Searching under the streetlight?: Age biases in the personal and family relationships literature


Karen L. Fingerman Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University, 110 Henderson Bldg. South, University Park, PA


Two studies addressing age biases in research on family and social relationships are presented. Study 1 involved a content analysis of nearly 1,000 empirical studies published in six major journals from 1994 to 1999. Studies in these journals generally were limited to samples of adults under the age of 45, though nearly one third of the studies failed to include information about the ages of adult participants. Most research focused on marital ties, romantic partnerships, or relationships between parents and young children. Study 2 (N = 186) assessed beliefs about the importance of various relationships to adults of different ages. Researchers who study relationships (n = 71), adults with advanced degrees in other fields (n = 57), and less–educated adults (n = 58) rated the importance of various social ties to themselves and to adults of different ages. In general, participants agreed that adults of different ages value different social ties. Less–educated individuals rated many social ties as more important than did researchers who study relationships, however. Age biases in sampling and the types of relationships that receive research attention are discussed.