Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Adult Children's Relationships with Married Parents, Divorced Parents, and Stepparents: Biology, Marriage, or Residence?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Adult Children's Relationships with Married Parents, Divorced Parents, and Stepparents: Biology, Marriage, or Residence?

Article excerpt

The author compared the strength of the relationships that adult children have with different types of parents: biological parents who remained married, stepparents, and biological parents who divorced. He analyzed Dutch life history data containing detailed measures of living arrangements and used multilevel models to make comparisons both between and within children (N = 4,454). The results revealed large differences in the strength of ties across parent types, but these were strongly reduced when differences in the length of shared residence during childhood were taken into account. Nonetheless, even after differences in investment opportunities were considered, there were negative effects of divorce and positive effects of biological relatedness. The "marriage protection ' ' effect was stronger, especially for fathers, than the biological relatedness effect, pointing to the primacy of marriage over biology for parent-child relations in adulthood.

Key Words: divorce, intergenerational relationships, life history, marriage, stepfamilies.

One of the consequences of the rapid increase in divorce and remarriage is that ties between parents and adult children are increasingly diverse. A father or mother can have children from a current union, stepchildren, and biological children from a previous union. For adult children, there is increasing diversity too, as more and more children have one or two stepparents in addition to biological parents. Some of these stepparents were present during childhood, whereas other stepparents entered later in the child's life course. Although this diversity may not be so common as to warrant policy interest right now, it will become more and more common as the Baby Boom cohorts, who have experienced high levels of divorce and remarriage, begin to enter old age.

There are two reasons why this diversity is important to study. First, increasing diversity in parent-child ties introduces new problems and dilemmas for parents and adult children. For example, children must decide how they allocate time and support among different types of parents, and there are few normative or logical guidelines about how to do this (Ganong & Coleman, 1994, 2006). Similarly, parents may be faced with "collective ambivalence"-a feeling of uncertainty about how to behave-toward their children (Ward, Spitze, & Deane, 2009). This may lead to differences in the way adult children are treated within the family, which may in turn have repercussions in the form of inequalities in child well-being (Pillemer, Suitor, Pardo, & Henderson, 2010). Second, increasing diversity raises important theoretical questions about parent-child ties in general and, in particular, about the role of biology, marriage, and shared residence for understanding parent-child ties (Anderson, Kaplan, & Lancaster, 1999; Hofferth & Anderson, 2003; King, 2009). Because there are now several different types of parent-child ties, underlying theories about the strength of such ties can be tested more directly than was possible in the past, when parent-child ties were more homogeneous in nature.

Two types of studies have addressed the issue of increasing diversity. First, there is an important stream of studies on the effects of parental divorce. Some of these studies have focused on young children and describe how the involvement of fathers in the child's life changes after divorce (Cheadle, Amato, & King, 2010; Swiss & Le Bourdais, 2009). Other studies have focused on adult children and show that children who experienced a parental divorce when they were growing up have weaker relationships with their father than children whose parents remained married (Albertini & Garriga, 2011; Aquilino, 2006; de Graaf & Fokkema, 2007). Relationships between adult children and their mothers are negatively affected by divorce as well, although these effects tend to be weaker (Kalmijn, 2012). The negative effect of parental divorce is often interpreted in terms of the interrupted investment possibilities that fathers face after divorce. …

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