2011 books for the Family Inequality reader in your life

One book forward, two books back.

The list of books I’d like to read pulled way ahead of the books I’ve read this year. Here is a partial list of books published in 2011 that I have read, or that I want to, of potential interest to Family Inequality readers.


Kathleen Gerson’s book, Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, is based on life history interviews with 120 or so young adults to look back at their family lives growing up — and look forward to the families they hope to form.  Having grown up between a gender revolution (women’s independence, employment) and a hard place (divorce, economic insecurity), they evaluate the parents that separated and those that didn’t, the breadwinner-homemakers and the dual-earners, and then set out their own ideals — which they simultaneously doubt they can achieve. The book is well written and organized, good for undergrads willing to read and grad students learning how to design their own research projects.

Mara Hvistendahl is a science journalist who has written a critical and compelling account of the origins and implications of sex-selective abortion and the skewed sex ratios it creates, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. It’s a journalistic account that gets the demographic science right, but also pushes out (beyond the data) to make alarming predictions that provoke great discussion.

Annette Lareau has updated her important book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (Second Edition with an Update a Decade Later). When using the first edition in a stratification class years ago, I cautioned my students that Lareau couldn’t say how the parenting differences she documented would actually affect the children she studied. Now we know quite a bit more, and her new analysis is insightful. One of the big differences between the “concerted cultivation” of the middle-class parents and the “accomplishment of natural growth” of the poor and working-class parents is their interactions with the institutions that stand between childhood and adulthood, especially schools. If you read or teach this book, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the update.

Sadly, those are the only ones one this list I’ve really read yet. So this is much more a wish list than a recommendation list. Here are the others near the top of my pile:

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. Stephanie Coontz’s social history of the Betty Friedan classic and its impact on American society.

The Inequalities of Love: College-Educated Black Women and the Barriers to Romance and Family. Sociologist Averil Y. Clarke’s study of personal narratives and demographic data aims to uncover “how race and class create unequal access to ‘love,’ serious relationships, and marriage,” according to Paula England’s blurb.

Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. Sociologist Shamus Khan returns to St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire to update the story of how elite schools teach the embodiment of privilege in a new era.

Social Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America. Marcia Carlson and Paula England are the editors of this new collection, which features contributions by such leading lights as, among others, Philip Morgan (on fertility and inequality), Kathryn Edin (low-income urban fathers), Annette Lareau (see above) and Frank Furstenberg (wrapping up).

Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China. Judith Stacey is a feminist, a sociologist, and a postmodernist with something actually relevant to say (those are my terms — I hope she doesn’t mind). According to the blurb, she “decouples the taken for granted relationships between love, marriage, and parenthood,” and “undermines popular convictions about family, gender, and sexuality held on the left, right, and center.” Just what I would expect, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Markets and Bodies: Women, Service Work, and the Making of Inequality in China. Sociologist Eileen Otis presents a comparative ethnography of formal and informal service workplaces in two Chinese cities, looking for the “interactive hierarchies” between customers and the women who serve them, and the organizational contexts the shape their interactions. I’ve heard her present some of this, and she’s a compelling story-teller. Looks good.

Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World. Sociologist Ceclia Ridgeway argues that cultural frames in social interactions imbue uncertain situations with traditional gender beliefs and standards, making social change a sticky and uneven process. If Joan Williams thinks it’s “the most important book on gender I have read in decades,” and Barbara Risman says, “If you only read one book about inequality this decade, make it this one,” then it’s worth a look.

Finally, allow me to plug two books by friends at UNC. I’ve seen them working away on these books for years, and to have them finally out is a thrill — especially given the positive reception they’re both getting.

Karolyn Tyson has published Integration Interrupted: Tracking, Black Students, and Acting White after Brown, which uses students own voices to examine “how our schools are implicated in the creation of oppositional culture among all students, white as well as black,” in the words of James Rudy. The book “offers no comfort to those quick to blame black students for their disadvantages,” says Samuel Lucas.

Lisa Pearce and Melinda Denton have written A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents, which uses a large survey and in-depth interviews with 120 adolescents to find out how religion changes in their lives over these pivotal years. After reading this, we should know not to refer to “religiosity” or “religiousness” as a something that can be simply quantified for young people. Religion splashes a colorful social and ideological collage through their developing practices and identities.

This list is very incomplete. Please feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comments.

Note: I haven’t gotten any promotional “consideration” for endorsing these books, and I don’t get any money if you follow the Amazon links to buy them. However, if you would like me to review your book, feel free to send it to me with no strings attached.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “2011 books for the Family Inequality reader in your life

  1. Sounds like some interesting reads. I want to check out the first two for sure.

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  2. Ahhh…. Just read “Unnatural Selection.” GREAT book!

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  3. Reeve Vanneman

    One of the many interesting parts of Kathleen Gerson’s _Unfinished Revolution_ came from questioning her respondents about their “plan B” — what kind of family situation they would like if their ideal, egalitarian soul mate marriage didn’t work out. While men and women both painted similar pictures of their first choices, their plan B’s were different: men opted for a traditional male breadwinner female homemaker marriage; women opted for going it alone. Not only an interesting result but an important methodological insight.

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  4. Pingback: Book reviews: Sex & Unisex, among others | Family Inequality

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