The Stages of The Family Life Cycle: Sociology & Definition (2023)

What constitutes a family? It's a tricky question to answer. As society changes, so does one of its key institutions - the family. However, there are several identifiable stages of family life that have been discussed by sociologists. How do modern families conform to these, and are these family stages still relevant today?

  • In this article, we will be exploring the different stages of family life, from marriage to an empty nest. We will be covering:
  • The definition of the family life cycle stages
  • Stages of family life in sociology
  • The beginning stage of family life cycle
  • The developing stage of family life cycle,
  • And the launching stage of family life cycle!

Let's get started.

Family Life Cycle: Stages and Definition

So let's begin with the definition of what we mean by family life cycle and stages!

The life cycle of the family is the process and stages that a family typically goes through in its life course. It's a sociological way to look at the progress that a family has made, and can be used to explore the changes that modern society has had on families.

The relationship between marriage and family has always been of great interest to sociologists. As two key social institutions, marriage and family go hand in hand. In our lives, we are likely to be part of several different families.

A family of orientation is a family that a person is born into, but a family of procreation is one that is made through marriage. You can be a part of both these types of families within your life.

The idea of a family life cycle looks at the different stages within a procreation family. It begins with marriage and ends with an empty nest family.

(Video) Stages of Family Life: Crash Course Sociology #38

Stages of Family Life in Sociology

Family life can be divided into several different stages. In sociology, these stages can be useful to explain the changes that occur in families over a period of time. Not every family follows the same pattern and not every family conforms to the stages of family life. In particular, this is true as time has gone on, and family life has begun to change.

The Stages of The Family Life Cycle: Sociology & Definition (1)Fig. 1 - There are different stages of family life that occur within its life cycle.

We can look at the seven general stages of family life according to Paul Glick. In 1955, Glick characterized the following seven stages of the family life cycle:

Family StageType of FamilyChild Status
1Marriage FamilyNo children
2Procreation FamilyChildren aged 0 - 2.5
3Preschooler FamilyChildren aged 2.5 - 6
4School Age FamilyChildren aged 6 - 13
5Teenage FamilyChildren aged 13 -20
6Launching FamilyChildren leaving home
7Empty Nest FamilyChildren have left home

We can divide these stages into three major parts of the family life cycle: the beginning, developing, and launching stages. Let’s explore these parts and the stages within them further!

Beginning Stage of Family Life Cycle

The main parts in the beginning stage of family life are the marriage and procreation stages. In the sociological world, marriage has been arguably hard to define. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2015), marriage is:

The state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.1"

Marriage Stage of Family Life Cycle

Marriage has historically been a sign of a family starting, as there has been a tradition of waiting until marriage to have children.

In stage 1, according to Glick, the family type is a married family with no children involved. This stage is where the morals of the family are established between both partners.

(Video) The Family Life Cycle

The term homogamy refers to the concept that people with similar characteristics tend to marry one another. Often, we are likely to fall in love and marry those in close proximity to us, perhaps someone we meet at work, university, or church.

Procreation Stage of Family Life Cycle

The second stage is the procreation stage when the married couple starts to have children. In many cases, this is considered the beginning of family life. Having children is important to many couples, and a study conducted by Powell et al. (2010) found that the determining factor for most people (when defining a family) was children.

There has been a fluctuation in what Americans consider a 'normal' family size. In the 1930s, the preference was for a larger family containing 3 or more children. Yet as society progressed, in the 1970s the attitude had shifted to a preference toward smaller families with 2 or fewer children.

What size family would you consider 'normal', and why?

Developing Stage of Family Life Cycle

The developing stage of family life begins when children start to attend school. The developing stage includes:

  • Preschooler family

  • School age family

  • Teenage family

The developing stage is arguably the most challenging stage because it is the point at which the children in the family develop and learn about the world around them. This happens through the social institutions of education and the family, which teach children society's norms and values.

(Video) The Family Life Cycle

The Stages of The Family Life Cycle: Sociology & Definition (2)Fig. 2 - The developing stage of the family life cycle is where the children learn about society.

Preschooler Stage of the Family Life Cycle

Stage 3 of the family life cycle involves the preschooler family. At this point, the children in the family are aged 2.5-6 years old and starting school. Many children in the U.S. attend daycare or preschool when their parents are at work.

It can be hard to determine if a daycare center offers a good quality service, but some facilities offer a constant video feed for parents to check in on their children whilst at work. Children from middle or upper-class families may have a nanny instead, who tend to the children whilst their parents are at work.

School Age Stage of the Family Life Cycle

Stage 4 of the family life cycle involves the school-age family. At this stage, the children in the family are well settled into their school life. Their morals, values, and passions are shaped by both the family unit and the institution of education. They can be influenced by their peers, the media, religion, or general society.

Life After Children

Interestingly, sociologists have found that after the birth of a child, marriage satisfaction decreases. This can often be attributed to the way in which roles change for the married couple after parenthood.

The roles and responsibilities that the couple has divided between themselves begin to shift, and their priorities change from each other to the children. When children begin school, this can create further changes in the responsibilities of the parents.

Teenage Stage of the Family Life Cycle

Stage 5 of the family life cycle involves the teenage family. This stage is a key part of the overall developing stage, as it is when the children in the family grow into adults. The teenage years are an important part of an individual's life, and a key part of family life too.

(Video) Family Life Cycle Stages

Often, children feel vulnerable, and the parents may struggle to understand how they can properly help their children. At this stage, parents often help their children to try to determine their future path in life.

Launching Stage of Family Life Cycle

The launching stage of family life is an important one. This is when the children have grown up into adults and are ready to leave the family home. The launching stage involves the launching family and the consequential empty nest family.

The launching family is part of the sixth stage of the family life cycle. This is when the children begin to leave home with the help of their parents. Children may go to college or university as a way of integration into adult life. Parents have reported feeling accomplished once their children have started to leave home.

As a parent, this is often the stage that you are no longer responsible for your child, as they have grown up enough to leave the safety of the family home.

The Stages of The Family Life Cycle: Sociology & Definition (3)Fig. 3 - When the launching stage of family life is complete, the empty nest family ensues.

Empty Nest Stage of Family Life Cycle

The seventh and final stage of the family life cycle involves the empty nest family. This refers to when the children leave home and the parents are left alone. When the last child has left home, parents can often struggle with feelings of being empty or not being sure of what to do now.

However, in the U.S. children are now leaving home later. The prices of houses have increased and many find it hard to sustain living away from home. In addition to this, those who move away from college are likely to come back to the parental home after they graduate, even just for a brief period. This has resulted in 42% of all 25-29-year-olds in the U.S. living with their parents (Henslin, 2012)2.

At the end of these stages, the cycle continues with the next generation and so on!

(Video) The Family Life Cycle

The Stages of The Family Life Cycle - Key takeaways

  • The life cycle of the family is the process and stages that a family typically goes through in its life course.
  • Paul Glick (1955) identified seven stages of family life.
  • The 7 stages can be divided into three major parts within the family life cycle: the beginning stage, the developing stage, and the launching stage.
  • The developing stage is arguably the most challenging stage because it is the point at which the children in the family develop and learn about the world around them.
  • The 7th and final stage is the empty nest stage, where the children have left the adult home and the parents are alone.


  1. Merriam-Webster. (2015). Definition of MARRIAGE. ‌
  2. Henslin, J. M. (2012). Essentials of Sociology: A Down to Earth Approach. 9th ed. ‌


What are the stages of family life in sociology? ›

Most families go through five stages: 1) family founding; 2) child bearing; 3) child rearing; 4) child launching; and 5) empty nest.

What are the stages of the family life cycle? ›

Coupling or marriage. Parenting: babies through adolescents. Launching adult children. Retirement or senior years.

What are the 7 stages of family life cycle quizlet? ›

What are the Seven life cycle stages? Leaving home as emerging young adults, joining of families through marriage/union, families with young children, families with adolescents, launching children, families in late middle age, and families nearing the end of life.

What is stage 3 of family life cycle? ›


Family stage marker: The third phase in signaled by the exit of the first child/dependent member from the intrafamily world to the larger world. This occurs at the point of entrance into school or other extrafamilial environment.

What are the 5 stages of life sociology? ›

Sociologists generally divide a person's life into five stages: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and dying. These stages are socially constructed, which means that different societies apply different definitions and assumptions to each stage.

What are the 5 stages of development in sociology? ›

Using these ideas, Rostow penned his classic Stages of Economic Growth in 1960, which presented five steps through which all countries must pass to become developed: 1) traditional society, 2) preconditions to take-off, 3) take-off, 4) drive to maturity and 5) age of high mass consumption.

What is the definition of family life cycle? ›

What is a family life cycle? The emotional and intellectual stages you pass through from childhood to your retirement years as a member of a family are called the family life cycle. In each stage, you face challenges in your family life that allow you to build or gain new skills.

What are the 5 stages of life cycle? ›

The product life cycle is the progression of a product through 5 distinct stages—development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The concept was developed by German economist Theodore Levitt, who published his Product Life Cycle model in the Harvard Business Review in 1965.

What is the order of the stages of the life cycle? ›

In summary, the human life cycle has six main stages: foetus, baby, child, adolescent, adult and elderly.

What is the most important stage in the life cycle of a family? ›

Independence Stage. Independence is the most critical stage of the family life cycle. As you enter young adulthood, you begin to separate emotionally from your family. During this stage, you strive to become fully able to support yourself emotionally, physically, socially, and financially.

What are the characteristics of family life cycle? ›

These characteristics include the age of the parent, gender, beliefs, personality, developmental history, knowledge about parenting and child development, and mental and physical health.

What are the 3 stages of a life cycle? ›

A life cycle is presented as a circle to show that the process is cyclical from birth, through the different stages of adolescence then into the reproductive stage and starting the cycle again. These animals have three stages - before birth, young and adult.

What are the 5 different types of families in sociology? ›

Common Family Types
  • Nuclear families.
  • Single-parent families.
  • Extended families.
  • Childless families.
  • Stepfamilies.
  • Grandparent families.

What do sociologists mean by the life cycle? ›

Strictly defined, life cycle refers to maturational and generational processes in natural populations. Alternative conceptions of life cycle, like life span and life course, do not share the same intrinsic reference to generation or reproduction that transcends the single lifetime of the individual.

How many stages are there in sociology? ›

Lesson Summary

Auguste Comte invented the term 'sociology' to refer to the study of society. Comte suggested that all societies have three basic stages: theological, metaphysical, and scientific.

What are the 8 developmental stages explain each briefly? ›

Understanding Erikson's 8 Stages of Development

Preschool-age – Initiative versus guilt. School-age – Industry versus inferiority. Adolescence – Identity versus identity confusion. Young adulthood – Intimacy versus isolation.

What are the development stages of sociology? ›

Sociological theory has developed in three phases: classical, postclassical, and recent.

What is the best definition of life cycle? ›

1. : the series of stages in form and functional activity through which an organism passes between successive recurrences of a specified primary stage. : life history sense 2. 3. : a series of stages through which something (such as an individual, culture, or manufactured product) passes during its lifetime.

What is the importance of family life cycle? ›

The family life cycle provides a framework for understanding the passage of families through time. Each family goes through different stages of development, with emotional, intellectual, and social changes for each member of the family.

What is an example sentence for family life cycle? ›

Examples of family life cycle

The splitting of extended families is a normal part of the rural family life cycle.

Are there five general stages in the family life cycle? ›

The developmental phases of a family are referred to as the stages in a family life cycle. They include: unattached adult, newly married adults, childbearing adults, preschool-age children, school-age children, teenage years, launching center, middle-aged adults, and retired adults.

What is the definition of life stages? ›

Life stages are the ages and stages we go through as we learn and grow, from infancy to adulthood. The life experiences in each stage build upon one another and prepare a person for future life stages.

What are the different types of life cycles and description? ›

The development stage of the living organism of any species from the beginning to the adult stage is called the life cycle. There are three types of life cycles: Haplontic life cycle, Diplontic life cycle and Haplodiplontic life cycle.

What is the most important life stage and why? ›

The most important phase of life is the first few years when you are a child. That's when the brain grows really fast – faster than any other time in our life.

What are some challenges in the family life cycle? ›

Some of the challenges of this stage include:
  • Transitioning into the new family system.
  • Including your spouse or partner in your relationships with friends and family members.
  • Being committed to making your marriage work.
  • Putting the needs of another ahead of your own.

Which stage of life is the most important stage of socialization? ›

Childhood. Despite increasing recognition of the entire life course, childhood (including infancy) certainly remains the most important stage of most people's lives for socialization and for the cognitive, emotional, and physiological development that is so crucial during the early years of anyone's life.

Who developed the family life cycle theory? ›

In 1948, Evelyn Duvall and Reuben Hill initialized the conceptualization of family development as a theoretical orientation with a focus on life cycle staging. Evelyn Duvall (1962) is considered the major contributor to the family life cycle and is credited with the establishment of specific stages.

How many categories are there of the family life cycle quizlet? ›

It says that each family typically experiences 7 life cycle stages over time that follow a fairly predictable pattern.

What are the 4 types of family structure? ›

12.1C: Family Structures
  • Nuclear Family.
  • Single Parent.
  • Step Families.
  • Extended Family.
Feb 19, 2021

What are the main types of family in sociology? ›

[4] Families can be classified in several different dimensions, for example, by marriage type (monogamous, polygamous), by location (patrilocal, matrilocal, and avunculocal), authority (patriarchy, matriarchy), and by kin composition (nuclear, joint).

What are the 6 stages of the family life cycle Carter and McGoldrick? ›

In the 1980s, Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick delineated six major stages of the family life cycle: (1) young adulthood, (2) coupling, (3) families with young children, (4) families with adolescents, (5) families at midlife, and (6) families at later life.

What are the 6 functions of the family sociology? ›

1 describe the functions of the family (e.g., reproduction, socialization of children, physical maintenance of members, nurturance and love, social control, production of goods and services) , and explain the ways in which these functions are met in diverse family forms (e.g., single-parent families, two-parent ...

What are the four functions of family sociology? ›

After emphasizing the universal character of the family, the anthropologist George Murdock (1949) argued that the family has four basic social functions: sexual regulations, reproduction, economic cooperation and socialization/education.

What are the three main family structures in sociology? ›

Sociologists generally identify the following types of families:
  • Nuclear or conjugal (a wife, a husband, and their children),
  • matrifocal (a mother and her children),
  • patrifocal (a father and his children), and.
  • extended families (parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, and so on).
Feb 17, 2023

What is the meaning of family in sociology? ›

Family: A family is a group of two or more persons related by birth, marriage, or adoption who live together; all such related persons are considered as members of one family.

What are the four key elements of a family system? ›

The key elements of a family system are its members + beliefs + roles + rules + assets + limitations + goals + boundaries + subsystems (e.g. siblings) + environment - a larger system of systems, or metasystem.

What is step family structure? ›

Stepfamily refers to couple families with children that contain at least one biological or adopted child of only one married spouse or common-law partner whose birth or adoption preceded the current relationship. The family can contain such children of each married spouse or common-law partner.

What is the importance of family in sociology? ›

As basic and essential building blocks of societies, families have a crucial role in social development. They bear the primary responsibility for the education and socialization of children as well as instilling values of citizenship and belonging in the society.

What are the characteristics of a family in sociology? ›

A family is a small social group made up of a husband, a wife, and their kids. Families share traits including universality, nuclear position, social control, emotional foundation, and small size. According to sociologists, families serve specific purposes in keeping society functioning.

What are the 6 main life stages? ›

The six Charting the LifeCourse life stages are:
  • Prenatal/infancy. From conception through the earliest years of life or babyhood. ...
  • Early childhood. The time in a child's life before they begin school full-time. ...
  • School age. The years from kindergarten through middle school. ...
  • Transition to adulthood. ...
  • Adulthood. ...
  • Aging.

What are the 6 stages of the individual life cycle? ›

In summary, the human life cycle has six main stages: foetus, baby, child, adolescent, adult and elderly. Although we describe the human life cycle in stages, people continually and gradually change from day to day throughout all of these stages.


1. Family Life Cycle and Stages | Beginning stage | Expanding and contracting Stage | Homescience | net
(Way to JRF)
2. Family Life Cycle: Meaning, Stages and Transitional Challenges
3. Family life cycle theory
(Lisa Moyer)
4. The Family Life Cycle: Meaning, Stages & Transitional Challenges
5. 7 Stages of Family Life Cycle
(Thriving Direction)
6. Family Life Cycle Video: A Framework for Systems Therapy
(Multicultural Family Institute)


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