociological commentary…

“Nobody is expecting a good census in 2010. I’m not optimistic,” said Joseph J. Salvo, New York City’s population division chief and a sociologist, quoted in the Pew study.

Salvo, who advises and critiques the Census Bureau, noted that “since the last census we had 9/11, privacy issues, trust of government issues. And there’s been no public declaration that we’re going to suspend immigration raids like in 2000.”

Read more.

CNN recently featured an article by Tomás R. Jiménez, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University and an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation, who wrote about how “Mexican-Americans have deep ties to the U.S.”

Jiménez begins:

Just about any celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) will highlight the diversity among Hispanics. They come from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world, have settled in various areas of the United States, have distinctive customs and come in all shapes and colors.

But an often overlooked difference among Hispanics relates to how many generations back they trace their roots in U.S. history.

Hispanics are not just immigrants or the U.S.-born children of immigrants. They are also Americans with deep family histories in the United States. This is especially true of the Mexican-origin population, the largest Hispanic subgroup and one that has been continually replenished by immigrant newcomers for a century.

He continues:

Truly knowing what it means to be a person of Mexican origin requires understanding the experiences of the nearly 3 in 10 (8.5 million) Mexican-Americans who were born in the United States to U.S.-born parents.

These later-generation Mexican Americans’ experience in the United States, though rooted in a distant past, is nonetheless deeply affected by current and uninterrupted immigration from their ancestral homeland.

In some ways, Mexican Americans have lived what amounts to a classic tale of assimilation.

They speak English (and no Spanish in the majority of cases), intermarry in large numbers, live in ethnically mixed neighborhoods, work in just about every imaginable profession, are honored on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, occupy important political positions and are highly patriotic. But ongoing Mexican immigration puts a twist on this classic assimilation tale, making “Mexicanness” relevant to later-generation Mexican-Americans in both problematic and enjoyable ways.

It can be tough being a member of an ethnic group that is so synonymous with immigration. Even if their immigrant ancestors came early in the 20th century, continuous immigration means that Mexican Americans are never safe from erroneous assumptions that they are foreigners.

Jiménez concludes:

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and recognize all of the diversity among Hispanics, it begs the question: How do we know what it means to be Hispanic?

The answer can only be arrived at by appreciating the experiences of those Hispanics whose families have called the United States home for several generations and those who more recently have come to call this land their home. No matter how deep or shallow their roots extend into American history, what almost all Hispanics have in common is that immigration profoundly defines their experience.

Read more of his fascinating article at CNN.com.

In an article entitled, “First Blood: Introducing Menstrual Activism,” Salon.com explores the ‘negative cultural stance toward menstruation’ and what is being done to counter it.

The background, from Salon.com:

Every woman has one. Not what you’re thinking — that too, yes, but I am referring to a menstruation horror story. A bright blood stain blooming on the back of white jeans, a first period that has the audacity to arrive during gym class or one that colors a yellow swimsuit red while you are waterskiing with your grandfather, as happened to Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, the editor of “My Little Red Book.”… But does the embarrassment many women feel arise from a negative cultural stance toward menstruation? And do we need a concerted effort to address it?

In an article published in the Guardian on Friday, writer Kira Cochrane situates “My Little Red Book” at the center of a new wave, as it were, of “menstrual activism.” (The movement is also called “radical menstruation,” “menstrual anarchy” or “menarchy.”) The term, she writes, “is used to describe a whole range of actions,” such as “simple efforts to speak openly about periods, radical affronts to negative attitudes, and campaigns for more environmentally friendly sanitary products,” since a woman could create her own personal landfill with the 11,400 tampons she uses in her lifetime. (What I want to know is: Who counted?)

The sociological commentary:

Chris Bobel, a women’s studies professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the author of an upcoming book, “New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation,” explains that many “menstrual activists begin by thinking, wait a minute! Do we have to regard our period as something dirty? Do we have to greet a girl’s first period with silence?” According to Cochrane, these women are attempting to take “the shame out of periods,” to overcome the supposed “menstrual taboo.”

But are significant changes really happening?

But the greatest indicator that the cultural attitude toward menstruation has shifted may be the ads for “feminine products.” Ads have ceased to be so euphemistic you have no idea what product is being peddled (“Be free and active!”). The latest from Tampax are hilariously direct in their wink-wink indirectness. Mother Nature (played by Catherine Lloyd Burns) offers a “monthly gift” — a box wrapped in red paper, a symbol obvious enough to please teenage boys and dissertation writers alike — to various women (in one ad, it’s Serena Williams) at inopportune moments. When primetime viewers are savvy enough about menstruation to get in-jokes about periods and blood, it’s a safe bet that the stigma has eased.

Those who prefer to remain quiet about the subject may not be evincing gynophobia so much as conversational etiquette. It may be an act of modesty, not of shame. People don’t much discuss erectile dysfunction or bowel problems either, and not for reasons of gender, or because those bodily processes are particularly taboo. When menstruation is a relevant subject between people — girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, female friends — it’s not generally treated as humiliating or distasteful. And indeed, women don’t seem to feel much fear about talking about it. Case in point: “My Little Red Book,” for which 90-odd female writers agreed to share their stories.

Read more.

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a story on the newly released census data comparing at-home mothers with those who work full time.

The Post reports:

In her article today, Washington Post staff writer Donna St. George reports that a recent census survey shows stay-at-home moms tend to be younger and less educated, with lower family incomes. So why does popular perception hold that a rising number of highly educated women are leaving high-powered jobs to raise their kids?

St. George and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone were online Thursday, Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the new report and what it says about mothering.

An excerpt from the interview:

Arlington, Va.: If it’s not true that women are leaving the workforce to raise their kids, why do you think it’s such a persistent myth? Where do you think it comes from?

Pamela Stone: Why the media fascination? Women who leave successful careers, typically in fields where they’re still minorities, are highly visible no matter what they do, and we tend to focus on exceptions, which these women are. Moreover, their actions seem to conform to traditional gender roles, hence reinforcing what we think we know. Finally, we expect women with solid educational credentials and successful careers to persist in them, so they’re not doing so is counterintuitive. All these things make for an element of surprise and newsworthiness. But I should note that these stories–women turning their backs on achievement to head home–have been around for a long time now, since the 1980s at least, and they all say the same thing. Some have called this evidence of media backlash. What I found in my research, by the way, was that the women I studied were NOT returning home primarily for family reasons, but were effectively being shut out of their jobs once they became moms.

San Francisco: To what degree has the myth that educated Moms are “opting out” of the workforce hurt women?

Pamela Stone: Good question. I think it hurts them and all women, by reinforcing the (erroneous) idea that they’re not committed to their work, that work is secondary, and that work and family are “separate spheres,” mutually exclusive. All the data show that women want both, that the vast majority of moms work, and that they need to work, contributing a good portion of household income and sometimes all of it. The opt-out myth, as I often say in my talks, lets employers “opt out” of doing something to really support working moms, making it possible to continue with their careers or easing the burden of work and family.

Read more.

Yesterday the New York Times reported on a new study indicating that at-home mothers rate themselves higher than working moms.

About the study:

The analysis, by the Pew Research Center, is based on several of their telephone polls, the most recent of which was conducted this summer and included 1,815 people 16 and older. It found that among the at-home mothers, 43 percent rated themselves 9 or 10, at the top of the scale, while 33 percent of working mothers did so.

“In perhaps the most powerful evidence of the cross-pressures that many working mothers feel every day,” the study said, “only 13 percent of moms who work full time say having a mother who works full time is the ideal situation for a young child.”

Conclusions with sociological commentary…

Women without a job outside the home are more likely to have an infant in the household and have less than a high school degree, the bureau found.

“It makes sense that the stay-at-homes are younger, as young people are more likely to be in school,” said Guillermina Jasso, a sociology professor at New York University.

Additional findings:

The Pew study found that 3 out of 10 stay-at-home mothers say family responsibilities keep them out of the labor force. While two-thirds of women with children 16 or younger work full time outside the home, most say they would prefer to work part time, the Pew study said.

The Pew study also found that in 66 percent of married couples with children under 18, both spouses were in the labor force.

The census data also revealed that the nation’s 5.6 million stay-at-home moms represent 24 percent of all married couples with children under 15.

Read more.