Families with Children and Adolescents: A Review, Critique, and Future Agenda

By Crosnoe, Robert; Cavanagh, Shannon E. | Journal of Marriage and Family, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Families with Children and Adolescents: A Review, Critique, and Future Agenda


Crosnoe, Robert, Cavanagh, Shannon E., Journal of Marriage and Family


This decade's literature on families with children and adolescents can be broadly organized around the implications for youth of family statuses (e.g., family structure) and family processes (e.g., parenting). These overlapping bodies of research built on past work by emphasizing the dynamic nature of family life and the intersection of families with other ecological settings, exploring race/ethnic diversity, identifying mechanisms connecting family and child/adolescent factors, and taking steps to address the threats to causal inference that have long been a problem for family studies. Continuing these trends in the future will be valuable, as will increasing the number of international comparisons, exploring "new" kinds of family diversity, and capturing the convergence of multiple statuses and processes over time.

Key Words: adolescence, childhood, family policy, family process, family structure, parenting.

Since the 2000 review issue of this journal, the population of families with children and adolescents in the United States has been transformed by the aging of baby boomers through their prime childbearing years, the flow of immigration, and race/ethnic differences in fertility and union formation (Hernandez, Denton, & Macartney, 2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). It has also experienced great fluctuations in economic stability and both cultural and legal change in many aspects of family life, including nonmarital fertility and same-sex marriage (Rosenfeld, 2007; Wu, 2008). Concurrent with this demographic and economic change, these families have taken center stage in many policy debates of the new century, especially efforts to break the intergenerational transmission of inequality by targeting the educational experiences of youth (e.g., No Child Left Behind, universal pre-K; Fuller, 2007) and the marital and labor force experiences of parents (e.g., job training, marriage promotion; Duncan, Huston, & Weisner, 2007; Nock, 2005).

The last decade, therefore, has been a time in which the well-being of children and adolescents has served as a useful barometer of the well-being of families in an ever changing social landscape. Not surprisingly, then, researchers' interest in families with children and adolescents, especially those in the United States, has continued to grow. Since 2000, Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF) has featured just under 100 articles focusing on such families. A similar, although less widespread, trend has been seen in other journals in multiple disciplines. With the knowledge produced by this activity, we stand on the cusp of a paradigm shift in which we will be able to establish causal pathways and unpack actual processes better than ever before.

What we try to do in this review, therefore, is delve into the research that has brought us this far and explain where it points us in the future. In doing so, we think about how the lives of family members are intertwined over time within larger social contexts and how what goes on in the family links the macrolevel of social stratification and population change to the microlevel of individual functioning. This is, in other words, an ecological life course take on past and future research on families with children and adolescents. As a preview, we focus on two general areas: (a) family status, as defined by marriage, employment, and education, and (b) family process, including intergenerational and intragenerational relations. Within these areas, we pay special attention to issues of dynamic change, ecology, and causality. The goal is not to be exhaustive but instead to start a conversation about what has been done and what can be done.

FAMILY STATUS

Marital, occupational, and socioeconomic statuses identify the current and future positions of families in the systemic stratification of opportunities, rewards, and social standing in society. As such, they proxy resources (e.g., time, money) that shape how parents interact with children and presage young people's long-term development. …

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