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3.4: Family Development Theory

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    Duvall’s Family Development Theory

    According to Duvall’s Family Development Theory (1988), families move through stages in a particular order across time after members successfully master tasks for each stage.[1]

    Figure 1. A set of parents smile at their toddler and new baby. (Photo Source: Pixabay)

    This theory was different from other theories during this time because:

    “(a) its family life cycle dimension that provides a basis for study of families over time; (b) its emphasis on the developmental tasks of individual family members and of families at every stage of their development; (c) its built-in recognition of family stress at critical periods in development; and (d) its recognition ever since 1947 of the need for services, supports, and programs for families throughout their family life cycles.”[2]

    It is important to note that this theory is based on the traditional, nuclear, intact family, which is evidenced by the following stages:[3]

    Table 1. Stages and tasks of family development
    Married couple without children Navigating how to live together.
    Adjusting relationships with families-of-origin and social networks to include a partner.
    Childbearing families with the oldest child between birth and 30 months. Preparing and adjusting the family system to accommodate children.
    Developing roles as parents.
    Redefining roles with extended families.
    Families with preschool children. Socializing, educating and guiding children.
    Assessing and adjusting parenting roles as children age and more children join the family.
    Families with school-age children. Providing guidance to children while collaborating with outside resources (e.g., school, extracurricular activities).
    Families with adolescents. Adjusting parent-child relationships with adolescents to provide more independence with safe limits.
    Tending to parents’ midlife relationship and career issues.
    Launching families (first to last child is leaving home). Navigating adult-to-adult relationships with children.
    Resolving midlife issues.
    Caring for aging family members.
    Middle-age families (“empty/spacious nest” to retirement). Adjusting to being a couple without children living at home.
    Caring for aging family members.
    Aging families (retirement to death of both spouses). Learning new roles related to retirement, becoming grandparents, losing a partner, and health-related changes.

    Key Takeaways

    • Duvall’s theory is based on the traditional, nuclear, intact family.
    • Families will move through each stage in order across time.
    • A family will move from one stage to the next after all members successfully master the tasks within a stage.

    1. Duvall, E. M. (1988). Family development's first forty years. Family Relations, 37(1) 127-134. ↵
    2. Duvall, E. M. (1988). Family development's first forty years. Family Relations, 37(1) 127-134. ↵
    3. Laszloffy, T. A. (2004). Rethinking family development theory: Teaching with the Systematic Family Development (SFD) Model. Family Relations, 51(3), 206-214. ↵

    This page titled 3.4: Family Development Theory is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diana Lang via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.