College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Sociology

Families, Population & the Life Course


The sociological study of families, population, and the life course is concerned with fundamental questions about the reproduction of societies. Sociology faculty members with expertise in this area are working at the forefront of research in this field. Our scholarship is concerned with three fundamental processes:  1) social inequalities by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender in life course transitions, such as completing education, entering into employment, leaving the parental home, entering the military, migrating within or between countries, cohabiting, and entering marriage and parenthood; 2) the consequences of these life course transitions and life experiences for the health, achievement, and emotional and material well-being of people undergoing them; and 3) more broadly, how changes in the population due to international migration, population aging, or changes in family patterns affect communities and nations. 

Together, our work emphasizes two qualities essential in understanding complex family, population and life course processes.  First, we take a long-term rather than snapshot view, with attention to how lives play out over time.  Second, we take a comparative view, leveraging cross-national and historical differences to understand the political, economic, and other social factors producing patterns of behavior and change in people’s lives. The foci of the faculty members contributing to this area of expertise are represented by some of the core sections of the American Sociological Association (Family, which is also one of the largest sections; Sociology of Population; Aging and the Life Course; International Migration; Gender; Race and Ethnicity; Sociology of Education; and Children and Youth).

The study of the family highlights the emergence and reproduction of inequality and the impact of these inequalities over the life course and across communities.  Families and the challenges confronting them are of universal concern, the study of Family, Population and the Life Course is of great concern in the United States.  At the same time, these issues are of concern around the world. 

They conduct research internationally in areas such as Sweden, China, Japan, and Mexico, and are regularly invited to conferences, seminars and talks at the international level.  Their research projects outside of the U.S. yield international visibility of WSU and the WSU Sociology program.


Faculty in this area conduct research on a broad range of topics:

Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson is primarily interested in the social psychological antecedents and consequences of young adult transitions, including early work experiences, post-secondary educational investments, and family formation.

  • Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick and Stefanie Mollborn. 2009. “Growing Up Faster, Feeling Older: Hardship in Childhood and Adolescence.” Social Psychology Quarterly 72:39-60.
  • Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick, Justin Allen Berg, and Toni Sirotzki. 2007. “Differentiation in Self-Perceived Adulthood: Extending the Confluence Model of Subjective Age Identity.” Social Psychology Quarterly 70:243-61.
  • Johnson, Monica Kirkpatrick. 2005. “Family Roles and Work Values: Processes of Selection and Change.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67:352-69.


Alair MacLean’s research explores the question of how wars affect people's lives. In this research, she examines the life course trajectories of veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces, focusing on the effects of military service and combat exposure on work and health.

  • Alair MacLean (2008). “The Privileges of Rank: The Peacetime Draft and Later Life Attainment.” Armed Forces & Society, 34: 682-713.
  • Alair MacLean (2008). “The Cold War and Modern Memory: Veterans Reflect on Military Service.” Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 36: 103-130.
  • Alair MacLean and Glen H. Elder, Jr. (2007). “Military Service in the Life Course.” Annual Review of Sociology, 33: 175-96.


Jennifer Sherman’s research looks at the ways in which job loss and poverty affect families, primarily in rural U.S. communities. Her aim is to understand how economic and labor market struggles affect family life, cultural discourses, and gender norms.

  • Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. Those Who Work, Those Who Don't: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America. Minneapolis, MN: University Of Minnesota Press.
  • Sherman, Jennifer. 2009. “Bend to Avoid Breaking: Job Loss, Gender Norms, and Family Stability in Rural America.” Social Problems 56:599-620.
  • Sherman, Jennifer. 2006. “Coping with Rural Poverty: Economic Survival and Moral Capital in Rural America.” Social Forces 85:891-913.


The faculty members in the Family, Population, and the Life Course area publish in high quality journals, such as: American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Social Problems, Social Science Research, and Annual Review of Sociology, and specialized area journals including: Journal of Marriage and Family, Demography, International Migration Review, Social Psychology Quarterly, Sociology of Education, Criminology, and Sociological Methodology.

They also gain visibility from success at receiving government funding and prestigious awards.  Collectively, they have received close to half a million dollars in external federal grants and approximately $135,000 from Foundations and Professional Associations as PIs and over $500,000 as Co-PIs from governmental and private sources that conduct rigorous peer reviews, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.  Prestigious honors and awards, include an American Council of Learned Society and Social Science Research Council fellowships. 

Finally, one of the outcomes of the faculty members’ high quality and visible research is that they have been asked to serve on review and governing boards at the national level, such as journal editorial boards, the American Sociological Association’s section councils, and as members of foundation sponsored study groups. The service of these faculty members to the profession yields further visibility of WSU and the WSU Sociology department.




The sociological study of families, population, and the life course is concerned with fundamental questions about the reproduction of societies.







Sociology Department, PO Box 644020, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4020, Ph: 509-335-4595, Fax: 509-335-6419, Contact Us