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Intergenerational Relations - Family Structure

development divorce families generations rates

Family structures changed considerably in the twentieth century. There were changes in patterns of living arrangements, divorce and remarriage, decreases in fertility, and increases in women's labor force participation. Each of these has the potential to affect intergenerational relations.

Many individuals have delayed both marriage and childbearing in order to spend more time pursuing educational goals. Starting a family later, coupled with decreased fertility, means that families are smaller today than at any point in the past, and the typical pattern is fewer children spaced more closely together in age than in previous generations. This results in what Vern Bengtson, Carolyn Rosenthal, and Linda Burton (1990) refer to as the beanpole family, in which each generation is smaller, with more years between each generation, but more generations are alive at any one time. The rise in rates of teenage pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births has, to some extent, mitigated this trend, which Bengtson and his colleagues (1990) refer to as age-compressed families. It is unclear how the nature of intergenerational ties may be affected by these changing family structures, and whether fewer and more enduring ties might lead to increased closeness between generations or serve instead to accentuate any conflict between generations (Bengtson, Rosenthal, and Burton 1996).

The changing structure of intergenerational relationships in the United States is further complicated by increases in rates of divorce and remarriage. Divorce rates roughly doubled between 1970 and 1990 (Cherlin 1992; Martin and Bumpass 1989) and have remained consistently high; more than half of all first marriages end in divorce. Most individuals who divorce eventually remarry, and divorce rates among subsequent marriages are even higher than for first marriages. Marital dissolution and reconstitution affect intergenerational ties in ways that are only now beginning to be fully appreciated. For example, due to the cumulative effects of families being formed, dissolved, and reconstituted an older adult may find himself or herself embedded in a complex web of ties with biological children, stepchildren, and children-inlaw. Given that a majority of baby boomers can expect to find themselves in one of these complex family forms, it is important to learn more about how these marital transitions affect the availability of support for future generations of older adults.

One final trend in families is the increase in women's labor force participation. Women now work outside of the home in the vast majority of households. This labor force participation has implications for the individual's or couple's timing of retirement, wealth upon retirement, parent-child relationships, and the availability of family caregivers for frail older adults (e.g., Zarit and Eggebeen 1995).

Heng-Wei Chen and Merril Silverstein (2000) remark that modifications in family and household structures resulting from economic development in contemporary China have broken down the extended family living households. With smaller households and an increase in nuclear families, a new type of living arrangement has evolved—the network family—in which married adult children, rather than coresiding, tend to live near their older parents so as to provide assistance to the older adults. Cross-national work on the relationship between family and state systems of care reveals families are likely to continue to provide high levels of assistance to older adults through adaptations of family functioning (Davey and Patsios 1999; Davey et al. 1999).

Intergenerational Relations - Living Arrangements [next]

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over 5 years ago

good information About Family Structure HEALTH

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over 11 years ago

What is a good definition of a multi-generational family? More specifically, does the source of finances and the pattern of spending influence the categorisation of a family as multi-generational? Or is it based on structure and interaction?