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What Are the Social Forces That Affect Families?

by David B. Ryan, studioD

The term "social forces" describes the influence society has on shaping behavior. Sociologists Lester F. Ward and Herbert Spencer used this term in scholarly writings in the early 1900s, and other sociologists, economists, psychologists, political scientists and historians adopted the ideas of society affecting human behavior. Modern scholars debate the specific type and the amount of influence of the individual forces, but most agree that various types of social forces affect creating a family and help shape how families operate together in modern society.


The type and quality of education available to children and parents directly affect the family. The opportunity for early education and availability of high-quality child care gives children an important head start in life that helps them learn to think and develop an appreciation of learning, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Government grants and loans for education also improve access to schools and child care for low- and middle-income families. Branch campuses of public and community colleges increase access and increase family use of the educational facilities. Studies reported in the National Institute of Health show that parents with high school diplomas and higher-education degrees model the importance of education, and typically children in these families have better achievements as adults.


The availability and the type of housing influences modern family life. The federal Task Force on Community Preventive Services notes that the social forces affecting housing include the price of homes and the types of homes available to the family in the community. A lack of homes increases the price for safe housing, and this forces families on lower incomes to spend money on rent or mortgage payments that normally purchased food and health care. This also leads to families moving in with relatives, moving to homes in deteriorating neighborhoods and increases in the number of homeless families. Unstable housing also leads to poor school attendance, low grades and increases in chronic family health conditions, according to the federal task force.


The types of employment available in the community and the salaries for work change family dynamics. Vicki Smith, professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, found low-paid, dead-end jobs create a class of working poor, and this leaves the family unable to pay for the basic necessities. Smith also claims cycles of hiring and firing workers threatens the quality of family life. The lack of low-skilled jobs available for families in many inner cities means some family members see crime and drug dealing as legitimate sources of income, according to researchers at the National Development and Research Institutes. This leads children in the these families to view crime as acceptable employment and creates cycles of illegal activity.

Childhood Cultural Trends

Teen cultural trends influence the entire family. These social forces include children living away from home during college, teen marriage ages and young parenting trends. Other trends shaping family life include teen mobility and the importance teenagers put on jobs and disposable income. Employed teens frequently miss family meals and home activities while at work, and this reduces the number of shared family experiences. The social and family pressures to attend college or live in a dorm or off-campus apartment also offer different family experiences compared with teens living at home with parents and siblings while going to college, according to studies reported by Ruth N. Lopez Turley of the Sociology Department at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.

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