Older Parent - Child Relationships in Six Developed Nations: Comparisons at the Intersection of Affection and Conflict

By Silverstein, Merril; Gans, Daphna et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 2010 | Go to article overview
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Older Parent - Child Relationships in Six Developed Nations: Comparisons at the Intersection of Affection and Conflict


Silverstein, Merril, Gans, Daphna, Lowenstein, Ariela, Giarrusso, Roseann, Bengtson, Vern L., Journal of Marriage and Family


Intergenerational solidarity and ambivalence paradigms suggest that emotional relationships between generations consist of both positive and negative sentiments. We applied latent class analysis to measures of affection and conflict in 2,698 older parent - child relationships in 6 developed nations: England, Germany, Israel, Norway, Spain, and the United States (Southern California). The best fitting model consisted of 4 latent classes distributed differently across nations but with a cross-nationally invariant measurement structure. After controlling for demographics, health, coresidence, contact, and support, the following classes were overrepresented in corresponding nations: amicable (England), detached (Germany and Spain), disharmonious (United States), ambivalent (Israel). We discuss policy and cultural differences across societies that may explain why the prevalence of particular emotional types varied by nation.

Key Words: aging, ambivalence, emotions, intergenerational, international, solidarity.

Conceptual and methodological advances in the social scientific study of intergenerational family relations have moved scholars to reconsider traditional approaches to assessing the quality of relationships between older parents and their adult children. First, theoretical and empirical models increasingly incorporate the possibility that family members may simultaneously have both warm and antagonistic feelings toward one another - an emotional dissonance identified in the literature as ambivalence (Luescher & Pillemer, 1998). Second, recent studies have highlighted the utility of categorical measurement models that are able to identify forms of family relationships, one of which is characterized as ambivalent (e.g., Van Gaalen & Dykstra, 2006). Third, the availability of multinational data focusing on older adults and their kinship networks has allowed scholars to compare intergenerational family relationships with the same instrumentation across a variety of societal and cultural contexts (e.g., Katz, Lowenstein, Phillips, & Daatland, 2005; Lowenstein, Katz, & Daatland, 2005).

In this investigation, we bring together these three features of contemporary investigations to examine (a) whether measures of affection and conflict taken from the intergenerational solidarity -conflict paradigm identify meaningful and comparable types of emotional relationships between older parents and their adult children in six developed nations, (b) whether the distribution of relationship types formed by affection and conflict vary across nations, and (c) whether behavioral and structural aspects of parent -child relationships account for crossnational differences in the types of emotional relations maintained.

Intergenerational Solidarity -Conflict and Ambivalence

The intergenerational solidarity paradigm - a comprehensive scheme for describing sentiments, behaviors, attitudes, values, and structural arrangements in parent -child relationships - has guided much of the research on adult intergenerational relationships over the past four decades (e.g., Atkinson, Kivett, & Campbell, 1986; Lee, Netzer, & Coward, 1994; Markides & Krause, 1985; Rossi & Rossi, 1990; Starrels, Ingersoll-Dayton, Neal, & Yamada, 1995). Building on theoretical and empirical advances in the social psychology of small group cohesion (Heider, 1958; Homans, 1950), the initial model codified six building blocks of intergenerational solidarity: emotional closeness, social contact, geographic distance, supportive behaviors, filial obligations, and attitudinal agreement (Bengtson & Schrader, 1982). The solidarity paradigm remains the gold standard as a measurement model for assessing intergenerational relationships (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991; Roberts & Bengtson, 1990; Silverstein, Parrott, & Bengtson, 1995), particularly the aspect of the paradigm that captures emotional aspects of such relations (Roberts & Bengtson, 1996).

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