What Is Family Science?

Family Science is the scientific study of families and close interpersonal relationships.

A unique combination of characteristics establishes Family Science as a distinct discipline and approach to practice:

  • Focused on relationships. Family Science is attentive to relationship dynamics. It employs a systems perspective, which means it considers families and family relationships within broader societal systems. Family Scientists understand what healthy relationships look like across a diversity of families, and they have a sophisticated understanding of family dynamics across the lifespan.
  • Strengths-oriented. Family Science is focused on families’ strengths, and on using an educational approach to build on those strengths so families can be sustainable and self-sufficient.
  • Preventive. The Family Science perspective applies knowledge about healthy family functioning to help prevent problems before they occur.
  • Translational. The findings of Family Science research are meant to be translational, meaning applied in practice to help strengthen families.
  • Evidence-based. The Family Science knowledge applied in teaching and practice is derived through rigorous scientific research. Family Scientists use multiple methods in gathering evidence and conducting research, and Family Science has its own distinct methodologies and theories.

You can see Family Science in numerous settings around the world, spanning roles in research, teaching, policy work, and practice with families. Learn more about:

Graphic icons showing 5 characteristics of Family Science


Why Is Family Science Important?

"If you understand Family Science, so many of the challenges we face as a society become more surmountable." —Diane L. Cushman, NCFR Executive Director

Family is the “fundamental group unit of society,” according to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Families have unique characteristics and relationships compared to other groups of people; almost no other group besides family has the level and range of influence on an individual’s life over time — from whether or who they marry, to where they live, down to things as simple as how they squeeze a toothpaste tube. At the same time, being part of a family doesn't necessarily mean that people know everything about being good family members. 

Therefore, it’s crucial to study and understand how families function and develop, and to apply research findings and best practices to situations that affect how families live every day — which is expressly what Family Science scholars and professionals do. Through translational summaries and dissemination of research findings, programs for families and family members, and much more, Family Science provides evidence-based ways for families to strengthen interpersonal relationships and enhance their well-being.

Additionally, myriad policies and programs at all levels of society address family-focused issues: child care, health-care reform, adoption, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, caregiving, family leave, family poverty, marriage equality, and more. Family Science research and practice are vital to informing these policies and programs so they work optimally for all families.

To see just a few ways that Family Science makes a difference, read NCFR's white paper (PDF) on the return on investment of a preventive approach through Family Life Education, one of the main practice professions of Family Science. 

Where Do Family Scientists Make an Impact?

The work of Family Science scholars and professionals shapes how we understand families and how families are able to build and maintain healthy relationships. You can see Family Science in numerous professional settings, spanning roles in research, teaching, practice with families, and policy work.

Careers in Family Science infographic image

Learn more about all the careers where Family Scientists make a meaningful impact:

Degree Programs in Family Science  

Hundreds of colleges and universities offer academic programs in Family Science, which can provide the knowledge and skills to prepare you for one of the many professions stemming from Family Science.

Browse and search the list of academic programs in NCFR's Degree Programs Guide.

Department and Program Names: For faculty and representatives at academic institutions wishing to change the name of their department or program to include the term "Family Science," these resources from NCFR are available to help you.

How Does Family Science Fit Into NCFR?

The Family Science discipline is at the core of NCFR. Many NCFR members have Family Science degrees or training, or consider themselves Family Scientists because of the way they approach their work.

NCFR invites and supports scholars and professionals from many disciplinary backgrounds, however, who are working to better understand, strengthen, and empower families. In fact, Family Science evolved from the knowledge of multiple disciplines to become the unique discipline it is today.

As directed by its organizational Global Ends, NCFR represents the Family Science discipline and its scholars and professionals by establishing professional standards and by advocating for the advancement of the discipline and professions of Family Science.

NCFR adopted its Ethical Principles and Guidelines for Family Scientists in 1998. The organization also requires that all individuals who hold NCFR's Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) credential agree to and abide by the CFLE Code of Ethics.

Spread the Word About Family Science 

Visit NCFR's We Are Family Science website, created as an introduction to who Family Scientists are and how they make a difference in the world.


Feedback About Advancing the Family Science Discipline: Do you have comments about existing NCFR resources that support the Family Science discipline, or ideas and needs for future resources to further advance the discipline? Submit your feedback and ideas to NCFR here.