Search results for fathers

Hanna Rosin, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of The End of Men, has written a piece about hook up culture on and off college campuses for the September issue of her magazine.  Given that I’ve done some research on hook up culture, W.W. Norton’s Karl Bakeman asked me to weigh in.  So, here are my two cents: Rosin isn’t wrong to argue that the culture offers women sexual opportunities and independence, but she mischaracterizes the objections to hook up culture and draws too rosy a conclusion.

Those who wring their hands and “lament” hook up culture, Rosin contends, do so because they think women are giving it up too easily, a practice that will inevitably leave them heartbroken.`She writes:

[Critics of hook up culture pine] for an earlier time, when fathers protected “innocent” girls from “punks” and predators, and when girls understood it was their role to also protect themselves.

If this is the problem, the answer is less sex and more (sexless?) relationships.  But, Rosin rightly argues, this wrongly stereotypes women as fragile flowers whose self-esteem lies between their legs.  It also romanticizes relationships.  Drawing on the fantastic research of sociologists Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong, she explains that young women often find serious relationships with men to be distracting; staying single (and hooking up for fun) is one way to protect their own educational and career paths.

All this is true and so, Rosin concludes, hook up culture is “an engine of female progress — one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.”

Well, not exactly.  Yes, women get to choose to have sex with men casually and many do.  And some women truly enjoy hook up culture, while others who like it less still learn a lot about themselves and feel grateful for the experiences.  I make this argument with my colleague, Caroline Heldman, in Hooking Up and Opting Out: Negotiating Sex in the First Year of College.

But what young women don’t control is the context in which they have sex.  The problem with hook up culture is not casual sex, nor is it the fact that some women are choosing it, it’s the sexism that encourages men to treat women like pawns and requires women to be just as cunning and manipulative if they want to be in the game; it’s the relentless pressure to be hot that makes some women feel like shit all the time and the rest feel like shit some of the time; it’s the heterosexism that marginalizes and excludes true experimentation with same-sex desire; and it’s the intolerance towards people who would rather be in relationships or practice abstinence (considered boring, pathetic, or weird by many advocates of hook up culture including, perhaps, Rosin).

Fundamentally, what’s wrong with hook up culture is the antagonistic, competitive, malevolent attitude towards one’s sexual partners.  College students largely aren’t experimenting with sexuality nicely.  Hook ups aren’t, on the whole, mutually satisfying, strongly consensual, experimental affairs during which both partners express concern for the others’ pleasure.   They’re repetitive, awkward, and confusing sexual encounters in which men have orgasms more than twice as often as women:

The problem with hook up culture, then, is not that people are friends with benefits.  It’s that they’re not. As one of my students concluded about one of her hook up partners:  “You could have labeled it friends with benefits… without the friendship maybe?”

Hook up culture is an “engine of female progress” only if we take-for-granted that our destination is a caricature of male sexuality, one in which sex is a game with a winner and a loser.   But do we really want sex to be competitive?   Is “keep[ing] pace with the boys,” as Rosin puts it, really what liberation looks like?  I think we can do better.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

It is great to acknowledge and celebrate the increase in father involvement in parenting. But it is not helpful to exaggerate the trend and link it to the myth-making about looming female dominance. Yesterday’s feature in the Sunday New York Times does just that, and reminds me that I meant to offer a quick debunking of Hanna Rosin’s TED talk.

The story is headlined “Just Wait Till Your Mother Gets Home.” The picture shows a group of dads with their kids, as if representing what one calls “the new normal.” Careful inspection of the caption reveals it is a “daddy and me” music class, so we should not be surprised to see a lot of dads with their kids.

The article also makes use of a New Yorker cover, which captures a certain gestalt — it’s a funny exaggeration — but should not be confused with an empirical description of the gender distribution of parents and playgrounds:

Naturally, the story is in the Style section, so close reading of the empirical support is perhaps a fool’s errand. However, I could not help noticing that the only two statistics in the story were either misleading or simply inaccurate. In the category of misleading, was this:

In the last decade, though, the number of men who have left the work force entirely to raise children has more than doubled, to 176,000, according to recent United States census data. Expanding that to include men who maintain freelance or part-time jobs but serve as the primary caretaker of children under 15 while their wife works, the number is around 626,000, according to calculations the census bureau compiled for this article.

The Census Bureau has for years employed a very rigid definition of stay-at-home dads, which only counts those who are out of the labor force for an entire year for reasons of “taking care of home and family.” This may seem an overly strict definition and an undercount, but if you simply counted any man with no job but with children as a stay-at-home dad, you risk counting any father who lost a job as stay-at-home. (A former student of mine, Beth Latshaw, now at Appalachian State University, has explored this issue and published her results here in the journal Fathering.)

In any event, those look like big numbers, but one should always be wary of raw numbers in the news. In fact, when you look at the trend as published by the Census Bureau, you see that the proportion of married couple families in which the father meets the stay-at-home criteria has doubled: from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.8% today. The larger estimate which includes fathers working part-time comes out to 2.8% of married couple families with children under 15. The father who used the phrase “the new normal” in the story was presumably not speaking statistically.

(Source: My calculations from Census Bureau numbers [.xls file]. Includes only married-couple families with children under age 15.)


That’s the misleading number. The inaccurate number is here:

About 40 percent of women now make more than their husbands, the bureau’s statistics show, and that may be only the beginning of a seismic power shift, if new books like “The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love, And Family,” by Liza Mundy, and “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” by Hanna Rosin, are to be believed.

I guess in these troubled times for the newspaper business it might be acceptable to report X and Y statistic “if so-and-so is to be believed.” But it is a shame to do so when the public is paying the salary of people who have already debunked the numbers in question. Just the other day, I wrote about that very statistic: “Really? No. I don’t know why this keeps going around.” Using freely available tables (see the post), I calculated that a reasonable estimate of the higher-earning-wife share is 21%. In fact, on this point Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin and are not to be believed.

(Source: My graph from Census Bureau numbers.)


TED: Misinformation Frequently Spread

There is a TED talk featuring Hanna Rosin from the end of 2010, and I finally got around to watching it. Without doing a formal calculation, I would say that “most” of the statistics she uses in this talk are either wrong or misinterpreted to exaggerate the looming approach of female dominance. For example, she says that the majority of “managers” are now women, but the image on the slide which flashes by briefly refers to “managers and professionals.” Professionals includes nurses and elementary school teachers. Among managers themselves, women do represent a growing share (although not a majority, and the growth has slowed considerably), but they remain heavily segregated as I have shown here.

Rosin further reports that “young women” are earning more than “young men.” This statistic, which has been going around for a few years now, in fact refers to single, child-free women under age 30 and living in metropolitan areas. That is an interesting statistic, but used in this way is simply a distortion. (See this post for a more thorough discussion, with links.)

Rosin also claims that “70% of fertility clinic patients” prefer to have a female birth. In her own article in the Atlantic, Rosin reports a similar number for one (expensive, rare) method of sex selection only (with no source offered) — but of course the vast majority of fertility clinic patients are not using sex selection techniques. In fact, in her own article she writes, “Polling data on American sex preference is sparse, and does not show a clear preference for girls.”

Finally, I don’t think I need to offer statistics to address such claims as women are “taking control of everything”and “starting to dominate” among “doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants.” These are just made up. Congress is 17% female.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Father’s Day advertisements are a peek into what we think dads are all about.  As cultures change, advertising shifts too, giving us a peek into the social construction of fatherhood.

Karl Bakeman pointed us to a series of vintage Father’s Day ads at Retronaut.  They label them with the range from 1943 to 1981. Perhaps we can have fun guessing which was when.  According to these ads, great gifts for dads include recliners, whiskey, cologne, and a pack of smokes.  Today the perfect Dad’s Day gift appears to be meat and meat.

Ties were timeless, until 1981:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Please enjoy these posts from Father’s Days past:

Stereotyping Men on Dad’s Day


Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

I’m not sure what effect prime-time sitcoms have on the general public.  Very little, I suspect, but I don’t know the literature on the topic.  Still, it’s surprising how many people with a similar lack of knowledge assume that the effect is large and usually for the worse.

Isabel Sawhill, is a serious researcher at Brookings; her areas are poverty and inequality.  Now, in a Washington Post article, she, says that Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown.

Some quick history for those who were out of the room — or hadn’t yet entered the room: In 1992, Dan Quayle was vice-president under Bush I.  Murphy Brown was the title character on a popular sitcom then in its fourth season — a divorced TV news anchor played by Candice Bergen.  On the show, she got pregnant.  When the father, her ex, refused to remarry her, she decided to have the baby and raise it on her own.

Dan Quayle, in his second most famous moment,* gave a campaign speech about family values that included this:

Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong… Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong… It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.

Sawhill, citing her own research and that of others, argues that Quayle was right about families:  children raised by married parents are better off in many ways — health, education, income, and other measures of well-being — than are children raised by unmarried parents whether single or together.**

But Sawhill also says that Quayle was right about the more famous part of the statement – that “Murphy Brown” was partly to blame for the rise in nonmarried parenthood.

Dan Quayle was right. Unless the media, parents and other influential leaders celebrate marriage as the best environment for raising children, the new trend — bringing up baby alone — may be irreversible.

Sawhill, following Quayle, gives pride of place to the media.  But unfortunately, she cites no evidence on the effects of sitcoms or the media in general on unwed parenthood.  I did, however, find a graph of trends in unwed motherhood. It shows the percent of all babies that were born to unmarried mothers.  I have added a vertical line to indicate the Murphy Brown moment.

The “Murphy Brown” effect is, at the very least, hard to detect. The rise is general across all racial groups, including those who were probably not watching a sitcom whose characters were all white and well-off.  Also, the trend begins well before “Murphy Brown” ever saw the light of prime time.  So 1992, with Murphy Brown’s fateful decision, was no more a turning point than was 1986, for example, a year when the two top TV shows were “The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties,” sitcoms with a very low rate of single parenthood and, at least for “Cosby,” a more inclusive demographic.


  * Quayle’s most remembered moment: when a schoolboy wrote “potato” on the blackboard, Quayle “corrected” him by getting him to add a final “e” – “potatoe.”  “There you go,” said the vice-president of the United States approvingly. (A 15-second video is here.)

** These results are not surprising.  Compared with other wealthy countries, the US does less to support poor children and families or to ease the deleterious effects on children who have been so foolhardy as to choose poor, unmarried parents.

The splashy introduction of the new LEGO friends line earlier this year stirred up a lot of controversy. My goal with this set of posts is to provide some historical perspective for the valid concerns raised in this heated debate. 

This is Part III, see also:


2004-2011: Lean LEGO Fighting Machine

As discussed in Part II, between 1989 and 2003, LEGO had introduced a stream of lines aimed specifically at girls.  None were particularly successful and the company was in trouble.  So, what next?

Those of us who follow every move TLG makes are well familiar with the company’s near collapse in 2004 and subsequent renaissance. This is a really important moment for our story, because this is the year when TLG stopped being a family run business and brought in a non-Kristiansen CEO, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp. With Knudstorp’s arrival came a change in philosophy. Quoted from the DailyMail article linked above:

Instead of “nurturing the child” – as Knudstorp puts it – [employees’] primary goal now had to be, “I am here to make money for the company.”

I, like many LEGO fans, am very grateful for what Knudstorp did to save and revitalize the company. The post-2004 era has seen a flourishing of LEGO themes and sets aimed at advanced builders. The LEGO minifig has been injected with more personality and variety than ever before. However, part of TLG’s new strategy also involved abandoning efforts the girl market and focusing exclusively on boys.

Abandoning schlock like Belville and Clikits is not a bad thing, but the push toward conflict and hyper-masculinity in classic themes (and a whole host of new ones) made LEGOLAND inhospitable for femininity.  Here are a couple more telling quotes from the Daily Mail article:

As always with Lego, this [action-oriented theme] was developed at every stage… with the help of focus groups, mostly comprising boys aged between six and 12.

In this new world focused on profit, the company sees no shame in admitting that, like it or not, what most excites little boys is conflict.

Which is to say, LEGO City is not the tranquil place LEGO Town was.

Notice the substantial hike in the m/f ratio in 2007. This ratio had been gradually approaching 1 throughout the 90s, but jumped back up to 1992 levels in 2007 (male/female ratio = 8).

Girls also disappeared from LEGO commercials and marketing collateral. LEGO produced a series of commercials encouraging fathers and sons to build together; the utter lack of anything similar for girls sends a clear message about who is expected to play with LEGO, it has entirely entered the masculine domain. With girls being actively excluded from TLG’s marketing efforts it’s no surprise that we see such a low percentage playing with them now.

In the final installment of this series, I’ll offer my perspective on the controversy over the new line aimed at girls, LEGO Friends.


David Pickett is a social media marketer by day and a LEGO animator by night.  He is fanatical about LEGO and proud to be a nerd. Read more from David at Thinking Brickly.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

You might have heard that, after the birth of his daughter with Beyonce Knowles in January, Jay-Z has sworn off calling women “bitches.”His change of heart is illustrative of a trend among fathers documented by sociologists Emily Shafer and Neil Malhotra.  Their article measured the effect of a new baby’s sex on a parent’s gender ideology.  Their findings?  Men’s support for traditional gender roles weakens after they have a daughter; no similar result was documented for new mothers.

This first graph shows the average change in fathers’ attitudes before and after having a daughter and a son. The authors note that both men who have daughters (solid grey line) and those who have sons (black dotted line) show a decrease in support for traditional gender roles, but that men who have daughters show a much more steep decline in support.

This second graph shows the average change in mothers’ attitudes. Notice that mothers start off with a much lower average level of support for traditional gender roles than fathers and appears to decrease over time.  These changes, though, are not statistically significant. So this study offers no evidence mothers’ ideologies change the way fathers’ do.

Jay-Z, then, may be experiencing what a lot of fathers experience: a change in their thinking about women inspired by looking into the eyes of their own baby daughter.

Cite: Shafer, Emily and Neil Malhotra. 2011. The Effect of a Child’s Sex on Support for Traditional Gender Roles. Social Forces 50, 1: 209-222.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In 1922 the American Social Hygiene Association, funded by the American Public Health Service, created a social marketing campaign aimed at American teenagers. While it was predominantly about sexually transmitted infections, it also taught about good health and hygiene in general. And maintaining health, then as now, is not only about health but also about conforming to social norms–especially gender norms.

The posters aimed at boys were titled “Keeping Fit”:

And the girls’ posters were titled “Youth and Life”:

Comparing the boys and girls’ posters, you can see that fitness is not just about physical health; it is also about particular character traits. For boys, those traits are will power, courage, and self-control–traits that are based on a puritan work ethic that we value in a competitive capitalist society.

While courage and endurance were important for both boys and girls, fitness for girls was less about power and self-control, and more about grace, beauty, and friendship.


Paint your cheeks from the inside out. Outdoor exercise, baths, regular meals, and plenty of sleep will help. Most girls could be prettier than they are because most girls could be healthier.


Copy the pose but not the shoes. Correct posture gives attractive figure, straight back, freedom of action for heart and lungs, good muscle tone. Stand tall — chest up, not out — toes straight forward when walking or standing. A well-poised body develops self-respect, and wins the regard of others.

Men were taught how to grow up to be honorable husbands and fathers, while women were taught how to grow up to be good wives and mothers.

For boys:


The youth who achieves self-control can go joyfully and clean into marriage with the one girl he is willing to wait for, and become a husband and father without the danger of causing suffering to wife and child.

For girls:


A woman physician who is also a mother. The girl of today will be the woman of tomorrow. She will need brains, vitality, and sound training, if she is to take her place in the world as a mother and a useful citizen.

It may be tempting to think that we know more now than we did back then and that with progress we make fewer mistakes today than they did in the past. However, controversy surrounding many health topics such as obesity, circumcision, and the way we screen, treat, and fundraise for breast cancer should tell you that we still have many assumptions behind our health recommendations that are based on ideology.

The posters are held at the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries


Christina Barmon is a doctoral student at Georgia State University studying sociology and gerontology.

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