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Family Development, Theories of

  1. W. Glenn Clingempeel1,
  2. Scott W. Henggeler2

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0347

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Clingempeel, W. G. and Henggeler, S. W. 2010. Family Development, Theories of. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Fayetteville State University

  2. 2

    Medical University of South Carolina

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Family development theory focuses on the stress-induced changes that occur in families over time (White & Klein, 2008). Historically, family development theorists assumed that families move through deterministic, invariant numbers, types, and timing of stages over time consistent with ontogenetic stage theories of individual child development (e.g., Piaget's stages of cognitive development). For example, Duvall's (1957) widely-cited model defined family development in terms of eight developmental stages: (1) married couple without children, (2) childbearing families with the oldest child between birth and 30 months, (3) families with preschool children, (4) families with school-age children, (5) families with adolescent children, (6) launching families (first to last child is leaving home), (7) middle-age families (“empty nest” to retirement), and (8) aging families (retirement to death of both spouses). Whereas Duvall's theory assumes a traditional nuclear family, alternative stage theories describe greater variations in types of family structures (e.g., childless couples, single-parent families, stepfamilies, etc.), but still rely on universalistic assumptions about the number, types, and timing of stages (Laszoffy, 2002).


  • family development;
  • family stages;
  • family transitions;
  • sequencing norms;
  • life course theory;
  • individual life span theory