Families Across Cultures: A 30 Nation Psychological Study
by James Georgas, John W. Berry, Fons J. R. Van de Vijver, Çiğdem Kağitcibaşi, and Ype H. Poortinga, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 552 pp, $50.00 Soft cover.
Families Across Cultures is an interesting and comprehensive book that makes some compelling points. It is thorough, but very long and difficult to get through. The text reads like a dissertation and may be more appropriate for a graduate level psychology or sociology course rather than Developmental- Behavioral Pediatricians and other related specialists working with families.
The book is divided into two parts; the first provides extensive background information about modernization, globalization and family change. There is description of types of families; nuclear and extended, with rationale provided for many cultures favoring extended families for economic reasons. There is some enlightening information provided about arranged marriages which are the norm in many cultures. After lengthy discussions about cross-cultural theory and methodology as well as theoretical perspectives on family change, the hypothesis, methodology, results and synthesis of the study are presented.
The sample consisted of more than five thousand University students from 27 countries who completed detailed questionnaires related to key concepts including culture, social structure, kinship ties, family roles and a variety of psychological variables. The authors wish to examine family patterns that show systemic variation over different ecocultural and social structural factors (page 115).
The authors note on page 187 that, “The complexity of the study based on so many variables and countries created a mountain of data on which the co-authors sat. A strictly empirical methodology leading down from the peak might have resulted in staggering along paths through the trees only to discover that we were walking in circles, or in following a stream which led to a cliff, requiring us to turn back again.”
Even after the mountains of data, charts, graphs and tables, the data suggests some very basic findings. The authors conclude that, despite socioeconomic changes in many cultures towards modernization, strong family ties to extended family are still very important. In fact, socioeconomic level was not related to emotional closeness with kin. They also conclude that “although changes will occur with increasing socioeconomic development of countries, many cultural patterns in family life will continue to exist” (page 240).
The second part of the book provides detailed information about each of the 27 countries studied. This is arranged alphabetically from Algeria to the United States and divided into sections; historical outline, ecological features, organization and institutions of the society, bonds with groups in the immediate community, the family and changes in the family.
Essentially, the authors conclude that, families change in some ways, over time sometimes, based on socioeconomic and structural changes, sometimes not. Also families remain remarkably stable over time in many ways. While the subject matter is clearly relevant for clinicians working with families from diverse backgrounds, unfortunately this book has limited utility for busy clinicians and doesn't provide practical information to aid us in better caring for our patients from different cultures.
Denise Aloisio, MD
K. Hovnianian Children's Hospital, Neptune, NJ