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Family Policy: Becoming a Field of Inquiry and Subfield of Social Policy


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    Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706-1481.

University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension, 1305 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706-1481 (


This decade review centers on 2 disconnects between rhetoric and reality. First, public investments in families continue to grow, yet family policy is still not a term widely used by policymakers or the public. Second, social science studies increased in number and sophistication, with some family sensitive and others policy relevant. Few focus on both, which is what is most needed if research is to inform family policy. In exploring these disconnects, we summarize recent trends in family policies and the influence of research on family policymaking. We suggest a rationale for family policy and illustrate its value using the examples of early childhood, welfare reform, and parent education policies. We conclude with suggested next steps.