Tag Archives: gender

Parents live in the gendered world of their children, too

I did a little research hinting at the way gendered childhood might affect parents – by looking at how the gender of their children affected their favorite colors.

Because gendering – especially around consumption – is so fierce, I figure that’s got to be the tip of the iceberg. I thought of that walking to the kids’ school the other day:

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Maybe the mothers dressed to match the kids because it was the first day of school. Or maybe they have more matching clothes so that coincidences like this happen more often at random. Who knows?

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Opting out and jumping in

Because the opt-out revolution was a myth, it’s hard to know where to start talking about what became of the the “opt-out generation.”

The historical story could be shortened down to this: Women’s employment rates — and those of married mothers with young children in particular — rose quickly in the 1970s and 1980s, but that growth stalled in the 1990s. Since then, the trends are mostly flat. No successful attempts to impose grander themes on the more recent trends come to mind, but feel free to reference them in the comments if you know of any.*

I’ll show one older chart before showing you what’s new, inspired by the Judith Warner cover story in the NYTimes magazine last week. Back in 2007 I made the following graph to contribute to this briefing paper. Using the March Current Population Surveys, it shows the employment rates for married mothers of young children divided into four groups according to how much income their households had apart from their own earnings:

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Wives with access to little other income (who need jobs most) and those with access to lots of other income (who need them least) have the lowest employment rates. But the similar shapes of these curves reinforces the take-home message: regardless of economic need — as represented by other income in the household — married mother’s tendency to be employed peaked in the mid-to-late 1990s and then stalled or tapered downward into the 2000s. That’s not a revolution (for most people nothing changed after the mid 1990s), and it’s not about rich professionals, but it is a serious divergence from several decades of rapid increase. Since then, this narrative has strengthened, and we now have a full-blown situation with stalled progress toward gender equality (for many posts on this, see also the Hanna Rosin tag).

However, we can be more specific to capture Lisa Belkin’s and Judith Warner’s opting-out and jumping in concepts. Let’s use these definitions:

  • Opting out: The movement from any employment in one year to being out of labor labor force in March of the following year.
  • Jumping in: The movement from no employment in the previous year to being in the labor force the following March.

To approximate the groups that inspired the NYTimes, I apply these definitions to 25-54-year-old, married, college-educated women with children, using the March CPS from 1976 to 2012, to get these trends (shown with approximate timing of recessions):

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One can see long-term and short-term trends in the figure. In the long run, opting out has become much less common, dropping from nearly 18% in a given year to less than 3% in 2012. In the long run, the opt-out revolution is a bust. And the tendency to jump in for those who weren’t employed in a given year (I don’t know if it’s back in, with these data), has been pretty flat at between 8% and 10%, with increases after most recessions.

Notice some short-term trends, however. From 1995 to 2003, the opt-out trend stopped heading downward. That happened again from 2006 to 2012. And over the 2000s there was a modest increase in the jump-in rate, from a low point of 6.4% to over 10%. These fluctuations contribute to the overall trend of labor force participation for 25-54-year-old, married, college-educated women with children, which fell from 1997 to 2003, and then rebounded some until 2009:

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Note that opting out and jumping in aren’t the only things that matter. A woman who starts employment at 24 and never leaves till 65 — or one who never has a job — wouldn’t contribute to either trend.

The opting out and jumping in stories aren’t crazy, they’re just exaggerations of fluctuations in the trends, and they distract us from the bigger picture. That said, there are good stories to be told in here, and both of these provided fodder for improving our understanding.

In the long run, the long-term trends matter more. And that is pretty clear: big increase in labor force participation for this group of women from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, stall since. The fact that opting-out shows a continued decline, however, is an interesting wrinkle I’m not prepared to explain.

UPDATE: Reeve Vanneman sent along the figure he describes in the comments below. The definitions are a little different (not just college educated mothers, employment instead of labor force participation), but the trend goes back to 1963, showing the increase in jump-ins and drop in opt-outs in the 60s and 70s. Note, however, that where Reeve et al. found exits plateauing by the early 2000s, my figure above shows opt-outs started declining again after that.

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*For background, I recommend Pamela Stone’s book Opting Out: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home; a Council on Contemporary Families briefing paper from 2007; and the paper by Christine Percheski in American Sociological Review from 2008, “Opting Out? Cohort Differences in Professional Women’s Employment Rates from 1960 to 2005.”

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Fact pattern: Women’s life expectancy advantage

Women live longer than men in all but a small handful of countries. Is that “natural”?

A future post will deal with this more. But here’s a preview.

It partly depends what you think is a “natural” fertility rate. It’s hard to find societies with really high fertility rates nowadays — hardly any countries have 6 or more children per woman. But where fertility rates are higher, women’s advantage in life expectancy is less (click to enlarge).

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Why? Some women die in childbirth, but that’s not a huge factor in life expectancy anymore, thankfully. In sub Saharan Africa about 400-600 mothers die for every 100,000 births, about half of 1%, which isn’t going to drive overall life expectancy that much. Still, those places are rough places to be a woman, apparently.

Some distinctly unnatural elements are at work — besides war, murder, accidents and suicide — especially smoking, which has enlarged the female life expectancy advantage in the U.S. and Europe dramatically. The World Health Organization has smoking rates by sex for 133 countries or so. The differences are huge. Only Austria has more women than men smoking. The average prevalence gap is 21 percentage points, and in Indonesia the smoking gap is 64% (67% for men versus 3% for women). In a bunch of Arab countries almost half the men smoke, along with almost no women.

The effect of the smoking gap is not apparent in the recent cross-sectional data, however. It takes a few decades after men take up smoking at higher rates (peak female advantage for the U.S. was in the 1970s). But this could be an important factor in the world’s life expectancy gender gap for decades to come.

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Football, military, occupational segregation: Rape culture

Originally posted on TheAtlantic.com as “The Problem With Mostly Male (and Mostly Female) Workplaces.”

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JonoMueller/flickr
More than a quarter of Americans work in jobs that are almost entirely single-sex. This has implications for how men view women.

 NPR has a new brutal but important story about rape in the military. “Dozens” of women told NPR “about a culture where men act entitled to sex with female troops.” One woman, repeatedly assaulted by her superior officer, recalled:

“I finally asked his secretary that when he called me and closed the door, [to] please knock on the door. And she said, ‘Sabina, it happens to everybody.'”

This story comes after this week’s conviction of two football players from Steubenville, Ohio High School for raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl.

One connection between these two stores is obvious: High school football and the U.S. military are two venerable male-dominated sub-cultures that prize conformity, places where boys will be boys, where male supervisors break in young male recruits, helping them become cogs in the machine.

But what struck me further about both NPR’s story and the Steubenville rape case is the casual assumption of entitlement to women’s dehumanized bodies. There seemed to be no soul-searching or empathy in either setting, just the taken-for-granted notion that, when presented with the opportunity to use women’s bodies sexually, well, what else would one do?

That was the shocker of Steubenville, but it shouldn’t have been. If we really grasp this, we put the lie to the facile declarations of women’s parity with men. For me, this dehumanization of women underscores the importance of such seemingly banal statistical measures as occupational gender segregation, the separation of men and women into different jobs.

Of course, the gang rapes of Steubenville or the military (also described in the NPR story) don’t happen to everybody. But to understand the relationship between culture and behavior, you have to consider the possibility that extreme behavior is the tail end of a long distribution. It’s not always, but in this case I think it’s justified. Most men don’t act like the convicted Steubenville football players or the military rapists decribed in the NPR piece. But what feminists have been calling “rape culture” produces a drifting cloud of sexual objectification and entitlement, the leading edge of which includes these heinous cases. What is the difference between those Steubenville athletes and the military rapists of tomorrow? Age and experience.

As sociologist Sarah Sobieraj writes, the “broader rape culture … promotes male aggression and trivializes women and the violence against them.” To balance the unusual glimpse into the rapists’ perspective we got from Steubenville (from the tweets and text messages revealed in the trial), the NPR interviews with military rape survivors show this culture from the women’s perspective. We can only imagine what the military’s rapists say to each other in their boastful moments, when no one’s looking, or when whoever is looking can be counted on to stay silent. (Like the friends of the Steubenville victim who turned on her, and the other women who allegedly threatened her after the verdict, the culture forces people to choose sides.)

Occupational segregation by gender reinforces the different worlds of men and women. Twenty-six percent of workers are in occupations that are 90 percent single-sex, from truck drivers to registered nurses. Among the merely very-segregated, 69 percent of workers are in occupations that are at least two-thirds single-sex, from janitors to elementary school teachers. When you look closer—at individual workplaces instead of occupations, the segregation is great still. Most Americans today work in almost entirely single-sex peer groups. And segregation has barely budged in the last two decades.

This separation seems to help make possible many men’s simple assumption that women don’t really exist as people. That silent assumption is very different—and harder to change—than looking a real person in the eye and saying, “I don’t like you because you’re a woman, so I’m going to hire someone else.” The power of segregation is people usually don’t have to do that. This partly explains why sexual harassment is so common in male-dominated workplaces: The women there are perceived as outsiders who threaten the normal routine. And just like peer culture can prevail over parents’ grownup interventions when it comes to socializing adolescents, workplace culture spills over into family life, as men in male-dominated jobs (such as police officers) or female-dominated jobs (where their masculinity is threatened) perpetrate violence at home.

In their new book Documenting Desegregation, sociologists Kevin Stainback and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey make the observation that, when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, there was nothing to study about job segregation—it was universal. Now it varies from industry to industry and office to office, so we can learn from observing how it differs from place to place. What we see is that jobs are devalued when women hold them, that male managers do more segregated hiring than female managers, that firms subjected to more legal oversight segregate less—and that through it all, white men’s overrepresentation in management jobs (that is, compared to their share of the workforce) is virtually unchanged since 1966. One measure they use is revealing: For the typical white man in a private-sector workplace today, the co-workers at his level in the organization are about 70 percent white men as well, and that level of “social isolation” at work hasn’t changed in three decades.

The men in these stories—the football players with mothers and sisters, the military officers with wives and daughters—have normal daily interactions with women, too. But interactions are very different when they take place in different settings and with different audiences.

Here’s an example of very gender-specific behavior in the workplace. The other day, acting on a tip from another lunching sociologist, I hung around watching the white male job recruiters for a large window replacement company at our student union. In 20 minutes, as dozens of people walked by, the recruiters approached 18 men and 0 women, asking them, “You guys looking for a job?” (or, in the case of a black man, “Hey man, you looking for a job?”).

Here is their “Now Hiring” sign, showing openings in the categories of door-to-door sales guy (“Do you like the Outdoors?”), event-promoter-guy (“Interact with Homeowners”), and sales-support-girl (“No Manual Labor!”):

cohen_poster.jpgHad these recruiters secretly discussed approaching men only, or did it just seem self-evident to them that men were their potential co-workers? How did they see the women who walked past them? Something in their environment or experience was triggering a completely gender-differentiated kind of interaction.

Is tying this to Steubenville and military rape a stretch? Yes. And stretching is how we try to understand complex things like “culture.”

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Why taller-wife couples are so rare

Originally published on TheAtlantic.com.

It’s not just because women are, on average, shorter than men.

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Keith Urban and his wife Nicole Kidman arrive at the 2009 American Music Awards. (Chris Pizzello/AP Images)

Men are bigger and stronger than women. That generalization, although true, doesn’t adequately describe how sex affects our modern lives. In the first place, men’s and women’s size and strength are distributions. Strong women are stronger than weak men, so sex doesn’t tell you all you need to know. Otherwise, as retired colonel Martha McSally put it with regard to the ban on women in combat positions, “Pee Wee Herman is OK to be in combat but Serena and Venus Williams are not going to meet the standard.”

Second, how we handle that average difference is a matter of social construction: We can ignore it, minimize it, or exaggerate it. In the realm of love and marriage, we so far have chosen exaggeration.

Consider height. The height difference between men and women in the U.S. is about 6 inches on average. But Michael J. Fox, at five feet, five inches, is shorter than almost half of all U.S. women today. On the other hand, at five-foot-ten, Michelle Obama is taller than half of American men. So how do people match up romantically, and why does it matter?

Because everyone knows men are taller on average, straight couples in which the man is shorter raise a problem of gender performance. That is, the man might not be seen as a real man, the woman as a real woman, if they don’t (together) display the normal pattern. To prevent this embarrassment, some couples in which the wife is taller might choose to be photographed with the man standing on a step behind the woman, or they might have their wedding celebrated with a commemorative stamp showing her practically on her knees—as the British royals did with Charles and Diana, who were both the same height: five foot ten.

height1.jpg height2.jpgBut the safer bet is just to match up according to the height norm. A new study from Britain—which I learned of from the blogger Neuroskeptic—measured the height of the parents of about 19,000 babies born in 2000. They found that the woman was taller in 4.1 percent of cases. Then they compared the couples in the data to the pattern found if you scrambled up those same men and women and matched them together at random. In that random set, the woman was taller in 6.5 percent of cases. That means couples are more often man-taller, woman-shorter than would be expected by chance. Is that a big difference? I can explain.

For illustration, and to compare the pattern with the U.S., I downloaded the 2009 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a U.S. survey that includes height reported for 4,600 married couples.* These are the height distributions for those spouses, showing a median difference of 6 inches.

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Clearly, if these people married (and didn’t divorce) at random we would expect the husband to be taller most of the time. And that is what we find. Here is the distribution of height differences from those same couples:

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The most common arrangement is the husband five to six inches taller, and a small minority of couples—3.8 percent—are on the left side of the red line, indicating a taller wife.

But does that mean people are seeking out taller-husband-shorter-wife pairings? To answer that, we compare the actual distribution with a randomized outcome. I made 10 copies of all the men and women in the data, scrambled them up, and paired them at random. This is the result:

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Most couples are still husband taller, but now 7.8 percent have a taller wife—more than twice as many.

Here are the two distributions superimposed, which allows us to see which arrangements are more or less common in the actual pairings than we would expect by chance:

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Now we can see that from same-height up to “man 7 to 8 inches taller”, there are more couples than we would expect by chance. And below same-height—where the wife is taller—we see fewer in the population than we would expect by chance. (There also are relatively few couples at the man-much-taller end of the spectrum—at 9 inches or greater—where the difference apparently becomes awkward, a pattern also seen in the British study.)

Humans could couple up differently, if they wanted to. If it were desirable to have a taller-woman-shorter-man relationship, it could be much more common. In these data, we could find shorter husbands for 28 percent of the wives. Instead, people exaggerate the difference by seeking out taller-man-shorter-woman pairings for marriage (or maybe the odd taller-woman couples are more likely to divorce, which would produce the same result).

What difference does it make? When people—and here I’m thinking especially of children—see men and women together, they form impressions about their relative sizes and abilities. Because people’s current matching process cuts in half the number of woman-taller pairings, our thinking is skewed that much more toward assuming men are bigger.

* I must note that Dalton Conley and Abigail Weitzman have a forthcoming paper for the 2013 Population Association of America conference on height differences, which also uses the PSID data, as well as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. I haven’t seen the paper, but the abstract is here.

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All hands dimorphic: Gnomeo and Juliet edition

I previously complained about Tangled‘s 75%-male cast and extreme sex dimorphism in the romantic leads, as seen in this hand shot:

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Keeping to my policy of two-year delays in movie reviews, let me add the same complaint about Gnomeo and Juliet, the charming adaptation from Disney’s Touchstone imprint. Here, a writing team of 8 men and 2 women (including Shakespeare) gives us a named cast of 14 men and 7 women, in a love story featuring these two adorable garden gnomes:

gnomeojulietHe’s only a little taller, and (judging by the gray beard) a little older. And in the movie she demonstrates bravery and feats of strength, as is now the norm. But look at those hands! Take a closer look:

gnomeojuliethandsWhat is it about hands that makes it so essential for men and women to have such differences? In the “man hands” episode of Seinfeld we learned how distressing it can be for a man to find out the woman to whom he was attracted has large hands.

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That scene required a hand double. In real life, men’s and women’s hands differ on average but with a lot of overlap in the distributions — lots of men have hands smaller than lots of women. But in animation the gloves are off — and Disney is free to pair up couples who are many standard deviations apart in hand size. If real people commonly had this range of hand sizes, would such an extreme difference be considered desirable?

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Yes, mothers and fathers still exist

On FamilyScholars.org, which (having retreated on opposing homogamous marriage) is busy promoting its “new conversation on marriage,” Elizabeth Marquardt writes: “Where do babies come from? The state of New York seems unsure.”

Her link to a “report” is to one of those “you wouldn’t believe what my friend saw” posts on the Christian conservative site First Things:

A friend’s wife recently gave birth. He reports that the New York birth certificate asks for the sex of the mother, and the sex of the father.

It goes on to mock people who think seriously about sex and gender. And so the thing starts spreading around the religious-conservative sky-is-falling blogosphere.

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I’m not too embarrassed to say I spent 15 minutes trying to look this up. Live and learn.

It’s hard to find information about birth certificates, because everything online keeps steering you to ways to order birth certificates, not create them. But, in New York state it appears there is a state system, and a state system excluding New York City. On the New York City site, there is an Electronic Birth Registration System, described here. It asks for a lot of information about the mother and father, but not their sex or gender.

I didn’t find the equivalent for the rest of the state, but the state’s Department of Health reports that they follow National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) guidelines, which seem to refer to this revised birth certificate recording form, which was revised in 2003. In addition to health information, it records the mother’s and father’s marital status (mother only), country of birth, education, Hispanic origin, and race. The mother is “the woman who gave birth to, or delivered the infant.”

The only mention of sex (or gender) pertains to the child: “Print or type whether the infant is male, female or if the sex of the infant is not yet determined.” And “not yet determined” is a temporary state, as the recording instructions clarify:

An N code for “not yet determined” should not be allowed for any record in the file at the time the file is closed. NCHS will query states to obtain the sex of the infant for all records still retaining the N code at the time the file is closed.

 

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