Tag Archives: Parenting

Girls braced for beauty

Sociologists like to say that gender identities are socially constructed. That just means that what it is, and what it means, to be male or female is at least partly the outcome of social interaction between people – visible through the rules, attitudes, media, or ideals in the social world.

And that process sometimes involves constructing people’s bodies physically as well. And in today’s high-intensity parenting, in which gender plays a big part, this includes constructing – or at least tinkering with – the bodies of children.

Today’s example: braces. In my Google image search for “child with braces,” the first 100 images yielded about 75 girls.

google-braces

Why so many girls braced for beauty? More girls than boys want braces, and more parents of girls want their kids to have them, even though girls’ teeth are no more crooked or misplaced than boys’. This is just one manifestation of the greater tendency to value appearance for girls and women more than for boys and men. But because braces are expensive, this is also tied up with social class, so that richer people are more likely to get their kids’ teeth straightened, and as a result richer girls are more likely to meet (and set) beauty standards.

Hard numbers on how many kids get braces are surprisingly hard to come by. However, the government’s medical expenditure survey shows that 17 percent of children ages 11-17 saw an orthodontist in the last year, which means the number getting braces at some point in their lives is higher than that. The numbers are rising, and girls are wearing most of hardware.

A study of Michigan public school students showed that although boys and girls had equal treatment needs (orthodontists have developed sophisticated tools for measuring this need, which everyone agrees is usually aesthetic), girls’ attitudes about their own teeth were quite different:

michigan-braces

Clearly, braces are popular among American kids, with about half in this study saying they want them, but that sentiment is more common among girls, who are twice as likely as boys to say they don’t like their teeth.

This lines up with other studies that have shown girls want braces more at a given level of need, and they are more likely than boys to get orthodontic treatment after being referred to a specialist. Among those getting braces, there are more girls whose need is low or borderline. A study of 12-19 year-olds getting braces at a university clinic found 56 percent of the girls, compared with 47 percent of the boys, had “little need” for them on the aesthetic scale.

The same pattern is found in Germany, where 38 percent of girls versus 30 percent of boys ages 11-14 have braces, and in Britain – both countries where braces are covered by state health insurance if they are needed, but parents can pay for them if they aren’t.

Among American adults, women are also more likely to get braces, leading the way in the adult orthodontic trend. (Google “mother daughter braces” and you get mothers and daughters getting braces together; “father son braces” brings you to orthodontic practices run by father-son teams.)

anchors-braces

Caption: The teeth of TV anchors Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien, Robin Roberts, Suzanne Malveaux, Don Lemon, George Stephanopolous, David Gregory, Ashley Banfield, and Diane Sawyer.

Teeth and consequences

Today’s rich and famous people – at least the one whose faces we see a lot – usually have straight white teeth, and most people don’t get that way without some intervention. And lots of people get that.

Girls are held to a higher beauty standard and feel the pressure – from media, peers or parents – to get their teeth straightened. They want braces, and for good reason. Unfortunately, this subjects them to needless medical procedures and reinforces the over-valuing of appearance. However, it also shows one way that parents invest more in their girls, perhaps thinking they need to prepare them for successful careers and relationships by spending more on their looks.

When they’re grown up, of course, women get a lot more cosmetic surgery than men do – 87 percent of all surgical procedures, and 94% of Botox-type procedures – and that gap is growing over time.

As is the case with lots of cosmetic procedures, people from wealthier families generally are less likely to need braces but more likely to get them. But add this to the gender pattern, and what emerges is a system in which richer girls (voluntarily or not) and their parents set the standard for beauty – and then reap the rewards (as well as harms) of reaching it.

Note: I didn’t find any sociological studies of this. Why don’t you do one?

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Home birth is more dangerous. Discuss.

How dangerous is too dangerous?

We don’t prohibit all dangerous behavior, or even behavior that endangers others, including people’s own children.

Question: Is the limit of acceptable risks to which we may subject our own children determined by absolute risks or relative risks?

Case for consideration: Home birth.

Let’s say planning to have your birth at home doubles the risk of some serious complications. Does that mean no one should do it, or be allowed to do it? Other policy options: do nothing, discourage home birth, promote it, regulate it, or educate people about the risks and let them do what they want.

Here is the most recent result from a large study reported on the New York Times Well blog, which looks to me like it was done properly, from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Researchers analyzed about 2 million birth records of live, term (37-43 weeks), singleton, vertex (head-first) births, including 12,000 planned home births (that is, not including those where the home birth was accidental). They also excluded those at freestanding birthing centers.

The planned-home birth mothers were generally relatively privileged, more likely to be White and non-Hispanic, college-educated, married, and not having their first child. However, they were also more likely to be older than 34 and to have waited to see a doctor until their second trimester.

On three measures of birth outcomes, the home-birth infants were more likely to have bad results: low Apgar scores and neonatal seizures. Apgar is the standard for measuring an infant’s wellbeing within 5 minutes of birth, assessing breathing, heart rate, muscle tone, reflex irritability and circulation (blue skin). With up to 2 points on each indicator, the maximum score is 10, but 7 or more is considered normal and under 4 is serious trouble. Low scores are usually caused by some difficulty in the birth process, and babies with low scores usually require medical attention. The score is a good indicator of risk for infant mortality.

These are the unadjusted low-Apgar and seizure rates:

homebirthoutcomesThese are big differences considering the home birth mothers are usually healthier. In the subsequent analysis, the researchers controlled for parity, maternal age, race/ethnicity, education, gestational age at delivery, number of prenatal care visits, cigarette smoking during pregnancy, and medical/obstetric conditions. With those controls, the odds ratios were 1.9 for Apgar<4, 2.4 for Apgar<7, and 3.1 for seizures. Pretty big effects.

Two years  ago I wrote about a British study that found much higher rates of birth complications among home births when the mother was delivering her first child. This is my chart for their findings:

Again, those were the unadjusted rates, but the disparities held with a variety of important controls.

These birth complication rates are low by world historical standards. In New Delhi, India, in the 1980s 10% of 5-minute-olds had Apgar scores of 3 or less. So that’s many-times worse than American home births. On the other hand, a number of big European countries (Germany, France, Italy) have Apgar<7 rates of 1% or less, which is much better.

A large proportional increase on a low risk for a high-consequence event (like nuclear meltdown) can be very serious. A large absolute risk of a common low-consequence event (like having a hangover) can be completely acceptable. Birth complications are somewhere in between. But where?

Seems like a good topic for discussion, and having some real numbers helps. Let me know what you decide.

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The remarkable centrality of Unequal Childhoods

I had the privilege of introducing Annette Lareau at our department’s annual Rosenberg Forum. She is the current president of the American Sociological Association and the author of the book Unequal Childhoods: Race, Class, and Family Life.

Her talk was about exciting new research into the reproduction of social class through parents’ selection of schools and neighborhoods. But to set it up I showed the place of Unequal Childhoods in the citation network of sociology journals created by Neal Caren. The network includes the works most cited in 5,471 articles in sociology journals in the years 2008-2012, with lines connecting works cited in the same articles, and colors for the clusters of works commonly cited together. The size of the nodes represents times cited.

In this version I labeled the bigger clusters either with a term for the subfield (e.g., Religion) or key work (e.g., Bowling Alone). Click on the image to enlarge my version, or see it in full here, with the details and data.

PowerPoint PresentationI am amazed by the centrality of Unequal Childhoods, which isn’t part of a big cluster but has thick ties to a bunch of different ones, which is why it’s in the center. These are the works that Unequal Childhoods was cited with five times or more:

Hays S 1996 Cultural Contradicti 16
Blau P 1967 Am Occupational Stru 14
Bianchi SM 2006 Changing Rhythms Ame 13
Stone P 2007 Opting Out Why Women 12
Blair-loy M 2003 Competing Devotions 12
Bourdieu P 1977 Reprod ED Soc Cultue 12
Dimaggio P 1982 Am Sociol Rev 11
Lamont Michele 1988 Sociological Theory 10
Farkas G 2003 Annu Rev Sociol 9
Edin K 2005 Promises I Can Keep 9
Bourdieu P 1984 Distinctions Social 9
Hochschild Arlie R 1989 2 Shift Working Pare 8
Mclanahan Sara 1994 Growing Single Paren 8
Hochschild AR 1997 Time Bind Work Becom 8
Swidler A 1986 Am Sociol Rev 8
Townsend NW 2002 Package Deal 8
Bourdieu P 1986 Hdb Theory Res Socio 8
Bowles S 1976 Sch Capitalist AM 7
Bourdieu P 1990 Logic Practice Trans 7
Jacobs JA 2004 Time Divide Family G 7
Sewell W 1975 ED Occupation Earnin 7
Downey DB 1995 Am Sociol Rev 7
Jencks Christopher 1972 Inequality Reassessm 7
Raftery AE 1995 Sociol Methodol 5

* * *

That’s some reach!

 

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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:

20130828-233548.jpg
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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Time with young children

On weekdays, women in households with young children spend twice as much time caring for the children as men do. On weekends the ratio is only 1.5-to-1. Details on the chart, which has grid-lines at 6-minute intervals (click to enlarge):

atustimewithchildren

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are averages per day calculated from time diaries recording the “primary activity” at each point in the day. Note that this does not do anything with marital status or household composition, so a lot more of these women are single mothers. That’s not a flaw in the presentation, though. Part of having a lot of single mothers means they spend more time with children, as these data show.

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Be a man, a Morehouse Man — and treat your boyfriend right

I’m sure other people will have more insightful things to say about Obama’s speech to Morehouse College’s graduation today [official transcript here, one copy of the video here]. But let me just point out the juxtaposition of what seemed like serious heteronormativity with whatever the opposite of heteronormativity is.

obama_morehouse

He opened with jokes about the rain, including this:

I see some moms and grandmas here, aunts, in their Sunday best — although they are upset about their hair getting messed up.

And he gave several references to what it is to “be a man” — such as, “a family man, and a working man, and a Morehouse Man,” and, referencing previous Morehouse graduates…

…what it means to be a man — to serve your city like Maynard Jackson; to shape the culture like Spike Lee; to be like Chester Davenport, one of the first people to integrate the University of Georgia Law School.

And then there was this:

Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend or your partner [some response, and he wags his finger at them.] Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.

That’s my transcription from the video at 22:17. For whatever reason, this passage has been transcribed incorrectly by some people. The White House website quotes it as:

Be the best husband to your wife, or you’re your boyfriend, or your partner.

While USA Today had it as:

“Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner.”

Anyway, he also had an interesting passage on what it means to be an outsider in America:

As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need.

Including “gay and lesbian Americans” in that list of outsiders isn’t shocking anymore. But I was intrigued by his reference to “parenting skills.” Could it be a nod to the Regnerus affair, in which the parenting outcomes of gays and lesbians were at issue?

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“No differences” survives the Regnerus paper

Coming soon (or at least sometime in the future): An article by Andrew PerrinNeal Caren and myself, now accepted by the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health, “Are Children of Parents Who Had Same-Sex Relationships Disadvantaged? A Scientific Evaluation of the No-Differences Hypothesis.”

Here is the abstract:

In a widely publicized and controversial article, Regnerus seeks to evaluate what he calls the “‘no-differences’ paradigm” with respect to outcomes for children of same-sex parents. We consider the scientific claims in Regnerus in light of extant evidence and flaws in the article’s evidence and analytical strategy. We find that the evidence presented does not support rejecting the “no-differences” claim, and therefore the study does not constitute evidence for disadvantages suffered by children of same-sex couples. The state of scientific knowledge on same-sex parenting remains as it was prior to the publication of Regnerus.

I have posted a preprint of the article here.

difference

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Why do anti-gay people (maybe, possibly) beat their children?

The other day, Mark Regnerus (of Regnerus study fame) speculated in a blog post that pornography, with its “veritable fire-hose dousing of sex-act diversity,” might be increasing support for gay marriage:

In the end, contrary to what we might wish to think, young adult men’s support for redefining marriage may not be entirely the product of ideals about expansive freedoms, rights, liberties, and a noble commitment to fairness. It may be, at least in part, a byproduct of regular exposure to diverse and graphic sex acts.

As I was working on a chapter on family violence and abuse, I was trying to decide how to divide the discussion of corporal punishment between the abuse chapter and the parenting chapter. I checked the General Social Survey for attitudes toward spanking and found a solid (but declining) two-thirds who agree that sometimes kids need “a good, hard spanking.” (Would the number be lower if they didn’t include “good” in the question?).

So on a whim I asked: What could cause this virulent anti-child attitude, which seems to prevalent in our society? May it be, at least in part, a byproduct of hostility toward some other group, such as gays and lesbians? Sure enough!

spank-homo-attitudes

I’m not saying anti-homosexual views are the only cause of child abuse, but it’s something to look into.

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When regular old mothers aren’t old-enough looking

As I wrote about the older-birth-mothers issue recently (first, and then), I didn’t comment on the photo illustrations people are using with the stories. But when an alert reader sent this one to me, from Katie Roiphe’s post in Slate, I couldn’t help it:

roiphe-stock-pageSomething about that picture and “women in their late 30s or 40s” rubbed my correspondent the wrong way, or rather, led her to write, “Late 30s or early 40s?!?”

Since this was from a legit website that credits its stock agency, I was able to visit Thinkstock and search for the photo. Sure enough:

roiphe-stockOf course, it’s not news, so the title “Middle-aged woman holding her newborn grandson” doesn’t make it a less true illustration of the older-mother phenomenon than one captioned “Desperate aging woman clings to feminist myth that it’s OK to delay childbearing.” But it gives you an idea of what the Slate editor was looking for in the stock photo.

I looked around a little, and found one other funny one. Another Slate essay, this one by Allison Benedikt, was reprinted in Canada’s National Post, and they laid it out like this:

nationalpost-grayest

When I visited the Getty Images site, I discovered this picture was taken in China. Here’s how it’s presented:

nationalpost-grayest-stock

This one, which is a picture of real people, looks like it could be a grandmother, or maybe more likely a caretaker. Regardless, it’s sold as an illustration of a story about China’s elderly having too few grandchildren to take care of them, which is vaguely related to the content of the story, but that’s not what the Post’s caption points to:

It’s true that older parents are more established and experienced but many of those experiences are, from a genetic point of view, negative, says Allison Benedikt.

Anyway, there were others where the women looked pretty old for the story, but I couldn’t find them in the catalogs, so I stopped.

This is all relevant to one of my critiques of these stories, which is that they make it seem like having children at older ages has become more common than it was in the past. That’s true compared with 1980, but not 1960. The difference is it’s more likely to be their first child nowadays. So Benedikt is way off when she writes,

Remember how there was that one kid in your high school class whose parents weresooooo old that it was weird and creepy? That’s all of us now. Oops.

As I showed, 40-year-old women are less likely to have children now than they were when she was a kid. And when Roiphe writes of the “50-year-old mother in the kindergarten class [who] attracts a certain amount of catty interest and disapproval,” she should be aware that the disapproval – which I don’t doubt exists – is not about the increased frequency of older mothers, but about how people think about them.

I guess any of these stories could also have been illustrated with my own photo, from Taiwan, which I used to illustrate a post about low fertility rates — implying this presumed grandmother was happy because she at least has a grandchild. (You’re welcome to use the picture for that purpose, free clip-art searchers of the future, but please don’t describe it was a birth mother and her child.)

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Births to mothers in their forties are less common now than in the old days

In my post the other day I suggested that, when it comes to children’s health, mothers’ health is a bigger issue than mothers’ (advancing) age when they give birth. I was motivated to post it by the widespread discussion of Judith Shulevitz’s essay in the New Republic, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society” — discussion that has continued with today’s On Point (which I haven’t heard yet), including the author Elizabeth Gregory, who has written Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood (which I haven’t read yet).

In the comments, several people (Reeve Vannamen and relfal) brought up the issue of later births in the olden days (before 1970). We need to think about two different issues: having first children at a later age, and having any (or many) children at a later age. For some questions of children’s health – especially the sperm-mutation issue with autism – I don’t think it matters: an older-age birth is an older age birth. The same goes for the angst over whether children will know their grandparents, whether parents will be too old to take them to soccer practice, and so on.

On the other hand, “starting a family” at an older age (because, remember, it’s not a “family” until you have kids), is a different issue, with its own implications for total fertility rates, the age composition of the population, etc.

Both having any children and having first children at older ages have been increasing in recent decades, but having any children at older ages is not historically unprecedented. Here are the birth rates for women ages 40-44, from 1940 to 2011, along with the percentage of all children born to those women from 1960-2010:

maternal-age-40-11

Sources: Birth rates 1940-1969, 1970-2010, 2011; Percent of births 1960-1980, 1980-2008.

Birth rates to women ages 40-44 are still substantially lower than they were in the olden days. So the number of kids whose parents will be over 60 when the kids come back to live with them after college is lower now despite an increase for 30 years.

On the other hand, the percentage of kids born to older mothers has surpassed those rates, because these are more often first or second, rather than third or fourth or fifth children. Put another way, the chance that women will have their first, and possibly only, baby at an older age has increased since 1960. While the overall birth rate for older women is still lower than it was in 1960, the first-birth rate is much higher. Here is the birth rate among women with no previous births, for those aged 35, 40 and 45, from 1960 to 2005:

first birth rates 60-05

Source: Table 4 on this page.

In 1960, only 4% of women who reached age 35 without having a baby had one that year. They probably weren’t just delaying their childbearing intentionally or putting off finding a mate while they pursued their careers. On the other hand, by 2005 almost 9% of those who reached age 35 without having a baby had one that year. The late first birth has become much more common.

Now if you go back to the promo blurb for On Point, you see how the issues are jumbled together:

American parents are having kids old and older. Look around. Are those two that child’s parents? Or its grandparents? It is very often hard to know these days. In many ways, this has been liberating. Twenty-somethings with a child-free, diaper-free decade of youth. People with time and space to start careers. But there is a price, and it’s becoming clearer. Older parents juggling kid’s soccer and their own aches and pains. Kids who won’t know their grandparents. Parents who won’t know their grandkids. And a baby bust.

The hardships faced by older parents are nothing new, but parents used to have more kids around when they went through them. It’s good to keep an eye on the issues separately.

Note: there is some more background and analysis in my working paper: here.

 

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