Rightful Parents

Kevin Lewis

September 19, 2021

Rising nonmarital first childbearing among college-educated women: Evidence from three national studies
Andrew Cherlin
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 14 September 2021

Levels of nonmarital first childbearing are assessed using recent administrations of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 Cohort; the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health; and the National Survey of Family Growth. Results confirm that the higher a woman’s educational attainment, the less likely she is to be unmarried at the time of her first birth. A comparison over time shows increases in nonmarital first childbearing at every educational level, with the largest percentage increase occurring among women with college degrees at the BA or BS level or higher. This article projects that 18 to 27% of college-educated women now in their thirties who have a first birth will be unmarried at the time. In addition, among all women who are unmarried at first birth, women with college degrees are more likely to be married at the time of their second birth, and, in a majority of cases, the other parent of the two children was the same person. A growing proportion of well-educated women, and their partners, may therefore be pursuing a family formation strategy that proceeds directly to a first birth, and then proceeds, at a later point, to marriage, followed by a second birth. Possible reasons for the increase in nonmarital first births among the college-educated include the stagnation of the college wage premium; the rise in student debt; decreasing selectivity; and the growing acceptability of childbearing within cohabiting unions, which have become a common setting for nonmarital childbearing, and among single parents. 

“The Books Make You Feel Bad”: Expert Advice and Maternal Anxiety in the Early 21st Century
Maia Cucchiara & Amy Steinbugler
Sociological Forum, forthcoming

With ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews of parenting classes serving middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, this paper explores how mothers engage and experience expert advice. Contemporary models of motherhood expect more than nurture and sacrifice; modern mothers must also be highly skilled and well informed. A wealth of information is available to help mothers navigate a high-pressure environment in which their actions are believed to have deep, long-lasting impact on children’s future health, happiness, and success. How do mothers engage with expert advice, what demands does it place on them, and what rewards might that generate? Our data include approximately 50 hours of observation, 10 formal, in-depth interviews, and multiple informal interviews with mostly white, highly educated, relatively affluent mothers. Interview narratives and fieldnotes were coded and analyzed with Dedoose. We show that mothers in our study experience a paradox of expertise, in which more knowledge often fails to produce more certainty. Parenting advice is complex, contingent, and sometimes contradictory, and the stakes in which mothers work to synthesize this information feel astoundingly high. The labor of gathering, synthesizing, and activating expertise is a unique and underexamined form of emotional and intellectual labor. 

Selling the Ability to “Have It All”: How Direct Selling Organizations Exploit Intensive Mothering Ideologies
Mallory Rees
Social Problems, forthcoming

Drawing on 27 interviews with consultants in the direct selling industry, this article argues that consultants’ motivations to do stigmatized work with low financial rewards are tied to cultural pressures to adhere to intensive mothering ideologies. Some direct selling organizations in the United States are changing from a home party model — selling products out of homes — to a social commerce model — selling and recruiting using social media. Using a gendered organizations approach, these organizations portray themselves as feminine organizations, celebrating caregiving and allowing consultants — predominantly women — to reconcile work-family tensions through flexible work. Yet, this business model incentivizes a small number of financially successful consultants to train a much larger group to perform costly emotional labor for low pay. Consultants use the guilt tied to intensive mothering ideologies as a motivational tool in which they portray the cultural benefits of being a “good mother” — always available to and cultivating her children — as outweighing the emotional cost of doing stigmatized work that strains personal relationships. Rather than financially or emotionally supporting women, these organizations exploit women’s investments in finding individualized solutions to work-family conflict and reaffirm racialized, classed, and sexualized ideologies. 

Screen time and early adolescent mental health, academic, and social outcomes in 9- and 10- year old children: Utilizing the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study
Katie Paulich et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2021

In a technology-driven society, screens are being used more than ever. The high rate of electronic media use among children and adolescents begs the question: is screen time harming our youth? The current study draws from a nationwide sample of 11,875 participants in the United States, aged 9 to 10 years, from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study®). We investigate relationships between screen time and mental health, behavioral problems, academic performance, sleep habits, and peer relationships by conducting a series of correlation and regression analyses, controlling for SES and race/ethnicity. We find that more screen time is moderately associated with worse mental health, increased behavioral problems, decreased academic performance, and poorer sleep, but heightened quality of peer relationships. However, effect sizes associated with screen time and the various outcomes were modest; SES was more strongly associated with each outcome measure. Our analyses do not establish causality and the small effect sizes observed suggest that increased screen time is unlikely to be directly harmful to 9-and-10-year-old children. 

Genetic and environmental contributions to IQ in adoptive and biological families with 30-year-old offspring
Emily Willoughby et al.
Intelligence, September–October 2021

While adoption studies have provided key insights into the influence of the familial environment on IQ scores of adolescents and children, few have followed adopted offspring long past the time spent living in the family home. To improve confidence about the extent to which shared environment exerts enduring effects on IQ, we estimated genetic and environmental effects on adulthood IQ in a unique sample of 486 biological and adoptive families. These families, tested previously on measures of IQ when offspring averaged age 15, were assessed a second time nearly two decades later (M offspring age = 32 years). We estimated the proportions of the variance in IQ attributable to environmentally mediated effects of parental IQs, sibling-specific shared environment, and gene-environment covariance to be 0.01 [95% CI 0.00, 0.02], 0.04 [95% CI 0.00, 0.15], and 0.03 [95% CI 0.00, 0.07] respectively; these components jointly accounted for 8% of the IQ variance in adulthood. The heritability was estimated to be 0.42 [95% CI 0.21, 0.64]. Together, these findings provide further evidence for the predominance of genetic influences on adult intelligence over any other systematic source of variation. 

Gene × Environment Interactions in the Development of Preschool Effortful Control, and Its Implications for Childhood Externalizing Behavior
Jody Ganiban et al.
Behavior Genetics, September 2021, Pages 448–462

This study examined the role of gene × environment interaction (G × E) in the development of effortful control (EC) and externalizing symptoms (EXT). Participants included 361 adopted children, and their Adoptive Parents (APs) and Birth Mothers (BMs), drawn from the Early Growth and Development Study. The primary adoptive caregivers’ (AP1) laxness and overreactivity were assessed when children were 27-months-old, and used as indices of environmental influences on EC. Heritable influences on child EC were assessed by the BMs’ personality characteristics (emotion dysregulation, agreeableness). Secondary adoptive caregivers (AP2) reported on children’s EC at 54 months, and EXT at 7 years. Interactions between BM characteristics and AP1 laxness were related to EC and indirectly predicted EXT via EC. Parental laxness and EC were positively associated if children had high heritable risk for poor EC (BM high emotion dysregulation or low agreeableness), but negatively associated if children had low heritable risk for poor EC (BM low emotion dysregulation or high agreeableness). BM agreeableness also moderated associations between AP1 overreactivity and effortful control, and yielded a similar pattern of results. Our findings suggest that G × E is an important first step in the development of EXT via its effect on EC. Consistent with “goodness of fit” models, heritable tendencies can affect which parenting practices best support EC development. 

The Impact of Legal Abortion on Maternal Health: Looking to the Past to Inform the Present
Sherajum Monira Farin, Lauren Hoehn-Velasco & Michael Pesko
Georgia State University Working Paper, September 2021

From 1959 to 1980, abortion-related mortality declined by 97%, and maternal mortality fell by 86%. In this study, we question whether the legalization of abortion over 1969-1973 explains a portion of this maternal mortality decline. We exploit state-level variation in changes to abortion laws predating Roe vs. Wade, as well as the effect of Roe vs. Wade on states with differential baseline abortion demand. Our results suggest that legal abortion reduced non-white maternal mortality by 28-40%, with little impact on overall or white maternal mortality. Our findings also indicate that early state-level legalizations were crucial and more important than the Roe v. Wade decision itself. Then, we explore the effect of legal abortion on infant health and delivery characteristics. Legal abortion increases the average (maternal) age at delivery, and for white deliveries, it leads to healthier infants and a larger share of births to married mothers.


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