Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nicole Civettini is intrigued by the myth of the perfect family.

Civettini, an adjunct instructor in sociology at The University of Iowa, grew up in what seemed to be -- on the outside -- an all-American family. Her father was quarterback of the football team; her mother the head cheerleader.

"It seems like American pie," Civettini said. "But my family, like most, is far from 'normal.'"

Based on sociological research, her family is no different from every other family.

Civettini received her master's degree in sociology at the UI in 2003. She then earned her Ph.D. here in April 2009, with her dissertation titled "Same-Sex Unions: Do Theories of Marriage Apply?"

"Not only do I study how general family theories apply to same-sex couples, but how these families break the proverbial mold," Civettini said. "There's no such thing as normal. I enjoy studying family diversity."

Civettini's dissertation tested theories that have never been tested among same-sex couples, according to Civettini. She describes her work as a study of when marriage is a scarce resource.

Her nationwide web-based survey of 429 same-sex couples and same-sex-attracted singles addresses two main research questions. First, does the legal recognition of same-sex relationships provide the same benefits (for physical and mental health, wealth, and sexual satisfaction) for members of same-sex couples that is does for different-sex spouses? Second, how do same-sex couples divide household labor, and, should inequalities emerge, what factors explain the division of labor?

Results for the marriage benefits theory indicated that legal recognition (marriages and civil unions) did provide some benefits to financial well-being and physical health, but not to mental health or sexual satisfaction.

Results on household labor indicated that more feminine respondents performed a greater share of the housework than their spouse/partner, and the more hours a person spent at work, the fewer hours she/he spent doing housework. The research also showed that married people and those in civil unions were less likely to let gendered traits dictate the division of household labor.

"I was not surprised to learn that marriage does not operate for same-sex couples in the same way it does for different-sex couples in terms of the benefits commonly associated with marriage," said Civettini, whose survey featured an oversampling of Boston-area residents since Massachusetts was the only state to have legally recognized same-sex marriage at the time. "At our present point in social history, marriage does not differentiate same-sex spouses from same-sex cohabitors in the same way that it differentiates different-sex couples.

"I was very interested to discover that gender operates in same-sex couples much in the same way as it does in different-sex marriages with regard to housework, if to a smaller extent."

Civettini's dissertation, under the advisorship of Professor Jennifer Glass, is particularly pertinent locally since the state of Iowa overturned a 10-year ban on same-sex marriage in April 2009.

Originally from Stevens Point, Wis., Civettini earned undergraduate degrees in sociology and psychology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2001, before continuing her academic career at Iowa.

Her master's thesis was on the role of group member similarity on group development, and was published in the September 2007 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly. Civettini also wrote a piece, with Glass, about the impact of religious conservatism on men's work and family involvement, which appeared in the February 2008 issue of Gender and Society.

"Research and the process of discovery are very rewarding," Civettini said. "But it's great to know your work is of benefit to others and informs other scholars by contributing to the knowledge base." 

Civettini also enjoys working with students. At Iowa, she has taught courses on social psychology, the American family, work and family institutions, social inequality, and research methods.  She also taught a course on marriage and family at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

"My goal is to get a tenure track position in academia," Civettini said. "I like mentoring students and guiding them in their research as well as teaching in the classroom.  At the moment, I am enjoying my adjunct appointment and preparing dissertation chapters for publication.

In her free time, Civettini is a fan of sports. She is a retired gymnast and a former springboard diver at Marquette.  She also studies sociology of sport, on occasion.

"I don't have a lot time to spend on sport sociology. It's my academic guilty pleasure," Civettini said. "It's something I really enjoy, but is secondary to my main interests in family studies and social psychology."