Department of Sociology Families and the Life Course

The sociological study of families and the life course is concerned with fundamental questions about the reproduction of societies. Sociology faculty members with expertise in this area are working at the forefront of research in these fields. Our scholarship is concerned with three fundamental processes: (1) social inequalities by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender in life course transitions, such as completing education, entering into employment, leaving the parental home, entering the military, migrating within or between countries, cohabiting, and entering marriage and parenthood; (2) the consequences of these life course transitions and life experiences for the health, achievement, and emotional and material well-being of people undergoing them; and (3) more broadly, how changes in the population due to population aging or changes in family patterns affect communities and nations.

Together, our work emphasizes two qualities essential in understanding complex family and life course processes.  First, we take a long-term rather than snapshot view, with attention to how lives play out over time.  Second, we take a comparative view, leveraging cross-national and historical differences to understand the political, economic, and other social factors producing patterns of behavior and change in people’s lives. The foci of the faculty members contributing to this area of expertise are represented by some of the core sections of the American Sociological Association (Family, which is also one of the largest sections; Aging and the Life Course; Gender; Race and Ethnicity; Sociology of Education; and Children and Youth).

Core Faculty

  • Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson is primarily interested in the social psychological antecedents and consequences of young adult transitions, including early work experiences, post-secondary educational investments, and family formation.
  • Alair MacLean explores the question of how wars affect people’s lives. In this research, she examines the life course trajectories of veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces, focusing on the effects of military service and combat exposure on work and health.
  • Katrina Leupp examines the gendered organization of paid and unpaid labor, and its consequences for social inequality, health and family functioning. Current projects consider the mental health benefits of employment for mothers, investigating how intra-household resource distribution, gender attitudes and life course stages condition the link between employment and mental health.
  • Jennifer Sherman looks at the ways in which job loss and poverty affect families, primarily in rural U.S. communities. Her aim is to understand how economic and labor market struggles affect family life, cultural discourses, and gender norms.