In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Family

  • Introduction
  • Classic Works
  • Textbooks and General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • History
  • Definitions
  • Marriage
  • Cohabitation
  • Divorce and Remarriage
  • Parenthood

Sociology Family
Lisa M. Warner, Brian Powell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0019


Family is among the most important social institutions—if not the most important. Sociologists recognize the centrality of families in providing their members with valuable resources, both economic and noneconomic, in creating and shaping self and collective identities, and in the rearing and socialization of children. There is no doubt that family relationships and processes affect individual well-being in profound ways. Families also interact with other social institutions and contribute to social stability and change. Sociologists—both those who self-identify as family sociologists and those who do not—have written extensively in these areas. They also have explored the precursors to and consequences of major demographic changes over time and place. In addition, they increasingly have moved away from a monolithic view of “the family” and instead recognize, and in many cases embrace, the diversity that exists in family forms.

Classic Works

These classic pieces typically view and discuss family in the traditional sense—a married man and woman with children—reflecting the eras in which they were written. Although contemporary sociologists are more apt to explore the diversity of family forms, these classic works remain influential. Burgess and Locke 1945 provides an early discussion of the changing nature of family relationships. Goode 1970 represents an enduring example of linking macro-level social changes to family life. Becker 1981 and Parsons and Bales 2007 rely on different theoretical frameworks, but both argue for a gendered division of labor, which remains a contested issue. Bernard 1982 continues to inspire scholars interested in the gendered nature of marriage and family.

  • Becker, Gary. 1981. A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Becker applies economic theory to various aspects of family life. This book is best known for Becker’s advocacy of specialization in marriage, with husbands participating in the paid labor force and wives focusing on household activities.

  • Bernard, Jessie. 1982. The future of marriage. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Bernard suggests that researchers’ understanding of marriage—and, by extension, family—requires the investigation of the experiences of both husbands and wives, which often vary. While much about marriage has changed since this book was first published, Bernard’s main argument remains an important and compelling one.

  • Burgess, Ernest W., and Harvey J. Locke. 1945. The family: From institution to companionship. New York: American Book Company.

    In this early family sociology text, Burgess and Locke discuss changes in family life over time. Among the changes they highlight is the increased prominence of intimacy in familial relationships. The third edition was published in 1963. (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold).

  • Goode, William. 1970. World revolution and family patterns. New York: Free Press.

    Goode provides an impressively comprehensive overview of the extent to which industrialization and urbanization affect families similarly across the globe.

  • Parsons, Talcott, and Robert Bales. 2007. Family, socialization and interaction process. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    Parsons and Bales view child socialization as a critical family function and among the most difficult challenges in family life. They advocate for a gender-specific—more specifically, male-breadwinner, female-homemaker—family structure that putatively offers the most effective way to meet this challenge. Their argument continues to be debated among sociologists. Originally published in 1956.

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