07 – Families

Sociologist Amy Schalet has a new book out contrasting American and Dutch attitudes and practices regarding teenage sexuality. The book is titled Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the   Culture of Sex (University of Chicago Press). Schalet finds significant differences between the two countries. In a Macleans prcview of the book titled “The Sleepover Dilemma,” Anne Kingston provides a contrast demonstrating the two approaches:

Schalet interviewed 130 parents and teenagers in both countries to explore the cultural gulf. Dutch parents “normalize” teenage sexuality, Schalet concludes, as a way of maintaining a connection with and continuing to exert an influence over their teenagers. It’s an extension of a Dutch matter-of-fact attitude toward sex ushered in since the ’70s: sex education begins at age four and contraception is readily available. Yet it’s far from an “anything goes” attitude, Schalet writes: Dutch parents have to feel comfortable that their child, generally 16 or 17, is old enough to be sexually active, is using reliable contraception, and is in a stable relationship with someone who will fit into the family unit. Dutch parents also expect teenagers to abstain from sex until they’re ready.

American parents, on the other hand, “dramatize” teen sex by focusing on the risks and dangers….Unlike Dutch parents, American parents uphold sexual freedom as a rite of adulthood, defined by economic and emotional autonomy, hence the “you can have sex when you’re paying your own rent” edict. That makes sex an inevitable point of conflict—and disconnect—between teenagers and parents, Schalet writes, which in turn leads to inevitable sneaking around and dire health consequences: compared with the Netherlands, the unwanted pregnancy rate in the U.S. is four times higher, the abortion rate is more than two times higher, as are rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

An interview with Schalet also appears in Salon, titled “Solving America’s Teen Sex Problem.” In his preview to the interview, Thomas Rogers notes:

As Schalet’s extensively researched, fascinating work shows, the Netherlands’ radically different approach to sex and child-rearing has managed to radically decrease levels of teen pregnancy, abortion and sexual infections. It has fostered closer relationships between teenagers and their parents, and helped make teenagers’ first times far more pleasurable.

Such cr0ss-cultural analysis provides a helpful lens through which we can better understand why we think and act in the ways we do.

The New York Times has an article up about twenty-somethings: “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”  Of particular concern is the increased likelihood that people in this age group are more likely to live at home with parents than in the past. The authors identify some of these patterns:

One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever.

Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.

This is identified as part of the “changing timetable for adulthood” resulting in extended adolescence.

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Pew reports that the multi-generational American family household is staging a comeback comprising 16.1% of family households: The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household.

OkCupid.com, the online dating social networking site, decided to study their clients profile pictures to uncover any patterns that might exist in their data. In their blogpost discussing their study, “The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures,” they report:

we cataloged over 7,000 photographs on OkCupid.com, analyzing three primary things:

* Facial Attitude. Is the person smiling? Staring straight ahead? Doing that flirty lip-pursing thing?

* Photo Context. Is there alcohol? Is there a pet? Is the photo outdoors? Is it in a bedroom?

* Skin. How much skin is the person showing? How much face? How much breasts? How much ripped abs?

Based on the information they gathered they weigh the truth or falsity of four myths:

  • It’s better to smile
  • You shouldn’t take your picture with your phone or webcam
  • Guys should keep their shirts on
  • Make sure your face is showing

Part of what makes this interesting is that they do consider gender differences in the clients presentation of self. They include charts, graphs, and stats to support their claims. I think it could make for interesting classroom discussion.

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The U.S. Census has posted a press release with Valentine’s Day related data: Valentine’s Day 2010: Feb. 14. It includes a variety of facts and figures tied to typical topics for the day including candy, flowers, dating, and marriage. A few examples:

  • 23.8 pounds: Per capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2008.
  • 112,185: The number of marriages performed in Nevada during 2008.
  • 27.6 and 25.9 years: Median age at first marriage in 2008 for men and women, respectively.
  • 8: Average length, in years, of first marriages ending in divorce.

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Pew has a report summarizing data on marriage and divorce from the Census’s American Community Project: The States of Marriage and Divorce. It includes state-level information on things such as median age of first marriage, share of the population currently divorced, percentage of the population that has been married three times or more, etc. It also includes national summary statistics, such as:

On the national level, the Census Bureau survey showed that a shrinking share of Americans are married — 52% of males ages 15 and older and 48% of females ages 15 and older. The proportion of Americans who are currently married has been diminishing for decades and is lower than it has been in at least half a century….Nationally, the median age at first marriage has been climbing for decades: It now stands at 28 for men and 26 for women.

Pew also provides an interactive map the reports data for each state and for both men and women.


The States of Marriage and Divorce

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Sociologist Markella B. Rutherford has an article out in Qualitative Sociology titled, “Children’s Autonomy and Responsibility: An Analysis of Childrearing Advice” [pdf]. I found out about it from this blogpost Lisa Guernsey who suggested an alternative title might have been, “Today’s Kids: So Many Choices, So Little Freedom.” Guernsey summarizes Rutherford’s research this way:

Rutherford compared childrearing advice in Parents magazine from 1929 to 2006, poring over 300 texts comprised of advice columns and articles on child development, discipline, parenting methods, and family relationships. She was looking for moments in the texts where authors talked about giving children choices – such as choosing what or when to eat, what activities to be involved in, what kind of chores to do or when to do them. What she found is that parents have, over the decades, given their kids more choices at home while tightening the leash once outside the house.

She goes on to provide additional details from Rutherford’s research and also provides links to a related story on what she calls the “choices-versus-freedom paradox” about parents being angry at neighborhood ice cream vendors who might seem to be a threat to parental control outside the house.

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