The Family


University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

Each and every one of us has a family. However, these families exist in many variations around the world. In this module, we discuss definitions of family, family forms, the developmental trajectory of families, and commonly used theories to understand families. We also cover factors that influence families such as culture and societal expectations while incorporating the latest family relevant statistics.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the various family forms.
  • Describe attachment theory.
  • Identify different parenting styles.
  • Know the typical developmental trajectory of families.
  • Understand cultural differences in dating, marriage, and divorce.
  • Explain the influence of children and aging parents on families.
  • Know concrete tips for increasing happiness within your family.


It is often said that humans are social creatures. We make friends, live in communities, and connect to acquaintances through shared interests. In recent times, social media has become a new way for people to connect with childhood peers, friends of friends, and even strangers. Perhaps nothing is more central to the social world than the concept of family. Our families represent our earliest relationships and—often—our most enduring ones. In this module, you will learn about the psychology of families. Our discussion will begin with a basic definition of family and how this has changed across time and place. Next, we move on to a discussion of family roles and how families evolve across the lifespan. Finally, we conclude with issues such as divorce and abuse that are important factors in the psychological health of families.

What is Family?

In J.K. Rowling's famous Harry Potter novels, the boy magician lives in a cupboard under the stairs. His unfortunate situation is the result of his wizarding parents having been killed in a duel, causing the young Potter to be subsequently shipped off to live with his cruel aunt and uncle. Although family may not be the central theme of these wand and sorcery novels, Harry's example raises a compelling question: what, exactly, counts as family? 

A traditional family including a mother, father, son and daughter.
A traditional family has a somewhat narrow definition that includes only relationships of blood, marriage, and occasionally adoption. More recently, in many societies, the definition of family has expanded. A modern family may include less traditional variations based on strong commitment and emotional ties. [Image: 10070052 moodboard,, CC BY 2.0,]

The definition of family changes across time and across culture. Traditional family has been defined as two or more people who are related by blood, marriage, and—occasionally—adoption (Murdock, 1949). Historically, the most standard version of the traditional family has been the two-parent family. Are there people in your life you consider family who are not necessarily related to you in the traditional sense? Harry Potter would undoubtedly call his schoolmates Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger family, even though they do not fit the traditional definition. Likewise, Harry might consider Hedwig, his snowy owl, a family member, and he would not be alone in doing so. Research from the US (Harris, 2015) and Japan (Veldkamp, 2009) finds that many pet owners consider their pets to be members of the family. Another traditional form of family is the joint family, in which three or more generations of blood relatives live in a single household or compound. Joint families often include cousins, aunts and uncles, and other relatives from the extended family. Versions of the joint family system exist around the globe including in South Asia, Southern Europe, the South Pacific and other locations.

In more modern times, the traditional definition of family has been criticized as being too narrow. Modern families—especially those in industrialized societies—exist in many forms, including the single parent family, foster families, same-sex couples, childfree families, and many other variations from traditional norms. Common to each of these family forms is commitment, caring, and close emotional ties—which are increasingly the defining characteristics of family (Benokraitis, 2015). The changing definition of family has come about, in part, because of factors such as divorce and re-marriage. In many cases, people do not grow up with their family of orientation, but become part of a stepfamily or blended family. Whether a single-parent, joint, or two-parent family, a person’s family of orientation, or the family into which he or she is born, generally acts as the social context for young children learning about relationships. 

According to Bowen (1978), each person has a role to play in his or her family, and each role comes with certain rules and expectations. This system of rules and roles is known as family systems theory. The goal for the family is stability: rules and expectations that work for all. When the role of one member of the family changes, so do the rules and expectations. Such changes ripple through the family and cause each member to adjust his or her own role and expectations to compensate for the change.

Portrait of a happy blended family including ten children.
There are many variations of modern families, including blended or stepfamilies where two families combine. In a combined family the roles of individuals may be different than in their original family of orientation. [Image: Doc List,, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,]

Take, for example, the classic story of Cinderella. Cinderella’s initial role is that of a child. Her parents’ expectations of her are what would be expected of a growing and developing child. But, by the time Cinderella reaches her teen years, her role has changed considerably. Both of her biological parents have died and she has ended up living with her stepmother and stepsisters. Cinderella’s role shifts from being an adored child to acting as the household servant. The stereotype of stepfamilies as being emotionally toxic is, of course, not true. You might even say there are often-overlooked instructive elements in the Cinderella story: Her role in the family has become not only that of servant but also that of caretaker-- the others expecting her to cook and clean while in return they treat her with spite and cruelty. When Cinderella finds her prince and leaves to start her own family—known as a family of procreation—it is safe to assume that the roles of her stepmother and stepsisters will change—suddenly having to cook and clean for themselves.

Gender has been one factor by which family roles have long been assigned. Traditional roles have historically placed housekeeping and childrearing squarely in the realm of women’s responsibilities. Men, by contrast, have been seen as protectors and as providers of resources including money. Increasingly, families are crossing these traditional roles with women working outside the home and men contributing more to domestic and childrearing responsibilities. Despite this shift toward more egalitarian roles, women still tend to do more housekeeping and childrearing tasks than their husbands (known as the second shift) (Hochschild & Machung, 2012).

Interestingly, parental roles have an impact on the ambitions of their children. Croft and her colleagues (2014) examined the beliefs of more than 300 children. The researchers discovered that when fathers endorsed more equal sharing of household duties and when mothers were more workplace oriented it influenced how their daughters thought. In both cases, daughters were more likely to have ambitions toward working outside the home and working in less gender-stereotyped professions.

How Families Develop

Our families are so familiar to us that we can sometimes take for granted the idea that families develop over time. Nuclear families, those core units of parents and children, do not simply pop into being. The parents meet one another, they court or date one another, and they make the decision to have children. Even then the family does not quit changing. Children grow up and leave home and the roles shift yet again. 


A man and woman in a tender embrace smile with eyes closed.
According to Attachment Theory, the type of care that we receive as infants can have a significant influence on the intimate relationships that we have as adults. [Image: Muriel HEARD-COLLIER,, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,]

In a psychological sense, families begin with intimacy. The need for intimacy, or close relationships with others, is universal. We seek out close and meaningful relationships over the course of our lives. What our adult intimate relationships look like actually stems from infancy and our relationship with our primary caregiver (historically our mother)—a process of development described by attachment theory. According to attachment theory, different styles of caregiving result in different relationship “attachments.” For example, responsive mothers—mothers who soothe their crying infants—produce infants who have secure attachments (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969). About 60% of all children are securely attached. As adults, secure individuals rely on their working models—concepts of how relationships operate—that were created in infancy, as a result of their interactions with their primary caregiver (mother), to foster happy and healthy adult intimate relationships. Securely attached adults feel comfortable being depended on and depending on others. 

As you might imagine, inconsistent or dismissive parents also impact the attachment style of their infants (Ainsworth, 1973), but in a different direction. In early studies on attachment style, infants were observed interacting with their caregivers, followed by being separated from them, then finally reunited. About 20% of the observed children were “resistant,” meaning they were anxious even before, and especially during, the separation; and 20% were “avoidant,” meaning they actively avoided their caregiver after separation (i.e., ignoring the mother when they were reunited). These early attachment patterns can affect the way people relate to one another in adulthood. Anxious-resistant adults worry that others don’t love them, and they often become frustrated or angry when their needs go unmet. Anxious-avoidant adults will appear not to care much about their intimate relationships, and are uncomfortable being depended on or depending on others themselves.

Table 1: Early attachment and adult intimacy

The good news is that our attachment can be changed. It isn’t easy, but it is possible for anyone to “recover” a secure attachment. The process often requires the help of a supportive and dependable other, and for the insecure person to achieve coherence—the realization that his or her upbringing is not a permanent reflection of character or a reflection of the world at large, nor does it bar him or her from being worthy of love or others of being trustworthy (Treboux, Crowell, & Waters, 2004).

Dating, Courtship, and Cohabitation

Over time, the process of finding a mate has changed dramatically. In Victorian England, for instance, young women in high society trained for years in the arts—to sing, play music, dance, compose verse, etc. These skills were thought to be vital to the courtship ritual—a demonstration of feminine worthiness. Once a woman was of marriageable age, she would attend dances and other public events as a means of displaying her availability. A young couple interested in one another would find opportunities to spend time together, such as taking a walk. That era had very different dating practices from today, in which teenagers have more freedom, more privacy, and can date more people.

One major difference in the way people find a mate these days is the way we use technology to both expand and restrict the marriage market—the process by which potential mates compare assets and liabilities of available prospects and choose the best option (Benokraitis, 2015). Comparing marriage to a market might sound unromantic, but think of it as a way to illustrate how people seek out attractive qualities in a mate. Modern technology has allowed us to expand our “market” by allowing us to search for potential partners all over the world—as opposed to the days when people mostly relied on local dating pools. Technology also allows us to filter out undesirable (albeit available) prospects at the outset, based on factors such as shared interests, age, and other features.

The use of filters to find the most desirable partner is a common practice, resulting in people marrying others very similar to themselves—a concept called homogamy; the opposite is known as heterogamy (Burgess & Wallin, 1943). In his comparison of educational homogamy in 55 countries, Smits (2003) found strong support for higher-educated people marrying other highly educated people. As such, education appears to be a strong filter people use to help them select a mate. The most common filters we use—or, put another way, the characteristics we focus on most in potential mates—are age, race, social status, and religion (Regan, 2008). Other filters we use include compatibility, physical attractiveness (we tend to pick people who are as attractive as we are), and proximity (for practical reasons, we often pick people close to us) (Klenke-Hamel & Janda, 1980).

In many countries, technology is increasingly used to help single people find each other, and this may be especially true of older adults who are divorced or widowed, as there are few societally-structured activities for older singles. For example, younger people in school are usually surrounded with many potential dating partners of a similar age and background. As we get older, this is less true, as we focus on our careers and find ourselves surrounded by co-workers of various ages, marital statuses, and backgrounds. 

A young couple posing for wedding photos in traditional Indian attire.
In some countries, many people are coupled and committed to marriage through arrangements made by parents or professional marriage brokers. [Image: Ananabanana,, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,]

In some cultures, however, it is not uncommon for the families of young people to do the work of finding a mate for them. For example, the Shanghai Marriage Market refers to the People’s Park in Shanghai, China—a place where parents of unmarried adults meet on weekends to trade information about their children in attempts to find suitable spouses for them (Bolsover, 2011). In India, the marriage market refers to the use of marriage brokers or marriage bureaus to pair eligible singles together (Trivedi, 2013). To many Westerners, the idea of arranged marriage can seem puzzling. It can appear to take the romance out of the equation and violate values about personal freedom. On the other hand, some people in favor of arranged marriage argue that parents are able to make more mature decisions than young people.

While such intrusions may seem inappropriate based on your upbringing, for many people of the world such help is expected, even appreciated. In India for example, “parental arranged marriages are largely preferred to other forms of marital choices” (Ramsheena & Gundemeda, 2015, p. 138). Of course, one’s religious and social caste plays a role in determining how involved family may be.

In terms of other notable shifts in attitude seen around the world, an increase in cohabitation has been documented. Cohabitation is defined as an arrangement in which two people who are romantically live together even though they are not married (Prinz, 1995). Cohabitation is common in many countries, with the Scandinavian nations of Iceland, Sweden, and Norway reporting the highest percentages, and more traditional countries like India, China, and Japan reporting low percentages (DeRose, 2011). In countries where cohabitation is increasingly common, there has been speculation as to whether or not cohabitation is now part of the natural developmental progression of romantic relationships: dating and courtship, then cohabitation, engagement, and finally marriage. Though, while many cohabitating arrangements ultimately lead to marriage, many do not.

Engagement and Marriage

A bride and bride dressed in traditional white wedding gowns hold bouquets of flowers and smile for photos after a wedding ceremony.
While marriage is common across cultures, the details such as “How” and “When” are often quite different. Now the “Who” of marriage is experiencing an important change as laws are updated in a growing number of countries and states to give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits through marriage as heterosexual couples. [Image: Bart Vis,, CC BY 2.0,]

Most people will marry in their lifetime. In the majority of countries, 80% of men and women have been married by the age of 49 (United Nations, 2013). Despite how common marriage remains, it has undergone some interesting shifts in recent times. Around the world, people are tending to get married later in life or, increasingly, not at all. People in more developed countries (e.g., Nordic and Western Europe), for instance, marry later in life—at an average age of 30 years. This is very different than, for example, the economically developing country of Afghanistan, which has one of the lowest average-age statistics for marriage—at 20.2 years (United Nations, 2013). Another shift seen around the world is a gender gap in terms of age when people get married. In every country, men marry later than women. Since the 1970’s, the average age of marriage for women has increased from 21.8 to 24.7 years. Men have seen a similar increase in age at first marriage. 

As illustrated, the courtship process can vary greatly around the world. So too can an engagement—a formal agreement to get married. Some of these differences are small, such as on which hand an engagement ring is worn. In many countries it is worn on the left, but in Russia, Germany, Norway, and India, women wear their ring on their right. There are also more overt differences, such as who makes the proposal. In India and Pakistan, it is not uncommon for the family of the groom to propose to the family of the bride, with little to no involvement from the bride and groom themselves. In most Western industrialized countries, it is traditional for the male to propose to the female. What types of engagement traditions, practices, and rituals are common where you are from? How are they changing?


Do you want children? Do you already have children? Increasingly, families are postponing or not having children. Families that choose to forego having children are known as childfree families, while families that want but are unable to conceive are referred to as childless families. As more young people pursue their education and careers, age at first marriage has increased; similarly, so has the age at which people become parents. The average age for first-time mothers is 25 in the United States (up from 21 in 1970), 29.4 in Switzerland, and 29.2 in Japan (Matthews & Hamilton, 2014).

The decision to become a parent should not be taken lightly. There are positives and negatives associated with parenting that should be considered. Many parents report that having children increases their well-being (White & Dolan, 2009). Researchers have also found that parents, compared to their non-parent peers, are more positive about their lives (Nelson, Kushlev, English, Dunn, & Lyubomirsky, 2013). On the other hand, researchers have also found that parents, compared to non-parents, are more likely to be depressed, report lower levels of marital quality, and feel like their relationship with their partner is more businesslike than intimate (Walker, 2011).

If you do become a parent, your parenting style will impact your child’s future success in romantic and parenting relationships. Authoritative parenting, arguably the best parenting style, is both demanding and supportive of the child (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Support refers to the amount of affection, acceptance, and warmth a parent provides. Demandingness refers to the degree a parent controls his/her child’s behavior. Children who have authoritative parents are generally happy, capable, and successful (Maccoby, 1992). 

Table 2: Four parenting styles

Other, less advantageous parenting styles include authoritarian (in contrast to authoritative), permissive, and uninvolved (Tavassolie, Dudding, Madigan, Thorvardarson, & Winsler, 2016). Authoritarian parents are low in support and high in demandingness. Arguably, this is the parenting style used by Harry Potter’s harsh aunt and uncle, and Cinderella’s vindictive stepmother. Children who receive authoritarian parenting are more likely to be obedient and proficient, but score lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem. Permissive parents are high in support and low in demandingness. Their children rank low in happiness and self-regulation, and are more likely to have problems with authority. Uninvolved parents are low in both support and demandingness. Children of these parents tend to rank lowest across all life domains, lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and are less competent than their peers.

Support for the benefits of authoritative parenting has been found in countries as diverse as the Czech Republic (Dmitrieva, Chen, Greenberger, & Gil-Rivas, 2004), India (Carson, Chowdhurry, Perry, & Pati, 1999), China (Pilgrim, Luo, Urberg, & Fang, 1999), Israel (Mayseless, Scharf, & Sholt, 2003), and Palestine (Punamaki, Qouta, & Sarraj, 1997). In fact, authoritative parenting appears to be superior in Western, individualistic societies—so much so that some people have argued that there is no longer a need to study it (Steinberg, 2001). Other researchers are less certain about the superiority of authoritative parenting and point to differences in cultural values and beliefs. For example, while many European-American children do poorly with too much strictness (authoritarian parenting), Chinese children often do well, especially academically. The reason for this likely stems from Chinese culture viewing strictness in parenting as related to training, which is not central to American parenting (Chao, 1994).

Parenting in Later Life

Just because children grow up does not mean their family stops being a family. The concept of family persists across the entire lifespan, but the specific roles and expectations of its members change over time. One major change comes when a child reaches adulthood and moves away. When exactly children leave home varies greatly depending on societal norms and expectations, as well as on economic conditions such as employment opportunities and affordable housing options. Some parents may experience sadness when their adult children leave the home—a situation known as Empty Nest

A family photo of four generations of men from great grandfather to great grandson.
When one’s children reach adulthood it doesn’t mean that parenting stops. Boomerang kids and multigenerational households that include aging parents are increasingly common. [Image: davidmulder61,, CC BY-SA 2.0,]

Many parents are also finding that their grown children are struggling to launch into independence. It’s an increasingly common story: a child goes off to college and, upon graduation, is unable to find steady employment. In such instances, a frequent outcome is for the child to return home, becoming a “boomerang kid.” The boomerang generation, as the phenomenon has come to be known, refers to young adults, mostly between the ages of 25 and 34, who return home to live with their parents while they strive for stability in their lives—often in terms of finances, living arrangements, and sometimes romantic relationships. These boomerang kids can be both good and bad for families. Within American families, 48% of boomerang kids report having paid rent to their parents, and 89% say they help out with household expenses—a win for everyone (Parker, 2012). On the other hand, 24% of boomerang kids report that returning home hurts their relationship with their parents (Parker, 2012). For better or for worse, the number of children returning home has been increasing around the world.

In addition to middle-aged parents spending more time, money, and energy taking care of their adult children, they are also increasingly taking care of their own aging and ailing parents. Middle-aged people in this set of circumstances are commonly referred to as the sandwich generation (Dukhovnov & Zagheni, 2015). Of course, cultural norms and practices again come into play. In some Asian and Hispanic cultures, the expectation is that adult children are supposed to take care of aging parents and parents-in-law. In other Western cultures—cultures that emphasize individuality and self-sustainability—the expectation has historically been that elders either age in place, modifying their home and receiving services to allow them to continue to live independently, or enter long-term care facilities. However, given financial constraints, many families find themselves taking in and caring for their aging parents, increasing the number of multigenerational homes around the world.

Family Issues and Considerations


Divorce refers to the legal dissolution of a marriage. Depending on societal factors, divorce may be more or less of an option for married couples. Despite popular belief, divorce rates in the United States actually declined for many years during the 1980s and 1990s, and only just recently started to climb back up—landing at just below 50% of marriages ending in divorce today (Marriage & Divorce, 2016); however, it should be noted that divorce rates increase for each subsequent marriage, and there is considerable debate about the exact divorce rate. Are there specific factors that can predict divorce? Are certain types of people or certain types of relationships more or less at risk for breaking up? Indeed, there are several factors that appear to be either risk factors or protective factors. 

Pursuing education decreases the risk of divorce. So too does waiting until we are older to marry. Likewise, if our parents are still married we are less likely to divorce. Factors that increase our risk of divorce include having a child before marriage and living with multiple partners before marriage, known as serial cohabitation (cohabitation with one’s expected martial partner does not appear to have the same effect). And, of course, societal and religious attitudes must also be taken into account. In societies that are more accepting of divorce, divorce rates tend to be higher. Likewise, in religions that are less accepting of divorce, divorce rates tend to be lower. See Lyngstad & Jalovaara (2010) for a more thorough discussion of divorce risk.

Protective and risk factors for divorce summarized from the text.
Table 3: Divorce Factors

If a couple does divorce, there are specific considerations they should take into account to help their children cope. Parents should reassure their children that both parents will continue to love them and that the divorce is in no way the children’s fault. Parents should also encourage open communication with their children and be careful not to bias them against their “ex” or use them as a means of hurting their “ex” (Denham, 2013; Harvey & Fine, 2004; Pescosoido, 2013).


Abuse can occur in multiple forms and across all family relationships. Breiding, Basile, Smith, Black, & Mahendra (2015) define the forms of abuse as:

  • Physical abuse, the use of intentional physical force to cause harm. Scratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, slapping, punching, and hitting are common forms of physical abuse;
  • Sexual abuse, the act of forcing someone to participate in a sex act against his or her will. Such abuse is often referred to as sexual assault or rape. A marital relationship does not grant anyone the right to demand sex or sexual activity from anyone, even a spouse;
  • Psychological abuse, aggressive behavior that is intended to control someone else. Such abuse can include threats of physical or sexual abuse, manipulation, bullying, and stalking.

Abuse between partners is referred to as intimate partner violence; however, such abuse can also occur between a parent and child (child abuse), adult children and their aging parents (elder abuse), and even between siblings. 

The most common form of abuse between parents and children is actually that of neglect. Neglect refers to a family’s failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, medical, or educational needs (DePanfilis, 2006). Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle, as well as Cinderella’s stepmother, could all be prosecuted for neglect in the real world.

Abuse is a complex issue, especially within families. There are many reasons people become abusers: poverty, stress, and substance abuse are common characteristics shared by abusers, although abuse can happen in any family. There are also many reasons adults stay in abusive relationships: (a) learned helplessness (the abused person believing he or she has no control over the situation); (b) the belief that the abuser can/will change; (c) shame, guilt, self-blame, and/or fear; and (d) economic dependence. All of these factors can play a role.

Children who experience abuse may “act out” or otherwise respond in a variety of unhealthful ways. These include acts of self-destruction, withdrawal, and aggression, as well as struggles with depression, anxiety, and academic performance. Researchers have found that abused children’s brains may produce higher levels of stress hormones. These hormones can lead to decreased brain development, lower stress thresholds, suppressed immune responses, and lifelong difficulties with learning and memory (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).


Divorce and abuse are important concerns, but not all family hurdles are negative. One example of a positive family issue is adoption. Adoption has long historical roots (it is even mentioned in the Bible) and involves taking in and raising someone else’s child legally as one’s own. Becoming a parent is one of the most fulfilling things a person can do (Gallup & Newport, 1990), but even with modern reproductive technologies, not all couples who would like to have children (which is still most) are able to. For these families, adoption often allows them to feel whole—by completing their family.

In 2013, in the United States, there were over 100,000 children in foster care (where children go when their biological families are unable to adequately care for them) available for adoption (Soronen, 2013). In total, about 2% of the U.S. child population is adopted, either through foster care or through private domestic or international adoption (Adopted Children, 2012). Adopting a child from the foster care system is relatively inexpensive, costing $0-$2,500, with many families qualifying for state-subsidized support (Soronen, 2013). 

A mother and two adopted daughters.
Adoption is an important option for creating or expanding a family. Foster care adoptions and international adoptions are both common. Regardless of why a family chooses to adopt and from where, traits such as patience, flexibility and strong problem-solving skills are desirable for adoptive parents. [Image: Steven Depolo,, CC BY 2.0,]

For years, international adoptions have been popular. In the United States, between 1999 and 2014, 256,132 international adoptions occurred, with the largest number of children coming from China (73,672) and Russia (46,113) (Intercountry Adoption, 2016). People in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, and Canada adopt the largest numbers of children (Selman, 2009). More recently, however, international adoptions have begun to decrease. One significant complication is that each country has its own set of requirements for adoption, as does each country from which an adopted child originates. As such, the adoption process can vary greatly, especially in terms of cost, and countries are able to police who adopts their children. For example, single, obese, or over-50 individuals are not allowed to adopt a child from China (Bartholet, 2007).

Regardless of why a family chooses to adopt, traits such as flexibility, patience, strong problem-solving skills, and a willingness to identify local community resources are highly favorable for the prospective parents to possess. Additionally, it may be helpful for adoptive parents to recognize that they do not have to be “perfect” parents as long as they are loving and willing to meet the unique challenges their adopted child may pose.

Happy Healthy Families

Our families play a crucial role in our overall development and happiness. They can support and validate us, but they can also criticize and burden us. For better or worse, we all have a family. In closing, here are strategies you can use to increase the happiness of your family:

Outside Resources

Article: Social Trends Institute: The Sustainable Demographic Dividend
Video: TED Talk: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness
Web: Child Trends and Social Trends Institute: Mapping Family Change and Well-Being Outcomes
Web: Pew Research Center: Family and Relationships
Web: PSYCHALIVE: Psychology for Everyday Life: Relationships
Web: United States Census Bureau: Families and Living Arrangements

Discussion Questions

  1. Throughout this module many ‘shifts’ are mentioned—shifts in division of labor, family roles, marital expectations, divorce, and societal and cultural norms, among others, were discussed. What shift do you find most interesting and why? What types of shifts do you think we might see in the future?
  2. In the reading we discuss different parenting practices. Much of the literature suggests that authoritative parenting is best. Do you agree? Why or why not? Are there times when you think another parenting style would be better? 
  3. The section on divorce discusses specific factors that increase or decrease the chances of divorce. Based on your background, are you more or less at risk for divorce? Consider things about your family of orientation, culture, religious practices and beliefs, age, and educational goals. How does this risk make you feel?
  4. The module ends with some tips for happy, healthy families. Are there specific things you could be doing in your own life to make for a happier, healthier family? What are some concrete things you could start doing immediately to increase happiness in your family? 


To take in and raise a child of other parents legally as one’s own.
Age in place
The trend toward making accommodations to ensure that aging people can stay in their homes and live independently.
Attachment style that involves suppressing one’s own feelings and desires, and a difficulty depending on others.
Attachment style that is self-critical, insecure, and fearful of rejection.
Attachment theory
Theory that describes the enduring patterns of relationships from birth to death.
Authoritarian parenting
Parenting style that is high is demandingness and low in support.
Authoritative parenting
A parenting style that is high in demandingness and high in support.
Blended family
A family consisting of an adult couple and their children from previous relationships.
Boomerang generation
Term used to describe young adults, primarily between the ages of 25 and 34, who return home after previously living on their own.
Child abuse
Injury, death, or emotional harm to a child caused by a parent or caregiver, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Term used to describe people who purposefully choose not to have children.
Term used to describe people who would like to have children but are unable to conceive.
Arrangement where two unmarried adults live together.
Within attachment theory, the gaining of insight into and reconciling one’s childhood experiences.
Elder abuse
Any form of mistreatment that results in harm to an elder person, often caused by his/her adult child.
Empty Nest
Feelings of sadness and loneliness that parents may feel when their adult children leave the home for the first time.
Formal agreement to get married.
Family of orientation
The family one is born into.
Family of procreation
The family one creates, usually through marriage.
Family systems theory
Theory that says a person cannot be understood on their own, but as a member of a unit.
Foster care
Care provided by alternative families to children whose families of orientation cannot adequately care for them; often arranged through the government or a social service agency.
Partnering with someone who is unlike you in a meaningful way.
Partnering with someone who is like you in a meaningful way.
Intimate partner violence
Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse inflicted by a partner.
Joint family
A family comprised of at least three generations living together. Joint families often include many members of the extended family.
Learned helplessness
The belief, as someone who is abused, that one has no control over his or her situation.
Marriage market
The process through which prospective spouses compare assets and liabilities of available partners and choose the best available mate.
Modern family
A family based on commitment, caring, and close emotional ties.
Multigenerational homes
Homes with more than one adult generation.
Failure to care for someone properly.
Nuclear families
A core family unit comprised of only the parents and children.
Permissive parenting
Parenting that is low in demandingness and high in support.
Physical abuse
The use of intentional physical force to cause harm.
Psychological abuse
Aggressive behavior intended to control a partner.
Sandwich generation
Generation of people responsible for taking care of their own children as well as their aging parents.
Second shift
Term used to describe the unpaid work a parent, usually a mother, does in the home in terms of housekeeping and childrearing.
Secure attachments
Attachment style that involves being comfortable with depending on your partner and having your partner depend on you.
Sexual abuse
The act of forcing a partner to take part in a sex act against his or her will.
Single parent family
An individual parent raising a child or children.
A family formed, after divorce or widowhood, through remarriage.
Traditional family
Two or more people related by blood, marriage, and—occasionally-- by adoption.
Two-parent family
A family consisting of two parents—typical both of the biological parents-- and their children.
Uninvolved parenting
Parenting that is low in demandingness and low in support.
Working models
An understanding of how relationships operate; viewing oneself as worthy of love and others as trustworthy.


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  • Joel A. Muraco
    Joel A. Muraco is Assistant Professor of Human Development and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. His research examines the experiences of marginalized populations with a focus on physical health, psychological wellbeing, and romantic relationships.

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How to cite this Noba module using APA Style

Muraco, J. A. (2024). The family. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. Retrieved from