A Graduate Family Course Syllabus

I have been revising my Theoretical Perspectives on the Family syllabus (see the final product here). [Check out this post for tips on how to design your own interdisciplinary graduate seminars]  In a given week, I only want to assign about four readings. But, given that I have to cover theory and substantive topics each week, four readings is always too few. Further, I don’t want the students only reading work from psychology, but also from sociology and economics, and even from communication, public health, anthropology, and law when appropriate. My courses therefore end up being a lot of work for students, and a lot of work for me in design.

Two principles that informed my design:

First, I spoke with a student last year who was talking with me about race discrimination and overall racial ignorance in her graduate program. One example she gave me was that in her classes, diversity was either ignored all together or relegated to a specific week in the semester. This was insulting as race and diversity issues touch every issue, every week. With this in mind, I tried to incorporate readings about marginalized families every week.

Second, all readings must be accessible online. I will only assign a reading that is not online if I have access to a pdf that I can post to our course management system. I do not want to contribute to grad student debt if at all possible.

Here is a list of theories and topics that I cover each week, and the readings I chose to represent them.

Introduction to the course. What is a fact? Historical changes and the American family. An introduction to theory

Cherlin, A. (2009). Why it’s hard to know when a fact is a fact.

Cherlin, A. J., & Seltzer, J. A. (2014). Family complexity, the family safety net, and public policy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 231-239.

Coontz, S. (1995). The way we weren’t: The myth and reality of the “traditional” family.Nation Forum: The Phi Beta Kappa Journal, Summer, 11-14.

Cowan, P., & Cowan, C. (2009). When is the relationship between facts a causal one?

Furstenberg, F. F. (2014). Fifty years of family change: From consensus to complexity. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 12-30.

White, J. M. (2013). The current status of theorizing about families. In G. W. Peterson and K. R. Bush (Eds.) Handbook of marriage and the family (pp. 11-37). New York, NY: Springer. Note: Read pages 11 – 18.

Evolutionary Theory and Dating and Mate Selection

Bzostek, S. H., McLanahan, S. S., & Carlson, M. J. (2012). Mothers’ repartnering after a nonmarital birth. Social Forces, 90, 817-841.

Buss, D. M. & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232.

Eaton, A. A., & Rose, S. (2011). Has dating become more egalitarian? A 35 year review using Sex Roles. Sex Roles, 64, 843-862.

Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of Psychological Science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13, 3-66.

Hamilton, L., & Armstrong, E. A. (2009). Gendered sexuality in young adulthood: Double blinds and flawed options. Gender & Society, 23, 589-616.

Rupp, L. J., Taylor, V. Regev-Messalem, S., Fogarty, A. C. K., England, P. (2014). Queer women in the hookup scene: Beyond the closet? Gender & Society, 28, 212-235.

Sales, N. J. (2015, September). Tinder and the dawn of the “dating apocalypse”. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating .

Theory and Research about Couples

Cherlin, A. J. (2004). The deinstitutionalization of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 848-861.

Finkel, E. J., Hui, C. M., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing mount maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25, 1-41.

Karney, B., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, methods, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 3-34.

Lauer, S., & Yodanis, C. (2010). The deinstitutionalization of marriage revisited: A new institutional approach to marriage. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 2, 58-72.

Pietromonaco, P. R., & Perry-Jenkins, M. (2014). Marriage in whose America? What the suffocation model misses. Psychological Inquiry, 25, 108-113.

Umberson, D., Thomeer, M. B., & Lodge, A. C. (2015). Intimacy and emotional work in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 542-556.

Economic Theory, Social Exchange Theory, and the Investment Model

Becker, G. S., Landes, E. M., & Michael, R. T. (1977). An economic analysis of marital instability. Journal of Political Economy, 85, 1141-1187.

Sabatelli, R. M., & Shehan, C. L. (1993). Exchange and resource theories. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 385-411). New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Le, B., & Agnew, C. R. (2003). Commitment and its theorized determinants: A meta-analysis of the Investment Model. Personal Relationships, 10, 37-57.

Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2007). Marriage and divorce: Changes and their driving forces. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21, 27-52.

Oppenheimer, V. K. (1997). Women’s employment and the gain to marriage: The specialization and trading model. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 431-453.

Attachment Theory and Relationship Development

Barr, A. B., Simons, R. L., & Simons, L. G. (2015). Nonmarital relationships and changing perceptions of marriage among African American young adults. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1202-1216.

Hadden, B. W., Smith, C. V., & Webster, G. D. (2014). Relationship duration moderates associations between attachment and relationship quality: Meta-analytic support for the temporal adult romantic attachment model. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 42-58.

Guzzo, K. B. (2014). Trends in cohabitation outcomes: Compositional changes and engagement among never-married young adults. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 826-842.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.

Huang, P. M., Smock, P. J., Manning, W. D., & Bergstrom-Lynch, C. A. (2011). He says, she says: Gender and cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues, 32, 876-905.

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2012). The impact of the transition to cohabitation on relationship functioning: Cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 348-358.

Social Learning Theory and Intergenerational Transmission

Amato, P. R., & DeBoer, D. D. (2001). The transmission of marital instability across generations: Relationship skills or commitment to marriage? Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 1038-1051.

Bandura, A. (1969). Social-learning theory of identificatory processes. In. D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research (pp. 213-262). Chicago, IL: Rand McNally & Company.

Davies, P. T., & Cummings, E. M. (1994). Marital conflict and child adjustment: An emotional security hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 387-411.

Hammen, C., Hazel, N. A., Brennan, P. A., & Najman, J. (2012). Intergenerational transmission and continuity of stress and depression: Depressed women and their offspring in 20 years of follow-up. Psychological Medicine, 42, 931-942.

Ludwig, J., & Mayer, S. (2006). “Culture” and the intergenerational transmission of poverty: The prevention paradox. The Future of Children, 16, 175-196.

Family Systems Theory and Parent-Child Relationships

Berkowitz, D. (2009). Theorizing lesbian and gay parenting: Past, present, and future scholarship. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 1, 117-132.

Cox, M. J., & Paley, B. (1997). Families as systems. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 243-267.

Edin, K., Nelson, T., & Reed, J. M. (2011). Daddy, baby; Momma, maybe: Low-income urban fathers and the “Package Deal” of family life. In M. J. Carlson & P. England (Eds.), Social class and changing families in an unequal America (pp. 68-84). Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.

Farr, R. H., & Patterson, C. J. (2013). Coparenting among lesbian, gay, and heterosexual Couples: Associations With Adopted Children’s Outcomes. Child Development, 84, 1226-1240.

Schermerhorn, A. C., Chow, S. M., & Cummings, E. M. (2010). Developmental family processes and interparental conflict: Patterns of microlevel influences. Developmental Psychology, 46, 869-885.

Kotila, L. E., & Schoppe, S. J. (2015). Integrating sociological and psychological perspectives on coparenting. Sociological Compass, 9, 731-744.

Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Intersectionality, and the Division of Labor in Families

Bianchi, S. M., Sayer, L. C., Milkie, M. A., & Robinson, J. P. (2012). Housework: Who did, does or will do it, and how much does it matter? Social Forces, 91, 55-63.

England, P. (2010). The gender revolution: Uneven and stalled. Gender & Society, 24, 149-166.

Fagan, J., Day, R., Lamb, M. E., & Cabrera, N. J. (2014). Should researchers conceptualize differently the dimensions of parenting for fathers and mothers? Journal of Family Theory & Review, 6, 390-405.

Few-Demo, A. L. (2014). Intersectionality as the “new” critical approach in feminist family studies: Evolving racial/ethnic feminisms and critical race theories. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 6, 169-183.

Goldberg, A. E. (2013). “Doing” and “Undoing” gender: The meaning and division of housework in same‐sex couples. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5, 85-104.

Gamson, J., & Moon, D. (2004). The sociology of sexualities: Queer and beyond. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 47-64.

Yavorsky, J. E., Kamp Dush, C. M., & Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. (2015). The production of inequality: The gender division of labor across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 662-679.

Life-course Theory and Intergenerational Relationships

Barnett, M. A., Mills‐Koonce, W. R., Gustafsson, H., & Cox, M. (2012). Mother‐grandmother conflict, negative parenting, and young children’s social development in multigenerational families. Family Relations, 61, 864-877.

Dunifon, R. E., Ziol-Guest, K. M., & Kopko, K. (2014). Grandparent coresidence and family well-being: Implications for research and policy The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 110-126.

Elder, G. H., Johnson, M. K., & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (pp. 3-19). New York: Kluwer.

Fingerman, K. L., Cheng, Y., Wesselmann, E. D., Zarit, S., Furstenburg, F., & Birditt, K. S. (2012). Helicopter parents and landing pad kids: Intense parental support of grown children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 880-896.

Kiecolt, K. J., Blieszner, R., & Savla, J. (2011). Long-term influences of intergenerational ambivalence on midlife parents’ psychological well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 369-382.

Tsai, K. M., Telzer, E. H., & Fuligni, A. J. (2012). Continuity and discontinuity in perceptions of family relationships from adolescence to young adulthood. Child Development, 84, 471-484.

Symbolic Interactionism and Sibling Relationships

Conley, D., & Glauber, R. (2008). All in the family?: Family composition, resources, and sibling similarity in socioeconomic status. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 26, 297-306.

Campione-Barr, N., Lindell, A. K., Giron, S. E., Killoren, S. E., & Greer, K. B. (2015). Domain differentiated disclosure to mothers and siblings and associations with sibling relationship quality and youth emotional adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 51, 1278-1291.

LaRossa, R., & Reitzes, D. (1993). Symbolic interactionism and family studies. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 135-163). New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Volling, B. L. (2012). Family transitions following the birth of a sibling: An empirical review of changes in the firstborn’s adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 497-528.

McHale, S. M., Updegraff, K. A., & Whiteman, S. D. (2012). Sibling relationships and influences in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, 913-930.

Whiteman, S. D., Zeiders, K. H., Killoren, S. E., Rodriguez, S. A., & Updegraff, K. A. (2014). Sibling influence on Mexican-origin adolescents’ deviant and sexual risk behaviors: The role of sibling modeling. Journal of Adolescent Health, 54, 587-592.

Bioecological Theory, Cumulative Risk Theory, and Families in Context

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The bioecological model of human development. In R. M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child development: Vol. 1. Theoretical models of human development (6th ed., pp. 793–828). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Evans, G. W., & Kim, P. (2012) Childhood poverty and young adults’ allostatic load: The mediating role of childhood cumulative risk exposure. Psychological Science, 23, 979-983.

Lareau, A. (2010). Unequal childhoods and unequal transitions to adulthood: The importance of social class in turning points. In M. J. Carlson & P. England (Eds.), Social class and changing families in an unequal America (pp. 134-164). Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.

McCubbin, H. I., & Patterson, J. M. (1983). The family stress process: The double ABCX model of adjustment and adaptation. Marriage & Family Review, 6, 7-37.

Rashmita S. Mistry, R. S., Lowe, E. D., Benner, A. D., & Chien, N. (2008). Expanding the family economic stress model: Insights from a mixed-methods approach. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 196-209.

Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., The Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Committee On Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care, Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Siegel, B. S., Dobbins, M. I., Earls, M. F., Garner, A. S., McGuinn, L., Pascoe, J., & Wood, D. L. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129, e232-e246.

Family Violence

Anderson, K. L. (2010). Conflict, power, and violence in families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 726-742.

Bonomi, A. E., Nemeth, J., M., Altenburger, L. E., Anderson, M. L., Snyder, A., & Dotto, I. (2014). Fiction or not? Fifty Shades is associated with health risks in adolescent and young adult females. Journal of Women’s Health, 23, 720-728.

Jouriles, E. N., McDonald, R., Smith Slep, A. M., Heyman, R. E., & Garrido, E. (2008). Child abuse in the context of domestic violence: Prevalence, explanations, and practice implications. Violence and Victims, 23, 221-235.

Lawson, J. (2012). Sociological theories of intimate partner violence. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 22, 572-590.

Nemeth, J. M., Bonomi, A. E., Lee, M. A., & Ludwin, J. M. (2012). Sexual infidelity as a trigger: An events analysis of intimate partner violence. Journal of Women’s Health, 21, 942-949.

Sokoloff, N. J., & Dupont, I. (2005). Domestic violence at the intersections of race, class, and gender: Challenges and contributions to understanding violence against marginalized women in diverse communities. Violence Against Women, 11, 38-64.

Family Policy and More Economic Theory


Himmelweit, S., Santos, C., Sevilla, A., & Sofer, C. (2013). Sharing of resources within the family and the economics of household decision making. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 625-639.

Read all abstracts, please choose 4 to read in depth:

Baker, R. S. (2015). The changing association among marriage, work and child poverty in the United States, 1974-2010. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1166-1178.

Gassman-Pines, A., Yoshikawa, H. (2005). Five-year effects of an anti-poverty program on marriage among never-married mothers. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 25, 11–30.

Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the treatment of couple distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38, 145-168.

Metz, T. (2005). The liberal case for disestablishing marriage. Contemporary Political Theory, 6, 196-217.

Riggle, E. D. B., Rostosky, S. S., & Horne, S. G. (2010). Psychological distress, well-being, and legal recognition in same-sex couple relationships. Journal of Family Psychology, 24, 82-86.

Sawhill, I. (2014). Family complexity: Is it a problem and if so, what should we do? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 240-245.

Toomey, R. B., Umana-Taylor, A. J., Williams, D. R., Harvey-Mendoza, E., Jahromi, L. B., & Updegraff, K. A. (2014). Impact of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law on utilization of health care and public assistance among Mexican-Origin adolescent mothers and their mother figures. American Journal of Public Health, 104(S1), S28-S34.

Wood, R. G., McConnell, S., Moore, Q., Clarkwest, A., & Hsueh, J. (2012). The effects of Building Strong Families: A healthy marriage and relationship skills education program for unmarried parents. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 31, 228-252.


What do you think are the most significant theoretical or substantive advances in family science in the past few years? I would love to have you tweet or email me if you read an article that you really think advances family science, as I will be revising this course again and again!

Special thanks to Russ Toomey, Melissa Curran, Karen Fingerman, Sarah Hayford, Megan Haselschwerdt, Amy Rauer, Jim Bates, Suzanne Bartle-Haring, Gary Gates, Sharon Sassler, Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, Lauren McClain, Megan Sinton-Miller, and Kelly Purtell for helpful advice on recent advances in family science.

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