Tag Archives: Fathers

More fathers married when their first child is born? Probably not

A startling data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the percentage of fathers who weren’t married at the time of their first births fell from the 1980s to the 2000s. Here is the first “key finding”: “The percentage of fathers aged 15–44 whose first births were nonmarital was lower in the 2000s (36%) than in the previous 2 decades.”

That is shocking. How could we have a falling percentage of fathers not married at the time of their first births? The author, Gladys Martinez, writes:

Results from this study indicate that in the 2000s, the percentage of fathers with nonmarital first births declined. However, the percentage of fathers whose nonmarital first births occurred within a cohabiting union increased. This pattern differs from that for the mother. Data for women showed that the share of all births that occurred to unmarried women has doubled between 1988 and 2009–2013, and that the increase was driven by an increase in the share of births to cohabiting women.

Here is the main figure, showing the decline in nonmarital first births for fathers:

nchs-men-1But I think this is not correct (this concern was first raised to me by Pew researcher Gretchen Livingston). Here’s why. As the figure shows, the source for these three decades of data is the National Survey of Family Growth. The earliest this survey captured men’s births (awkward phrase, but you know what I mean) was in 2002. And the ages included in the survey were 15-44. But the figure has information about births in the years 1980-1989. By my math, the oldest a 15-44-year-old in 2002 could have been in 1989 is 31. So that 2002 survey is only returning data on the marital status of men ages 15-31 in the 1980s.

I always have to do one of these to make sure I’m not crazy when I’m trying to work something like this out. This is how old 15-44 year-olds in 2002 were in the 1980s, excluding those under 15 (click to enlarge):

age-in-80s

They’re all 15-31 (or younger) in the 1980s. In contrast, if they combine the 2006-2010 survey (collected over 5 years) with the 2011-2013 survey (collected over 3 years), they have men ages 15-42 in the 1990s and 15-44 in the 2000s. So, as the age of the men in the sample rose, the proportion married when they had their first birth rose, too. This is what we would expect: younger first-time parents are much less likely to be married.

Consider, then, the followup finding from the brief: for men of every age the proportion unmarried at the time of their first birth has increased:

nchs-men-2How can it be that the overall proportion unmarried is falling, while it’s rising for each age group? The answer in the data brief is that first-time unmarried fathers are getting older. But remember — the samples are getting older across these decades, because of the timing of the surveys: they age from 15-31 to 15-44. That explains the next figure perfectly. Look at that increase in the proportion of unmarried first-time fathers who are 25-44:

nchs-men-3In the 1980s, just 8% of first-time unmarried fathers were age 25-44, compared with a whopping 33% in the 2000s. But doesn’t it seem likely that you’ll have fewer men ages 25-44 in a group that only goes up to age 31, versus a group that goes all the way up to age 44?

This stuff gets confusing, but I’m pretty sure this is right. That is, wrong. I do not believe that there is a falling percentage of fathers having first births when they’re not married. What looked like a weird, complicated demographic problem — falling unmarried first-fatherhood along with rising unmarried first-motherhood — is probably an artifact of a weird, complicated problem in the analysis.

There is nothing in the data brief to suggest there was an adjustment for the changing age composition of the data for these decades, but maybe they did something I don’t understand. If not, I think NCHS should correct or retract this report.

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Why I called it The Family, and what that has to do with Cosby

First, a note on language

In American English books from 1910 to 1950, about 25% of the uses of “family” were preceded by “the.” Starting about 1950, however, “the family” started falling out of fashion, finally dropping below 16% of “family” uses in the mid-2000s. This trend coincides with the modern rise of family diversity.

In her classic 1993 essay, “Good Riddance to ‘The Family’,” Judith Stacey wrote,

no positivist definition of the family, however revisionist, is viable. … the family is not an institution, but an ideological, symbolic construct that has a history and a politics.

The essay was in Journal of Marriage and the Family, published by the National Council on Family Relations. In 2001, in a change that as far as I can tell was never announced, JMF changed its name to Journal of Marriage and the Family, which some leaders of NCFR believed would make it more inclusive. It was the realization of Stacey’s argument.

I decided on the title very early in the writing of my book: The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. I agreed with Stacey that the family is not an institution. Instead, I think it’s an institutional arena: the social space where family interactions take place. I wanted to replace the narrowing, tradition-bound term, with an expansive, open-ended concept that was big enough to capture both the legal definition and the diversity of personal definitions. I think we can study and teach the family without worrying that we’re imposing a singular definition of what that means.*

It takes the unique genius that great designers have to capture a concept like this in a simple, eye-catching image. Here is how the artists at Kiss Me I’m Polish did it:

cover-amazon

What goes in the frame? What looks like a harmless ice-breaker project — draw your family! — is also a conceptual challenge. Is it a smiling, generic nuclear family? A family oligarchy? Or a fictional TV family providing cover for an abusive, larger-than-life father figure who lectures us about morality while concealing his own serial rape behind a bland picture frame?

Whose function?

Like any family sociologist, I have great respect for Andrew Cherlin. I have taught from his textbook, as well as The Marriage Go-Round, and I have learned a lot from his research, which I cite often. But there is one thing in Public and Private Families that always rubbed me the wrong way when I was teaching: the idea that families are defined by positive “functions.”

Here’s the text box he uses in Chapter 1 (of an older edition, but I don’t think it’s changed), to explain his concept:

cherlinpubpriv

I have grown more sympathetic to the need for simplifying tools in a textbook, but I still find this too one-sided. Cherlin’s public family has the “main functions” of child-rearing and care work; the private family has “main functions” of providing love, intimacy, and emotional support. Where is the abuse and exploitation function?

That’s why one of the goals that motivated me to finish the book was to see the following passage in print before lots of students. It’s now in Chapter 12: Family Violence and Abuse:

We should not think that there is a correct way that families are “supposed” to work. Yes, families are part of the system of care that enhances the lived experience and survival of most people. But we should not leap from that observation to the idea that when family members abuse each other, it means that their families are not working. … To this way of thinking, the “normal” functions of the family are positive, and harmful acts or outcomes are deviations from that normal mode.

The family is an institutional arena, and the relationships between people within that arena include all kinds of interactions, good and bad. … And while one family member may view the family as not working—a child suffering abuse at the hands of a trusted caretaker, for example—from the point of view of the abuser, the family may in fact be working quite well, regarding the family as a safe place to carry out abuse without getting caught or punished. Similarly, some kinds of abuse—such as the harsh physical punishment of children or the sexual abuse of wives—may be expected outcomes of a family system in which adults have much more power than children and men (usually) have more power than women. In such cases, what looks like abuse to the victims (or the law) may seem to the abuser like a person just doing his or her job of running the family.

Huxtable family secrets

Which brings us to Bill Cosby. After I realized how easy it was to drop photos into my digital copy of the book cover, I made a series of them to share on social media — and planning to use them in an introductory lecture — to promote this framing device for the book. On September 20th of this year I made this figure and posted it in a tweet commemorating the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show:

huxtables-myfamilyphoto

Ah, September. When I was just another naïve member of the clueless-American community, using a popular TV family to promote my book, blissfully unaware of the fast-approaching marketing train wreck beautifully illustrated by this graph of internet search traffic for the term “Cosby rape”:

cosbyrapetraffic

I was never into The Cosby Show, which ran from my senior year in high school through college graduation (not my prime sitcom years). I love lots of families, but I don’t love “the family” any more than I love “society.” Like all families, the Huxtables would have had secrets if they were real. But now we know that even in their fictional existence they did have a real secret. Like some real families, the Huxtables were a device for the family head’s abuse of power and sexuality.

So I don’t regret putting them in the picture frame. Not everything in there is good. And when it’s bad, it’s still the family.

* Of course, I’m also the crank sociologist who doesn’t like to pluralize the terms sexuality, masculinity, or identity when used as objects of study. There are lots of different identities, I reckon, and I study any number of them when I’m studying identity. So call me the new old fashioned.

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What drives the rise of stay at home fathers?

At Pew Social Trends, Gretchen Livingston has a new report on fathers staying at home with their kids. They define stay at home fathers as any father ages 18-69 living with his children who did not work for pay in the previous year (regardless of marital status or the employment status of others in the household). That produces this trend:

pewSAHD

At least for the 1990s and early-2000s recessions, the figure very nicely shows spikes upward of stay-at-home dads during recessions, followed by declines that don’t wipe out the whole gain — we don’t know what will happen in the current decline as men’s employment rates rise.

In Pew’s numbers 21% of the stay at home fathers report their reason for being out of the labor force was caring for their home and family; 23% couldn’t find work, 35% couldn’t work because of health problems, and 22% were in school or retired.

It is reasonable to call a father staying at home with his kids a stay at home father, regardless of his reason. We never needed stay at home mothers to pass some motive-based criteria before we defined them as staying at home. And yet there is a tendency (not evidenced in this report) to read into this a bigger change in gender dynamics than there is. The Census Bureau has for years calculated a much more rigid definition that only applied to married parents of kids under 15: those out of the labor force all year, whose spouse was in the labor force all year, and who specified their reason as taking care of home and family. You can think of this as the hardcore stay at home parents, the ones who do it long term, and have a carework motivation for doing it. When you do it that way, stay at home mothers outnumber stay at home fathers 100-to-1.

I updated a figure from an earlier post for Bryce Covert at Think Progress, who wrote a nice piece with a lot of links on the gender division of labor. This shows the percentage of all married-couple families with kids under 15 who have one of the hard core stay at home parents:

SHP-1. PARENTS AND CHILDREN IN STAY-AT-HOME PARENT FAMILY GROUPS

That is a real upward trend for stay at home fathers, but that pattern remains very rare.

(The Census spreadsheet is here)

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Father care: The more things don’t change, the more they stay the same

The U.S. Census Bureau has released its new report on childcare. This provides a good followup treatment for the hyperventilation induced by fear of fathers taking over (or being relegated to) childcare.*

First, the trend that fits my story of stalled gender progress. Among married fathers with employed wives, how many are providing the “primary care” for their children? That is, among the various childcare arrangements the children are in while their mother is at work, how many are in their fathers’ care more than in any other arrangement? Answer: 10%, which is virtually unchanged from a quarter-century ago:

father-primary-careSource:  U.S. Census Bureau, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011. (There was a methodology change in 1997, before which Census asked parents to name their primary arrangement, which they now calculate from the hours in each arrangement.)

Not a lot of change for a quarter century in which we’re told everything has changed.

However, in fairness to the change-is-happening community, here is the trend for the percentage of fathers who say they are providing ANY care to their children while their mothers were at work.

father-any-care

Source: As above.

I don’t give this much weight since it might reflect greater sensitivity to the importance of saying fathers provide care, but there you have it: it’s higher, and it shows some increases up until the early 1990s, which is when gender equality in general stalled on many indicators. Since the mid-1990s: Nothing.

Please note these figures don’t show the total contribution of fathers, but only reflects those married with children, whose wives are employed.

One interesting source of father care is mothers’ shiftwork. As Harriet Presser reported two decades ago, the 24/7 economy stimulates some task sharing among couples. In the current report, the Laughlin writes:

Preschoolers whose mothers worked nights or evenings were more likely to have their father as a child care provider than those with mothers who worked a day shift (42 percent and 23 percent, respectively)

* The report was written by Lynda Laughlin — have you credited a government bureaucrat by name for something valuable they did today?

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Exaggerating gender changes

It is great to acknowledge and celebrate the increase in father involvement in parenting. But it is not helpful to exaggerate the trend and link it to the mythmaking about looming female dominance. Yesterday’s feature in the Sunday New York Times does just that, and reminds me that I meant to offer a quick debunking of Hanna Rosin’s TED talk.

The story is headlined “Just Wait Till Your Mother Gets Home.” The picture shows a group of dads with their kids, as if representing what one calls “the new normal.” Careful inspection of the caption reveals it is a “daddy and me” music class, so we should not be surprised to see a lot of dads with their kids.

The article also makes use of a New Yorker cover, which captures a certain gestalt — it’s a funny exaggeration — but should not be confused with an empirical description of the gender distribution of parents and playgrounds:

Naturally, the story is in the Style section, so close reading of the empirical support is perhaps a fool’s errand. However, I could not help noticing that the only two statistics in the story were either misleading or simply inaccurate. In the category of misleading, was this:

In the last decade, though, the number of men who have left the work force entirely to raise children has more than doubled, to 176,000, according to recent United States census data. Expanding that to include men who maintain freelance or part-time jobs but serve as the primary caretaker of children under 15 while their wife works, the number is around 626,000, according to calculations the census bureau compiled for this article.

The Census Bureau has for years employed a very rigid definition of stay-at-home dads, which only counts those who are out of the labor force for an entire year for reasons of “taking care of home and family.” This may seem an overly strict definition and an undercount, but if you simply counted any man with no job but with children as a stay-at-home dad, you risk counting any father who lost a job as stay-at-home. (A former student of mine, Beth Latshaw (now at Appalachian State University), has explored this issue and published her results here in the journal Fathering.)

In any event, those look like big numbers, but one should always be wary of raw numbers in the news. In fact, when you look at the trend as published by the Census Bureau, you see that the proportion of married couple families in which the father meets the stay-at-home criteria has doubled: from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.8% today. The larger estimate which includes fathers working part-time comes out to 2.8% of married couple families with children under 15. The father who used the phrase “the new normal” in the story was presumably not speaking statistically.

Source: My calculations from Census Bureau numbers (.xls file). Includes only married-couple families with children under age 15.

That’s the misleading number. The inaccurate number is here:

About 40 percent of women now make more than their husbands, the bureau’s statistics show, and that may be only the beginning of a seismic power shift, if new books like “The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love, And Family,” by Liza Mundy, and “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” by Hanna Rosin, are to be believed.

I guess in these troubled times for the newspaper business it might be acceptable to report X and Y statistic “if so-and-so is to be believed.” But it is a shame to do so when the public is paying the salary of people who have already debunked the numbers in question. Just the other day, I wrote about that very statistic: “Really? No. I don’t know why this keeps going around.” Using freely available tables (see the post), I calculated that a reasonable estimate of the higher-earning-wife share is 21%. In fact, on this point Liza Mundy and Hanna Rosin and are not to be believed.

Source: My graph from Census Bureau numbers

TED: Misinformation frequently spread

There is a TED talk featuring Hanna Rosin from the end of 2010, and I finally got around to watching it. Without doing a formal calculation, I would say that “most” of the statistics she uses in this talk are either wrong or misinterpreted to exaggerate the looming approach of female dominance. For example, she says that the majority of “managers” are now women, but the image on the slide which flashes by briefly refers to “managers and professionals.” Professionals includes nurses and elementary school teachers. Among managers themselves, women do represent a growing share (although not a majority, and the growth has slowed considerably), but they remain heavily segregated as I have shown here.

Rosin further reports that “young women” are earning more than “young men.” This statistic, which has been going around for a few years now, in fact refers to single, child-free women under age 30 and living in metropolitan areas. That is an interesting statistic, but used in this way is simply a distortion. (See this post for a more thorough discussion, with links.)

Rosin also claims that “70% of fertility clinic patients” prefer to have a female birth. In her own article in the Atlantic, Rosin reports a similar number for one (expensive, rare) method of sex selection only (with no source offered) — but of course the vast majority of fertility clinic patients are not using sex selection techniques. In fact, in her own article she writes, “Polling data on American sex preference is sparse, and does not show a clear preference for girls.”

Finally, I don’t think I need to offer statistics to address such claims as women are “taking control of everything”and “starting to dominate” among “doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants.” These are just made up. Congress is 17% female.

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Pounding the news with Maslow’s hammer

According to Maslow’s hammer, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.*

After reading the New York Times magazine’s report on an outbreak of neurological symptoms among high school girls in Le Roy, New York, David Blankenhorn blogged it this way:

20120312-135133.jpg

Blankenhorn is president of the Institute for American Values,

a private, nonpartisan** organization devoted to contributing intellectually to the renewal of marriage and family life and the sources of competence, character, and citizenship in the United States.

Maybe they should add to that list of virtues, “neurologically healthy childhood.”

The magazine article reports on a neurological outbreak that may be psychogenic, or originating in the mind. In this case, “originating” should be understood narrowly, medically rather than socially, since the girls in question appear to have in common a background of trauma and/or disruption in their lives, which may be relevant along with a host of factors from economic stagnation to media hype and cheerleader-related competition and anxiety. To me it is a possible illustration of the interactions between psychological and social processes as expressed through the fragile psyches of adolescents, and the anxiety echo chamber of modern reflexivity, amplified by the 24-hour news cycle. The story’s chronology makes it seem like the hype is part of what made them sick, in other words. (To a little kid with Giddens, everything looks like reflexivity.)

*Thanks to U. of Maryland sociologist Bill Falk for getting this expression stuck in my head around 1998.

**”nonpartisan” organizations are like natural flavorings, which may be natural at the molecular level (not endorsing candidates), but create all kinds of artificial mischief in your food (politics).

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