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UNL Expert Alert: Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense?

December 14th, 2012

Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has met with both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, as the president considers tapping him to replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary, and several media outlets are reporting that Hagel appears to have the inside track on the job.

Who is Chuck Hagel and why has he become a frontrunner for one of the most influential cabinet positions in the administration? Charlyne Berens, associate dean of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, is the author of Hagel’s biography, titled “Chuck Hagel: Moving Forward” (University of Nebraska Press, 2006). The edition examines Hagel’s upbringing in Nebraska, his survival of a tour of duty in Vietnam, his rise to political office and the background that has led Hagel to an outspoken internationalism that often put him at odds with his own party. A paperback edition of the biography will be published in July 2013.

Berens offered these thoughts to the news of Hagel’s potential appointment:

“As I got to know Chuck Hagel for his biography, it seemed to me that he is what one would call a true public servant. His work with the USO, turning it around and making it a viable operation, is a prime example – there’s not a lot of glory in that, but he saw it as important and did it with no desire for political gain. He has a desire to contribute, whether it is in elected office or in a high-level post such as Secretary of Defense — or a presidential advisory group, or the Atlantic Council. He’s committed to public affairs and doing what he can to contribute to solving the issues of the day.

“Helping him in this case is the fact that he was in the Senate, and during his time there he was noted for his bipartisan – not nonpartisan, but bipartisan — tendencies. As we know, (Hagel) sometimes would take positions that were more popular at the time with Democrats than with his fellow Republicans. His criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War (and the administration’s subsequent ‘surge’ strategy) is the most obvious example of that.

“Chuck Hagel is a principled man but also a practical one. His bipartisanship grew during his time in the Senate, and came partly from his frustration that Congress was becoming more and more partisan, and it was becoming more and more difficult to get things done. He entered the Senate with what could be considered staunch Republican credentials but left the Senate as more bipartisan. He’s plain-spoken, which can be rare in Washington. Of course, he’s a political enough person that he knows what he’s walking into when he opens his mouth, but I’ve never gotten the sense that he’s routinely spinning things.

“He would not take the responsibility of being Secretary of Defense lightly. I remember him saying once that before you’re going to decide to send someone’s kid to die, you better be very sure you’re making the right decision. If he were to become Secretary of Defense, he would not be eager to involve the United States militarily. On the other hand, he fully understands the importance of a strong military and its role around the globe. He’s certainly no isolationist – he’s not going to say we’re not going to pay attention to what’s happening in the world; there would be no point in making him Secretary of Defense if he were of that mindset.

“But it’s my impression of Chuck Hagel that he would be very analytical and careful in the decisions he’d put forth in the use of troops. After all, he was there. His experiences in Vietnam, as well as his time working for the USO and the Veterans’ Administration have given him a real sense, and a very realistic sense, of what truly happens in war, and what its costs are. It’s not theoretical to him.

“This fits into the kind of thinking that President Obama seems to like in his advisers. He appears to be more concerned with peoples’ way of thinking and the way they approach problems than what party they are or whether they would agree with him on everything. Obama seems to put value not just in what you think but how you think, and I think he would appreciate Chuck Hagel’s approach.”

Contact: Charlyne Berens, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 402-472-8241 or cberens@unl.edu.

Coverage: NPR’s All Things Considered | CNN.com | The Atlantic | Foreign Policy | TIME | Christian Science Monitor | Baltimore Sun |

Wheeler Winston Dixon on the Golden Globes

December 13th, 2012



Wheeler Winston Dixon, author, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at UNL and the curator of the Frame By Frame blog on film history, chimes in from California with a few quick thoughts on today’s Golden Globe nominations.

Dixon writes:

The Golden Globes were both predictable and surprising. “Lincoln” was the big winner with seven nominations, but in the end, the only major award that I feel it will get in the Oscars is for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role; “The Dark Knight Rises” struck out, perhaps as fallout from the movie theater massacre, but also because it wasn’t as good as “The Dark Knight.”

Ben Affleck is a surprise dark horse for “Argo” for Best Director — who would have imagined this even a few years ago? Affleck as Best Director, but he has a real shot here, and at the Oscars — and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” also did well at the nominations, though in the end I don’t think it will win Best Film, which will go to either “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Argo,” and to either Allfeck or Kathryn Bigelow when the Academy Awards are handed out.

Best Actress: Naomi Watts has a shot for “The Impossible,” but I rather favor Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty.” For Best Actor in A Musical or Comedy, Bill Murray should have won the Oscar for Best Actor for “Lost In Translation” but didn’t, so he’ll get a Globe for “Hyde Park on the Hudson” as a consolation prize, but no Oscar; Philip Seymour Hoffman looks good in “The Master” for Best Supporting Actor, “Brave” for Best Animated Feature, “Amour” for Best Foregn Film, John Williams will probably get Best Original Score for “Lincoln,” and “Girls” for Best Television Comedy Series.

Breaking Bad” may well win for Best Drama, though it has stiff competition from “Boardwalk Empire.” “The Girl” for Best Television Movie; Steve Buscemi or Bryan Cranston for Best Actor in a Television Drama; it would be nice to see Louis CK finally win for his groundbreaking comedy series “Louie” and ditto Nicole Kidman for “Hemingway and Gellhorn.”

The Globes also bode well for “Moonrise Kingdom” at the Oscars, and “Homeland” also seems to be picking up steam, while “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead” seem to have run their course.

All of this is merely preamble for the Academy Awards, of course, so let me go with just a few predictions here; Day-Lewis for Best Actor; “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty” for Best Picture; Bigelow or Affleck for Best Director; “Brave” for Best Animated Film; and that’s where I’ll stop.

All of this also is subject to change without notice, and I’m really talking about my favorites here, rather than what might actually win. But then again, those two things may coincide, so here’s hoping.

Contact: Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies, UNL, wheelerdixon@windstream.net. To see Dixon’s Frame By Frame video series, click here.

New UNL study examines diversity of gays and lesbians in rural areas

December 12th, 2012

At a time of dramatic change in attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the United States, a new study released this month in Gender & Society highlights the diversity of gay and lesbian experiences in America.

“Midwest or Lesbian? Gender, Rurality, and Sexuality,” by UNL sociologist Emily Kazyak, puts the lives of rural gays and lesbians under the microscope. Almost 10 percent of gays and more than 15 percent of lesbians in the United States live in rural areas — and while 25 percent of same-sex couples are raising children, same-sex couples in rural areas are even more likely than their urban counterparts to have children.

As University of Massachusetts sociologist Joya Misra, editor of Gender & Society, puts it: “The rapidity of changes in attitudes toward gays and lesbians has been stunning. Kazyak’s article helps bring into focus how greater acceptance of gays and lesbians is not simply a phenomenon of big cities but reflects changes and opportunities in rural communities as well.”

How much change? Researchers at Sociologists for Women in Society and the Council on Contemporary Families recently surveyed how much and how rapidly gays and lesbians have been integrated into mainstream life. Consider these changes in the past year alone:

– In November, for the first time, three U.S. states approved same-sex marriage by popular vote. Just three years ago, Maine voters defeated same-sex marriage by a margin of 53 to 47 percent. This year they reversed themselves, approving it by 53 to 47 percent. Maine joins a growing list of rural states including Iowa and Vermont that recognize same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Minnesota defeated the same kind of anti same-sex marriage measure that had passed everywhere it was introduced in the previous 15 years.

– While California defeated same-sex marriage in 2008, a February poll indicated that if the measure were submitted again, it would win. Today a record 59 percent of registered voters in California approve same-sex marriage.

– In numerous public opinion surveys, including one from November 2012, the past decade’s rise in approval for same-sex marriage in all regions of the country is evident: Even the Midwest and the South, where gay and lesbian rights are less popular, have seen a 14 percent increase in approval for same-sex marriage.

– In 2009 Hispanics opposed same-sex marriage by a large margin. In 2012 exit polls, 59 percent of Hispanics supported it. In just the four months between July and October 2012, the number of African Americans opposing same-sex marriage fell from 51 percent to just 39 percent.

– On Dec. 6, a new poll by USA TODAY found that almost three-quarters of Americans 18 to 29 years old support same-sex marriage, while more than a third of Americans say their views about same-sex marriage have changed significantly over the last several years, with approval rising in every age group.

Are these changes significant for gays and lesbians living in rural areas? Kazyak’s study offers answers based on her examination of the experiences of gays and lesbians who live in rural areas (with populations as small as 2,500 people).

Kazyak, focusing on rural areas in the Midwest, found that rural gays and lesbians enjoy more acceptance than stereotypes about rural life would suggest, and that lesbians in rural areas can pick and choose from a wider range of gender behaviors than their urban counterparts.

Largely because of the tradition of shared labor in farm families, behaviors and activities that would be considered unfeminine among urban women are more widespread and meet greater approval in rural areas, the study suggests. This flexibility allows lesbians who are drawn to masculine activities or who dress in masculine ways to find more acceptance than they might in an urban or suburban setting.

On the other hand, Kazyak found that gay men felt required to appear more masculine than their urban counterparts. One man she interviewed commented on how few rural gay men display the mannerisms that are sometimes associated with gay life in metropolitan areas.

He noted how surprised he initially was by “getting flirted with what I thought were straight men….they weren’t straight men, they were gay men, but they looked very straight, they acted very masculine…. It was, like, this wasn’t what I thought of as a gay man. So being in this town really changed how I thought of myself and the gay community.”

Both rural gays and lesbians thought their lives and identities were much different than their urban counterparts, the study found.

“My research on rural gays and lesbians shows us that the lives, behaviors and self-presentations of gays and lesbians are more varied and complex than portrayed on TV, even in shows such as ‘Modern Family,’ where one of the gay characters grew up on a farm,” Kazyak said.

“The rural Midwest is not a place we typically associate with gay and lesbian life, but my research shows us how gays and lesbians are increasingly out and accepted in small towns across the country.”

– by Virginia Rutter, Gender & Society

Contact: Emily Kazyak, assistant professor of sociology, 402-937-9057 or ekazyak2@unl.edu

UNL political science class to reveal poll on campus political views

November 29th, 2012

Are University of Nebraska-Lincoln students more liberal or conservative? Who did students support in the 2012 presidential election and Nebraska’s Senate race? What do they think of their professors’ politics? What is students’ perception of the Benghazi attacks?

The Political Science 230: Elections, Political Parties, and Special Interests class at UNL not only created its own poll using knowledge learned in class about political surveys to answer these questions — the class has analyzed the data and will be sharing their findings at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 in Unity Room 212 in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center.

The poll received more than 2,000 responses and provides a representative sample of the student body’s political attitudes and opinions. It was created by 32 students in the class, who developed survey questions, programmed and promoted the poll and analyzed the answers. The poll was sent out to the entire student body and has a wide variety of questions ranging from basic political knowledge and attitudes to opinions on domestic and foreign policy issues, including:

– Who students supported in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections;

– Breakdowns of ideology and partisanship among students;

– Views on issues of the day, including Lincoln’s Fairness Amendment and the Middle East; and

–  Opinions about campus issues, such as class size and funding for student organizations.

The students will be open to questions after their presentation.

Coverage: Lincoln Journal Star | Daily Nebraskan |

How devout are we? Study shows evangelicals surge, Catholics wane

November 19th, 2012

The percentage of Americans who say they are strong in their religious faith has been steady for the last four decades, a new study finds. But in that same time, the intensity of some religious groups has surged while others – notably Roman Catholics – has faded.

Among the risers: Evangelicals, who have become more staunchly devout since the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Catholics now report the lowest proportion of strongly affiliated followers among major American religious traditions.

The drop in intensity could present challenges for the Roman Catholic Church, the study suggests, both in terms of church participation and in Catholics’ support for the Church’s social and theological positions.

“On the whole, the results show that Americans’ strength of religious affiliation was stable from the 1970s to 2010,” said Philip Schwadel, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist who authored the study, which is to be published in the journal Sociology of Religion. “But upon closer examination, there is considerable divergence between evangelical Protestants on the one hand and Catholics and mainline Protestants on the other.”

Schwadel modeled data from nearly 40,000 respondents to the General Social Survey from 1974-2010 and created a measure for Americans’ strength of religious affiliation over time.

Overall, the proportion of Americans who said they were “strongly affiliated” with their religion increased from 38 percent in the 1970s to a high of more than 43 percent in the mid-1980s. That number slid to 37 percent by the end of the ‘80s and has remained stable ever since, the study showed.

The big changes, however, came within the nation’s various denominations and religious traditions – most noticeably between Catholics and evangelicals. Since the 1980s, an intensity gap emerged between the groups, the study found. By 2010, about 56 percent of evangelicals said they considered themselves strong adherents to their faith. For Catholics, it was just 35 percent, four percentage points lower than mainline Protestants.

“Sociologists have been writing about declines in mainline Protestantism for the last few decades,” Schwadel said. “The tremendous decline in Catholics’ strength of affiliation, though, was somewhat surprising.”

Schwadel’s analysis suggests the changes are related to “period-based” effects – the popular discourse, political events or other occurrences that can lead to changes among certain groups of people during a specific time period.

In Catholics’ case, the study shows an abrupt decline in strength of affiliation starting in 1984 and ending in 1989. The findings suggest this could be in reaction to publicity around sex abuse scandals involving priests at that time, as well as the growing number of Latino Catholics responding to the survey. Prior research has shown Latino Catholics to be unlikely to report a strong religious affiliation compared with other Catholics.

Meanwhile, evangelicals’ strength of affiliation began to swell in the early 1990s, following the growth of their presence in the public sphere during the prior decade, the study shows.

“Social change of this sort often occurs across generations, in response to generation-specific socialization processes,” Schwadel said. “Still, the analysis shows that changes in strength of religious affiliation occur largely across time periods, suggesting more rapid, and potentially more ephemeral, forms of social change.”

The study also found that though there has been a steady deterioration in strength of religious affiliation over time among Catholics, strength of affiliation was less strongly associated with church attendance among younger generations. This means that declines in Catholics’ strength of affiliation do not necessarily lead to equivalent declines in their church attendance.

“That could be seen as good news and bad news for the Catholic Church,” Schwadel said. “Younger Catholics are not being driven away from going to church, but they do still feel less strongly committed to their religion than they did a few decades ago.”

The study also found:

– Similar to evangelicals, African American Protestants report a high proportion of strongly affiliated members – about 57 percent in 2010.

– Mainline Protestants’ devoutness fell to lows of roughly 30 percent in the late 1970s and late 1980s before gradually climbing to 39 percent in 2010.

– The proportion of Americans who say they adhere to no religion climbed from about 6 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to 16 percent in 2010. The increase is roughly equivalent in the decline of people who say they were “somewhat” or “not very strongly” affiliated with their religion over the same time period.

Contact: Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology, 402-472-6008 or pschwadel2@unl.edu.

UNL experts alert: Election Day and beyond

November 5th, 2012

Looking for clarity on any number of political races — before or after Tuesday? University of Nebraska-Lincoln experts are available to discuss the presidential, Nebraska U.S. Senate and other campaigns with members of the media:

-  John Hibbing, Foundation Regents University Professor of Political ScienceNebraska’s U.S. Senate race, Congress.Hibbing is a nationally known expert in political psychology, biology and politics, political behavior, public opinion and legislative politics. For reporters, he can provide insight into this year’s national and statewide campaigns, including the races for U.S. Senate in Nebraska and the presidential campaign, and can provide reaction and analysis on campaign-trail developments. Reach Hibbing at 402-472-3220 or jhibbing1@unl.edu.

-  Kevin B. Smith, professor of political scienceNebraska’s U.S. Senate race, presidential race, political messaging. Smith focuses on public policy, public administration, American politics, and biology and politics. He can discuss the dynamics of this year’s U.S. Senate race and other major races, including the presidential campaign. He can analyze broad aspects of these campaigns, including the effectiveness or lack thereof of political advertising. He also can discuss differences between liberals, conservatives and moderates in the context of the 2012 election, and how developments on the campaign trail may be interpreted by these different groups of voters. Reach Smith at 402-472-0779 or ksmith1@unl.edu.

-  Dona-Gene Mitchell, assistant professor of political science: Public opinion, effects of campaign information on voters over time. Mitchell’s expertise is in American political behavior, public opinion and political psychology. She researches and teaches in the areas of how opinions are formed via information, campaigns and time, and the lifespan of information effects. She can discuss the effectiveness over time of campaign messaging on voters or how long unfavorable information may affect politicians and elected officials. Reach Dona-Gene Mitchell at 402-472-5994 or dmitchell2@unl.edu.

-  Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Willa Cather Professor and Chair of Political SciencePublic opinion, political behavior, political psychology. Theiss-Morse researches Americans’ attitudes about numerous aspects of the American political system and about their fellow Americans. She is currently analyzing politicians’ use of heated rhetoric and how it affects the effectiveness of democracy. Reach Theiss-Morse at 402-472-3221 or etheissmorse1@unl.edu.

-  Ronald Lee, Professor of Communication Studies: Politics, public discourse, rhetoric, race, religion. Lee’s expertise is in contemporary political discourse. His research delves into the rhetorical construction of presidential legacies, the discourses of poverty, the mythical use of American place in national politics, and the use of race in post civil-rights-era political discourse. Reach Lee at 402-472-2255 or rlee1@unl.edu.

-  Damien Smith Pfister, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies: Political rhetoric, culture, digital media in politics.Pfister researches the impact of digital media on public deliberation and culture, including how blogging and social networking has challenged traditional patterns of communication during political campaigns and controversies. His current research includes the content of presidential campaign ads from 1952 to 2012 and the Obama administration’s use of digital media. Reach Pfister at 402-472-0646 or dpfister2@unl.edu.

UNL’s Swearer to lead Gaga’s advisory, research board

October 25th, 2012

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Susan Swearer will lead a new research board to advise Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation on its youth empowerment and tolerance programs, the foundation announced this week.

The group also will work to boost the influence of the foundation’s proposals and apply well-founded research to all of the foundation’s upcoming programs.

Swearer, professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences, will be chairwoman of the six-person group, called the Research and Advisory Board. It includes researchers from New York University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago, among other schools.

“It’s an honor to be working with an esteemed group of scholars,” Swearer said. “The Research Advisory Board has been helping the Foundation make sure that its initiatives are grounded in research and will make sure that research guides their programming.”

Gaga’s foundation, co-founded by her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, recruited Swearer to help its official launch in February. Swearer co-directs the Bullying Research Network, which promotes international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers. Swearer has been working with Born This Way since 2011, helping to create resources as the foundation prepared to officially enter the national anti-bullying discussion.

“Susan Swearer knows how to translate strong, solid research into practical, relevant strategies for youth and the adults and families who work with them,” said Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences. “She is a bridge from the research world that cares about bullying, to the public that cares about bullying. Her ability to connect those two worlds will serve her well in this role.”

In a statement, Germanotta said the board is “made up of some of the brightest minds in education and adolescent research. With the help of these university-based experts, we will be able to reach even more youth and provide them with the tools necessary to be the brave person they were each born to be.”

The board will evaluate ongoing programs and give feedback on new proposals, while also providing assessment and evaluation strategies for existing programs – including Born Brave Nation, localized groups of supporters working to affect change in their homes, schools and communities.

Swearer and Gaga in February during the BTWF launch.

Contact: Susan Swearer, Professor of School Psychology, 402-472-1741 or sswearernapolitano1@unl.edu

It’s about time: Research tracks how campaign information plays, stays in voters’ minds

October 17th, 2012

(Photo: CBS News)

Maybe you’re a Republican and believe Mitt Romney will sail to victory on the lasting momentum of his early October debate performance. Or maybe you’re a Democrat who thinks that President Obama’s consistent policy messages in the late summer and early fall will remind voters to award him with a second term in November.

But if your candidate of choice wants his message to leave a lasting impact on undecided or low-information voters as they cast their ballots, he may want to focus on having a strong closing week, University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Dona-Gene Mitchell says.

Mitchell researches the effects of time on the political process — and specifically, how long information endures or how fast it fades from people’s minds during multi-week campaigns. Her most recent findings, published in the American Journal of Political Science, suggest that in a tightly controlled information environment, issue-related information about a candidate was supplanted quickly from voters’ minds by new data.

Character and personal facts about a candidate, meanwhile, were found to stick in people’s memories a little longer – but not by much.

“I find a remarkably limited role for enduring information effects,” Mitchell said. “In other words, during campaigns, citizens appear to operate as if they have short-term memory loss where information this week mattered but the effects quickly faded a week later.”

Mitchell’s work employs a unique approach into the study of how different kinds of candidate information is processed. Unlike previous experimental studies, which had been done in a single sitting, the method releases different types of information about a candidate to study participants over 12 weeks. This approach, Mitchell said, brings new insights into the lifespan of campaign information – and just how much of it helps voters to modify their judgments about a candidate.

In her most recent study, information was provided once a week about a hypothetical Republican candidate for Congress. The type of information varied: Sometimes it was about the candidate’s character or communicated a personal detail; others, his positions on different political issues. After receiving the information each week, participants then evaluated the candidate.

Some information, such as the candidate’s party affiliation, exhibited stronger staying power with the study’s participants. But Mitchell said she was surprised at how other less sticky information, particularly where a candidate stood on a single issue, was displaced to make room for new facts. Partisanship combined with new short-term information to push other stockpiled information about the candidate out of participants’ minds.

“What is particularly striking about these findings is that the rapid rate at which information effects decay may be greater than previously imagined,” Mitchell said.

Does this mean that whoever gets the last word in the campaign can expect to spend the next four years in the White House? Not necessarily, Mitchell said. While the study brings new understanding into the lifespans of certain types of political messages, it was primarily designed to look at low-information campaigns such as races for the House of Representatives and not forecast presidential horse races. But it does provide food for thought in a presidential campaign in which a relatively small slice of undecided or low-information voters in a handful of states may swing the election.

Mitchell’s upcoming research looks further into the temporal dynamics on political information effects. A forthcoming study examines how much more voters pay attention when a staunchly partisan official becomes more inconsistent in his or her views. She also is determining empirically how much the timing of a political scandal, and the amount of coverage devoted to the scandal, matters in a race.

“We have only a limited understanding of how and to what extent people modify their judgments as new information becomes available and the salience of old information fades,” she said. “But what we know from this research is that timing definitely matters.”

Contact: Dona-Gene Mitchell, assistant professor of political science, (402) 472-5994 or dmitchell2@unl.edu.

Childfree women feel most pressure to have kids — but stress least about it, national study finds

October 9th, 2012

Women who choose to be permanently childfree perceive more social pressures to become mothers than other women, but feel less distress about not having kids than women who are childless from infertility or other reasons, a new national study shows.

The first-of-its-kind study, from a national survey of nearly 1,200 American women of reproductive age with no children, identified various reasons why women have no children, from medical and situational barriers to delaying pregnancy to choosing to be childfree. It sought to determine if those different reasons contributed to different types of concerns about being childless.

“Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers,” said Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist and the study’s lead author. “Yet we also found that there are women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children.”

In recent years more U.S. women – estimates suggest about 20 percent – are ending childbearing years without having children. Some can’t conceive because of biomedical infertility; others simply delay because of financial concerns, educational demands, job demands, not finding the right partner or other situational barriers.

Though all the women were in the same social situation – not being mothers – researchers questioned if the specific reason for not having children shaped how they experienced their situation.

The study found that the reason for having children did matter for distress related to not having children, but only because reasons were associated with how important motherhood is to women’s identities. Women who were involuntarily childless because of biomedical reasons put the highest importance on motherhood, and had the highest distress.

Researchers were surprised that pressure from others was not a bigger factor in explaining differences in distress, since many American women face social pressures to have children. But the study showed that influence from others to have children was associated with distress only if the women considered motherhood important.

That key factor overrode many others – social pressures, income, age, race and education level – as the most important attribute in judging childlessness concerns.

The results of the study, the first to closely examine the different reasons behind childlessness and their social effects on women, raise questions about what room there is in American culture for women to have successful, fulfilling lives without being mothers, McQuillan said.

“This highlights that not all women without children are the same. While some may be devastated, others are content and finding fulfillment through other avenues such as leisure or career pursuits,” she said. “Rather than assume that women without children are missing something, society should benefit from valuing a variety of paths for adult women to have satisfying lives.”

Also in the study:

- The proportion of Hispanic and African-American women was lowest among those who were voluntarily childfree, but was highest among women with biomedical fertility barriers. That pattern was the opposite for white women.

- The average age of voluntarily childfree women was about four years older than the average age among childless women with biomedical barriers, and about six years older than childless women with or without situational barriers.

- Family income was highest among voluntarily childfree women and lowest among women with medical barriers.

- Women who considered themselves more religious actually perceived fewer average social messages stressing the importance of having children, compared with less religious women.

“Listening to a broad spectrum of American women about the degree of importance of motherhood in their lives and the meanings of not having children is reshaping how we think about opportunities for meaningful adult femininity,” McQuillan said. “Just as reproductive options have increased, both for limiting fertility and overcoming fertility barriers, we are learning what is devastating for some women is a relief for other women.”

The study is published in The Journal of Marriage and Family. In addition to McQuillan, the work was authored by Arthur Griel of Alfred University; Karina Shreffler and John Hathcoat of Oklahoma State University; and Patricia Wonch-Hill and Kari Gentzler of UNL.

Contact: Julia McQuillan, professor of sociology, (402) 472-6040 or jmcquillan2@unl.edu

Coverage: LiveScience | Fox News | NBC News | DN |

UNL in the national news: September 2012

October 8th, 2012
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances in national media included:

Amanda Fujikawa, a graduate student in Natural Resource Sciences, had her research on how decomposition of mammal carcasses affects nearby ecosystems in the Sandhills featured by Scientific American on Sept. 13.

Ray Hames, anthropology, was quoted Sept. 24 by the New York Times about the massive health study involving the Tsimane peoples in northern Bolivia.

John Hibbing, political science, spoke with the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight on Sept. 23 to discuss the state of Nebraska’s electoral map.

Michael Hoff, art and art history, had his archaeological team’s unearthing of a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey featured in dozens of national media outlets in mid-September. Appearances included the History Channel, Der Spiegel (Germany), the New York Times, The Associated Press, United Press International, the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Mail (UK), The Register (UK) and NBC News.

Ann Mari May, economics, was quoted Sept. 4 by ABC News about the ‘Lipstick Effect’ during stressful economic conditions. Throughout the month, May’s research on the gender gap in policy views among economists that she co-authored with Mary McGarvey was featured in a number of national media outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal and USA TODAY.

David Moshman, educational psychology, wrote a Sept. 12 opinion column for the Huffington Post about the latest version of the Guide to Free Speech on Campus by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

UNL climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center were quoted extensively in September as drought persisted in the continental United States. Brian Fuchs, Mark Svoboda and Michael Hayes were quoted by dozens of media outlets around the nation and world, including Reuters, The Associated Press, the Globe and Mail (Canada) and CNN.

Mario Scalora, psychology, was quoted Sept. 30 by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about red flags portending violence in the workplace, in the wake of a mass shooting in Minneapolis.

Dean Sicking, former director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, was featured Sept. 26 by the Birmingham News on whether short tracks can do without SAFER walls.

National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published work. Faculty and administration appearances in the national media are logged at http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/

To offer suggestions on potential national news stories or sources at UNL, contact Steve Smith at ssmith13@unl.edu or 402-472-4226.