Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Intergenerational Contact and the Life Course Status of Young Adult Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Intergenerational Contact and the Life Course Status of Young Adult Children

Article excerpt

This study examined how the life course status of young adults-whether they have a romantic partner and whether they have children-is related to how often they have contact with their parents. Hypotheses were tested using recent data from the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study. The main sample included 1,911 young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Results suggest that young adults' entrance into cohabitation and marriage is associated with less face-to-face contact with parents. Young adults with children of their own tend to see their parents more frequently than young adults without offspring. Findings are congruent with the family life course perspective, contending that family relationships are related to the life course status of individual family members.

Key Words: intergenerational relations, life course theory, multinomial regression, youth/emergent adulthood.

Young adulthood is the life course phase in which romantic relationships and family formation are typically initiated. Classic functionalist family theories (Parsons, 1954) suggest that it is through these transitions that children and their parents separate and go on to live independent lives. Research, however, has revealed little support for a strict interpretation of this separation thesis (Mancini & Blieszner, 1989): Parents and young adults typically remain involved in each other's lives after the latter have left the parental residence (Litwak, 1960; Lye, 1996; Silverstein & Bengtson, 1997).

Nevertheless, it is plausible that the specific life course status of young adults-whether they are involved in a romantic relationship and whether they have children-affects parent-child interactions, albeit in a less radical way. The family life course perspective (Elder, 1994; MacMillan & Copher, 2005) suggests that the relationship between parents and children remains important throughout the life course, but that changes in the lives of children and parents have consequences for meir interactions. Research on the relationship between the young adult's life course and parent-child contact is, however, relatively scarce, with some notable exceptions (Aquilino, 1997; Fischer, 1981, 1983).

The present study considers the relationship between a young adult's life course status and the frequency of contact with parents. The main focus is face-to-face contact, although contacts by telephone, regular mail, and e-mail are also considered. Contact may be initiated for reasons of companionship as well as for exchange of support and information on each other's lives (Mancini & Blieszner, 1989). Research suggests that the frequency of contact between parents and children offers a good indirect measure of intergenerational solidarity (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991; Kalmijn, 2006) as well as a good overall indicator of the strength of the parent-child relationship (Lye, Klepinger, HyIe, & Nelson, 1995).


The first aim of this study is to examine how the young adult's life course status is related to intergenerational contact, as prior research in this domain has yielded contradictory findings. Some studies (Fischer, 1981,1983) have shown parenthood to be positively related to frequency of contact between daughter and mother and negatively related to contact between son and mother, whereas in others (Aquilino, 1997) no relationships were observed. Aquilino found marriage and cohabitation to increase the frequency of parent-child interactions; no such relationships were observed by Fischer (1981).

The second main objective of this study is to provide new insight into mechanisms underlying the relationship between life course status and intergenerational contact. The family life course perspective offers theoretical arguments regarding how involvement in a partnership and having children may affect interactions with parents.

We use information from a sample of 1,911 young adults (aged 18 to 34 years) who participated in a recent large-scale study on family relations in The Netherlands. …

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