What drives the rise of stay at home fathers?

At Pew Social Trends, Gretchen Livingston has a new report on fathers staying at home with their kids. They define stay at home fathers as any father ages 18-69 living with his children who did not work for pay in the previous year (regardless of marital status or the employment status of others in the household). That produces this trend:


At least for the 1990s and early-2000s recessions, the figure very nicely shows spikes upward of stay-at-home dads during recessions, followed by declines that don’t wipe out the whole gain — we don’t know what will happen in the current decline as men’s employment rates rise.

In Pew’s numbers 21% of the stay at home fathers report their reason for being out of the labor force was caring for their home and family; 23% couldn’t find work, 35% couldn’t work because of health problems, and 22% were in school or retired.

It is reasonable to call a father staying at home with his kids a stay at home father, regardless of his reason. We never needed stay at home mothers to pass some motive-based criteria before we defined them as staying at home. And yet there is a tendency (not evidenced in this report) to read into this a bigger change in gender dynamics than there is. The Census Bureau has for years calculated a much more rigid definition that only applied to married parents of kids under 15: those out of the labor force all year, whose spouse was in the labor force all year, and who specified their reason as taking care of home and family. You can think of this as the hardcore stay at home parents, the ones who do it long term, and have a carework motivation for doing it. When you do it that way, stay at home mothers outnumber stay at home fathers 100-to-1.

I updated a figure from an earlier post for Bryce Covert at Think Progress, who wrote a nice piece with a lot of links on the gender division of labor. This shows the percentage of all married-couple families with kids under 15 who have one of the hard core stay at home parents:


That is a real upward trend for stay at home fathers, but that pattern remains very rare.

(The Census spreadsheet is here)


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The World That Sabta Made (+ 5 years)

I wrote this for Huffington Post five years ago. I figured I don’t have too many readers now who were reading then, so here it is again, with updates added as footnotes.

Devon Avenue was nearly silent at dawn on the morning after her funeral, a memorial to the growing silence of her generation. Sylvia Cohen – born Tzivya (צִבְיָה) Patinkin in 1913, in the Polish town of Brańsk – who walked into the hospital under her own power a few months before her 96th birthday – passed away on June 5, 2009. She left behind three children (one died earlier), 17 grandchildren, more than 50 great-grandchildren, and a growing handful of great-great-grandchildren. And a human century indelibly marked by her presence.


The S.S. Ryndam arrived in New York on May 21, 1921 from Rotterdam, Holland, carrying 30 alien immigrants whose “race or people” was listed as “Hebrew” and whose intention of time to remain in the United States was “always.” The manifest listed a family of seven under the name Patenkien, who had most recently lived in Mien, Poland. Itzka (spelled “Itka” on the form) was the mother, age 47, occupation “housew.,” able to read and write in her native Yiddish. She was bringing six children to join her husband, Michael, in Chicago. The children, ranging in age from 17 to 7, were Sara, Moszko, Chaje, Ryfka, Leja and Cywja. Cywja, just seven years old when she fled Europe, was Tzivya – Sylvia, who would be Sabta – my grandmother.

The Census counted only 23,000 Polish-born immigrants age 85 or older in 2000. In Illinois there were just 2,000. They were the rearguard of a massive immigration of European Jews that brought 1.4 million to America in the first quarter of the 20th century. Many of them – especially Poles – moved on to Chicago, which had a population of 130,000 Polish-born immigrants by 1930, in a city that was by that time one-quarter foreign-born. Immigration barriers choked off the influx after 1924, allowing their segregated communities to become Americanizing enclaves. By 1950, 83% of Polish immigrants in the city were naturalized citizens, and 42% owned their homes, even though the average education among them was only 6 years. They had settled in separate neighborhoods, but linguistic and religious ties softened the barriers between Poles, Russians, Lithuanians and other Jews by the time they launched a second migration – this time into the mushrooming neighborhoods on the north side of the city.

Their language was Yiddish, but it gradually succumbed to their assimilation – a cultural cost of success in America. Yiddish peaked around 1930, when the Census Bureau recordedit as the mother tongue of 1.2 million people. That number fell two-thirds by 1970. (Now instead of mother tongue, Census simply records the language spoken at home, and the number speaking Yiddish was about 150,000 in 2006 and falling fast.*)


The old Jewish cemetery in Bransk.

The Patinkins were from Brańsk, Poland, a small town where a Jewish merchant classflourished between the destruction brought by Napoleon’s retreating army in 1812 and World War I. They operated one of a handful of Jewish-owned inns until Michael left for America, hoping to bring the family out of Poland. Separated from Michael by the war, Itzka and her children suffered mightily in the years without him – although Sabta only recounted a few harsh memories from those days in her earliest childhood. Bransk appears to be one of many places where the Jews and Poles have never made peace. And the Jewish community met its end at the Treblinka death camp in 1942, where some 90% of its 2,400 members were killed by the Nazis.


Zweig’s Banquet Hall, 1927

The Jewish immigrants who made it to Chicago were in the right place, at the right time, with the right wherewithal and the right attitude to make it in America. Sylvia danced the Charleston. She married Ruben Cohen in 1935 at Zweig’s Banquet Hall. He was a Latvian immigrant who delivered coal, driving his truck with a baseball bat stuck through the steering wheel for leverage – standing on the pedals with both feet – and still took hours to make it across town. The Cohens were late to join the Jews’ northward migration, finally moving to West Rogers Park in 1956 – to a three-flat apartment building they owned. The two ran a bar and liquor store, and after Ruben died almost 20 years ago, Sylvia stayed in the building, watching another Jewish migration take the majority of Chicago’s Jews outside the city limits, to Skokie and points north and west.

So Sylvia, the youngest person on the S.S. Ryndam in May of 1921, was the last member of the immigrant generation for her family. Not quite the drama of the last surviving American WWI veteran, who is still living at 108 – or the last survivor of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, who died in May. But the turning of a weighty page nonetheless.

I won’t burden the public bandwidth with expressions of admiration for my own grandmother – whose selflessness, love, and bottomless devotion not only to her own family, but to all that is good and right in the human race, was surely unsurpassed in our time. But her passing is cause for reflection.

It is a cliché that the immigrants of her generation prized education above all else save perhaps only family and faith. The doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, accountants, activists and entrepreneurs who grew up as the children and grandchildren of those Patinkin children are testament to that (and to the opportunities they inherited in the post-War U.S.). But what is less common – or at least less understood – is the ability of those transnational pioneers to straddle the multiple worlds they faced, to keep moving forward with their feet on shifting sands. As my Sabta would say after a tragedy – including the deaths of her five siblings and her youngest child – “You’ve got to move on!”** Moving on didn’t mean driving a car or using a computer – which she never did. But it did include Oprah and Dr. Phil, gay rights and Obama. Retreat wasn’t in her repertoire.

Most third- and later-generation Jews have followed the assimilation trajectory of their immigrant parents, carving out another voluntary-ethnicity niche not too far from the center of the white American spectrum. But others have created, or recreated, a neotraditional Orthodoxy, embracing a social world anchored by modern-day yeshivas and religious schools and decorated by a bevy of black hats and coats. Sylvia’s family has gone both ways, and from her vantage point at the top of the age pyramid she made it look easy to embrace – not just tolerate – the good side of those she came across regardless of the trappings they wore. The success of her children and their families – their material success, but also their success in creating and becoming people who are kind as well as happy, who love their families but not only their own – is the lasting mark she made.

It seems fitting that Sylvia lived to see her nephew write a book that asks, “Can we – in the light of postmodernist thought – speak of a continuous, coherent Jewish People, with a distinct culture and history?” Her neighborhood in West Rogers Park, east of California Avenue (where Devon Avenue’s honorific title changes from “Golda Meir” to “Gandhi Marg“), has turned over again, this time to immigrants from India and Pakistan. Maybe the history she rode in on did not turn out to be continuous and coherent. But I think she showed us that you don’t need to embrace*** traditional roots, or disown them, to make yourself into a person your grandmother – or mine – would be proud of.

Sylvia Cohen with Philip Cohen at Lake Michigan, Summer 2008.

Sylvia Cohen with Philip Cohen at Lake Michigan, Summer 2008.


* Oddly, it’s not falling fast. The American Community Survey shows that, although the number of old people speaking Yiddish at home is falling fast, there is an increase in the number of children reported to speak Yiddish at home over the last decade. I don’t yet know why.

** Me being clueless about all things having to do with Broadway, I didn’t realize this is a Stephen Sondheim reference until Jay Livingston pointed it out to me. I don’t know if Sabta got that phrase from Sondheim, of if they both got it from somewhere else, but it’s some coincidence. And even more coincidentally, here it is performed by my third cousin, Mandy Patinkin, with Bernadette Peters.

*** In the original this word was “invent,” but I realized that implied that neotraditional Orthodox Jews had invented their roots. In postmodern jargon you might say they “(re)invented” them, but in regular English it doesn’t make sense to say “invent” – they embraced traditional roots, in the process of course making them new, too, in ways that stand out because of the punctuated cultural history, with migration, ethnic and language transformations, and so on.


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US teen birth rates remain high, and they’re not falling for the reasons you’ve heard

Everyone is excited by the decline in the teen birth rate in the US. But And here are a few things you should know about it.

This chart shows the birth rates for women ages 15 to 19 in 192 countries, plus the world and the UN-defined rich countries, for 1991 and 2011. Dots below the black line show countries where the teen birth rate fell. The red line shows the overall relationship between 1991 and 2011. Dots below the red line had greater than expected reduction in teen births.

teen births global

Source: My graph United Nations data.

The chart shows four things:

1. Teen birth rates are falling globally. From 1991 to 2011, the birth rate for women ages 15 to 19 fell from 65 to 46 births per 1,000 women worldwide.

2. US has higher teen birth rates than any other rich country. At 33 per 1,000, the US has more teen births than Pakistan (28), but fewer than India (36). For high income countries, by the UN definition, the rate is 19. The rate for the Euro area is 7.

3. The teen birth rate is falling faster in the US than in the world overall. The world rate fell 29% from 1991 to 2011, while the drop in the US was 44%.

In the US, there are a lot of factors related to falling teen births. But they’re mostly about how it’s happening, not why it’s happening. For example, Vox published a list of factors, as did Pew before them, that are reasonable: the recession, more birth control, more Medicaid money for family planning, cultural pressure, and less sex.

But to understand why this is happening, you have to stop thinking about teenagers as some sort of separate subspecies. They are just young women. Soon they will be in their 20s. The same women! So the short answer for why falling teen birth rates happening is this:

4. Teen birth rates in the US are falling because women are postponing their births generally.

You can see this if you line up teens next to women of other ages. Here are the changes in birth rates for women, by age, from 1989 to 2012.


Source: My graph from National Center for Health Statistics data.

See how the trend for the last decade is parallel for 15-17, 18-19, and 20-24? As those rates fell, birth rates rose for the 30+ community. The younger women are, the fewer births they’re having; the older they are, the more births they’re having. Teenage women are women! They do it for all the reasons it’s happening around the world: some because they are delaying marriage, some to pursue education and careers, some to see the world, and so on.

Here is another way to look at this. Here are the 50 US states, from the 2000-2012 American Community Survey. This shows that states with lower teen birth rates (those are per 100, on the y-axis), have higher birth rates for 25-34 year-old women relative to 20-24 year-old women. I’ll explain:


Teen births rates and the ratio of teen birth rates ages 25-34 / 20-24. US states, 2010-2011

Where more women have children ages 25-34 relative to 20-24, there are fewer teen births. So, in Alabama, about 3% of women 15-19 had a baby per year, and in that state the birth rates are about the same for women 25-34 as 20-24. Alabama is an early-birth state. But in New Hampshire, only 1% of teens had a baby, and women 25-34 were almost 2.5-times more likely to have a baby than women 20-24. New Hampshire is a late-birth state. What’s happening with teens reflects what’s happening with older women.

To some significant degree, it’s not about teenagers, it’s about women delaying births.* I would love it if reporting on teen births would always compare them to older women.

*Notice I didn’t just exaggerate and say, “it’s not about teenagers.” I added “to some significant degree.” That’s the difference between a post that is selling you (your clicks) to someone versus a post that’s trying to explain things as clearly as possible.


Filed under In the news

Misogyny and masculinity, less edited

One point of all this work that I do speaking about sociology to people who aren’t academic sociologists — teaching, blogging, writing a textbook, speaking to the news media — is to help our research have a greater social impact. When a public tragedy occurs, such the Santa Barbara mass murder, there is a chance to widen the conversation and include a sociological perspective.

Photo by Robert Vitulano from Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Robert Vitulano from Flickr Creative Commons

Sometimes I have the chance to do this even when my own research is not what’s most applicable. That’s great, but I try to be careful (and recommend that journalists speak to others as well). I hope I was right in this case. When Jessica Bennett – a journalist who writes incisively about gender and popular culture – asked me (among others) for a reaction, for what became this column, my first thought was about misogyny. I offered here these comments in an email:

There are two ways that misogyny could play into this case. The first possibility is that he simply hated women, a perspective that is highly accessible in US society. This is illustrated in a lot of pornography — rape or humiliation — and advertising, and articulated by a lot of men who objectify women and seek their conquest or abuse in order to express power or impress other men.

The other possibility is he was schizophrenic or otherwise disassociated from social reality. In that case, misogyny is just the vehicle his disordered brain latched onto. Paranoid people choose from the available entities when building up the fantasy of their persecution. The source of their persecution may not be real, but it is also not random. (The CIA may not be after you, but if it didn’t spy on and assassinated some people, schizophrenics wouldn’t be afraid of them.)

If a paranoid delusional young man believes women are persecuting him, he may be crazy but he is also picking up on the hatred and fear directed toward women that he sees around him.

No matter how you slice it, it is a tragedy that reflects the societal influence of hatred toward women. That is not the whole story of gender relations in our society, but it is definitely present and dangerous.

Then, when Bennett let me know she was interested in focusing the piece on masculinity, I added this (the excerpt she chose is underlined):

One issue is the narrow range of acceptable expressions of masculinity. This is one place where women have more flexibility than men (pants or dress). Especially in adolescence, the question is: If you can’t be good at sports or have sex, what makes you [a] man? Maybe it’s violence.

The alternative many men/boys learn to deal with, of course, is just not being an ideal man. [as mentioned,] most men don’t kill people. Partly that means learning to be ok with not achieving the ideal. So that’s a coping thing many men need to develop, and failure to develop that could be evidence of a problem.

I’m not an expert on masculinity studies. In the quote on masculinity that Bennett used, I was thinking specifically of the chapter by Barbara Risman and Elizabeth Seale, in which they interviewed middle schoolers about gender, concluding:

We find that both boys and girls are still punished for going beyond gender expectations, but boys much more so than girls. For girls, participation in traditionally masculine activities, such as sports and academic competition, is now quite acceptable and even encouraged by both parents and peers. We fi nd, indeed, that girls are more likely to tease each other for being too girly than for being a sports star. Girls still feel pressure, however, to be thin and to dress in feminine ways, to “do gender” in their self-presentation. Boys are quickly teased for doing any behavior that is traditionally considered feminine. Boys who deviate in any way from traditional masculinity are stigmatized as “gay.” Whereas girls can and do participate in a wide range of activities without being teased, boys consistently avoid activities defined as female to avoid peer harassment.


The chapter appears in the reader that Risman edited, titled Families as They Really Are (keep an eye out for a new edition!). Someone posted a bootleg copy of the chapter here.

As I read my comments now, I realize there are a lot of other ways to be “a man,” but what I was trying to get at is the concept of hegemonic masculinity, the dominant (in the sense of power) way of being “a man” in a particular cultural context. Of course there other ways to be happy and a man without hanging it on sports, sex, or violence. In reaction to the #YesAllWomen Twitter movement, some people have responded with “real men don’t rape” (which is ironically similar to the old feminist perspective that “rape is violence, not sex”). It attempts to preserve the basic status (men, sex) as good while making the oppressive or violent part deviant, not of the essence. Here is one tweet to that effect, from Michelle Ray:

Feminists seem to have no idea what a man is. Men don’t rape. Sick people who never learned to be men commit violence to solve their issues.

If you say “men don’t rape,” that’s a nice way to try to make it cool to be a man against rape, to resist that image of masculinity. So I like it as an imperative. But as a description of society it’s not true, so there’s that. (A similar move happens in family discourse, sometimes, as when someone says about abuse within families, “real fathers don’t treat their children that way.” Of course, real fathers do good as well as evil – the questions are how and why, and what to do about it.)

Anyway, I would also recommend C. J. Pascoe’s ethnography, Dude, You’re a Fag, in which she discussed sex and masculinity with high school students. Here’s one excerpt:

If a guy wasn’t having sex, “he’s no one. He’s nobody.” Chad explained that some guys tried to look cool by lying about sex, but they “look like a clown, [they get] made fun of.” He assured me, however, that he was not one of those “clowns” force to lie about sex, bragging, “When I was growin’ up I started having sex in the eighth grade.”

And Pascoe concluding:

These practices of compulsive heterosexuality indicate that control over women’s bodies and their sexuality is, sadly, still central to definitions of masculinity, or at least adolescent masculinity. By dominating girls’ bodies boys defended against the fag position, increased their social status, and forged bonds of solidarity with other boys. However, none of this is to say that these boys were unrepentant sexists. Rather, for the most post, these behaviors were social behaviors. Individually boys were much more likely to talk empathetically and respectfully of girls. … Maintaining masculinity, though, demands the interactional repudiation of this sort of empathy in order to stave off the abject fag position.

That insight about interaction is crucial. To go above my pay grade a little (more), I might add that this division between the way one acts in “public” versus “private” is notoriously tricky and frustrating for people with some kinds of mental illness.

That’s just the tip of the masculinity-studies iceberg. Feel free to post other recommended readings in the comments.


Filed under In the news, Me @ work

Global inequality, within and between countries

Most of the talk about income inequality is about inequality within countries – between rich and poor Americans, versus between rich and poor Swedes, for example. The new special issue of Science magazine about inequality focuses that way as well, for example with this nice figure showing inequality within countries around the world.

But what if there were no income inequality within countries? If everyone within each country had the same income, but we still had rich and poor countries, how unequal would our world be? It turns out that’s an easy question to answer.

Using data from the World Bank on income for 131 countries, comprising 91% of the world population, here is the Lorenz curve showing the distribution of gross national income (GNI) by population, with each person in each country assumed to have the same income (using the purchasing power parity currency conversion). I’ve marked the place of the three largest countries: China, India, and the USA:


The Gini index value for this distribution is .48, which means the area between the Lorenz curve and the blue line – representing equality, is 48% of the lower-right triangle. (Going all the way to 1.0 would mean one person had all the money.)

But there is inequality within countries. In that Science figure the within-country Ginis range from .24 in Belarus to .67 in South Africa. (And that’s using after-tax household income, which assumes each person within each household has the same income. So there’s that, too.)

The World Bank data I’m using includes within-country income distributions broken into 7 quantiles: 5 quintiles (20% of the population each), with the top and bottom further broken in half. If I assume that the income is shared equally within each of these quantiles, I can take those 131 countries and turn them into 917 quantiles (just assigning each group its share of the country’s GNI). These groups range in average income from $0 (due to rounding) in the bottom 10th of Bolivia and Guyana, or $43 per person in the bottom 10th of the Democratic Rep. of Congo, up to $305,800 per person in the top 10th of Macao.

To illustrate this, here are India, China, and the USA, showing average incomes for the quantiles and the countries as a whole:


This shows that the average income of China’s top 10th is between the second and third quntiles of the US income distribution, and the top 10th of India has an average income comparable to the US 10-19th percentile range. Obviously, this breakdown shows a lot more inequality.

So here I add the new Lorenz curve to the first figure, counting each of those 917 quantiles as a separate group with its own income:


Now the Gini index has risen a neat 25%, to an even .60. Is that a big difference? Clearly, between country inequality — the red line — is vast. If every country were a household, the world would be almost as unequal as Nigeria. In this comparison, you could say you get 80% of the income inequality to show up just looking at whole countries. But of course even that obscures much more, especially at the high end, where there is no limit.

Years ago I followed the academic debate over how to measure inequality within and between countries. If I were to catch up with it again, I would start with this article, by my friends Tim Moran and Patricio Korzeniewicz. That provoked a debate over methods and theory, and they eventually published this book, which argues: “within-country analyses alone have not adequately illuminated our understanding of global stratification.” There is a lot more to read, but their work, and the critiques they’re received, is a good place to start.

Note: I have put my Excel worksheet for this post here. It has the original data and my calculations, but not the figures.


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Check that: Most marrying people are remarrying above age 31

The other day I wrote that the majority of people marrying over age 35 have been married before. That is true, but because of the way I handled the age categories it’s not specific enough. In fact, the majority of men marrying over age 30, and the majority of women marrying over age 28, have been married before.

Here are the details, in two charts, both using marital events data from the 2012 American Community Survey from IPUMS.org. The first shows the breakdown between first-married and previously-married people marrying at each age. It is not until age 40 for men, and age 38 for women, that previously-married people become the majority marrying at each age. These proportions reach two thirds in the mid-40s and surpass 80% by age 52:


But the percent remarrying at or above a given age is higher. Here is that pattern, showing that we enter majority-remarried territory at 31 for men and 29 for women:


The rates of remarriage at a given age maybe matter more practically, but this is a neat way to look at it.

Note there is no demographic reason that these patterns must hold. If remarriage were taboo or more restricted this would not be the case. Being ever married cannot be revoked (unless people lie to the Census Bureau), so the percent ever-married should never decline for a cohort (unless the ever-married have much higher mortality or emigrate more than the never-married, which is very unlikely). But ever-married proportions for the population don’t have to rise with age in a given cross-section, even if you don’t just look at people marrying right now. If marriage were becoming more common on a cohort basis, for example (which it is not), you could see higher ever-married rates among young people than among old people.


Filed under In the news

6 family correlations that will blow your mind or break your heart, and that probably aren’t spurious

The title is supposed to be funny.

Some data trends and patterns are correlated just by chance, such as the trends in the high fructose corn syrup consumption and the Florida divorce rate. But there are other correlations that, although seeming highly improbable, and you might never have predicted them, are not actually spurious. For finding those, there is Google Correlate. Out of the billions of possible correlations with the first term in these pairs - either across states or over time – each of these was in the top 100. The possibility they are non-spuriousness is reinforced by the fact that each of these lists includes other similar terms in the top 100.

Searches for “am I pregnant” and “ways to get pregnant,” by state (r=.96):


Searches for “divorce lawyer” and “maserati price,” by state (r=.83):


Searches for “discipline children” and “marriage problems,” by state (r=.89):


Searches for “office jobs” and “bob haircut,” by week (r=.88):


Searches for “vasectomy cost” and “how old is johnny depp,” by state (r=.87):


Searches for “man caves” and “penny from big bang theory,” by state (r=.85):

mancavesFor my whole series of Google-related posts, follow the tag.



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