Intergenerational Transmission and the Formation of Cultural Orientations in Adolescence and Young Adulthood

By Vollebergh, W. A. M.; Iedema, J. et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Intergenerational Transmission and the Formation of Cultural Orientations in Adolescence and Young Adulthood


Vollebergh, W. A. M., Iedema, J., Raaijmakers, Q. A. W., Journal of Marriage and Family


In this article we wanted to shed light on the intergenerational transmission and the formation of cultural orientations in adolescence. The intergenerational transmission was analyzed in different age groups in a longitudinal design (orientations of parents and their adolescent children were measured twice, with a time lapse of 3 years). Results clearly revealed that late adolescence is the "formative phase" for the establishment of cultural orientations and suggested that psychological processes such as internalization are guiding this formation. This internalization was found for all investigated orientations. In addition, as adolescents grew older, their susceptibility to parental orientations diminished, but, in contrast, parents did not become more susceptible to their children's orientations. No age effects in

sociocultural influences were found. It was concluded that the investigated sociocultural influences should be seen as providing a structural context within which the formation of orientations in adolescence takes place.

Despite popular beliefs that in adolescence children will turn away from their parents in search of alternative guidance for value orientation, most empirical research reveals a striking concordance between worldviews of parents and those of their (adult) children (Acock & Bengtson, 1980; Dalhouse & Frideres, 1996; Jennings & Niemi, 1981; Miller & Glass, 1989; Raaijmakers, 1993). This correspondence between parental attitudes and the attitudes of their children is not confined to the period when children are young and are living with their parents but ranges over large parts of the life course (Miller & Glass, 1989).

On the basis of these results, one could easily conclude that parents simply pass their views on to their children while guiding their offspring into adulthood. However, it is widely acknowledged that processes of intergenerational transmission are more complex phenomena and that correspondence between parents and children may be the result of other processes as well. Comparable orientations in both parents and their children may result from sharing the same environment or sharing comparable social status. Explanations for the intergenerational transmission of attitudes are therefore found on at least two levels of analysis: on the level of the intergenerational transmission of social status and social positions from parents to their children (Glass, Bengtson, & Dunham, 1986) and on the level of direct transmission of cultural orientations of parents to those of their children through communication within the family (Acock & Bengtson, 1980; Beck & Jennings, 1975; Moen, Erickson, & Dempster-McClain, 1997; Petit, Clawson, Dodge, & Bates, 1996). Past empirical studies have suggested that both explanations are valid and complementary (Glass et al., 1986; Moen et al., 1997; Vollebergh, Iedema, & Raaijmakers, 1999).

In addition, high correspondence between parents' and children's orientations need not reflect only the impact of parental orientations on those of their children. Children may also influence their parents. This potential reciprocity of influence in intergenerational transmission processes has rarely been investigated (Glass et al., 1986; Moen et al., 1997). This may be an especially important omission in studying adolescents. It is widely acknowledged that in the course of late adolescence and young adulthood, parent-child relations transform into more egalitarian relations. As a result, adolescents and young adults are likely to constitute a growing source of influence on their parents.

In this article, we wanted to examine these explanations for the intergenerational transmission of orientations within the family, taking into account the reciprocal influence of parents and children. In doing so, we wanted to explore two issues further. We wanted to examine changes over the early life course (age 12 to 24 years) in the stability of cultural orientations and in the impact of parental attitudes and social context variables.

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