Measurement Workshop

Beyond Coresidence: Measuring Intimate and Familial Ties Within and Across Households

Friday, September 24, 2021
11:00 am to 3:30 pm ET
Online via Zoom

Adults in the U.S. experience a range of intimate and family relationships; no singular trajectory represents the experiences of all. Even though marriage rates are declining, and adults spend less of their lives married, researchers often consider marriage as the primary family and relationship experience, frequently examined using a binary measure, married or not, with marriage and marital transitions at the center of the family system. Though family scholars gradually expanded their focus to incorporate cohabitation, emphasizing coresidential unions is exclusionary because it ignores the lived experiences of many women and men, which increasingly do not involve marriage or cohabitation. It is imperative that researchers recalibrate their focus to be inclusive of all intimate and family relationships. This is especially important for assessments of the family and relational experiences for individuals – such as those from ethnic sub-populations, racialized groups, and sexual and gender minorities – who have historically faced greater barriers to marriage or who have received fewer of its purported benefits.  

By focusing on marriage and, to a lesser extent, cohabitation, social science research ignores other (non-coresidential) relationship types, resulting in a flawed understanding of family and intimate ties. Shedding light on the full spectrum of family and intimate relationships is an important task for demographers and family scholars, particularly during an era marked by the declining centrality of marriage and rising levels of singlehood. Reflecting the serious measurement shortcomings within our current data infrastructure, many important relationships and family ties are not captured in surveys and as a result are rendered invisible, even though they likely shape the health and well-being of adults and children. If we do not measure these relationships or family members, they are presumed to not exist and effectively do not count. More nuanced measures of relational and family ties that capture the varied experiences of adults outside of coresidential unions are overdue.   

This workshop provides an opportunity for scholars to engage in focused discussions about the limitations of existing family measurement approaches and to exchange ideas about how to improve these approaches to ensure that we are capturing the rich array of relationship configurations experienced by today’s adults. Our objectives for this workshop are threefold. First, we seek to achieve consensus around the types of families and relationships that need to be measured. Second, we aim to gather recommendations and suggestions for new ways of measuring and collecting quantitative data that better incorporates the full range of family and intimate relationships. Third, we intend to develop a community of researchers, including those often excluded from data infrastructure decision-making, dedicated to broadening the scope of family and relationships beyond marital and cohabiting relationships. The overarching goal of the conference is to inform planned pilot data collection and ultimately establish the groundwork for new family measurement strategies.

To achieve these objectives, this workshop is designed to be highly interactive. We have two panel sessions planned, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Each panel will feature short presentations by family scholars, followed by an open discussion among the panelists and workshop attendees. Immediately after each panel, our scholars will host focused ‘breakout rooms’ to delve into specific issues and allow for open conversations among panelists and attendees. Attendees are welcome to move between ‘breakout rooms’ to be involved in different discussions. Our goal is for scholars – across disciplines, research foci, career stages, and institutions/organizations – to actively engage with their fellow family scholars to help steer the field forward.