How Insecure Is the American Family? Marianne Cooper talks with Bloomberg

Marianne Cooper, author of Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times recently discussed the financial security of American families on Bloomberg TV’s “Taking Stock” with Pimm Fox. Watch to find out how families are dealing with economic instability, and what the ripple effects are on the economy at large.

Cut Adrift makes an important and original contribution to the national conversation about inequality and risk in American society. Through poignant case studies, Cooper reveals what families are concerned about, how they manage their anxiety, whose job it is to worry, and how social class shapes all of these dynamics, including what is even worth worrying about in the first place.


Farewell, ASA!

Thanks to everyone who came to see us at ASA’s annual meeting in San Francisco, Hard Times. For our parting shot, here’s Executive Editor Naomi Schneider with some of our illustrious authors:

(L-R) Timothy Black,  Annette Lareau,  Naomi Schneider, Marianne Cooper,  Mary Erdmans

(L-R) Timothy Black, Annette Lareau, Naomi Schneider, Marianne Cooper, Mary Erdmans

Till next year!



Live from ASA

UC Press staff and editors are having a great time at the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s annual meeting, Hard Times: The Impact of Economic Inequality on Families and Individuals. Here are some of the authors who stopped by our booth to say hello:

Ana Villalobos with her new book, Motherload Making It All Better in Insecure Times

Ana Villalobos with her new book, Motherload
Making It All Better in Insecure Times

Yen Le Espiritu (R) with her new book, Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees, and her daughter Maya, who designed the cover

Yen Le Espiritu (R) with her new book, Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees, and her daughter Maya, who designed the cover

UC Press authors John Iceland (L) and Dalton Conley with Executive Editor Naomi Schneider

UC Press authors John Iceland (L) and Dalton Conley with Executive Editor Naomi Schneider



Anxious Times in an American Suburb

by Rachel Heiman

One afternoon, while working as an “ethnographic babysitter” during fieldwork on middle class anxieties amid the lead up to the economic crisis, I was driving 11-year old Doug to soccer practice and then to guitar lessons. At one point I asked him the usual “How was school today?” question. In an overwhelmed voice he vented, “It’s so annoying that we have to go to school and be so busy when we’re young. Then, we have to spend the rest of our life working all the time.” I wasn’t surprised to hear these words from Doug. His extracurricular schedule was intense, and many parents in his suburban New Jersey town commuted three hours round trip to work each day—common occurrences among the insecure and aspiring middle classes. What did amaze me was what he uttered next: he wished we had “a society like communism because they don’t have to work so much.”

I wasn’t sure where Doug got his understanding of communism, though this potential seed of radicalism was striking. That is, until a few months later when he walked in from school and asked me for stock tips. His dad had just opened an E*Trade account for him to learn how to invest; his first mission was to make enough to buy a car for himself when he turned 17. I curiously asked Doug what happened to his interest in communism. He didn’t remember having made the comment. In fact, he seemed shocked that he would have said it since he’d rather be busy than bored.

Amid research for my forthcoming book, Driving After Class: Anxious Times in an American Suburb, I found many such moments when class anxieties fueled entrepreneurial sentiments, practices, and purchases that replaced longings for a supportive state. In its place emerged temporary feelings of security that often ultimately made families (and their neighbors) less secure. This is, in a way, the neoliberal culmination of the ideological plan for postwar suburbs. As famed homebuilder William Levitt infamously remarked during the Cold War, “No man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist. He has too much to do.”


Rachel Heiman is Associate Professor of Anthropology at The New School and author of Driving After Class: Anxious Times in an American Suburb, which will release in January 2015 and is now available for pre-order.


It's Still Not Safe to be a Gay Teacher

by Catherine Connell

“This is going to say a lot about me, but I wish there were more openly gay men and lesbians in [education]. I’m not going to run out and out myself because I still believe my job here should be to be your science teacher, not your gay science teacher. But, no, that’s important though. Wow, listen to myself.” In these few sentences, Mauricio, a junior high science teacher, grapples with the contradiction at the heart of being a gay or lesbian schoolteacher. How do such teachers reconcile the dictates of gay pride, which expects them to be role models for queer and questioning youth, with the sexually and politically neutral demands of teaching professionalism? My book, School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers In The Classroom, demonstrates how this struggle plays out in the lives of public school teachers in the disparate policy contexts of California and Texas.

Gay and lesbian teachers like Mauricio face a no-win choice. Be “out and proud” but do so at the risk that your sexuality will overshadow your teaching accomplishments, or keep your sexuality hidden to preserve professional esteem but contend with the feelings of guilt or shame associated with the classroom “closet.” This dilemma is further complicated by race and gender and by the inadequacy of nondiscrimination protections – without a federal mandate barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity or gender expression, teachers can be legally fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in states like Texas. Even in stronger policy contexts, like California’s, teachers often don’t know their rights or (rightly) fear covert retribution for coming out. These high stakes make gay and lesbian teachers an especially vulnerable group of workers in these already unstable economic times.

In the wake of the recent gay rights victories, from the declaration of the Defense of Marriage Act’s unconstitutionality to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it may feel as if LGBTs in this country have already won the battle for full equality. Yet looking at the experiences of gay and lesbian teachers shows just how many legal and cultural roadblocks still stand between here and the end of sexuality discrimination. For true progress, both the discriminatory atmosphere of workplaces like schools and the increasingly one-size-fits-all demands of the gay pride movement must be addressed.


Catherine Connell is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University. She is the author of the forthcoming book, School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom (December, 2014).


Inequality and the Roots of the Great Recession

by John Iceland

What does income inequality have to do with the Great Recession? After all, wasn’t the recession mainly caused by hanky-panky in the financial sector (or, to put it more formally, the loosening of bank lending rules and rise of mortgage securitization with too little regulatory oversight), which led to a housing bubble that eventually burst?

As I describe in Portrait of America, income inequality was a critical factor contributing to the recession. For those of you who were thinking of buying a house in the 2000s, who doesn’t remember the importance of more bathrooms, granite kitchen tops, and large open-concept living space—popularized by and reflected in television shows featuring discerning home buyers? The average size of houses, for example, grew 15 percent to 2,277 square feet in just 10 years between 1997 and 2007. Among the aspiring middle class, home-buying, and even home-flipping, seemed like a good way to build wealth. Very little money down was required, and you could refinance with your growing home equity (driven by ever-rising home prices) if monthly payments got too big. Everyone was doing it.

The fact is that subjective well-being has a relative component. When you are not doing as well as your neighbors, you feel less well off. If everybody is buying their dream home, and they all can seem to afford it, shouldn’t you too? This issue does not simply boil down to envy. It is more about fitting in and being able to participate in one’s community. Everyone aspires to be in the middle class. The rising income and wealth of those in the upper portion of the income distribution raised the bar for everyone, even as incomes in the middle stagnated. Thus, while inequality was not the sole factor behind the Great Recession, it was a vital—and often underappreciated—one.


John Iceland is Head of the Department of Sociology and Professor of Sociology and Demography at Penn State University. His most recent book, A Portrait of America,  is the first book in the new series Sociology in the 21st Century. Conceived and written for courses, the books in this series will address major sociological issues in the United States today such as race, immigration, gender, the family, education, and social inequality.


The Pursuit of Modern Consuming Femininity

by Sanyu A. Mojola

Jacqueline, a Kenyan high school girl, wanted to be modern. She was not poor, but she nonetheless had needs. As she explained, “You know, if you are a schoolgirl, it is very hard to get money unless you are given by your parent, and let’s say there is a very nice trouser you want to buy and you cannot ask your father or mother for money. Now it will force you to look for a boyfriend whose parents are a bit rich so that if you beg for something like Kshs 1000 [$14.28], he can easily give you so that you can go and buy that trouser that you are really in need of, but if, let’s say, you are working in somebody’s house, it will force you to scrub that house every morning but at the end of the month, you only earn 100 shillings.”

As economic inequality becomes exacerbated across sub-Saharan Africa, billboards advertising modern products are ubiquitous, but portray lifestyles that remain out of reach for many. Schoolgirls like Jacqueline, who I write about in Love, Money and HIV: Becoming a Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS were in a curious predicament. For women in this culture, as in others, consumption and display of goods such as fashionable clothing and beauty products are a key way in which modern femininity is signified. However schoolgirls’ families while able to cover basic needs, could not provide what they considered luxuries. So what to do?

Jacqueline had clearly considered what were limited options. Girls’ jobs were hard to find, and when found, did not pay much; certainly not enough to cover consumption desires. Finding a generous boyfriend – whose provision was a marker of love in this setting – was a clear solution to one problem. Yet it opened them up to another. Rich men also had higher rates of HIV. Young African women’s pursuit of consuming modernity helps makes sense of not only their higher rates of HIV compared to young men, many of whom are poor, but also why Africa’s middle class and rich women have the highest rates of HIV.


Sanyu A. Mojola is the author of Love, Money, and HIV: Becoming a Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS, and is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.


From Pink and Blue to Brown: Gendering the Garden

by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, author of Paradise Transplanted

Cross-posted from Girl w/ Pen

Are flowers feminine and lawn masculine? Or are gardens, with their domestic allure and food provisioning, feminine altogether?   Thinking about gender as a duality of flowery femininity and masculine mowing doesn’t get us very far. It’s like trying to squish bio-diversity into a binary code.   We know gender is shaped by intersections of race, class and nation, by myriad subcultural groups and by everyday acts of gender bending and deliberate non-compliance.  So what do we see when we look at the residential garden as a project of gender?

The lawn is the obvious place to start. The American suburban lawn once received derisive commentary from urbanites and novelists but now, as the entire western portion of the United States fries after years of drought, anti-lawnism is catching on with many sensible people. But who insisted on front yards of lawn in the first place? Suburban homes set back from the street, with ornamental plants around the foundation of the house and lawn stretching out to the street is a style attributed to Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52), the nation’s first popular garden designer, merchant and Martha Stewart-like tastemaker. He loved the lawn. In his 1841 book, he instructed Americans on how to have a garden in good taste: men should tend the lawn, walkways, vegetables and fruit trees, and women, the flowers. Jane Loudon’s Gardening for Ladies, published in England around the same time and widely read in the U.S., cautioned women not to over-exert themselves in the garden. Meanwhile, lawn as a symbol of masculine status and power, was marketed to men by lawn mower companies as early as the 1850s. … Read the rest of the post at Girl w/ Pen!


Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times

by Marianne Cooper, adapted from this post in the Huffington Post

“We are probably in the top 1 percent of all American households . . . So I can’t complain . . . [but] I still don’t feel rich.” To feel secure, Paul Mah, a technology executive, said he needs millions more. “For me, the financial metric, given the world today and everything I think I would need to have – it’s a very arbitrary number – but I’d say if I had ten million dollars in the bank in investments right now, then I’d feel at that point [secure.]” With millions more to accumulate, Paul was worried.

In contrast to Paul Mah’s need for more, Laura Delgado, a struggling single mother of three who works as a cashier, told me that she didn’t need much to feel secure – just food, shelter, and clothing. “Having nothing isn’t always a bad thing,” she said, reminding herself that things could always be worse. To cope with her financial trouble, Laura scaled back her definition of security to just the basics and filtered out bad news by always trying to look on the bright side of things. This kind of approach enabled her to control the anxiety she felt about her precarious economic situation.

In talking with families from rich to poor for my new book, Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times, I learned that we are all grappling with something similar – the anxiety generated by hard times. Across the class spectrum, we all experience such feelings of insecurity. We just feel it and deal with it in different ways. In the face of high inequality and widespread financial risk, the rich don’t think they have enough and strive to attain more, while middle and working class families realize they can’t do much to improve their situations so they lower their expectations and try to get used to less. These different approaches to managing insecurity reveal that economic inequalities are accompanied by emotional inequalities. In hard times, we are separated not just by how much money we have in our wallets, but also by what we feel, try to feel, and try not to feel.


Marianne Cooper is a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and an affiliate at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. She was the lead researcher for Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg and is a contributor to She received her PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Watch an interview with Marianne Cooper on Bloomberg TV’s “Taking Stock” with Pimm Fox.


Trust Funds of Competitive Kid Capital

by Hilary Levey Friedman

Lois was one of the most involved moms I have ever met. She gave up her professional career to manage the childhood careers of her daughters, which involved private school, private tutors, and private lessons for a variety of afterschool activities. Even though her husband, a doctor, ensured that these activities were financially possible, her own children’s future financial lives seemed precarious to Lois. She explained, “Lottie goes to school with people who have trust funds and you can kind of see that their parents don’t really care if they do well in school. She knows she has to do well in school because she needs to be on a track that she’s basically going to support herself. . . . Like, when she grows up she says she wants to be a litigator. . . . I’m raising my kid to where she can compete in the marketplace.”

While researching Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture I met lots of parents like Lois who have credentials and affluence, but who feel the next generation is at risk. Because these families have achieved due to success in the educational system—and because they don’t have excess financial capital to pass on to their kids—they heavily invest in a form of cultural capital I call competitive kid capital. In the short-term kids learn to compete in afterschool activities like chess, and dance, and soccer; in the long-term kids develop skills that help them succeed in college admissions, graduate school, and the job market.

This competitive kid capital seemed to become even more important to parents during recent hard times. Participation in competitive afterschool activities is fairly recession-proof, as families I met intensified their children’s participation, being even more concerned about downward mobility. While most of the families said that the economic crisis had not affected their children’s participation in their particular activity, parents did report that it had affected their families overall. It would seem that instead of taking the opportunity to pull back, parents see the acquisition of competitive kid capital as more important than ever and worth the investment of family money and time to create a new type of trust fund for American upper-middle class kids in the twenty-first century.


Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She is an affiliate of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University as a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy and she received her PhD in Sociology from Princeton University. Read Hilary’s blog, or follow her on Twitter @hleveyfriedman.