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

  • Introduction
  • Data Sources
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Investment Perspectives
  • Family and School Investment
  • Demographic Approaches
  • Valuing Children; Children as Active Agents
  • Welfare State
  • Welfare Reform
  • Location
  • Parental Employment
  • Family Structure and Process
  • Home Environments
  • Schools
  • Social Class
  • Adolescents and Networks
  • Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Sexuality
  • Race and Gender
  • Social Behavior

Sociology Children
Toby L. Parcel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0123


One definition of “children” suggests it is the social grouping of humans from birth to age twenty. A closely related concept, “childhood,” refers to the life stage of these individuals. During the middle of the 20th century, sociologists generally were not focused on studying children, leaving that field to psychologists, who often studied children from the perspective of developmental psychology. Subsequently, three major streams of sociological thought began to develop. The first looked at how child development was conditioned by both historical and social circumstances. The second studied how children created their own worlds and were themselves active agents, rather than passive recipients of socialization. The third highlighted the importance of societal and family investment in children. For many researchers, scholarship from psychology, economics, and demography was combined with insights from sociology to provide new information on child well-being. As a consequence, several categories for entries in this article overlap conceptually. This means that entries logically could be listed under other subheadings or duplicated across these categories. A second definition of childhood suggests that it is a socially constructed life stage, with variations in how childhood is conceived both historically and cross-culturally. This definition ties directly to the second stream of research in which children are active participants in their socialization.

Data Sources

Helpful online sources include Child Trends, the Center for Human Resource Research, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Fragile Families, and the Institute for Education Sciences. The National Child Development Study, Growing Up in Scotland and Millennium Cohort Study illustrate how several countries beyond the United States also track characteristics of children and their families longitudinally.

  • Center for Human Resource Research.

    The Center for Human Resource Research is the creator and archive for the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY) 1979 and 1997, which are publicly available for longitudinal studies of nationally representative studies of youth who were aged fourteen to twenty-two in either of those years. The NLSY79 contains data on the children of NLSY mothers. Thousands of research studies report findings on the original surveys of adolescents and the children of the NLSY79 mothers.

  • Child Trends.

    Child Trends is a US nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1979 that produces and disseminates research on children. Findings cover a wide range of topics relevant to children, including poverty, child development, education, teen pregnancy, marriage, and family. They are also leaders in evaluation research relevant to children.

  • Fragile Families.

    Princeton University runs the longitudinal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study that researches 5,000 children born in large US cities from 1998–2000. Fragile families refer to unmarried parents and their children at risk due to separation and poverty. The study is interested in parents’ capabilities (especially of fathers), how these families affect children, and family policy. Data are collected via surveys and in-home assessments. The first five waves are publicly available through the Office of Population Research.

  • Growing Up in Scotland (GUS).

    Growing Up in Scotland is a longitudinal study funded through the Scottish Government. The study tracks the lives of three cohorts of children including data from 3,000 children born between June 2002 to May 2004 and an ongoing study with children born between March 2010 and February 2011. Data include characteristics of children and their families, child development, child health, parenting and support, childcare, primary schooling, and child wellbeing at age seven.

  • Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

    The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) conducts research for the U.S. Department of Education. Data is collected from infancy to adulthood on school readiness and education to inform policies and practices. Through the National Center for Education Statistics, IES runs surveys on early childhood including The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) and The National Household Education Survey (NHES).

  • Millennium Cohort Study (MCS).

    Following about 19,000 children, the Millennium Cohort Study covers children born in the United Kingdom from birth in 2000–2001 to adulthood. There are currently five surveys publicly available from MCS done at age nine months, three, five, seven, and eleven; age fourteen is currently being done and age seventeen will begin in 2018. Data cover parenting, childcare, school choice, child behavior and cognitive development, parental and child heath, parental employment and education, poverty, housing, and social capital.

  • National Child Development Study.

    The National Child Development Study began in 1958 as a study of the health and well-being of every child born in Great Britain during the week of 3 March 1958. In 1991 the research effort expanded to study the children of the original respondents. The data now include information on three generations, thus permitting analyses of social mobility and the determinants of well-being of two generations of children.

  • Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

    The Panel Study of Income Dynamics, by the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan, contains longitudinal data on households and children. Over three thousand studies using the data have explored topics involving household economic standing, education, marriage, and child well-being. These data are publicly available.

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