SOCY 4086 Family and Society

About the Course

This course will focus on families within the context of the United States. Rather than providing a survey of sociological research on the family, we will focus on four themes: building families; gender, work, and families; and children in families. Each of these units aims to address two crosscutting questions: First, how does sociological research help us to better understand contemporary debates and concerns about “the family”? Second, what is the relationship between families and other systems of inequality? As the course title suggests, the course is centrally concerned with the relationship between families and society, not with the internal workings of individual families. The introductory unit will provide important frameworks in the sociology of the family, and will lay out the big themes and questions that shape the course’s approach to the material in each substantive unit.


In this course, you will study the changing relationship between U.S. families and social structure, including the ways social structures create inequalities between and within families. We will examine variations in family organization and consider political, social, ideological, demographic, and economic determinants of family formation.

By the end of the course, successful students are expected to:

  1. Identify key trends in family patterns;
  2. Identify and analyze the social institutions that shape and regulate the ways we organize ourselves into social units called “families”;
  3. Introduce historical origins of contemporary family formations;
  4. Critically assess the roles men, women, and children play in families;
  5. Identify the major problems facing contemporary families;
  6. Use sociological evidence to think critically about public debates about families and “family values”;
  7. Develop evidence-based approaches to supporting contemporary families;
  8. Make connections between course materials, current events, and your own experiences.

Grade Breakdown

  • Module Quizzes(6) = 15%
    • Quizzes are multiple choice and T/F, and intended to assess your comprehension of the reading material.
  • Tweets (4) = 5%
    • At the end of each module, you will write a “tweet.” (You will not actually post your tweet on twitter but instead will submit it through D2L). Although twitter only allows for 140 characters, here you will get up to 450 characters, but the idea is the same: to succinctly convey the “take-home” content of the module. This will require you to focus the ideas in the unit, and should serve as a good tool for review.
  • Emerging Research (3) = 15%
    • This short 2-paragraph assignment will ask you to explore emerging research on families on the website for the Council of Contemporary Families. You will do this assignment 3 times—once each at the end of modules 2, 3, and 4.
  • Media Papers (2) = 30%
    • These papers will ask you to conduct a sociological analysis of media coverage of family issues. The first one is due at the end of Module 2, and the second one is due at the end of Module 3.
  • Final Exam = 35%
    • The final exam will be comprehensive, covering readings and media from across the course. It will include some close-ended questions, but will primarily be short answer and essay.

Required Text

Edin, Kathryn and Maria Kefalas. 2005. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Walzer, Susan. 1998. Thinking about the Baby: Gender and Transitions into Parenthood. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Lareau, Annette. 2003. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Instructor Contact

Amy Wilkins earned a PhD in sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2004, specializing in families, gender, and race. Dr. Wilkins’ research interests are in youth identities, sexuality, and inequality, and has published a number of articles and a book, Wannabes, Goths, and Christians: The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status (University of Chicago Press, 2008). She has been teaching sociology courses, including courses on Families, since 1996. She lives in Longmont with her partner, James, and two sons, Liam and Oliver.

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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado