The Demographic Approach to the Study of Family

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  • 0:02 Families & Statistics
  • 1:14 How Demographics…
  • 3:47 How Kinship Structures…
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Families are, obviously, pretty big parts of our lives. Studying the family can be an interesting and illuminating field, and the demographic approach is one way to do this. Explore this approach, then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Families and Statistics

Imagine that you want to study families. Families are, after all, pretty important to society. Most social scientists identify the family as the fundamental social unit, upon which we build the rest of society. The relationships between family members, or kinship structures, define how we interact with almost everyone else. So, it's not hard to imagine why you may want to study families, but how do you do it? Well, wonder no more.

This is John Study, social scientist extraordinaire, and he's about to study families.


Now John Study has a very specific approach to this topic, which is demographics, or the statistical analysis of a population. This sort of research is all about numbers, looking for trends and changes in behavior through percentages, ratios, and rates. So, a demographic approach to family would be a study of the relationship between kinship structures and population statistics. Let's watch John Study work, and see what this means for ourselves.

How Demographics Affect Kinship Structures

In the demographics approach to family studies, there are two main questions that are addressed. The first is how population statistics affect kinship structures. Specifically, researchers are interested in vital statistics, major changes in a person's life that include birth, marriage, divorce, or death. Those are the vital statistics. The other major tool researchers use here is population distribution, or the analysis of where people live, or basically the number of people who live in a single area. Vital statistics and population distribution are both recorded as sets of numbers, and John Study will use these data sets to look for major changes in kinship structures.

Okay, John Study. Get to work. And go. Hmmm. This is boring. Let's speed this up. . . and. . . there we go. Looks like John Study has found something. Look at these two sets of data.


Both of these come from cultures that have very similar kinship relations. They both have medium-sized families, children respect their parents, and multiple generations all live together.

However, John Study has found a major demographics split between the two cultures. In the first culture, people are marrying younger, and there is a large increase in fertility. When we examine that culture, we find that kinship structures have changed. Families in this culture are now very large, and people within that family are very dependent on each other. They share resources, they share chores, and they all work and live together.

Now, in the second culture, John Study found a demographic change in where people lived and how much money they made. While they used to live on farms, now they live in large cities that are very densely populated, but they make really good money. This seems to have really impacted their kinship structures. Now, people have very small families, and they only live with their spouse and children. There are no multi-generational houses here, and families don't share resources like they used to. See how that worked? John Study identified a change in demographics through statistics, and that helped him identify areas where kinship structures were changing.

How Kinship Structures Affect Demographics

The other way that social scientists look at the relationship between demographics and families is by identifying changes in kinship structures and then looking to population statistics to uncover larger trends.

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