Intergenerational Relations

Intergenerational relations refer to the dynamics of relationships among members of different generations and the nature of the interactions and the ties that exist among them.

Intergenerational relations are often studied by sociologists according to a range of categories. These include aspects of conflict, equity, mobility and dependency. Studies are performed according to macro- and micro- sociological perspectives and approaches. Studies may include familial, nonfamilial and cross- and transnational intergenerational relationships.

Conflict between teenagers and adults has long been a source of discussion. "Not being understood" is a cry often heard. The generation gap is a term that has been used to describe the different worlds and perspectives inhabited by different generations of people. Conflict also ensues between two generations, irrespective of age. Adults will also remain the children to their parents, and the generational differences continue to be perpetuated. The shifting interests of younger and older generations may manifest in situations of conflict in a changing economic, social or cultural world. Sometimes, the goals of one generation might also not be compatible with the goals of the other, leading to a potentially conflicting set of circumstances.

Heightened awareness has been given to notions of equity intergenerationally. Thus, what is considered to be fair and just in relationships among children, adults and seniors may be highlighted according to behavior and interactions.

The passage of time creates a reality of status changes within the generations. This has particular reference to family situations and requires navigating through the new roles that come about as a result. Lineage generations refer to categories of rank according to descent within the family. This comprises children, parents, grandparents and grandchildren. These roles imply particular behaviors in the family arrangement. Negotiations may be ongoing as status changes occur during time, especially as they pertain to roles of nurturing. This may be affected by norms within the family as well as societal or cultural norms.

An intergenerational contract refers to the setting up of a system that ensures an older generation will be cared for by the younger and that this system will be honored in an ongoing fashion.

An emphasis on intergenerational relationships and the encouragement of relating through opportunities of mixed-age group settings is encompassed by the concept of an intergenerational ministry. This term pertains to a model of Christian ministry.

In many cultures, there is an ingrained sense of honor and respect given to aging generations, and notions of dependency are imbued within the sociocultural structures.

Various factors can affect the nature of intergenerational relations. This has a bearing on lifestyles of the 21st century where, demographically, a number of changes haves taken place. Living arrangements have altered significantly in many instances, with families often living further apart.

Nancy Datan, Anita L. Greene and Hayne W. Reese in Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Intergenerational Relations (1986) suggest the necessity of studying intergenerational relations in the family according to broader theoretical perspectives in psychology and sociology. Their studies involve understanding both that which is similar and that which is different within the generations. Furthermore, the study of intergenerational relations and the research engendered have the capacity to assist the formulation of appropriate policies and plans related to practical aspects of these relationships.

Merril Silverstein offers five principles in the intergenerational perspective in her article "Intergenerational Relations across Time and Place" in the Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics. The life course perspective is represented by an unfolding as it occurs through time across a spectrum of social environments. The principles Silverstein provides include the notion of aging as a process involving family relationships and events, whereby that which transpires earlier affects relationships and outcomes later. The interdependency of family members and the influence of options and choices; the cultural, economic and political contexts; and the significance of time biographically, familially and historically are all relevant factors in the micro- and macro-cosmic picture of intergenerational relations. The proactive choices made by individuals and the adaptation to these by family are further included in principles affecting intergenerationality.

The Journal of Intergenerational Relationships (JIR) focuses on providing scholarly reports and studies on intergenerational relationships. Generations are generally considered to span a 20-year range for study purposes. Articles include discussions on the interactions among generations. These intergenerational relationships are ones that occur within families and in nonfamilial situations and may include interactions that have positive as well as challenging or negative components.

Intergenerational relations are dynamic and may change during periods of time and according to family, social, cultural and geographic movements. Greater awareness and interest in the subject theoretically and practically have had an impact on the nature of intergenerational relationships and the perspectives and policies surrounding the topic.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Intergenerational Relations
Nancy Datan; Anita L. Greene; Hayne W. Reese.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986
Intergenerational Communication across the Life Span
Angie Williams; Jon F. Nussbaum.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Justice between Generations: The Growing Power of the Elderly in America
Matthew C. Price.
Praeger Publishers, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on Intergenerational Relations in "A Social Contract between Generations"
Age and Generation in Modern Britain
Jane Pilcher.
Oxford University, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on Intergenerational Relations in "Give and Take? Age Relationships and the Transfer of Support"
How Important Are Intergenerational Programs in Today's Schools?
Hopkins, George R.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 82, No. 4, December 2000
Older Adult Education: A Guide to Research, Programs, and Policies
Ronald J. Manheimer; Denise D. Snodgrass; Diane Moskow-McKenzie.
Greenwood Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on Intergenerational Relations in "Generations Learning Together"
Personality and Family Development: An Intergenerational Longitudinal Comparison
Klaus A. Schneewind; Stefan Ruppert; Jonathan Harrow.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Personality Development across the Generations"
Ties That Bind: The Interdependence of Generations
Eric R. Kingson; Barbara A. Hirshorn; John M. Cornman.
Seven Locks Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Intergenerational Inequity: Why It Won't Work as a Framework for Policy"
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