From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Family Life, Social Capital and Health

Associations between both family structure and processes (conflict and time spent in family activities) and a range of outcomes including health, lifestyle and indicators of future life chances, were examined, using data obtained from the Twenty-07 study at ages 15 and 18. 

Despite a strong association between family structure and material deprivation, there were few differences in the health of young people according to whether they lived with both birth parents, one parent or in a reconstituted family.  In contrast, conflict with parent(s) was associated with psychological distress, while those spending the most time in family activities were less likely to engage in health-damaging behaviours and more likely to enter tertiary education. 

A qualitative PhD study investigated the ways in which experiences within the family help young people deal with the transition to adulthood and its potential risks to health, well-being and status.  As part of this, the accounts of parents and their children were examined to develop an understanding of the role of families in the production and garnering of social capital.  The data suggested that non-traditional family forms may compensate for potential deficits in social capital development through the use of family processes and network associations.  Material circumstances may be a greater constraint on access to social capital than family form, while young people may encourage the development of community level social capital.



Sweeting H, Seaman P. Family within and beyond the household boundary: children's constructions of who they live with. In: McKie L, Cunningham-Burley S, editors Families in society: boundaries and relationships. Bristol: Policy Press, 2005:95-110.


Seaman P, Sweeting H. Assisting young people's access to social capital in contemporary families: a qualitative study. Journal of Youth Studies 2004;7:173-90


Seaman P. Connecting experiences: people's family life as a unifying entity [PhD], MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit 2003.


Ely M, West P, Sweeting H, Richards M. Teenage family life, life chances, lifestyles, and health: a comparison of two contemporary cohorts. International Journal of Law, Policy & the Family 2000;14:1-30


Sweeting H, West P, Richards M. Teenage family life, lifestyles, and life chances: associations with family structure, conflict with parents and joint family activity. International Journal of Law, Policy & the Family 1998;12:15-46


Sweeting H, West P. Family life and health in adolescence: a role for culture in the health inequalities debate?. Social Science & Medicine 1995;40:163-175


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  • Reconstituted family Another name for step family
  • Social capital There are many definitions for this term. A major commentator in this field, Robert Putnam, describes social capital as features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.
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