Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Hummer Bites the Dust

The gigantic Hummer – now the H1 of the Giant Dinosaur Burner series from General Motors – has been killed. They sold 12,000 of them (that's about 50,000 VW Bugs, according to the Universal Car Mass Conversion Chart) since they began as Gulf War I chic in the early nineties.

Now that it costs $150 to fill one up (seriously), they have lost some of their charm.

Hey, maybe a Hummer Hybrid? You could even plant a whole switchgrass field on top of the car, and burn that as it matured.

Friday, May 12, 2006

But What’s in it for Dad? The Transformative Power of Fatherhood

By guest bloggers -Natalie Frost and Adam Heckmann from the Family Life class.
(Part two of two)

While fatherhood is infinitely beneficial to children, what do men gain from being active fathers in an era when it would still be fairly easy to walk away? There are many benefits to those fathers that choose to marry, or stay married to, their child’s mother. Most strikingly, there is a health correlation. Men tend to be healthier when they are fathers because of the added responsibility. They often give up bad habits like smoking and excessive drinking with the realization that they are not only role models, but their health affects their ability to care for and provide for their children. Similarly, men often become more active and eat better as fathers. There is also a mental health benefit: men who are involved with their families are less likely to suffer from stress-related health problems like dizziness and chest pain. Children also bring a sense of purpose into their father’s lives; as a result, men are often more joyful and optimistic in their new role as fathers. In short, fathers tend to live healthier, happier lives.

In addition, while fathers must carefully balance their roles at the workplace and home, fatherhood appears to be a benefit to their working lives as well. Married fathers are the hardest working, highest paid members of society. Their newfound sense of purpose contributes to an unmatched work ethic. The way fathers think is also affected- men tend to become more creative and have more flexibility in the way that they think (Brott). Fatherhood also inspires a higher level of patience and a greater sense of humor-both invaluable coping skills for parents. Becoming a father also forces men to clarify their beliefs and values; most political or moral issues can be seen in a new light and with added importance when considering the possible effects on one’s children.

Despite the overwhelming advantages of fatherhood both to the child and the father, around 34% of children live without their biological father. The rate of fatherlessness is a very real problem in the United States. Change is needed. Organizations such as the National Center for Fathering and the National Fatherhood Initiative are taking steps in that direction, offering resources to help fathers become better fathers. These organizations and experts in the field of family life are also pushing for legislation to strengthen fatherhood, including incentives for fathers to marry and altering no-fault divorce law to become more child-focused. Grassroots initiatives may prove to be the most successful, with churches, schools and local organization sponsoring activities and offering resources to fathers in their area. There are numerous ways we can offer support and encouragement to fathers. Teachers can be sure to give two copies of school handouts to children whose parents are unmarried, one for Mom and Dad. Schools can sponsor father volunteer days or invite men to be leaders on PTA and other school decision making councils. Hospitals can hand out special kits with information and encouragement to fathers of newborns in their maternity wards. Churches can sponsor seminars about fatherhood.

On a national level, there is the possibility to reach fathers in a big way. The National Fatherhood Initiative has created PSAs for the web, TV, radio and print. These ads would be ideal for publication/airing in venues such as BET, ESPN, Sports Illustrated magazine, and USA Today. If a fatherhood initiative could gain sponsorship from a large corporation, there is no limit to how much publicity could be gained, with billboards, primetime TV spots and celebrities chatting about fatherhood on talk shows.

The power of involved, caring fatherhood is unmatched. We know the importance of the role fathers play, as well as the benefits to the man himself, now we need to spread the word. Every movement begins with a single person- a blogger choosing to have a National Fatherhood Initiative web banner PSA on his site, one involved father encouraging another to join the PTA, or one poster placed by a nurse in a waiting room. We can all work to support and encourage the fathers we know become stronger forces in their children’s lives and in doing so, improve the lives of all.

“My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it”. Clarence B. Kelland 1881-1964

Thursday, May 11, 2006

These Times Are A-Changin’: Trends in Fatherhood

By guest bloggers Natalie Frost and Adam Heckmann from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two)

Legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead once noted that fathers, while biologically necessary, were “social accidents.” We now know nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, young children benefit from their fathers’ involvement; fathers help foster verbal skills and emotional security. School-age children with involved fathers receive better grades, are less likely to be held back in school, and are less likely to be expelled (Nord, Brimhall & West, 1997). In adolescence, the closer children feel to their fathers, the less likely they are to participate in delinquent activities such as theft, violence, running away, disorderly conduct and weapons use (National Fatherhood Initiative). In addition, fathers help importantly shape the development of their children’s gender identities (Lamb 1997).

Most professed, however, are the failings of many fathers to play active roles in their children’s lives and the consequences that accompany such disengagement. Books like David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America and David Popenoe’s Life Without Father expose the “crisis of fatherlessness” that has contributed to the various problems associated with youth: low academic performance, teen pregnancy, drug use and violence. These reasons, among others, prompted the development of the National Fatherhood Initiative in 1994, with Blankenhorn himself presiding as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Since then, there has been increasing research regarding the importance of fathers, the consequences of their absence, as well as a proliferation of resources that encourage dads to become active participants in their children’s lives. The National Fatherhood Initiative is at the forefront of the revolution to involve dads in whatever station of life they may be, whether incarcerated, divorced, or a single dad. While the absence of fathers remains an important concern, the burgeoning body of knowledge concerning their role appears promising by educating and informing the public.

The changing view of fatherhood can further be seen in its impact of the working lives of men. Before, men often defined themselves by their occupations and their ability to provide for their families. There has been a shift in men’s self-perception; where once they might have seen providing as their most important role, the necessity of their parental involvement is now clear, especially as more mothers than ever before are working. Society has accommodated these new views with paternal leave for fathers of new babies, more flexible work schedules, and wider acceptance of stay-at-home dads. Even the ultra-macho Men’s Health Magazine has jumped on the fathering bandwagon with an “All-Star Dad” contest, as well as a quiz, “Are You a Good Dad?” and an interview with singer Tim McGraw about his relationship with his own absent father and his young daughters. Restaurants and stores are keeping up with the times by installing changing tables in men’s restrooms across the country. Everywhere, communities are transforming to become “father-friendly.”

[Not all of their citations are available today. I will add them later. Ed.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Global Face of Feminization of Poverty

By guest bloggers Megean Kincaid and Meg Ivey from the Family Life class.
(Part two of two)

Feminization of poverty extends into the global community. Worldwide, women earn on average slightly more than 50% of what men earn. Women who live in poverty are often denied access to credit, land, and inheritance. The factors that most often contribute are migrations, divorce, abandonment, civil strife, widowhood, unpartnered adolescent parenthood, and the general notion that children are women’s responsibility. A 1992 UN report found that “the number of rural women living in poverty in the developing countries has increased by almost 50% over the past 20 years to an awesome 565 million -- 374 million of them in Asia, and 129 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Women who head households have greater constraints in obtaining resources and services in housing and agriculture. Because women have less access to land, credits, capital, and jobs with good incomes, and because they are likely to have dependent children, they are disadvantaged and more vulnerable to poverty. The majority of women in female-headed households in developing countries are widowed, and to a lesser extent divorced or separated. In the developed countries most female-headed households consist of women who are never married or who are divorced.

Cross-national comparisons show us that the feminization of poverty is avoidable. The Netherlands keeps the sex-poverty ratio low by establishing a high income floor; the welfare state does not allow anyone to be poor, regardless of family status or employment situation. Sweden keeps the sex-poverty ratio low by subsidizing employment and by keeping wages high through union agreements. Since women’s labor force participation is very high, this insures that few women are poor. Unlike the Netherlands or Sweden, Italy has fairly high levels of poverty but the high marriage rates keep sex differences in poverty very low.

In addition to government programs and initiatives, education is a major factor in eliminating the feminization of poverty. The intergenerational transmission of poverty (i.e., from mothers to daughters) is characteristic of households maintained by women who have had early childbearing experience and incomplete secondary education. The less education a woman has, the more likely she is to live in poverty (Scales, Scales, and Morse, 1995). In a study conducted in New York State for the Center for Women’s Policy, 100% of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients who received a 4-year degree and 81% of those who received a 2-year degree began earning incomes well above the poverty level.

As we have seen in countries like Sweden, the feminization of poverty is not inevitable. With government programs providing assistance, better jobs opportunities for single mothers, and more educational resources, we can help ensure that the gap between the sexes decreases.

(Cited, not available online: Bryan Scales, Kathy Scales, and S. Morse. "Education and Training: The Path Out of Poverty for Women." AAUW Outlook, 1995, Summer, pp. 19–24.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Domestic Face of Feminization of Poverty

By guest bloggers Megean Kincaid and Meg Ivey from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two)

The term feminization of poverty was first used in 1978 in order to describe the inequality in poverty rates between men and women. The leading cause of the feminization of poverty in the United States is single motherhood. “The United States has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty among the industrialized nations, because the majority of them are living in mother-headed households” (DiNitto and McNeece, in Tiamiya and Mitchell). The complications that exacerbate the situation are no-fault divorces, child support laws, and “pink collar” jobs. The no-fault divorce movement has “weakened women’s bargaining position” when it comes to maintaining the standard of living post divorce (Schrag). The amount of labor and capital built up by the women in these relationships is often overlooked in the divorce settlement, and therefore undervalued overall. For instance, a woman may sacrifice time and money in order that her husband may become better educated and establish a lucrative career. This sacrifice leaves the woman unprepared for work and unable to provide for her children post divorce. Following divorce, women experience a 30% drop in the standard of living. At the same time, men see a net gain of 8% (Henderson). Both men and women experience loss to begin with, but men bounce back with a vengeance. The final implication of no-fault divorce is that it most often impoverishes women and children.

Current child support laws work in conjunction with no-fault divorces to add to the plight of single mothers. 90% of divorced children stay with their mothers. In many states, child support laws do not take into consideration the rising costs of education and care for children as they age. Inflation is also commonly ignored. Therefore, a fixed amount of child support received by mothers is no longer adequate as children grow older. Sadly, this is one of the better scenarios for single mothers. “Only half of divorced women who are entitled to child support receive the full amount. One-quarter receive none. Nationally, defaulting fathers owe $4.6 billion in child support” (Henderson). For many women faced with defaulting fathers and insufficient child support payments it would be too costly and time consuming to pursue justice through the court system.

Single mothers have to work more in order to provide for their children than they would if married. These mothers often work part time to be with their kids, or, more likely, in low paying “pink collar” jobs. These jobs denote low-skill, low-wage, female-dominated positions. “Among all low skill jobs women’s wages are less than 60% of the typical blue collar jobs held by men” (Sapiro). “Pink collar” jobs don’t offer many health benefits for the women or their families. Many mothers enter into these jobs because the positions are entry-level and the women have previously been absent from the work force. However, these jobs do not often lead to higher paying jobs with better benefits. In these cases it is difficult for any single mother to support her family without the benefit of federal aid money.

It is our conclusion that the movement to no-fault divorce has done more harm than good for the freedom of women. It places single mothers at the mercy of inefficient child support laws and their ex-spouses. In every case, it is the children of these divorces that suffer the most. In addition to losing valuable time spent with their parents, these children feel the financial effects of divorce. In a “pink collar” job a woman must work more, and spend more time away from her children, to earn the same amount of money as a man in the same situation. The plight of impoverished single mothers would be improved with a change in no-fault divorce laws, encouragement for delinquent fathers to pay child support, and improvements in health benefits for single mothers in “pink collar” jobs.

Works cited:
Henderson, Zorika Petic. “Divorce impoverishes women and children.” Human Ecology,
1993, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p2

Sapiro, V. (1999). Women in American Society: An Introduction to Women’s Studies, 4th ed. London

Schrag, Peter. “Going for Broke” Nation, 1985, 12/7/1985, Vol. 241 Issue 19, p620

Tiamiyu, Mojisola and Shelley Mitchell. Urban Review; Mar2001, Vol. 33 Issue 1, p47

Monday, May 08, 2006

When Imagining Their Future, Men See Clear Jobs and Hazy Families; Women See the Reverse.

I asked my family life class, none of whom are older than 23, to imagine their lives at 45. I wanted them to think of what kind of marriage, family, and career they would have then, then work backwards to think about what milestones they would need to meet along the way to get there. This is a sobering exercise for most students. Nearly all of my students, male and female, want it all – marriage, kids, and career. Men and women, though, respond to the exercise in different ways.

The men have detailed plans for what sort of work they would like to do, and what next steps they will need to take to get there. They know that they would like to marry and have kids along the way. After a term of family life class they know that most fathers need to become the main providers for their families when their kids are little, and they are starting to think about how to meet that responsibility. The career and provider path is pretty clear. They know they want a wife, even if they don't know who yet. Kids come with the wife. Both wife and kids, unless they already have a specific woman in mind, are pretty hazy.

The women have detailed plans for when they would like to have kids, how many, their ideal birth order, and, while they are at it, their names and personalities. They often have a notion of who they would like to marry, and have thought about what kind of father that fellow would make. In a separate track, they have been preparing for a career, though after a term of family life class they have a more realistic idea of what is involved in juggling a career and kids. If they don't have a husband picked out, they usually still have a pretty clear notion of the kids they would like.

Most of the men, and all of the women, assumed that their spouses would work. None of the men, and very few of the women, mentioned what kind of work they wanted their spouses to do.

Colleges spend a great deal of time on career preparation for students. Students, though, when you ask them to think about it, put much greater emphasis on the family they want than the career they want.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Glimpse of Islamic Women in Small-Town America

My students are visiting unfamiliar religious services as part of our American religion course. Several have been to a small-town mosque, tucked away in an unmarked building amidst an office park on the edge of town. One woman attended Friday prayers on the women's side of this mosque. Afterwards, the Muslim women generously talked with her about their lives and experience of the faith in America. I was particularly struck by two sociologically interesting snippets reported by Jessica Woodworth.

After the service ended, the women gathered around us, talked to us about Islam, and answered any questions we had. The imam [a man, heard through the intercom], they said, was a doctor and usually left quickly after the prayers ended. In fact, three of the six women there were physicians but currently choose to be stay-at-home mothers instead. They feel that their families are financially stable enough to make that decision, and they value family life more than earning more money.

Most Muslims in Kentucky are immigrants and their children. These immigrants are admitted for their professional skills, especially in medicine, and perform a valuable service in underserved areas, such as Eastern Kentucky.

The United States will reap a great harvest for generations to come from this wave of smart, educated, disciplined Muslim families.

The Muslim women wanted to explain to the Centre College women their distinctive customs.

Foremost, they explained why they chose to wear a hijab. The woman whose husband is Pakistani and who accepted Islam several years ago, said that the hijab is worn for modesty. … All of the women were dressed modestly. … The two Indian-looking women wore beautiful clothing from overseas. Two other women with “ethnic” backgrounds wore pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a large headscarf that covered their hair and upper body. One woman wore jeans and a full-length dress and hijab; the woman still accepting Islam wore long-sleeved nursing scrubs and also put on a homemade skirt and hijab before the prayers began. For these women, it is hard to find clothing modest enough in America. The one woman who initially greeted us said she is almost six feet tall and has much trouble finding clothes in which she feels comfortable. She said she drove to Michigan once to pick up some clothes she ordered and otherwise she often depends on the two older Indian women to find her clothes from abroad.

I appreciate the emphasis on modesty, especially as a father, and commend the Islamic community for holding up that issue for everyone. A hijab is more covering than I think my daughters need, but in the great religious ecology of America, it is good to have a group of women who choose that discipline in dress for themselves. In other countries we might believe that men, backed by the religious police, impose these standards. This group of doctors, on the other hand, clearly choose their dress themselves.

I also enjoy the detail of how foreign customs get indigenized and made natural to Americans. The dress over the jeans is wonderful; the homemade skirt pulled on over nursing scrubs is touching. Islam is here to stay in small-town America.

[I thank Jessica for these details, which I would not have been able to collect myself.]