Category Archives: Me @ work

Delayed parenting and anti-poverty policy

Here’s a preview of talk today at Brown University’s population center.

My basic argument is that policies intended to prevent poverty by delaying parenthood are mostly misplaced, especially with regard to Black women. Not that delaying parenthood is bad per se, but delaying parenthood in the absence of other improvements in people’s conditions is ineffectual in the aggregate, and actually harmful for some populations.

The delayed childbearing argument features prominently in the recent “consensus” on anti-poverty strategy reached by the American Enterprise Institute / Brookings working group I wrote about here. They say:

It would be better for couples, for children, and for society if prospective parents plan their births and have children only when they are financially stable, are in a committed relationship (preferably marriage), and can provide a stable environment for their child.

Isabel Sawhill, a leading proponent of delayed childbearing as anti-poverty strategy, says in her book Generation Unbound, that she is not telling poor people not to have children, but she sort of is. She writes:

It is only fair to expect parents to limit the number of children they have to something they can afford.

The evidence I offer to help argue that this approach is unhelpful includes this paper (the actual new research for the talk), which shows the risk of infant mortality rising with parent age for Black mothers, a pattern strikingly different from White and Hispanic mothers’ (see a discussion here). Here’s that result:

Fig2

Adjusted Probability of Infant Death, by Maternal Age: White, Black, and Mexican Mothers, U.S., 2013. Predicted probabilities of infant death generated by Stata margins command, adjusted for plurality, birth order, maternal education, prenatal care, payment source, and cigarette smoking during pregnancy. Data source: 2013 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Public Use File, Centers for Disease Control.

Of course, infant mortality is thankfully very rare, but it’s the extreme measure for the underlying pattern of women’s health. When infant mortality in a group is higher, their average health is usually worse.

I’m adding to that the following descriptive figures on children’s poverty rates according to how old their mothers were when they were born. This is by necessity limited to children who are still living with their mothers, because I used the Current Population Survey. I show this for all children (black lines), and then for those whose mothers have never married (red lines). The solid lines are official poverty-line rates, and the dotted lines use the Supplemental Poverty Measure. The latter shows lower poverty rates for children whose mothers were younger, because it reflects transfer income and welfare support as well as income from unmarried cohabiting partners.

cpsbrown

For children overall (black lines), being born to an older mother appears beneficial in terms of poverty rates. This fits the standard story, in which delaying births allows women to go further in school and their careers, and get married, as well as being more mature and so on. However, for those whose mothers remain unmarried the relationship is much weaker, and there is no relationship to the SPM. To me this undermines the policy of delay with regard to women who have low probability of marriage during their child-bearing years. Which brings me back to Black women.

I estimated the same pattern by race/ethnicity, this time just using the SPM, in a model that controls for child age, sex, nativity, geography, and mother’s marital status (ever- versus never-married). I didn’t control for education, because schooling is also an outcome of birth timing (so if young mothers don’t go to college for that reason, this would show them more likely to be poor as a result). Here’s the result:

bw-kid-predict-no-educ

For White women there is a strong relationship, with lowest poverty rates for children whose mothers were in their 30s when they were born. For Black and Hispanic women the relationship is much weaker (it actually looks very similar when you control for education as well, and if you use the continuous income-to-needs ration instead of the poverty-line cutoff).

My conclusion is that I’m all for policies that make family planning available, and U.S. women should have better access to IUDs in particular (which are much more common in other rich countries) — these need to be part of better medical care for poor people in general. But I don’t favor this as a poverty-reduction strategy, and I reject the “responsibility” frame for anti-poverty policy evident in the quotes above. I prefer education, jobs, and income support (which Sawhill also supports, to her credit). See Matt Bruenig on the Brookings “Success Sequence” and my op-ed on income support.

Ideals and intentions

Consider this from Sawhill. In her book Generation Unbound, she writes:

‘poor and minority women … themselves do not want to have as many children as they are currently having. Unintended pregnancy rates are much higher among the poor, minority groups, and the less-educated … [free, better contraception] can help poorer and less-educated women align their behavior with their intentions.’ (p. 138)

I think we need to take a little more complicated view of intentions here. She is referring to what demographers call “unintended” births, which means the woman recalls that she was not intending to get pregnant at the time — she either wanted to get pregnant some time in the future, or never. As you can see, such unintended pregnancies are very common:

unintended

However, most poor women think the ideal family size is large. Among young women, 65% of women who didn’t finish high school, and 48% of those with high school degrees but no BA, believe 3 or more children is the ideal for a family:

idealed

For lots of their births, poor women were not ready, or not planning to get pregnant. But it’s also common for poor people to never achieve their ideal conditions for having children — good job, marriage, housing, education, and so on. In that case, with the clock running on their (and their mothers’) health, unintended childbearing is more complicated than just a behavior problem to be solved. It may reflect a compromise between unachievable goals.

In addition to making sure everyone has the reproductive healthcare they need (including more effective contraception), I think we should also help people achieve their long-term ideals — including having the children they want to have — rather than (just) help them realize their short-term intentions.

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Families and modern social theory

Just realized I never posted the syllabus for my new graduate seminar, “Families and modern social theory.” We’re 9 weeks into and I at least am getting a lot out of it. Feel free to share your comments or suggestions. A PDF version is here, but I also just pasted it below.

Syllabus

This course is designed to build knowledge theories of modernity with emphasis on modern families. Thus, it combines some core theories of modernity (Giddens, Bourdieu, Foucault), with key theoretical debates about families and intimate relationships (economics and economic sociology, gender, race), and social change (development and new family forms).

Students will read nine books and a variety of articles. They will write a response paper each week, and an exploratory essay or research report at the end of the semester.

Evaluation will be based on participation, weekly writings, and the final paper.

Part I: Modernity

1. What is modernity?

  • Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. John Wiley & Sons

2. Modern relationships

  • Giddens, Anthony. 1993. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. 1st edition. Stanford University Press.

3. Habitus and field

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Stanford University Press.

4. Discipline

  • Foucault, Michel. 2012. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Part II: Families

5. New families

  • Rosenfeld, Michael J. 2007. The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family. Harvard University Press.

6. Economics over all

  • Becker, Gary S. 1993. A Treatise on the Family: Enlarged Edition. Enlarged edition. Harvard University Press (excerpts TBA).
  • Bergmann, Barbara R. 1996. “Becker’s Theory of the Family: Preposterous Conclusions.” Challenge 39 (1): 9–12.
  • England, Paula. 1989. “A Feminist Critique of Rational-Choice Theories: Implications for Sociology.” The American Sociologist 20 (1): 14–28.
  • We’ll also discuss this terrible video:

7. Economic sociology of intimacy

  • Zelizer, Viviana A. 2009. The Purchase of Intimacy. Princeton University Press.

8. Family economics for real

  • Folbre, Nancy. 2009. Valuing Children: Rethinking the Economics of the Family. Harvard University Press.

9. Gender and families

  • Hartmann, Heidi I. 1981. “The Family as the Locus of Gender, Class, and Political Struggle: The Example of Housework.” Signs 6 (3): 366–94.
  • Ferree, Myra Marx. 2010. “Filling the Glass: Gender Perspectives on Families.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72 (3): 420–39. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00711.x.
  • Yodanis, Carrie, and Sean Lauer. 2014. “What Couples Actually Do: Is Marriage Individualized?” Journal of Family Theory & Review 6 (2): 184–97. doi:10.1111/jftr.12038.10.

10. Black families, uncertainty, and exclusion

  • Burton, Linda M., and M. Belinda Tucker. 2009. “Romantic Unions in an Era of Uncertainty: A Post-Moynihan Perspective on African American Women and Marriage.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (January): 132–48.
  • Geronimus, Arline T. 2003. “Damned If You Do: Culture, Identity, Privilege, and Teenage Childbearing in the United States.” Social Science & Medicine 57 (5): 881–93. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(02)00456-2.
  • Collins, Patricia Hill. 2001. “Like One of the Family: Race, Ethnicity, and the Paradox of US National Identity.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 24 (1): 3–28. doi:10.1080/014198701750052479.

Part III: Development and change

11. Modernity, development, and demography

  • Thornton, Arland. 2001. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38 (4): 449–65. doi:10.2307/3088311.
  • Greenhalgh, Susan. 2003. “Science, Modernity, and the Making of China’s One-Child Policy.” Population and Development Review 29 (2): 163–96.
  • Kirk, Dudley. 1996. “Demographic Transition Theory.” Population Studies 50 (3): 361–87. doi:10.1080/0032472031000149536.
  • Lesthaeghe, R. “The Second Demographic Transition in Western Countries: An Interpretation.” In Mason, Karen Oppenheim, and An-Magritt Jensen (eds.). 1995. Gender and Family Change in Industrialized Countries. Clarendon Press.

12. Decoupling, families, and modernity

  • Stacey, Judith. 2011. Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China. New York University Press.

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More on racist Trump supporters, and My 3Qs

It’s been hard for me to stay out of electoral politics debates lately (follow the elections tag if you’re having the same problem).

The latest is another piece with Sean McElwee in Salon. It again features my analysis of the ANES 2016 pilot survey, with Sean’s write-up, this time focusing on attitudes of White Trump supporters toward Blacks. The short answer is White Trump supporters stereotype Blacks more than other Republican or Democrat Whites, and people with self-described “cold” feelings toward Blacks are most likely to support Trump. The biggest difference was on answers to the question, “How well does the word ‘lazy’ describe most blacks?”

race figures.xlsx

This ANES data has lots of potential for addressing the pressing questions on a breaking-news basis. Whether it holds up (it’s an opt-in online survey) is yet to be seen, but I haven’t seen a reason to think it would be biased toward producing racist Trump supporters. So I think it’s worth doing. (I’ve also discovered that when you criticize Trump on a popular website like Salon, and have a Jewish name, you attract anti-Semitic Twitter.)

My 3 Qs

In other news, I did a short interview with Molly McNulty, the Council on Contemporary Families pubic affairs intern at Framingham State University.  It’s reprinted here from the CCF site on The Society Pages:

TSP readers likely appreciate Philip Cohen for his provocative blog, Family Inequality, which—based on a look at who retweets him—regularly has material valued by undergraduates, senior scholars, data nerds, policy wonks, and journalists alike. Cohen is a Council on Contemporary Families senior scholar and a professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. His research focuses on the sociology of families, social demography, and social inequality. His family textbook, The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, was published in 2014. Cohen gave me these useful answers to my “3q”:

Q: First, a challenge: What’s one single thing you “know” with certainty, after years of research into modern families?

PC: Family inequality is remarkably resilient, but when it changes it does so under the influence of external forces. When women’s opportunities increase (or men’s decrease), when public investment in education increases, when the legal environment changes when technology permits reductions in household labor, when policies lighten (or compensate) the load of caring labor — that’s when inequality within families shifts. There is a dialectic here, and micro-level interactions within families matter, but these external forces are in the historical driver’s seat.

Q: Give us the “Twitter” version of your current research—in 140 characters (give or take), what are you working on now?

PC: This is what I’m working on today, in 140 characters: The culture wars over family politics always return to gender difference itself; it’s what’s at stake when left & right fight over families.

Q: How would you encourage a scholar of family life to work to get their research into public life, affecting policy and challenging assumptions about “average families”?

PC: The public loves to argue about families. There are lots of opportunities to get your work out there and make it relevant. Unlike some areas of sociological research, if you’re working on families, almost everything has a potential angle — in fact, one of the challenges is to not oversell the implications of our research. There is also a lot of translational work to do — interpreting and explaining new data and research as it comes out, helping people figure out what to make of the latest findings in the context of what we already know rather than participating in the whipsaw advice machine that thrives on contradicting conventional wisdom. I recommend that junior scholars get involved with the Council on Contemporary Families, which helps organize and transmit new research responsibly and effectively, and to look for opportunities to publish popular pieces in online venues that encourage well-reasoned and empirically-grounding discussion and debate.

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Marriage and gender inequality in 124 countries

Countries with higher levels of marriage have higher levels of gender inequality. This isn’t a major discovery, but I don’t remember seeing this illustrated before, so I decided to do it. Plus I’m trying to improve my Stata graphing.

I used data from this U.N. report on marriage rates from 2008, restricted to those countries that had data from 2000 or later. To show marriage rates I used the percentage of women ages 30-34 that are currently married. This is thus a combination of marriage prevalence and marriage timing, which is something like the amount of marriage in the country. I got gender inequality from the U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report for 2015. The gender inequality index combines the maternal mortality ratio, the adolescent birth rate, the representation of women in the national parliament, the gender gap in secondary education, and the gender gap in labor market participation.

Here is the result. I labeled countries with 49 million population or more in red; a few interesting outliers are also labeled. The line is quadratic, unweighted for population (click to enlarge).

You can see the USA sliding right down that curve toward gender nirvana (not that I’m making a simplistic causal argument).

Note that India and China together are about 36% of the world’s population. They both have nearly universal marriage by age 30-34, but women in China get married about four years later on average. That’s an important part of why China has lower gender inequality (it goes along with more educational access, higher employment levels, politics, history, etc.). China is a major outlier among universal-marriage countries, while India is right on the curve.

Any cross-national comparison has to handle this issue. China is 139-times bigger than Sweden. One way to address it is to weight the points by their relative population sizes. If you do that it actually doesn’t change the result much, except for China, which in this cases changes everything because in addition to being huge they broke the relationship between marriage and gender inequality. Here is the comparison. Now the dots are scaled for population, and the gray line is fit to all the countries except China, while the red line includes China (click to enlarge).

My conclusion is that the gray line is the basic story — more marriage, more gender inequality — with China as an important exception, but that’s up for interpretation.

I put the data and the code for making the charts in this directory. Feel free to copy and crib, etc.

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Basic self promotion

your work

If you don’t care enough to promote your research, how can you expect others to?

These are some basic thoughts for academics promoting their research. You don’t have to be a full-time self-promoter to improve your reach and impact, but the options are daunting and I often hear people say they don’t have time to do things like run a Twitter account or write blogs. Even a relatively small effort, if well directed, can help a lot. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s fine to do some things pretty well even if you can’t do everything to your ideal standard.

It’s all about making your research better — better quality, better impact. You want more people to read and appreciate your work, not just because you want fame and fortune, but because that’s what the work is for. I welcome your comments and suggestions below. 

Present yourself

Make a decent personal website and keep it up to date with information about your research, including links to accessible copies of your publications (see below). It doesn’t have to be fancy (I have a vested interest in keeping standards low in that department). I’m often surprised at how man  people are sitting behind years-old websites. 

Very often people who come across your research somewhere else will want to know more about you before they share, report on, or even cite it. Your website gives your work more credibility. Has this person published other work in this area? Taught related courses? Gotten grants? These are things people look for. It’s not vain or obnoxious to present this information, it’s your job. I recommend a good quality photo (others disagree).

Make your work available

Let people read the actual research. Publishing in open-access journals is ideal, because it’s the right thing to do and more people can read it. (My recent article in Sociological Science was downloaded several hundred times within 10 days, which is much more than I would expect from a paywalled journal.)

Whether or not you do that, share your working paper or preprint versions. This is best done in your university repository (ask your library) or public disciplinary archive. (For prominent examples, check out the University of California’s has eScholarship or Harvard’s DASH; I use the working paper site of the Maryland Population Research Center, which is run by UCLA.) If you put them on your own university website, that will allow them to show up in web searches (including Google Scholar), but they won’t be properly tagged and indexed for things like citation or grant analysis, or archived — so it’s better just to put links on your website. But don’t just link to the pay-walled version, that’s the click of death for someone just browsing around. 

Don’t be intimidated by copyright. You can almost always put up a preprint without violating any agreement (ideally you wouldn’t publish anywhere that makes you take it down afterwards), and even if you have to take it down eventually you get months or years to share it first. No one will sue you or fire you — the worst outcome is being asked to take it down, which is very rare. Don’t prioritize protecting the journal’s proprietary right to promotion over serving the public (and your career) by getting the research out there, as soon as it’s ready. To see the policies of different journals regarding self-archiving, check out the simple database at SHERPA/RoMEO.

I oppose private sites like Academia.edu and ResearchGate. These are just private companies doing what your university and its library are already doing for the public. Your paper will not be discovered more if it is on one of these sites. It will show up in a Google search if you put it on your website or, better, in a public repository.

I’m not an open access purist, at least for sociology. If you got public money to develop a cure for cancer, that’s different. For us, not everything has to be open access (books, for example), but the more it is the better, especially original research. Anyway, it would be great if sociology got more into open science (for example, with the Open Science Framework). People for whom code is big already use sites like GitHub for sharing, which is beyond me; in your neck of the woods that can be great for getting your work out, too.

Share your work

In the old days we used to order paper reprints of papers we published and literally mail them to the famous and important people we hoped would read and cite them. Nowadays you can email them a PDF. Sending a short note that says, “I thought you might be interested in this paper I wrote” is normal, reasonable, and may be considered flattering. (As long as you don’t follow up with repeated emails asking if they’ve read it yet.)

Social media

I recommend at least basic social media, Twitter and Facebook. This does not require a massive time commitment — you can always ignore them. Setting up a public profile on Twitter or a page on Facebook gives people who do use them all the time a way to link to you and share your profile. If someone wants to show their friends one of my papers on Twitter, this doesn’t require any effort on my part. They tweet, “Look at this awesome new paper @familyunequal wrote!” When people click on the link they go to my profile, which tells them who I am and links to my website. I do not have to spend time on Twitter for this to work. (I chose @familyunequal because familyinequality was too long and I didn’t want to use my name because I was determined not to use Twitter for personal stuff. I think something closest to your name is ideal, but don’t not do this because you can’t think of the perfect handle.)

Of course, an active social media presence does help draw people into your work. But even low-level attention will help: posting or tweeting links to new papers, conference presentations, other writing, etc. No need to get into snarky chitchat and following hundreds of people if you don’t want to.

To see how others are using Twitter, you can visit the list I maintain, which has more than 600 sociologists. This is useful for comparing profile and feed styles.

Other writing

People who write popular books go on book tours to promote them. People who write minor articles in sociology might send out some tweets, or share them with their friends on Facebook. In between are lots of other places you can write something to help people find and learn about your work. I recommend blogging, but that can be done different ways.

As with publications themselves, there are public and private options, and I’m not a purist. (Some of my blog posts at the Atlantic, for which I used to get paid a little, were literally sponsored by Exxon, which I didn’t notice at first because I only looked at the site with my ad-blocker on.) But again public usually works better in addition to feeling better.

There are some good organizations now that help people get their work out. In my area, for example, the Council on Contemporary Families is great (I’m on their board), producing research briefs related to new publications, and helping to bring them to the attention of journalists and editors. Others work with the Scholars Strategy Network, which helps people place Op-Eds, or others. The great non-profit site The Society Pages includes lots of avenues for writing about your research. In addition, there are blogs run by sections of the American Sociological Association (like Work in Progress, from the Organizations, Occupations, and Work section) or other professional associations, and various group blogs.

And there is Contexts (of which I’m co-editor), the general interest magazine of ASA, where we would love to hear proposals for how you can bring your research out into the open (for the magazine or our blog).

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The things I read (7 days a storm edition)

I’m writing a book for the next few months, and putting less of the original content I’m (still!) generating on the blog, for now. To help pass the time, I figured I’d post periodic link roundups of things I read and shared or discussed briefly elsewhere (mostly at @familyunequal on Twitter). Feel free to share your own suggestions or comments below.

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Family Inequality weekly link roundup

Maybe you’re trying not to spend so much time on Twitter (or don’t use it), but why miss the things I share during the week? Here are some highlights:

Discrimination against Queer Women in the U.S. Workforce: A Résumé Audit Study, by Emma Mishel

Preregistration Challenge at the Center for Open Science

The Great Chocolate-Milk Concussion Scandal: How the University of Maryland got embroiled in a junk-science saga, Jesse Singal

Black Women Don’t Reap the Same Health Benefits from Delaying Motherhood as Whites (Elissa Straus in Slate covers my new paper)

A drone protester heads to jail, while Oregon protesters literally use heavy machinery to destroy Federal property

Nancy Folbre‘s tribute to the late Barbara Bergmann

Andrew Perrin reviews Aldon Morris on DuBois

Jay Livingston on Ted Cruz and “New York values”

How to bridge that stubborn pay gap, in NYTimes Upshot

The common-law marriage myth, in the Economist 

3 Lingering Questions From the Alice Goffman Controversy, by Jesse Singal

Dynamics of perceived social network support for same-sex versus mixed-sex relationships, by Diane Holmberg and Karen Blair

In D.C., Nearly Half Of Homeless Youth Identify As LGBTQ, Survey Finds, by Armando Trull

Hard Work and Marriage Aren’t the Magic Cure-Alls for Poverty Jeb Bush Is Hoping For, by Ally Boghun at RH Reality Check

  

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