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

Photo by Zazzle via pinterest

Reprinted from Equal Pay for All – the Official Website administered by the State Treasurer of Massachusetts – See more here:

June is traditionally LGBT pride month, and Massachusetts has a lot to be proud of. In 1989, we became the second state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation (gender identity took longer). In 2004 we became the very first state to have marriage equality for same-sex couples. In spite of these victories for legal equality here and elsewhere, though, LGBT people continue to face wage gaps and other forms of economic inequality.

Employment discrimination still happens and is disturbingly common in the United States. In a 2013 national survey, 21% of LGBT people reported experiences of unfair treatment by an employer. Studies that send identically-qualified LGBT and non-LGBT people’s applications for jobs find that LGBT applicants have to apply for many more jobs just to get an interview.

These kinds of discrimination are likely contributors to the gay wage gap. A recent review of studies found that gay and bisexual men earned 11% less than heterosexual men with the same age, education, and other qualifications.

Perhaps surprisingly, lesbian and bisexual women earn about 9% more than similar heterosexual women. A lesbian wage advantage?  Not exactly–it’s more like a slightly smaller gender wage gap, since lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women all earn less than straight or gay men.

Lesbians do some things differently from heterosexual women, which might reduce the gender disadvantage. Mainly we see higher earnings for lesbians who were never married to men. Lesbians who were married to men at some point have earnings more like heterosexual women’s, maybe because they made similar kinds of childrearing or labor market decisions while living with a male spouse.

Lesbians also work more hours and weeks, so they might be accumulating more experience over time, which helps to raise wages. And lesbians appear to be less deterred by male dominance in an occupation, holding jobs that have more men in them than heterosexual women do.

The gender wage gap bites into lesbians’ economic resources, though. Lesbian couples have two women’s incomes, and studies show they have less income to live on than a male-female couple or a gay male couple. That’s one big reason why lesbian couples have higher poverty rates than different-sex couples and gay male couples. The poverty gaps are even larger for African American same-sex couples and for transgender people.

Interestingly, we’re learning that gay men are also affected by gender inequality. For example, one study shows that anti-gay discrimination is particularly pronounced in jobs looking for applicants with stereotypical male characteristics, like assertiveness, aggressiveness, or ambition.

So how can we move LGBT people closer to actual equality in economic outcomes?

Businesses have been allies in promoting policies and practices to reduce discrimination and to make workplaces more welcoming of LGBT employees. Some examples include putting sexual orientation and gender identity in the company nondiscrimination policy, discussing LGBT issues in diversity training, supporting LGBT employee groups, and developing clear gender transition guidelines.

Employers make a business case for LGBT equality—they need to recruit and retain the best employees, including LGBT people and non-LGBT people who want to work at companies that value diversity. Research backs up the business case claims, showing that companies with LGBT-supportive policies have higher stock prices, productivity, and profits.

Strengthening the scope and enforcement of nondiscrimination policies would help, too. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to be a form of sex discrimination, so LGBT people can file employment discrimination charges everywhere in the U.S. But it would also be transformative to have a comprehensive federal law like the proposed Equality Act, which would ban discrimination not only in employment, but also in credit, housing, public services, and other areas.

Some other policies would help lift LGBT people out of poverty, in particular. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cut gay men’s poverty by a third and cuts lesbians’ poverty in half. Finding a way to eliminate the gender wage gap would erase the gap in poverty for lesbian couples, and cutting racial wage gaps would reduce the poverty gap for African American and Hispanic people in same-sex couples. Plus those policies have the advantage of helping everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Finally, we need more data and research on LGBT people to better understand what’s making LGBT people economically insecure. Massachusetts and other states should join California in moving toward more inclusive data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity within state agencies, including health and human services, education, and employment.

While we have reasons to be proud of LGBT people’s victories in the push for legal equality, we will all be prouder when we’ve also achieved economic equality.

M. V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics and the former director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also a Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute and a board member of the Council on Contemporary Families. Her latest book is The Public Professor:  How to Use Your Research to Change the World.

photo credit: Marko Lovric via pixabay

When a person is sent to prison they leave a community behind. And few of the studies of mass incarceration in the U.S. examine the prison system and families. Consider, for example, how incarceration triggers the termination of an incarcerated parent’s parental rights.

What is the extent of the problem? Data on the punitive impact of child welfare policies on families of incarcerated parents are either overly broad or just plain old and outdated. For example, some of the most recent research states that there are between 29,000 and 51,000 children in foster care who have incarcerated parents. But seek more information and the picture gets hazy. More research, even just constructing a database from data kept in separate state systems, would help.

I discovered this when I started to study the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act. From 1995, before the Act, to 2004 adoption rates in the U.S. doubled. This may be due to the financial incentives offered by the federal government to states that had increased their number of adoptions. But the provision in the Act stating that if a child has been in state care (i.e. foster care) for 15 of the last 22 months the state must move to terminate the parent’s parental rights has had a harsh effect on incarcerated parents, leading to untold numbers of family termination.

You see, non-incarcerated parents (“outsiders”) have access to exemptions to the time-based termination provisions. For instance, outsiders, who can regularly visit their child, are empowered to use that as evidence of connection. But incarcerated parents are not in control of whether or not they see their child.

The Act’s time limit provisions that trigger adoption were passed at the same time that incarceration rates were growing. The War on Drugs that began in the 1970’s turned drug abuse, which was once a public health issue, into a law enforcement issue. Cue the rise of mandatory minimums. In the early years of mandatory minimums, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (a drug that happened to be more common in low-income areas, which often have a large minority population) got you a minimum of five years.

Today, under federal policy 100 grams of a substance containing heroin results in a mandatory minimum of five years. However, if a defendant meets certain criteria (e.g. fully cooperated with the government and is a first time offender, etc.) they could get a reduced sentence. Yet, even a reduced sentence would still be between twenty-four to thirty months. If parental rights are challenged when a child is in state care 15 of the last 22 months, and the mandatory minimum is five years (24 to 30 months if you’re lucky) what chances have these policies given families?

As of March 2016 2.3 million people were in some form of corrections facility in the United States. New policies, aiming to create more reasonable sentencing laws, have been introduced in Congress such as the Mandatory Minimum Act of 2015. However, such bills still need to get through the House, the Senate, and the President. Given the uncertainty of the President elect’s intentions, and the clear racial animosity he and his coalition have displayed throughout his campaign, sentencing reform is now precarious. Meanwhile families remain and continue to become separated. Early commentary suggests that sentencing reform is dead. My question is what steps, if any, will we take to help mend the families separated due to the combination of The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and unabated mass incarceration? Because it is clear that mass incarceration is family policy.

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

Fact Sheet via diversitydatakids.org

The birth or adoption of a child, the serious illness of a parent, one’s own health emergency. There are health and medical occasions, both joyous and difficult, which require workers to take time off to care and heal. Yet not all people can take the time they need.

Nearly all industrialized nations recognize the necessity of time by guaranteeing paid family and medical leave. The U.S. does not. Paid family and medical leave policy provides extended partially paid time off from work in the event of workers’ own or a close family member’s serious medical condition. A growing number of U.S. workers have access to paid family and medical leave from state or local polices or through their employers. However, most workers do not have access to any paid family or medical leave.

Although the U.S. lacks national paid family and medical leave policy, it does have national unpaid leave. In 1993 the U.S. passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an important law which guarantees twelve weeks of unpaid family and medical leave for qualifying employees who need to provide care for themselves or a close family member.

In the event they need to take family and medical leave, the FMLA provides eligible employees with two primary protections: retention of health insurance (if insurance is provided by the employer) and job protection, meaning that upon return from leave employees are restored to the same or an equivalent position. A key caveat of the FMLA is that most workers do not meet the eligibility requirements necessary to gain access to these protections. At diversitydatakids.org, our research finds that that less than half (45 percent) of all workers (including the self-employed) are eligible for FMLA and that there are inequities in eligibility.

Beyond eligibility, for many families, forgoing pay for up to 12 weeks, even in the midst of serious health needs, is highly unrealistic. Workers may rely on sick days, vacation time, or other types of paid time off, but not all workers have access to these benefits, which are not designed to provide workers with extended time off. Research shows that the financial cost of family and medical leave is a primary barrier workers face as they make leave choices.

Our new fact sheet from diversitydatakids.org explores how paid family and medical leave policy could reduce cost barriers to leave for U.S. working families. This research answers several important questions related to the affordability of family and medical leave.

How much does unpaid family and medical leave cost families in the event they need it?

Taking unpaid family and medical leave, in the event that it is needed, results in a large financial burden for families. Six weeks of unpaid family and medical leave results in a 27 percent loss of family income over a three-month period (i.e. quarterly income) for U.S. full-year workers. The financial shock of family and medical leave is even greater if a worker needs to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave: on average he/she loses well over half of quarterly family income.

Are there alternatives to unpaid family and medical leave that could be implemented in the U.S.?

As an alternative to national unpaid family and medical leave that would bring the U.S. in line with other industrialized nations, the U.S. could offer paid leave through a social insurance policy approach (similar to the approach taken by Social Security programs). Employers and workers would jointly finance an insurance fund which workers would then draw from if they experienced a qualifying health condition and needed to take family and medical leave. While on leave, workers would receive partial wage replacement (maximums would be set for both the benefit amount and the number of weeks of leave). While social insurance does impose a cost on employers in addition to employees, studies of existing state paid family and medical leave insurance programs have found minimal perceived negative impact on businesses.

As proposed in pending federal legislation, a paid family and medical leave social insurance approach that based eligibility on the parameters set by Social Security Disability Insurance would increase eligibility rates for paid leave in the U.S. to 89 percent of the working-age population.

How would paid family and medical leave help families?

Currently four states and the District of Columbia have paid leave insurance laws. If we apply the New Jersey family and medical leave policy to U.S. workers (66 percent wage replacement up to a maximum of $633 per week) income losses would be reduced by half. Rather than lose 27 percent of income for six weeks of unpaid family and medical leave during a three month period, families would lose just 12 percent. Loss of income for 12 weeks of family and medical leave would be reduced from 55 percent of quarterly family income to 23 percent of family income. For middle-income workers the benefits of paid family and medical leave are even greater: it would reduce affordability constraints by almost two-thirds.

Public Policy Options

Recent public opinion surveys indicate broad public support for a social insurance paid leave policy in the U.S.: over three quarters of voters support a federal law establishing a fund that would offer all workers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Paid family and medical leave is a popularly supported program and there is pending legislation in the U.S. Senate that would establish a family and medical leave insurance program to provide for families in times of health crises.

People need support to maintain employment during health crises or when they become parents; it’s about time the U.S. provides it.

Maura Baldiga is a Research Associate and Pamela Joshi is Associate Director and Senior Scientist at the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Their research focuses on family economic security and access to work and family policies.  

Barbara Risman via UIC.

A debate about just how gender progressive Millennials are has been created by a CCF online symposium. In it, Joanna Pepin and David Cotter report that attitudes toward gender equality are not always consistent: There are different trends in attitudes toward gender equality for the public world of work and the private world of the family. They suggest that while Millennials’ attitudes toward women’s rights in the world of work remain feminist, they are less likely to support equality at home than did the last generation. They use nationally representative data from surveys of high school seniors to support their argument.

We use different data and replicate their argument about the complexity of gender attitudes. But we find no evidence that Millennials are moving backward on their commitment to gender equality. Our analysis is based on attitudinal survey questions on gender questions in the General Social Survey pooled from 1977 to 2014. We then draw on just released 2016 data from the same survey to illustrate the results about Millennials today. In the analysis using data from 1977 to 2014, we measure attitudes toward women in the public sphere with a question that asked whether men are better suited emotionally for politics than are women. We measure attitudes towards women’s role in families with three questions: Is it better if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family; whether a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work; and whether a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.

We use a different method than did Pepin and Cotter. We let social groups emerge empirically from the data, without pre-determining who would show up in each group (statisticians call this latent class analysis). We label the groups based on their answers to these questions about gender equality and then describe what kinds of people hold what attitudes. We traced the kinds of people in each group over decades and can describe them by race, educational status and sex. Our analysis confirms that there are indeed distinct differences between gender attitudes toward equality in the public sphere and equality within families. But we show this is not a new split. It’s one that is decades old, and our results suggest the split emerged by the 1990s.

Three major groups were formed by how people’s answers clustered (see Table 1). There were egalitarians who approved of equality in the workplace and the home. There were traditionalists who rejected equality in both the workplace and the family. And then there were the ambivalents who approved of gender equality in the workplace but not in the family. (In our actual analyses each of these groups was furthered divided into those with strong beliefs and those with moderate beliefs and the table below is presented to show that distinction.)

Where have all the Traditionals gone? The big historical story is that there are no more traditionalists. From 1977 to about 1990, about a third of Americans were traditionalists and did not believe women and men should have the same rights and opportunities at work or at home. In that era, there were almost no ambivalents. Everyone was either traditional or egalitarian. But what changed after 1990 was that the traditionalists became ambivalents. That is, by the early 1990s those who used to reject equality totally had accepted women’s right to equality at work but still resisted equality in the family. Americans who have a carte-blanche objection to gender equality in both the workplace and the home have become almost extinct. Score one big win for the feminist revolution. But the victory is partial because those traditionals have not become egalitarians, they have become ambivalents, and this is a reminder that feminist have much work to do before everyone believes in gender equality within the family.

Table 1. Are Millennials Rejecting the Gender Revolution?

(Authors’ Analysis from General Social Survey data, 1977-2014.)

Our next step was to analyze what demographic characteristics were more likely to be associated with being egalitarians vs. ambivalent for each year in the data from 1991 to 2014. We do not include traditionals here because they are almost extinct. To do this, we conducted a multinomial logit latent class regression (the analysis is available upon request). Millennials are as likely to be egalitarians as the generation immediately before them (often called Gen X). We find no retreat from equality but also no statistically significant change toward feminist attitudes among Millennials. Rather, attitudes have leveled off. The biggest generational shifts remain between Baby Boomers and their parent’s generation.

While Americans who believe in gender equality in the workforce but not at home still exist, they are most likely to be pre-Baby-boomer men, without a college education. In the General Social Survey data we find no evidence that Millennials have ambivalence to gender equality, nor that they are more likely to endorse traditional family forms than those in the past. We illustrate this argument with a descriptive summary of the data from the year 2016 (in Figure 1).

Conclusion. The traditionalist who believes women do not belong in the public sphere is now a dinosaur. Almost no one in American society believes women do not deserve equality in the public sphere. But those traditionals did not become egalitarians, rather they held on to traditional beliefs about women’s place in the family.

This is not a new story. The big swing toward more egalitarian attitudes toward women in the family can be traced to the era of the Second Wave of feminism. Our evidence shows that while Baby Boomers were the pioneering feminist birth cohort who experienced a generation gap with their own parents, those after them have inherited egalitarian attitudes but have not pushed the envelope, at least not as represented in this national dataset. Still, there is no evidence in these data of a backward slide among Millennials. It is the oldest generation, the parents of Baby Boomers, who remain the most likely to be ambivalent about gender change. These national survey data suggest that Millennials may not be pushing boundaries on gender attitudes but they do continue the slow march trend toward egalitarianism that Baby Boomers began.

Originally posted 4/18/2017

Barbara J. Risman is Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and President of the Board of the Council on Contemporary Families. Ray Sin is a behavioral science researcher at Morningstar Inc. and a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. William Scarborough is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

At college graduation season, when grad ceremonies involve messages to honor and appreciate the parents, we revisit Laura Hamilton on some of the trolling of those parents that can occur.

Move-in day at four-year residential colleges and universities around the U.S. marks a parenting milestone. But what happens next? Although most parents of college students do not have an embodied presence on their child’s dormitory floor, some provide so much financial, emotional, and logistical support that it seems they never left.

The media refers to these parents as “helicopters” and they are among the most reviled figures of 21st century parenting (see this recent Washington Post article for an example). They are derided as pesky interlopers in the postsecondary system, who unnecessarily intervene with university programming, test the patience of college officials, and create needy students. Because intensive parenting is a task that falls mostly on the shoulders of women, many critiques also have a mother-blaming bent.

Do involved parents burden the university? In Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College Women’s Success, I followed 41 families as their children moved through a public flagship university between the years of 2004 and 2009. I conducted a year of ethnographic observation in a women’s residence hall, interviewed both mothers and fathers, and conducted five years of annual interviews with their daughters.

The university I studied, like many other public schools, lacked the deep pockets and rich resources of elite privates. Rather than evading helicopters, the school actively cultivated a partnership with involved parents. Out-of-state parents were considered a real asset, as they were typically both affluent and well-educated. In the face of steep state budget cuts and mounting accountability pressures, the institution relied on parents to fill numerous financial, advisory, and support functions. It is not unique in adopting such a strategy.

Net tuition now rivals state and local appropriations as the primary funder of public higher education. In this equation, parents become a crucial source of funds. Four-year schools also structure their classes, activities, and living options around traditional students and expect parents to do the work of maintaining them. Many parents in the middle to top stratum of the class structure readily accept these tasks. They have come to believe that a college experience is something that “good” parents offer, no matter the cost.

The sheer diversity of academic and social options on today’s college campuses means that there are many ways for students make costly mistakes. Yet, as advisor to student ratios steadily rise, tailored advice is typically not coming from public university staff. Students are expected to seek guidance from home. Affluent, well-educated parents—typically mothers—dive headlong into the roles of academic advisor, career counselor, therapist, and life coach. They have flexible careers that allow for emergency visits, a savvy understanding of higher education, the ability to interface with university staff, and money to smooth over every hurdle.

Parents even help translate college degrees into jobs. Elite companies look for markers of status that parents cultivate in their children—for example, skill in upper-class extracurricular activities, a narrative of self-actualization, and delicately honed interactional skills. Universities rely on families to embed these traits, as the degree alone is not enough to get a good job. Internship and job placement services are also outsourced to parents, who craft resumes, tap their networks for opportunities, and enable moves to urban locations.

This arrangement takes a toll on all families. Adults extend parenting responsibilities further into their own life course, undermining their own financial security and draining emotional and psychological reserves. There is also some truth to the notion that the helicoptered children are slow to adapt to adulthood; their academic success can come at the cost of self-development in other spheres.

But families of modest means stand to lose the most ground. University outsourcing to parents increases the salience of family background for academic and career success, exacerbating existing inequities. Well-resourced parents are advantaged when parental labor is built into the very form and function of the university. They can out-fund, out-strategize, and out-network the competition. In contrast, less privileged parents are reliant on what the university offers. They are often deeply disappointed.

The helicopter parent blame game distorts the real issue: Public universities are growing dependent on private family resources for their existence. As parents become more central to the operation of higher education, the social mobility mission of the mid-20th century public university gradually slips away.

Laura T. Hamilton is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Hamilton’s new book, Parenting to a Degree: How Family Matters for College and Beyond, was recently released by the University of Chicago Press. In this book, Hamilton vividly captures the parenting approaches of mothers and fathers as their daughters move through Midwest U and into the workforce.

The Council on Contemporary Families Gender and Millennials Online Symposium presents research on how Millennial men and women are changing—and how they are not changing. Countering the recent trend of ignoring inconvenient facts, this symposium makes it clear that attitudes about gender equality are more complex than either supporters or opponents of feminism often admit. Here’s a quick review of the brief reports.

The Council on Contemporary Families released a Gender and Millennials Online Symposium revealing that young adults have become less supportive of gender equality at home over the past two decades—though not in Europe, where work/family policies are more generous. Yet the benefits of egalitarian marriages, for both partners, have increased during the same time frame.

In this eight-part series, there’s the old news: women and men are more likely to endorse gender equality than ever—and they live lives that express that. Then there’s the not-so-old news: progress toward gender equality has slowed since the 1990s. Some call it a stall. And there’s new news: youthful gender attitudes are more variable than we thought, and at least among younger Millennials, a continued endorsement of equality at work has been accompanied by a dip in support for equality at home. And therein lies the complex set of reports that comprise the Council on Contemporary Families Gender and Millennials Online Symposium, released March 31.

The keynote essay, “Trending Towards Traditionalism? Changes in Youths’ Gender Ideology,” by sociologists Joanna Pepin (University of Maryland) and David Cotter (Union College), reports that when it comes to work and politics, young adults are increasingly egalitarian. But when it comes to home life, the 40-year-long move toward gender equality has stopped or reversed in recent years.

The trends: Specifically, Pepin and Cotter report:

  • In 1994, 42 percent of high-school seniors felt that the best family was one where the man was the outside achiever and the woman took care of the home. In 2014 this had gone up to 58 percent.
  • In 1994, 48 percent of high school seniors said a mother who works cannot establish as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work. In 2014, the share disagreeing went up to about 60 percent.

While young people endorse at rates of 90 percent or higher the idea that men and women should be equal at work, Pepin and Cotter see a trend in greater traditionalism at home. They call this “egalitarian essentialism”—a concept that seems to go a long way in describing the complex trends in gender attitudes presented today. In her overview essay “CCF Gender and Millennials Online Symposium: Overview,” historian Stephanie Coontz defines egalitarian essentialism as combining “a commitment to equality of opportunity with the belief that men and women typically choose different opportunities because men are ‘inherently’ better suited to some roles and women to others.” Coontz explains, “Egalitarian essentialism assumes that as long as women are not prevented from choosing high-powered careers, or forced out of them upon parenthood, their individual choices are freely made and are probably for the best.”

Nika Fate-Dixon identifies similar trends among young people in the 18-25 age group, using data collected since 1977. In “Millennials Rethinking the Gender Revolution? Long-Range Trends in Views of Non-Traditional Roles for Women,” she found that by 1994, 84 percent disagreed with the claim that a woman’s place was in the home. In 2014, however, the percent disagreeing had dropped to three-quarters. While Pepin and Cotter found that the backtracking on gender equality occurred among both men and women high-school seniors, Fate-Dixon found a sharp and growing gender gap among people in their early 20s. As noted below, this was a clear trend through 2014, but the 2016 GSS data no longer follow this pattern. Researchers await more results and analyses.

Politics: Young people—ages 18-30—were by far the strongest supporters of Clinton over Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. However, according to Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg’s “How Gender Mattered to Millennials in the 2016 Election and Beyond,” only 25 percent of the women Millennial voters and 15 percent of the Millennial men identified as feminists. Furthermore, Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director of Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), Millennials’ support for Clinton in 2016 was ten percentage points lower than their vote for Obama in 2008, further evidence for a dip in enthusiasm for gender equality.

Other political research presented by political scientist Dan Cassino (Fairleigh Dickinson University) in “Some men feel the need to compensate for relative loss of income to women. How they do so varies” suggests that some men have reacted negatively to women’s economic gains. During the primaries, male voters who were reminded of women’s growing economic clout became markedly less likely to express a preference for Hillary Clinton. When Cassino studied men who had actually lost income relative to their wives, however, Republicans and Democrats reacted in different ways. Men who were Democrats became more liberal as their share of household earnings fell, while Republican men became more conservative.

Married life: In “A View From Above: How Structural Barriers to Sharing Unpaid Work at Home May Lead to “Egalitarian Essentialism” in Youth,” Dan Carlson, assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, suspects that this backsliding on gender equality is less a product of gender threat than it is due to the absence of work/family policies that make domestic equality possible. Since the 1990s, the historically higher risk of divorce for couples where the wife earns more than her husband has disappeared. And these days, in contrast to the past, couples in which husband and wife equally divide family chores and child-rearing now report higher marital and sexual satisfaction than more traditional couples. Carlson suggests that support for domestic equality continues to strengthen among children of dual-earners when they have access to family-friendly work policies, but that youth who have seen their parents overwhelmed by economic and time pressures may have gotten discouraged.

Research on European countries—where social supports for families are stronger—backs Carlson up. Using European public opinion surveys, Professor Jan Van Bavel (University of Leuven) found no dips in egalitarianism related to home life or work life in “The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and the Continued Push towards Gender Equality.” He writes, “In the more recent round of the European Social Survey, in 2010, the responses tended to be less conservative and more gender egalitarian than six years earlier, in 2004.”

Well, maybe “Millennials” isn’t such a great category. In “The Use and Abuse of Millennials as an Analytic Category,” sociologist Frank Furstenberg (University of Pennsylvania) warns against over-generalizations about such a diverse group as the Millennials. He argues that the 18-to-25-year-olds interviewed in 2014 are not really comparable to those interviewed in 1994: They are far less likely to be married or employed in permanent jobs than this age group 20 or 40 years earlier. In her overview essay, historian Coontz notes that CCF Board President Barbara Risman’s research supports this warning against stereotyping a generation. In Risman’s interviews with Millennials for a forthcoming book, she was struck by the contradictory expectations about gender and family life expressed even within a single conversation. Furstenberg and Van Bavel suggest that as youths enter married life, and especially if they gain access to family-friendly work policies, they may well change their views. But Pepin and Cotter warn that this is by no means inevitable.

Update: After this symposium was released last Friday, 2016 data from the General Social Survey became available. The latest numbers show a sharp rebound in young men’s disagreement with the claim that male-breadwinner families are superior. GSS two-year trends are exceptionally volatile, due to the small size of the sample, and the overall decade averages still confirm a rise in traditionalism among 18-to-25-year-olds since the 1990s. But the new data shows that this rise is no longer driven mainly by young men, as it appeared to be in the General Social Survey results from 1994 through 2014. Other evidence for a Millennial gender gap still stands, so stay tuned for more updates on this moving target.

Originally prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials March 31, 2017. Previously posted at Famillies as They Really Are on April 5, 2017. 

This column was prepared for CCF by Virginia Rutter, Professor of Sociology, Framingham State University, and Megan Peterson, CCF Public Affairs and Social Media Intern, Framingham State University.

Look on Pinterest, on the front page of the newspaper, and even in our own hands as we scroll through social media feeds on our smartphones: the importance of our home objects is everywhere. I see bestselling books about how to make getting rid of our things (category by category, that is – preferably starting with those seven extra crates of shoes) joyful. I notice how there is a whole host of professions, self-help manuals, and even TV shows dedicated to dealing with the hoarding of home stuff. I see tragic reports of lead-poisoned water coming out of kitchen sinks and into cups that children drink from. I see commentary on how Millennials and Gen Xers don’t want their parents’ heirloom furniture (unless it is midcentury modern, that is). And I come across countless articles and concomitant comments articulating competing sides of the “should our kids have smartphones” debate.

As a sociologist who dabbles in anthropology, consumer studies, science and technology studies, and art and design research, I also see some important social patterns worth investigating that stem precisely from the aforementioned things. Namely:

Should we be minimalists or hoarders, especially since our stuff affects individual well-being, a family’s materialism, and even the environment? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of our values and our identities.

Which families have access to clean water? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of social inequalities.

Are our children (and us, for that matter) controlled by our objects? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of the power of objects over us, and the norms and rules in our everyday lives that we establish to deal with them.

Is all of this “stuff about stuff” about more than just psychological differences in tastes and lifestyles? The stuff in our homes reflects what we’re wrestling with in terms of group differences in taste, spatial arrangements, and desires for certain kinds of cherished objects that signify who we are.

In my research and teaching, I pay attention to values, identities, inequalities, the power of objects, bodies, the border between public and private, and how we relate to each other as large groups. As a homeowner and lifelong fan of home décor, I pay attention to what our objects and spaces – our material culture – say about our non-material culture.

In The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives, I pay attention to both the social underpinnings of family life as told through spaces and objects, and to the aesthetics of the spaces and objects themselves. In addition to highlighting my own research from the last two decades, I also throw in some stories about my family that I have been assured are only a little bit embarrassing.

If you read the book, you’ll take a tour of several rooms in a hypothetical home – one room per chapter – each of which loosely connects to a family life stage (from college dorm rooms to master suites, from living rooms to kitchens, from separate bedrooms in two separated parents’ homes to communal dining rooms). In each room I highlight not only what we need to know about contemporary families, but also how two objects found within that room signify and shape family roles, relationships, and inequalities.

And so, if you’ve ever wanted to read the story of contemporary family life as told through LEGO, stuffed animals, family photo albums, smartphones, heirloom dishes, power tools, and even love letters, you may enjoy reading this book and then putting it on your bookshelf next to your other cherished objects.

Michelle Janning is Professor of Sociology at Whitman College and Chair, Council on Contemporary Families. Her book The Stuff of Family Life: How our Homes Reflect our Lives was released this week from Rowman &  Littlefield.

photo credit: Marc Nozell via wikimedia commons.

It is a National Day of Prayer, and we are near the six-month mark since the presidential election. As such, we revisit Sarah Diefendorf’s reflections on visiting a brainstorming and prayer meeting the day after the election.

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.

Originally posted 11/9/16

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

The American value of individualism affects us all, but what happens when you are not able to express that value? This is a dilemma for older people subject to stereotypes of dependency. They face special challenges in striving for this ideal and feeling comfortable enough to accept help so that they can remain self-sufficient. In my last post, I explored some reasons why older people may not want to move in with their families. Given these cultural pressures, how do elders living on their own negotiate their need for care and autonomy?

Programs like Meals on Wheels help older people remain independent in their homes. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

Polls consistently show that older adults and aging baby boomers want to “age in place”—or remain in their homes independently for as long as possible. This arrangement, desired by ordinary people as a means of preserving autonomy and by policy makers who view this as a cost effective alternative to nursing homes, requires that seniors—often in conjunction with their families—patch together creative ways to support their independence.

The day-to-day managing of routine tasks like grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, and household chores, usually necessitates a little help from a supportive web that includes family, friends, neighbors, and social service agencies. Family may help older relatives with chores, coordinate medical appointments, and pay for supplemental help when possible. Network studies have found that friends are especially good at providing emotional support and a sympathetic ear when life’s travails require someone to bear witness. And neighbors can pitch in with practical help, such as picking up a few things from the store when an older person has trouble leaving the house. For years I have observed how eighty-year-old Joe’s next-door neighbor has served as his link to the outside world whenever his swollen ankles and knees leave him homebound. She brings him a copy of The Daily News and groceries whenever he needs a few days to mend.

Beyond kin and friendship networks, senior centers provide a range of services to community-dwelling elders, though they are also usually the first candidates for budget cuts. A few older people I’ve met over the years regularly took advantage of the cheap but nutritious meals offered daily by a local senior center for a dollar, which saved them the hassle of cooking for one and the cost of eating out but also provided a little companionship. Nonprofit organizations that serve older adults, such as the Jewish Association Serving the Aging (JASA), offer comprehensive access to services that help older people deal with the challenges of living alone in an expensive, gentrified city like New York, including benefits screening for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. As I walked past a Midtown Manhattan food pantry the other day and saw the line stretching a half-block long, filled with mostly Asian and Latino elders and their shopping carts waiting for donated potatoes, rice, and canned vegetables, I was reminded again of how crucial these stop gaps are for those struggling to remain independent in old age.

But in some cases, elders may go too far in keeping their family at bay due to fears of losing their independence if they reveal their physical or financial challenges. In my own research, I’ve found that some people feel so threatened by the prospect of moving in with family (or worse, a nursing home) and ashamed of asking for help that they sometimes go to great lengths to cover up health issues and other difficulties. It’s often only after a crisis that families learn of mounting problems. For example, after 83-year-old Dottie ended up hospitalized for a heart attack her daughter discovered that she had not seen a doctor besides her podiatrist for several years. In the absence of regular medical care, Dottie had improvised her own self-care measures such as weighing down a shopping cart with telephone books for support when she walked, rather than using a cane or walker. When Theresa, in her mid-70s, fell and twisted her ankle, her family discovered the severity of her dementia, which had eroded her ability to tell time and remember dates. Afterwards, she moved closer to where her brother lived.

How can we support elders so that reaching out for help doesn’t pose a threat to independence but rather ensures that a bad situation doesn’t get worse or become an unnecessary crisis? Perhaps the first step is recognizing that none of us can do it alone and that at every age we achieve self-reliance by drawing on a mix of social resources and supports.

Originally posted 8/4/14

Stacy Torres is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and associate at the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis at the University at Albany, State University of New York.