Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Intergenerational Assistance and Parental Marital Status in the US and Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Intergenerational Assistance and Parental Marital Status in the US and Australia

Article excerpt


A great deal of research has been carried out in me United States concerning intergenerational assistance. In contrast, little research has been conducted on this topic in other countries, such as Australia. It is valuable to compare these countries to determine if findings from USA studies can be generalized to countries with different historical, social and policy contexts. One notable difference between the USA and Australia is the more generous state and federal government support of families and individuals in Australia, support that is somewhat less generous in the USA. This could lead to greater dependence on extended family in the USA and greater dependence on governmental support in Australia.

In general, the Australian government appears to be more committed than the USA government to providing services for its citizens. These range from broad services such as universal health care and higher education payment schemes, to programs for older people such as age pensions and respite care, to family services such as family payments, parenting allowances, child care assistance, and sole parent pensions. Over 80% of all Australian families with dependent children receive direct financial assistance (Commonwealth of Australia, 1995), and 99% of poor families in Australia receive some form of income transfer from the government, while in the USA only 73% of poor families receive this kind of help (Hernandez, 1994).

The USA provides some of the same types of programs as in Australia, but most of them are only for low income families, while the Australian programs are less likely to be need-based. The programs in the USA do not appear to be as extensive as those in Australia. Specifically regarding government support for children, Funder (1993) notes that while the Australian programs are not as generous as those in the Scandinavian countries and France, they are "clearly more adequate" than AFDC in the USA. (p. 7).

The difference in levels of government support in each country raises the question, what effect does this have on the levels of assistance that people receive from informal support systems, such as family? Popenoe (1988) reports that in Sweden, a country with some of the strongest government programs to support individuals and families, individuals are generally not dependent upon other family members for care. Will the greater amount of government programs in Australia also lead to less reliance on families than in the USA? I will address this question indirectly through this research.

A topic that has received some attention is the role of parental marital status in the amount of assistance exchanged between parents and offspring. Researchers have long been concerned with the immediate effects of divorce on young children (see the meta-analysis by Amato & Keith, 1991, or the update by Amato, 2001), but have only more recently realized that some of the effects of divorce appear to last into adulthood. Examining the long-term effects of divorce is meaningful because, as noted by White (1992), "the negative impact of being a 'child of divorce' does not end at age 19 (p. 248)." Divorced parents, especially mothers, may have fewer resources to share with their offspring. Alternatively, the divorce may weaken ties of affection between the parents and offspring. Parental death would also seem to be an important factor. If one parent dies, the remaining parent is likely to have fewer resources, which in turn may affect the amount and direction of help exchanged with adult offspring.

The influence of parental family structure, and more specifically, divorce, is particularly relevant in societies such as the USA with high divorce rates. The previous decades of widespread divorce indicate that a large number of today's young adults experienced parental divorce as children and may still be experiencing the effects of that divorce. The rate of marriages ending in divorce within 30 years in the USA is estimated to be 54. …

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