Voluntary association membership trends and the family life cycle

David Knoke, Randall Thomson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Using a role perspective, expectations are derived about changes in voluntary association membership levels across the family life cycle. The expected curvilinear relationship was found in national survey data from 1967 to 1974. The relationship remained even with race, sex, and education levels held constant in a log-linear analysis of multiway contingency tables. The curvilinear pattern differed somewhat between the two samples, but the general pattern held regardless of the type of organization. Slight increases in membership rates were found over time, suggesting a continuance of trends noted in samples from previous years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-65
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1977

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Political Research and the Roper Public Opinion Research Center and were originally collected by the National Opinion Research Center, with support of the National Science Foundation for the 1974 General Social Survey. For their suggestions, and especially their encouragement, we are grateful to James R. Wood, Marilyn Lester, James A. Davis and Bruce Stephenson. None of them bears any onus for errors committed by the authors in analyzing and interpreting the data.

Funding Information:
Data used in the present study came from two national surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, using comparable sample designs and similar questionnaire items. The March 1967 survey consists of 2,549 interviews directed by Sidney Verba and Norman H. Nie, the analyses of which were eventually published in their book Participation in America. The March 1974 survey consists of 1,484 interviews directed by James A. Davis as part of the annual General Social Survey funded by the National Science Foundation. The universes of both samples were the total noninstitutionalized population of the United States, 21 years and older in the first survey, 18 years and older in the second. More detailed descriptions of the sampling design can be found in Verba and Nie (345-48) and the NORC 1974 GSS Codebook (83-84). The two surveys are ideally suited to study trends in voluntary association membership rates since the items were measured almost identically. Most previous national studies of membership employed an open-ended item, such as "Do you happen to belong to any groups or organizations in the community here? Which ones? Any others?" (Hyman and Wright). The 1967 and 1974 surveys, however, used a specific enumeration procedure to count the number of different types of organizations to which a respondent belonged. Respondents were handed a card listing 16 different types of organizations and asked, "Could you tell me whether or not you are a member of each type ?" 1 No information was elicited in 1974 on participation, so the analyses which follow are restricted to frequency counts of the number of different types of organization memberships held by the respondents. We were forced to drop "church-affiliated groups" from the measure because the question was asked slightly differently in the two years. 2 Thus, the count is based on the responses to the remaining 15 types of organizations. Both surveys collected sufficient data on respondents' ages, marital statuses, and number of children of various ages to replicate the Lansing and Kish measure of family life cycle stage. This variable embraces the following seven catgories: (1) young single—under forty years old, un-marriéd, with no children at home; (2) young marrieds—under forty with no children; (3) young parents—under forty with pre-school children present in the home, regardless of marital status (though most respondents were married, with spouse present); (4) young parents with older children —under forty with school-aged children; (5) older parents—forty and over with children of any age; (6) older couples—forty and over with no children

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