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Intergenerational Transmission

Social Support

Much of the mainstream literature on family relationships in later life has examined the intergenerational transmission of the tangible services or support that adult children, particularly daughters, provide to older parents as caregivers (e.g., Burton 1996; McMullin and Marshall 1995). Given this focus, it is not surprising that many studies report a negative relationship between parental dependency and quality of the parent-child relationship (Baruch and Barnett 1983; Brody 1985; Mindel and Wright 1982). In a study on the factors that predispose adult sons and daughters to provide support to older parents, Merril Silverstein and colleagues (1995) found that intergenerational affection was the factor that most motivates daughters, while sons are primarily motivated by filial obligation, legitimation of inheritance, and frequency of contact.

Research on the transmission of support in ethnic minority families has focused on varying issues depending on the ethnic group(s) under study. For example, many studies on African- and Hispanic-American intergenerational relations in later life families have examined social support according to such demographic indicators as socioeconomic status (Mindel et al. 1988; Moynihan 1965; Mutran 1986). This focus has excluded the exploration of key intergenerational issues, such as the impact of changing value systems on supportive attitudes and behaviors in adult children. A growing body of comparative research on later life support in Asian-Canadian families is promising in that it acknowledges intergenerational differences in the intergenerational transmission of, and adherence to, values such as filial obligation (Sugiman and Nishio 1983; Ujimoto 1987).

Most of the support literature on the later life family focuses on the one-way flow of support from adult children to older parents, neglecting issues around the intergenerational transmission of support that parents provide to children (Connidis et al. 1996; Ishii-Kuntz 1997; Kahn and Antonucci 1981). In an attempt to address this imbalance, Teresa Cooney and Peter Uhlenberg (1992) examined the changes in three types of parent-to-child support (emotional, financial, and service) that occur as parents and adult children age over the life course. They report a decline in transmission of support from parents to children after children reached the age of thirty, but that the pattern of decline varied according to the type of support. In addition, they stated that while parents, "may not assume active, regular supportive roles in their children's lives, they are widely viewed by their children as valued and dependable sources of support should a need for help arise" (Cooney and Uhlenberg 1992, p. 82). This view holds true for adult children across the life course, and reflects a difference between actual versus potential or latent intergenerational transmission of support.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelatives & Extended FamilyIntergenerational Transmission - Cultural Transmission: Values, Norms, And Beliefs, Social Support, Intergenerational Solidarity, Limitations