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Family Development Theory

Basic Concepts And Propositions

Position is a term denoting a person's place in the kinship structure that is defined by gender, marriage or blood relations, and generational relations. The basic positions within the family are husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, and sister.

Norms are social rules that govern group and individual behavior. For example, the incest taboo is a strong and pervasive social rule forbidding mating between family members.

Role is defined as all the norms attached to one of the kinship positions. For instance, in most societies the role of mother entails the norm of nurturing of the young. However, because the positions are defined structurally, the content of a role (the norms) may change from society to society or ethnic subculture to subculture.

Family stage is defined as the period of time in which the structure and interactions of role relationships are noticeably distinct from other periods. The stage is usually inferred from the events that indicate a change in the membership of the family or the way in which members of the family are spatially and interactionally organized. For example, launching a child does not mean the end of the parental role but a change based on the spatial and interactional organization of the family members.

Transitions from one family stage to another are indicated by the events between stages. Family stages are experienced as on time or off time in terms of the expected timing for these events. For instance, having another child when postadolescent children are leaving home would be "off time."

Family career (family life course) is composed of all the events and periods of time (stages) between events traversed by a family. At the societal level, the stage-graded norms are indicated by the sequence of events followed by most families. For example, a premarital birth is considered out of sequence for most people. Variations in families indicate the strength of the norms within any given birth cohort and historical period.

Deviation by large numbers of families from a career sequence is viewed as a source of social change. Social change comes about because families seek to align their sequencing of stages with the sequencing and timing norms of nonfamily institutions (e.g., education and occupation). For instance, as the time required for education rises, the age at which a person marries rises, and the period of fertility available to a couple is reduced. Cross-institutional norms, such as finishing one's education before marriage, create the need for systemic deviation in family career and, hence, social change.

Basic propositions proposed by Aldous (1978) lead to the definition of the process of family development. Rodgers and White (1993), in defining the process, claim the probability for a family to move to a new stage of family development is dependent on the old stage they were in and how long they had been in that stage. They further suggest that the process can be mathematically modeled as a semi-Markov process (Coleman 1981; Tuma and Hannan 1984). Two examples of propositions derived by Rodgers and White are that "normative demands of any given institution must be in line with the stage of the family, otherwise the family is strained" and "institutional normative adaptation is preceded by systematic behavioral deviance" (1993, p. 244).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Development Theory - Basic Concepts And Propositions, Critiques, Research, Conclusion