Anatomies of Kinship: Diversity in the Formal Structures of American Families


Moody, James

Gauthier, Gertrude Robin







American family relations are formally defined through marriage and descent but these formal distinctions are inadequate to capture the diversity of contemporary family life. Recent demographic trends have led to a diversification of family structures. Alternative, and less institutionalized ties like co-residence and informal partnerships bind an increasing number of families. Clearly defined cultural models do not yet exist for these new relationships. During these demographic changes the cultural dominance of the single breadwinner model has been challenged by women's mass entry into the labor market. New models of fatherhood have begun to emerge and conventional parenting roles may be carried out in diverse ways. A new method is needed to capture the relational processes of new family forms and the heterogeneity of conventional ones.

I argue families' formal structures can be classified by the things their members do, and the time they share with each other. Network methods sort family structures into discrete types that capture differences in lived experiences. The distinctions differentiating family structures from each another reveal meaningful information about how families are organized in the contemporary context. The four substantive papers in this dissertation each contribute a different demonstration of this fundamental argument.

First, the method is developed in a familiar context, using conventional distinctions embedded in kinship terms to move one step beyond traditional analyses of the family. Traditional categorical approaches enumerate traditionally defined relationships. We ask instead how patterns of consanguinity and marriage actually combine in American households, making no assumptions about the importance of any particular relation or individual attribute.

The three papers that follow are further from the traditional categorical approach. I don't assume that descent and marriage are necessary elements of family relationships. Instead, relationship types are defined by patterns of activities that children do with their potential kin. I apply the method to three waves of time use diaries from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Children's relationships with both traditional and new kin types are heterogeneous, yet structured. Next I develop and test a predictive model of parent-child relationships. The results show that allowing salient relationship features to emerge from time use data is fundamental to understanding how parent-child relationships differ by parents' attributes and household characteristics.

Finally, I examine how relationship types cohere into families. Children have the same type of family when their families are composed of a similar set of relationship types. The relations within most family types are qualitatively similar to each other - if one relationship is broad (or perfunctory) the others are likely to be as well.







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Anatomies of Kinship: Diversity in the Formal Structures of American Families




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