Research Topics

Family, Inequality, Gender, Sexuality, Qualitative Research Methods, Intersectionality, Social Policy

Research Interests

My research interests lie broadly in the areas of family, social inequality, and social policy, where I pay special attention to intersecting inequalities. Following an intersectional perspective, I treat gender, sexuality, race, and class as sociopolitical constructs that involve historically specific sets of co-constitutive practices.

In one research strand, published by New York University Press, I’ve examined the family “sex talk.” Amid controversies over school-based sex education policy, one prominent solution is to give parents greater control over what their children learn about sex. Yet I find parents are uncertain about how best to guide their teenage children’s sexuality and view their own teen children as asexual and innocent while characterizing the stereotypical teenager as highly sexual, with racialized classed, and gendered sexual meanings and inequalities shaping these perceptions. Overall, the book’s findings demonstrate the ways gender, race, class, and age intersect to inform U.S. parents’ views and management of adolescent sexuality.

Another line of inquiry focuses on the family beliefs and experiences of Black single mothers of teenagers in the U.S. Policies promoting marriage and so-called responsible fatherhood have represented one political response to single motherhood over the past couple of decades. With Black single mothers often the face of debates and policy decisions around single motherhood, my research investigates how they make sense of family life and the parenting strategies they adopt, with what implications for social transformation.

A third research strand, with my colleague Dr. Sarah Bowen (NC State University), involves a longitudinal study of families’ food practices and interactions. We followed 124 lower-income Black, white and Latina North Carolina mothers and their young children over five year employing diverse data collection techniques including interviews, time diaries, and ethnographic observations. In several writing projects, including a forthcoming book at Oxford University Press, this research investigates questions such as: What does it take to put food on the table? How do food assistance programs and other state policies shape families’ food access and practices? What are the meanings people give to food, cooking, and family meals?



Asterisk = equal authorship; Underline = student authorship


Elliott, Sinikka. 2012.  Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers. New York: New York University Press.

*Bowen, Sarah, Joslyn Brenton and Sinikka Elliott. Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It. In Press, Oxford University Press. Release date December 3, 2018.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

*Elliott, Sinikka and Sarah Bowen. 2018. Defending Motherhood: Morality, Responsibility, and Double Binds in Feeding Children. Journal of Marriage and Family 80:499-520DOI:10.1111/jomf.12465.

Hardison-Moody, Annie, Lillian MacNell, Sinikka Elliott, and Sarah Bowen. 2018. How Social, Cultural, and Economic Environments Shape Infant Feeding for Low-income Women: A Qualitative Study in North Carolina. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 118(10): 1886-1894.e1.

Riley, Sarah, Adrienne Evans, Sinikka Elliott, Carla Rice, and Jeanne Marecek. 2017, online early view. A Critical Review of Postfeminist Sensibility. Social & Personality Psychology Compass. DOI:10.1111/spc3.12367.

Elliott, Sinikka, Joslyn Brenton, and Rachel Powell. 2017, online early view. Brothermothering: Gender, Power, and the Parenting Strategies of Low-Income Black Single Mothers of Teenagers. Social Problems.

MacNell, Lillian, Sinikka Elliott, Annie Hardison-Moody, and Sarah Bowen. 2017. Black and Latino Urban Food Desert Residents’ Perceptions of their Food Environment and Factors that Influence Food Shopping Decisions. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 12(3): 375-393.

Elliott, Sinikka, Josephine Ngo McKelvy, and Sarah Bowen. 2017. Marking Time in Ethnography: Uncovering Temporal Dispositions. Ethnography 18(4): 556-676.

  • Reprinted in Contemporary Approaches to Ethnographic Research. In print January 2018. Hughes, Kahryn, Jerry Coulton, John Goodwin, and Jason Hughes (Eds.), Sage Publications.

Elliott, Sinikka and Megan Reid. 2016. The Superstrong Black Mother. Contexts 15(1): 48-53.

  • Reprinted in Gender, Sexuality, and Intimacy: A Contexts Reader. 2017: 325-329. O’Brien, Jody and Arlene Stein (Eds), Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Reid, Julie, Gretchen Webber, and Sinikka Elliott. 2015. “It’s Like Being in Church and Being on a Field Trip”: The Date Versus Party Situation in College Students’ Accounts of Hooking Up. Symbolic Interaction 38(2): 175-194.

Elliott, Sinikka, Rachel Powell, and Joslyn Brenton. 2015. Being a Good Mom: Low-Income Black Single Mothers Negotiate Intensive Mothering. Journal of Family Issues 36(3): 351-370.

*Bowen, Sarah, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton. 2014.  The Joy of Cooking? Contexts 13(3): 20-25.

  • Reprinted in Gender, Sexuality, and Intimacy: A Contexts Reader. 2017: 317-320. O’Brien, Jody and Arlene Stein (Eds), Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Elliott, Sinikka.  2014.  “Who’s to Blame?” Constructing the Responsible Sexual Agent in Neoliberal Sex Education.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy 11(3): 211-224.

Brenton, Joslyn and Sinikka Elliott. 2014. Undoing Gender? The Case of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Sociology of Health & Illness 36(1): 91-107.

Elliott, Sinikka and Elyshia Aseltine.  2013.  Raising Teenagers in Hostile Environments:  How Race, Class, and Gender Matter for Mothers’ Protective Carework.  Journal of Family Issues 34(6): 719-744.

*Reid, Julie, Sinikka Elliott and Gretchen Webber.  2011. Casual Hookups to Formal Dates: Refining the Boundaries of the Sexual Double Standard.  Gender & Society 25(5): 545-568.

*Solebello, Nicholas and Sinikka Elliott.  2011. “We Want Them to be as Heterosexual as Possible”: Fathers Talk about Their Teen Children’s Sexuality. Gender & Society 25(3): 293-315.

Elliott, Sinikka.  2010. Talking to Teens about Sex:  Mothers Negotiate Resistance, Discomfort, and Ambivalence.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy 7(4): 310-322.

Elliott, Sinikka.  2010. Parents’ Constructions of Teen Sexuality:  Sex Panics, Contradictory Discourses, and Social Inequality.  Symbolic Interaction 33(2): 191-212.

Elliott, Sinikka.  2010. “If I Could Really Say That and Get Away with It!”:  Accountability and Ambivalence in American Parents’ Sexuality Lessons in the Age of Abstinence.  Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning 10(3): 239-250.

Connell, Catherine and Sinikka Elliott.  2009.  Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Learning Inequality through Sexuality Education.  American Journal of Sexuality Education 4(2): 83-102.

Reczek, Corinne, Sinikka Elliott, and Debra Umberson.  2009.  Commitment without Marriage:  Union Formation among Long-Term Gay and Lesbian Couples.  Journal of Family Issues 30(6): 738-756.

Elliott, Sinikka and Debra Umberson.  2008.  The Performance of Desire:  Gender and Sexual Negotiation in Long-Term Marriages.  Journal of Marriage and Family 70: 391-406.