Academic journal article Demographic Research

Geographical Distances between Adult Children and Their Parents in the Netherlands

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Geographical Distances between Adult Children and Their Parents in the Netherlands

Article excerpt


We investigate the determinants of geographical distances to parents. We focus on the role of family members who live outside the household (the parents themselves, and siblings), and on the distinction between the effects of life events and effects related to the timing with which these events have been experienced in the life course. We use data from the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study and linear regression models on the logarithm of distance. We find that life-course characteristics are much more important to the distance to parents than parental characteristics. Sibling characteristics, most notably the presence of a sister, also have an impact on this distance.

1. Introduction

Despite the proliferation of internet and communication technology, geographical distance between family members is still of major importance in the intensity and shape of contacts among them. Even today, distance turns out to be one of the most powerful variables explaining the provision of care and support in family networks (see for example Bian et al. 1998).

The importance of family ties might lead people to refrain from moving further away from family members or to move closer to them. At the same time, there are many potential triggers during the life course for moving, related for example to educational attainment and the labor market career. The individual and family dimensions of the life course are thus connected, and individual choices oriented towards reaching personal goals might compete or interfere with the desire to maintain family solidarity (Bengtson 2001).

Because of the strong negative link between distance and the provision of support, it is no surprise that the determinants of intergenerational proximity, or the distances between adult children and their parents, have gained so much research attention since the 1990s (see Clark and Wolf 1992, Rogerson et al. 1993 1997, Bian et al. 1998, Glaser and Tomassini 2000, Shelton and Grundy 2000, Choi 2003, Fransson and Teeland 2004, Mulder and Kalmijn 2006, Van Diepen and Mulder 2006, Malmberg and Pettersson 2007). Previous research has focused mainly on individual, household, and macro determinants of the geographical distances between generations. The studies stress the major part that life-course events play in residential choice, and therefore also on distance: education, the labor-market position, and the household situation were found to have an important impact on the distance between family members.

In the research reported thus far, two sets of determinants have received little attention, even though they are arguably likely to be important with respect to distances between generations. The first set is related to the influence of the characteristics of the family as a whole, including the characteristics of family members who live outside the household of the individuals under study. Naturally, when explaining the distance between a parent and a child, it is important to take the characteristics of both the parent and the child into account. The characteristics and locations of siblings are also likely to be important. Not only are siblings alternative providers or receivers of support, but the family of origin also constitutes an important component of an individual's social capital. The family of origin is therefore a potential reason for inertia or for aiming at proximity to other family members. The lack of attention paid to date to the characteristics of family members outside the household is probably partly the result of the paucity of suitable data. Not many datasets contain information on both the respondent and other family members, particularly those living outside the household.

The second set of under-researched determinants is the timing with which life events have been experienced. Life events have an impact on shaping the distances between generations, but their impact is likely to depend on the life-course stage in which the event took place. …

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