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FCS Areas of Research 


Human Development

Human Development faculty in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies conduct innovative and interdisciplinary research in diverse social settings and community contexts. Child, adolescent, and adult development are explored using quantitative, qualitative, and community-based research methods. By shedding light on critical contemporary challenges affecting optimal development, faculty provide research-based solutions that improve the health and quality of life of individuals, families, and communities.

Faculty members training, research, and scholarship encompass a broad range of theoretical and applied topics. For example, recent projects include: infant emotional and cognitive development (Marissa Diener, Lukas Lopez); autism spectrum disorder and neurodiversity (Marissa Diener, Cheryl Wright); racial and socioeconomic disparities in health (David Curtis, Lukas Lopez); community environments and health outcomes (David Curtis); parent-child relationships (Marissa Diener, Lukas Lopez); school contexts and adolescent engagement (Kevin Rathunde); identity development in mid- and later life (Kevin Rathunde); and parent education using technology-based and arts-based methods (Kevin Rathunde, Cheryl Wright). 

  • Human development is studied in context. Faculty members use a variety of research approaches and paradigms and hold a shared view that individuals are embedded in social contexts and cannot be fully understood outside of them.
  • Faculty value community-based, collaborative research that promotes inclusivity, honors diverse points of view, and can impact social change.
  • HD faculty are invested in high quality teaching and mentorship of the next generation of scholars who share our commitment to better understand and strengthen human development.

Family Economics

Researchers in family economics recognizes that households operate as economic entities with unique preferences, goals, and constraints. Faculty explores how individuals and families navigate complex economic choices, analyze their behaviors, and investigate the impact of various influences, including societal trends, policy changes, and cultural factors, on the well-being of families. Faculty and graduate students conduct research that:

  • Examines the division of labor among family members
  • Explores how families manage their financial resources and allocate them among different needs and priorities, including savings, investments, and consumption, etc.
  • Studies intergenerational relationships and transfers of resources between different generations within a family
  • Focuses on the demographic aspects of families, including family size, structure, and changes over time and consider how demographic factors influence economic decisions and well-being within households
  • Examines the economics factors influencing marriage decisions, household formation, and economic consequences of different family structures.
  • Focuses on the economic aspects of health-related decisions within families, including healthcare utilization, long-term care, insurance choices, and the economic impact of health events on households

Each branch contributes to a holistic understanding of the economic dynamics within families, recognizing the interconnectedness of economic decisions, social structures, and individual well-being. FCS faculty are engaged in various research activities in the area of family economics.

Family Relationships

Research on family relationships in FCS employs diverse theoretical and methodological approaches to address family dynamics, the development and change in relationships over the lifecourse, and the influence of family relationships on development, health, and well-being. More specifically, our research examines the role of families in shaping health disparities and social inequalities within the United States, the impact of parent communication on children’s development of language and values, intimate partner murder-suicides across age groups, elder mistreatment, the intersection of domestic labor and partner relationship quality, and the bidirectional relationships between parenting and child well-being. We are also interested in policies that impact families, parent education and how to best support families.

Our research on family relationships examines the quality of family relationships, the impact of policies and programs on them, and the sequelae of family relationships.

Social and Health Inequalities

Scholarship in Human Development and Social Policy recognizes that resources and opportunities essential to human thriving are unequally distributed across social groups as are risk factors that undermine successful development and well-being. Social and health inequalities comprise a core component of the research programs of nearly all faculty our HDSP program. Faculty and graduate students take an interdisciplinary approach, using perspectives from multiple academic areas, to conduct research that:

  • Documents inequalities across multiple, intersecting dimensions
  • Assesses the causes of inequalities
  • Examines the outcomes of inequalities, with a particular focus on health disparities
  • Evaluates policy interventions that reduce inequalities

FCS faculty are engaged in a wide range of research activities in the area of social and health inequalities.

Social Policy

Social policy refers to government action designed to address societal issues and promote the well-being of individuals and communities. The study of social policy is interdisciplinary and encompasses a wide range of areas, such as healthcare, education, welfare, housing, and employment. Social policy is often aimed at reducing social inequalities and protecting marginalized populations while the efficient use of resources is another central but at times competing value. FCS faculty study a variety of social policies, such as:

Financial well-being and the role of economic policy

  • Lori Kowaleski-Jones helped develop a tax credit program to identify individuals who have unclaimed Earned Income Tax Credits and link them to a tax assistance program.
  • Jessie Fan is researching how our definitions of the middle class focus narrowly on income whereas definitions based on consumption patterns show that the American middle class is larger than when using the income-based definition.
  • Zhou Yu researches macroeconomic influences on homeownership attainment and housing issues for migrants.
  • David Curtis and Su Shin are evaluating a reemployment program, administered by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, that aims to shorten the time individuals receive unemployment compensation by improving employment outcomes.

Family policy

  • Dan Carlson is studying how workplace flexibility policies can reduce the gendered division of household labor for parents.
  • Nicholas Wolfinger has researched policy and institutional influences on divorce and family structure.
  • Sonia Salari studies governmental and institutional policies that can reduce family violence and elderly abuse.

Social policy influences on health behaviors

  • Jessie Fan and Lori Kowaleski-Jones have researched how supplemental nutrition programs (e.g., WIC, SNAP) influence dietary quality.
  • David Curtis and Barb Brown have studied policy influences on use of parks and public transit.
  • Su Shin studies how the effects of natural disasters on health and economic outcomes is mitigated by federal and local government actions.
Last Updated: 1/25/24