Theories for Studying Rural Families and Work

Part of the International Series on Consumer Science book series (ISCS)


In this chapter, we discuss the role of theory and how it helps to shape our interpretation of data and findings. An overview is presented of the major theoretical frameworks used by the Rural Families Speak (RFS) research team members to study various aspects of employment for rural low-income family. RFS findings are used to illustrate the frameworks and suggestions are made regarding future research. The theories presented are further addressed in chapters throughout the book. The 22 theories are grouped into major categories: (a) Ecological, (b) Capital, Capabilities, and Family Economic, (c) Resource based, (d) Life perspectives, and (e) Employment/Output.


Capability Capital Ecological Employment/output Family economic Resource based Life perspective Rural Families Speak Theory 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Mary Jo Katras (University of Minnesota), Dr. Jaerim Lee (Yeungnam University), Dr. Sharon Powell (University of Minnesota), Dr. Seohee Son (Sookmyung Women’s University), Dr. Yoshie Sano (Washington State University, Vancouver), and Dr. Erin Hiley Sharp (University of New Hampshire) for their insightful comments that were instrumental in the development of this chapter.


  1. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almedom, A. M. (2005). Social capital and mental health: An interdisciplinary review of primary evidence. Social Science & Medicine, 61, 943–964. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.12.025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anand, P., Hunter, G., & Smith, R. (2005). Capabilities and well-being: Evidence based on the Sen-Nussbaum approach to welfare. Social Indicators Research,74,9–55.doi:10.1007/s11205-005-6518-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bauer, J. W., Braun, B., & Olson, P. D. (2000). Welfare to well-being framework for research, education, and outreach. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 34(1), 62–81. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6606.2000.tb00084.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, G. S. (1975). Human capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education (2nd ed.). New York: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  6. Becker, G. S. (1993). Human capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Becker, G. S. (1996). Accounting for tastes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bengtson, V. L., Acock, A., Allen, K., Dilworth-Anderson, P., & Klein, D. (2005). Sourcebook of family theory and research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Berry, A. A., Katras, M. J., Sano, Y., Lee, J., & Bauer, J. W. (2008). Job volatility of rural, low-income mothers: A mixed methods approach. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 29, 5–22. doi:10.1007/s10834-007-9096-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bird, C. L., & Bauer, J. W. (2009). Understanding the factors that influence the opportunity for education and training. Consumer Interests Annual, 55, 83–85. Scholar
  11. Bok, M., & Simmons, L. (2002). Post-welfare reform, low-income families and the dissolution of the safety net. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 23, 217–238. doi:10.1023/A:1020391009561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boss, P. (2002). Family stress management: A contextual approach (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Boss, P. G., Doherty, W. J., LaRossa, R., Schumm, W. R., & Steinmetz, S. K. (1993). Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Boulding, K. (1985). Human Betterment. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 371–399. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Braun, B. (2009). Advancing rural family resiliency research, education, and policy. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, 101(4), 27–32.Google Scholar
  17. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22, 723–742. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.22.6.723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development (Vol. 6, pp. 187–249). Greenwich: JAI.Google Scholar
  20. Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Bryant, K. (1990). The economic organization of the household. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Bubolz, M. M., & Sontag, M. S. (1993). Human ecology theory. 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. 419–447). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Chibucos, T. R., Leite, R. W., & Weis, D. L. (2005). Readings in family theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  24. Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. The American Journal of Sociology, 94, Supplement, S95–S120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Conger, K. J., Reuter, M. A., & Conger, R. D. (2000). The role of economic pressure in the lives of parents and their adolescents: The family stress model. In L .J. Crockett & R. K. Silbereisen (Eds.), Negotiating adolescence in times of social change (pp. 201–223). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Deacon, R., & Firebaugh, R. (1988). Family resource management: Principles and applications. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  27. Doherty, W. J., Boss, P. G., LaRossa, R., Schumm, W. R., & Steinmetz, S. K. (1993). Family theories and methods: A contextual approach. 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. 3–30). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dolan, E. M., Seiling, S., & Glesner, T. (2006). Making it work: Rural low income women in service jobs. In B. J. Cude (Ed.), Proceedings of the 33rd Conference of the Eastern Family Economics and Resource Management Association (pp. 38–46). Knoxville. Scholar
  29. Dolan, E. M., Braun, B., Katras, M. J., & Seiling, S. (2008). Getting off TANF: Experiences of rural mothers. Families in Society, 89, 456–465. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.3771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dolan, E. M., Seiling, S., & Harris, S. (2009a). Work constraints of rural, low income mothers and their partners. Consumer Interests Annual, 55, 83–85. Scholar
  31. Dolan, E. M., Seiling, S., & Harris, S. (2009b, November). Rural, low-income dual earner parents-flexibility in work/family roles. Poster session presented at the National Council on Family Relations 71st Annual Conference, Burlingame, CA.Google Scholar
  32. Elder, G. H., Jr. (1994). Time, human agency, and social change: Perspectives on the life course. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57, 4–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Elder, G. H., Jr. (1996). Human lives in changing societies: Life course and developmental insights. In R. B. Cairns, G. H. Elder, Jr., & J. Costello (Eds.), Developmental science (pp. 31–63). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Elder, G. H., Jr. (1998). The life course as developmental theory. Child Development, 69, 1–12. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1998.tb06128.x.Google Scholar
  35. Giele, J. Z., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (1998). Life course research: Development of a field. In J. Z. Giele & G. H. Elder, Jr (Eds.), Methods of life course research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (pp. 5–27). Thousand Oaks: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grossman, M. (1972). On the concept of health capital and the demand for health. The Journal of Political Economy, 80(2), 223–255. Scholar
  37. Herzenberg, S. A., Alic, J. A., & Wial, H. (2000). Nonstandard employment and the structure of post industrial labor markets. In F. Carre, M. A. Ferber, L. Golden, & S. A. Herzenberg (Eds.), Nonstandard work: The nature and challenges of changing employment arrangements (pp. 399–426). Champaign: Industrial Relations Research Association.Google Scholar
  38. Hill, R. (1949). Families under stress. New York: Harper & Brothers.Google Scholar
  39. Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. The American Psychologist, 44, 513–524. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.44.3.513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hobfoll, S. E. (2001). The influence of culture, community, and the nested-self in the stress process: Advancing the conservation of resource theory. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 50, 337–412. doi:10.1111/1464-0597.00062.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hobfoll, S. E., Freedy, J. R., Green, B. L., & Solomon, S. D. (1996). Coping in reaction to extreme stress: The roles of resource loss and resource availability. In M. Zeidner & N. S. Endler (Eds.), Handbook of coping: Theory, research, applications (pp. 324–349). New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  42. Hogan, M. J., & Buehler, C. A. (1984, November). The concept of resources: Definition issues. Paper session presented at the annual meeting for the National Council on Family Relations, San Francisco, CA.Google Scholar
  43. Homans, G. C. (1964). Bringing men back in. American Sociological Review, 29, 809–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Huddleston-Casas, C., & Braun, B. (2006, May). Laboring towards economic self-sufficiency: A research perspective. (RFS Research Brief).
  45. Katras, M. J., Zuiker, V. S., & Bauer, J. W. (2004). Private safety net: Childcare resources from the perspective of rural low-income families. Family Relations, 53, 201–209. doi:10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00010.x.Google Scholar
  46. Kim, E.-J., Seiling, S., Stafford, K., & Richards, L. (2005). Rural low-income women’s employment and mental health. Journal of Rural Community Psychology, E8(2).
  47. Laakso, H., & Paunonen-Ilmonen, M. (2002). Mother’s experience of social support following the death of a child. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 11(2), 176–185. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2702.2002.00611.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mammen, S., & Lawrence, F. C. (2006). How rural working families use the Earned Income Tax Credit: A mixed method analysis. Financial Counseling and Planning, 17, 51–63. Scholar
  49. Mammen, S., Bauer, J. W., & Lass, D. (2009a). Life satisfaction among rural low-income mothers: The influence of health, human, personal, and social capital. Applied Research Quality of Life, 4, 365–386. doi:10.1007/s11482-009-9086-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mammen, S., Bauer, J. W., & Richards, L. (2009b). Understanding persistent food insecurity: A paradox of place and circumstance. Social Indicators Research, 92, 151–168. doi:10.1007/s11205-008-9294-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mammen, S., Lass, D., & Seiling, S. B. (2009c). Labor force supply decisions of rural low-income mothers. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 30, 67–79. doi:10.1007/s10834-008-9136-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McCubbin, H. I., McCubbin, M. A., Thompson, A. I., Han, S.-Y., & Allen, C. T. (1997). Families under stress: What makes them resilient. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 89(3), 2–11.Google Scholar
  53. McLoyd, V. C. (1990). The impact of economic hardship on Black families and children: Psychological distress, parenting, and socioemotional development. Child Development, 61, 311–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ostrove, J. M., Feldman, P., & Adler, N. E. (1999). Relations among socioeconomic status indicators and health for African-Americans and Whites. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 451–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Paolucci, B., Hall, O., Axinn, N. (1977). Family decision making: An ecosystem approach. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  56. Piescher, K. N. (2004). Economic, social, and community factors indicating depressive symptomatology in rural, low-income mothers. (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.Google Scholar
  57. Powell, S. E., & Bauer, J. W. (2010). Examining resource use of rural low-income families caring for children with disabilities. Journal of Children & Poverty, 16(1), 67–83. doi:10.1080/10796120903575101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Reschke, K. L., Manoogian, M. M., Richards, L. N., Walker, S. K., & Seiling, S. B. (2006). Maternal grandmothers as child care providers for rural, low-income mothers. A unique child care arrangement. Journal of Children & Poverty, 12(2), 159–174. doi:10.1080/10796120600879590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rettig, K. D., & Leichtentritt, R. (2000). Family economic issues across time. In S. J. Price, P. C. McKenry, & M. J. Murphy (Eds.), Households across time: A life course perspective (pp. 160–172). Los Angeles: Roxbury.Google Scholar
  60. Rettig, K. D., Rossmann, M. M., & Hogan, M. J. (1993). Educating for family resource management. In M. E. Arcus, J. D. Schvaneveldt, & J. J. Moss (Eds.), Handbook of family life education (pp. 115–54). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  61. Sanderson, C. A. (2004). Health psychology. Hoboken: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  62. Sano, Y., Dolan, E. M., Richards, L., Bauer, J., & Braun, B. (2008). Employment patterns, family resources, and perception: Examining depressive symptoms among rural low-income mothers. Journal of Rural Community Psychology, E11(1).
  63. Sano, Y., Katras, M. J., Lee, J., Bauer, J. W., & Berry, A. A. (2010). Working toward sustained employment: A closer look on intermittent employment of rural, low-income mothers. Families in Society, 91(4), 342–249. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.4039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sano, Y., Garasky, S., Greder, K., Cook, C. C., & Browder, D. E. (2011). Understanding food security among Latino immigrant families in rural America. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 111–123. doi:10.1007/s10834-010-9219y.Google Scholar
  65. Sarason, I. G., Sarason, B. R., Shearin, E., & Pierce, G. R. (1987). A brief measure of social support: Practical and theoretical implications. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 497–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Seiling, S. B. (2006). Changes in the lives of rural low-income mothers: Do resources play a role in stress? Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 13, 19–42. doi:10.1300/J137v13n01_02.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sen, A. (1997). Editorial: Human capital and human capability. World Development, 25, 1959–1961.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Shefrin, H. M., & Thaler, R. H. (1988). The behavioral life-cycle hypothesis. Economic Inquiry, 26, 609–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Simmons, L. A., Braun, B., Wright, D. W., & Miller, S. R. (2007a). Human capital, social support, and economic wellbeing among rural, low-income mothers: A latent growth curve analysis. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 28, 635–652. doi:10.1007/s10834-007-9079-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Simmons, L. A., Dolan, E. M., & Braun, B. (2007b). Rhetoric and reality of economic self-sufficiency among rural, low-income families: A longitudinal study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 28, 489–505. doi:10.1007/s10834-007-9071-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Smith, S. R., & Ingoldsby, B. B. (2009). Exploring family theories (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Son, S., & Bauer, J. W. (2009, November). The capability approach for research on families in poverty. Paper session presented at the National Council on Family Relations 71st Annual Conference, Burlingame, CA.Google Scholar
  73. Son, S., & Bauer, J. W. (2010). Employed rural, low-income, single mothers’ family and work over time. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 31, 107–120. doi:10.1007/s10834-009-9173-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Swanson, J. A., Olson, C. M., Miller, E. O., & Lawrence, F. C. (2008). Rural mothers’ use of formal programs and informal social supports of meet family food needs: A mixed methods study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 29, 674–690. doi:10.1007/s10834-008-9127-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tomer, J. F. (2003). Personal capital and emotional intelligence: An increasingly important intangible source of economic growth. Eastern Economic Journal, 29, 453–470. Scholar
  76. Tudge, J. R. H., Mokrova, I., Hatfield, B. E., & Karnik, R. B. (2009). Uses and misuses of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory of human development. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 1(4), 198–210. doi:10.1111/j.1756-2589.2009.00026.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Turner, J. H. (1991). The structure of sociological theory (5th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  78. Urban, J. A., & Olson, P. N. (2005). A comprehensive employment model for low-income mothers. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 26, 101–122. doi:10.1007/s10834-004-1414-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Vandergriff-Avery, A. M. (2001). Rural families speak: A qualitative investigation of stress protective and crisis recovery strategies utilized by rural low-income women and their families. UMI Microform (3035864).Google Scholar
  80. Vandergriff-Avery, M., Anderson, E. A., & Braun, B. (2004). Resiliency capacities among rural low-income families. Families in Society, 85, 562–570. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.1841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wadsworth, M., Montgomery, S., & Bartley, M. (1999). The persisting effect of unemployment on health and social well-being in men early in working life. Social Science & Medicine, 48, 1491–1499. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(99)00052-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Waldman, J. (2008). Stressor events, resources, and depressive symptoms in rural, low-income mothers. (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Maryland, College Park, MD.Google Scholar
  83. Whitbeck, L. B., Simons, R. L., Conger, R. D., Wickrama, K. A. S., Ackley, K. A., & Elder, G. H. (1997). The effects of parents’ working conditions and family economic hardship on parenting behaviors and children’s self-efficacy. Social Psychology Quarterly, 60, 291–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. White, J. M., & Klein, D. M. (2008). Family theories (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  85. Zimmerman, S. L. (1995). Understanding family policy: Theories and application (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Family Social ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family StudiesUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations