Social Networks and Extended Families

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Individuals, couples, and immediate families exist within wider interactive worlds. These wider circles of social networks and extended families take on new forms and nuances in every era. In the new millennium, prominent shifts in these domains have been characterized by the rapid development of new communication technologies and the prevalence of increasing diversity in family structures and norms (e.g., cohabiting relationships, same-sex relationships, postdivorce families). This chapter takes up the challenge of synthesizing the latest research on interactive connections between the wider circles of social networks and immediate family dynamics. The chapter begins with definitions of social networks, extended families, and the primary partnership, the latter which is embedded in and influenced by social networks and extended families. Second, recent themes in research on social networks and extended families related to communication are highlighted. Next, it is discussed how social networks (including extended families) affect the development, maintenance, and dissolution of primary partnerships, as well as childbearing decisions, parenting, and child outcomes. How transitions in primary partnerships and immediate families affect social networks and extended families are also discussed. The chapter ends with suggestions for future directions in research.


This chapter was originally published as Sprecher, S., Russell, L. T., Su-Russell, C., & Schmeeckle, M. (2021). Social networks and extended families. In A. L. Vangelisti (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Family Communication (3rd ed., pp. 277-293). Routledge.