PSY 3123 C
January 7, 2014
Defining The Family
• A variety of legal definitions exist but there is no fixed legal definition, as
the definition often changes.
• Government regulations determine family” for such services as medical
and family benefits.
• According to Statistics Canada:
o A census family refers to a married couple (with or without
children), a common-law couple (with or without children) or a lone
Now includes same-sex couples
• According to the U.S. Census Bureau:
o A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the
householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing
o A household includes the related family members and all the
unrelated people. A person living alone in a housing unit, or a group
of unrelated people sharing a housing unit such as partners or
roomers, is also counted as a household.
Doesn’t include same-sex or common law couples.
• Various groups, including religious organizations have definitions of a
• Roman Catholic teaching identifies the family as the social and moral
centre of the community; the family, according to the Catechism of the
Catholic Church is “the original cell of social life”.
• The family is child centered; traditional Catholic teaching makes the
primary ed of marriage, the procreation and rearing of children.
• United Church of Canada:
o By “family,” we mean persons who are joined together by reason of
mutual consent (marriage, social contract, or covenant) or by birth
• These are personal definitions of a family.
• In some cases, close friends are considered family members.
• In cases of conflict (e.g. divorce), a family member might not be
considered as belonging.
The Vanier Institute of the Family defines “family” as: • Any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over
time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and
who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of
o Physical maintenance and care of group members
o Addition of new members through procreation or adoption
o Socialization of children
o Social control of members
o Production, consumption, distribution of goods and services
o Affective nurturance - love
• Defining the family is based on social and cultural beliefs and values.
• The Nuclear Family and the Extended Family are regarded as 2 basic
• The Nuclear Family, often called the "Standard North American Family”
(SNAF) is defined as married parents with child(ren).
• The Extended Family consists of a nuclear family and all other relatives.
o grandparents, aunts, cousins etc.
The Nuclear Family
• In the mid-20 Century, the ideal family was considered to be a married
man and woman, committed to each other for life, and their children – the
heterosexual nuclear family – where men were the income earners and
women were homemakers.
o Idea to educate children started here
• In the 1950's, this family pattern (the nuclear family) was widespread and
came to represent a cultural ideal or ideology that thoroughly permeated
society, was embedded in laws and public policies, and taken for granted
in popular culture.
o created suburbs and shopping centers
• In 1960s, social changes had a huge impact:
o The feminist movement won equality rights for women
o New reproductive technologies and the successful struggle to
Availability of Birth Control
Being able to choose when to have children and how many
• 1969: Decriminalization of homosexuality
• 1999: Canada’s Parliament reaffirmed it by passed a motion reaffirming
marriage as being between a man and a woman.
• 2005: Canada legalizes same-sex marriages nationwide with Bill C-38, the
Civil Marriage Act
• 2007: Government introduced a motion to restore the traditional definition of marriage but the motion was defeated in the House of Commons by a
margin of 175 to 123
The Postmodern Family
• New families are diverse in configurations in terms of biological sex,
gender and other differences (sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc.
o They include gay families, transethnic families,
transnational families, single-parent families etc.
• The new family is also changing or "flexible "family. Rather than a
permanent set of relations "until death do us part," the new family often
adjusts its configuration over time (cohabitation, marry, divorce, remarry,
forming not only "step" but "divorce-extended" families.
January 10, 2014
Criteria for Evaluating Theories
Theories About The Family
• A theory provides a general framework of ideas that can be used to
answer questions about the world.
• Theories are important becuase they shape government policy, methods
of therapy and other ways society relates to families.
• Families are always within a society context
o 4 Q's we ask to determine value of theories
How does it account for change and continuity in family
Does it show the way society and family influence each
What does it say about relationships within the family?
How has it affected the policies and practices of government,
social agencies and others who deal with families?
Theories About the Family
1. The Ecological Theory
• This theory looks at the relationship of the family and society, and has
Consists of small groups in which people interact face-to-
Directly affects the quality of life through relationships
with individuals; therefore, its nature and quality are
Each family member has a different microsystem; for
example, that of young children includes whoever cares
for them during the day, such as a babysitter or daycare center.
Is made up of the relationships between two or more
groups of which the individual is a member.
For a child, a mesosystem might consist of the
relationship between parents and the daycare center.
For a parent, a mesosystem might consist of the
relationship between the family and the workplace.
Is a setting in which individuals do not take an active part,
but which has an effect on them through the mesosystem
For parents, this could include the school board, or
extended work hours.
For children, this could include family benefits from a
parent’s work, such as extended health care.
Consists of a society’s ideology and culture, where
shared beliefs are the basis for policy decisions.
These policies are based on assumptions concerning the
pattern of relationships between the sexes.
While such policies tend to be adjusted according to
changing economic or political situations, these changes
tend to occur slowly. 2. Structural-Functional Theory
• Views the family as an institution.
• The family has a number of important functions in society:
o Physical protection of its members
o The emotional well-being of its members
o Produces and shapes new individuals through socialization
• Values are social principles accepted by a society as a whole or by
groups within that society
• Ways of behaving that are typical of a certain group are called norms
• The cultural rules that outline what, where, when, how, and why we
should do something are referred to as social scripts.
o It is not clear in explaining why families and society change
o It often ignores topics such as family violence and sexual abuse,
and sees delinquency and crime as social rather than as family
o It is not very tolerant of differences from the SNAF
o It tends to assume that society has one set of norms and values
o The monolithic bias is the tendency to treat all families the same
with one correct form and universal functions
3. The Family System
• A system contains a set of interrelated and interacting parts
• For example, if one parent loses his or her job, all family members
have to make do with less money
• The Family Systems Theory has both macro and micro aspects
• It looks both at how the family is connected to society and how
individual members interact with society
• This system recognizes the complementarity of roles; for example, if
there is one social role such as parent, there must be the
corresponding role of child
• Families also contain subsystems or smaller groupings of members
within a family
• Systems and subsystems have boundaries, which mark who is a
member and who is not
• Its ability to account for the • The assumption that all
impact of the behaviour of family members want to
one individual on all stay together
members of the family • A concentration on the
family system as a whole
overlooks the experience of
women • Little or no reference to
important social factors
though the theory is quite
capable of including such
4. Symbolic-Interaction Theory
• Unlike structural-functional and conflict theories, symbolic-interaction
theorists use a micro approach to family relationships
• They interpret words and action of family members to understand
• According to this theory, individuals develop a sense of self through
the attitudes and relationship of others, and they develop a sense of
the roles they are expected to fulfill
• Its major weakness is that it ignores factors such as laws, economics,
social class, or values, and does not explain society-wide changes in
• Symbolic interaction theory describes the family as a unit of interacting
• This theory focuses attention on the way that people interact through
symbols: words, gestures, rules, and roles.
• Major Assumptions about Self and Family (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993)
o Individuals are not born with a sense of self but develop self
concepts through social interaction
o Self concept is developed through the process of interaction and
communication with others
o Self concept is shaped by the reactions of significant others and
by our perceptions of their reaction
o Self concept, once developed, provides an important motive for
o Self fulfilling prophecy is the tendency for our expectations,
and/or other’s expectations of us to evoke expected responses
o Humans interact and develop roles in the family according to
symbols used to describe the family.
o These roles are based on the symbolic meaning attached to
o How family members react to a situation is determined by how
they interpret the situation.
o So, it is important to understand the symbols the family uses to
understand their interactions and behaviors.
5. Developmental Theory
• Developmentalists look at the entire life cycle of the family from its
formation to its end Strength Weakness
• It allows researcher to • It doesn’t always fit neatly
compare family life in into the comparison made
different cultures to child and adult
• It is fairly easy to relate to development
the stages in both child • It is centered on nuclear
and adult development families only
• It focuses on a single
• They breakdown a family into specific stages based on child and adult
• Families accomplish certain developmental tasks
• Each stage and task is related to a social time clock
• Family developmental theory is an approach to studying families,
which is useful in explaining patterned change, the dynamic nature of
the family, and how change occurs in the family life cycle 6. Conflict Theories
• Like structural-functionalism, conflict theories tend to view the family
from the perspective of society
• These theories stress negative influences and are concerned with
• Examples include Marxism and Feminist theories
• Feminists approaches have great impact and are the driving force for
much current research on the family
• Conflict theories are not strong in demonstrating how families
contribute to society as a whole
• Neither are they good at explaining why society’s norms and values for
families tend to change slowly
7. Exchange Theory
• This theory states that family life can be viewed in terms of costs and
• In the spousal relationship, for examples, power is not shared equally
• Its two weaknesses are that it assumes that people behave with self-
interest and focuses on the individual rather than family needs
Methods of Studying the Family
• Investigators use two main approaches in studying the family:
o Quantitative Research
Information is presented in the form of numbers which are
analyzed using statistical techniques
Typical quantitative methods are surveys and experiments
“The things we can easily count are not always the things
that count most for families”
o Qualitative Research This research is concerned more with verbal descriptions of
behaviours based on reports from people being studies, on
observation, and on the analysis of patterns.
Qualitative methods include in-depth interviews, direct
observation, and document analysis
Recap of Family Theories
• The ecological view regards families as part of interlocking systems that
influence each other at four levels: the microsystem, mesosystem,
exosystem, and the macrosystem
• The structural-functional theory views the family as an institution among
other social institutions
• Conflict theories are concerned with power relationships. One type of
conflict theory is feminism
• System theory regards a family as a set of interrelated parts in which
anything that affects one part affects all of them
• Symbolic interaction theories look at the meanings individuals see in the
words and actions of others
• Exchange theorists look at the costs and benefits of family life to its
• The developmental view considers families from the formation to their end.
At each stage of the family life cycle, members must accomplish
Diversity Rules Video Notes
Section 1: Family Types
• In this section the program explains the different family types including;
o couple families with children/nuclear families
o couple families without children
o sole parent families
o extended families
o foster families/adopted families
• The program then visits 3 families.
• Jim & Marie have five children. Two are their biological children and three are
the children of Marie’s sister.
• Jan & Lee have seven children between them. Five are Lee’s and two are
Jan’s.Barry & Liz have four children living with them at the moment, none of
which are their biological children.
Section 2: Changes in Family Size & Structure
• This section looks at how families have changed in size and structure and the
reasons for those changes. The major points are;
o families have become smaller in size o divorce has become more common, thereby increasing the number
of sole parent families and blended/step-families
o the contraceptive pill has given couples more choice about when to
have a baby
o increasingly, people are choosing education and careers before
starting a family
o inter-racial marriages are becoming more common
o new medical advances have introduced sperm and egg donors, in
vitro fertilization and surrogate mothers We visit a family which has
been made possible by advances in medical technique. Michelle &
Sue have one daughter and plan to have more children in the
future. And we meet Pete and Trish, an inter-racial couple.
Section 3: Trends for the Future
• In part three we look at trends for the future and the challenges they’ll
present. For instance;
o people are living longer
o more people are living alone
o more people are delaying having a family
o the birth rate is declining
o the population is ageing
o there is going to be increasing pressure on the younger generation
to support the older generation
o people need help looking after their ageing parents
o older people need more assistance, including health care and
o couples, and women especially, need to know that their careers
won’t be jeopardized if they have a family.
o maternity and paternity leave provisions in the workplace could be
o there needs to be more affordable childcare The program
concludes by discussing the types of scenarios likely to be faced by
the students who’ll be watching this film, and the types of family
situations they’re likely to find themselves in. The last family we
meet is perhaps the family of the future. Jasmine and daughter
Silver live in a share household. Silver’s father Ricky shares the
Case study: Rosie
O Presenting family member: Rosie 13 years old
O Missing a lot of school and had a panic attack in class
O Mom passed away when she was 6
O Living with dad
O One sister, 19 years old, not at home. Living with boyfriend’s family O Father heavily into drugs and alcohol
O Rosie is very worried about him, he has been coughing up blood
O Current situation: Dad has been arrested
O Rosie is now living with dad’s girlfriend (not a sustainable situation)
O Social services have been called
O Extended family: Only family is one aunt (mother’s sister). No real
interaction, very negative
Explain and place Rosie and her family within the ecological model:
Home with father (and occasionally father’s girlfriend)
Aunt and family
Sister, sister’s boyfriend and boyfriend’s family
Friendship group at school
Nature and qualities of her relationships in her microsystems:
Her father’s lifestyle choices (drugs, drinking, stealing) have a direct impact on
Rosie’s quality of life. On one hand, we can say stealing has enabled dad to
provide her with basic needs (food, clothing, etc.) very effectively. However, it
might have an impact in shaping Rosie’s moral values. Drug and alcohol use
have created a very unstable environment, with frequent moves, trying living
conditions (no heat, no phone, no internet), and father’s frequent absences or
inability to care for Rosie , Furthermore, Rosie has had to take over the parenting
role, preventing her from fully experiencing the expected roles of a 13 year old
( attending school regularly, spending time with friends..)
Relationships with aunt and family, sister, sister’s boyfriend and his family are
very weak. The quality and nature of these relationships are poor, therefore
providing very little in terms of support and quality of life for Rosie.
The relationship with school has changed over time. It is currently a place where
she feels safe and has people that she feels that she can trust. This support has
helped to decrease Rosie’s anxiety.
The relationships between Rosie’s microsystems are disconnected and strained,
therefore creating anxiety and isolation for Rosie and making her mesosystems
weak. For instance the relationship between Rosie’s father (main microsystem)
is nonexistent with school and very negative with aunt and family.
In the exosystem, institutions and programs such as child protective services, the
judicial system as well as drug rehabilitation programs that her father has
accessed in the past, have all had a direct impact on Rosie and her family. We
can question whether these have served Rosie and her family in the best possible way. For instance if the role, mandate and referral process to child
protective services were different, could more services had been available
earlier? Would she have been removed from the home prior to this crisis point?..)
If tighter follow up and more support services had been in place after her father’
drug rehabilitation program, would it have made a difference?
This is the place where we can question the relationship between the family and
society and their influence on each other.
Our society has a shared belief that parents must care for their children. Social
policies are in place to protect children and act as a safety net when parents do
not fulfill their responsibilities.
This is an example of analysis and interpretation. Certainly, other element
could be added to the various interlocking systems.
Psychological and Social Differences Between Men and Women
Sex and Gender Differences
• Sex refers to the biological differences between males and females
• Gender roles are the socially approved ways of behaving as males and
females in our society
Gender Differences and Family Relationships
• Gender differences affect both the nature of relationships and all aspects of
• In traditional roles:
o Men are regarded as practical, active, and rational
o Women are regarded