How do you conduct research on the impact of family environments and relationships on children and adolescents? In the United States, the growing diversity of what constitutes “family” presents an increasing variety of answers. The majority of families with children still consist of two married biological parents, but a growing number consist of two unmarried biological parents, single mothers or fathers, stepparents, adoptive parents, or same-sex parents. In addition, children may live with siblings, half siblings, or stepsiblings, and have extended family members that play an important part in their daily lives. These complexities of family life are challenging the methods of researchers who frequently use approaches that are designed to best assess traditional family structures. By modifying their surveys and field work, researchers may be better able to understand the influence of family environments on children.
The IOM held a workshop July 13-14, 2010, to examine the methodologies used to conduct research on families. Participants discussed recent research that contributes to understanding how families affect children; methods of researching families; and opportunities to improve family research. This document summarizes the workshop.