What’s on your mind?

A little off the topic for this blog.

The post on Haiti’s orphans has gotten more hits than anything else on Family Inequality this month. My traffic is tiny, of course, but more broadly, the mind of the American public experienced a seismic event on January 13, when the earthquake struck. Google searches for the word “Haiti” suddenly surpassed searches for the word “sex” for the first time in recorded history.

“Haiti” searches remained higher than “sex” for most of the next 10 days, though it appears likely “sex” may be back on top by next weekend’s Friday-Saturday spike.

For details on the measurement and scale, you can repeat my search here or read Google’s About file here.

Children’s overweight trends

News and potential teaching tools for the new semester.

A new analysis of the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (called NHANES) shows obesity rates among children at alarming but not increasing levels, except for an increase in the top weight category among boys ages 6-19.

Prevalence of High BMI for Age in Boys and Girls Aged 6 Through 19 Years, 1999-2008

From the same source, a companion piece on adults shows no increases in obesity for the last couple years. From the NY Times:

“Right now we’ve halted the progress of the obesity epidemic,” said Dr. William H. Dietz, director of the division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the disease control centers. “The data are really promising. That said, I don’t think we have in place the kind of policy or environmental changes needed to reverse this epidemic just yet.”

Also reported today, from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, is a 2003 to 2007 increase in children’s obesity rates from 14.8 to 16.4 percent (slightly different age grouping and weight definitions). That report itself offers breakdowns of various indicators by income, race/ethnicity, and other characteristics. And it links to a nice tool for looking at recent data on children’s health and social characteristics and customizing your own results:

Weight status of children based on Body Mass Index for age (BMI-for-age)
Children age 10-17, by Household income level

An illustration of how poverty in the U.S. is associated not with too little calories but too many — which we also charge poor students for in a special school tax, through vending machines, as Jay Livingston points out, while reducing funding for parks and recreation programs. The data utility gives table and graphical output, and state- or regional-level detail, so you can manipulate them yourself.

A federal report based on those data, The Health and Well-Being of Children, has many more indicators, with graphics like these showing how asthma rates and overall health track family income levels.

Poor children’s poor health is one of America’s little rat-race starting-line adjustments.

How do they do it?

How do families transmit inequality, that is. This is an area where some of sociology’s big ideas are actually being pursued, challenged and tested through empirical studies. I’m always interested when  the answers don’t fit neatly with the authors’ expectations.

I was inspired to do some more reading after the comprehensive new review titled, “Locating Where the Action Is,” in the British journal Sociology. Sarah Irwin walks through the current state of research on what it is, really, that poor versus middle class families do that helps place their kids in the same class position as their parents. In the theoretical language of today’s stratification research, a lot of this is about “cultural capital,” and ideas from Bourdieu. Chief among these is “habitus,” which is something like: the internalization of social structures encountered through the life course, processed into a practical sense of acceptable action for the individual (I’m paraphrasing a nice short video by Kari Alexander). It’s that sense of entitlement, plus the skills to pull it off – that partly responds to, and partly drives, the reciprocal behavior of gatekeepers along the way.

This research is harder than it looks, for a few reasons. First, it’s not easy to measure something like cultural capital. People have tried everything from a simple measure of the education level of parents, to the number of books or level of high-brow cultural consumption in the childhood home.

Second, as Irwin explains, some behavior – like parents reading to children – doesn’t matter much to rich kids (the odds are with them whether their parents read to them or not), while it does to the poor (those who are read to have a better chance of upward mobility). So, can that explain how the rich stay rich, or is it just something that affects mobility from lower to higher status?

Finally, some researchers have really gotten under the hood of family processes – the most influential of these might be Annette Lareau, whose research led to the popular book Unequal Childhoods. But even the richest of these studies can’t yet prove that the behavior they see causes the outcome we expect. As convincing as Lareau’s evidence is that the nature of parenting differs across the class divide, the data can’t tell us that’s why the rich kids end up richer (or healthier or happier) in the long run.

Naturally, part of what rich people do that poor people can’t is spend money on their kids. They can make other investments, too, such as taking care of their own health or devoting more time to their kids. If the difference is the ability to pay tuition at a decent school or the “whom you know” method of getting a job, we don’t need rocket social science to figure it out. But understanding variation – when the “system” fails to reproduce itself perfectly – is part of how we figure out the system itself.

Women’s stalled march to the top?

You might sell books with declarations like this – “the outcome of the gender wars, if wars they were, is clear: women won” – but that’s not the story Matt Huffman, Stefanie Knauer and I tell in our just-published article in the journal Work and Occupations, “Stalled Progress? Gender Segregation and Wage Inequality Among Managers, 1980-2000.” We must have gotten distracted by some of the facts.

The story about women’s movement into positions of managerial authority is mixed.

1. Women’s entry into managerial jobs was rapid in the 1980s, and stalled markedly in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Three measures of female representation confirm the basic pattern of a stall, either at about 35% or 45%:

2. The segregation among managers increased in the 1990s. That is, when you break down the different managerial jobs – such as managers in day care centers (94% female in 2000) or parking garages and carwashes (5% female) – women were integrating new jobs in the 1980s, but in the 1990s they became more concentrated in the same jobs. We measured this segregation three different ways and got the same result. That’s too bad for them, because…

3. Holding constant age, race, education, family structure, etc., the more women there are in a managerial job, the lower the pay. On the bright side, paradoxically…

4. The overall gender earnings gap among managers shrank in the 1990s. However, although we can’t be sure yet, we suspect this was because all those new managers hired in the 1980s gained experience and improved their earnings relative to men, and the influx of lower-paid junior managers slowed.

In the end, we echo the summary Jerry Jacobs offered nearly 20 years ago, that “female managers have a long way to go,” and we conclude: “our results strongly suggest a dramatic slowing of progress for women in managerial occupations.”

Valerie K. Oppenheimer

News from UCLA is that Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, who was on the sociology faculty there since 1972, has passed away. This year, fittingly, Oppenheimer was the inaugural recipient of the Harriet B. Presser Award from the Population Association of America, which is given for a record of sustained contribution in gender and demography.

I did not know her personally, but her work was highly influential in the areas of sociology of gender and family. (An obituary in the Los Angeles Times appeared here.)

In a path-breaking 1967 article in Population Studies, she analyzed the interaction of labor supply and demand to explain the rapidly increasing employment rates of women in the post-war years. That complex dynamic involved demographic trends in population size and composition, economic factors such as the changing industrial composition, cultural changes in the acceptability of women’s employment and political changes in the laws and policies limiting the employment of married women and mothers. A 1968 article in Industrial Relations provided documentation of high levels of gender segregation. In a technique near and dear to my heart, she differentiated occupations across industries in the Census data to uncover the extent of segregation. (For example, 67% of clerical workers were women, but in the communications industry that figure rose to 88% – that’s 1960, when there were a lot fewer women in the labor force.) Her dispassionate and methodical scientific tone in these articles masks the cutting-edgeness of a woman independently doing theoretically ambitious, quantitative, demographic work in the U.S. at that time.

Perhaps her most influential work today, however, was in debunking the myth that married couples are most stable and “functional,” and can best maximize their fortunes, by combining wives’ unpaid work and husbands’ paid employment, known as the “specialization and trading model.” These articles have been cited hundreds of times, establishing a theoretical and empirical pillar for a sociological counter-model to, first, the dominant functionalist model in American sociology (Talcott Parsons in particular); and second to the dominant, and often simplistic, economic paradigm on the family. She did not predict or advocate for the end of marriage, but rather for its reconfiguration as a two-earner partnership, albeit one that would probably be less common and less stable than the trading-based marriages were before.

Here’s a long excerpt from the conclusion to her 1994 article in Population and Development Review entitled, “Women’s Rising Employment and the Future of the Family in Industrial Societies”:

According to the trading model, as women’s wages rise … they experience greater involvement in paid employment and increasing economic independence; hence the major gain to marriage is greatly reduced. But there are other reasons why an institution of marriage based on such a model might become an endangered social form in industrial societies. The stability of such a family is theoretically founded on women specializing in home production, and a major part of this production involves the bearing and rearing of children who, as marriage-specific capital, provide an additional source of marital cohesion. Much of the specialized home production of women in the past was devoted to bearing and rearing children who never survived to adulthood. For women to be equally occupied in contemporary low-mortality societies would mean the production of large families. However, even moderate family sizes in a low-mortality society lead to rapid population growth. Hence, if the stability of marital relationships depends on exponential population growth, it is unclear whether this is a viable societal strategy over the long term. Moreover, couples do not just want to produce children per se, they want to produce children like themselves – that is, they are interested in social, not just biological reproduction. But the cost of social reproduction is high in a society where increasingly substantial and lengthy investments in human capital for each child are required. In short, high fertility does not appear to be a viable family strategy. Contemporary low fertility, however, reduces the need for women’s specialization in home production. Given their long lives, it also means women would be not doing anything highly productive most of the time. Can any society, even a wealthy one, afford to have more than half its citizenry economically nonproductive for a good part of their lives? All in all, if the basis of marriage is specialization and exchange, then marriage seems an increasingly anachronistic social form.

This may seem an exceedingly pessimistic view of the future of marriage but, in large part, this is a function of the specialization model itself. It may not follow from other models of marriage. For example, I have suggested that a more adaptive family strategy for a modern industrial society is one where wives as well as husbands engage in market work. A specialization model of marriage, aside from its other problems, entails considerable risks in an independent nuclear family system – risks for individuals as well as for the family unit. This is because in such a family there is rarely more than one person to occupy any single specialty, and if something happens to him or her, functions vital to the family’s well-being and even its continued survival may cease to be performed. …

Moreover, as societies industrialize and become characterized by highly skilled and relatively high-wage labor, the potential relative contribution of unskilled children is greatly diminished. Wives’ employment, therefore, provides a highly adaptive alternative strategy. It introduces some needed labor redundancy, thereby reducing the risks to the family’s income position, and it also provides a means of helping to maintain living levels over the family’s developmental cycle. But if wives’ employment (whether in-termittent or regular, part-time or full-time) is an adaptive family strategy in a modern society, then we are positing a model of marriage entirely different from that of specialization and trade. Now we are talking about a more collaborative model.

Oppenheimer had been professor emerita at UCLA since 1994. My career, and those of many others, would not have been the same without her.

Does every sound bite have a source?

Today a story on Raleigh TV station WRAL featured two married mothers – one employed and one not – discussing their experiences. I was chosen to be the guy in the white coat. I might make it look effortless, but for every sound bite, there is a source. Credit reporter by Erin Hartness, for giving me time to prepare, and choosing clips that mostly made sense.

If the embedding doesn’t work, clip is here: Mothers struggle with work-home balance.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The sources

I said: “The pressure falls on [women], and all the progress we’ve made has so far not alleviated that pressure.” That could come from various sources, but is based on, “Under Pressure: Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Free Time and Feeling Rushed,” by Marybeth Mattingly and Liana Sayer in the Journal of Marriage and Family. They find: “women’s time pressure increased significantly between 1975 and 1998 but men’s did not.”

About the tendency of some working women who decide to stay home to treat parenting as they treat a professional career, I said: “some people think it’s ratcheted up the demands of parenting for everybody.” This comes from reading Pamela Stone’s book, Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. (That was also the source for the comment that workplaces haven’t become as flexible as people would like to think.)

On there being a “self-help book for anything you can imagine,” I was referring to the proliferation about books on parenting, and especially on how to best do every kind of parenting. I made this picture for my Family class:

Dummy books on parenting

Finally, I said: “Husbands have changed their behavior, but not that much.” This is debatable, actually. The trends for mothers and fathers time doing paid and unpaid work from 1965 to 2000 are summarized in Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, by Suzanne M. Bianchi, John P. Robinson, and Melissa A. Milkie. In 1965 married mothers spent 4-times as much time taking care of children as fathers did; in 2000 they did twice as much childcare. Both mothers and fathers changed, but mothers do twice as much childcare (and the pattern for housework is similar). Given how much women’s employment has increased, I look at that as a glass-half-empty situation, but others disagree.