Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Trajectories of Grandparents' Perceived Solidarity with Adult Grandchildren: A Growth Curve Analysis over 23 Years

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Trajectories of Grandparents' Perceived Solidarity with Adult Grandchildren: A Growth Curve Analysis over 23 Years

Article excerpt

Demographic trends in the U.S. have produced an unprecedented number of grandparents who live long enough to see their grandchildren reach young adulthood and even middle age. In this analysis, data from the Longitudinal Study of Generations are used to identify patterns of change in grandparents' perceptions of affection and in-person contact and geographic proximity with adult grandchildren over five points of measurement between 1971 and 1994. Hierarchical linear modeling reveals quadratic trends in both growth curves. Affection declines over the first 14 years and then modestly reverses. Contact and proximity decline at an accelerating rate. Older grandparents have higher average levels of affection than younger grandparents, but they exhibit sharper rates of decline in contact and proximity over time. When cohorts are equated on age, later cohorts of grandparents decline more rapidly in contact and proximity, suggesting that the grandparent role has changed in recent history.

Key Words: grandparents, interetional relations, life course.

A dramatic consequence of population aging in the twentieth century is the increase in joint survivorship of family members that produces more years of shared life across generations (Bengtson, Rosenthal, & Burton, 1990; Watkins, Menken, & Bongaarts, 1987). This demographic trend has resulted in an unprecedented number of grandparents who live long enough to see their grandchildren reach adolescence, young adulthood, and middle age, thereby allowing the possibility of long-term relationships between them (Barranti, 1985; Hagestad, 1985; Kivnick, 1982). Because the median age of grandparenthood has remained constant at 45 years over the past century (Hagestad, 1985), gains in life expectancy imply that people are spending more years as grandparents. Most women will spend almost half their lives in this role.

Despite the proliferation of adult grandparentgrandchild relations in the population, researchers have paid little attention to the long-term nature of these relationships. Given that the extension of this relationship is relatively recent, we do not know the extent to which grandparents and grandchildren become more or less important as sources of emotional meaning and practical support for each other over the life course. Although some researchers have speculated that the grandparentgrandchild bond becomes more significant in adulthood (Hagestad, 1981; Troll, 1980), the trajectory of solidarity in grandparent-grandchild relationships remains empirically unexamined. Our investigation describes the trajectories of affectual and social-structural solidarity between grandparents and their adult grandchildren over nearly one-quarter century in the life of these intergenerational dyads. Further, we examine sources of variation in the shape of such temporal trajectories.

GRANDPARENT-GRANDCHILD RELATIONS IN ADULTHOOD

Today it is more the rule than the exception for grandparents to have at least one grandchild who has reached adulthood. In a study of intergenerational family structures in seven economically developed nations (including the United States), Farkas and Hogan (1994) find that slightly more than half the population 65 years of age and older have a grandchild who is at least 18 years old. This percentage is consistent with a 1990 study of intergenerational relations conducted in the U.S., which shows that 56% of those 65 years of age and older have at least one adult grandchild (Bengtson & Harootyan, 1994). Examined from another perspective, it is now more common for grandchildren to reach adulthood in families of three or more generations. Fewer than half of the adolescents living in 1900 had two or more grandparents alive, but by 1976 that figure had grown to almost 90% (Uhlenberg, 1980).

There is disagreement in the literature over the nature of life course dynamics in the grandparentgrandchild relationship. Some research suggests that these relations are characterized more by continuity than by change over the life course. …

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