Family Life Cycle And Stages

Lesson 04 : Family:Functions And Life Cycle

Family Life Cycle And Stages

In the family life cycle, a family starts with two young persons, grows normally into a larger group of different ages and eventually returns to the small group of two older persons. If a family life cycle is viewed from its beginning to end, assuming that there are no breaks, it goes through a definite and discernible stage. These stages some time overlap each other, but still each stage has clearly defined situations and problems. A family life cycle is divided into three major stages, namely, beginning family, expanding family and the contracting family. Bigelow has classified these three major stages into eight sub stages as detailed below.

Normally all families with children go through the above stages and sub stages of family life cycle with some exceptions like not going through the sub stage no. 4 and 5. Since most of the families will have more than one child, there will be overlapping of two or more sub stages and the demands of resources on the parents will be very high.

I. Beginning Stage:

This is the stage of establishment of the family. It begins with the marriage of two adults and it continues until the first child is born. Here both the partners will acquaint with each other, with their family members, life styles etc. During this stage they try to formulate short term and long term goals and decide to work towards achieving those goals.

The attitudes and feelings of the two partners towards all resources need to be harmonized. The basic value conflicts of the two partners should be reduced and understanding between each other should be developed during this stage, particularly before the arrival of the first baby.

The three major concerns of the family during this stage are methods of dividing the family responsibilities, the establishment of a physical home and providing the other basic necessities for day to day family maintenance.

The most important early decision of the young couple in the beginning stage is the decision regarding the sharing of responsibilities of the family, which includes the earning of money, making expenditures on family requirements, planning the family chores, allocation of resources for different activities particularly money, who has control over which resource is very important in maintenance of the family. Studies have shown that usually the women in lower socioeconomic groups dominates the financial control, where as in middle and higher socio- economic classes husbands have control over the financial resources. This may be different in families with employed home makers/ wives. Democratic decision making is ideal in all family activities including the financial activities.

Establishment of actual home includes major aspects like accumulation of family goods and materials like house, furniture, furnishings etc. Keeping an inventory of available household goods, discarding the waste materials and listing of new needs are included in the Ist stage of family life cycle. The young couple should decide on the resources available, particularly the finances for making purchase like furniture, furnishings, time required in establishing, along with the style, comfort and quality.

Both should think of making provisions for the basic necessities for each other like transport facilities, communication facilities and other day to day needs. Resources in the form of help by the members and relatives of both families are very important in the establishing stage of the family life cycle.

II. The Expanding Family :

This stage covers a longer period than first and third stages of family life cycle. It starts with the birth of first child and includes a number of sub stages and lastly ends with the last child leaving the home to settle down his family. The family pattern and life styles of the parents will change during this stage due to arrival of children. The resources and demands will be different. when the children are very young the demand for time of mother will be high and when children start going to school and college the demand on financial resources may higher. Along with increase in family size, the resource demands will be complicated due to the varying age of the family members.

Child bearing and Preschool stage:

The first sub stage is the child bearing and preschool stage. During this stage parents need to make adjustments in the relations to each other and the baby. There will be new responsibility of the baby and its care every day. If both are employed then they have to make arrangements for the baby care. The arrival of the baby increases the demand on various resources and particularly demands on the time of the parents will increase significantly.

Elementary School:

The elementary school period will start with the first baby reaching 4 years of age and lasts up to the last child attaining 12 years of ages. During this period there will be overlapping experiences to the parents if more than one child is born. This is the period when the child makes its first contact with outside world other than its family. The child has to be helped with its new environment, education and its health and nutrition are the primary concerns of the parents.

High School and College:

The next sub stage is the high school period and it is the time when children are between 12 to 18 years of age, i,e, the teen age period. The parents have to help their children through high school, vacations, traditional school and assist them in solving their personality, social, recreational and vocational problems and assist them in becoming independent individuals.
The college phase is the time when children are studying in college. During this stage parents are expected to help the children to achieve their goals of selecting a particular educational line which leads to the profession they want to choose as independent individuals in future. There will be a significant demand on the financial resources and there may be a need for drawing the savings for the education of the children. Parents’ assistance is also needed to the children to settle down in profession and also by marriage at the end of education. This is the period where investment is made on human capital.

III. The contracting stage:

This stage has three sub stages; the launching period, during which children leave the home, the financial recovery period and the period of retirement.

Vocational Adjustment:

The launching period starts when the first child completes its education and takes up an employment and lasts up to the last child becoming financially independent. During this period financial assistance may be needed for children for their new employment/ vacation, or for their marriage and family settlement. Parents will have the new role as grandparents in this sub stage.

Financial Recovery:

Once the children are settled independently and become self sufficient, the period of financial recovery starts for the parents. The regular expenditures may be reduced and they have to clear the accumulated debts during the earlier stages of family life cycle. The parents will have enough money and time to travel and also have enough time for each other. This stage also calls for social and vocational adjustment as a pre- retirement planning.


The period of retirement is the last stage of the family life cycle. This is the stage when the person employed will retire from his occupation and starts living at home. The financial resources will be reduced and the life style will change as there is ample leisure time. It is the time of adjustment to changes in physical, physiological and environmental conditions, changes in human relations and also sometimes changes in the health status. There may be managerial problems in availability of resources, use of time and also financial problems during this stage of family life cycle. Medical and personal cost may tend to increase during this period. There may adjustment problems with the adult children and their family members. This period inevitably ends in death and an arrangement for the spouse has to be thought of during this stage.

Life cycle of Family without children:

The life style and life cycle stages of childless families will be different from the families with children. The family life cycle is divided into 4 stages,

  1. First five years of marriage
  2. Second five years of marriage
  3. Second decade of marriage
  4. Married for more than twenty years

Compared to the families with children the childless families have more resources and the financial resources tend to be higher in all stages until the retirement from employment. They may tend to purchase assets like house, furniture and make large investments in early stages of family life cycle. The couples have to face problems of social and psychological adjustments. They may travel more compared to the families with children.

Last modified: Saturday, 24 March 2012, 9:08 AM