Studying Marriage and the Family

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					Studying Marriage and
           the Family
                Chapter 2
            Part 1: Theory
Why are Theories
and Research Important?
   What we don’t know can hurt us.
   Theories and research help us understand
    our family life.
   Theories and research help us think
    critically and make informed decisions.
Theory: Ecological perspective
   Urie Bronfenbrenner proposed “interlocking”
    systems that shape developmental growth.
       The microsystem
       The mesosystem
       The exosystem
       The macrosystem
   Critique: Focus on developmental changes based
    on environment does not explain how and when
    these changes occur.
Ecological Model of
Theory: Structural-Functional
   Structural functional theory explores the relationship
    between the family and the larger society.
       Instrumental roles & expressive roles are often assigned
        by gender.
       Family roles are seen as functional or dysfunctional.
       Clearly evident functions are manifest while unintended
        functions are latent.
   Critique: Conservative perspective that may be
    ignoring social changes.
Theory: Conflict perspective
   Conflict theory is based on the ways people
    struggle over power and compete for scarce
       Changes in traditional roles are seen as natural, inevitable
        and sometimes desirable.
       Society is seen as a system of inequality which causes
        tension between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
   Critique: Overemphasizes clash and coercion and
    focuses on institutional or macro level rather than
    personal choice or micro level.
Theory: Feminist perspectives
   Feminist theories examine how gender impacts
    relationships and institutions such as politics,
    religion, education and families.
       There are different types of feminism, including liberal,
        radical, and global.
       Feminist theory has contributed to better understanding of
        family diversity, family violence, and parental roles and
   Critique: Feminists often rely more heavily on
    qualitative research methods rather than
    quantitative methods. Many feminists are part of
    an “old girl” network.
Theory: Symbolic-Interaction
   Symbolic interaction theory explores
    subjective, interpersonal meaning and how
    we communicate using symbols and shared
       Definition of the situation refers to how we
        perceive and react to reality.
       Significant others are people in our primary
   Critique: Tends to ignore macro level
    influences on family functioning and may
    have unrealistic views of everyday life.
Theory: Social Exchange
   Social exchange theory is based on the
    idea that any social interaction is based on
    the efforts to minimize costs and maximize
       Change occurs when costs are greater than
   Critique: Social exchange theory places too
    much weight on rational decision making and
    may not account for groups which do not
    place as much value on individual behavior.
Theory: Family Life Course
Development perspective
   Family life course development theory
    explores the changes that families
    experience over the lifespan.
       Specific focus is placed on developmental tasks.
       The family life cycle is divided into stages.
   Critique: Some researchers feel stage
    models are “artificial” and are often restricted
    to nuclear and stable families, ignoring
    single-parent and gay and lesbian families.
Stages of the Family Life Cycle
Theory: Family Systems
   Family systems theory views families as
    functioning units that solve problems, make
    decisions and achieve collective goals.
       Focus is often placed on how families
        communicate, how patterns evolve and how
        individual personalities affect other family
   Critique: Some researchers have suggested
    family systems theory is too general and
    does not provide much insight on how the
    family functions.
Studying Marriage and
           the Family
                 Chapter 2
           Part 2: Methods
Methods: Surveys
   Surveys are used to systematically collect
       Questionnaires and interviews can be face to face, by
        telephone, or mailed.
       Focus groups can be used to explore issues before
        launching a larger research project
   Strengths: Surveys are inexpensive and quick. Face
    to face interviews have high response rates.
   Weaknesses: Mailed questionnaires have low
    response rates. Data may be falsified on self report
Methods: Clinical Research
   Clinical research focuses on individuals or small
    groups of people who seek help from mental health
       The case study approach provides in-depth information
        and descriptions of individuals and families.
   Strengths: Case studies are usually based on long-
    term counseling where clinicians may offer insights
    about family dynamics.
   Weaknesses: Case studies are often consuming,
    expensive, and not representative.
Methods: Field Research
   Field researchers collect data by systematically
    observing people in their natural surroundings.
       When researchers interact naturally, but do not reveal their
        identities as researchers, they are participant observers.
       When researchers study phenomena without being part of
        the situation they are non-participant observers.
   Strengths: Field research can provide a more in-
    depth understanding and can be more flexible than
    other types of research.
   Weaknesses: Field research can be time-consuming
    and expensive, as well as providing difficult role
    challenges for the investigator.
Methods: Secondary Analysis
   Researchers who use secondary analysis are
    using data that was collected by someone else.
       Sources may include historical documents, public records,
        letters and diaries, and/or official statistics.
   Strengths: Secondary analysis tends to be
    accessible, convenient, and inexpensive, and can
    provide good ways to explore longitudinal
   Weaknesses: Secondary data may not include all
    the information required or may have missing
    information. It may also not include the data the
    researcher is looking for.
Methods: Experiments
   Experiments examine cause and effect
    relationships under controlled conditions.
       Typically a researcher tests a hypothesis.
       Experimental designs are rare in family research, but more
        common in medical and psychological studies.
       Strengths: Experiments are usually inexpensive and can be
        replicated, which strengthens the researcher’s confidence
        in the reliability and/or validity of the study.
       Weaknesses: Often experimental designs can not be
        generalized to larger populations. They typically rely
        heavily on student populations for participants.
Methods: Evaluation research
   Evaluation research is used to assess the
    efficiency and effectiveness of social programs.
       Evaluation research is applied research in the sense that
        it assesses a specific program for a specific agency or
   Strengths: Evaluation research can have important
    practical applications and outcomes.
   Weaknesses: Often politics can play a role in
    determining how evaluation research is used and
The Ethics and Politics of
Family Research
   Most professional organizations subscribe to
    codes of ethics to help protect human
    research subjects.
   Researchers must adhere to these ethical
    standards both in collecting data and in
    reporting the results.
   Political issues can affect both research
    agendas and reporting procedures.

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