The Origins of Androgyny in Baby Names

Apologies in advance for the abundance of baby name post recently. I had another thought after posting yesterday, tracing some of the names Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann (2000) identified as following the pattern of androgyny they identify in their paper using baby name data from births of white babies in Illinois.

In Philip Cohen’s post, he identified the 25 least sex-dominant names in 2018. He was interested in the relative prevalence of parents selecting extremely sex-dominant names for their children and how that prevalence might have changed. But it made me think that, using that method we might also be able to trace the various patterns through which androgynous names become androgynous. So, I charted shifts in the numbers of babies (by sex) given each of the names Philip identified in his post (below).

25 least sex-dominant names

If you look at these names, you might note that some follow similar trajectories. Look, for instance, at the trajectories of the names Finley, Oakley, Remy, Justice, Jael, Ocean, and Gentry, for instance (charted alone below). When Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann wrote about androgynous names, they presented these names as “accidentally androgynous.” And certainly some androgynous names follow this pattern. The name “Jamie” might be an example of this. Jamie was a name given to both boys and girls in roughly equal number through about 1980 when it started to become a more popular name (still among both boys and girls) and then the name drops off dramatically for boys and becomes a “girl” name… until 2018, when it dropped in popularity enough among girls that it is again among the names that are less sex-dominant. That the name was selected for both boys and girls through 1980 could have been a product of “accident” in the way Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann present it – parents selecting the name might not have intentionally selected a name because it was androgynous. Rather, the name might have simply become androgynous. But Finley, Oakley, Remy, Justice, Jael, Ocean, and Gentry do not follow that pattern.

likely intentionally androynous names.png

These names all seem to emerge relatively rapidly and are used in roughly equal numbers to name boys and girls. This pattern might be an illustration of what androgynous names appearing not by accident, but by design–parents intentionally selecting androgynous names. I know many parents who intentionally selected names they felt were androgynous. Alex Haden wrote about the phenomenon in the New York Times in 2016.

I’m not aware of any studies that trace different routes to androgeneity in baby names (though that may be because this is well outside my research area). But that strikes me as an interesting idea. If names have different pathways to androgeneity, it might be the case that these different paths are connected to distinct fortunes of androgynous names. If there is a way to identify what we might call “likely intentionally androgynous names” from “likely accidentally androgynous names” for instance, we could look into whether the names have more longevity and whether they show gender asymmetrical paths following becoming more popular.

Some of the names appear to follow really different trajectories for boys and girls. Some look like likely candidates for Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann’s argument about the contaminating effect of femininity for boys names. “Jamie” seems to follow that pattern most clearly from the names Philip identified. And “Dakota” might also follow this pattern (though I’m wondering if there’s a high-profile woman named “Dakota” who became prominent in the early 1990s – it’s too early, I think, for Dakota Fanning).

Dakota and Jamie

What’s difficult about this is that the names Philip identified are currently androgynous. And Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann’s analysis examines the fates of androgynous names. We can’t see the fates of the names that were most androgynous in 2018 yet. It will take time for those patterns to be visible. All I’m doing here is examining the various paths each of these names took to becoming androgynous in 2018. But lots of these names appear to follow radically different paths to androgyny.

I don’t have any big idea, and I’m not pursuing this. But this time I read Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann’s article, I was struck by their characterization of androgynous names as “accidental,” examining the “chance factors that affect the gender makeup of a name.” It’s not only chance factors that produce androgynous names. Some are androgynous on purpose. And I wonder if and how that might matter.

Trends in Androgynous U.S. Baby Names

Looking at gender and gender inequality through baby name data is something I’ve posted about before. Recently, Philip Cohen wrote a smart post thinking through how to measure whether androgynous baby names are on the rise. And it started a conversation on Twitter in which Charles Seguin weighed as well. The ideas and conversation are all revolving around a paper Stanley Lieberson, Susan Dumais and Shyon Baumann published in the American Journal of Sociology in 2000 – “The Instability of Androgynous Names: The Symbolic Maintenance of Gender Boundaries.” It’s a brilliant paper. I love it for the simplicity of the argument.

The argument Lieberson, Dumais and Baumann make revolves around tracing a rise in androgynous names given to babies (using data for white births in the state of Illinois between 1916 and 1989). They analyze what they characterize as the “accidental ways” androgynous names develop, and “asymmetric growth patterns.” Among the findings described in the paper is a powerful illustration of the cultural devaluation of femininity. As Lieberson, Dumais and Baumann put it:

“A central assumption is that androgyny is evaluated differently, depending on whether parents are naming a daughter or a son. We have seen that parents of daughters also respond to the number (or percentage) of boys with the name, but they are slower to retreat from using it. As a consequence, androgynous names end up as a predominantly female name more often than as a predominantly male name.” (HERE: 1282).

Philip charts a slow increase in the proportion of U.S. babies given names that are not sex dominant in the extreme. Charles Seguin is working on a paper analyzing this in much more sophisticated detail than I am here. But it made me go back through Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann’s article to look at the names they identified among white babies born in Illinois to look at those names among all babies born in the U.S. and over a period of time that stretches farther in both directions.

They identify a collection of the 45 most androgynous names in their sample. And Philip developed a similar list, using national data for 2018, identifying a list of the 25 most common names that were given between 40% and 60% baby girls born in 2018. I’m really excited to see Charles Seguin’s paper when it is published. Because the data available today are just a lot more comprehensive. It made me really appreciate Lieberson’s A Matter of Taste in a whole new light, thinking about how he must have dug up all of those data on name trends, how much of it might have been transcribed, etc. It’s really impressive.

Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann graph a collection of these names to illustrate the trend they identified in the article–the contaminating effect of femininity. Those figures are below. The dashed lines chart proportions of girls given the name, while the solid lines show those proportions for boys. So, whenever you see the dashed line increase and the solid line decline, the name was effectively feminized (i.e., it became a “girl” name) and whenever you see the solid line rise and the dashed line decrease, the name was effectively masculinized (i.e., it became a “boy” name). Their point is that once a name becomes androgynous and parents realize that, they will retreat faster from those names when giving them to sons. Androgynous names, according to Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann are “unstable”–they argue that androgynous names that achieve a certain level of popularity don’t remain androgynous and that they’re much more likely to tip toward girls than boys because of the cultural devaluation of femininity.

Lieberson, et al 1Lieberson, et al 2Lieberson, et al 3

It got me thinking about their puzzle. I love teaching it. It’s such an awful example of gender inequality. And it’s so simple. But I’d never charted the names on their lists against national data. So, I did that. And in general, it produced similar results. Of those 12 names, Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann showed three that were masculinized over time (Angel, Sean, and Corey). National data show similar results, but added another name that looks different in the Illinois data they collected: Cary. In national data, baby boys named “Cary” did decline after 1960, coinciding with a small increase in the number of baby girls named “Cary,” but the lines didn’t cross the way they do in Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann’s data. Still, 8 of these 12 names were feminized.

Androgynous U.S. Baby Names.png

I don’t know how to identify threshold effects in data like these. But I’m struck that this might be useful. Philip’s post charts an increase in U.S. parents giving their children names that are less sex-dominant than they used to. But, to examine whether this trend will also shape the fortunes of these newly androgynous names is more difficult because we have to wait to see what happens to the names.

Because Charles Seguin goes by “Charlie” and Philip identified “Charlie” as the most popular androgynous name given to babies born in the U.S. in 2018, we thought through various iterations of names given to babies beginning with “Charl.” And this is the other point that makes studying the fates of androgynous names given to children today or recently more difficult. Lieberson, Dumais, and Baumann suggest that androgynous names often become androgynous in an accidental sort of way. Many parents today intentionally select androgynous names for their children. And Charlie is an interesting example, because their is more than one option for thinking through how to spell the name. Below are a few options along with frequencies of births to boys and girls given each name over time.

U.S. Baby Charl, 1880-2018

Charles also suggested that “Noa” was a name he thought was going to become a much more popular androgynous name – interesting because the name “Noah” was the second most popular name given to baby boys in 2018. Interestingly, both names started to ascend in popularity right around the same time – around 1995.

U.S. Baby Noa, 1880-2018.pngI don’t have an argument to make here. I’m just interested how the trend toward the increasingly intentionally androgynous naming of children might affect the relative stability of androgynous names over time and whether we will continue to see asymmetric contamination effects by gender.

Gender Gap in Top Ten Baby Names – 2018 Update

I’ve been tracking shifts in the proportion of U.S. babies given top ten names among boys and girls since 2015. I think it’s a really fascinating trend and I use it some of my classrooms. The basic lesson is that popular baby names used to be a whole lot more popular than they are today. And the gender gap in just how popular the most popular baby names are has shrunk over time. As of 2017, for the first time since we can measure it using data from the Social Security Administration, the trend lines for girls and boys crossed. Since 2017, the top 10 most popular girls names are more popular than the top ten most popular boys names.

In 2019, I learned that I was not the first to notice this, or the first to graph the proportions of Americans giving babies top ten names to their boys and girls. Andrew Gelman published a piece in the New York Times in 2013 on the rise the proportion of American boys given a name ending with the letter “n.” He also wrote a blog post including two graphs he wished NYT had used for the story. One shows the rise in the proportion of baby boys given a name ending in “n.” And the other shows the proportions of baby boys and girls given top ten names by year (through, I’m assuming, 2012). I edited my original post to link to and credit Gelman’s figure.

And if we go back a bit further, Philip Cohen looked at this trend among girls in 2009 in a Huffington Post article. While Cohen was not looking at the gender gap in name popularity, he was interested in the shifts in names and naming trends that relate to what Stanley Lieberson referred to as the “modernization theory of name trends” in A Matter of Taste. Cohen was interested in both which name were most popular contemporarily vs. in the past as well as how the level of popularity of those popular names shifted over time.

Gelman’s more central discovery about the rise in the preponderance of boys given names ending in “n” was revisited again with a really cool animated visualization by Kieran Healy showing shifts in the distributions of last letters of boy and girl names among babies born over time. You can see the rise of “n” on the figure for boys and the steady dominance of names ending with “a” and “e” for girls.

Anyway, consider this my annual update on the trend Gelman identified in 2013 on shifts in the proportion of the prevalence of top ten baby names given to boys and girls as of 2018. The trend from 2017 continued. Top ten girl names remain (just slightly) more popular than top ten boy names, reversing a huge a very long-standing trend. Here is the updated figure.

baby top 10 - 2018

And here’s a figure that looks only at the figure since 2000.

baby top 10 - 2018.1

Smart stuff. I enjoy following this trend each year along with all of the other things we can consider just by looking at baby name data.

Much Ado About Nothing?: The Story of an Erratum that Barely Was

By Tristan Bridges and Kristen Barber

Originally posted at Feminist Reflections.

Scholarly publications are not necessarily free from error. Researchers like Mark Regnerus have operational problems that skew their claims. Others publish with typos. And still others make mistakes in translating data to graphs, tables, or other infographics. Peer review can only catch so much, because reviewers don’t often have access to the full data set, at least not when dealing with qualitative data. Or, in the case of Regnerus’ Social Science Research publication, blinded reviewers overlook egregious errors in conceptualization and conflicts of interest in project funding (see here for a nuanced critique).

About a year ago, we both discovered an error in a 1976 research note published in the American Journal of Sociology that resulted in an Erratum in the journal’s May 2018 issue. The error appears in a really interesting article by Sociologist Dwight E. Robinson on shifts in men’s facial hair fashions over the course of 130 years in London. Robinson tracked representations of facial hair as a case study of fashion trends as measurable bits of culture. Comparing shifts in men’s facial hair to shifts in women’s skirt lengths, for example, he made claims that “men are just as subject to fashion’s influence as women” (here: 1133).

In the research note, Robinson calculated the relative frequencies of five different styles of men’s facial hair (clean shaven, moustaches, sideburns, moustache & sideburns, and full beards), and different combinations of these styles, from images published in the Illustrated London News between 1842 and 1972. This project shows dramatic shifts in configurations of men’s facial hair over the period studied, with a spike in different styles at different times but an overall decline in facial hair since the late 1800s. Robinson also reported on this shift in Harvard Business Review a year prior, in an article comparing this trend to still more cultural shifts in fashions.

Plotting his findings allowed Robinson to visualize this shift over time, and visualizations help to more readily appreciate the cyclical nature of cultural shifts in fashion (like changes in the popularity of baby names, for instance). They help make discernible something that might be otherwise difficult to appreciate. Below, we’ve stacked all the relative frequencies in a chart to display this shift (also in Sociology NOW, 3e, Chapter 4). It’s really an incredible change, and such a neat way to talk about shifts in fashion. Some fashions have short cycles (like styles of clothing, for instance), while fashions associated with other things (like popular baby names) have longer cycles. Facial hair fashions, according to Robinson’s research, appear to follow a fashion cycle more similar to baby names than to styles of clothing.

But… in the American Journal of Sociology article, there are a collection of errors in the Appendix table from which we collected these relative frequencies. These errors are reproduced in both the  AJS and Harvard Business Review. Robinson may not have realized these mistakes because he plotted shifts in facial hair styles on separate graphs both publications (see images below).

The graphs are produced from relative frequencies of a raw count of men’s facial hair styles in each year of published issues of the Illustrated London News. When we requested Robinson’s submission files from the American Journal of Sociology to consult when assessing the error, they no longer had them. This would have been in hard copy and that filing system, we were told, did not include his submission materials. We also tried to collect submission files from Harvard Business Review, which no longer has the files. Because of this, the Editorial Board at AJS decided they were unable to correct the errors in an erratum; they did agree to at least publish something stating that errors were indeed made. After all that investigation, we ended up with this Erratum:

This erratum is a bit non-committal. But it was what the journal was willing to print. Don’t get us wrong, these errors don’t have the same policy implications as the egregious Regnerus study that suggests children of gay parents don’t meet markers of success similar to kids’ of straight parents. We do feel, however, that the errors can and should be corrected with the available information.

Robinson’s errors appear to most likely be the result of mistakes make in calculating something simple: relative frequency. Because Robinson included all of the figures in the appendix, he allowed us to calculate these frequencies ourselves for verification. Journals should do this when they can, to make scholarly claims more transparent and to offer other scholars data that could be used in different ways, to perhaps answer different questions. Indeed, more journals are including data files as a part of the available materials for download, now that things are online. Below is the Appendix from the article published in the American Journal of Sociology.

The errors in the table (reproduced in the figures in both publications) are associated with the years: 1844, 1860, 1904, 1916, and 1959. In each case, the relative frequencies are miscalculated in the table.

  • 1844: The relative frequency of clean shaven should be 30%, not 47%.
  • 1860: The relative frequency of beards should be 40%, not 39%.
  • 1904: The relative frequencies of moustaches and beards should both be 34%, not 37% and 32% (respectively).
  • 1916: The relative frequencies of clean shaven and moustaches should be 34% and 65%, not 33% and 64% (respectively).
  • 1959: The relative frequencies of clean shaven and moustaches should be 78% and 22%, not 74% and 21% (respectively).

These errors do affect what the graphs look like. If they were corrected, we would see a slight rise in the popularity of representations of men with mustaches in the late 1950s. Now, is that a significant difference? Not really. Clearly, we went to more trouble here than necessary. But identifying (and correcting) research errors is as important to maintaining scholarly integrity as is conducting meticulous reviews of research before it’s published. Accountability is key to making sure we, as scholars, continue to understand research as a communal process that takes seriously the integrity of research, from the smallest details to the biggest biases.

2018 Update: Shifts in the U.S. LGBT Population

Gallup has been collecting data on LGBT identities since 2012. Each year a new wave comes out, I like to visualize it, because I think the figures tell a story more challenging to tell with words alone. Actually “measuring” someone’s sexuality is more challenging than you might think. And one of reasons different surveys produce different estimates of the gender and sexual minority population in any society is that they ask about sexuality differently. I’ve written before on just how challenging sexuality is to measure (and why). A great deal of survey research on the topic has sought to engage these challenges by analytically separating three separate dimensions of sexuality (sexual behaviors, sexual desires, and sexual identities). It’s popularly assumed that the various dimensions all line up in some neat and tidy way. But the fact of the matter is, for many people, they don’t. Indeed, recent work by Laurel Westbrook and Aliya Saperstein show that measuring sex and gender on surveys is not necessarily any easier. All of this has combined to make it challenging to make estimates about the size of any gender or sexual minority population. I was happy to see that Gallup’s report actually addressed this in 2018.

“Self-identification as LGBT is only one of a number of ways of measuring sexual and gender orientation. The general grouping of these four orientations (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) into one question involves significant simplification, and other measurement techniques which ask about each of these categories individually yield different estimates. Additionally, self-identification of sexual orientation can be distinct from other measures which tap into sexual behavior or attraction.” (here)

Gallup’s new report, by Frank Newport was just recently released, and update their estimates of the size of the LGBT population in the U.S. through 2017. This recent publication charts change in LGBT identification in the U.S. over 6 years (2012-2017). And, they rely on what previous research has shown to be a variable that produces the most conservative numbers of LGBT–gender and sexual identity.

The shifts themselves may appear to be small. But, within a population of over 300,000,000 people, these shifts involve huge numbers of actual people. As I have in previous years, in this post, I’ve graphed a collection of findings from Gallup’s report. I use these to talk with students, but I also think graphs offer a powerful illustration of the shifts.

NOTE: It’s worth noting that I truncate the y axes on the figures. Sometimes this is done to exaggerate discoveries. In this case, I truncate the axes because I think it helps more clearly illustrate the shifts I’ll address below.

Over the short period of 6 years Gallup has collected data, the LGBT population has grown substantially. The size of the population has increased from 8.3 to over 11 million people who identify as LGBT in the U.S. The proportion of LGBT Americans jumped a full percentage point between 2012 and 2017–from 3.5% to 4.5% of the U.S. population.

LGBT 1.png

Mignon Moore and I recently published on some of the shifts in the LGB population using data from the General Social Survey. We found a great deal of growth among younger Americans, women, and Black women in particular. Gallup’s new data support these shifts as well with a much larger representative sample of Americans (340,000 interviews in the 2017 sample).

In fact, when we look at shifts in the U.S. LGBT population by age, almost all of the growth in the population has been among the young. (Generations are slippery sorts of  categories as suggesting someone born in 1979 vs. 1980  has a completely different experience and identity, unique from one another is sort of arbitrary. Yet, these data support research like Barbara Risman‘s new book, Where The Millennials Will Take Us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure, showing that young people are more open with respect to gender and sexuality.)

LGBT 2.png

But these shifts also are gendered, racialized, and classed. One of the most consistent shifts has been the growing gap between the numbers of women and men who identify as LGBT in the U.S. Since Gallup started collecting data in 2012, this gap has simply continued to grow. More women identify as LGBT than men, and just how much more continues to change each year.

LGBT 3.png

Those identifying as LGBT in the U.S. today are also becoming more racially diverse. While less than 4% of non-Hispanic white Americans identified as LGBT in 2017, more than 4.5% of Black Americans and Asians did, and more than 6% of Hispanic Americans as well as the racial categories Gallup collapses as “Others” (the “other” category was not included in the 2018 update).

LGBT 4.png

The other changes reported note shifts relative to income and education among LGBT-identifying Americans. With respect to education, Gallup’s data do not show meaningful differences among those with more or less education. Those differences that existed in 2012 seem to have largely eroded with growth in the LGBT population occurring among people with very different educational backgrounds.

LGBT 5.png

Despite this, LGBT population growth does continue to be stratified by class, according to Gallup’s report. Rates of LGBT identification among the class-advantaged have been stagnant over the 6 years of data collection, while rates among middle-income and lower-income LGBT identifying folks in the U.S. are growing.

LGBT 6.png

This is sad and likely to do with a combination of factors that perpetuate gender and sexual inequality. Part of it may be to do with the higher rates of homelessness among gender and sexual minorities as Brandon Andrew Robinson‘s research on LGBTQ homeless youth carefully documents. Some of it must also have to do with sexual discrimination on the job market as work like Emma Mishel‘s audit study showing the resumes with a small signification of possible lesbian identity were significantly less likely to be called for an interview. And likely it is all of this and more.

This is really an incredible amount of change in a very short period of time. The LGBT population is, quite literally, on the move. Tracking the needs of this population is and must be a goal that is continually revisited as the very composition of the population continues to shift.

Gender Gap in Top Ten Baby Names: 2017 Update

I’ve been tracking the proportion of baby girls and boys given top ten names in the U.S. for the past few years. It’s a remarkable shift. You can see the figure below through 2016 in the first chapter of Sociology NOW, 3e. We have an entire section of the introductory chapter that uses baby name trends to teach students how to think sociologically – and this is among my favorite examples from that section. Simply put, popular names used to be a whole lot more popular than they are today. It’s not just which names were popular that change, but how popular they were that has changed as well.

More than 1 in 20 boys born in the U.S. in 1880 were given the name John. The same was true of Mary for girls. And while the most popular names in 2017 are different (Liam and Emma), it’s their frequency that has interested me so much. While Liam was the most popular boy’s name in 2017, it was only given to 0.9539% of all boys born. So, fewer than 1 in 100 baby boys born in 2017 were given the most popular name. Similarly, the top name for girls last year (Emma) accounted for 1.0528% of all baby girls born. It’s just nowhere near the level of popularity.

Rather than tracking the frequency of the top boy and girl name, I’ve been tracking the proportion of boys and girls given top ten names each year. And the change is really amazing (see below). In blue, you can see the proportion of boys given a top ten boys’ name each year (since 1880), and in pink, you can see similar frequencies for top ten girls’ names.

Figure 1.png

I’ve always been struck by the erosion of the gender gap. The most popular boys’ names used to be almost twice as popular (among boys) as the most popular girls’ names were among girls. Boys given top ten names in 1880 accounted for 41.26% of all boys born that year. Girls given top ten names in 1880 accounted for only 22.98% of all girls born that year. I’ve written before explaining why the gap used to be so large and how sociologists explain why the gap shrunk.

Ever since I started tracking this, I’ve been interested in collect the data each year they’re released to see just how close the remaining gap is. I updated the figure last year and noted that top ten boys’ names were still more popular than top ten girls’ names – but the gap had shrunk to 0.01% (top ten boy names accounted for 7.63% of all boys born; top ten girl names accounted for 7.62% of all girls born). So, I was really interested to see whether the lines finally crossed in 2017. They did. Below, I’ve zoomed in on the figure above between 2000 and 2017 and truncated the y axis a bit so it is easier to visualize.

Figure 2.png

It’s a big deal. Since 1880, top ten names have never before accounted for a larger share of births among girls than among boys in any single year. Never. It’s just never happened. But in 2017, it happened. Top ten names were given to 7.48% of boys born in 2017 and 7.66% of girls born.

It’s sort of amazing. What’s also interesting is that the two lines are starting to appear as though they might be on different trajectories moving forward. And it’s interesting to consider what this might mean and what it tells us about gender and gender inequality in the U.S. I’ll continue to follow this. And I may attempt to use a different number of names (like top 20 names, for instance) to see if there’s something funky about 10 that produces the appearance of a change that doesn’t show up when I change the size of the popular names tracked.

Review Symposium on Mark Regnerus’s “Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy”

As book review editor with Men and Masculinities, I’m often having books reviewed outside my area of expertise. My goal has always been to make sure I’m reviewing books that represent the field, incorporating work by a diverse group of scholars, making sure to review the work done by women in the field, and including reviews from graduate students and faculty both in the U.S. and abroad. This year, the sociologist Mark Regnerus published a new book on masculinity and sexualityCheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy. It received a great deal of publicity, and quickly.

Just to consider the scale of publicity of the book, it was covered in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post (twice, once an op-ed by Regnerus himself), The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The Globe and Mail, the Chicago Sun-Times, in addition to more conservative venues like Fox News and the National Review (again, twice, and once by Regnerus himself). This is, quite literally, just a very few of the public venues that reported on this research. As a public sociologist interested in more sociological research reaching public audiences, I was completely blown away. It’s rare to receive a single story in some of these outlets reporting on important sociological work, let alone this kind of massive national attention and sustained dialogue. Even more interesting because, while the book includes a massive collection of new data and analysis, the argument he’s pursuing in the book has been pursued before (more on this in a bit).

The reviews of the book are mixed in the public outlets. Some simply summarize his argument and suggest that he proved it while others are critical of the argument and study to varying degrees. Either way, very quickly, the book became a piece of a national conversation about men, masculinity, and sex. Those blurbing the work were all celebratory in their comments (as book blurbs often are). Perhaps most impressive were social theorist Anthony Giddens‘ comments, who referred to the book as “a magisterial study of the changing sexual landscape today,” and predicted that it would “become a standard work of reference in the field.” High praise!

I decided the book merited a conversation in the field. So, with the editor’s blessings, I invited a collection of scholars to review different elements of the book as a part of a review symposium at Men and Masculinities. I’ve read just about every issue of the journal and I think we’ve done something novel here. Distinct from some symposiums like this at other journals, this one ended up being less congratulatory. In some ways, it’s an odd thing to publish. But, in other ways, I felt the book was part of a larger issue in the field. It pursues an argument we’ve encountered before–leaning on a biologically deterministic position regarding men’s alleged insatiable desire for sex, albeit with new data and a new take.

Regnerus’s argument is that women have started to demand less from men in exchange for sex and this has produced a world historical shift and crisis for gender, sexuality, monogamy, and marriage more generally. He borrows an economic theory (“exchange theory”) to propose this, and leans on a variety of claims from biologically deterministic positions and evolutionary psychology to support his position as well. And he also marshals an incredible amount of evidence from nationally representative surveys and a sample of interviews he collected. There’s a lot to this book. So, I wanted a collection of people capable of reading it from these different perspectives to help readers of Men and Masculinities make sense of the argument.

I’m sharing it here because i hope people read and share the reviews. Sociologist Paula England (a supporter of exchange theory within sociology) assesses his use of this framework and reviews the applicability of exchange theory to his discussion of sex. I invited the anthropologist and NPR blogger Barbara J. King to evaluate his use of biological and evolutionary theories and frameworks that he relies on to support some of the larger claims in the book. And I asked the sociologist Philip N. Cohen to review the data and analysis critically. All three are public scholars par excellence. And I hope they produced a symposium that can be a touchstone as we encounter work subject to some of the critiques of this book.

We’ve published it ahead of print and online at SocArXiv here: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/tqrwu/ (for those of you outside of academia, this means it’s not yet published, but will be in a forthcoming issue). I hope you will read it and share it with friends and colleagues. When arguments like this reach outside of academia, critiques from their peers should follow that reach and be a part of that conversation as well. That’s how we use science to make the world a better place. It’s part of the process and project.