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Defining Family: An Overview of Family Definitions from a Historical Perspective

  • By: Barbara H. Settles
  • In: Encyclopedia of Family Health
  • Edited by: Martha Craft-Rosenberg & Shelley-Rae Pehler
  • Subject:Family Health, Family Policy, Family Law

Defining families, as a conceptual problem in family research and family services, has received great attention in academic circles. Since family studies emerged as an interdisciplinary enterprise, there have been contributions from many areas of thought. Running through the various approaches has been a desire to find a single comprehensive definition when, at the same time, families have been found to be more diverse than had been recognized. Family scholars have often chosen operational family definitions for research, program, or policy analysis. Even if they do not specify what they mean by family, the sample description may include such language as intact family, head of household, married couple and their children, or single parent. The U.S. Census reports household composition, which then stands in ...

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