Intergenerational Relationships and Affectual Solidarity between Grandparents and Young Adults

Article excerpt

This study examines whether both parents' relationships with their offspring, parents, and parents-in-law matter for young adults' perceptions of closeness to grandparents. This study focuses on two groups of grandchildren (ages 18 - 23) in Wave 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households: young adults with married biological parents (N = 442) and those whose biological mother is not married to their biological father (N = 399). Findings suggest that it is important to examine grandparent-grandchild ties within a complete kinship network. Parents' relationships with the grandchild and grandparent generations were associated with the grandparent-grandchild bond. In support of the kinkeeping perspective, mothers' intergenerational ties across lineage lines appeared to be more influential for grandparent-grandchild relationships than fathers'.

Key Words: adult grandchildren, grandparents, intergenerational relationships, kinkeeping perspective.

An increase in life expectancy has facilitated the possibility of long-term relationships between grandparents and grandchildren (Harwood & Lin, 2000). Grandparents and adult grandchildren generally view their relationships with each other as important and influential (Hodgson, 1992). They provide each other with different kinds of support and affect each other's overall well-being (Bengtson, 2001). However, grandparentgrandchild bonds are renegotiated when grandchildren go through different life changes. Young adulthood, in particular, brings new priorities, goals, and responsibilities into grandchildren's lives (Hodgson, 1998). It is necessary, therefore, to examine factors that facilitate strong grandparent-grandchild ties when grandchildren reach adulthood. Other intergenerational relationships in the family are likely important among these factors.

This paper examines whether and how intergenerational relationships in the family are associated with affectual solidarity (i.e., feelings of closeness) between young adults (ages 18 - 23) and their grandparents. Most research on the grandparent-adult grandchild bond has not investigated this relationship within a complete kinship network (for an exception, see Brown, 2003). Taking into account how relationships in other key intergenerational dyads in the family matter for grandparent-grandchild interaction can help to elucidate variations in grandparent-grandchild ties. This study extends prior research in this area in four primary ways: (a) by examining the role of parents' ties with young adults, their own parents, and parents-in-law, thus incorporating both within- and across-lineage intergenerational relationships; (b) by focusing on young adults' ties to each living grandparent, which has rarely been done (e.g., Brown; Matthews & Sprey, 1985); (c) by assessing whether the association of parent-child bonds with grandparent-grandchild closeness is conditioned by gender; and (d) by bringing data from a nationally representative sample from Wave 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) to bear on a subject dominated by convenience samples of college students (e.g., Brown; Matthews & Sprey; Thompson & Walker, 1987).


Intergenerational Relationships

The grandparent-grandchild bond is one of the three relationships (i.e., parent-child, parentgrandparent, and grandparent-grandchild relationships) that represent the basic intergenerational triangle of the family (Van Ranst, Verschueren, & Marcoen, 1995). These three relationships develop in the context of the family and change throughout the life course of individuals. They also contribute to intergenerational solidarity and family continuity over time (Silverstein, Giarusso, & Bengtson, 1998). Intergenerational solidarity can be described as intergenerational interactions in the family that represent sentiments, attitudes, and behaviors that bond family members across generations (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991). …