Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Intergenerational Solidarity and Conflict

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Intergenerational Solidarity and Conflict

Article excerpt


Judging from certain mass media two representations of intergenerational relations between adult children and parents seem to emerge: They are either in a state of permanent unsolvable conflict, or they have as little contacts as possible. The cover of an issue of the German magazine "Spiegel-Special" on generations is a good example of the first assumption. "Generations in Conflict" appears in large letters, and "Young against Old-Youth Mania and Hatred of the Old-Crime: Beating instead of Caring." These catchwords are adorned with a photo of a sinister old man looking down at a young blond man wearing a dog collar who is shouting up at him.

The other image the media convey about relationships between generations is one of alienation and drifting apart. This refers to, for example, young, flexible individualists who change jobs frequently in this time of globalisation and flexibilization and thereby bit by bits job for job, continue to move further away from their parents. These are people who simply neither have the time nor inclination to spend time with their parents. Eventually the other person is not only out of sight but out of mind. At the same time, however, this seems to be in keeping with the interests of some parents. In any case, publishers seek to attract customers with books such as the following: "Still at home at Thirty: How one gets rid of children before it's too late" (Meinert, 1996). For the children, corresponding titles are available: "Leave me alone, Mother! Mothers who are always interfering and what adult children can do about it" (Vollmer, 1995); "I'm not a child anymore: What adult children are afraid to say- what parents do not want to hear (Collange, 1993); "Still having problems with parents: Adult children stuck between conforming and rebelling" (Dobrick, 1991).

Both scenarios, conflict and autonomy, are not unfamiliar to sociologists. There are, for example, a number of publications about (separation) conflicts in adolescence as well as about conflicts occurring during the care of older parents, which at worst can even lead to maltreatment (e.g., Schütze, 1989; Pillemer and Suitor, 1992). At the same time the assumption of the structural isolation of the parental couple refers to the drifting apart of generations as soon as the children have left their parents' house: "Hence, when the children of a couple have become independent through marriage and occupational status the parental couple is left without attachment to any continuous kinship group" (Parsons, 1942:615f.). This is also reflected in the following statement: "Children have an enduring sense of diffuse obligation as long as their parents live; but enduring solidarity, if solidarity means close bonds of affection and intimacy, will probably not last long because modern society emphasises independence between the generations" (Blau, 1973:50).

This paper seeks to explore to what extent the two images of intergenerational relations are in keeping with reality. The goal is less to report on specific, individual intergenerational

relations but rather to give a general view of family relations between generations among adults in the Federal Republic of Germany, on the whole. Firstly, the paper will deal with intergenerational solidarity-that is the image of the drifting-apart of generations: To what extent do family generations who no longer live in the same household still maintain relationships marked by solidarity? Do they see and call each other regularly? Do they feel emotionally connected? Do they help each other, whether by means of financial or instrumental support (associational, affectual, and functional solidarity)?

Furthermore, the paper focuses on problematic aspects of intergenerational relations, concentrating on conflicts: To what extent are current intergenerational relations among adults marked by pronounced conflicts? Are conflicts mainly occurring between family generations or between other people? …

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