Theoretical Perspectives on Family Research

  • Lorretta Favour Chizomam Ntoimo
  • Clifford O. Odimegwu


Several theoretical perspectives have influenced the study of family at various levels of abstraction. However, many demographic studies of the family in sub-Saharan Africa have not been anchored on any theoretical orientation. Given the relevance of theory in explaining why patterns and practices within a family are the way they are, this paper presents an overview of nine theoretical frameworks that are commonly used by social scientists in the study of family. The major focus, strengths and weakness of each perspective is highlighted. Advancement in understanding family dynamics in the subregion would depend heavily on the apt application of existing theories and models.


Theoretical perspectives Family Research Sub-Saharan Africa Demographic studies 


  1. Albrecht, S. L., & Kunz, P. R. (1980). The decision to divorce: A social exchange perspective. Journal of Divorce, 3, 319–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ali, P. A., & Naylor, P. B. (2013). Intimate partner violence: A narrative review of the feminist, social and ecological explanations for its causation. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18, 611–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen, K. R. (1988). Integrating a feminist perspective into family studies courses. Family Relations, 37, 29–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Astone, N. M., Nathanson, C. A., Schoen, R., & Kim, Y. J. (1999). Family demography, social theory, and investment in social capital. Population and Development Review, 25, 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnes, J. C., & Beaver, K. M. (2012). Marriage and desistance from crime: A consideration of gene-environment correlation. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 74, 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Becker, G. S., Landes, E. M., & Michael, R. T. (1977). An economic analysis of marital instability. Journal of Political Economy, 85, 1141–1187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Booth, A., Carver, K., & Granger, D. A. (2000). Biosocial perspectives on the family. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1018–1034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22, 723–742. Bronfenbrenner.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bucx, F., van Wel, F., & Knijn, T. (2012). Life course status and exchanges of support between young adults and parents. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 74, 101–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burgess, E. W., & Locke, H. J. (1945). The family: From institution to companionship. Oxford: American Book Co..Google Scholar
  12. Daspit, J. J., Holt, D. T., & Chrisman, J. J. (2016). Examining family firm succession from a social exchange perspective. Family Business Review, 29, 44–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Glick, P. C. (1947). The family cycle. American Sociological Review, 12, 164–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grafsky, E. L. (2014). Becoming the parent of a GLB son or daughter. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 10, 36–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hooper, L. M. (2007). The application of attachment theory and family systems theory to the phenomena of parentification. The Family Journal, 15, 217–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lamanna, M. A., & Riedmann, A. (2003). Marriages and families – Making choices in a diverse society (8th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.Google Scholar
  17. Lesthaeghe, R. (2010). The unfolding story of the second demographic transition. Population and Development Review, 36, 211–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lichter, D. T., & Qian, Z. (2018). Qian Z serial cohabitation and the marital life course. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 70, 861–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Litano, M. L., Major, D. A., Landers, R. N., et al. (2016). A meta-analytic investigation of the relationship between leader-member exchange and work-family experiences. The Leadership Quarterly, 27, 802–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lyngstad, T. H. (2006). Does community context have important bearings on the divorce rate? A fixed-effects study of twenty Norwegian first-marriage cohorts (Vienna Institute of Demography Working Papers).Google Scholar
  21. Lyngstad, T. H. (2011). Does community context have an important impact on divorce risk? A fixed-effects study of twenty Norwegian first-marriage cohorts. European Journal of Population/Revue européenne de Démographie, 27, 57–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Madden-Derdich, D. A., & Leonard, S. A. (2002). Shared experiences, unique realities: Formerly married mothers’ and fathers’ perceptions of parenting and custody after divorce. Family Relations, 51, 37–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mutran, E., & Reitzes, D. C. (1984). Intergenerational support activities and well being among the elderly: A covergence of exchange and symbolic interaction perspectives. American Sociological Review, 49, 117–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ntoimo, L. F., & Isiugo-Abanihe, U. (2013). Patriarchy and singlehood among women in Lagos, Nigeria. Journal of Family Issues, 35(14), 1980–2008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Oppenheimer, V. (1988). A theory of marriage timing. The American Journal of Sociology, 94, 563–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Roberto, K. A., Allen, K. R., & Blieszner, R. (1999). Older women, their children, and grandchildren: A feminist perspective on family relationships. Journal of Women & Aging, 11, 67–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shumate, M., & Fulk, J. (2004). Boundaries and role conflict when work and family are colocated: A communication network and symbolic interaction approach. Human Relations; Studies Towards the Integration of the Social Sciences, 57, 55–74. Scholar
  28. Simpson, R. (2003). Contemporary spinsters in the new millennium: Changing notions of family and kinship (Gender Institute New Working Paper).Google Scholar
  29. Teachman, J. D., & Polonko, K. (1990). Cohabitation and marital stability in the United States. Social Forces, 69, 207–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Teachman, J. D., Tedrow, L. M., & Crowder, K. D. (2000). The changing demography of America’s families. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1234–1246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. van de Kaa, D. J. (1987). Europe’s second demographic transition. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.Google Scholar
  32. White, J. M., Klein, D. M., & Martin, T. F. (2015). Family theories: An introduction (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Willoughby, B. J., Hall, S. S., & Luczak, H. P. (2015). Marital paradigms: A conceptual framework for marital attitudes, values and beliefs. Journal of Family Issues, 36, 188–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorretta Favour Chizomam Ntoimo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Clifford O. Odimegwu
    • 3
  1. 1.Demography and Population Studies Programme, Schools of Public Health and Social SciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Demography and Social StatisticsFederal University Oye-EkitiOye-EkitiNigeria
  3. 3.Demography and Population StudiesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations