Headshot of Susan McHale with mid-length, grey hair wearing patterned top.

Susan Marie McHale, Ph.D.

Professor, Demography


Research in my lab focuses on family systems dynamics including youth’s and parents’ family roles, relationships, and daily activities and how these are linked to family members’ psychological and physical health and development. One line of research targets sibling relationships and their role in the larger family system: siblings influence one another directly, by virtue of their relationship experiences, but also indirectly through their influence on processes including social comparisons among family members, parents’ differential treatment, resource dilution, formation of family coalitions, and the like. A second focus is on family gender dynamics and the ways in which family roles and experiences are linked to differences in girls’ and boys’ psychological and physical health as well as choices in young adulthood in the areas of education, work, and family formation. A third area of emphasis is the socio-cultural contexts of family dynamics, including how cultural values and practices have implications for family life and youth well-being. Relying on ethnic homogeneous designs, research from our lab investigates cultural values and practices that explain within-group variability among Mexican-origin and among African American families. More generally, grounded in an ecological developmental perspective, our research highlights the everyday experiences of youth and their families using daily diary methods to capture family members’ time use and its correlates along with more typical, interview and survey methods. Our lab’s research also relies on longitudinal designs to investigate the implications of family experiences for youth development and well-being over time, and includes experimental interventions to test the effects of targeted family processes on youth and parent health and adjustment outcomes. Together, the longitudinal family studies from our lab have produced a rich data base of information on the experiences of mothers, fathers, and siblings as these change over time, in families from a range of backgrounds and circumstances. Graduate students have been extensively involved in all of our work, and our projects will continue to provide a variety of opportunities for students interested in family systems dynamics and human development.

Research Interests

Family System Dynamics; Psychological and Physiological Health and Development; Sibling Relationships; Family Gender Dynamics


  • Ph.D., Developmental Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1979
  • M.A., Developmental Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1979
  • B.A., Psychology, Bucknell University, 1975