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The development of family hierarchies and their relation to children's conduct problems

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 September 2004

Despite the intuitive richness of family systems theory, relatively little research has sought to test the validity of constructs theorized to be critical in the development of children's adjustment. One such cornerstone of structural and strategic family therapy is the family hierarchy. The present study investigated both the development of hierarchical structure in families from infancy to late middle childhood and relations between strong hierarchical structure and children's conduct problems. Using structural equation modeling, direct pathways to low hierarchical structure were evident for early caregiving behavior and parent–child conflict, with indirect associations present for parental adjustment, marital functioning, negative child behavior, and ecological disadvantage. In turn, family hierarchies were associated with youth antisocial behavior, an effect that was moderated by ethnic and neighborhood context. The results are discussed in reference to family systems' theory and implications for prevention and intervention.The research reported in this article was supported by grants to the first author from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH 50907 and MH 01666). We are grateful to the staff of the Pitt Mother & Child Project for their years of service and to our study families for making the research possible. We also thank Miles Gilliom and Robert Laird for their assistance on this article.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Daniel S. Shaw, Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, 210 South Bouquet Street, 4101 Sennott Square, Pittsburgh, PA 15260-0001; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
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