University of Florida
Department of Sociology

SYG2430 - Gender Relationships and Families

SYO4102 - Families in Contemporary Western Societies

John H. Scanzoni, Ph.D.
3355 Turlington Hall

John H. Scanzoni, Ph.D.

John Scanzoni

Professor, Sociology
Ph.D. Sociology, University of Oregon, 1964

Areas of Interest: Sociology of the Family

Web site:

I have always viewed families as a great place to study the four classic questions of sociology:

One, how do groups (of any size from micro to macro) form, or emerge, or appear, or come into being?

Two, how do groups maintain themselves?

Three, how do groups change?

Four, how do groups dissolve?

It is quite obvious that these questions and are by no means discrete. They tend instead to overlap a great deal. For example, as soon as any group appears on the scene, it is subject to at least two countervailing sets of forces. One set aims to maintain the group pretty much as it was when it came into being. It claims that the best interests lie in following tradition. A second set seeks to change the group in certain ways. It claims that innovation is in the best interests of the group. It argues that social evolution is necessary in order to adapt to shifting conditions (economic, political, or technological) in its surrounding milieu. Accordingly, the social history of any group is the story of that ceaseless interplay or tension between the forces of tradition versus those of innovation.

Over time, some groups manage to negotiate a viable blend of tradition with innovation. Those are the groups least likely to dissolve. They will probably carry on, though in many respects such groups turn out to be quite different from what they once were. Conversely, other groups seem unable to negotiate such a blend. Either the forces of tradition or of innovation seek to dominate apart from negotiation. Those are the groups most likely to dissolve, though the process of dissolution is often quite lengthy.

During my research career, the selected publications cited below indicate that I have sought to follow this classic approach in order to study families at both the micro and macro levels. For example, at the micro level, I have examined how over time persons (men & women, women & women, men & men) form relationships. I have also studied how partners maintain & change their relationships over time. Furthermore, I have also examined how over time partners dissolve their relationships.

Built into this strategy of analyzing families from the vantage point of those four classic questions are three additional timeless elements of social science: These are, of course, the elements of social class, gender, and race/ethnicity. Selected publications cited below indicate that throughout my career I have sought to weave those three elements together with the four group questions. For example, my 1971 book on Black Families identified a growing black middle-class that contrasted sharply with the negative images of the black lower-class widely promulgated during the late 1960s. Next, my 1972 book Sexual Bargaining was one of the very first social science efforts to identify the significance of the then newly emerging patterns of gender, and the potential impact of those crucial changes on families. Alongside the four group questions and the three elements, a basic perspective of social science was also built in to the 1972 book. I refer of course to an historical perspective that was synthesized with both the four questions and the three elements.

Introducing an historical perspective may mean shifting from the micro to the macro level. Or it may mean navigating between the two levels which is what I have sought to do throughout my research career. While a micro perspective examines relationships as such, a macro perspective compares & contrasts broad patterns of association over historic time, and often in different societies as well. For example, my 2010 book describes how the transition from the hunting & gathering era to the agricultural period was a major impetus for changes in families. And ditto for the transition in Western societies from the agricultural to the industrial age. Presently, Western and some other societies are now evolving into the post-industrial or information age, and that shift too is providing considerable impetus for changes in families.

The thrust of the 2010 book is that traditional forces spearheaded by the Religious Right (RR), i.e., Christianists, fiercely resist those changes. They have amassed considerable political power in order to enforce their traditions. Unfortunately, economically disadvantaged citizens (black, white, Latina/o) suffer disproportionately as a result of their political clout. The book describes “healthy” families as those enabling their members to participate meaningfully in the benefits (both intangible & material) offered by their broader society. By that reasoning, RR’s political activities promote “unhealthy” families—particularly among the less well-off. The book proposes certain “progressive” social policies and programs in the areas of gender, sexuality, partnering, and parenting—policies that might enable less privileged citizens to participate more fully in benefits currently available to privileged (upper-middle-class) citizens. Progressive means a blend of tradition with innovation—a synthesis of conservative with liberal ideals.

Ever since Karl Marx and the early 20th century American social scientists, sociologists have struggled with the issue of how closely to identify with efforts to implement progressive social change. For a brief period in the 1960s the pendulum swung in the direction of closer identification. But for the most part, during the decades before and since, sociologists have tended to shy away from doing the kind of research that might test the validity of their ideas in the real world. My 2010 book, alongside several of my recent publications, are premised on the notion that social scientists should consider nudging the pendulum in the direction of closer identification between our research and efforts to implement progressive change.

Proponents of this viewpoint resist the label “applied” research, preferring instead to call it action research or action science. I subscribe to the notion of action science, and have utilized it in my 2005 book on educational restructuring—particularly within the post-K-12 setting. I explored educational reform again in my 2010 book, only this time within K-12. I made the point that RR seeks to influence and impose its point of view on the public schools. Consequently, RR’s influence on K-12 undermines the policy objective of enabling less advantaged children & youth to aspire to and achieve “healthy” families for themselves. Hence, I suggest that progressives might take a more active role in K-12 reform by advocating programs that enable less advantaged children & youth to aspire to and actually achieve healthy families for themselves. The place of action science would be to design experiments that test the effectiveness of such programs.

Selected Publications:


Healthy American Families: A Progressive Alternative to the Religious Right. 2010. Santa Barbara CA: Praeger.

Universities as If Students Mattered: Social Science on the Creative Edge. 2005. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Designing Families: The Search for Self and Community in the Information Age. Thousand Oaks CA: Pine Forge Press/Sage. 2000.

Contemporary Families and Relationships: Reinventing Responsibility.1995.New York: McGraw-Hill.

The Sexual Bond: Rethinking Families and Close Relationships. 1989. (with Karen Polonko, Jay Teachman, Linda Thompson). Newbury Park, Ca: Sage. NOTE: This book was chosen as a finalist as part of the competition for the “1991 William J. Goode Distinguished Book Award,” sponsored by the Family Section of the American Sociological Association. The purpose of this award is “to honor outstanding contributions to scholarship in the sociology of the family.”

Shaping Tomorrow’s Family: Theory and Policy for the Twenty-first Century. 1983. foreword by Jessie Bernard. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

NOTE: This book was chosen as a finalist for “The 1986 William J. Goode Distinguished Book Award.”

Family Decision-Making: A Developmental Sex Role Model. 1980. (with Maximiliane Szinovacz) Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Sex Roles, Women’s Work and Marital Conflict: A Study of Family Change. 1978. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath/Lexington.

Sex Roles, Life-Styles and Childbearing: Changing Patterns of Marriage and Family. 1975. New York: The Free Press.

Sexual Bargaining: Power Politics in American Marriage. 1972. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Revised and reissued in 1982, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The Black Family in Modern Society: Patterns of Stability and Security. 1971. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, Revised and reissued in 1977. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pages 64-81 of the 1971 version were reprinted in Robert Staples, ed., The Black Family: Essays and Studies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1978.

Opportunity and the Family. 1970. New York: The Free Press.

Chapters 1 and 8 were reprinted in Lyle E. Larson, ed., The Canadian Family in Comparative Perspective, Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall of Canada, 1976.

Families and Friendships: Applying the Sociological Imagination. (with William Marsiglio). New York: HarperCollins. 1995.

Men, Women, and Change: A Sociology of Marriage and Family (with Letha Dawson Scanzoni). New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988, 1981, 1976. Chapter 8 of 1976 ed. reprinted in Helen Z. Lopata, ed., Family Fact Book. Chicago: Marquis Co., 1978.

Love and negotiate: creative conflict in marriage. Waco TX: Word publishers, 1979.

Readings in Social Problems: Sociology and Social Issues. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1967.

Book Chapters

“Inventing Undergraduate Learning Modules for the 21st Century Multiversity.” 2009. Pages 219-232 in Tom Giberson & Greg Giberson, EDS. The knowledge economy academic & the commodification of higher education. Creskill NJ: Hampton Press Inc.

“Household Diversity—The Starting Point For Healthy Families In The New Century.” Pages 3-22 in Marilyn Coleman & Larry Ganong (Eds.) The Handbook of Contemporary Families: Considering the Past, Contemplating the Future, 2004. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

“Cohousing as a Basis for Social Connectedness and Ecological Sustainability” 2003 (with M. Antonini & M.J. Hasell). Pp 125-132. in Gabriel Moser, Enric Pol, Yvonne Bernard, M. Bonnes, J.A. Corraliza, & Vittoria Giuliani (Eds.) Places, People and Sustainability/Sustainability, People and Places. Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe & Huber.

“Demography of the family: A review of recent trends and developments in the field,” (with Jay Teachman & Karen Polonko), in Marvin B. Sussman, Suzanne K. Steinmetz, & Gary W. Peterson, eds, Handbook of Marriage and the Family. New York: Plenum. 1999. (First ed., 1987.)

“Social Families among African-Americans: Policy Implications for Children.” (with Rose Merry Rivers), in Harriette Pipes McAdoo, ed., Black Families. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. 1997.

“Structural-Functionalism” (with Nancy Kingsbury), in Pauline Boss, William Doherty, Ralph LaRossa, Walter Schumm, Suzanne Steinmetz, eds., Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods. New York: Plenum. 1993.

“Balancing the policy interests of children and adults.” in Elaine A. Anderson and Richard C. Hula, eds., The Reconstruction of Family Policy. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

“Pregnant and parenting black adolescents: Theoretical and policy perspectives.” (with William Marsiglio). in Arlene Stiffman and Larry E. Davis, eds., Ethnic Issues in Adolescent Mental Health, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1990.

“Joint decision making in the contemporary sexually based primary relationship,” in David Brinberg and James Jaccard, eds, Dyadic Decision Making. New York: Springer-Verlag. 1989.

“Sociobiology and the family: A focus on the interplay between Social Science and Biology,” (with Becky Heath Ladewig & Stephen J. Thoma), in Erik Filsinger, ed., Biosocial Perspectives on the Family. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988.

“Policy implications derived from a study of rural and urban marriages.” (with Cynthia Arnett), in Ramona Marotz-Baden, Charles B. Hennon, Timothy H. Brubaker, eds., Families in Rural America: Stress, Adaptation and Revitalization. St. Paul, MN: National Council on Family Relations, 1988.

“Educational and occupational achievement among black children,” in John Lewis McAdoo & Harriette Pipes McAdoo, eds., Black Children: Their Social, Emotional, Educational and Family Environments. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1985.

“Sexual decision-making: Its development and dynamics,”(with Deborah Frank) in Greer Litton Fox, ed., The Childbearing Decision: Fertility Attitudes and Behavior. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1982.

“Family dynamics,” in Marvin E. Olsen & Michael Micklin, eds., Handbook of Applied Sociology. New York: Praeger, 1981.

“Social exchange and behavioral interdependence” in Ted L. Huston & Robert L. Burgess, eds., Social Exchange and Developing Relationships. New York: Academic Press, 1979.

“Social processes and power in families,” in Wesley R. Burr, Reuben Hill, F. Ivan Nye, Ira L. Reiss, eds., Contemporary Theories About the Family, Volume I. New York: The Free Press, 1979.

“An historical perspective on husband-wife bargaining power and marital dissolution,” in George Levinger and Oliver C. Moles, eds., Divorce and Separation. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

“Sex roles, family structure and fertility in the United States and India,” (with Gladys Masih-Busch) in H. Yuan Tien & Frank D. Bean, eds., Comparative Family and Fertility Research. Leiden: E.J. Brill Co., 1974.

Journal Articles

“A Personal and Intellectual Journey.” Marriage and Family Review 2001:131-152. Volume 31—Numbers 1 & 2. 2002.

“From The Normal Family to Alternate Families to the Quest for Diversity with Interdependence.” Journal of Family Issues. September 2001:688-710.

“Reconnecting Household and Community: An Alternative Strategy for Theory and Policy.” Journal of Family Issues 22:243-264. March 2001.

“Cohousing in HUD Housing — Prospects and Problems.” Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 17:133-145 (with Mary Joyce Hasell). Summer 2000.

“Fashioning Families and Policies for the Future — Not the Past.” Family Relations: Journal of Applied Family and Child Studies, Summer, 1997.

“Social Networks and Network-Friendly Housing in the United States.” (with Mary Joyce Hasell). International Journal of Comparative Sociology. (Nos. 3-4), December, 1997.

“Rethinking the roles of Japanese Women.” (with Hsiao-Chuan Hsia). Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Summer, 1996.

“New Action Theory and Contemporary Families.” (with William Marsiglio). Journal of Family Issues. March, 1993.

“Comparisons and contrasts between marrieds, cohabitors, and unmarried non-cohabitants.” (with Deborah D. Godwin and Denise Donnelly). International Journal of Family and Marriage. January, 1992.

“Perceptions of Parenting Behavior and Young Women’s Gender Role Traits and Preference.” (With Joyce A. Arditti and Deborah D. Godwin) Sex Roles, 25: 3/4, 1991.

“Wider Families as Primary Relationships.” (with William Marsiglio) Marriage and Family Review 17: 1/2, 1991.

“Negotiation Effectiveness and Acceptable Outcomes.” (with Deborah D. Godwin). Social Psychology Quarterly, September, 1990.

“Couple Consensus During Marital Joint Decision-Making: A Context, Process, Outcome Model.” (with Deborah D. Godwin). Journal of Marriage and Family. November, 1989.

NOTE: This article won the 1989 “Reuben Hill Research and Theory Award,” given by the Research & Theory Section of The National Council on Family Relations. The award is give annually to the journal article that “best combines research and theory about a family issue.”

“Couple Decision-Making: Commonalities and Differences Across Issues and Spouses.” (with Deborah D. Godwin). Journal of Family Issues. September, 1989.

“Process Power and Decision Outcomes Among Dual Career Couples.” (With Nancy Kingsbury). Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Summer, 1989.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences