Family Ties and Depressive Mood in Eastern and Western Europe

Article excerpt

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Family ties in Europe are affected by demographic trends associated with parenting and partnering, such as a decline in fertility, an increase in childlessness, postponement of parenthood and of partnership formation, the rise of "new" relationship forms and divorce rates. It is unclear how the contemporary family structure and composition are associated with people's mental wellbeing.

OBJECTIVE

This article examines how ties with parents, siblings, a partner and children are associated with depressive mood of men and women in seven Eastern and Western European countries.

METHODS

To test our hypotheses we made use of data from the Generations and Gender Surveys. We performed logistic regression analyses to study the associations between people's family ties and depressive mood.

RESULTS

Our research findings show that family ties can diminish people's depressive feelings. Although we find some gender differences in these associations, we do not find support for the argument that family ties are more important for the mental wellbeing of women than of men. Moreover, our findings support the hierarchical model of family relations in which new ties with partner and children in adulthood gain precedence over the original primary ties with parents and siblings. Finally, we find that the association between family ties and depressive mood is quite similar in Eastern and Western Europe, but being married or having a partner more strongly reduces depressive feelings in Eastern than in Western Europe.

CONCLUSIONS

Although longitudinal data were not available to us, our research results do provide some indications about how demographic changes, for instance, those affecting family size - the number of children or siblings - might be associated with mental wellbeing. Our findings also suggest that the demographic trend of increasing partnership dissolution may have larger consequences for people's mental wellbeing in Eastern than in Western Europe.

1. Introduction

Family ties in Europe are affected by demographic trends associated with parenting and partnering, such as a decline in fertility (Sobotka 2004), an increase in childlessness (Rowland 2007), postponement of parenthood and of partnership formation, the rise of "new" relationship forms and divorce rates (Billari 2005). In this article, we examine to what extent contemporary family structure and composition are associated with mental wellbeing. Assuming that intimate family ties can provide people with affection and social support, we study how the presence or break-up of ties with parents, siblings, a partner and children diminish or excite depressive mood.

We start our article by presenting an overview of the associations between family ties and depressive mood. Instead of studying the influence of different family ties such as parenthood or having or not having a partner separately as is usual in the existing literature, we consider them together. Doing so is important because of the interconnections in the availability of different types of family ties. For example, people who are married are more likely to have children than people who are not married, and people who experienced a parental divorce are more likely to be divorced themselves (Amato 1996). In our overview we include both family ties that have already been studied extensively, such as ties with children, and family ties that have been less often investigated, such as ties with siblings.

Secondly, we investigate potential gender differences in the relationship between family ties and depressive mood. While it is generally known that women are more likely to develop depressive feelings than men (Almeida and Kessler 1998; Nolen-Hoeksema 2001; Klose and Jacobi 2004), we do not know of any studies that focus on gender differences in the ways family ties affect people's depressive moods. Is it the case that family ties are more important for the wellbeing of women, given their traditional role as "kin keepers" (Rosenthal 1985)? …