In the mid-twentieth century, modernisation theories and structural-functional theories depicted the western nuclear family – and its gendered division of labour – as the endpoint of social and economic development. While the limitations of both perspectives have been widely acknowledged – and intellectual histories suggest that theoretically things have moved on – the incremental nature of knowledge production means that previous conceptual frameworks and background assumptions have continued to influence the way sociologists understand and approach the study of families. Using the gendered welfare regimes literature and the empirical study of union stability as examples, I show how, despite important theoretical innovations such as the structural model of gender, notions of the family as a separate sphere and sex role models have not been entirely displaced. An incomplete paradigm shift has contributed to a lack of attention to men in families, and to a narrow conceptualisation of gender inequality.
It is widely acknowledged that the theoretical perspectives that inform demographic inquiry have often come from elsewhere. While economic theory and econometric methods have played a particularly prominent role in the development of some areas of study, including the family, demography has remained remarkably impervious to the theoretical interventions of feminism and other critical perspectives. In this chapter, the author aims to demonstrate how demographic research would benefit from a more conscious consideration of a wider range of theoretical perspectives. To this end, she focuses primarily on one particular (broad and flexible) critical analytical concept – intersectionality – and one particular area of enquiry: the study of the family. Intersectionality, which Leslie McCall (2005, p. 1771) described as ‘one of the most important theoretical contributions of Women’s Studies, along with racial and ethnic studies, so far’, has been a fleet-footed traveller in the past couple of decades, but it has not, for some reason, crossed the border into the discipline of demography. It is noteworthy that we see virtually no references to ‘intersectionality’ on the pages of demography journals. For this reason, the chapter begins with a brief introduction to the concept of intersectionality. Focusing on the issues most relevant to quantitative research, the author outlines its theoretical premise and some of the broad methodological implications. Next, concrete examples illustrate how the application of intersectionality, as a critical and reflective lens, could contribute to the way demographers study families and family policies. The overarching aim is to initiate a discussion amongst the demographic community about the productive potential of adopting a more critical and interdisciplinary theoretical perspective. Reference: McCall, L. (2005), ‘The complexity of intersectionality’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30 (3), 1771–1800.