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Is Having a Baby Like Buying a Rolex? Economic Values & Children as Luxury Items.

In this piece John Kincaid explores how our profane capitalist economic values have seeped into aspects of our life we hold sacred. Specifically, he asks us to think about how modern capitalism in the U.S. encourages us to view babies as expensive luxury items. If the question in this piece’s title offends you, then read on, that’s precisely what this piece is about.

Sociologists love to write, think, talk and argue about capitalism. In part this is because the large-scale shifts from a feudal economy to a capitalist economy were what made social systems so apparent and so interesting to early sociologists. Early sociologists from Durkheim to Weber were fascinated with the links between economy and society in this era of change. So, as sociologists, we may have capitalism itself to thank for our discipline.

Few writers described capitalism as poetically as Karl Marx, who in the Communist Manifesto argued that in a capitalist system, “all that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred is profaned.” In an earlier post, I talked about the role of the sacred and profane in modern society. For Marx and others witnessing the transition between two enormous social systems, the economy was reshaping the fundamental relationships of our society, and the distinctions we often placed between those relationships.

Economic Values & Our Families

One example of this in Marx’s time, of the economy rewriting social relations were the conditions of child workers and the necessity of families to sell their children’s labor to survive. This is such a striking example because as a society we often think of things like the value of children (sacred) and the value of business profit (profane) as being parts of two very different systems of values. But we also have examples of the profaning of the sacred in pursuit of profits in our current society. It’s not quite on the same level as child labor, but I can think of multiple other examples from my own family….

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Coercive Control and Intimate Partner Violence

Just before ringing in 2016, the United Kingdom announced that new legislation would make coercive, or controlling, abuse in domestic relationships a criminal act, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The legislation reflects what feminist advocates have been claiming for decades – that intimate partner violence (IPV) is not limited to physical or sexual abuse. Additionally, IPV includes a wide range of non-physical but highly influential behaviors that enable one intimate partner to control the other, and keep the victimized partner ensnared in an abusive relationship. Here, David Mayeda discusses Evan Stark’s concept of coercive control to illustrate how widespread gender norms in society contribute to men’s control over women in intimate relationships.

When people hear the words “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence” (IPV), the first images that come to mind are typically those involving physical violence between intimate partners. However in 2007, Evan Stark published Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, a book which illuminates how violence in intimate relationships is sustained largely by acts of control, which do not always carry physical violence. Stark’s work has also been influential in showcasing how coercive control is shaped by society’s gendered expectations of men and women….

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Bun in a New Oven: Our Social Bodies in the Age of Uterus Transplants

The Cleveland Clinic recently performed the first uterus transplant in the United States, giving a woman the opportunity to become pregnant. In this piece, Amanda Fehlbaum reflects on how such an organ transplant is not just biological, it is social, too.

We tend to think of reproduction as a biological concept. In school, we learn about how egg and sperm meet and offspring result after a certain gestation period. Reproduction, however, is deeply culturally constructed and not nearly as simple as it appears. Technological advancements make the situation even more complex and demonstrate how childbearing is far from just biological.

Take, for example, news that surgeons at The Cleveland Clinic have performed the first uterus transplant in the United States. An unnamed 26 year-old woman, born without a uterus, received a uterus from a deceased donor after a nine-hour surgery on February 24, 2016. She will have to wait a year before trying to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization. After one or two pregnancies, the uterus will either be removed so that the woman can stop taking medication to prevent organ rejection or allowed to be rejected and wither away. 

Social Bodies

There is a propensity in our society to see the body as a biological object rather than something that must be understood within a social, cultural, and historical context. Women’s bodies in particular have a wide variety of norms, taboos, and expectations placed upon them, as seen in a previous Sociology in Focus piece. In fact, women’s bodies are largely tied to their reproductive abilities and some women, like the 26 year-old, yearn to experience pregnancy.

In a piece from The New York Times about uterus transplants, the 26 year-old woman notes that she had always assumed that she would have children. She was devastated to learn at age 16 that she had ovaries, but no uterus, due to Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. She wondered if anyone would want to marry her if she could not bear children. Ultimately, she did marry and adopted two children; however, she still wanted the experience of pregnancy:

“I crave that experience. I want the morning sickness, the backaches, the feet swelling. I want to feel the baby move. That is something I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember,” she said.

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Fatherhood, Paternity Leave, and Facebook

In this essay, Mediha Din explores the changing face of fatherhood in the work force.

Big tech corporations in the United States are making major changes when it comes to their policies about dads and families. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is currently partaking in 2 months paternity leave after the arrival of his baby daughter. Facebook offers 4 months of paid leave to mothers and fathers within a year of a child’s arrival. Netflix recently announced it will give its salaried employees up to 12 months of paid parental leave to take at their own discretion. Amazon announced that regardless of gender, both biological and adoptive parents who have worked for the company for more than a year are now entitled to six weeks paid parental leave. Google and Microsoft offer 12 weeks paid parental leave, while LinkedIn and Apple offer 6 weeks paid leave. Yet, many Americans working outside of the tech industry may not have this option. Even if they did, research shows that often times, dads do not use the paternity leave their company offers.

Throughout history American society has had changing views on family dynamics. The social meanings associated with divorce, single parenthood, and cohabitation have transformed over time. The decisions of some major corporations to acknowledge and offer extended paid paternity leave indicate that the social meanings of fatherhood are also changing.

There are quite a few things that stand out about the paternity and parental leave policies of some of the tech companies mentioned above:

  • Notable of course is the the length of time offered off, from 6 weeks up to one year.
  • More impressive perhaps, is that it is paid. The United States is currently one of only four countries in the world that do not have any mandated paid leave for mothers or fathers. (The other countries are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.)
  • Finally, what stands out about the newer policies is the fact that a culture has been created to actually encourage fathers to take off the time they are entitled to. According to the Business Insider, “The company (Facebook) has cultivated a culture where it’s taboo not to take the full four months or for dads to take less than moms.”

U.S. Parental Leave From a Global Context

Though the United States does not mandate paid maternity leave or paternity leave, some countries not only mandate the leave, but are also working on changing the stigma associated with father’s taking time off for their families….

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How Families in the U.S. are Changing

Family is a persistent social institution, but it does change. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath discusses a few growing trends in family structure.

Family is a social institution— an organized patterns of groups and norms that meets some need in society. Family meets the needs of socializing children, for example. Family persists as a social institution but does change over time. Before you read the rest of this post, reflect for a moment on the ways in which you believe family has changed over time. Now, let’s consider a few ways in which families are changing.


Cohabitation refers to living together as though married, but without legal or religious sanctioning. Cohabiting has become more socially acceptable and is an increasingly common living arrangement. According to Manning and Stykes (2013:1), “[t]he percentage of women who have ever cohabited has almost doubled over the past 25 years.” Cohabitation is not necessarily replacing marriage, but is often a step before marriage. “[O]ver two-thirds (69%) of women who first married in the last decade cohabited prior to marriage” (Manning and Stykes 2013:2). So, if you have ever cohabitated, you are part of the statistical norm.

Remaining Single Longer

According to Pew Research Center, “[i]n 2012, one-in-five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married. … In 1960, only about one-in-ten adults (9%) in that age range had never been married. Men are more likely than women to have never been married (23% vs. 17% in 2012)” (Wang and Parker 2014). Of course, part of the explanation for this trend is that Americans are waiting to get married, with some cohabiting first. Relatedly, the average age at first marriage for women is 27 and for men is 29 (Wang and Parker 2014). While many young adults will eventually marry, “[a]ccording to Pew Research projections based on census data, when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (25%) is likely to have never been married” (Wang and Parker 2014). Have you remained single? Do you intend to remain single or are you part of the group that is simply delaying marriage until an older age compared to the past?…

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Should White Parents Be Allowed to Adopt Children of Color?

In this essay April Schueths discusses transracial adoption and the laws and policies that govern how children are placed with adoptive families.

Should White parents be allowed to adopt children of color? This question is one that social service workers have been wrestling with for years. Before you answer this question, you should know a couple of other facts. First, the majority of parents looking to adopt are White. Second, the majority of children in foster care who are eligible for adoption are non-white. If you say that children of color shouldn’t be placed with White families, then you are in effect arguing that children of color should stay in the foster care system; perhaps for their entire childhood. On the other hand, are White families equipped to help children of color develop a healthy racial identity and cope with interpersonal and institutional racism? The issue at the heart of this question is what sociologists call transracial adoption. Before you settle on your answer, let me give you a little bit of the history of transracial adoption and the controversies surrounding the laws that govern it.

What is Transracial Adoption?

Transracial adoption is when an adopted child doesn’t share the same race or ethnicity of the adopted parent(s). According to the National Survey of Adoptive Parents, 4 out of 10 adopted children in the U.S. are transracially adopted. Most adoptive parents are white, while most adopted children are non-white. However, Hannah Rau and Lisa Wade (2013) from Sociological Images point out that proportionally, white people are actually less likely to adopt than nonwhites.

Historically, transracial adoption was not the norm. In the 1970s the National Association of Black Social Workers argued that in order to preserve African American families, White families shouldn’t adopt African American children for any reason. Instead they argued that African American children should be placed with family members. Up until the 1990s social service workers tried to place children in adoptive families that shared the child’s racial-ethnic background. This all changed in the 1990s….

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Why are Mixed-Status Families Being Separated by the U.S. Government?

In this essay April Schueths shares the story of Maria Luis to illustrate how the U.S. immigration and juvenile court systems frequently force mixed-status families to separate despite claiming family reunification as one of their primary goals.

In the spring of 2005, Maria Luis heard a knock on her door. Had she known that on the other side of that door was a life changing event, she might not have opened it. But she couldn’t have known that, so she opened her door to find a police officer and a child protective services worker who were there to investigate why Ms. Luis had failed to bring her one-year-old daughter to a medical appointment.

Ms. Luis was a citizen of Guatemala living in the U.S. without the legal documentation to do so. She had been working at a meat packing plant, which was a tough job, but she earned more in one day than she could working for an entire month in Guatemala. Part of each paycheck she earned was sent to Guatemala to support her family there.

After a brief investigation, Ms. Luis was deported and her two U.S. citizen children were placed in foster care. When children are placed into foster care, parents must go before a juvenile court judge where they will be given a list of safety requirements that they must complete before their children can come home. One of these requirements for Ms. Luis was to attend parenting classes and undergo a psychological evaluation. Given that she was in Guatemala, Ms. Luis was unable to complete the classes and evaluation in Nebraska. However, Ms. Luis had two separate home studies by Guatemalan officials and each found her to be a fit parent.

The state of Nebraska never found Ms. Luis to be an unfit parent, but still argued that she was unable to meet the requirements for reunification with her children. With this justification, the state terminated her parental rights (i.e., they legally severed the parent-child relationship). The state also argued that living in Guatemala was not in the children’s best interest.

Five years later, in 2010, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the state had wrongly terminated Maria’s rights. The Luis’s case, although heartbreaking to many, is one of the examples of a somewhat “happier ending.” Many families are never reunited.

The Social Context Surrounding Maria Luis

In many ways, Ms. Luis’s experience in the U.S. is emblematic of most immigrants. The job market in Guatemala had little to offer Ms. Luis compared to the wealth of job opportunities in the U.S. In sociological terms, the struggling Guatemalan economy was a push factor: a condition that encourage local residents to emigrate or leave. Similarly, the U.S. job opportunities served as pull factors: conditions in another country that encourage immigration. The money Ms. Luis sent to Guatemala was just a single instance of what sociologists call migrant remittances. These transfers of money are an extremely important source of money for struggling countries; the World Bank estimated in 2010 that worldwide migrant remittances accounted for $440 billion flowing across national borders.

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Helicopter Parents Harm Their Kids… or Do They?

Helicopter parenting is the latest way parents can ruin children-at least that is what the popular press would have you believe. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath details how she goes about assessing media claims on the topic.

Have you heard the news? Helicopter parents are ruining their kids? Here are just a few of the recent headlines:

  • ‘Helicopter Parenting’ Hurts Kids Regardless of Love or Support, Study Says (Time)
  • Dangers of Helicopter Parenting when your Kids are Teens (Chicago Tribune)
  • There’s a Parenting Trend Taking Over the US, and its Changing Children Everywhere (Business Insider)
  • More Research says Helicopter Parenting Backfires (New York Daily News)
  • How Helicopter Parenting are Ruining College Students (The Washington Post)

I clicked on one titled “Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out” (Slate) and read it looking to see which of the author’s claims were supported by empirical data (i.e. data gathered via scientific observation or experimentation) and which other claims were only supported by anecdotal data or anecdata (i.e. data that comes from a single person’s non-scientific observations of the world they live in).

How to Scrutinize an Article

My goal for this piece is to not get at the “truth” of helicopter parenting. Instead, I want to show you how I go about judging the credibility of an author’s claims. But first, what is helicopter parenting? Helicopter parents are perceived to be overinvolved in their child’s lives to the point the child can not make decisions for themselves.

Author’s Credentials

The first thing I do to establish an article’s credibility is to examine the author’s credentials….

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The Ties that Bind: The Sociology of Father’s Day Gifts

In celebration of Father’s Day, Ami Stearns argues in this post that the gifts we buy, or are encouraged to buy, for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day reflect deeper assumptions about what our society thinks it means to be a mother and a father.

It’s time to go buy your dad a tie! What are you getting your father for Father’s Day this year? One Father’s Day when I had no money, I decided to concoct some homemade barbecue sauce on the stovetop for my dad. I don’t even remember what ingredients I used, but for years afterward, Dad would bring up how good that jar of barbecue sauce was and ask if I could make it again (I was never able to recreate it, for some reason). Barbecue and men just seem to go together, don’t they?

The gifts that are promoted on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often reflect society’s conception of what roles mothers and fathers are supposed to serve within the stereotypical heterosexual nuclear family. There are perhaps no other holidays that are quite so stereotypically gendered. Hanukkah, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries have us seeking out unique gifts that are tailored to the recipient’s particular personality, likes, or hobbies. But Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift ideas appear to fall back on socially constructed family roles….

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What Does Immigration Have to Do with American Families?

In this essay April Schueths shares the story of how US immigration policy denies US citizens (and non-citizens) the right to choose their partners and live with their families.

Manuel and Abby Carrion[1] have been together for more than 6 years. During a research interview, Abby told me: “We’ve been through more in the six years that we’ve been together than I think a lot of people have been through in a lifetime. I always tell him [Manuel] that if we made it together this far, then nothing can stop us now.”

Abby grew up in a small rural town with a close knit family. Her community was predominantly white, with virtually no people of other race/ethnicities living there. “I never in a million years imagined that I would marry a Mexican man.” She met her now husband, Manuel at a restaurant where they both worked. They were friends for about a year and then something shifted between them. Abby and Manuel began dating. She said, “I knew I loved him; in a matter of weeks [after they started dating] I knew I was going to marry him.”

Similar to Abby, Manuel never imagined he would marry an American woman. For one, he wasn’t planning on staying in the states long. In addition, when he first came to the US he believed many false stereotypes about American women. He thought they were too wild for his conservative tastes. He said, “That they like to go out, drink too much, party.” He soon learned that this was indeed a stereotype and found himself attracted to Abby. He said, “I asked her if she wanted to go out with me…she said she needed to think about it and would let me know in a week.” The answer was yes.

Once they started dating Manuel and Abby were inseparable. They worked the same shift so they could spend all of their free time together. They got engaged, moved in together, and soon marriage and a baby followed. Abby says that since the day they started dating, “We were never apart.”

The Carrions didn’t realize that soon they would be forced to live in two different countries.

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