Interpersonal Relationship Quality in Young Adulthood: A Gender Analysis

Article excerpt


This study explored gender differences in the degree to which parent-child dyads and family system variables are associated with relationship quality in late adolescence and early adulthood. It was hypothesized that the quality of mother-child and father-child relationships, as well as family adaptability and family cohesion, would be positively correlated with the quality of intimate relationships in late adolescence and young adulthood. Further, it was hypothesized that correlations would vary according to gender. The sample was composed of 50 males and 48 females between the ages of 18 and 24. The results indicated that the relationship of family factors to the intimate relationships of young adults was similar for males and females. Specifically, a positive relationship with mother and greater adaptability in the family system during adolescence were related to more positive intimate relationships in young adulthood.

Individuals typically focus on the development of intimate relationships during late adolescence and early adulthood (Aylmer, 1989; Erikson, 1963, 1968). Successful resolution of the issue of intimacy (specifically, the crisis of intimacy versus isolation) enables the young adult to maintain committed, enduring intimate relationships (Erikson, 1968; Orlofsky, 1993).

Although definitions of intimacy vary, three themes have been identified: interdependence, self-disclosure, and affection (Penman & Fehr, 1987). Many of the patterns that young adults bring into their relationships with significant others are developed in the relationships they have within the family of origin (Aylmer, 1989). Although some of the familial qualities that are thought to have implications for young adult intimate relationships may be similar for males and females, research also suggests gender differences.

According to Chodorow (1989), strong identification between mothers and daughters facilitates an orientation of connectedness for females, yet the need for boys to differentiate from the maternal attachment figure encourages an orientation of separateness for males. This has implications for their relationships with the opposite sex later on. Additional research has explored the similarities (e.g., Sandor & Rosenthal, 1986) and differences (e.g., Mellor, 1989) of men and women in intimate relationships.

The family is clearly an important developmental context. The relationship between parent and child has been correlated with general well-being of the child (Barnett, Kibria, Baruch, & Pleck, 1991; Wenck, Hardesty, Morgan, & Blair, 1994), self-esteem (Barber & Thomas, 1986; Buri, Kirchner, & Walsh, 1987), conflict resolution (Kalter, 1987), and relationship satisfaction (Booth, Brinkerhoff, & White, 1984). In particular, the father-child relationship has been found to be instrumental in the development of self-esteem (LeCroy, 1988), gender identity, individuation (Kalter, 1987), and heterosexual trust (Southworth & Schwartz, 1987). Some studies suggest that fathers are less involved with their children than are mothers (LeCroy, 1988; Youniss & Ketterlinus, 1987) and are more physically affectionate with daughters than with sons (Barber & Thomas, 1986). Although LeCroy (1988) found no gender differences in the levels of parent-child emotional involvement, Barber and Thomas (1986) found more companionate relati onships in the father-son and mother-daughter dyads than in cross-gender dyads. Further, in a study by Wenck, Hardesty, Morgan, and Blair (1994), emotional involvement of both parents was related to the well-being of sons and daughters, behavioral involvement of both parents was related to the well-being of sons, and behavioral involvement of fathers was more strongly related to daughters' wellbeing than was behavioral involvement of mothers.

Attention also has been directed toward the role of family climate in late adolescent and young adult intimacy. …