Intergenerational Solidarity and Ambivalence: Types of Relationships in German Families

Article excerpt


The demographic aging of western societies--with characteristics such as increasing life expectancy and decreasing birth rate--has lead to an increasing significance of vertical relationships in the family system (Bengtson, 2001). Intergenerational relationships in families endure longer than in any other historical period. But the extended life time shared by parents and children is not only an opportunity but also a risk for the arrangement of their relationship. Characteristics of industrial societies such as high mobility, high rates of employed women (including mothers), and increasing divorce rates, which lead to an increasing heterogeneity of family forms, challenge the cohesion of the family. The empirical results based on the model of intergenerational solidarity (Bengtson, 2001; Bengtson and Roberts, 1991; Bengtson and Harootyan, 1994) show that regardless of all these transitions in the structure and functions of families in the last decades, multigenerational bonds are still important: family ties are still strong and the exchange of support among family members is significant. In recent years, the theoretical model of intergenerational solidarity has been challenged by other theoretical approaches to arrangements of intergenerational relations mainly because its perspective was regarded as being too normative. In particular, the model of intergenerational ambivalence (Luscher and Pillemer, 1998; see also Pillemer and Luscher, 2004), proposes an alternative to the solidarity model. Meanwhile, a good many publications elaborate the theoretical concept and the empirical measurements of ambivalence in intergenerational relationships (e.g., Connidis and McMullin, 2002a, 2002b; Curran, 2002; Fingerman, Hay and Birditt, 2004; Wilson, Shuey and Elder, 2003; Van Gaalen and Dykstra, 2006). The crucial question is how positive and negative aspects of family relations can be captured simultaneously. The central aim of this paper is to combine the new theoretical assumptions of intergenerational ambivalence with the concept of intergenerational solidarity on the basis of the German data from the cross-cultural 'Value of Children and Intergenerational Relations'-Study (in short: VOC). Thus, a short overview of both theoretical concepts is given in the first part of the paper. Then a method section follows in which sample, data, and instruments are introduced and first descriptive results are presented. In the third part the results of multivariate models regarding the relation of indicators of ambivalence and solidarity are presented. The paper ends with a short summary of the main results.


Both the theory of intergenerational solidarity and the theory of intergenerational ambivalence focus on relationships between adult children and their (older) parents. However, they capture arrangements of intergenerational relations from different perspectives. While the solidarity concept pays attention to a precise mapping of the dimensions of intergenerational relations, the ambivalence concept concentrates on the question under which conditions parents and children feel torn and how they deal with such feelings.

Theory of Intergenerational Solidarity

The theory of intergenerational solidarity was developed by Bengtson and colleagues (Bengtson, Olander and Haddad, 1976; for an overview see Bengtson, 2001). Intergenerational family solidarity is a multifaceted, multidimensional construct reflected in six distinct dimensions of parent-child interaction (Bengtson and Roberts, 1991: 856f.): Structural solidarity is the opportunity structure for intergenerational relationships reflected in number, type, and geographic proximity of family members. Associational solidarity means the frequency and patterns of interaction in various types of activities in which family members engage. Affectual solidarity is the type and degree of (positive) sentiments held towards family members, and the degree of reciprocity of these sentiments. …


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