About Family Science

The Scientific Study of Families & Close Interpersonal Relationships

What Is Family Science?

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

A unique combination of characteristics makes up the Family Science lens, establishing Family Science as a distinct social science discipline and knowledge base for professional practice:

  • Focused on relationships: Family Science focuses on relationships and interactions among family members. It uses 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 how families can build on their strengths to 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 real life to help strengthen families.
  • Evidence-based: The Family Science knowledge applied in teaching and practice comes from rigorous scientific research. Family Scientists use multiple methods to gather evidence and conduct research, and Family Science has its own distinct methodologies and theories.

Those who conduct research in Family Science use the scientific method, just as other sciences do — asking research questions, collecting and analyzing data, and looking at the results to better understand families and family relationships.

You can see Family Science applied in numerous settings around the world, spanning careers and 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?

"Psychology studies the psyche, which really is within the individual. Small-group sociology looks at small groups. But it turns out family is not just any kind of a small group." Stephan M. Wilson, Ph.D., CFLE, Former Professor & Dean, Oklahoma State University

Family is the “fundamental group unit of society,” according to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Families also 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 a person's life over time — from big decisions like where someone lives, to things as simple as how they squeeze a toothpaste tube.

At the same time, families don't come with instruction manuals. Being part of a family doesn't necessarily mean that someone knows everything about being in a healthy, well-functioning family. 

Therefore, it’s crucial to study and understand how families function and develop, and to apply research findings and best practices to the many situations that affect families' daily lives — which is what Family Science scholars and professionals do.

Through summarizing and sharing research findings, offering programs for families and family members, and much more, Family Science provides evidence-based ways for families to strengthen interpersonal relationships and their overall well-being.

Additionally, 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 knowledge is vital to making these policies and programs optimal for all families. 

Need more to explain how Family Science is unique and important? Use NCFR resources:

How Do Family Scientists Make an Impact?

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

Careers in Family Science infographic image

Through their work across many careers, Family Science scholars and professionals create a better understanding of families, and they empower families to strengthen their own relationships and well-being.

Their Family Science knowledge and expertise means they're uniquely qualified for many types of jobs working to better understand, strengthen, and empower families — research, teaching, policy work, and many professional practice roles.

Explore more about careers where Family Scientists make a meaningful impact.

Explore Careers in Family Science >>

See a few more ways that Family Science makes a difference in NCFR's white paper (PDF) about the return on investment of Family Life Education, one of the main practice professions that applies Family Science knowledge.

Degree Programs in Family Science  

Map showing locations of academic degree programs in Family Science in the U.S. and Canada
There are hundreds of Family Science degree programs in the U.S. and Canada.

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 academic programs in NCFR's Degree Programs Guide.

Visit 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 the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) organization, the premier professional association for understanding families through research, theory, and practice. Many NCFR members have Family Science degrees or training, or consider themselves Family Scientists because of the way they approach their work.

But NCFR is broader than Family Science — NCFR invites and supports scholars and professionals from many disciplinary backgrounds and approaches 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.

Spread the Word About Family Science

We Are Family Science logo
  • Visit and share NCFR's We Are Family Science website, created as a lay introduction to who Family Scientists are and how they make a difference in the world.
  • Share NCFR's "Why Family Science?" article, which shows how Family Science informs policies, programs, and practices that support all families, through several examples of the real-world impact Family Scientists are making.
  • Develop an impactful "elevator pitch" to tell others about Family Science by consulting our guide, How to Explain Family Science to Anyone.
  • Use materials from our Promoting Family Science Toolkit anywhere and anytime you need to show others what Family Science is about — graphics, fliers, posters, and more are available to use for free. 


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.