The complex, multilevel structure of the family: Individuals, Dyads and Whole Families

This area of our work relates to the examination of within family dynamics and the ways in which these dynamics affect children’s development. Siblings have been found to develop very differently from one another. They share some of the same risks (e.g. being exposed to parental divorce) and some different ones (having a more negative relationship with their parent than their other siblings). Given that some family experiences are shared, while others are non-shared, within family designs provide a particularly powerful design for investigating the ways that risky environments operate on children. Why does one child in a family show an adverse reaction to a family event that does not affect other children in the family?

One of the challenges of studying family relationships is that it is important to accurately partition individual, dyadic and family effects and to investigate processes within the family that result in children being more and less similar to one another. We have been working closely with social statisticians in the UK, Fiona Steele, George Leckie, and the late Jon Rasbash, who have developed techniques for the analysis of nested and cross-classified data structures. We differentiate between influences that occur at the individual, dyadic and family levels. We have ongoing projects related to an observational study of family interaction that uses a Social Relations Model (Kenny, Kashy and Cook, 2006) and a study of sibling relationships involving multiple dyads in the family (see below).

Another area of research we engage in is cooperation in relationships. The ability to cooperate is at the centre of good relationships, allowing us to do joint planning, repair misunderstandings, solicit and give assistance, etc.

The examination of reciprocal effects is another core component of our work. Individuals bring their own characteristics into family life, affecting the ways in which the family functions. Although reciprocal effects between parents and children have been examined in single child per family designs, such designs do not allow us examine the more complex effects of siblings on one another.

Relevant publications

Jenkins, J. M., Simpson, A., Dunn, J., Rasbash, J. & O’Connor T. G. (2005) The mutual influence of marital conflict and children’s behavior problems: shared and non-shared family risks. Child Development, 76, 24-39.

Jenkins, J., Dunn, J., O’Connor, T.G., Rasbash, J.  and Behnke, P. (2005) Change in maternal perception of sibling negativity: within and between family influences. Journal of Family Psychology, Special Issue on Sibling Relationships. 19, 533-541.

Jenkins, J. M., Rasbash, J., & O’Connor, T.(2003) The role of the shared context in differential parenting. Developmental Psychology, 39, 99-113.

Boyle, M.H., Jenkins, J.M., Hadjiyannakis K., Cairney J., Duku E., Racine Y. 2004 Family differential parenting: estimating within and between family effects on children. Child Development, 75, 1457-1476.

Georgiades, K., Boyle, M., Jenkins, J.M., Sanford, M., Lipman, E. (2008) A multilevel analysis of whole family functioning using the McMaster Family Assessment Device. Journal of Family Psychology. 22, 344-354.

Jenkins, Cheung, Frampton, Rasbash, Boyle, Georgiades The use of multilevel modeling for the investigation of family process. Special Issue: European Journal of Developmental Psychology. In press.

Jenkins, J.M. & Bisceglia, R. (2011) Understanding within-family variability in children’s responses to environmental stress In Keating, D. (Ed.) Nature and Nurture in Early Child Development. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

Rasbash, J., Jenkins, J., O’Connor, T.G., Reiss, D. A, Tackett, J. (2011) Social Relations Model of Family Negativity and Positivity Using a Genetically-informative Sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 474–491.

Steele, Rasbash & Jenkins (2013) A Multilevel Simultaneous Equations Model for Within-Cluster Dynamic Effects, With an Application to Reciprocal Parent–Child and Sibling Effects.Psychological Methods, 18, 87-100.

In Progress

Jenkins, Rasbash, Gass, Dunn (2009) The multilevel dynamics of sibling relationships. Summer Program in Data Analysis, University of York.