Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Children's Perceptions and Definitions of Family in China, Ecuador, Turkey, and the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Children's Perceptions and Definitions of Family in China, Ecuador, Turkey, and the United States

Article excerpt


Historically, children were frequently studied to understand their views and definitions of family and the roles of individuals within families (Britton & Brittion, 1971; Emmerich, 1961; Kagan, Hoskin, & Watson, 1961; Piaget, 1928; Rosen, 1964). These older studies attempted to understand the roles of mothers and fathers within families and who had more power within the family. They attempted to understand how children viewed instrumental and expressive traits within families and also which parent had more authority over other family members. It was found that children perceived very traditional views of family and the roles of men and women within these families. Piaget (1928) studied children's perceptions of family as a way of identifying differing stages of cognitive development. Younger children had less abstract views of family relying upon concrete concepts of family. While these studies were valuable in forming a research foundation, they are dated and contain a very narrow conceptualization of family and the roles of individuals within families. More contemporary research and studies of diverse participants are needed to better understand current views of family from the child's perspective.

In recent generations, families have undergone rapid changes and transformations (Coontz, 2008; Thornton, 2010). Industrialization, urbanization, and increased globalization have dramatically impacted families throughout the world. Little research has studied how these broader social forces impact the ways children define and perceive family structures and roles within families. The current research project is a cross-cultural comparison of how children living in different social and cultural contexts perceive and define families and roles within families.


This cross-cultural study is guided by modernity theory to investigate children's perceptions of family functions and structure in four different cultural groups.

Modernity Theory and Developmental Idealism

A perspective that may explain cultural variations and influences on how children view and define family is that of modernity theory or developmental idealism (Inglehart & Norris, 2003; Thornton, 2010; Thornton ¿Phillipov, 2009; Wyness, 2012). This theory explains that the individualistic attitudes and beliefs as part of a modem society and family are often seen as good or positive, whereas a collectivist view is seen as less modem and less valued. Developmental idealism explains a high value placed on freedom and choice. Individuals are free to decide for themselves about individual behavior and relationships with others. Developmental idealism furthermore refers to a set of values specifying what comprises the good life and how to achieve it (Thornton, 2010). Currently, these values reflect individualistic notions of freedom, choice, material wealth, education, and personal pursuits. These values, in turn, impact families and choices people make regarding family. Modernity delineates a society where the values of egalitarianism, open mindedness, sexual equality, and self-reliance are widely held (Zhang, Zhou, Wang, & Cone, 2011). These principles in all likelihood influence children, young adults, and others in their beliefs and attitudes about families (Inkeles, 1996).

Thornton (2010) argues that historically, many cultures and societies have pushed their people to modernize. There are many mechanisms that promote developmental idealism: Colonialism, Christian missionaries, education, mass media, foreign aid programs, government policies and programs, national and international non-governmental organizations, international treaties, and conventions. Societies that have not "progressed" are viewed as backward, undeveloped, or traditional, whereas those that are deemed to be developed are labeled as advanced, progressive, or modem. China offers an example where modernity is impacting families and individuals. …

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