This is reposted from GirlwPen, where I wrote about several pieces of education and gender research in 2013.

Apples via Creative Commons by Nina Matthews

I have written previously about gender, debt, and college drop out rates–men’s and women’s different debt tolerance (women have more) is related to their early job market prospects (men have more) and helps explain why men drop out of college more.

Now, here’s a new piece of the gender gap in education puzzle. According to a new briefing report (from 2013, now) presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, “the most important predictor of boys’ achievement is the extent to which the school culture expects, values, and rewards academic effort.” Sociologists Claudia Buchmann (Ohio State) and Thomas DiPrete (Columbia University) present their in-depth findings on the much-debated reasons why women outstrip men in education—also the subject of their new book—in “The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools.” The full CCF briefing report is available here.

When did the gender gap begin? Some of the gender gap in schooling is new and some is not. For about 100 years, the authors explain, girls have been making better grades than boys. But only since the 1970s have women been catching up to—and surpassing—men in terms of graduation rates from college and graduate school. The authors report, “Back in 1960, more than twice as many men as women between the ages of 26-28 were college graduates. Between 1970 and 2010, men’s rate of B.A. completion grew by just 7 percent, rising from 20 to 27 percent in those 40 years. In contrast, women’s rates almost tripled, rising from 14 percent to 36 percent.”

Is the gender gap translating into wages? “The rise of women in the educational realm has not wiped out the gender wage gap — women with a college degree continue to earn less on average than men with a college degree.”  But because more women are getting college degrees, growing numbers of women are earning more than their less-educated men age-mates, and the gender wage gap has narrowed considerably.” But, report the authors, if men were keeping up with women in terms of education, men would on average be earning four percent more than they do now, and their unemployment rate would be one-half percentage point lower.

What should schools do? The authors debunk the notion that boys’ under-performance in school is caused by a “feminized” learning environment that needs to be made more boy-friendly. Making curriculum, teachers, or classroom more “masculine” is not the answer, they show. In fact, boys do better in school in classrooms that have more girls and that emphasize extracurricular activities such as music and art as well as holding both girls and boys to high academic standards. But boys do need to learn how much today’s economy rewards academic achievement rather than traditionally masculine blue-collar work.

Please visit here to read more about the gender gap in educational achievement and the sources of it.

“Peelers” via judygreenway.org

There are memes all over the internet proclaiming that men who do housework “get laid” more often. Google “men who do housework,” and you’ll find, “Porn for Women:” a calendar featuring shirtless men doing household chores. What’s so sexy about men doing housework? The underlying message winks at the fact that, in the US, women continue to do the bulk of household labor even though almost as many of them work for pay outside the home as do men. Even after more than a century of feminist movement, most heterosexual households are still organized along gender lines. Heterogendered tradition still valorizes (and separates) male breadwinners and female caregivers. In this context, men who relieve women of housework are seen as rare, exotic, and even “sexy.”

Of course, real housework isn’t sexy at all. Preparing meals, doing laundry, washing dishes, cleaning – these are tasks that never end. Another common internet meme asks, “Don’t you just love those 12 seconds when all the laundry is done?” We noticed that you could create a lively, acerbic Pinterest page just on gender and housework!

So what does it look like when “real men”—men who consider themselves breadwinners and heads of the household—do housework? Why would these men do housework in the first place? They might do it if they became unemployed. We interviewed 40 men who lost their jobs during the recent recession. Most (85%) of these men expressed traditional viewpoints about gender in the home, saying that men should provide for women and children. And yet, after losing work, most (85%) of these men became financially dependent on their wives or girlfriends. This caused an ideological as well as financial quandary for them. Because their beliefs about masculinity were tangled up with employment, they had to redefine manhood while they were unemployed.

So how did these men prove their manhood? They tackled housework, and they crushed it “like men.” Ben, who called himself, “Mr. Housework,” explained that he mopped, vacuumed, and steam cleaned the floors multiple times a week. Richard said, “I won’t even use a mop on a floor, just on my knees and stuff. I find it somewhat cathartic, believe it or not, but I roll the rugs up, the ones in the kitchen, shaking them outside, leaving them [to air] out.” Our subjects embraced housework to do their part in the family, and they redefined women’s work as hard work—work befitting men. As Brian said, “I would prefer to be working but I just have to step up and be a man in a different kind of manner.”

So it apparently takes a recession to blur the division of labor in traditional household. Will this blurriness last as the economy recovers and men go back to work? Maybe. If “heads of households” and “men’s men” see household labor as real work, this could elevate its worth in larger society, making it less surprising and funny when men and women cross gendered boundaries in their homes.

Originally posted 6/3/16

Kristen Myers is Professor of Sociology and Director of Center for the Study of Women, Gender, & Sexuality at Northern Illinois University. Ilana Demantas is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at University of Kansas. They write about their research in detail in “Being ‘The Man’ Without Having a Job And/Or: Providing Care Instead of ‘Bread’”—a chapter in Families as They Really Are.

Re-posted from Urban Wire

photo credit: Alicia Campbell via pixabay

Worldwide, only about one in two women work, compared with three in four men. In some low-income countries, such as Zimbabwe and Madagascar, the labor force participation rate for women has reached 90 percent, but these women are often underemployed. Hard economic circumstances often force them to be self-employed or work in small enterprises that are unregulated and unregistered.

About 83 percent of all domestic workers in the world are women, most of whom work in precarious conditions. Women also do much more unpaid work than men, including caring for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities; contributing to family farms or businesses; and performing household chores such as collecting water or gathering firewood. Improving women’s livelihoods constitutes basic human rights protection.

But could including more women in the labor force also stimulate economic growth, enhance business competitiveness, and improve well-being?

We recently conducted a review of evidence to answer that question and found that reducing the gender pay gap and equalizing access to economic opportunities and resources are good for economic, social, and business development. For example, some firms that purposefully reduced gender discrimination and supported family-friendly policies attracted more talented workers, improved retention rates, and decreased employee stress, resulting in enhanced productivity.

But women face significant barriers to improving their lives, such as fear of victimization and violence, lack of child care, and legal and informal discrimination. Removing those barriers could help draw women into higher-productivity sectors and improve family, community, and national prosperity.

We found evidence that broad-based and gender-specific policies can enable women’s economic empowerment; that is, improving women’s ability to make decisions and affect outcomes important to themselves and their families. Here are six of those policies.Broad-based policies

Broad-based policies

  • Promote economic growth: In countries experiencing rapid economic growth, increasing demand for labor and the availability of better-paying jobs ensures that women’s economic empowerment does not become a zero-sum game between men and women. When the economy demands more workers, women will not replace men if more women participate in the labor market.
  • Invest in public services, infrastructure, and women-friendly public spaces and transportation: The quality of and access to public services, including basic utilities such as water and sanitation, improves all-around well-being through greater economic productivity and growth, but may be especially beneficial for women. For example, because women do most household work, electricity and tap water can free up their time, enabling greater labor market participation. Access to speedy and reliable transportation can reduce safety concerns that discourage women from entering the labor force or limit them to working at home.
  • Promote innovation and technology: Information and communications technology can help increase women’s inclusion in the economy, particularly in high-productivity service sectors. Greater access to information and technology can also stimulate changes in social norms and attitudes toward women’s roles in society, potentially improving access to education and political involvement.

Gender-specific policies

  • Provide child care: Evidence suggests that the availability of child care is strongly associated with an increase in women’s labor force participation and productivity. Child care, particularly high-quality child care, is one of the most important enablers of women’s economic empowerment and can have a positive impact on children’s learning.
  • Change laws that limit women’s economic independence: Reforming inheritance and family law to lift prohibitions on daughters’ legacies and to reduce husbands’ power over wives’ economic activity can have positive economic effects, going beyond the specific outcomes they are intended to address.
  • Improve or reduce work in the informal sector: Women are concentrated in the informal sector, which includes jobs that are unregulated and insecure, like street vending. Policies designed to move workers from the informal sector to the formal sector can significantly benefit women. Working in the formal economy is more likely to empower women because it is associated with more control over their own incomes than they would have in informal work. Evidence suggests that strengthening the collective bargaining capacity of women workers in this sector and improving awareness of women’s rights is important to ensuring that income levels and working conditions improve in the formal economy.

Enacting these policies will not only empower women, but will also benefit their families and communities. The United Nations’ recently formed High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment will bring needed attention to these issues and, we hope, begin to bring about needed change.

Originally posted 11/14/16

Elizabeth H. Peters is a Council on Contemporary Families Board Member, Director of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, and coeditor of the book Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities

I attended my first healthy marriage education class with Christine and Bill, a white middle-class married couple studying to become marriage educators for their church. The first relationship skill we learned during our Mastering the Mysteries of Love training was the “showing understanding” skill focused on taking a partner’s perspective. Standing back-to-back, our instructor led us through an exercise during which Christine and Bill alternated describing what they saw in the classroom. Christine described the classroom white board. Bill described the other participants, tables, and chairs. “Is Christine wrong,” the instructor asked Bill, “because she sees the world differently than you? Now turn around. What do you see, Bill?” “I see what Christine saw,” he eagerly replied. This exercise was intended to teach us that learning to see things from our partner’s perspective was an important relationship skill that could revolutionize our love lives and improve our chances of having a happy, lifelong marriage. Bill later reported that developing this skill helped him understand Christine better and that he was falling in love with her all over again after decades of marriage.

Two years later, I observed another healthy marriage class, this one for low-income, unmarried parents. There that day were Cody and Mindy, both 18 and white, who were struggling to make ends meet while raising their eight-month-old daughter and living in a studio apartment on money Cody made through his minimum-wage construction job. The communication lesson taught in this class—daily check-ins with one’s partner to understand their feelings and concerns—was similar to the one I learned in that first class with Christine and Bill. However, when Cody, Mindy, and I returned to class the following week, Cody shared that he found it difficult to practice what they’d learned. He and Mindy shared the studio apartment with several other people, making it hard to speak privately, and often fought about how they would spend their last few dollars—bus money or formula for the baby—until Cody’s next payday.

Focused on similar lessons about love in the context of widely varying social and economic circumstances, both classes had as their major goal the promotion of healthy marriage. Government funding for classes like these was first approved by Congress in 1996 when it overhauled U.S. welfare policy to promote work, marriage, and responsible fatherhood for families living in poverty. This led to the creation of the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative—often referred to as marriage promotion policy—which has spent almost $1 billion since 2002 to fund hundreds of relationship and marriage education programs across the country like the ones I attended with Christine, Bill, Cody, and Mindy. For three years, I observed over 500 hours of healthy marriage classes, analyzed 20 government-approved marriage education curricula, interviewed 15 staff who ran healthy marriage programs, and interviewed 45 low-income parents who took classes to answer the following questions: What does the implementation of healthy marriage policy reveal about political understandings of how romantic experiences, relationship behaviors, and marital choices are primary mechanisms of inequality? And, ultimately, what are the social and policy implications of healthy marriage education, especially for families living—and loving—in poverty?

My new book, Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, takes the reader inside the marriage education classroom to show how healthy marriage policy promotes the idea that preventing poverty depends on individuals’ abilities to learn about what I call skilled love. This is a romantic paradigm that assumes individuals can learn to love in line with long-term marital commitment by developing rational romantic values, emotional competencies, and interpersonal habits. By studying the on-the-ground implementation of healthy marriage policy, including training as a marriage educator for 18 government-approved curricula, I found that healthy marriage policy promotes skilled love as a strategy for preventing risky and financially costly relationship choices and, consequently, as the essential link between marriage and financial stability. Central to this message is the assumption that upward economic mobility is teachable and that romantic competence and well-informed intimate choices can help disadvantaged couples, such as Cody and Mindy, overcome financial constraints.

Healthy marriage policy assumes that developing relationship skills creates better marriages, which in turn lead to financial prosperity. However, the low-income couples I interviewed believed that marriage represents the culmination of prosperity, not a means to attain it. In the book, I describe how cultural and economic changes in marriage throughout the twentieth century have created a middle-class marriage culture in which low-income couples are less likely to marry for both ideological and financial reasons. Couples told me they could neither afford nor prioritize marriage until they were more financially stable. Their relationship stories illustrate how financial challenges lead to curtailed commitments, especially when marriage between two economically unstable partners seems like a financial risk. Marriage educators responded to this by deliberately avoiding talk of marriage and instead emphasizing committed co-parenting as the primary resource parents have to support their children.

Though parents frequently challenged instructors’ claims that marriage could directly help them, their children, and their finances, parents did find the classes useful. While low-income couples’ economic challenges made it hard to practice the skills, participants experienced the classes as a rare opportunity to communicate free of the material constraints that shaped their daily lives and romantic relationships. Hearing other low-income couples talk about their challenges with love and money normalized parents’ intimate struggles and allowed them to better understand how relationship conflict and unfulfilled hopes for marriage are shaped by poverty. This finding suggests that publicly sponsored relationship education could be a valuable social service in a highly unequal society where stable, happy marriages are increasingly becoming a privilege of the most advantaged couples.

Yet, low-income parents’ experiences with healthy marriage classes point to how relationship policies would likely be more useful if they focused more on how economic stressors take an emotional toll on romantic relationships and less on promoting the dubious message that marriage directly benefits poor families. I also show how the focus of healthy marriage programs on relationship skills obscures the insidious effects of institutionalized inequalities—specifically those related to class, gender, race, and sexual orientation—on romantic and economic opportunity. “Skills” were often an ideological cover for normative understandings of intimate life that privilege the two-parent, heterosexually married family. Marriage educators presented a selective interpretation of research that deceptively characterizes the social and economic benefits of marriage as a unidirectional causal relationship without accounting for how selection and discrimination shape the connection between marriage and economic prosperity.

What can policymakers learn from the experiences of low-income couples who took healthy marriage classes? Broader, sociologically informed relationship policies would recognize the benefits and costs of marriage and teach under what specific social and economic conditions marriage is typically beneficial. Any policy with the goal of promoting family stability and equality must contend with the intimate inequalities that lead to curtailed commitments. Programs that link economic prosperity with marriage will likely only reinforce couples’ tendencies to make marital decisions based on middle-class ideas of marriageability. The most effective policy approach to strengthening relationships and families will not be grounded in expectations of individual self-sufficiency and strategies—or skills—for interpersonal negotiation and understanding. Instead, it will reflect how love and commitment thrive most within the context of social and economic opportunity and equal recognition and support for all families as they really are, married and unmarried alike.

Originally posted 12/27/16

Jennifer M. Randles is author of Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America (Columbia University Press, Publication Date: December 27, 2016). She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research explores how inequalities affect American family life and how policies address family-formation trends.

via pixabay

This column was originally posted August 29, 2016, reposting in light of this news rescinding rules on bathrooms for transgender students. 

Why does the federal government think it should tell North Carolina who can use what bathroom? Perhaps one reason is because it seems like a big deal if you can’t go to the bathroom without facing harassment or even the possibility of violence.

In more than 100 interviews for a book I’m finishing on millennials, I heard from many people who had been harassed or had experienced violence in bathrooms. But no story came from a woman harassed by some perverted man disguised as female who had followed her into the restroom.

Harassment in bathrooms is a serious problem, but the new laws enacted to protect North Carolina citizens are protecting the wrong people. House Bill 2 makes the bathrooms less safe for those who really do have to worry about violence.

The stories I heard came from young people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. Fifteen were raised as girls but are not now easily identifiable as men or women. Some are straight and some gay. Women often challenged them if they entered women’s restrooms because they looked boyish. But they were often afraid to enter men’s rooms because they feared violence.

One respondent told me that she did use the men’s room in a bar because she felt it would be easier, as that matched her appearance, but she was followed in and attacked. I have had a former student, a straight heterosexual mother of two who dresses androgynously, tell me she has been harassed entering a women’s room because of her clothing choices.

The six transgender people my team interviewed had experienced so much bullying in restrooms that they were too afraid to use them. They often avoided public bathrooms entirely and developed what one transman told me was a “transbladder.” He had trained himself to hold it for hours, until getting home.

We cannot have a world where women are both equal and still have to be protected from washing their hands next to a man. Sometimes change isn’t comfortable, but it’s still the right thing to do. And guess what, eventually it becomes so comfortable that the next generation can’t imagine what all the fuss was about.

In order to protect these individuals, and still reassure those who might be concerned about harassment going in the other direction, why not simply require every bathroom stall to have a door that locks and, over time, require those doors to reach the floor? After all, in airplanes, homes and coed dorms, everyone uses the same toilets. Indeed, in the university building where I worked this summer as a visiting professor at the University of Trento, there was one restroom on the first floor and a long line of stalls for anyone to use. Indeed, all over Europe I found public toilets with stalls that anyone could use with a shared area to wash one’s hands as well.

The best solution for North Carolina, and the rest of America, is to follow the lead of the airlines, private homes, dormitories and much of Europe. Require all bathrooms to have stalls with locked doors, where only one person sits or stands at a time. Only then will the transgender and gender nonconforming millennials in my research finally be free from bathroom bullies.

I understand that many women find the idea of seeing men’s legs in the next stall disquieting. A sociologist friend recoiled at the idea and couldn’t explain it except to say she just wasn’t “raised that way.” Other women seek the privacy of the washroom to freshen up, to make themselves more attractive to the men they are with. Women, especially those of a certain age, have been raised to want, and need, to retreat from the male gaze.

But it wasn’t so long ago that white Southern ladies just couldn’t imagine sharing a restroom or water fountain with a woman of color, and their men protected them from having to do so. It wasn’t so long ago that police officers’ wives disliked their husbands’ having female partners. It wasn’t so long ago that women were excluded from military units.

We cannot have a world where women are both equal and still have to be protected from washing their hands next to a man. Sometimes change isn’t comfortable, but it’s still the right thing to do. And guess what? Eventually it becomes so comfortable that the next generation can’t imagine what all the fuss was about.

We can learn from what has been happening in college dormitories: men and women living on the same floor with coed bathrooms. I lived in a dorm with coed bathrooms at Boston University in 1973. Forty years ago, coed bathrooms at colleges were radical. Not now. Today college students hardly think twice about it. The future is already here. Just follow the kids.

This column was published originally by the Raleigh News and Observer.

Barbara J. Risman, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is an Emerita professor at N.C. State University. She is currently vice president of the American Sociological Society and was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Sign from Baby Wale Restaurant in DC, photo by Ted Eytan, via Creative Commons
Bethany Hill Place, Framingham, MA

Home is where social justice is: and affordable housing programs are capable of offering residents with basic needs, as well as empowering social services. Housing is a family issue. As I follow new policy circumstances surrounding the prohibition of federal funds creating access to affordable housing and President-elect Trump’s impact on homelessness, it is time to look at how housing support programs can work. I volunteer at Bethany Hill Place, located in South Framingham, Massachusetts. On a campus owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, Bethany Hill Place is a public housing residence that has been in existence since 1994. Today it is sponsored by the sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. At Framingham State University’s Center of Academic Success and Achievement, I am part of a reading buddy program in partnership with Bethany Hill Place.

As a volunteer, I read to children who are at risk—these are children who have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. The kids I work with are considered more vulnerable because they have experienced situations such as homelessness, violence, addiction, and loss. Bethany Hill provides them with safe and affordable housing.

Bethany Hill Place serves about 150 individuals and families each year, with 41 units in a mix of studios ranging in 1-4 bedroom apartments—including some that are wheelchair accessible. They provide parking and laundry facilities; they have a community room, computer center, playroom, as well as an on-site management office, wheelchair-accessible units, playground, basketball court and community gardens: all of these things are essential for a family to support themselves, get back on their feet, and thrive.

Bethany Hill offers a place people can call home, and that is definitely a start. But the rest of what they do means that people can move forward: They focus on education, teaching skills, and providing the tools necessary to acquire a job. This kind of affordable housing program can lead to something more because of the community focus.

The focus underlines their values: Bethany Hill works with families trying to achieve academic success and educational goals to obtain housing. Within the housing unit, they offer learning opportunities for both the children and the parents that reinforce the idea of achieving and pursuing a successful future. The Bethany Hill model guides residents to set individualized learning goals and encourages residents to get involved in their own education so they can move their life forward by taking advantage of the multitude of programs offered by the community.

How does this work? Each resident works with a member of the Bethany Hill staff to explore, set, and work towards their educational goals. They understand that education is a broad category: Bethany Hill offers workshops on life skills, financial literacy, wellness and job preparation, and a Parent Café for parenting support and education. The resources closely related to traditional ideas of education include individual college and career counseling, tutoring on GED and ESOL. In addition to these resources, they provide training on basic skills, access to scholarship programs, computer instruction with open access to a computer lab, and youth programs such as summer camp and one on one tutoring. They also offer social and recreational activities aimed at community-building, case management, advocacy for HIV/AIDS, and scattered site homelessness prevention programs. Just providing a list of things Bethany Hill does makes it clear how dynamic the idea of affordable housing can be. As valuable as this is, much of this relies on the 74 volunteers who help. Bethany Hill’s paid staff: six people.

This adds up to progress and a fresh start for homeless and low-income families. Residents have questions such as, “Where do I go from here?” and “How do I get to where I need to be?” Without a place to start, without many helping hands, these questions could not be raised, much less answered. So, it’s true: Bethany Hill is a low-income housing arrangement structured around the vision of what education can do for people in the future—and the resources involve much more than a roof and a ride to school.

Tasia Clemons is a Junior sociology major at Framingham State University, a resident assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.

 

Re-posted from Harvard Business Review

photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay

We all know by now that despite winning nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton lost three key states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — by a total of about 80,000 votes. That was just enough to hand Trump the electoral college victory, and the election. Given Trump’s narrow margin of victory in these manufacturing-heavy, traditionally Democratic states, it’s understandable that the post-election conversation has focused on whether his campaign promise to help the working class by generating more manufacturing jobs is feasible. But for many voters in these states — namely, single mothers — other issues, such as tax policy and childcare costs, may be much more instrumental.

Single mothers are falling further behind despite doing more and more to catch up. My in-press research with colleagues Jenifer Bratter and Adrianne Frech found that single mothers were, on average, more educated in 2010 than in 2000, but despite these gains, they were also more likely to be unemployed in 2010. Even when they found full-time jobs, they were at higher risk of poverty — in fact, single mothers are the group of full-time workers most likely to be in poverty. And that’s even though working single mothers log longer weekly hours than breadwinning dads and or working parents in dual earner couples.

And although white single mothers remain less at risk of poverty than their black and Latina peers, their relative economic advantage declined over the decade. By 2010, nearly 34% of white single mothers lived in poverty. This is a shift that may have made Trump’s message more appealing to them — while we don’t have detailed data, the exit polls suggest that Clinton did not fare nearly as well among single women overall as Barack Obama did.

As a result of the obstacles they face, many single mothers often don’t have the money to afford basic needs. In my interviews with those who have recently lost jobs in Pennsylvania, single mothers were the most likely to report being unable to cover things like food. One, Jodi, reported, “I definitely can’t buy as healthy, because the healthier foods are more expensive, so I’ve had to adjust. I’ve had to cut back on our total food and, you know, there’s less money to eat.”

Good federal policy would result in women like Jodi having more cash to spend on their families. And yet President-elect Trump’s tax plan seems designed to financially penalize single mothers by eliminating the head of household filing status. If this proposal becomes reality, it will mean that single mothers will have to pay tax rates and receive deductions at the same levels as single people with no children instead of having rates that are in between singletons and married couples.

Instead, what is needed is to expand and reform sensible existing tax policies that would benefit single mothers. In 2015, the Earned Income Tax Credit kept 3.3 million children out of poverty and decreased the severity of poverty for another 7.7 million children. The EITC has also been shown to be good for our economy, as workers put most of the money back into the economy, buying necessary goods and household items. Yet only 80% of eligible tax-payers claim the EITC, so one positive step the new administration could take would be to increase the number of those participating in the program.

A lack of affordable childcare keeps some single mothers from taking full-time jobs. While Mr. Trump has made much of his plans, created with daughter Ivanka Trump, to expand the childcare tax credit, these changes are likely to benefit wealthier and married families instead of single mothers and their children. A better plan would be to do as the Center for Equitable Growth suggests and expand the Child Tax Credit so that more low-income families are eligible to receive the entire value of $2,000 for each child. Doing so would allow more mothers to be full-time workers who could better support themselves and their children.

The full $2,000 credit may not seem like a lot of money at a time when the cost of daycare for upper middle-class families can come close to college tuition according to sociologist Joya Misra. But Jodi and her family (and families like hers) are unlikely to use expensive formal care options — they are much more likely to rely on informal care, paying friends, kin, or in-home daycare operators. A 2009 report by Joan Williams and Heather Boushey found that, on average, low and middle income families paid between $2,300 to $3,500 annually. For these families, expanding access to the full value of the Child Tax Credit would make a real difference.

The past decade has not been kind to single mothers of any color. Most, like Jodi, just want to find work — and earn enough money to provide food and shelter for their kids. The best tax policies to pull these mothers out of poverty would be those like the EITC and the Child Tax Credit that both promote their ability to work and result in more money in their pocketbooks. Jodi concluded her interview by noting, “Like I said, I’m usually working… I’m not one to want help, but I hope that there is always the government to help me somehow, you know, if I need it.” I hope so, too.

Sarah Damaske is a CCF member and Assistant Professor of Labor and Employment Relations and Sociology at Pennsylvania State University.

kate-and-shawnKatherine Gallagher Robbins is a Director of Family Policy at the Center for American Progress. She focuses her work on economic security, family policy, women’s issues, and poverty. She has had years of experience in these types of research, as she also served as the director of research and policy analysis at the National Women’s Law Center before joining the Center for American Progress. Her work is cited on many media outlets, and she has authored many reports and analyses. More recently, she coauthored a brief titled: “4 Progressive Policies that Make Families Stronger” with Shawn Fremstad. Read the whole thing—and read a short review of it here on The Society Pages.

Shawn Fremstad is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Like Gallagher Robins, he focuses his research on economic security, family policy, and poverty. Before working for the Center for American Progress he was a deputy director of welfare reform and income support at the Center of the Bridging the Gaps project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and before that worked as a legal service attorney.

After reading their 4 Progressive Policies brief, I had questions about their ideas in the new political climate, and Robbins and Shawn Fremstad gave me some sobering answers.

Q: You make it seem so clear that progressive policy agendas offer more support for family stability, so how do you believe families will be impacted now that we have a conservative president-elect who, so far, has selected a team of very conservative individuals to work with him?

A: For a long time, the received wisdom was that conservative policies promote “family values” and liberal ones undermine them. But a growing body of research shows this just isn’t the case. Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, for example, have highlighted how the “blue family model”—which emphasizes birth control, higher education, and egalitarian relationship norms—has contributed to lower divorce rates, higher ages at first birth, and greater economic security. Similarly, our work shows that states with progressive, pro-worker policy agendas – that have raised their minimum wage, rejected laws that deter unions, and expanded access to health care, including reproductive care – are also places where families tend to have better outcomes. That’s likely due in part to the fact that such policies promote economic security, better health outcomes, less work-life conflict, and other factors positively associated with family stability and health for a wide range of family types.

Given this research, one of our key concerns is that the President-elect and a Congress controlled by conservatives will undermine or repeal important policies that stabilize and support families, particularly working-class and poor families. One of the big success stories of the last decade or so has been the extent to which programs like Medicaid, SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the EITC have become more inclusive and accessible to working class families, including many married and partnered ones. A related success story is the expansion of access to reproductive health care and comprehensive sex education programs, which have contributed to the substantial reductions in the birth rate among women under age 25.

The most immediate threat right now is the President-elect’s commitment to repeal the successful Affordable Care Act. This is effectively a pledge to take away health insurance coverage from 30 million Americans, most of whom are working class, and reduce access to the kind of effective reproductive care that has been a central part of the blue family model. Similarly, Trump’s tax proposal would raise taxes on nearly 8 million families with children—the vast majority of them are families headed by single and other unmarried parents.

These kinds of policies are best understood as part of a larger, right-wing effort to restore a Mad Men-era policy regime in which only the “right” kinds of families are valued and supported.

Q: What are you going to do now? I know you can’t tell us your whole year’s plan, but what are some of the top issues or top approaches?

A: Our first priority is blocking proposals by the President-elect and Congressional leaders that would take away health insurance, nutrition assistance, and other important benefits from tens of millions of struggling working-class families.  Another priority is defending immigrant families from mass deportation. President Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA, initiative, has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of families, but the President-elect has threatened to end it and deport these families.

At the same time, there may be some limited opportunities to get a better deal for working- and middle-class families when it comes to federal policy, such as child care and paid family leave. The President-elect has said he will work with Congress to pass an affordable child care and elder care bill during his first 100 days in office. But as currently drafted, his plan will mostly help rich families, and do little for working class ones.

On paid family leave, Senator Marco Rubio has proposed a modest paid parental-leave program and the President-elect has proposed a program that is limited to new mothers. Both plans fall far short of the kind of plan that caregivers deserve—a social insurance program that provides paid leave in an inclusive fashion and promotes egalitarian caregiving norms. But if the President-elect follows through on his promise to establish a paid maternal leave program, and puts something workable on the table, then we will likely work to make sure it isn’t just limited to mothers, and is as inclusive and effective as possible.

Additionally, we are thinking about how and where we can expand our work at the state and local levels to support families there. Many states and localities have stepped up in recent years and passed a number of proposals that have been critical to families. For example, in the last half of 2016 alone state and local wins provided nearly seven million workers with access to paid sick time with an inclusive family definition that works for every family. We will be working to grow this number in the coming months and years.

The city council where we both live, Washington, D.C., just voted to approve a paid leave program that’s likely to become law, joining California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and a number of cities and localities. Similarly, there has been a lot of momentum on increasing state minimum wages over the past several years; just last month, voters in four very different states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington—approved minimum wage increases.

Q: How do you see this election affecting your own families? OR What are some abiding beliefs about research and policy work on families that will help you through this surprising new era?

Kate: I’m deeply concerned about so many people in my family. I worried for the health and safety of my LGBTQ family members – both those I’m related to by legal ties and those I’m related to by choice. I’m worried about the economic security and health of my sister-in-law, who is a person with severe developmental disabilities and for whom there are already too few supports. I’m anxious about the prejudice that my family members of color and those who are immigrants are more likely to face as we enter an era of rising hate speech and hate crimes. I’m worried about the fates of my family members who are serving in our nation’s military. That’s why it’s so critical that we work hard to ensure families are protected and supported.

Shawn: I’m a part-time worker on an annual contract and purchase my health insurance through DC’s ACA exchange. I’m also an unmarried, single parent who files as a head of household. So I’m looking at a tax increase and paying even more for health care. But much more importantly, I’m worried about the impact of this election on my nine-year old son. He was even more upset by the outcome than I was. Pretty much every day since the election he asks me: “What horrible thing did Trump do today?” Before the election, I was hopeful that by the time he graduated from high school, things like millions of Americans going without health coverage would be a thing of the past, and policies that promote egalitarian caregiving, like paid family leave, would be the new normal. I still want to believe this is possible, but it is going to take a lot of hard work and progressive solidarity in the coming months and years.

Molly McNulty is a CCF Public Affairs intern at Framingham State University. She is a senior Sociology and Education major. 

jrandles-proposing-prosperity-book-coverI attended my first healthy marriage education class with Christine and Bill, a white middle-class married couple studying to become marriage educators for their church. The first relationship skill we learned during our Mastering the Mysteries of Love training was the “showing understanding” skill focused on taking a partner’s perspective. Standing back-to-back, our instructor led us through an exercise during which Christine and Bill alternated describing what they saw in the classroom. Christine described the classroom white board. Bill described the other participants, tables, and chairs. “Is Christine wrong,” the instructor asked Bill, “because she sees the world differently than you? Now turn around. What do you see, Bill?” “I see what Christine saw,” he eagerly replied. This exercise was intended to teach us that learning to see things from our partner’s perspective was an important relationship skill that could revolutionize our love lives and improve our chances of having a happy, lifelong marriage. Bill later reported that developing this skill helped him understand Christine better and that he was falling in love with her all over again after decades of marriage.

Two years later, I observed another healthy marriage class, this one for low-income, unmarried parents. There that day were Cody and Mindy, both 18 and white, who were struggling to make ends meet while raising their eight-month-old daughter and living in a studio apartment on money Cody made through his minimum-wage construction job. The communication lesson taught in this class—daily check-ins with one’s partner to understand their feelings and concerns—was similar to the one I learned in that first class with Christine and Bill. However, when Cody, Mindy, and I returned to class the following week, Cody shared that he found it difficult to practice what they’d learned. He and Mindy shared the studio apartment with several other people, making it hard to speak privately, and often fought about how they would spend their last few dollars—bus money or formula for the baby—until Cody’s next payday.

Focused on similar lessons about love in the context of widely varying social and economic circumstances, both classes had as their major goal the promotion of healthy marriage. Government funding for classes like these was first approved by Congress in 1996 when it overhauled U.S. welfare policy to promote work, marriage, and responsible fatherhood for families living in poverty. This led to the creation of the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative—often referred to as marriage promotion policy—which has spent almost $1 billion since 2002 to fund hundreds of relationship and marriage education programs across the country like the ones I attended with Christine, Bill, Cody, and Mindy. For three years, I observed over 500 hours of healthy marriage classes, analyzed 20 government-approved marriage education curricula, interviewed 15 staff who ran healthy marriage programs, and interviewed 45 low-income parents who took classes to answer the following questions: What does the implementation of healthy marriage policy reveal about political understandings of how romantic experiences, relationship behaviors, and marital choices are primary mechanisms of inequality? And, ultimately, what are the social and policy implications of healthy marriage education, especially for families living—and loving—in poverty?

My new book, Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, takes the reader inside the marriage education classroom to show how healthy marriage policy promotes the idea that preventing poverty depends on individuals’ abilities to learn about what I call skilled love. This is a romantic paradigm that assumes individuals can learn to love in line with long-term marital commitment by developing rational romantic values, emotional competencies, and interpersonal habits. By studying the on-the-ground implementation of healthy marriage policy, including training as a marriage educator for 18 government-approved curricula, I found that healthy marriage policy promotes skilled love as a strategy for preventing risky and financially costly relationship choices and, consequently, as the essential link between marriage and financial stability. Central to this message is the assumption that upward economic mobility is teachable and that romantic competence and well-informed intimate choices can help disadvantaged couples, such as Cody and Mindy, overcome financial constraints.

Healthy marriage policy assumes that developing relationship skills creates better marriages, which in turn lead to financial prosperity. However, the low-income couples I interviewed believed that marriage represents the culmination of prosperity, not a means to attain it. In the book, I describe how cultural and economic changes in marriage throughout the twentieth century have created a middle-class marriage culture in which low-income couples are less likely to marry for both ideological and financial reasons. Couples told me they could neither afford nor prioritize marriage until they were more financially stable. Their relationship stories illustrate how financial challenges lead to curtailed commitments, especially when marriage between two economically unstable partners seems like a financial risk. Marriage educators responded to this by deliberately avoiding talk of marriage and instead emphasizing committed co-parenting as the primary resource parents have to support their children.

Though parents frequently challenged instructors’ claims that marriage could directly help them, their children, and their finances, parents did find the classes useful. While low-income couples’ economic challenges made it hard to practice the skills, participants experienced the classes as a rare opportunity to communicate free of the material constraints that shaped their daily lives and romantic relationships. Hearing other low-income couples talk about their challenges with love and money normalized parents’ intimate struggles and allowed them to better understand how relationship conflict and unfulfilled hopes for marriage are shaped by poverty. This finding suggests that publicly sponsored relationship education could be a valuable social service in a highly unequal society where stable, happy marriages are increasingly becoming a privilege of the most advantaged couples.

Yet, low-income parents’ experiences with healthy marriage classes point to how relationship policies would likely be more useful if they focused more on how economic stressors take an emotional toll on romantic relationships and less on promoting the dubious message that marriage directly benefits poor families. I also show how the focus of healthy marriage programs on relationship skills obscures the insidious effects of institutionalized inequalities—specifically those related to class, gender, race, and sexual orientation—on romantic and economic opportunity. “Skills” were often an ideological cover for normative understandings of intimate life that privilege the two-parent, heterosexually married family. Marriage educators presented a selective interpretation of research that deceptively characterizes the social and economic benefits of marriage as a unidirectional causal relationship without accounting for how selection and discrimination shape the connection between marriage and economic prosperity.

What can policymakers learn from the experiences of low-income couples who took healthy marriage classes? Broader, sociologically informed relationship policies would recognize the benefits and costs of marriage and teach under what specific social and economic conditions marriage is typically beneficial. Any policy with the goal of promoting family stability and equality must contend with the intimate inequalities that lead to curtailed commitments. Programs that link economic prosperity with marriage will likely only reinforce couples’ tendencies to make marital decisions based on middle-class ideas of marriageability. The most effective policy approach to strengthening relationships and families will not be grounded in expectations of individual self-sufficiency and strategies—or skills—for interpersonal negotiation and understanding. Instead, it will reflect how love and commitment thrive most within the context of social and economic opportunity and equal recognition and support for all families as they really are, married and unmarried alike.

Jennifer M. Randles is author of Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America (Columbia University Press, Publication Date: December 27, 2016). She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research explores how inequalities affect American family life and how policies address family-formation trends.

photo credit: Marc Nozell via wikimedia commons
photo credit: Marc Nozell via wikimedia commons

The night after the presidential election, I went to a “brainstorming and prayer” session held in an evangelical church where I am conducting research. Church members felt it was important to come together in a season of transition for the church and the nation, both of which are experiencing a change in leadership. I sat in a circle of parishioners, notebook and pen in my lap. The first person to speak was a retired aeronautical engineer. The white, straight, 65 year-old veteran sighed in relief and bowed his head as he said “I can sleep again at night now.”

Church members discussed renewed feelings of job security. They prayed for those within their church and for the empty seats they would soon fill. They rejoiced in their happiness for what is happening in the country. One woman prayed, “We can elect a pastor, and we can elect a president, but we already have a KING.” None of the conversations focused on Trump’s religious values. Trump’s appeal lay in his secular ability to advocate for them so that they can, in turn, continue to do the work important to them as active evangelicals.

 Their prayers and hopes for the next four years reminded me of Arlie Hochschild’s recent work in rural Louisiana, where she uncovered what she calls the deep story of disenfranchised rural tea-party supporters. She suggests that Donald Trump might provide what she calls a “secular rapture” for many in the United States who feel as though their economic and social world is changing. Hochschild argues that the sense of being invisible and forgotten she witnessed among white working and middle-class individuals might indeed be a major factor in Trump’s appeal.

President-elect Donald Trump had the largest share of evangelical votes of any presidential candidate. My current research suggests that members of the evangelical community feel as though they live in a different world than many of us—a world in which they perceive themselves as losing their voice (see here, here, and here). Given those feelings of disenfranchisement, what appeal did a presidential candidate with unclear, and often seemingly un-Christian values hold?

I ask this question as a nonreligious individual researching evangelicals—I think many others ask it too. People ask me what it is like to be a woman, a feminist academic, and nonreligious in these spaces, spaces in which evangelizing is the point. My first response to those queries is that my gender identity does not matter much to those I study. My religious identity—and lack of one—matters much more to them. The reason for the salience of my nonreligious identity is perhaps similar to the reasons we saw such a large evangelical voter turnout.

In my larger research project on gender and sexuality within the evangelical church, I find evidence for what I call an imagined secular heterosexuality. Members of this church community discuss and debate married life and family life in relation to, and against, what they perceive to exist in an outside secular world. These conversations transcend concerns and understandings of life in the home. As an outside member of the secular world, I am seen not only as a researcher, but also as someone who can bridge a gap between their world and the secular world in which they no longer feel they have a voice.

There’s overlap between what I call the imagined secular and what Hochschild predicted as a secular rapture. Both terms highlight a strongly felt divide in the United States. Where evangelicals feel they are living in a separate world—one in which their economic, political, and social needs and beliefs are silenced—Trump may provide the voice they want back. And whether we speak of tea party supporters in rural Louisiana or ardent evangelicals in suburban Washington state, we must attend to the intersections of whiteness, religion, and felt disenfranchisement to understand the evangelical voter turnout we witnessed, and what that turnout now means for the upcoming moral, religious and political debates our country faces.

Sarah Diefendorf is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington, where she researches constructions of gender and sexuality in religious communities. You can find more of her work here: www.sarahdief.com