Academic journal article Population

Close Family Circle during Childhood and Adolescence: Between Facts and Perceptions: A Retrospective Analysis of the Life Courses of ÎLe-De-France Residents Born between 1930 and 1950

Academic journal article Population

Close Family Circle during Childhood and Adolescence: Between Facts and Perceptions: A Retrospective Analysis of the Life Courses of ÎLe-De-France Residents Born between 1930 and 1950

Article excerpt

Since the 1980s, the issue of intergenerational family solidarities has aroused unprecedented interest, both for researchers and in the public policy framework. However, in the context of the ageing of western societies, attention has tended to focus on forms of solidarity directed at older people, as demonstrated by the review of surveys on family support in Europe (Bonvalet and Ogg, 2006) and various research projects based on the SHARE survey data (Attias-Donfut and Sirven, 2009). The question of solidarity towards children and adolescents

has stimulated other types of specialized research, notably on social services care for children at risk (Frechon et al., 2009; Frechon and Villeneuve-Gokalp, 2009) and approaches to preschool childcare (Pailhé and Solaz, 2009). However, another body of research has focused on describing the overall picture of family configurations, by considering the whole network beyond the household and including the close contact circle (Widmer and Jallinoja, 2008; Bonvalet and Lelièvre, 1995). These analyses reveal the existence of complex, unexpected intergenerational configurations, which involve very diverse parental relationships and figures. The educational and parental universes of children and adolescents provide evidence of intergenerational solidarities and in some cases reflect complementary or surrogate parenting roles, thus suggesting multi-parenting configurations (Tichit and Vivier, 2005).

Continuing the line of research based on quantitative data from the Biographies et Entourage survey (Event histories and contact circle survey; Lelièvre and Vivier, 2001; Bonvalet and Lelièvre, 2012), we identify and describe the respondents' close family circles during childhood and adolescence. Taking the approach of comparing facts to perceptions, this article aims to determine the degree to which the respondents' assessments of their childhood and adolescent years (subjective information) is contingent on their type of contact circle during those periods. Our results relate to birth cohorts who experienced childhood and adolescence between 1930 and 1965 - a period which predates the changes affecting the family since the 1970s, but whose historical context includes the Second World War and the major economic transformations caused by France's industrialization and rapid urbanization.

Constructing and structuring life courses through the perceptions of those concerned is a promising approach to the study of life-event histories rarely explored by demographers; data from the Biographies et Entourage survey allow us to apply this approach in a unique way. Although some pioneering sociologists (Hareven, 1986; Leclerc-Olive, 1997) have captured the subjective quality of life-course narratives and developed the qualitative analysis of events, turning-points and bifurcations (Bessin et al., 2010), others whose work comes closer to clinical psychology have broadly engaged in reconstructing family configurations as cognitive contexts, sometimes even with a therapeutic aim (Widmer, 1999; Widmer et al., 2005). This type of research, starting from detailed in-depth qualitative interviews (Locke and Lloyd-Sherlock, 2011), sometimes targeting particular populations - people in psychotherapy (Widmer and Dumas, 2008) or those who have recently experienced marriage break-up (Solsona and Simó, 2009), for example - has integrated examination of the facts with the respondents' perceptions or assessments of the situation. In our case, comparison between the respondents' family situations and their subjective assessments of these periods is based on a broad quantitative sample and on a reconstruction of the composition of respondents' family circles over their lifetimes. Naturally, histories collected in this way do not have the precision of those recorded in qualitative interviews; nevertheless, the representative, quantitative nature of the sample makes it possible to identify strong trends in the general population and to reveal regularities, by addressing questions on the family and contextual factors that influence the perceived quality of childhood and adolescence: Is having a small family circle a factor that leads to negative assessment? …

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