Academic journal article Population

Relationships between Adolescents and Grandparents in Switzerland: Conjugal Separation and Lineage Effects

Academic journal article Population

Relationships between Adolescents and Grandparents in Switzerland: Conjugal Separation and Lineage Effects

Article excerpt

Intergenerational relationships within a family, especially those between grandparents and grandchildren have often been studied in the context of contemporary family transformations (Attias-Donfut et al., 2002; Kellerhals and Widmer, 2007; Bonvalet and Lelièvre, 2012). Studying the impact of divorce on these relationships provides a means to explore the ties linking two generations in a context of sociological debate on the relational family where relations of affinity take precedence over statutory relations (Hummel and Perrenoud, 2009).

Numerous studies have observed the phenomenon - now classic in sociology of the family - of the matrilaterality of kin relations, i.e. an imbalance between family lines in favour of the maternal side (Matthews and Sprey, 1985; Pitrou, 1992; Coenen-Huther et al., 1994; Déchaux, 1994 and 2007; Uhlenberg and Hammill, 1998; Chan and Elder, 2000; Hammer et al., 2001). The consequences of parental divorce on the relations between children and their ascendants has been documented by several studies in Europe and the United States. They observe a weakening of ties between children and their father, and with the paternal kin more generally (Johnson, 1983; Matthews and Sprey, 1984; Cherlin and Furstenberg, 1986 and 1992; Kivett, 1991; Creasey, 1993; Martin, 1997; Villeneuve-Gokalp, 2000; Cadolle, 2000; Kellerhals et al., 2001; Mueller and Elder, 2003), and a (re)centring on maternal kin following union dissolution.

Other studies show that the impact of divorce on relations between grandparents and grandchildren may be less clearcut, however, for example when the children's age is taken into account (Matthews and Sprey, 1985; Cogswell and Henry, 1995; Cooney and Smith, 1996). As grandchildren grow older, their relationship with grandparents becomes more independent because less influenced by the intermediate generation.

This independence may, to a certain extent, protect grandparent relationships from the conflicts between the intermediate and elder generations following divorce or separation. A study by Cogswell and Henry (1995) on 327 students aged 18-22 concerning their perception of their grandparents' role and of their relationship with them shows that after controlling for the effect of geographical distance, perceptions are identical for young people from divorced and intact families, with no lineage effect. The authors highlight the importance of grandparents for young people, independently of the union status of the intermediate generation.

Lussier, Deater-Deckard, Dunn and Davies (2002), for their part, stress the importance of the grandparent figure and its role for maintaining a sense of closeness at times of family change due to divorce or remarriage. The impact of parental separation on relations with grandparents is also examined by Douglas and Ferguson (2003) who highlight the stability of the configuration. According to these authors, the nature and style of this relationship is established before the separation of the intermediate generation, and is not fundamentally altered by this event. As the maternal grandparents are often closer during the years when the parental union is still intact, the weaker ties with the paternal grandparents after divorce is a consequence of this earlier situation.

Chan and Elder (2000) reach similar conclusions based on a longitudinal study of data from the Iowa Youth and Families Project. They argue that each parent gives preference to his or her own lineage, but that bias is always stronger for women. Matrilateral bias observed after separation is thus the result of a long-term process initiated when the family is still intact. In this sense, the stronger ties between the mother and her parents also give rise to a closer relationship between the young generation and the maternal grandparents, who are a resource that can be mobilized at a time of family crisis such as a divorce. In this case, post-divorce matrilaterality reflects the combination of a lineage stability effect and custodial parent effect (this parent most often being the mother). …

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